We’ve talked before about the magical Season in London, when a young lady made her debut in polite society for the first time. Once you were “out,” you could attend balls, hold parties at your own house, and, if you were lucky, visit Almack’s. I recently had cause to dig a little deeper into the workings of the mighty club, and I was a little surprised at what I found.
Almack’s, as we’ve also discussed, was that bastion of society often referred to as the Marriage Mart. A club dictated by women was a novelty in a society that still largely catered to the gentleman. The lady patronesses of Almack’s determined who was allowed to attend each ball held on Wednesday nights during the Season.
What surprised me was the entire process. As gleaned from various sources, some of which are not first-hand, it seems that when a mama knew she was bringing her daughter to London for the Season, she might write to a patroness and request vouchers in advance. The patronesses thus had a pretty good idea of who was going to be out and about that year. But no patroness would issue vouchers unless she visited the prospective attendee or otherwise knew that young lady personally. Then the patronesses met together and discussed potential candidates.
Wouldn’t you have liked to be a fly on the wall at one of those meetings.
“I met with Miss Charming this week. She is utterly delightful. We must have her.”
“Tsk—not a bit of it! Her mother is a harridan, and I cannot like her wardrobe.”
“Oh. Pity. What about Miss Newvoriche? She is polite above all things.”
Shudder. “No. Her grandfather was a coal merchant.”
And it wasn’t just the ladies who waited with great trepidation to hear whether they had been chosen. Men too had to be issued vouchers to attend. And attendance could still be denied even after you’d received vouchers if your behavior was found lacking for any reason.
There also appears to have been some sort of rule on the number of people in a single family who could be granted vouchers. Some sources say two; others three. Vouchers were non-transferrable, meaning that if you couldn’t go one week you couldn’t just hand your ticket to another person.
I couldn’t help wondering what would happen in a family with two daughters on the ton in one year and a socially astute mother. Which daughter would be denied tickets? How would that make her feel? What might she do to convince the patronesses to change their minds?
Particularly when attending Almack’s meant everything, even catching a French spy.
Dropping hints? Guilty. Stay tuned, because later this month, I’ll tell you more about what Ariadne Courdebas did to earn tickets to Almack’s after Eloquence and Espionage, Book 4 in my Lady Emily Capers, debuts on June 22.