Lord Grenville On Czar Alexander II

In 1856, Earl Granville attended the coronation of Czar Alexander II of Russia. He noted down his impressions on the new ruler and its country in a letter to Queen Victoria. Here it is:

Moscow, 30th August 1856

Lord Granville presents his humble duty to your Majesty, and begs, according to your Majesty's desire, to submit to your Majesty the impressions which he has received during the short time of his stay in this country.

Lord Granville's conversation with the Emperor of Russia, and what he has heard from various reliable sources, have led him to the following conclusions respecting His Imperial Majesty.

He is handsome, but thinner and graver than when he was in England. When speaking with energy to Lord Granville his manner seemed to be rather an imitation of some one else than his own, and he did not look Lord Granville in the face. His usual manner is singularly gentle and pleasing. He does not give the idea of having much strength either of intellect or of character, but looks intelligent and amiable. Although the education of a Cæsarwitch must be subject to pernicious influences, the present Emperor has had advantages which those in his position have not usually had. The Emperor Nicholas came to the throne without having had the confidences of his predecessor. He initiated his son into everything that was going on, while others who knew the good-nature of the Grand Duke Alexander's character, told him that which they did not tell his father. He was supposed to have different tastes from the late Emperor, but, since the death of the latter, he has liked the late Emperor's favourite residence which he himself had formerly disliked, he has taken to all the military pursuits of his father, and is said to have shown undignified haste in issuing regulations about, and in appearing in, new uniforms. He is liked by those who surround him, but is blamed for not having those habits of punctuality and of quick decision in business which characterised the late Emperor.

There is still much talk of stimulants to be applied by His Imperial Majesty to commerce and to the development of the resources of the country.... There are persons, however, here well qualified to judge, who doubt whether much more will be performed than has formerly been done, after brilliant promises at the beginning of a reign. His Imperial Majesty is not supposed to have that power of will which will enable him to deal with the mass of corruption which pervades every class in this country. The Empress*, a woman of sense and ability, is believed to have great influence with her husband when he is with her, but he is generally guided by the person who speaks last to him before he acts—and His Imperial Majesty has not the talent of surrounding himself with able men. His Ministers certainly do not appear to be men of that remarkable intellect as have been usually supposed to be employed by the Court of St Petersburg. Count Orloff is stated to have but little influence, and to have lost his former activity. Prince Gortschakoff is clever in society, of easy conversation and some smartness in repartee. He is vain, a great talker, and indiscreet. It is difficult to keep him to the point. He flies about from one thing to another, and he is so loose in his talk, that the repetition of isolated phrases might lead to impressions of his meaning, which would not be correct....

The Serf Question is admitted by all to be of a very difficult character, and will become more so as the wealth of the country increases. Indeed when that state of things occurs, it is more than likely that popular movements will take place, and it is frightful to consider the immediate results of a revolution in a country organised as this is at present. No country in Europe will furnish so fair a chance of success to Socialism. The reins of Government were held so tight during the last reign, that even the relaxation which now exists is not altogether without danger.

The preparations for the Coronation are on an immense scale. The present estimate of the expenses is £1,000,000; the last Coronation cost half that sum; the Coronation of Alexander, £150,000; while that of the Emperor Paul did not exceed £50,000. The military household of the present Emperor consists of one hundred and twenty generals—that of Nicholas, at the beginning of his reign, consisted of twenty.

Your Majesty is spoken of by the Emperor and by the Society here with the greatest respect. Lord and Lady Granville have met with nothing but remarkable civility from all classes.

Lord Granville has had great pleasure in seeing His Royal Highness Prince Frederick William of Prussia in such good health and spirits. His only anxiety was an interval of fourteen days during which His Royal Highness did not hear from England. That anxiety has been relieved by a letter received to-day. Lord Granville ventures to request your Majesty to present his respectful remembrances to the Princess Royal with his congratulations at Her Royal Highness's complete recovery. Lord Granville begs to advise Her Royal Highness, when residing abroad, not to engage a Russian maid. Lady Wodehouse found hers eating the contents of a pot on her dressing-table—it happened to be castor oil pomatum for the hair.

Lord Granville has been requested to convey to your Majesty and to His Royal Highness Prince Albert the Prince of Nassau's expressions of devotion and respect. The atmosphere in which His Highness at present resides does not appear to have had much influence on His Highness's opinions.

*Marie Alexandrovna, formerly the Princess Marie of Hesse, daughter of the Grand Duke Louis II.

Further reading:
The Letters of Queen Victoria, Volume III (of 3), 1854-1861

Book Review: Mr Darcy's Guide To Courtship By Fitzwilliam Darcy

Inspired by the works of Jane Austen, the amusingly tongue-in-cheek Mr Darcy’s Guide to Courtship is written from the perspective of Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy and closely based on real Regency advice manuals. It is a hilarious and irreverent picture of the social mores of the period and of how men thought about women – and sheds amusing light on men of the modern age, too! Readers can dip into different sections for Darcy's views on a myriad of issues, including "What Females Want", "The Deceptions of Beautiful Women" and “Winning Their Affections, Flattery, Making Conversation, and Flirting!" Also included are sections written by Pride and Prejudice’s Miss Caroline Bingley and Mr Darcy’s correspondence with famous Regency figures including the Duke of Wellington.

Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy has captured the hearts of endless women since his appearance in Jane Austen's masterpiece, Pride & Prejudice, 200 years ago. So, who better than him can give courtship advice? Luckily, Mr Darcy has deigned to share his knowledge and insights in a book, Mr Darcy's Guide To Courtship, for the benefit of his fellow creatures. But beware. The guide was written before Mr Darcy met, and fell in love with, the charming Elizabeth Bennet, when he proudly claims that "while I am beset by nigh on one hundred grievances, a vexatious female need not be counted among them.”

The guide covers all the important aspects of courtship, such as how to make oneself agreeable (even when you don't have neither looks nor money to recommend you), how to select a suitable spouse and win her hand, and how to recognize and thus avoid rakes and fortune-hunters. Furthermore, Mr Darcy enlists the help of his old acquaintance Miss Caroline Bingley, who shares beauty tips, and Miss Maria Betrand, who explains how to turn down an unwanted marriage proposal. At the end of the book, there is a Q&A section where Mr Darcy answers some of the letters his readers have sent him, including one from a certain Mrs B who is desperate because she has five marriageable daughters that are still single.

The guide, which is extensively illustrated, is written in a very satirical tone, and draws his information from Regency's advice manuals. Therefore, if you're expecting Darcy's advice to be modern and romantic, you'll be highly disappointed. The Mr Darcy who penned this guide is very much a man of his time, imbued with the prejudices of his era, including the belief that women were inferior to men (we can only hope that Lizzy made him change his mind about that). This Mr Darcy is pretentious, cranky, aloof, at times arrogant, but still very charming. And his guide won't fail to entertain you.

Full of useful advice, beautiful pictures and even a couple of tests, Mr Darcy's Guide To Courtship By Fitzwilliam Darcy is a funny guide to the world of Regency courtship. The guide, which draws its information from the advice manuals of the time, is written in a satirical style and is highly entertaining.

Available at: Amazon UK, Amazon USA and Barnes & Noble.

Rating: 4/5

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Mrs. Jens Wolff by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Sir Thomas Lawrence worked on his painting, Mrs Jens Wolff, for more than 12 years. In 1815, when it was finally completed, it was exhibited at the Royal Academy, where it held the place of honour. It was also the only portrait of a woman at that exhibition. The sitter, Isabella Wolff was one of Lawrence's muses. She was also rumoured to have been one of his lovers.

Mrs Wolff is shown in a Grecian pose, reading a book open at a page featuring an image of a sibyl (an ancient prophetess and oracular seer). Critics have suggested that her depiction as a sybil represents the role she played in Lawrence's life. The painter, in fact, often asked her opinion and trusted her judgment. But who was Isabella Wolff?

Isabella Wolff was the wife of Jens Wolff, the Danish consul in London. Mr Wolff loved the arts and had built a gallery at his home, Sherwood Lodge, Battersea, where he kept a beautiful collection of casts, most of which were very ancient. He knew many artists, including Sir Thomas Lawrence. The painter met the consul's wife in 1803, when he was commissioned to paint her portrait.

