Though the new PBS Masterpiece program, Downton Abbey, is set in 1912, two years after King Edward VII (1841-1910) died, you won’t hear me complaining about descriptions calling it an “Edwardian era” drama. George V might have been wearing England’s crown, but the Edwardian atmosphere lingered. Like the Regency period about a century earlier, the term “Edwardian” is often stretched to include some time before and after the specific ruler whose name it bears.
There are some other interesting parallels to the Regency. King Edward VII’s mother, Queen Victoria, had an interminable reign, like King George III, father of the Prince Regent (later George IV). This mean that both heirs to the throne had a very long wait to wear the crown. Both wore their crowns for a very short time—less than nine years for Edward VII, ten years for George IV. Both were rebellious sons who had difficult relationships with their parents (Victoria blamed her eldest son for the death of her beloved Albert). Both men were fashion plates, although Edward was more of a fashion leader. The Prince Regent, when not under the guidance of Beau Brummell, had theatrical tendencies in dress, with sometimes unfortunate results.
Both men had a lot of girlfriends, though I’m not sure either could compete with their ancestor King Charles II. However, again unlike the Prince Regent, Edward VII was quite fond of his wife, Alexandra. I blogged about one of his mistresses, Daisy, Countess of Warwick, a year ago, and plan to gossip about more of his girlfriends during the run of Downton Abbey.
For now, though, let's take look at fashion. It’s interesting, isn't it? that both eras feature a vertical style of dress, and a reduction in underwear. Between the time John Singer Sargent painted the splendid portrait of Daisy and her son, and the time of Downton Abbey, women's fashion underwent quite a change. Instead of the S curves of the turn of the century, the shape of women’s fashion began slimming down, heading toward the boyish look of the Roaring Twenties.
As we all know, styles come and go and come again, and these two eras offer a good example. Loyal readers of this blog may notice a similarity between the 1912 French fashion plate here and the winter promenade dress I showed for January 1815.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.