Saturday, February 27, 2010

Gloves for Show, Not for Snow

Saturday, February 27, 2010
Susan reports:

Most modern mittens and gloves have zilch style: one-size-sort-of-fits-all that reduces the fingers to fleece or fiberfill sausages. Warm, yes, but the form is a very distant follower to the function.

But it wasn't always so. In the 16th-17th centuries, gloves and glove-making reached an almost impossibly high level of artistry and expertise. Custom made to fit the wearer, these gloves were often made of perfumed leather, usually white or cream to emphasize that they were intended for fashionable display, not work. Just as luxuriously, most of these mittens were made of silk velvet. From the hand of the glove or mitten flared long gauntlet cuffs. The cuffs were the canvas for master embroiderers stitching with silk and golden threads and embellishing with rows of tiny spangles, pearls, or other precious beads. The fabric was almost entirely covered with needlework, much like the extraordinary embroidered jackets of the same era.

The mittens, above, are purple velvet with embroidery of silver thread. The horizontal slit above the thumb was for slipping the fingers through if necessary (much like the combination fingerless-glove/mittens favored today by cell-phone users.) Here's another pair of elegant mittens from the V&A, this time with red velvet hands and cream satin cuffs.

Some gloves had entire fanciful scenes continuing from the back of one glove to its mate (like this pair from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.) Others, like these in the V&A, had cuffs further enhanced with metallic thread needle-lace, gold and silver spun into a fairy's web around the hems. Still others, like this pair from the Fashion Museum in Bath, had loops of ribbon like silken bracelets to divide the ornate silk cuff from the leather hand. In later gloves, like these worn by King Charles I (the same king with the pearl earring mentioned here last week), the gauntlet cuff has shrunk and been divided into petal-like sections, though the embroidery is just as exquisite.

Of course, no one was wearing any of these gloves or mittens to keep warm. They were symbols of status, meant to impress others with their beauty and cost. They were popular as gifts to royalty, or in turn bestowed by a king or queen as a sign of favor or thanks for loyalty. The pairs that survive often show virtually no signs of actual wear, but have been preserved through the centuries as the treasures they are.

Still, velvet mittens would certainly make winter more bearable....

Above:English Mittens, 1640, from Harley Gallery, Welbeck, Worksop, Nottinghamshire
Below: Detail of Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset, by William Larkin, Kenwood House, London

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dressing Dolley Madison

Friday, February 26, 2010
Susan reports:

Earlier this week, Loretta posted a blog (Department of Quotation: Those American Goliaths) that included a portrait of early First Lady Dolley Madison (1768-1849). At once we received an email from Jen Holmes of WGBH/Boston, who informed us of an Amazing Coincidence: on Monday, 1 March, PBS will debut a new documentary about Dolley as part of their American Experience series.

Noting our past blogs about historic dress and costume, Ms. Holmes generously sent us several of the costume sketches for the program, plus stills that display the finished gowns as worn by actress Eve Best, who plays Dolley. We're sharing them exclusively to you: Dolley as a young widow in Quaker grey, and later in her life, as James Madison's stylish wife.

Ms. Holmes also provided the link to this video that offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes
look at how these clothes were created by costume designer Candice Donnelly. Dolley was a woman who understood the power of dress, and took great care with the "image" she presented to the world. A dozen different gowns were made for this show to cover her life from 1787 to 1830, and ten wonderfully fanciful hats.

Now when it comes to historic clothes, we here at the TNHG have been all about actual examples in museum collections, or stitch-by-stitch replicas such as the those made in Colonial Williamsburg. That level of accuracy is what we aspire to when, as novelists, we strive to recreate the past through words.

But costumes for historically set films are a much different kettle of fish. Absolute accuracy may not always work under bright lights, and what's most important is the illusion that's created on film. I've seen exhibitions of movie costumes that looked fabulous on the screen, but in reality were revealed to be printed lace and plastic gems. When watching this video clip, I saw the metal grommets on Dolley's corset and reacted much like Joan Crawford with the wire coat-hangers. ("No metal grommets in 1790! Must be hand-stitched eyelets!!!") But after a few moments of historical hysteria, I realized that the grommets didn't matter because they would never be seen. The final silhouette of the corset beneath the gown is beautifully correct, and Ms. Best makes an excellent 18th c. American lady as she brings Dolley's story to life.

What more could even the nerdiest history nerd want?

Here are several more video clips featuring the show:

Top portrait: Mrs. James Madison (Dolley Payne), from a painting by Gilbert Stuart, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

Many thanks to Jen Holmes and WGBH!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Men Behaving Punitively: Still flogging after all these years

Thursday, February 25, 2010
Loretta reports:

Perusing the 1833 Annual Register (yes, I do it for fun), I came upon the following:

21 May
The annual motion to abolish flogging in the army was renewed by Mr. Hume … In 1827, Mr. (now Sir John) Hobhouse,* said, “he had attentively listened to what had fallen from the gallant officers in the army on the subject; but the only reason they gave for defending flogging that he could discover was, that it ought to be continued because it had existed.  He had heard an officer say, that in his regiment some of the men were brought out so frequently to be flogged, that they were known by the name of the flogging-blocks; and this circumstance demonstrated that, so far from flogging making them better soldiers, or men, no good could be derived from it; and as no benefit resulted from the revolting custom, it ought to be abolished, as being a national disgrace…The punishment of slaves in the colonies was restricted to fifteen lashes, whilst the British soldier was usually subjected to 300, 400, or 500 lashes.  He could not believe, that the soldier was so much worse than the slave, as to justify that disproportion of punishment.”