Isabella was beautiful, clever and accomplished (according to contemporaries, she "talked incessantly of the arts and sciences") and got along very well with Lawrence. During the sittings for the painting, Isabella and Lawrence became intimate friends, but they never spent much time together in the 26 years they knew each other. Mrs Wolff resided in the country, so the two established a frequent correspondence.

Isabella and her husband separated after 18 years of marriage. Her son, Herman, was rumoured to be Lawrence's. There is no proof confirming nor denying this. It is known that Lawrence liked Herman and went on trips to Europe with him, but that's hardly convincing evidence of his alleged paternity. Isabella died in 1829, and Thomas followed her in the grave the following year. The intimacy of their relationship (which may or may not have been sexual), can be clearly seen in this poignant and emotional portrait Lawrence took so long to complete.

Further reading:
Sir Thomas Lawrence by Micheal Levey

Elizaveta Alexievka, Empress of Russia

The April 1807 edition of La Belle Assemblee featured a biographical sketch of Elizaveta Alexievka, Empress of Russia:

Elizaveta Alexievka, Empress of Russia, is one of the most handsome and interesting figures of her court. She is of the illustrious House of Baden-Durlacli, was born January 24, 1779, and on the 9th of October, 1793, was married to the Emperor Alexander, then Grand Duke. On embracing the Greek religion, at the ceremony of her re-baptism, by the hands of the Archbishop of Moscow, a rite indispensably necessary for all foreigners previous to their adoption into the Imperial family, the Empress Catharine II gave her the name of Elizaveta Alexievna, or Elizabeth the daughter of Alexius. These patronymics of the Russians have something in them antique and respectable. A common Russian might call the Empress Catharine, even when speaking to her, Ekatarina Alexievna.

According to the general rule, however, the Princess of Baden should have called herself Elizaveta Carlovna, as she was the daughter of Prince Charles; but her Imperial grandmother determined otherwise. That Sovereign had invited the Princess and her sister into Russia as fit matches for her grand-sons, the two Grand Dukes, Alexander and Constantine. Their mother, by birth Princess of Darmstadt, had already been sent thither in her youth with her sisters, one of whom had the unfortunate honour to become the first wife of Paul. This Princess, an amiable woman, and the worthy mother of a charming family, declined appearing again, with her daughters, on a stage where she herself had formerly made an unsuccessful appearance, but entrusted them to the care of the Countess Shuvalof, widow of the author of the "Epistle- to Ninon," who was charged with the hymeneal negotiation, together with one Strekalof, as an escort.

These Princesses, after a long and toilsome journey, arrived at night, towards the end of autumn, 1792, and in terrible weather, which seemed considerably to affect them. They were made to alight at the palace in which Prince Potemkin had resided, where they were received by the Empress, accompanied by Madame Branicka, her favourite dame d'honneur. At first the young Princesses took the latter for the Empress; but the Countess Shuvalof having undeceived them, they threw themselves at her Majesty's feet, and with tears kissed her robe and her hand, till she raised them up and embraced them: they were then left to sup at full liberty. The next day Catharine came to visit them while they were yet at their toilette, and presented them the ribband of the order of St. Catharine, together with jewels and stuffs; then displaying before them their wardrobe, looking at it, she said, "My young friends, when I arrived in Russia I was not so rich as you."

The young Grand Dukes were introduced to them the same day. The eldest, who had already suspected the motive of their arrival, had a pensive and embarrassed air, and said nothing. Catharine told them, that, knowing the mother of these Princesses, and their country being taken from them by the French, she had sent for them to have them educated at her court. On their return from the palace, the two young Princes talked much about them; and Alexander said, that he thought the eldest very pretty. "Oh, not in the least," cried the younger, with that brusquerie which is so natural to him, "neither of them; they should be sent to Riga, to the Princes of Courland: they are only fit for them."

What Alexander had said, however, was reported to his grandmother, who was delighted to find that the lady she designed for him, and with whom she herself seemed enchanted, appeared handsome in his eyes. Catharine pretended that she had resembled Louisa of Baden when she arrived in Russia; and ordered the picture taken of her at that time to be brought, that she might compare it with the Princes; when, as may be supposed, every one present declared that two drops of water could not be more alike. From that moment she became singularly attached to Louisa, redoubled her tenderness towards Alexander, and engaged with more pleasure in the plan of leaving the throne to them as her immediate successors.

The young strangers made their first appearance at court on the day when the deputies of Poland were admitted to thank Catharine for the honour she had done the Republic by keeping three-fourths of it for herself. The Princesses were as much dazzled with the magnificence that surrounded them, as others were with their opening charms; but the elder met with an accident, which led the superstitious Russians to augur that she would be unfortunate in their country. As she approached the throne of Catharine, she struck her foot against the corner of one of the steps, and fell flat on the ground before the throne. Heaven, however, we hope, has averted the omen.

While the young sister spent the tedious days lamenting her absence from her country and relations, which all the pomp of the court could not efface from her mind, and was at length sent away loaded with presents, which afforded her less pleasure that the expectation of soon beholding again the banks of the Rhine, the Princess Louisa seemed to smile at the destiny that awaited her. An unknown comforter had entered her heart, and dried her tears. The sight of the young Prince, who was to be her husband, and who equalled herself in beauty of person and gentleness of mind, had inspired her with love: she submitted gracefully to every thing required of her, learned the Russian language, was instructed in the Greek religion, and was soon in a capacity of making public profession of her new faith, and receiving on her fine-turned arms, and bare delicate feet, the unctions administered by a bishop, who proclaimed her Grand Duchess, under the name of Elizabeth Alexievna.

Catharine chose rather to give her her own cognomen, than leave her that of her father, according to the usual custom. In the month of May following, the i ceremony of betrothing was performed with extraordinary pomp and entertainments. Russia had just terminated three wars, almost equally triumphant. A multitude of Generals and other Officers, covered with the laurels they had gathered in battle, augmented the number of the Court. Many Swedes, admirers of Catharine; almost all the Polish Magnats who had submitted or were devoted to her, Tartarian Khans, Envoys from Great Bukharia, Turkish Pashas, Greek and Moldavian Deputies, Sophis of Persia, with French emigrants, demanding at once, protection and vengeance, increased at this juncture the crowd of courtiers attending the august autocratrix of the North. No Court ever exhibited so brilliant and variegated a spectacle.

These were the last resplendent days that Catharine enjoyed. She dined on a throne, raised in the midst of different tables, crowned and covered with gold and diamonds; her eye carelessly wandered over the immense assembly, composed of persons of all nations, whom she seemed to behold at her feet. Surrounded by her numerous and brilliant family, a poet would have taken her for Juno seated amongst the gods of Olympus.

Historical Reads: Empress Theodora

Elizabeth K Mahon, author of Scandalous Women, has written an interest post about the Empress Theodora, the actress and courtesan who married the Emperor Justinian:

Justinian was 40 when they met, devout and studious. He fell in love with her because of her wit, beauty, and amusing character but he was prohibited from marrying her. Apparently there was some law preventing patricians from marrying actresses. While his uncle Justin I was willing to amend the law, his wife the Empress Euphemia was against the idea. Apparently it brought up old memories; Euphemia had been a slave before she became Empress. Once Euphemia passed on in 525 AD, Justin was free to repeal the law. The law freed truly penitent actresses from all blemishes and restored them to their pristine state.

Theodora soon showed what she was made during what came to be known as the ‘Nika’ riots. In 532, the Blues and the Greens started a riot in the Hippodrome during a chariot race. The rioters had many grievances, some of which stemmed from Justinian and Theodora’s own actions. The rioters set many public buildings on fire, and proclaimed Hypatius (who was the nephew of the former emperor Anastasius I) as the new emperor. Unable to control the mob, Justinian and his officials suggesting fleeing the capitol but Theodora declared that she would not flee. She pointed out the significance of dying as a ruler rather than living in exile or hiding. She famously declared that ‘purple makes a fine shroud.’ Because of her speech, Justinian ordered his troops to storm the Hippodrome, killing 30,000 rebels including Hypatius. After his victory, Justinian gave Theodora real power, making her his co-ruler and the most powerful woman in the Byzantine Empire. He never forgot that his was Theodora who had saved his throne. Theodora became Justinian’s right-hand, and his honored counselor.

