Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Titillating 'Flannel Armour', 1793

Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Isabella reporting,

Loretta and I are great fans of the British caricaturists of the 1780s-1820s, including James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, George Cruikshank, and many others. When their prints are mocking fashionable pretensions, politicians, or the royal family, the "joke" is still apparent, even after two hundred years. But then there are some prints that are real head-scratchers to modern eyes.

This one by James Gillray falls into that category. What exactly is going on here? (As always, click on the image to enlarge it.) The ladies appear to be dressing the soldiers in strange, buff-colored costumes, and displaying a certain lascivious eagerness in the process, too. While bare-breasted women are often found in 18thc. satirical prints, here Gillray offers a bit of titillating male nudity. Like most men of the time, the soldiers wear no under-drawers, but simply tuck their long shirt-tails between their legs. These ladies would clearly have gotten an eyeful, and this being Gillray, we should believe their rosy cheeks are due more to excitement than embarrassment.

The title offers some hints: "FLANNEL ARMOUR; FEMALE PATRIOTISM, or Modern Heroes accoutred for the Wars," as does the satirical dedication "To the benevolent Ladies of Great Britain, who have so liberally supported the new system of Military Clothing."

A bit of research explains the rest of the history behind the print. France had declared war on Great Britain on February 1, 1793, launching a generation of warfare between the two countries that would not end until 1815. But when this print was published on November 18, 1793 (weird coincidence, I know!), no one knew that. Instead Britain was filled with patriotic fervor, and the usual certainty that this war would be swiftly and easily won.

As the soldiers drilled and the military began its preparations, British ladies also wanted to show their patriotism and make their own contribution to the war effort. (The lady in the front is already wearing a stylish red habit, sash, and plumed hat that imitates a soldier's uniform.) Wives, mothers, and sweethearts worried that the soldiers would suffer from the cold in the coming winter, and eagerly responded by stitching undergarments of warm winter flannel for the troops. The pointed flannel caps shown here must have been liners for the tall bearskin uniform caps of the time - see one hanging on the wall along with a red uniform coat.

The "flannel campaign" was lauded by politicians and newspapers, but found no favor at all with the soldiers. Companies that were presented with the flannel underclothes refused them outright. Not only did they not want to wear what they perceived as foolish and unnecessary garments, but they also wanted no part of the ladies' "charity", and apparently were quite blunt about it, too.

So the soldiers marched off without under-drawers, and the ladies were offended by their ingratitude, with both leaving caricaturists like Gillray with plenty of inspiration.

Above: Flannel Armour; Female Patriotism, by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, November 18, 1793. Walpole Library, Yale University.


Yve said...

Ha ha, I can see how that wouldn't go down well!

Annette said...

Article on female and male attire in 1793+ gave me a needed laugh that I jumped over the moon and roared. HOW DO YOU FIND THIS GREAT INFORMATION-AND FIND A HINT OF HUMOR AND BEAUTY? Thanks always! Mrs. atk USA

Chris Woodyard said...

Wonderful print! Thanks for finding it! Other than the fact that the satirical print makes the outfits look ridiculous, I wonder if the thought that wool flannel was the official material for shrouds had any part in the soldiers' resistance to the garments? The Burial in Woolen act was still in force at this time, although how much it was actually enforced is a question.

Anonymous said...

This is hilarious! I think of Marianne in Sense & Sensibility made fun of Colonel Brandon's flannel waistcoat -- is there perhaps something unmanly about that cozy fabric?

Thea said...

Even then they liked to go commando

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