Lord Althorp…thought…that the weight of military authority was so great, that it would not be prudent to take away this punishment entirely from the officer.  He admitted, that it was a punishment against which every one’s best feelings must revolt; but he should feel, that it was taking upon himself a responsibility which he should not be justified in taking, if he acted in opposition to the whole body of officers of the army, and gave a vote for taking a away a punishment which they said was necessary…Sir R. Ferguson confessed, that the motion placed him in a very unpleasant situation; he could not vote for it, and he would not vote against it. 

What struck me about this was “the annual motion.”  According to my copy of the Annual Register, Hume had “submitted a similar proposition on March 25, 1824”—nine years previously.  Further investigation turned up a couple of the debates, in 1826 and 1834.   (They make fascinating reading.)  Undoubtedly there were many more.  Flogging was not completely abolished in Britain’s army and navy until 1881.

*John Cam Hobhouse, Byron’s good friend; later Lord Broughton.

The top left illustration is James Gillray's  "The caneing in Conduit Street. Dedicated to the flag officers of the British Navy."  Courtesy Library of Congress Prints ( LC-USZC2-1323), which offers the following description:  'Caricature showing a stout naval officer attacked by Lord Camelford, who says, "Give me satisfction, rascal! Draw your sword..." Captain Vancouver replies, "Murder! Murder! ..." The print may reflect the growing discontent due to harsh naval discipline.'  (Loretta's note:  30 years before Hume first presented his motion).

Bottom right illustration is "Flogging on a Man-of-War."   Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The King with the Pearl Earring

Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Susan reports:

Today pearls are among the most common of precious "jewels." But before the development of cultured pearls and farming in the early 20th c., all pearls were natural pearls. These rare treasures could be discovered only by accident and at considerable peril. Natural pearls had great mystique and luminous beauty as well as value, which made them favorites of queens – and kings.

One of the most famous pearls of the 17th c. belonged to King Charles I of England (1600-1649). While the origins of this single pearl earring are unknown, Charles is first shown wearing it in a miniature, left, as the fifteen-year-old Prince of Wales. The pearl soon became what fashion-folk today call a "statement piece", and one that he was seldom without.

Charles's large teardrop-shaped pearl – an especially rare and desired shape –was made into a single dangling earring with a tiny gold crown as the cap, topped with an orb and cross that was most fitting for a future king. Since Queen Elizabeth's reign, fashionable English gentlemen had worn single earrings as a sign of courtly swagger and bravado, qualities that the young prince was woefully lacking: Charles was slight and short (only 5'3"), he limped from childhood rickets, he stammered, and he suffered from acute shyness. Perhaps the sizable jewel gave him the confidence that nature had not.

Whatever the reason, Charles wore the pearl for the rest of his life, and it appears in nearly every portrait of him, including one of him dressed casually for hunting, right. He developed into a style-conscious king who patronized the arts, and the single earring suited him in that capacity, too, as the romantic, cavalier king.

Unfortunately, while Charles was a very good patron to artists, architects, and composers, he proved to be a wretched king to his people, stubbornly unable to reconcile his subjects' desires and expectations with his own. After barely surviving two civil wars, he was captured by the Parliamentary forces led by General Oliver Cromwell and found guilty of high treason. He was executed on 30 January 1649, beheaded with a single stroke of the ax on a scaffold before Whitehall Palace. He was still wearing the pearl earring as he placed his neck on the executioner's block.

Later historians seem to have been determined to give the execution a lurid, gory hysteria that no contemporary witness reported, and describe a (fictitious) howling mob surging forward to tear the precious jewel from the bloody, severed royal head.

Well, no. Even with regicide, this was still Puritan England, not Jacobin France.

Instead Charles's earring was respectfully removed when his head was sewn back to his body in preparation for burial. The earring was then sent as a final memento to his oldest daughter, Mary, Princess Royal (1631-1660), as Charles had requested. After Mary's death, the earring eventually found its way to one of the late king's most loyal supporters, William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1592-1672), who had also been entrusted with the education of Charles's son, the future King Charles II. Today the earring, bottom left, remains in the collection of the duke's home, Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire, now owned by the Dukes of Portland.

Top left: Charles, Prince of Wales (later Charles I) by Issac Oliver; the Berger Collection,

Denver Art Museum.

Top right: detail, Charles I, King of England, at the Hunt by Anthony van Dyck; the Louvre

Lower left: detail, Charles I, King of England, from Three Angles, by Anthony van Dyck; Windsor Castle, Royal Collection

Bottom right: Earring of Charles I, Harley Gallery, Welbeck, Worksop, Nottinghamshire

Update: Many thanks to my fellow nerdy art history friend Connie G. for suggesting yet another portrait of Charles I. The detail at left shows the earring more clearly than any other portrait of the king as an adult.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Department of Quotation: Those American Goliaths

Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Loretta reports:

Lieut. Francis Hall, an Englishman traveling in North America in 1816-1817, offers some fascinating observations of the young United States and its people.

Portrait at left is Dolley Madison, the president's lady at the time.

The President, or rather his lady, holds drawing-room weekly, during the sitting of Congress. He takes by the hand those who are presented to him; shaking hands being discovered in America to be more rational and manly than kissing them. For the rest, it is much as such things are every where, chatting, and tea, compliments and ices, a little music, (some scandal, I suppose, among the ladies,) and to bed. Nothing in these assemblies more attracted my notice, than the extraordinary stature of most of the western members; the room seemed filled with giants, among whom, moderately sized men crept like pigmies. I know not well, to what the difference may be attributed, but the surprising growth of the inhabitants of the Western states is matter of astonishment to those of the Eastern, and of the coast line generally. This phenomenon, which is certainly a considerable stumbling-block to the Abbé Raynal's theory, may probably be resolved into the operation of three positive causes, and one negative, namely, plentiful but simple food, a healthy climate, constant exercise in the open air, and the absence of mental irritation. In a more advanced stage of society, luxurious and sedentary habits produce in the rich that enfeeblement of vitality, which scanty food, and laborious or unwholesome occupations bring upon the poor. The only persons to be compared with these Goliahs of the West, were six Indian chiefs from Georgia, Chactaws or Chickasaws, who having come to Washington on public business, were presented at Mrs. Madison's drawing-room. 
They had a still greater appearance of muscular power than the Americans; and while looking on them, I comprehended the prowess of those ancient knights, whose single might held an army in check, "and made all Troy retire."