Together she and Justinian rebuilt and reformed Constantinople, building bridges and aqueducts, bridges and more than 25 churches including the Hagia Sophia. Byzantine Empire prospered for 19 years under their rule. As Empress, Theodora used her power to close brothels, crack down on forced prostitution, she opened a convent where ex-prostitutes could support themselves, made rape punishable by death, forbade killing wives for committing adultery, also expanded the rights of women in divorce and property ownership. She also forbade the exposure of infants, and gave mothers some guardianship rights over their children. Procopius wrote that she was naturally inclined to assist women in misfortune. As a result of her efforts, women in the Byzantine Empire had far more status than women in the Middle East and the rest of Europe.

To read the entire article, click here.

Historical Perfumes

I've always loved perfume, ever since I was a little girl. Just a spritz can evoke forgotten memories, uplift your mood or transport you back in time to special moments in your life or to exotic places you'd like to visit. As my obsession for perfume grew, I began to tire of mainstream scents that smell all the same (a girly, overly sweet concoction that makes everyone you meet think you've just fallen into a candy store), and started exploring niche lines in a quest to find complex, memorable and special creations.

To the delight of both the perfumista and the history geek that live inside me, I've found quite a few that are not just intriguing, but are also inspired by historical figures and eras. Decadent, luxurious and, sadly, often expensive, these fragrances would make the perfect present for any history lover. They would look beautiful on your vanity and, if someone asks you what you're wearing, you can tell them its story. Any excuse is good to talk about history, isn't it?

Without further ado, here are the scents:

Black Jade by Lubin

Pierre Lubin was an apprentice to royal perfumer, Jean-Louis Fargeon, who created many scents for the unfortunate Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. One of her favourites, which she always carried with her in a black jade bottle to protect it from light, was inspired by her beloved garden at the Petit Trianon. It was known as "jardin secret". Lubin copied the formula, which thus managed to survive the Revolution. Now, it has been revived. But what does it smell like? Described as "exquisitely confident and unapologetically luxurious", the opening, which features galbanum and bergamot, is cool and spicy; in the heart satiny roses and frilly jasmine are intertwined with spicy cardamom and cinnamon, and exotic incense; the drydown is a warm and velvety blend of patchouli, tonka bean, vanilla and amber. Decadently luxurious, a 50ml bottle will set you back $130! Available at Lucky Scent.

Histoires De Parfums

Histoires De Parfums is a niche line that tells "stories about famous characters, raw materials and mythical years". 1826, pictured above, is a fragrance inspired by the last French empress, Eugénie de Montijo. Born in Granada, this beautiful, sensual and elegant lady captivated Napoleon III and presided over his court, influencing its artistic and mundane life. This luminous fragrance is described as "a sensual amber carried by the power of white flowers and patchouli, of which the empress loved the unforgettable vapor trail." The brand also has created fragrances inspired by George Sand (1804), Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (1873), Mata Hari (1876), Casanova (1725), Marquis De Sade (1740) and Jules Verne (1828). The scents are all available at histoiresdeparfums.com and retail at €87 for 60ml. You can also purchase a sample set with 6 scents of your choice at only €15 p&p included.

Parfum D'Empire

Parfum D'Empire is another niche brand, this time inspired by the empires of history. Pictured above is Ambre Russe, an intense elixir that conjures the opulence of the Russian Empire with the warmth of ambergris, intensified by vibrant spices, the smokey aroma of Russian tea, and the spirituality of incense. Other scents are inspired by the Kingdom of Morocco (Azemour Les Oranges), the wisdom of China (Osmanthus Interdite), Napoleon (Eau De Gloire) and his wife Josephine (Eau Suave). They retail at $75 each (50ml) and are available at Lucky Scent.

Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier

Founded by Jean-François Laport in 1989, this niche brand creates luxurious perfumes based on traditional recipes of the 17th century. Particularly interesting to history lovers is their Les Caprice Du Dandy series, which features unusual perfumes inspired by the dandy's quest for perfection and elegance, like Iris Bleu Gris. The iris, which is typically used in scents for women, is here enriched with wood and aromatic plants, creating a warm and original, masculine accord. Available at aedes.com, a 3.4oz bottle costs $130.

Darwin by Fueguia

Inspired by the English naturalist Charles Darwin, who spent a lot of time in South America for his studies. This fragrance tries to imagine how its cabin smelt like. A marvelously wild scent, it is based on a strong, fresh-cut cedar note, enriched with a touch of bright grapefruit and the deep green earthiness of vetiver. Available at Lucky Scent, a 30ml bottle retails at $150!


Français Rancé was Napoleon’s favourite perfumer, and created “Le Vainqueur”, “ l’Eau d’Austerlitz” and “Gloire à l’Aigle Français” for the emperor. At the end of the 1880s, a descendant, Alexandre Rancé, moved to Milan, where the firm is still based. The family is still obsessed with Napoleon and has created several scents dedicated to the Emperor and his family, as well as reviving Le Vainqueur, a citrusy cologne enriched with lavender, geranium, leather, woods, iris, musk and amber. Other scents include Josephine, Francois Charles (dedicated to Napoleon's son) and Laetitia (inspired by Napoleon's mother). The scents are available at europerfumes.com and are in the $92-$130 range.

Parfums MDCI

Parfums MDCI (Marchal Design & Créations Indépendantes), is a small company that believes perfume is an art rather than a commodity (and I agree). The brand admires the Renaissance period and aims to create contemporary equivalents of the precious objects that used to belong to the Medicis and the Sun King but are now scattered in museums all over the world. The scents are all housed in exquisite glass bottles adorned with unique bisque stoppers. They are refillable, which means that you can keep the stopper and change only the bottle. Pictured above is Vepres Siciliennes. Inspired by Verdi’s opera of the same name, it "honors the duality of man’s nature— the peaceful time of prayer and the uncertain dangers that await." It opens with an accord of peppery citrus and crushed green leaves; the heart is a bouquet of jasmine, magnolia, ylang ylang, heliotrope, cedar and oakmoss; the drydown is a blend of osmanthus, raspberry, clove, plum and peach. Unfortunately, the brand is quite expensive. Available at Lucky Scent, the fragrances are in the $250-$610 price range! But you can always order a sample for $5, although the small vial won't feature a cute sculpted bust stopper.

Calamity J by Juliette Has A Gun

As the name suggests, this scent is inspired by American frontierswoman and professional scout Martha Jane Canary, best known as Calamity J. A masculine scent for women, Calamity J features a soft woodsy top note enriched with amber and iris. Although not inspired by any historical figures, I also recommend you to check out Lady Vengeance and Vengeance Extreme, two simple but powerful rose and patchouli scents that remind me of the eighteenth century every time I wear them. Available at juliettehasagun.com, you can either purchase a 50ml bottle for €75 or the Discovery Kit, which features all the 9 scents in this line, for €10.

Have you tried any of these scents? And do you know any other fragrances inspired by an historical figure, object or era?

Anglers, Fraters & Other Deceivers

In his book, The Town, Leigh Hunt, describes the various criminals who were infesting London during the reign of Charles II:

"The Ruffler was a wretch who assumed the character of a maimed soldier, and begged from the claims of Naseby, Edgehill, Newbury, and Marston Moor. Those who were stationed in the city of London were generally found in Lincoln's Inn Fields and Covent Garden; and their prey was people of fashion, whose coaches were attacked boldly; and if denied, their owners were told, 'Tis a sad thing that an old crippled cavalier should be suffered to beg for a maintenance, and a young cavalier that had never heard the whistle of a bullet should ride in his coach.'

"There were people called Anglers, from the nature of their method of depredating, which was thus.—They had a rod or stick, with an iron hook affixed: this they introduced through a window, or any other aperture, where plunder might be procured, and helped themselves at pleasure; the day was occupied by them in the character of beggars, when they made their observations for the angling of the night.

"Wild Rogues were the offspring of thieves and beggars, who received the rudiments of the art even before they left their mothers' backs: "To go into churches and great crowds, and to nim golden buttons off men's cloaks; and being very little are shown how to creep into cellar windows, or other small entrances, and in the night to convey out thereat whatever they can find to the thievish receivers, who wait without for that purpose; and sometimes do open the door to let in such who have designed to rob the house; if taken, the tenderness of their age makes an apology or an excuse for their fault, and so are let alone to be hanged at riper years.'

