Friday, January 29, 2010

The Queen Shops Here

After a celebrity appearance on television today, the station’s phone lines are often by people wanting to know where their favorite celeb got her lipstick, sweater, earrings, or shoes. A famous sports star endorses an energy drink and it instantly sells a million cans. But in the nineteenth century, young shoppers had another way to know what goods were endorsed, but no less than royalty: Royal Warrants.

A Royal Warrant recognized individuals or businesses who had been selected to provide goods or services to the royal family. The implication was that if the royals shopped here, the goods had to be of exceptional quality. A business that had earned a Royal Warrant proudly displayed the royal coat of arms on their shop fronts, stationery, advertisements, and delivery coaches and wagons.
But it wasn’t just shops that received the royal thumbs up. Such interesting servants as sword cutters, mole takers, and rat catchers also received Royal Warrants. How’d you like to brag, “My daddy is rat catcher to the Queen”?

The Prince Regent issued around 250 warrants in the early nineteenth century, including to Rundle and Bridges, his favorite jeweler. But Marissa’s beloved Queen Victoria far surpassed him. She and her family issued more than 2,000 warrants during her reign. Businesses that are still in business today that first received their warrants from her include Fortnum & Mason, Schweppes, and Twinings Tea.

Today there are around 850 Royal Warrant Holders to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.

But I bet not one of them is a rat catcher.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fashion Forecast: 1812

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in 1812?

Europe was still completely in the throes of war: 1812 saw Napoleon's disastrous attempt to invade Russia as well as the victories of Welllington's armies in the Peninsula, effectively forcing France out of Spain. These events were followed closely back in London, and fashions were often named after military or other important events. Which is why we have here a Polish Walking Pelisse, looking rather dashingly military with all that frogging down the front (poor Poland was being carved up once again over the course of 1812 and 1813 by France, Russia, Prussia, and Austria). From the January 1 Ackermann's Repository:

Waists were still wandering, as we saw in 1811. This very comfortable looking Half Dress is rather in-between, neither high nor low--perfect for a morning's shopping expedition to Oxford Street or for a visit to Bullock's Museum, which opened its newly built Egyptian Hall in 1812 (January 1, Ackermann's Repository):

I have the original description for this handsome Ball Dress from February 1st's Ackermann's: "A round Grecian robe of white crape, gossamer net, or leno, embroidered up the front, and round the bottom, with a fancy border in marigold chenille; an antique bodice of marigold velvet, trimmed with vandyke lace or white bugle trimming; short full sleeves, same as the robe, finished with bands of marigold velvet. Slippers of the same, with silver clasps, or roses. A square veil of fine Mechlin lace, fancifully disposed over the hair, which is seen in irregular curls beneath. Necklace and corresponding ornaments of the satin bead or pearl. Gloves of French kid, below the elbow. Fan of carved ivory." Very handsome!:

I rather like the bodice on this elegant Evening Full Dress: look closely and you'll see it's decorated with rows of what looks like dangling pearl beading, with little tear-drop pendants at the ends of rows. I also find it interesting to notice how loose-fitting her gloves seem to be, bunching down in casual folds rather than tight to the arm (March 1, Ackermann's):

As lovely as the ball and evening dresses are, I'm always interested to run across plates showing what one wore at home, when dealing with the less romantic aspects of life like writing letters and tending to embroidery. From the April 1st Ackermann's we have here a Morning or Domestic Costume-- "A superfine Scotch or French cambric over a cambric slip, with full ong sleeve, and ruff a la Mary Queen of Scots. A neck-chain and sight [quizzing glass] set in gold; bracelets and necklace of white or red carnelian. A Flora cap, composed of white satin and lace. A capuchin or French cloak of blossom satin, or Pomona green, trimmed with thread lace. Slippers of pale pink or green kid; and gloves of tan or Limerick kid":

I love this next plate, a Promenade or Carriage Costume: "A round spencer robe of blossom-coloured sarsnet, trimmed with tufted Chinese silk fringe; a drapery of deep vandyke black lace, continued round the back and shoulders to the bottom, in the loose Polonaise style; the spencer sitting close to the throat, without a collar, which is supplied by that of the morning robe of white muslin beneath. A provincial bonnet of the same material as the spencer, ornamented with two curled white ostrich feathers, placed in adverse directions in front. Half-boots of blossom-colored kid; redicule to correspond; and gloves of lemon-coloured kid, or pale tan colour." Isn't the bobble fringe adorable? And again, this costume could almost as easily pass for 1912 as 1812 (Ackermann, May 1):