Travels in Canada, and the United States, in 1816 and 1817. By Lieut. Francis Hall.
Hall.  London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, & Brown, 1818.

Courtesy Library of Congress, CALL NUMBER E165 .H19, DIGITAL ID  lhbtn 26822

Casanova in the news

Loretta reports:

An alert reader informed me, the day after I posted about Casanova and the condoms, that he'd made the news.  The tale of his memoirs' travels is one Casanova would have enjoyed, I don't doubt.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Who Was That Masked Lady?

Sunday, February 21, 2010
Susan reports:

Lately there's been much discussion in the media of the singer Lady Gaga's fascination with masks, most recently on a London red carpet. But while using a mask to go fashionably incognito might seem like news to the gossip columnists, we NHG know otherwise. There were plenty of ladies hitting the London social scene wearing masks 350 years ago.

Made from black velvet or satin, masks, or vizards, were popular in the 1660s both to protect the complexion from the sun or the cold, and to hide one's identity in public. They were especially popular while attending the playhouse, where, in theory, a lady could enjoy a risque play or even engage in an amorous assignation, but still preserve her reputation. Soon, however, the masks themselves became the mark of prostitutes prowling the pit for customers, and the word "vizard" became a derogatory slang word used to describe such women. By 1704, the masks had so many illicit connotations that Queen Anne banned them.

There were two kinds of ladies's masks: one that covered only half the face, and another that hid all of it. One described by writer Randle Holme in 1688 "covers the whole face, having holes for the eyes, a case for the Nose, and a slit for the Mouth, and to speak through; this kind of Mask is taken off and put on in a moment of time, being only held in the teeth by means of a round bead fastened on the inside against the mouth." How exactly a lady was supposed to talk, let alone be charmingly witty, while clenching a bead between her teeth is just one more art lost to time.

I suspect that the half-masks were more popular for ladies who wished to speak as well as be mysterious. I also suspect that, for the sake of gallantry, gentlemen were willing to suspend disbelief where a masked lady was concerned; how secret can you be with only half your face covered? Still, masks must have made for fine flirtatious fun, as this excerpt from Samuel Pepys's diary from 1668 records. Attending a play, Mr. Pepys had the good fortune to sit near Sir Charles Sedley, a gentleman poet famous for his wit. (We last saw Sir Charles here as a man behaving badly, and he is also a prominent character in my next novel, The Countess & the King, wherein he will continue to behave rather badly.) As was usual for Sir Charles, he soon found a way to amuse himself despite the indifferent play:

One of the ladies [sitting near Sir Charles] would, and did sit with her mask on, all the play, and, being exceeding witty as ever I heard woman, did talk most pleasantly with him, but was, I believe, a virtuous woman, and of quality. He would fain know who she was, but she would not tell; yet did give him many pleasant hints of her knowledge of him, by that means setting his brains at work to find out who she was, and did give him leave to use all means to find out who she was, but pulling off her mask. He was mighty witty, and she also making sport with him very inoffensively, that a more pleasant 'rencontre' I never heard.

Above: Detail from Winter, by Wenceslas Hollar (1607-1677)
Many thanks to fellow-author Catherine Delors for suggesting this blog!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fashions for February 1830 Part 2

Friday, February 19, 2010
Loretta reports:

From La Belle Assemblée No. 62.—Vol.XI

A robe redingote, composed of French Cachemire, of a light shade of grenat. The corsage, made tight, turns over en schall, so as to display very much the cambric chemisette worn with it. The facings are of black velvet. Sleeve,à la Caroline, fitting close to the arm from the elbow to the wrist, and extremely full above the elbow; the fulness is divided in the middle of the arm by a broad band of black velvet. The cuff is also of black velvet; is very deep, and finished at each edge by a rich but narrow black blond lace. The trimming of the skirt consists of a bias band of black velvet of moderate breadth. Black velvet ceinture. The chemisette is fastened in front with small gold buttons, and finished round the throat with a full ruff of the same material. Black velvet bonnet worn over a cap of the demi cornette form, which is trimmed with Valenciennes' lace. The shape of the bonnet is rather close: it is ornamented on the inside of the brim with three coques of satin ribbond, figured with velvet. Two large nœuds of this ribbon adorn one side of the crown, and three ostrich feathers placed upright fall over it. Brodequins of black figured silk. Pale lavender gloves. The boa tippet is of chinchilla.

A DRESS composed of painted foulard ; the ground, gris lavande; the bouquets are large and of vivid colours. The corsage is cut low; the shape of the bosom formed by two bands of ermine, which descend from the point of each shoulder in the style of draperies, down each side of the bust, and the skirt, to the broad border of ermine, which forms the trimming of the dress. The sleeves are à la Marino Faliero: they are bordered with ermine, and lined with white satin. The under sleeve is of a moderate width, at the upper part of the arm, and tight towards the wrist. Small cuff, cut at the upper edge in points. The coiffeure is composed of crimson crape, arranged en béret, and displaying no part of the hind hair, but the large knot, which is drawn through the crape on the crown of the head. A bandeau of coloured gems encircles the knot, and crosses the forehead on the left side. An esprit, placed on the right side droops towards the shoulder, and two others are disposed upright at the back of the head. Ear-pendants, rubies and emeralds. Gold bracelets with ruby clasps. Ceinture of gold net.