"Palliards or Clapperdogeons, were those women who sat and reclined in the streets, with their own borrowed or stolen children hanging about them, crying through cold, pinching, or real disease, who begged relief as widows, and, in the name of their fatherless children, gaining by this artifice, 'a great deal of money, whilst her comrogue lies begging in the fields, with climes or artificial sores.' The way they commonly take to make them is by sperewort or arsenic, which will draw blisters; or they take unslacked lime and soap, mingled with the rust of old iron: these being well tempered together, and spread thick upon two pieces of leather, they apply to the leg, binding it thereunto very hard, which in a very little time would fret the skin so that the flesh would appear all raw, &c. &c.

"Fraters were impostors who went through the country with forged patents for briefs, and thus diverted charity from its proper direction.

"Abram men were fellows whose occupations seem to have been forgotten. They are described in the 'Canting Academy' in these words:—'Abram men are otherwise called Tom of Bedlams; they are very strangely and antickly garbed, with several coloured ribands or tape in their hats, it may be instead of a feather, a fox tail hanging down, a long stick with ribands streaming, and the like; yet for all their seeming madness they have wit enough to steal as they go.'

"The Whip-Jacks have left us a specimen of their fraternity. They were counterfeit mariners, whose conversations were plentifully embellished with sea-terms, and falsehoods of their danger in the exercise of their profession. Instead of securing their arms and legs close to their bodies, and wrapping them in bandages (as the modern whip-jack is in the habit of doing, to excite compassion for the loss of limbs and severe wounds), the ancients merely pretended they had lost their all by shipwreck, and were reduced to beg their way to a sea-port, if in the country; or to some remote one, if in London.

"Mumpers.—The persons thus termed are described as being of both sexes: they were not solicitors for food, but money and cloathes. 'The male mumper, in the times of the late usurpation, was clothed in an old torn cassock, begirt with a girdle, with a black cap, and a white one peeping out underneath.' With a formal and studied countenance he stole up to a gentleman, and whispered him softly in the ear, that he was a poor sequestered parson, with a wife and many children. At other times, they would assume the habit of a decayed gentleman, and beg as if they had been ruined by their attachment to the royal cause. Sometimes the mumper appeared with an apron before him, and a cap on his head, and begs in the nature of a broken tradesman, who, having been a long time sick, hath spent all his remaining stock, and so weak he cannot work! The females of this class of miscreants generally attacked the ladies, and in a manner suited to make an impression on their finer feelings.

"Domerars are such as counterfeit themselves dumb, and have a notable art to roll their tongues up into the roof of their mouth, that you would verily believe their tongues were cut out; and, to make you have a stronger belief thereof, they will gape and show you where it was done, clapping in a sharp stick, and, touching the tongue, make it bleed—and then the ignorant dispute it no further.'

"Patricos are the strolling priests: every hedge is their parish, and every wandering rogue their parishioner. The service, he saith, is the marrying of couples, without the Gospel, or Book of Common Prayer, the solemnity whereof is thus: the parties to be married find out a dead horse, or any other beast, and standing the one on the one side and the other on the other, the patrico bids them to live together till death them part; and, so shaking hands, the wedding is ended.'"

Further reading:
The Town by Leigh Hunt

Book Review: Cotton By Giorgio Riello

Did you know that cotton is the most used textile in the world today? Sheets, towels, clothes... everything is made with this breathable and durable, but unassuming, fabric that we take for granted. Yet, cotton has played a very important part in the history of our world. In fact, we can say that it has really "made the modern world", as the subtitle of Giorgio Riello's new book states. In his work, Riello covers every aspect of cotton - from the raw material through to the various manufacturing processes, and its trade in the various world markets - to try and explain why cotton had such an influence in shaping our world.

By the early 14th century, India was one of the biggest producers of cotton, exporting it to Europe and Africa. Cotton was a highly sought-after commodity in Medieval and modern Europe because it could easily resist washing. Enterprising merchants, realising most of the European continent wasn't suitable for growing cotton, started to develop new methods to stamp cotton cloths imported from Asia with different patterns and colours they then resold in different markets. Although several governments tried at different times to ban the trade and consumption of Indian cotton cloth to safeguard the national production of wools and linens, these backfired as they encouraged domestic production.

The development of new machines for spinning and weaving, united to the political ties that united the old continent, and in particularly Britain, with the new world, whose vast territory was ideal for the establishment of cotton plantations worked by African slaves, saw Europe become the new manufacturing powerhouse, relegating Asia, which couldn't compete with the quantity and prices of their rivals' goods, in the backseat. Now, things are changing again, with low-waging Asia regaining the role it had lost.

Cotton (the book, that is) is divided in three parts, each considering "the interrelationships between resources (in particular raw cotton), exchange (trade and consumption) and production (technologies, organizations, institutions and human agency)." In every chapter, Riello asks a different question and tries to answer it: why cotton and not another fabric like wool? Why Britain surpassed India and China in the production and trade of cotton? What was the role of slavery? How did the Europeans overcome the obstacles they encountered along the way? Riello examines each question in detail, objectively and without shying away from the most controversial aspects of the cotton manufacture and trade industries.

The book is enriched with lots of tables to give you a better idea of the figures, size and extension of the phenomenons discussed, as well as with beautiful illustrations about cotton textiles and paintings representing different moments of the manufacturing and trading processes. The pictures really make the book come alive as they describe exactly all the different topics covered in it, reminding the reader how tangible, complex and still relevant the story of cotton is.

I also loved that each chapter usually starts with a description of an illustration or of an anecdote relating to cotton. Books like this can be quite dry and boring, especially for those who don't usually read academic works, but these little stories hook your interest right from the beginning. Granted, this is not the type of book someone with absolutely no interest in the subject would find easy to get through. It's a scholarly work, after all. But the author, also aided by the photos, really tries, and succeeds, to make the book flow as easily as possible. Overall, I highly recommend it. It's a fascinating read that provides valuable insights on how cotton transformed the world in the past millennium.

Enriched with beautiful illustrations and tables, Cotton by Giorgio Riello explains how cotton transformed the world economy over the past millennium, providing valuable insights on how Europe came to replace Asia as the new manufacturing powerhouse during the Industrial revolution. Although those who aren't into academic works may find the writing style a bit dull at times, Riello does its best to engage (and keep) the readers' attention. Overall, this is a highly informative and fascinating read.

Available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Waterstones.

Rating: 4/5

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Countess Lavinia Spencer

Lavinia Bingham, the daughter of Sir Charles Bingham, 1st Earl of Lucan and Margaret Smith, was born on 27 July 1762 at Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland. The baby would grow into a beautiful young woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. But Lavinia was also clever, and, having mastered the rules of etiquette well, knew how to behave in polite society. When the young George Spencer, brother of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, met her, he was captivated by her charms. Despite her lack of wealth, the couple got married on 6 March 1781 at Charles Street, Mayfair, London.

However, Lavinia wasn't as angelic as her appearance may have led people to believe. She was very jealous of her husband and didn't want anything, or anyone, to come between them. Not even his sisters. Rather than befriend her sisters-in-law, Lavinia criticized them, especially Georgiana. She constantly found fault with what the Duchess did and even complained of her to George. Poor man, caught between his wife and his sister! His sister Georgiana was the Queen of the ton, and even though her life was far from perfect, she was very envied for her charms, position and wealth. Lavinia, who should have known better than most people what Georgiana's life really was like, envied her too.

The fact that Lavinia's attempts to be become a successful socialite too, which included trying to raise the money to erect a statue of a naked Achilles as a tribute to the Duke of Wellington, failed certainly didn't help. Georgiana and her sister Harriet couldn't stand her either. Harriet, in a letter, mentioned Lavinia, saying "her cleverness (which term peculiarly suits her in every way) … coarseness of mind, as well as of expression … intolerance … the most extravagant abuse, the most unsparing scrutiny. Nothing escapes: character, understanding, opinions, dress, person, age, infirmity – all fall equally under [her] scalping knife."

The feud would end only towards the end of Georgiana's life, when the two women, who were both very interested in politics, gave a political ball together. Lavinia died, aged 68, on 8 June 1831 at Spencer House in London. She was buried at Brington, Northamptonshire.

Fashions For January 1808

What would a fashionable English lady would have worn in the cold winter month of January 1808? Here are a couple of suggestions:

A Morning Dress

A round cambric gown, a walking length, with short full sleeve, and puckered cuff, buttoned or laced down the back, and made high round the neck, with a full frill of lace. A military stock, edged round the chin with the same. A figured Chinese scarf, the colour American green, twisted round the figure in the style of antique drapery. Melon bonnet the same colour, striped, and trimmed to correspond with the scarf. Hair in irregular curls on the forehead. Earrings of gold or topaz. Long York tan, or Limerick gloves, above the elbow. Slippers of yellow Morocco. This dress, divested of the bonnet, is considered genteel neglige for any period of the day.