Here's another Domestic or Morning Costume (Ackermann's, May 1), which I'm including mostly because I love the props she's shown with and the note which accompanies the description: "The peculiar taste and elegant simplicity of these habiliments are further specimens of the graceful invention of the celebrated Mrs. Gill, of Cork-street, Burlington-gardens, from whom we have obtained them."
This Promenade or Walking Dress is an interesting design (note the slightly gathered sleeves), but I do wonder why she's holding her parasol by the top rather than by the handle--a pose I've seen in many prints of the time (Ackermann's, July 1):

The full gathered sleeve style is more noticeable in this Evening Dress from the September 1 Ackermann's, along with a very high waist:

Another scrumptious Evening Dress featuring a colored bodice and white skirt, a look that will remain in fashion for years. And what a jaunty hat! I wish I had the description to this one. (Ackermann's, November 1):

And now, to borrow a phrase, for something completely different: a non-Ackermann plate! This charming London Fashionable Morning Dress has a wonderful fur-edged short cloak worm asymmetrically on one shoulder--unexpectedly chic! (Lady's Magazine, November):

What do you think of 1812's fashion parade?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Nineteenth Century Heroines: Reach for the Stars

We’ve talked about how young ladies in the nineteenth century were encouraged to learn the housewifely arts. That was certainly true in the beginning for Caroline Herschel. She was born in Hanover (what is now Germany) in 1750, the daughter and sister of amateur astronomers. Her brother William moved to England in 1757 at age 19 to teach music. By 1766, he was an organist in Bath and often served as choir master. However, at night, he studied the stars. In 1781, he discovered the planet Uranus, which earned him the title of King's Astronomer, a knighthood, and a pension of 200 pounds per year. Such patronage from King George III was not surprising when you consider that the king was also a Hanoverian by birth and that Herschel had originally suggested naming the new planet after him. (Can you imagine: “What are the names of the three largest planets, children?” “Jupiter, Saturn, and George.”)

Caroline’s father tried to teach her astronomy too, but her mother would have none of it. Women, according to Mother Herschel, should only learn household tasks and be generally helpful. But Caroline got her chance to be helpful when, at 22, she moved to England to help her brother. I don’t know whether she hoped to be an astronomer right away, but her brother insisted that she learn to sing so she could help pay the bills. From 1773 until he was knighted, she sang with his choir up to five times a week in Bristol and Bath.

But somehow dear William was persuaded to train her in astronomy and math. It may be because Caroline begged; it may be because he desperately needed an assistant. In any event, within the next 2 years of his knighting, Caroline had not only learned about astronomy but was making discovering of her own. In 1783, she discovered three nebulae; her first comet followed in 1786. A year later, in recognition of her work, King George awarded her a salary of 50 pounds a year to officially serve as an assistant to her brother. She went on to discover another seven comets before 1797, then began cross-referencing and correcting England’s star catalog.

After William married at the ripe old age of 51, Caroline helped educate his son John and assisted in his astronomical work as well. She became a close friend of the Royal family and visited them in 1816, 1817, and 1818. When William died in 1822, she returned to Hanover, but continued her observations. While many reports today tout her as one of the first women to be awarded membership in the Royal Society, it was an honorary membership only and not until 1835 (when she was 85). However, at age 86 she was elected a full member of the Royal Irish Academy and at 96 was awarded the Prussian Gold Medal for Science. She died in 1848 at 98 years of age.

Now, that’s what I call a star!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Sundry Miseries"

This is a brief article from the April 3, 1824 edition of The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, which was sort of the Reader's Digest of the day, containing a variety of articles often reprinted from other journals as well as original material. It made me giggle, and reminded me again that some things never change...

Sundry Miseries
  • Residing between a stone-cutter's shop and an undertaker's.

  • Haggling with a surly hackney-coachman for sixpence, and a quarter-hour after he has driven off, recollecting that you have left a new umbrella in his coach.

  • Drying a long letter by the fire, holding it negligently in one hand behind you whilst you are conversing with a friend in the room, turning around and perceiving it to be in flames.

  • In sharply turning a corner, coming suddenly in contact with a chimney sweeper, who impresses your white waistcoat and light-colored breeches with very visible memorials of the encounter.

  • Passing through a narrow passage and realizing it has just been freshly painted.

  • Wishing to wake early to be in time for a morning coach, waking, and upon looking at your watch, discovering that you had not wound it up the night before.

  • Making several memorandum knots in your handkerchief, and forgetting the important cause of every one of them.

  • Dreaming that you have wings, and waking with a fit of the gout.

  • Endeavoring to flirt outrageously under the table and pressing the wrong foot.

  • Toasting a bit of cheese, and when it is more than half done, letting it fall into the ashes.

  • In a hurry to send off a letter, dipping your finger into the ink instead of into the wafer stand.

Friday, January 15, 2010

May I Have the Honor of Hopping the Broom--Part II

Thanks for all your interest in eloping to Scotland! Just as people run away to Vegas to marry in a hurry these days, Scotland was the place to go in the nineteenth century if you wanted to be married quickly, no questions asked.