A ROUND dress of white gros des Indes, cut rather high round the bust, except at the shoulders, which are very much displayed. A row of narrow pointed blond lace finishes the top of the corsage. The shape of the bosom is very gracefully formed by a slight fulness, which is looped in the centre by a rouleau, that descends to the waist. The sleeve is extremely wide to the elbow, but tight from thence, so as to display the shape of the arm; the cuff is of a moderate depth, cut in points at the upper edge. The points are finished with blond to correspond with the bosom. Over this dress is an open robe composed of satin duchesse, the colour is emerald green. This is a little shorter than the under dress, nearly meets at the waist, and turns back round the bust en pelerine. The skirt flies open in front so as to display the under dress. The pelerine part, and the sides of the robe, are cut in points: these are edged with a rouleau of plain satin, and in the centre of each is a richly-wrought gold button. The bottom of the skirt is cut in very deep scollops, finished like the points with a rouleau and buttons; the scollops surmounted by a twisted rouleau, placed about a quarter of a yard above them. The shoulder of the robe is finished by a single row of points, corresponding exactly with those of the pelerine part of the dress, and forming a double epaulette. The hair is dressed in full curls on the temples; the hind hair disposed in one very large knot, and two bows formed of plaited bands. The coiffeure consists of two bows of gold-figured gauze, disposed en papillon, near the crown of the head, and the tails of two birds-of-paradise inserted among the bows of hair.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Men Behaving Badly: Yankee Doodle Dandies

Thursday, February 18, 2010
Susan reports:

Any group of males can soon get into mischief when under-occupied, whether it's a Little League baseball team or a military army.

General George Washington discovered this (doubtless not for the first time, either) in the summer of 1775. While some of his soldiers were usefully engaged in attacking British shipping sailing in and out of Boston Harbor, other Continental soldiers had found a more entertaining way to amuse themselves during the hot August days. While the soldiers were permitted to use the Charles River for bathing, washing, fishing, and general recreation, matters appear to have gone a bit further, as this quote from General Washington's orders for the day reflect:

The General does not mean to discourage the practice of bathing whilst the weather is warm enough to continue it, but he expressly forbids any person's doing it at or near the bridge in Cambridge, where it has been observed and complained of that many men, lost to all sense of decency and common modesty, are running about naked upon the bridge, while passengers, and even ladies of the first fashion of the neighborhood, are passing over it, as if [these men] meant to glory in their shame. The guard and sentries at the bridge are to put a stop to this practice, for the future.

The 1811 print Portsmouth Point, above, by Thomas Rowlandson shows the general shenanigans of English sailors on shore leave. A different continent and a different century, but the spirit seems much the same.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Casanova & the condoms

Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Loretta reports:

Byron’s adventures led me to Casanova.  I came upon this illustration at the Library of Congress, which in turn led me to his memoirs, where you can read on to discover his alternative to condoms.

…as soon as the syndic came we set off to renew our voluptuous orgy. On the way he talked about modesty, and said,—

“That feeling which prevents our shewing those parts which we have been taught to cover from our childhood, may often proceed from virtue, but is weaker than the force of education, as it cannot resist an attack when the attacking party knows what he is about. I think the easiest way to vanquish modesty is to ignore its presence, to turn it into ridicule, to carry it by storm. Victory is certain. The hardihood of the assailer subdues the assailed, who usually only wishes to be conquered, and nearly always thanks you for your victory.

 “Clement of Alexandria, a learned man and a philosopher, has remarked that the modesty which appears so deeply rooted in women’s hearts really goes no farther than the clothes they wear, and that when these are plucked off no trace of it remains.”

We found the three girls lightly clad and sitting on a large sopha, and we sat down opposite to them. Pleasant talk and a thousand amorous kisses occupied the half hour just before supper, and our combat did not begin till we had eaten a delicious repast, washed down with plenty of champagne.

We were sure of not being interrupted by the maid and we put ourselves at our ease, whilst our caresses became more lively and ardent. The syndic, like a careful man, drew a packet of fine French letters from his pocket, and delivered a long eulogium on this admirable preservative from an accident which might give rise to a terrible and fruitless repentance. The ladies knew them, and seemed to have no objection to the precaution; they laughed heartily to see the shape these articles took when they were blown out.

Top left illustration courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, CALL NUMBER:  Illus. in D285.8.C3 1872 [Rare Book RR], Reproduction No. LC-USZ62-48784 (b&w film copy neg.)

Bottom right illustration: Portrait of Giacomo Casanova in Venice, 1750-1755 ca.,  painted by his brother Francesco Casanova (1727-1802 or 3), Gosundarstvennyj Istoreceskij Muzej, Moscow

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What's Old is New Again: Gathered Skirts

Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Susan reports:

One of the most interesting things about studying historic dress is realizing how, in fashion, there's really nothing new under the sun. If you're currently reading the spring fashion magazines or catalogues (because no matter how much snow there is on my driveway right now, spring will eventually come), you will have doubtless seen that this summer is going to be a season of skirts with gathers and poufs and little pleats ("geometry" and "origami pleating" seem to be big buzz words), all shown to best advantage in fabric that's striped or plaid. Here's one example, and another.

Very trendy, very 2010. But also very 1775.

Here Janea Whitacre, master mantua-maker of Colonial Williamsburg, models a replica gown that's the height of English and French style, and yet could be the inspiration for this
summer's most fashionable skirts. Pastel plaid silk displays the intricate pleating of the border trim and the cuffs as well as the flowing pleats down the back that are the mark of the inelegantly named but very graceful sack gown. The skirts of the gown are gathered up with ribbon bows in a style called polonaise. The gown is worn over a green glazed petticoat, quilted in a diagonal pattern (more geometry) that plays against the gathered folds of the gown.