A Morning Walking, Or Carriage Habiliment

A simple breakfast robe of Indian muslin, or cambric; with plain high collar, and long sleeve. Plain chemisette front, buttoned dawn the bosom. A Calypso wrap of morone velvet, or kerseymere, trimmed entirely round with white ermine, or swansdown. Spanish hanging-sleeve, suspended from the back, and falling over the left shoulder, terminating in a round point below the elbow. This ornament is lined throughout with skin the same as the trimming. A mountain hat of white imperial beaver, or fur, tied under the chin with a ribband the colour of the coat. Gloves and shots of American green, or buff. Cropt hair, confined with a band, and curled over the left eye.

Further reading:
La Belle Assemblée, Vol.3

Historical Reads: Kitty Fisher

Heather Carroll, author of The Duchess Of Devonshire's Gossip Guide To The 18th Century has written a funny and informative article on the courtesan Kitty Fisher. To quote:

You could say Kitty had an appetite for the finer things in life. Literally. Once she had eaten a thousand-pound banknote on her bread and butter. Yes, Miss Fisher was at the forefront of celebrity in 18th century Europe. Like her French counterpart, Madame de Pompadour, Kitty was admired despite her unwholesome career and attracted a lot of press. Of course to get to the status of a high class prostitute, courtesans like Kitty had to do their own PR in the form publishing pamphlets to advertise their wares. Kitty F--r's Merry Thoughts seemed to imply that not only would you get a lot of bang for your buck (sorry couldn't resist that one!) but some clever and witty conversation as well. No wonder Casanova refused her on the basis of her only knowing English!

To read the entire article, click here.

What Would A 19th Century Lady Read?

I've always been an avid reader and I'm grateful I was born at a time when books are easily accessible and cheap (if not free). It wasn't always like that. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, books were quite expensive, and were often released in volumes that had no binding. If an educated young lady on a budget, like Jane Austen, wanted to read, she had to subscribe to a circulating library. She'd pay an early fee and was then able to borrow whatever book it contained. What kind of books were these? Here are a few samples:

Let's start with one of my favouirte genres: biographies. The Victorian historian Agnes Strickland published several, including Lives of the Queens of England, The Letters of Mary Queen of Scots, and Lives of the Tudor Princesses, Including Lady Jane Gray and Her Sisters. Although some of these biographies contain some mistakes, they still are fascinating, and informative, reads.

Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and the other works of Jane Austen were very popular. Although her books are love stories, they aren't simple and superficial. On the contrary, Jane portrayed, in her witty style, the hypocrisy, customs and habits of the society she lived in. Another author who denounced the evils of his time in his works was Charles Dickens. The Pickwick Papers, The Adventures of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield are just some of the masterpieces that are still loved and admired today.

Historical novels
For those into historical novels, there were Walter Scott's works. Waverley, Ivanhoe and Kenilworth, to name but a few, were novels set in Scotland and England that covered similar themes, such as Jacobitism, the '45 rebellion, the idea of Scottishness and the social changes in these countries throughout the centuries. These novels are all very enjoyable even today.

A young lady can't read only books, can she? Magazines such as The Ackermann's Repository, La Belle Assemblee and Ladys Monthly Museum were very popular. They gave advice on household matters, features short stories, novels and conundrum to entertain readers and fashion plates to keep them up to date with the latest styles.

Romance novels
Those looking for a lighter read found it in Fanny Burney's novels. Fanny, who had been a reader to Their Majesties George III and Queen Charlotte, wrote Evelina, Cecelia, and Camilla. They feature young heroines who, having reached marriageable age, have entered society to find a good husband. Burney's works too are a satire of the society she lived in, but not as incisive and profound as that expressed in Austen's novels.

Scandalous and controversial reads
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte created a stir when it was released in 1847. Although praised for its originality, it received scathing criticism for the unpleasantness of its characters and the story. An older novel that would have been embarrassing to own (which, of course, made people all the more keen to read it) was The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis. Written in 1795, it tells the story of a young woman who, in love with an abbot, disguises herself as a monk to enter his monastery. But this is not just a story of forbidden love. The woman, in fact, turns out to be a demon!

Scary reads
Ann Radcliffe was (and still is) the undisputed queen of the gothic genre. The Mystery of Udolpho, The Castle of Wolfenbach, The Italian and A Sicilian romance were spooky, and for the time, scary stories involving beautiful and young heroines persecuted by nasty (although often good-looking) villains. And of course, a good-looking, but good, hero would eventually come to their rescue. The stories were often set in convents and castles, complete with their own ghosts, that were pervaded by an eerie and mysterious atmosphere.

Science fiction
One of the very first examples of science fiction, which also included gothic and romantic elements, was released anonymously in 1818. The title was Frankenstein and, as we all know, its author Mary Shelley. The scientist Victor is obsessed with the idea of conquering death and comes up with a technique to bring inanimate bodies to life. But once his "dream" comes true, he's horrified by what heìs done and abandons the creature. Alone and lonely, the creature asks Victor to create a companion for him, but he refuses, with disastrous consequences for everyone. Although the book is not scary by today's standards, it is still a masterpiece that poses some very deep questions about life, death and immortality.

What parents wanted daughters to read
So far, we've mostly discussed books young women wanted to read, but what about what their parents wanted them to read? They would, of course, chose for their offspring edifying books. And what's more edifying than the Bible? Another popular book (but not very much loved by the young women forced to read it) was Sermons to Young Women, a collection of sermons by James Fordyce published in 1766. Considered a good orator, Fordyce believed women were weaker than men and were so to obey them in all things.

What would you have read in the nineteenth century?

Etimology Of The Word Lady

Have you ever wondered where the word lady comes from? The 1829 edition of The Lady's Pocket Magazine explains:

It was at first Leafdian, from leaf, or laf, which signifies a loaf of bread, and D'ian to serve. It was afterwards corrupted to lafty, and at length to lady. So that it appears the original meaning of the term implies one who distributes bread. The true lady is one who feeds the poor, and relieves their indigence.

Classic Books: The Anthology Of Spoon River & The Complete Works Of Emily Dickinson

Do you like poetry books? I do, but I don't read them as often as I'd like. There are just so many books getting released each day and, somehow, poetry collections seem to often end up at the bottom of my to-read pile. I really have to remedy that. In the meantime, I want to share with you my thoughts about two of my favourite poetry books:

Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Marsters
This is my absolute favourite poetry book and the first one I ever read too. I discovered it in Junior High School, when my English teacher translated some of the poems for the class. I was fascinated by them and, there and then, I decided that, once my English would improve, I'd buy the book. I hate reading translations. Some of the nuances and meanings get lost in translations, and that's even more true when it comes to poems, works of art that their authors have spent lots of time and fatigue in perfecting to exactly convey their emotions and messages. The Spoon River Anthology is a collection of epitaphs of residents of a small American town. Now that they are all dead, they can reveal their joys and sorrows, their scandals and the hypocrisy of the society they lived in. It is such a clever concept and very well executed too. The poems are all in free verse and very easy to understand. It's a sad and melancholy book but also a very enjoyable one that I highly recommend to anyone.
Available at: amazon.com
Rating: 5/5

The Complete Poems Of Emily Dickinson
Like it happens to many artists, Emily Dickinson's originality wasn't understood in her time, and only 11 of her poems were published while she was alive. After her death, several collections of her poems were released, but these were liberally edited and weren't therefore an accurate representation of her works and the feelings and emotions she expressed in them. We have to wait until 1955 for a collection that includes all her unabridged poems. As a poet, Dickinson dealt with a variety of themes, such as nature, God, death, immortality, love and pain. Her insights into life, the human condition and psychology and nature are very profound, and her use of free verse original. If I had to find a fault with this book, I'd say that some of her poems tend to be quite similar, which may bore those who aren't into poetry. If that's you, I suggest you read only a few poems at a time to better be able to appreciate them. Dickinson's work is beautiful, but the sheer amount of poems in this book can be quite overwhelming! Overall, this book is a must for anyone who wants to read and understand Dickinson's work. Highly recommended.
Available at: amazon.com
Rating: 4.5/5

What's your favourite poetry book?