In Scotland, you didn’t have to be a minister to perform a legal wedding ceremony; in fact, you could be married by anyone, as long as you had two witnesses. In some areas, merely tying hands together (handfasting) or jumping over a decorated broom (the besom) was enough to declare you husband and wife. When a toll booth was built on the border late in the nineteenth century, people just stopped there and asked the booth guard to marry them!

Most of them, however, ventured into one of the border towns. One of the first towns over the border on the main road from London was Gretna Green, and the closest and most prominent landmark was the blacksmith’s shop where five major coaching roads met. The blacksmith, along with a number of other fellows in town, were willing and able, for a fee, to perform a marriage, so they all became known as anvil priests.

None was more famous than Joseph Paisley. He was the original blacksmith who set up the marriage market in Gretna Green in the late 1700s. A large, coarse fellow, he conducted his ceremonies with the least amount of effort. Legend has it he once married two couples at the same time, but inadvertently paired the wrong bride and groom. When they protested, he waved his beefy hand and told them to “Sort it out among yourselves.”

His nephew David Lang also married couples, but he opted for a more official air and went around dressed somberly like a minister, though he had no claim to the title. His son Simon took over the trade when his father passed away in 1827 and continued practicing until 1872. The Lang family recorded over 10,000 marriages from 1795 to 1895.

Would you do it? Would you risk scandal, run away, and have a fat sooty fellow clang his hammer on the anvil and proclaim you married? Would a Gretna Green marriage or hopping the broom in Scotland be enough romance for your wedding day?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

NineteenTeen goes to the movies: The Young Victoria

First, I must apologize for this post's lateness--I was indisposed yesterday, but am feeling much better. And besides, I couldn't wait to get discussion going about one of my favorite they actually made a movie about!

Yes, it's time to talk about The Young Victoria!

The film covers roughly 1836-1840, the years during which Victoria ascended the throne, married, and had her first child. All the major events from these years are covered with the exception of the Lady Flora scandal, which I can perhaps understand as it would have been hard to explain and depict in the short time available...though it more than the Bedchamber Crisis affected Victoria's popularity. History did get played a little fast and loose at times: no, Albert did not get shot, no, he wasn't at Victoria's coronation. But the little touches of what did happen--like Victoria's being required to hold someone's hand at all times when going up or down stairs and her running up to give her favorite dog, Dash, a bath when she got back from her coronation--certainly warmed my history geek's heart.

Characterizations were, on the whole, reasonably good, with a couple of exceptions. Miranda Richardson made a suitably waffling Duchess of Kent, Mark Strong a villainous Sir John Conroy (though I suspect in real life he had a trifle more least to people other than Victoria), and Jesper Christensen could have stepped out of a portrait of Baron Stockmar--in fact, it's plain that an effort was made to find actors who resembled their characters, and it shows.

I was somewhat disappointed in Emily Blunt's depiction of Victoria; I think Ms. Blunt played her a little too buttoned-up, when contemporary letters refer to her liveliness and "showing her gums when she laughs, which is frequently" and her own diaries and letters discuss her dancing till all hours at balls and show her vivid, passionate, opinionated personality. Also disappointing was Paul Bettany as Lord Melbourne, Victoria's first prime minister: the movie paints him as far too young and Machiavellian, though it does get across his rather laissez-faire attitude toward social reform. However, Rupert Friend does a superb job as Prince Albert, showing him deal with juggling the demands of his uncle, King Leopold of the Belgians, and then find his way in his difficult and anomalous position as husband (and theoretically lord and master) to the Queen of England (who made a point of saying "obey" in the marriage ceremony!)

What made this movie sing for me were its physical aspects. I wholeheartedly agree with the "utterly gorgeous and visually stunning" comments in the ad above: the sets, both indoors and out, were simply breathtaking (not surprising, as Blenheim Palace was among the locations used). And oh my goodness, the costumes!! They were simply wonderful and moreover, historically accurate: someone clearly did their homework here. My teen daughters and I were constantly whispering, "Ooh! Love that dress!" to each other through the movie.

So that's my opinion. Overall, I enjoyed it--three thumbs up from the Doyle household. How about you? What did you think?

Friday, January 8, 2010

May I Have the Honor of Hopping the Broom--Part I

They are the stuff of legend: young ladies and gentlemen, madly in love, but unable to marry because of family protests or lack of fortune. Romeo and Juliette, the Hatfields and McCoys, West Side Story. In nineteenth century England, though, if you wanted to marry your sweetie and your family protested, there was one clear answer.

Elope to Scotland.