Eighteenth century ladies understood the importance of accessorizing just as modern fashionistas do today. The silk flowers pinned to the front of Janea's bodice soften the sharp edges of the plaid, as does the sheer lawn used for her cap and for the ruffles at her cuffs. The final touch comes from the red buckled shoe, because every outfit is always improved with red shoes, no matter what the time period.

I'm ready for spring!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Men Behaving Badly: Byron at Carnival

Sunday, February 14, 2010
Loretta reports:

From Byron's Letters & Journals, Volume 6, "The Flesh is Frail," edited by Leslie A. Marchand.

Venice—J[anuar]y 27th. 1818
It is the height of Carnival—and I am in the estrum & agonies of a new intrigue—with I don’t know exactly whom or what—except that she is insatiate of love—& won’t take money—& has light hair & blue eyes—which are not common here--& that I met her at the Masque--& that when her mask is off I am as wise as ever.——I shall make what I can of the remainder of my youth—& confess—that like Augustus—I would rather die standing.—

Venice, February 2d, 1818
I have hardly had a wink of sleep this week past.  We are in the agonies of the Carnival’s last days, and I must be up all night again, as well as to-morrow.  I have had some curious masking adventures this Carnival; but, as they are not yet over, I shall not say on.  I will work the mine of my youth to the last veins of the ore, and then—good night.  I have lived, and am content.

Venice.  Feb[ruary] 23rd.  1818
They may say what they like of Petrotini’s being  a liar—but he has told me the only two truths that I have heard in Venice—the first—about the passage in Bianchoni…and the second that a Girl (whom you don’t know—Elena da Mosta—a Gentil Donna) was clapt—and she has clapt me—to be sure it was gratis, the first Gonorrhea I have not paid for. —I am getting better—the Carnival was short—but very lively—and there was good fun among the Masques…When Spooney, sends out a Clerk in Spring with the writings it will be a very good time to send out my little shild (I mean the bastard**) and I wish you would settle it in that way with Shelley—who has written to me frequently upon it—as for the legitimate I hear she is very well.

*Byron's publisher.

**His daughter Allegra, by Claire Clairmont***.

***Byron wrote of Claire:  " I never pretended to love her—but a man is a man—& if a girl of eighteen comes prancing to you at all hours—there is but one way—the suite of all this is that she was with child and returned to England to assist in peopling that desolate island."

The painting at upper left is Pulcinella love (1797) by Giandomenico Tiepolo (1727 - 1804).  Venice, Ca Rezzonico (scroll down & enlarge for a sharper image)- Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Villa-House Zianigo Pulcinella inv: Cl. I No 1751. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Of Sidesaddles & Riding Habits: Part Two

Friday, February 12, 2010

Susan reports:

Today the Nerdy History Girls welcome back Robin Scarborough, DVM, MSFS, for part two of her guest blog. Dr. Scarborough is a veterinarian, re-enactor, living historian, and sidesaddle equestrian who is sharing her knowledge about sidesaddle riding and ladies' habits.

Imagine the freedom that women of the past experienced when allowed to go out on horseback. Once mounted, they were equal to men, sometimes able to leave them in the dust if the lady were seated on a better horse! Plus, they were able to leave nagging mothers and chaperons behind, often accompanied only by a groom or servant, whose primary obligation was equitation and safety rather than propriety. Riding habits were so frequently similar to men's wear that the tomboy of yesteryear could feel free to leave her demure side at home and escape outdoors without excessive lace, frills, or frills.

To many men, skill and daring on horseback only served to make a woman more attractive and desirable. Historical references state that "a woman appears to her best advantage on horseback," and a good deal of thought was given to style, cut, and color of habit.

The habit, upper right, is a copy of colonial American original made for local riding and hacking. It would have been worn about forty years after the green Baroque habit shown yesterday. This habit was designed and draped with the assistance of Mark Hutter, master tailor of Colonial Williamsburg, and it's indicative of what a southern colonial lady would have worn out riding or visiting. Made of cotton denim and paired with a straw hat, this habit would have been comfortable even int he steamy Virginian climate, and, while this can't be appreciated in the photograph, it's authentic right down to the undergarments: handmade stays, shift,
stockings, and period buckle shoes. Our model is International Sidesaddle Organization treasurer and instructor Jeannie Whited, riding Midas, my retired 25-year-old Morgan horse gelding at the Sidesaddle at Woodwind event.

The red habit, lower left, is a copy of an American Civil War turnout. While most habits of
this period were subdued, conservative colors, those made for riding in town or "husband hunting" were sometimes made of flashy colors or fabrics. Ladies who could afford it stayed abreast of changing habit styles, which like the rest of fashion varied from year to year or even seasonally. Similarly, American ladies pored over books of engravings showing the latest habit fashions from Paris and London, always desiring to be on the cutting edge of style. This picture is of Kathleen Bowman, riding Shadow, a Tennessee Walking Horse gelding at the Sidesaddle at Woodwind event.

Many, many thanks for sharing your expertise and your photographs, Robin!

All photographs copyright BHS Photography, and used with permission.

For more information about sidesaddle riding in general and in particular about constructing a colonial habit in a workshop with Colonial Williamsburg tailor Mark Hutter, see this issue of Liberty Sidesaddle Network magazine. (The magazine is a pdf file, and the article about the colonial habit workshop begins on page nine.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Of Sidesaddles & Riding Habits: Part One

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Susan reports:

After a recent NHG blog featuring a picture of Loretta sitting on a sidesaddle (but not on a horse!), we were contacted by a reader with far more expertise in this area than we. Robin Scarborough, DVM, MSFS, is not only a veterinarian, but also a re-enactor, living historian, and sidesaddle equestrian and knowledgeable in the history, horses, and habits connected to ladies on horseback. When Dr. Scarborough offered to write a few words for us, we were honored and delighted to accept.