Catherine Of Aragon's Pregnancies

Catherine of Aragon had been married to Henry VIII for 16 years when he started to doubt the validity of their union. The King desperately needed a son to secure the succession, and he saw Catherine's failure to give him an heir as a sign that God was displeased with the marriage. Catherine had been previously married to his brother Arthur and so, Henry argued, a papal dispensation wasn't enough to make the union valid. It was around this time that Anne Boleyn entered the picture and the King would stop at nothing to annul his first marriage and contract a new one to the woman he loved, hoping to finally have a son with her. As we all know, he succeeded in getting rid of his first wife and Catherine spent her last years discarded, unhappy and alone.

To understand why this happened, we need to examine Catherine's obstetric history. The Queen had fallen pregnant several times, but all her pregnancies, bar one, ended in miscarriages and stillbirths or produced babies that would die shortly after their births. Only a bouncing baby girl, the future Mary I, survived childhood. It is impossible to say exactly how many times Catherine fell pregnant, given the scarcity of primary sources and the fact that miscarriages and stillbirths, even when suffered by a Queen, weren't, at the time, always considered important enough to be recorded for posterity.

Still, historians have postulated on the number. Hester Chapman believes that Catherine fell pregnant seven times; A.F. Pollard brings the number up to ten; and J.J. Scarisbrick states that Catherine had “several miscarriages, three infants who were either stillborn or died immediately after birth (two of them males), two infants who died within a few weeks of birth (one of them a boy) and one girl, Princess Mary”. Professor Sir John Dewhurst, author of a paper entitled “The Alleged Miscarriages of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn” believes that "several" must mean at least three, meaning that Catherine of Aragorn, if Scaribricks' theory is correct, had at least nine pregnancies. If she only produced a healthy girl, it certainly wasn't for lack of trying!

Yet, Dewhurst points out that primary sources confirm only six pregnancies. The first one ended on 31st January 1510, 33 weeks after her marriage to Henry. Unfortunately, the Queen was delivered of a stillborn daughter. However, the birth remained quite secret. Diego Fernandez, Catherine's chancellor, wrote to the Queen's father, King Ferdinand, only four months later stating that "the affair was so secret that no one knew it until now except the King my lord, two Spanish women, a physician and I". Catherine herself, sometimes later, wrote to her father saying she had, "miscarried a dead daughter and because it was considered here an ill omen I did not write before to tell your Highness."

Catherine fell pregnant again pretty soon, and, on 1st January 1511, she gave birth to a son. The happy event was celebrated with gun salutes, tolling bells and feasting. But this joy was to be short-lived. Little Henry became ill and died on 22 February, only 52 days after his birth. Catherine next gave birth on 17th September 1513, although it is unclear whether the baby, a boy, was stillborn or lived only a short time. The latter option seems more likely as The Venetian Calendar of State Papers records that "a male heir was born to the King of England and will inherit the crown, the other son having died".

Catherine was once again soon with child. Court official De Plein wrote that summer to Margaret of Savoy, saying, "it is said that the Queen is with child and, as far as I know, and can see, it is so". However, we don't know exactly when Catherine gave birth nor how the pregnancy ended. The Venetian ambassador Badoer wrote to his senate in November that "the Queen has been delivered of a stillborn male child of eight months to the very great grief of the whole court". The chronicler Holinshed instead recorded that the baby had been born alive but died shortly afterwards: "In November the Queen was delivered of a prince which lived not long after".

Catherine's fifth pregnancy finally resulted in a bouncing baby who survived to adulthood, but it was "only" a girl. Mary was born on 18th February 1516, and was received with joy mixed with disappointment. She wasn't the long-awaited heir but at least Catherine had shown that she could produce healthy babies. Henry optimistically told the Venetian ambassador that "we are both young and by God's grace boys will follow". But Catherine would give birth only once more, on 10th November 1581, and the child would be a daughter. Stillborn. It seems that this child was premature, as inferred by a letter written by the Venetian ambassador: "The Queen has been delivered in her eighth month of a stillborn daughter to the great sorrow of the nation at large".

Although it is possible that Catherine suffered further miscarriages (there definitely was time between some of her later pregnancies), it is important to point out that the evidence for these consists of a few phrases in a couple of letters hinting that the Queen was unwell and rumoured to be with child. Therefore, until further proof should emerge, these sentences are merely unsubstantiated gossip and rumours and should be considered as such. It is also very difficult to determine the cause of her fertility problems. Catherine was very religious and fasted a lot, which may have harmed the children she was carrying. It is also possible that the huge amount of stress she was under to produce a healthy son contributed in no small part to her problems.

It is little wonder, though, that Henry, who lived in a very superstitious society, started wondering whether God was displeased with his marriage to his brother's widow. Of course this doesn't excuse his appalling behaviour to his first wife, but it helps us to understand a bit better Henry's obsession for a son and heir and his reasons for wanting an annulment.

Further reading:
The Alleged Miscarriages of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn by Sir John Dewhurst
The Wives Of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

Marriage A La Mode by William Hogarth

English painter, engraver and cartoonist William Hogarth is one of my favourite artists. His moral and social works ruthlessly but wittily depict the evils of his time, giving us amazing insights into the world of 18th century England. One of his best known works is called Marriage A La Mode. A series of six paintings, Marriage A La Mode shows the ills that result from arranged marriages, a practice very widespread among the upper classes at the time. As always, click on the pictures to enlarge them.


The marriage between the son of the bankrupt Earl Squanderfield with the daughter of a rich merchant is being arranged. The earl is sitting down with his legs bandaged, which is a sign of gout. This disease, which is caused by eating rich and fine foods only the wealthy could afford, is used by Hogarth to emphasize the status of the earl. The earl himself is keen to showcase his position in society, by pointing out his family tree. The merchant, plainly dressed, is handing over the marriage contract. To them, this is just a business arrangement. The merchant is selling his daughter to further his position in society, while the earl needs the money to build his new house and replenish his finances.

Behind them, sitting on the sofa, are the future bride and groom. The son of the earl, richly dressed, isn't remotely interested in the affair. He doesn't even bother to look at his fiancée, busy as he is at staring at himself in the mirror. The poor young girl, on the other hand, is distraught. She's wringing her handkerchief, while the lawyer Silvertongue is trying to console her. Over the couple hangs a picture of the Medusa by Caravaggio, while, in the left bottom corner, two dogs are chained to each other. These elements further emphasize how doomed their marriage is.


The couple is now married but far from happy. In fact, they aren't even interested in each other's company, and have spent the previous night apart. The husband has just come back to a messy home after a night out. He spent it gambling (and losing), fighting a duel (which again he lost as it can be inferred from the broken sword at his feet), and whoring (as the lady's cap pulled out from his coat pocket by the dog clearly shows). But the lady's cap is not the only thing that he's gotten from his extramarital affairs. The black mark on his neck is a sign of syphilis.

His bride doesn't seem too distraught anymore. She must have decided, since she's married to a man she doesn't love, to at least, enjoy the money and opportunities that come with her new status. She enjoys attending and giving house parties (she hosted one the night before) and has even started to have affairs too, as we can infer from her open posture. The phallic statuettes on the mantel indicate the strong sexual appetites of the couple, which however, they don't seem interested in fulfilling in the marital bed. Their steward walks away with a handful of bills after having tried, and failed, to make them realise that, if they keep up this licentious and extravagant lifestyle, they'll soon be broke.


The Viscount, together with his young mistress, is visiting M. de la Pillule, a quack, to find a cure for their STD, as the treatment previously prescribed to them just isn't working. The poor young girl, as the open sore on the mouth she's dabbing at reveals, has just contracted syphilis, probably from her lover. Unlike the Viscount, who doesn't seem to take anything, nor even his health, seriously, the girl is quite upset. The other woman in the picture seems to be the young mistress' mother, and she too shows signs of having contracted syphilis. The whole office is littered with macabre objects such as skulls, bones and sarcophagi that seem to predict an ominous fate for the doctor's visitors.


What is the wife doing while her husband, who has now become an Earl following the death of his father, is visiting a quack? She's enjoying her morning toilette, a ritual that only the very rich could afford. A singer and a flutist, both famous Italian artists of the time, are entertaining the Countess' guests. The Countess, who's having her hair dressed by a French barber, is deep in conversation with the lawyer Silvertongue, who's inviting her to a masquerade as we can infer by his pointing to a masque. Masquerades were famous for the licentious behavior in which the guests, hiding behind their masks, indulged in.

