Sunday, May 27, 2018

From the archives: Remembering the Soldiers Who Didn't Die in Combat

Sunday, May 27, 2018
Susan reporting,

I'm re-running this post, written last year, because the Museum of the American Revolution is repeating their excellent Memorial Day programs, and offering free admission to veterans, active, and retired military for the weekend. They are also once again providing carnations to place at the memorials in nearby Washington Square in Independence National Historical Park. More information here

Unlike many who live in the Philadelphia area, I haven't spent this weekend - the official kick-off to summer - "down the shore." Instead I returned to the still-new Museum of the American Revolution, one of my favorite places in the city. To my surprise, I had plenty of company. The museum was very crowded with families, a fine and heartening sight to a Nerdy History Person. There's never been a more urgent time in American history to learn about our country's founding, and how the responsibilities that were granted to citizens in 1776 are equally important for us today.

Part of the Museum's observation of the Memorial Day weekend was a quiet reminder that not all those who gave their lives for the Revolution did so in battle. Only a few blocks away from the Museum is the site of a mass grave where Continental soldiers were buried by the British then occupying the city. In 1777, John Adams described his visit to the site in a letter to his wife Abigail:

"I have spent an Hour, this Morning, in the Congregation of the dead. I took a Walk into the Potters Field, a burying Ground between the new stone Prison, and the Hospital, and I never in my whole Life was affected with so much Melancholly. The Graves of the soldiers, who have been buryed, in this Ground, from the Hospital and bettering House, during the Course of the last Summer, Fall, and Winter, dead of the small Pox, and Camp Diseases, are enough to make the Heart of stone to melt away. The Sexton told me, that upwards of two Thousand soldiers had been buried there, and by the Appearance of the Graves, and Trenches, it is most probably to me, he speaks within Bounds....Disease has Destroyed Ten Men for Us, where the Sword of the Enemy has killed one."

Adams was right. While the actual figures for the war are difficult to pin down today, it's estimated that approximately 8,000 Continental soldiers were killed in battle between 1775-1783, while another 17,000 died from diseases such as small pox, typhus, dysentery, and typhoid, often as British prisoners of war in the notoriously unhealthy prison ships.

Today the site of the potter's field lies beneath Washington Square, a tidy, tree-shaded park filled with babies in strollers and well-behaved dogs. In return for a small donation, the Museum offered visitors red and white carnations to take to the Square and place either at the small monument honoring the thousands of unknown soldiers and sailors buried there, or at the larger Tomb of he Unknown Soldier of the Revolution. I did; that's my carnation in the photo, above. I was surprised that there weren't any others, but it was early in the day, and I also suspect that other flowers might have been carried off by children unaware of the significance of their prizes.

No matter. As I stood before the marker, I thought of those long-ago men and boys and likely a few women, too, and of the families and sweethearts who never knew what became of them, beyond that they never returned home. Perhaps there was no "glory" to their deaths, whatever that may mean. Yet still they made the greatest sacrifice possible so that, 240 years later, this place could be a peaceful park filled with children. A single carnation doesn't begin to be enough thanks, does it?

John Adams letter to Abigail Adams, 13 April 1777, from the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Click here to see the entire original letter plus a transcript.
Above: Monument to the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier, Washington Square, Philadelphia. Photograph ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of May 21, 2018

Saturday, May 26, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Framing miniature portraits in gold, diamonds, and enamelwork in the 17thc.
John Wilkes Booth's promptbook (filled with hand-written notes) for Richard III.
• The Georgian landau.
• The feud of the Queen of Spain's physicians, 1566.
• Rainbow-colored beasts from a 15thc Book of Hours.
Image: Beginning at age 72, 18thc artist Mary Delany created thousands of beautifully detailed flowers from tiny pieces of paper.
• New York's floating chapels helped save 19thc sailors' souls.
• The last derelict 18thc house in Spitalfields, London, is for sale.
• Debunking word myths: the Oxford Dictionary has the real origins of "posh" and "tip."
• For graduation season: 19thc "Rewards of Merit."
• The world's your oyster - unless you're an Edwardian girl receiving a gift or prize book.
Image: A pair of faded purple 1880s satin boots that belonged to tragic Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.
• Marvels in marzipan: 19thc royal wedding cakes.
• How work and the factory defined the youth of Mary Laura Triggle, a 19thc working class girl.
• The first and last visits of Frederick Douglass to West Chester, PA, in 1844.
• Forget me not: revealing Victorian mourning customs.
• The Elizabethan country house and the cult of sovereignty.
• Thomas Jefferson shipped a Vermont moose to Paris in 1787.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Friday Video: The Uniforms of the Household Cavalry

Friday, May 25, 2018

Susan reporting,

Since the post earlier this week featuring the frock coat worn by the newly married and newly minted Duke of Sussex was so popular, I thought I'd share a video with more royal uniforms and history. In addition to a discussion of the various kits of the Household Cavalry (the Life Guards and The Blues and Royals), there's information about the Cavalry's musicians and their splendidly gaudy gold uniforms that date back to Charles II, as well as the Cavalry horses - including the very large horses who support the double kettle drums during parade.