Sidesaddle riding is alive and well and not a relic of a bygone era. It is experiencing a resurgence, and sidesaddle riders can be found all over the world doing all forms of riding. These ladies are far from the manor born, but are ordinary women enamored with the past. Any Google search will unearth multiple sidesaddle organizations, with a heavy concentration right here in the USA. The members are more than happy to share their knowledge with those who are interested, and there are many clinics and demonstrations that welcome beginners and auditors.

Sidesaddles, habits, and indeed horses in general change markedly throughout history, so
research that gleans equine details about 1620 will not be accurate 60 years later. Styles of riding, event he horses themselves, changed rapidly depending on the current style of warfare, government, and otter societal forces. The advent of gunpowder in particular eliminated the use of plate armor, resulting in a lighter, more maneuverable, type of horse. And believe me, horse people know if an author has done the research, and we appreciate it when we see it.

Above left: This habit is based on a French baroque style that first came into popularity during the reign of Louis XIV. It is a soft muted color trimmed with ivory and gold, very rococo, and suitable for the musical carousel horse ballets that were popular at court. This habit is designed for court riding, not for hunting or traveling. The photo is of me and Owen, a Morgan horse gelding, taken at the 2010 Horse World Expo.

Below right: This habit is a copy of a Victorian habit from the mid-1880s. It is very tailored and slim-fitting, similar to the dress styles of the day. The habit jacket is not only worn over a corset, but has additional boning both for support and to accentuate the hourglass shape. Habits at this time show a masculine influence with no lace, frills, or trim and were worn with a plain top hat. This hat is an original, dating from 1887. Once again, me and Owen, taken at the Sidesaddle at Woodwind event in 2009.

All photographs copyright BHS Photography, and used by permission.
Please return tomorrow for Part Two!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fashions for February 1830

Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Loretta reports:

From La Belle Assemblée
Fashions for February 1830

A DRESS of gaze satinée, the ground rose-colour, the stripes of that peculiar shade of drab-colour which resembles unbleached cambric. The skirt, somewhat more ample than last month, is slightly gored, and trimmed rather below the knee with a fringe of uncommon breadth and beauty. It has an open-worked head, very richly wrought in lozenges. The corsage is cut very low, but not quite square round the bust, being rather higher in the shoulders than evening dresses generally are. Sleeves, à la Sultane; very wide, fastened at the wrist by gold bracelets, and drawn round the arm just above the elbow, by a row of fringe, to correspond with that on the skirt, but narrower. The hair is arranged in loose full curls, which fall low on each side of the face, and parted in the middle to display the forehead and eyebrows. The hind hair is disposed in two very large knots on the crown of the head. A scarf of Circassian gauze, corresponding in colour with the ground of the dress, and fringed at the ends, is tastefully arranged in conques, which are intermixed with the bows of hair. One of the ends falls on the left side to the neck; the other forms a tuft on the right side. The necklace, earrings, and bracelets, worn with this dress, are a mixture of pink topazes and filagree gold. A boa tippet, of the finest sable, is thrown carelessly round the neck. White kid gloves. Slippers, white gros de Naples.

A GOWN of gros d'Orient; the colour, vert de Chine; the border of the skirt, which reaches nearly to the knee, cut in double dents, which are corded round the edge with satin. The corsage, cut exceedingly low, and falling much off the shoulder, is crossed before and behind, and disposed in two folds on each side. Short and extremely full sleeve, of the bouffont form, over which is a long and very loose one of gaze Œrienne, with a cuff à la Montespan, cut in deep scollops, which turn back from the wrist. The hair is arranged in tirebouchons, which fall as low as the neck on each side of the face. Head-dress, a béret/composed of green satin. This is of a very large size, and is ornamented with three esprits/ two are placed near the top of the crown on the right side, and one under the brim on the left. Massive gold ear pendants and bracelets, the latter à la Grecque. Necklace, gold and emeralds, with three very large emeralds pendant from the centre. Gros des Indes slippers, en sandales. White kid gloves.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Two Coats, Two Gentlemen, Two Centuries

Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Susan reports:
While we've written recently about historic dress and keeping warm in the past, we've only addressed the ladies. Today we'll rectify that, and offer two splendid winter coats, worn by two very different gentlemen of the past.

Held by Colonial Williamsburg tailor Mark Hutter, left, is a copy of a greatcoat worn by statesman, president, and all-around-18th c.-Renaissance-man Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826.) The replica coat was made by the CW tailors, and is based stitch-for-stitch on the original.

Jefferson was serving as America's Minister to France and living in Paris when he bespoke this dark blue greatcoat in the 1780s. Cut from woolen broadcloth with a collar of silk velvet, the coat is noteworthy for the embroidered silver vine that edges the wide cape. Though the original coat now has dark buttons (and thus so does the replica), at one time it likely had polished silver buttons to match the embroidery. In the most sophisticated and fashion-conscious city in the world, Jefferson was determined to represent himself as a gentleman of style, and also to show that the rest of the world should take the fledgling American States seriously. Image the 6'2" Jefferson with his red hair, striding down the steps of his house on the Champs-Elysees in this coat with the sun glinting on the silver: an imposing sight indeed.

The second coat, right, is imposing in quite a different way. This impeccably tailored formal overcoat belonged to Edward VIII of England, later Duke of Windsor (1894-1972). Thanks to the most skilled tailors in Great Britain, His Highness was famous for being the best-dressed gentleman in the land (among a great many other things!)

This coat is a beautiful example from Simpson & London Ltd., fashioned from subtle navy tweed wool and lined with fur, with an elegant black Astrakhan collar. The double-breasted coat is cut with flaring skirts and a slightly raised waist, designed to give an elongating line as well as a military air. While Thomas Jefferson was very tall, the Duke of Windsor was very short – only 5'5" – and it's a great tribute to his tailors that he never appeared that way.