There are lots of clues in the picture that clearly show that, if the Countess and lawyer aren't lovers already, they soon will be. The walls are full of pictures with sexual connotations. Zeus and Io by Correggio depicts the Greek god, in the form of a cloud, impregnating the beautiful nymph; another painting shows once again Zeus, who, having fallen in love with Ganimede, brings him to Mount Olympus to be cupbearer of the gods; a biblical picture represents Lot with his daughters, who tried to seduce him. On the floor, a young page is holding a statue of Actaeon, the huntsman turned into a stag by Artemis for spying her while bathing.


The Countess and the lawyer, as we can see from the masks on the floor, did go to a masquerade, and then, decided to consummate their illicit relationship. But where to go to do that? To a bagnio, of course. At the time, bagnios were like those modern motels where you can rent a room with no questions asked. But her husband managed to find her, and catch her in the act, anyway. And with nefarious consequences. A duel ensued. As we've previously seen, the Earl isn't very good at fighting. He gets mortally wounded. As his wife kneels on the floor begging for his forgiveness, the murderer, still in his night shirt, escapes from the window. The master of the house, hearing the tumult, bursts in and sees this horrid scene. The tapestry that covers the wall depicts the Judgment of Solomon, which recalls the couple's selfishness that has led them to their doom.


In the previous picture, the lawyer escaped through a window, but he didn't go far. He was arrested, found guilt of murder and hanged at Tyburn. His dying speech lies at the feet of his lover. The distraught Countess is about to join him. She poisoned herself with laudanum. As she is about to die, the nurse brings her her daughter to say goodbye. It doesn't look like the child will have a long and healthy life either. She has already contracted syphilis from one of her parents, and is crippled. The Countess' father, far from regretting the marriage he had arranged and the pain it has brought to his daughter, is even now trying to make money exploiting her. He's stealing a ring (and probably anything else he can get his greedy hands on) from her finger, knowing that all the possessions that belonged to people who committed suicide are to be forfeited to the state. The dim-witted servant who fetched the poison to her mistress is being reprimanded for his mistake. A very thin dog is taking advantage of the commotion to steal food. The surroundings are very different from the previous opulent mansion she used to live in after her marriage.

This series of painting clearly showcases the folly of marrying for money rather than love. No one has gained anything bar misery and despair from it. The young couple is dead. Their only child is a daughter (and a sick one too), which severs the end of this family line. Even the merchant who sold his daughter to the rich Earl's son didn't obtain the wealth he imagined, but has to steal whatever he can before everything is taken by the State. This criticism, however, didn't go down well with the aristocrats of the time, who greatly indulged in this practice and, as a result, Marriage A La Mode didn't make as much money as its author had hoped. But, hopefully, it made people reflect on the evils of this practice and, thus, contribute to its abandonment.

Historical Reads: Marie Antoinette in Advertising

Reading Treasure discusses how Marie Antoinette has been used in advertising throughout the centuries. To quote:

In one sense, Marie Antoinette has been used in advertising since her ascendant as the pivotal star of Versailles--fashion plates and even dolls bearing her likeness were not just demonstrations of the sumptuousness of the crown's wealth or a record of the Queen's appearance, but a figurative, flashing "Buy Me!" sign to all of the fashionable ladies who could afford to aspire to their sovereign's wardrobe choices.

By the time of the queen's death in 1793, however, her status as a walking billboard for the pricey marchande de modes had long since ended. But her death has not stopped her--or her story--from being used in advertisements that market everything from Victorian-era medicines to chocolates and even highlighter pens.

Marie Antoinette, like many historical figures, featured heavily on many 19th and 20th century advertisement cards. These cards were usually either printed as postcards or trading cards--both a potential way to advertise their product to the masses.

Not surprisingly, Marie Antoinette is often found in advertisements for sweets, such as chocolates.

To read the entire post, click here.

Lines To A Lady Weeping

George III's eldest son, the Prince of Wales, had been a Whig until 1811, when the Regency Act, allowing him to rule during the mental illness of his father, became law. At the time the Tories were in power but everyone, knowing his political leanings, expected him to replace the current government with a Whig one, led by William Wyndham Grenville. Much to the Whig's disappointment, that didn't happen, and during the years, the Prince became increasingly pro-Tory.

This grieved his daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales, who was a fervent Whig. At one dinner the Princess, distressed at hearing her father launch a scathing attack on the Whigs and their leader, burst into tears and left the room. At the time, the Princess saw Lord Byron, who was a known Whig as well, quite a lot. In a poem, published anonymously, the poet recalled the incident thus:

Lines To A Lady Weeping

Weep, daughter of a royal line,
A Sire's disgrace, a realm's decay;
Ah! happy if each tear of thine
Could wash a father's fault away!

Weep--for thy tears are Virtue's tears­
Auspicious to these suffering isles;
And be each drop in future years
Repaid thee by thy people's smiles!

Further reading:
Charlotte & Leopold by James Chambers

History Of Susan Strivewell

While reading the July 1816 edition of the Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, Manufactures, etc, I came across a letter written by a certain Susan Strivewell about her life as a servant. I'm never sure if such letters were real or made up (I also wonder whether the letters modern magazines print are really written by their readers!), but either way, it offers an interesting insight into the life of servants in the Regency era and what they had to put up with. Here it is, enjoy!




As my lady is a subscriber to your Repository, I have an opportunity of seeing it; and observing some time ago a reflection made by one of your correspondents— "that if servants were to be heard in their turn, they might also be found to have some cause of complaint;" I thought that my history would prove the truth of this reflection, and I have taken the liberty to send you some account of it.

My parents were very poor people, who had some difficulty to spare the money necessary to send me to a day school; reading and writing were consequently the sum of my acquirements. My mother, who was very notable and industrious, took care to qualify me for service, but I had the misfortune to lose her before I attained my sixteenth year; and my father survived her only a few months. This severe loss rendered me for some weeks incapable of doing any thing; but an aunt to whose house I went on the death of my parents, soon reminded me of the necessity there was for my getting my bread, and as she had a cousin settled in London, she gave me a letter to her; paid the expenses of my journey to town out of the money produced by the sale of my parents' few effects, and I set out from home, with many charges to be a good girl, and many wishes for my success in getting a situation.

I wished if I could to get a place as lady's maid, but my cousin told me, she feared my being a country girl might be an obstacle, and advised me to go after a situation as housemaid; and finding there was one wanted at Mrs. Rigid's, I went to offer myself. Mrs. Rigid, who was an old lady, put on her spectacles and surveyed me for some time without speaking; at last she asked me if I was not ashamed of myself to come after a housemaid's place dressed in such a ridiculous manner (my dress I should tell you, sir, was a black stuff gown, a black silk handkerchief on my neck, and a straw bonnet with black ribbons).

"When I heard you was a country girl," pursued Mrs. Rigid, "I was in hopes of seeing a decent comfortable person, dressed as servants were in my young days, but instead of that you are as fine as any London madam of them all."—"I will dress in whatever manner you please, ma'am," replied I, "if you will have the goodness to take me into your service."—" Not I, indeed !" cried she; "there are places that may suit you, but I am sure mine is not one of them." I attempted to reply, but she angrily ordered me to get about my business, and I returned to my cousin very much dejected. She desired me not to make myself uneasy, for she was pretty sure I should not meet with another lady who would find fault with my dress; and as there was a children's maid wanted at Doctor Doublefee's, I went after the situation immediately.

I was shewn into an elegant apartment, where Mrs. Doublefee sat reading; she turned round on my entrance, and surveying me with a look of contempt, "Pray, young woman," cried she, "what do you want?" I stammered out, that I came to offer myself as children's maid. "Then you have a great deal of assurance," said she; "do you suppose I should suffer my children to be waited upon by such a vulgar-looking, ill-dressed creature as you? Why I should be ashamed to see my scullion in such clothes; a rusty old stuff gown, and a nasty coarse straw bonnet!" —"They are my best at present, madam," replied I, " but I will buy others, if you wish it."—" What, I suppose you think then, that if you had one decent suit of clothes, that would be sufficient for a place like mine! I never saw so much brass in my life. Go, you had better offer your services at a public-house; 'tis the only place you are fit for." I was too much dismayed to attempt any further excuse, and I returned almost in despair.

