Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Annals of Bathing 3: George & Caroline

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Loretta reports:

Anybody wondering whether people were concerned with cleanliness before Beau Brummell’s reign might want to consider the Prince of Wales and his bride, Caroline of Brunswick.

The Earl of Malmesbury, charged with bringing Caroline to England, had grave misgivings about the pair’s compatibility. In his diary he wrote, of his attempts to encourage her to bathe: “‘I endeavoured, as far as was possible for a man, to inculcate the necessity of great and nice attention to every part of dress, as well as to what was hid, as to what was seen.’”

“‘I knew she wore coarse petticoats, coarse shifts, and thread stockings, which were never well washed or changed often enough,’” and he asked her dresser to explain to her “‘that the Prince was extremely fastidious and would expect from his wife a long and very careful toilette, which at present she neglected sadly--‘and is offensive from this neglect.’” (From Caroline: A Biography of Caroline of Brunswick by Thea Holme).

Since Malmesbury made these observations before Brummell’s influence was being felt in London, it’s clear that cleanliness was in fashion at least in some circles by the late 1700s.

The era is deeply misogynistic, and I’ve learned to view the caricatures and negative characterizations of women with a jaundiced eye. Still, it seems pretty clear that Caroline fell well below court standards of personal hygiene.

“In fact she frequently stank,” writes Kenneth Baker in George IV: A Life in Caricature. “She seldom washed her hair or feet.” This was a marriage made in hell, obviously: “George was fastidious in his clothes, his manners and his life. He did not want a wife who smelt.”

The Baker book contains a marvelous collection of caricatures. One, by Isaac Cruikshank, shows the Prince standing in his nightshirt next to the bridal bed, holding his mouth and looking as though he’s gagging. The caption is “Oh! Che Boccone! (Oh, what a mouthful!)

Oddly enough, this caricature of her with her lover Bartolomeo Pergami, shows her bathing.


Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Oh, NHGs, (gulp), these reports are remarkably fascinating, but a bit overwhelming. Perhaps I've no room to talk, being one known to wear the same "work clothes," or as some call them "pajamas," several days in a row. But this cleanliness issue sorta, as they say in some circles, skeeves me.

I will add that I'd rather my historical romance be fairly squeaky clean, 'though poor hygiene and related ills have their places amongst antagonists and evildoers. I remember one author using a villain's progressively debilitating tooth abscesses to particularly good effect.

Yet I also remember the late Edith Layton's Restoration era "Fireflower" addressing several issues of fastidiousness, including the hero's telling his potential mistress he preferred his women clean, and demanded she bathe monthly. She also used the lamentable state of court hygiene to indicate his realization that he'd outgrown his less discriminate days...

nightsmusic said...

Actually, Pergami looks more as if he's throwing the water on her in disgust! lol

I do remember hearing tales of using sawdust to brush through the hair to clean it though I can't imagine doing that. Yuck. I'll keep my showers and shampoo, thanks ;)

I think the 'stink' factor is relative to a certain extent though. We've become a fairly antiseptic society and so, were we to be whisked back in time, we'd find the odors so much more overwhelming even than they did.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I've always felt sorry for Caroline. But at the same time, I've often wondered, how hard would it have been for her to not only bathe, but wash her clothes? It seems a small price to pay.

Lucy said...

Well yes, history does have her down as not being the sweetest smelling lady around...but GeorgeIV was also meticulous to the point of being compulsive. I think she did herself a great disservice in not taking better care of her hygiene- she was so maligned. I too have always felt sorry for poor Caroline. I think I loved reading about her best in Jean Plaidy's novel, Indiscretions of the Queen.

Vanessa Kelly said...

It's rather amazing that George and Caroline actually managed to have conjugal relations!

Nightmusic, I also thought it looked like Pergami was tossing the water with disgust. At the very least, quite vigorously!

nightsmusic said...

Maybe he figured the harder he threw it at her, the more chance he'd have of knocking the filth off...



Anonymous said...

Hehehe! Poor Caroline! I do so love the Shakespeare quote that has been used with the caricature.

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