"I was in fact produced as a leader of fashion," the Duke once remarked, "with the clothiers as my showmen and the world as my audience." Certainly this coat would hold its own on any stage, in any era.

The original of Thomas Jefferson's great coat is now in the collection of the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History. Special thanks to tailor Neal Hurst of Colonial Williamsburg for his help with this post.

Click here to read more about the Duke of Windsor's wardrobe.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The School of Manners

Monday, February 8, 2010
Loretta reports:

In the 1750s, during a dinner with foreign dignitaries, Henry Fox’s toddler son Charles was brought in--to be admired by the guests, undoubtedly.  The boy said he wanted to bathe in the huge bowl of cream sitting on the table.   His father had the bowl put on the floor and little Charles put into the bowl to splash around.  I think about scenes like that when I encounter manners-challenged children.  Overindulgent parents are nothing new.

Thus the need for THE SCHOOL OF MANNERS or RULES for Childrens Behaviour.  I think this 1701 publication offers interesting insights into the culture of earlier times, some amusing bits, some curiosities and puzzlers, and many proofs that the fundamentals of manners haven’t changed all that much. 

CHAP. I.  Short and mixt Precepts.
3.  Reverence thy Parents.
4.  Submit to thy Superiors
5.  Despise not thy inferiors.
6.  Be courteous with thy Equals.

CHAP. III  Of Behaviour at Home1.  Always bow at coming Home; and be immediately uncovered.
3.  Never sit in the presence of thy Parents without bidding, though no Strangers be present.
4.  If thou pass by thy Parents or by any place where thou seest them, either by themselves or with Company, bow towards them.
6.  Never speak to thy Parents, without some Title of Respect, viz. Sir, Madam, Forsooth; &c.

CHAP. IV  Of Behaviour at the Table.
5.  Ask not for any thing, but tarry till it be offered thee.
8.  Feed thy self with thy two Fingers and the Thumb of the left hand.
9.  Speak not at the Table; if thy Superiors be discoursing, meddle not with the matter.
19.  Take not salt with a greazy Knife.
25.  Smell not thy Meat, nor move it to thy Nose; turn it not the other side upward to view it upon the Plate.

CHAP V.  Rules for Behaviour in Company.3.  Put not thy hand in the presence of others to any part of thy body, not ordinarily discovered.
6.  Stand not wriggling with thy body hither and thither, but steddy and upright.
9.  When thou blowest thy Nose, let thy Handkerchief be used, and make not a noise in so doing.

CHAP. VIII  Rules for Behaviour Abroad.

5.  Always give the Wall to thy Superiors, that thou meetest; or if thou walkest with thy elder, give him the upper-hand, but if three walk together, the middle place is most Honorable.  [And if anyone can figure this one out, please enlighten me.  L.]

The painting is The Children of Edward Holden Cruttenden, by Joshua Reynolds, ca. 1763

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Keeping Warm: Buzaglo Stoves

Thursday, February 4, 2010
Susan reports:

When I posted the photographs of the ballroom and the supper room in the Governor's Palace, Colonial Williamsburg, two very important fixtures weren't visible in the pictures. Here they are now: a pair of coal-burning, cast-iron stoves that were the cutting edge of keeping warm in the 1770s.

Also called "warming machines," the stoves were imported from London where they were effective, fashionable, and exclusive because of their cost. The stoves were the work of a famous inventor of the time named Abraham Buzaglo (1716-1788.) A Moroccan who immigrated to England in 1760, Mr. Buzaglo immediately amazed Londoners with his cast iron warming machines, which he patented in 1765. As one historian has noted, his ultimate goal was to try to "reform English prejudices regarding comfortable warmth."*

Mr. Buzaglo's trade card modestly promised that his stoves "surpass in Utility, Beauty & Goodness any thing hitherto Invented in all Europe". They "cast an equal & agreeable Heat to any Part of the Room, and are not attended by any Stench," with "a bright Fire to be seen at Pleasure." More importantly, the stoves"preserve the Ladies Complexions and Eye Sight" and "warm equally the whole Body, without scorching the Face or Legs," plus "other Advantages too tedious to insert."**

The warming machines were so popular that they became known by the inventor's name (though incorrectly, if inevitably, pronounced by the English as "Buzz-aglow" rather than "Bu-ZAH-glo".) Buzaglos warmed drafty gracious homes as well as university libraries and the shops of tailors and weavers. The two in Williamsburg were imported to colonial Virginia by the Royal Governor, Lord Botetourt (1718-1770) for the comfort of his guests in the Governor's Palace, and shortly before his death in 1770 he ordered another to warm the House of Burgesses.

So do Buzaglo stoves work? While I don't doubt that the twin Buzaglos in the palace are in fine working order, I also imagine that modern-day fire and pollution regulations frown on combining coal-burning stoves with crowds of tourists. But to a lady shivering in a silk gown two hundred years ago, I'm sure they were a very welcome upgrade from the sparks, soot, and limited warmth of an open hearth.

And, of course, there must have been all those "other Advantages too tedious to insert."

** "Hot Air from Cambridge", an article by J.C.T. Oates appearing in The Library

Biltmore: The house that George built

Loretta reports:

When Lady Dunmore first came to Williamsburg and was shown the Governor’s Palace, she must have said, “You’re putting me on”—in 18th C speak, that is.  Compared to the great houses of Britain, let alone its palaces, it must have seemed like, oh, the dairy building.  It was too small, certainly, to be a stable.  Yet it was quite grand for Colonial America.

It would take a while for rich Americans to start building houses dedicated to showing off their money, but then they did it with a vengeance.  Most of the Gilded Age mansions to me epitomize Wretched Excess—ostentatious and unappealing.  But I did fall in love with Biltmore.  Maybe because the man who built it, George Washington Vanderbilt II (that's Whistler's portrait of him above left), was a man of imagination.  And maybe because he put his palace on a vast piece of land—100,000 acres in the North Carolina mountains--as the aristocrats of England did their country houses.  And maybe because he and his wife did interesting and useful things with their money.