Another thanks to historian, author, and historic paint consultant Patrick Baty for suggesting this video.

If you receive this post by email, you may be seeing a blank space or black box where the video should be. Click here to view the video.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Duke of Sussex, Then and Now

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex
Loretta reports:

As everybody who follows royal doings now knows, the Queen has made Prince Harry the Duke of Sussex. This may puzzle some people who watched the video I posted not long ago, The Last of the Dukes. There we were told that we could not look forward to any new dukes.

However, a royal duke is a different article. He’s a member of the royal family who happens to be a prince, upon whom the sovereign has bestowed the title—as the Queen did in the cases of her sons as well as her grandsons. For further details, such as how long the title remains royal and where these royal dukes stand in precedence, I recommend this Wikipedia article. It offers a fairly easy-to-understand and, I think, fascinatingly nerdy account.

As a nerdy history girl, what I found interesting, was this particular choice of title. The last Duke of Sussex was a gentleman I wrote about last October, where I quoted a description of him as “the most consistently Liberal-minded person of the first half of the nineteenth century.” You can read more about him here at the Georgian Era blog.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex

Of course I have no idea why the Queen chose the Sussex title for Prince Charles’s second son. However, in light of the choice of bride; the wedding celebration, including the clergy and guests; and the causes the gentleman has espoused, I like to think of it as a nod to her progressive ancestor as well as to the new duke and the future we hope for him (excluding the problematic relationships with women, of course).

Images: Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, by Guy Head, National Portrait Gallery NPG 648.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, speaks during the opening ceremonies of the 2017 Invictus Games (edited), Creative Commons License, Author DoD News.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

What the Groom Wore: Prince Harry's Frock Coat

Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Susan reporting,

Like millions of other people willing to get up extra early on a Saturday morning, Loretta and I have been enthralled by this week's royal wedding of Ms. Meghan Markle and His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales. One thing that fascinated us the most was the dashing dark uniform that Prince Harry chose to wear to his wedding.

The long coat is described as a frock coat, and is particular to the Household Cavalry, which is formed of two regiments - The Life Guards and The Blues and Royals - while another version with slightly different cuffs is also worn by the Foot Guards. (The style of the knee-length frock coat evolved from men's 19thc fashion, with additional inspiration from the Ottomans.) It was worn in "Undress" instead of Full Dress, most likely because the choice of Windsor Castle made the wedding a less formal affair. This was not a state occasion, nor will Harry be king. Harry's brother William, Duke of Cambridge, wore the same uniform for the ceremony, and miniature adaptations were created for the bride's page boys.

Both brothers' uniforms were created by traditional military tailors Dege & Skinner on Savile Row, and were said to have taken over 100 hours to stitch and tailor by hand. Details are everything, even in a seemingly monochrome coat: the intricate interwoven braid on the sleeves (which was barely visible on television) took a single skilled craftsman over a week to create. The frock coat's primary fabric is doeskin, a fine satin-weave woolen cloth, and the lining is silk.

The frock coat is closed with hidden hooks instead of buttons. Many Americans were perplexed by what they saw as "ribbon bows" on the front of the jacket. This is instead a braiding made of black mohair, and is unique to the Household Cavalry and the Life Guards. While the braid loops appear to fasten to the olivets (the toggle-style buttons on the far sides of the chest), they are purely decorative.

The illustrations, right, are from Dress Regulations for Officers of the Army 1900, and show the approved pattern of the Frock Coat of the Household Cavalry. The illustrations show the details of the frock coat that weren't visible in the wedding broadcast (click on the image to enlarge.)

While the very dark navy color made for a striking contrast to Meghan's bright white gown, it's not simply a style choice, but a uniform that Harry has earned the right to wear. He served as a Captain in The Blues and Royals, and after retiring from active duty in 2015, he received the honorary military title of Major from the Queen, as signified by the crown on his shoulder. According to Kensington Palace, he also requested and received express permission from the Queen to wear the uniform on his wedding day.

Rumor has it that the Queen also bestowed a certain leniency to Harry in another way. Officers in the Army are required to be clean-shaven, and there was speculation that Harry would shave away his now-familiar beard for the wedding. The fact that he didn't suggests that the Queen gave him special permission to keep the whiskers.

One more detail: did you notice that both brothers wore silver spurs as members of the cavalry?

Many thanks to historian, author, and historic paint consultant Patrick Baty for his always-excellent assistance with this blog post. 

Upper left: Neil Hall/Pool/Reuters
Lower left: PA/UK Images
 
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