One would suppose I had been asking charity instead of a service, from the difficulty I had in getting a place. Some ladies thought me too young; others were afraid I was not smart enough; some told me they were determined never to take country girls, because they had had several, who all turned out very bad: others preferred country girls, but then they must have lived two or three years in service in the country. At last, when I was beginning to despair, I heard of a situation as attendant on two young ladies, sisters, and although the place was said to be a very hard one, I went after it directly. As soon as I entered the room where they were sitting, the youngest said to her sister, "Why, Lord! Harriet, this girl's a mere country dowdy, and I am certain she is good for nothing."—" How do you know what she is good for?" replied Miss Harriet. "Come here, child, and let me speak to you." She then began to inquire what I could do; but I was so frightened at what her sister had said, that I gave a very poor account of myself: nevertheless, she hired me, more I believe out of opposition to her sister, than from any other motive.

I went home the following day quite elated to think that I had got a place at last; and as I knew that I really could do every thing that Miss Harriet required of me, I was resolved to convince her sister, that the country dowdy was fit for something. But before I had been a week in my place, I saw clearly that it would be impossible for me ever to give satisfaction to my two mistresses, for whenever the one gave me any thing to do, the other was sure to set me about something else. I had agreed to wait upon them both, to wash all their small linen, and do what needle-work I could at my leisure. Miss Sophia, the youngest, having taken a dislike to me, complained continually that every thing I did for her was wrong: if I dressed her, she had not patience with my awkwardness; whatever pains I took in getting up her muslins, she never found them fit to be worn, and she protested I did not do one quarter of the needle-work she wanted. 

Miss Harriet was displeased with me, because she thought I paid more attention to her sister than to herself. "It was always the way," she said, "that she was imposed upon by servants; these creatures knew the easiness of her temper, and they took advantage of if but she was determined to be no longer a cypher, but to have proper attention paid to her orders." It was in vain for me to say, that I wished to do every thing in my power to please her, she constantly declared I did not take the least pains to do it; and at the end of six months she discharged me, because, she said, I added insolence to ingratitude, in declaring it was not my fault if I did not give satisfaction.

As my place had been truly uncomfortable, I was not very sorry to lose it; but I resolved, that, in taking another, I would be careful to have but one mistress. In a few days I was engaged as maid to Mrs. Tempest, who told me when she hired me, that I should find her a good mistress, if I deserved it, but I must not mind being scolded now and then, for she was rather passionate. As I had been scolded continually for six months before, I thought I should be very well off in being scolded only now and then, and I went home in very good spirits. For a whole week my mistress behaved so kindly to me, that I thought myself the luckiest creature in the world; but one day having the misfortune to break a smelling-bottle, it put her into such a passion, that she snatched up a heavy china water-jug, and threw it at me. Luckily it missed me, but I was so terrified, that although she condescended to say she was sorry for it, I quitted her the next day.

Mrs. Thrifty, my next lady, made some difficulty of engaging me, because I wished, to stipulate for leave to go to church, and sometimes to see my cousin: with respect to the first, however, she said she would spare me when it suited her convenience (which I must observe was only once during nine months that I lived with her); but as to the latter, she neither allowed her servants to go out, nor to have any followers. This lady, who was rather in years, and had no family, was very notable, and as she frequently said, that idleness was the mother of mischief, she took care to keep every body about her employed. Finding that I was a good needle-woman, she gave me plenty of work, and from six in the morning till eleven or sometimes twelve at night, I laboured without intermission. However, as my mistress was not ill tempered, and sometimes encouraged me by saying I did more needle-work than any other servant she had had, I bore the hardships of my place very well.

One day while I was sitting at work in my lady's dressing-room, my master entered, and asked where she was. I told him, I believed in the drawing-room, and inquired whether I should let her know that be wanted her. "No," cried he, "my business is with you: 'tis a shame that so fine a girl as you are, should be labouring in this manner from morning till night; I have a plan in my head to render you more comfortable." I replied, that I was as well off as I wished to be, and I turned directly to leave the room. He got between me and the door, and attempted to catch me in his arms. I repulsed him very angrily, and at this moment my mistress came out of her bedchamber, which communicated with the dressing-room.

My master vanished in a moment, and she began, with passion, to abuse me in the most violent terms: I was a vile dissembling hussy, an artful hypocrite; this was my sanctity, forsooth, to inveigle a married man! but she never knew any pretenders to religion but what were wicked in their hearts. However, she had heard all that passed, and she would take care that I should not gain admission into another family, to disturb the peace of it, as I had done her's. "If you heard what passed, madam," cried I, "you must know that I am not in fault, and that the blame is entirely my master's." At these words her passion rose beyond all bounds. "Was there ever such insolence!" cried she, "to dare to blame your master! as if all men will not take liberties with such forward, vile creatures as you are." She ran on in this manner till she was out of breath, and then throwing me my wages, she desired I would take my rags, and get out of her house directly.

I went immediately to Mrs. Terripest, who had the goodness, on hearing my story, to say she would get me a situation; which she very soon did, with a widow lady, who told me when she engaged me, that she wanted little personal attendance, and did not require needlework; but she wished to have a trusty person who would act as housekeeper, and on whom she could depend to let nothing be wasted in the family. This last part of my office, however, was a sinecure, for she took care to keep her house in such a manner that we should have nothing to waste. She made it her business to know the very lowest prices of all sorts of provisions, and as she bought every thing for ready money, she always took care before I went to market, to tell me what each article was to cost; and as I did not dare to exceed the price she mentioned, I was in general obliged to buy the worst of every thing, and my mistress was in consequence always dissatisfied with me.

She never saw such bad provisions, she said, in her life; it was impossible for her to eat such trash, it was only fit for dogs. If I told her it was because I was fixed to a price, she insisted upon it, that I might have purchased the best meat, &c. for the same money: but she supposed I was too fine a lady to try to get bargains; I did not care how dear I bought every thing, because they cost me nothing; and sometimes she has asked me, whether I was quite sure that I really gave that price for the article. As I had been brought up in the strictest principles of honesty, I was much mortified at these speeches, and one day I could not help saying, that if she suspected me, she did wrong to suffer me to lay out her money. This speech produced such tart reproaches for my pertness, that I burst out a-crying. My mistress ordered me to quit the room, and not make myself so ridiculous; she had said nothing that ought to hurt my feelings, if I was innocent, and she had no notion of servants affecting sensibility.

Thoroughly dissatisfied with my situation, I now began to inquire for another. "Miss Meanwell wants a servant," said one of our tradespeople to me, "but I don't think you would like the place; she is an old maid, keeps very little company, and I fancy is either poor or stingy." Notwithstanding this unpromising account, I waited on Miss Meanwell, who engaged me directly. It is now more than ten years, sir, and I have lived with her ever since, and shall, I hope, continue to do so till my death or hers. I have not what most servants would call a good place, for my wages are small, and as my mistress dresses in the plainest manner, I have few perquisites; but she always treats me kindly: if through mistake or inattention, her orders are not properly executed, she reproves me, but without severity.

She told me when she engaged me, that as she kept only two servants, I should have some things to do which perhaps I had not been accustomed to, and she never suffered her servants to say, "It is not my place," or, "I was not hired to do that:" but as she is very regular and methodical, I soon learned the duties of my station, and it happened sometimes that I did more than was expected from me; whenever that was the case, I was sure to be commended, and to receive some little reward, not money, but some trifle that would be useful to me, or perhaps a book calculated for servants. My mistress allows me to go regularly to church, and now and then I have leave given me, to ask my cousin to come and see me, or else I go to see her.

Soon after I went to live with Miss Meanwell, I was taken dangerously ill, and she had herself the goodness not only to see that there was proper care taken of me, but even to pass an hour or two at a time in my room. She thinks I have shown my gratitude by refusing to leave her to live with Mrs. Flareit, whose woman has the most easy and lucrative place in town; but I would not change to serve a princess; and I believe, sir, that, discontented and fond of changing as servants in general are accused of being, there are few who, if they were treated as I am, could be wholly insensible of the kindness shewn to them: but I cannot help thinking that we are like children—excessive indulgence, or too great severity, is equally prejudicial to us; and there are few mistresses who, like Miss Meanwell, take care to avoid the one and the other.

In the hope that you will pardon my boldness in troubling you with this long letter, I remain, sir, your very humble servant,

Susan Strivewell