He was 28 years old when he “decided to build the largest private house in America, establish a model dairy farm, revive the forest, and establish a forestry school and an arboretum.”  The Pisgah Forest took up 80,000 of those acres.  “Although it had an extraordinary range of species of trees, the forest was in a deplorable state, ‘burned, slashed, and overgrazed.’”  He also created Biltmore Industries, “furniture workshops set up…to train local North Carolina craftsmen."

He built a private railway spur to carry the materials from the main railroad to the site.  He had the country’s premier talent working for him: landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, architect Richard Morris Hunt, and forester Gifford Pinchot.

The house has about 255 rooms.  “In London, he astonished a rug dealer by purchasing at
one time three hundred Oriental rugs for his new house.”  I could go on and on:  about the John Singer Sargent paintings and the system of heating and cooling the house and the beautiful elevator and the gardens and the views and the fascinating servants’ quarters and more--but a visit is worth many thousand words, and if you can’t visit, there are video tours available at the site, and numerous books.

The opinions expressed here are my own.  The facts, figures, and quotes come from a wonderful, sumptuously illustrated book, The Vanderbilts, by Jerry E. Patterson.  The black & white photograph is courtesy the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-71822.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More Bright Colors: The Governor's Palace

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Susan reports:

There was so much interest in the eye-boggling 18th c. wallpaper from Colonial Williamsburg last week that I thought I'd follow up with two of the most brightly painted rooms in the entire town.

The large blue room is the ballroom in the Royal Governor's Palace, and the green room that opens from it is the supper room. Both were added to the palace in 1752, following the new fashion among English aristocrats to build special rooms onto their houses dedicated to dancing and socialising. The rooms are decorated in the latest London fashion for 1770 as if to suit the last royal governor, the Earl of Dunmore.

The ballroom is especially imposing because it has four life-size portraits of English royalty: King Charles II and his queen, Catherine of Braganza (because Lady Dunmore herself had Stuart blood) and, at the other end of the room, the reigning King George III and his queen, Charlotte. The portraits were meant to remind guests that the royal governor was the stand-in for the Crown, and the king literally stood behind his representative, even here in the distant colonies.

The ballroom is very large, historically large enough to hold a ball with 200 guests in attendance. Obviously not all guests danced at once. There would likely be a good many who never made it away from the
card or dining tables in one of the other
rooms, and others who simply passed the evening sitting in the chairs along the walls, flirting or gossiping.

The ballroom was designed to impress with its high arching ceiling, elaborate moldings, and crystal chandelier, but it's the brilliant blue walls, edged all around with gold, that first catch the eye. The wall-to-wall patterned carpet, woven to match, adds more color with vivid gold, pink, and purple.

With daylight streaming in through the tall windows, the effect is almost gaudy. However, the ballroom was used almost exclusively at night, and by candlelight (we NHG attended an evening ball lit entirely by candles) the colors are much more subdued and more elegant, too.

The same can be said of the adjoining supper room with its Chinese-inspired woodwork, brilliant green painted walls, and more patterned wool carpet. When the evening grew late and the guests exhausted from dancing, the doors to the supper room were opened and a lavish late meal was served here. Another set of doors at the opposite end of the room opened directly onto the formal gardens, where on warm nights guests could wander and amuse one another, and the green walls of the supper room were echoed by the trees outside.

Reader Lyn S. told us how bright the colors were in another 18th c. house, George Washington's Mt. Vernon. Here's the link for a virtual tour -- check out the bright green in the dining room!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Miseries of Human Life

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Loretta reports:

James Beresford’s The Miseries of Human Life, which first appeared in 1806, is still funny.  I own the Past Times 1995 adaptation, whose cover bears the Cruikshank illustration, The Head ache, shown at left, and from whose spine a ball & chain dangles.  This version drops the numerous Latin phrases of the original, as well as the dialogue form--a style popular in the late 18th and early 19th C, which modern readers may find a bit arch and artificial.  Yet I’d suggest you try the original anyway, because it’s full of funny little bits, and many of its miseries apply today as well as then.

The horror of contriving how to adjust one’s legs and arms at the age of nineteen in a drawing room.

In speeding through towns and turnpikes, the nervous habits and desperate manoeuvres to which you are perpetually driven, to avoid gratifying successive shoals of children, in their eager wishes and strenuous endeavours to be run over.

Sitting down alone in a large party upon a sofa that makes an equivocal noise.

Being a lady of a certain age, throwing yourself into your carriage at daybreak, after some long and fatiguing orgy, finding yourself face to face with your gentleman escort, with the killing consciousness that the beams of the rising sun, by pointing at certain derangements in the composition of your countenance, are gradually rectifying a few chronological errors in your own history, into which you had been leading him an hour before.

Squatting plump on an unsuspected cat in your chair.

Being serenaded at your window, all night long, by the tender war-whoop of two cats, performed with demoniacal variations and professional enthusiasm.

Slipping your knife suddenly and violently from off a bone, its edge first shrieking across the plate (so as to make you hated by yourself and the whole company), and then driving the plate before it, and lodging all its contents—meat, gravy, melted butter, vegetables, &c., &c., partly on your own breeches, partly on the cloth, partly on the floor, but principally on the lap of a charming girl who sits by you, and to whom you had been diligently endeavoring to recommend yourself as a suitor.

While swallowing a raspberry, discovering by its taste that you have been so unhappy as to occasion the death of a harmless insect!

Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank, among others, illustrated the book.
“The Head-ache” and “Cat-sitting," shown here, are Cruikshank’s work.
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