You see, in the 1700s, getting married in England, particularly London, was easier than it should be. A law had been passed in the 1690s that required certain rules to be followed for a marriage to be legal, but a quirk in the law exempted ministers operating in the environs of Fleet Prison in London. So, if you wanted to be married, at any age, at any time (literally 24/7), for any reason, you could just find a willing cleric near the prison and exchange vows with your sweetie and that was that. Thousands of marriages a year were conducted this way, and taverns and houses in the area did a booming business catering to those who wanted, for whatever reason, to get married quickly.

But this opened the door for all kinds of problems. What if some fortune hunter grabbed a rich heiress and seduced her into marriage? What if a young lady of good family decided to marry, gasp, the young strapping butcher! At the time, the legal age for getting married was 7 (yes, 7—feel free to shudder), with no parental consent required. Most people were far older, of course, and most who married quickly weren’t trying to be shady. But, sad to say, some were bigamists and many were schemers.

In 1753, Parliament passed the Marriage Act to stop such abuses. The act abolished common-law marriages like the ones at Fleet Prison where you merely had to exchange vows. Now for your marriage to be recognized in England and Wales, you had to be at least 21 or your parents had to agree you could be married. If your parents agreed, the boy had to be least 14 and the girl 12. You had to have a formal church wedding in the Church of England (or a license to wed elsewhere) and the official had to be a cleric in the Church of England, unless you were Jewish or Quaker. Your marriage had to be officially recorded in the parish record. Before you could be married, you either had to have a minister read the banns--the announcement of your upcoming wedding--in your home church and your betrothed’s home church for three weeks in a row (so people could protest if they happened to know you were already married or had some other reason not to wed) or you had to buy a license. Generally, you married in the morning (between eight and noon).

These rules would have effectively put a stop to quick marriages, except that Scotland had no such rulings. A marriage made there was legal anywhere in the Empire, as long as you had proof. Many a couple ran for the border, with a father toting a pistol or horse whip chasing after them.

And what happened once they got to Scotland? I’ll explain next Friday. In the meantime, thanks again for all your interest in the Young Bluestockings Book Club! Marissa and I can hardly wait for our first discussion in February! Keep those suggestions coming!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New for the New Year: Announcing the Young Bluestockings Book Club!

Happy 2010 to you all! We hope this new year will be a happy, healthy, and historical one for all of you!

In keeping with new beginnings, Regina and I thought this would be a great time to kick off a new venture we've been contemplating for a while now (galvanized by a suggestion from ChaChaneen back in September): a book club! So today we would like to introduce the Young Bluestockings Book Club!

HOW: Because we're new at this, we're going to stick to holding it here on the blog, posting our thoughts on the chosen book to open the discussion; however, if we find there's interest, we may add on or switch to a chat format.

WHEN: We're contemplating doing this bi-monthly, unless you decide you want to do it more often...we'll see how it goes after the first meeting or two. Since we're announcing today, we've decided the first meeting will happen on Tuesday, February 16, which will give you plenty of time to find and read our assigned book.

WHAT: In keeping with NineteenTeen's theme, we will try to focus on books related to 19th century teens and teen life. That actually gives us a reasonably broad field from which to choose: expect to see everything from Jane Austen to Georgette Heyer to recent YA fiction...and perhaps even some non-fiction as well. We'd like to compile a list to work with, so please send us your suggestions for possible book club books: anyone who sends us a title we decide to add to the list will get one of our NineteenTeen fans as a thank-you.

To start with, we're going for pure fun with Patricia C. Wrede's delightful YA historical fantasy, Mairelon the Magician, which is set in an alternate Regency England where magic is an accepted fact of life. It seems to recently have gone out of print, but is still widely available on the internet at Barnes & Noble, Amazon,, abebooks, or alibris, or at your local library.

So please join us on February 16 to discuss Mairelon the Magician, and don't forget to send in your suggestions for other books we could discuss!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Happy New Year!

Think carefully. Who was the first person in your door after midnight last night?

Depending on your family traditions in nineteenth century England, the answer to that question could determine what kind of year you were going to have. The tradition of the First Footer originated in Scotland, but was practiced in the north and other parts of England. Basically the idea was that the first person who walked through your door could, depending on the circumstances, bring you luck for the year.

What constituted the circumstances varied by location. Some folks insisted that the visitor must bring a gift of food. Others had more elaborate traditions where the visitor had to bring symbols of warmth (a lump of coal for the fire), food (anything from bread to red herrings to mine pies to wine or whiskey), and wealth (a silver coin). Some visitors were supposed to remain silent until they had set the coal into the fire; others were supposed to run through the house shouting New Year’s greetings! The tradition was so engrained in some households that families actually tried to game the system by arranging with certain people exactly who would show up at the door so as to ensure their luck.

Most people believed the First Footer must be male, but here again sources differed as to exactly which type of male brought you good luck. Some favored blonds.

Others favored the tall, dark, and handsome.

Frankly, if I had been an unwed young lady eagerly waiting with her family to see who would pop through the door, I wouldn’t turn either of them down. How about you?