Thursday, 18 November 2010

19th Century Marriage Vows

The story I am currently working on is set in 1825 (the year of large sleeves and small corsets) and one its crucial plot elements centres around the vows in the Church of England Wedding Ceremony. That being the case, getting the correct era-appropriate vows is essential. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I stumbled upon Laura Vivanco's Teach me Tonight blog featuring a thoughtful and extensive essay by guest blogger Virginia on the history of wedding vows through the ages. It is a truly excellent reference for anyone with an interest in the subject - thoughtful, scholarly and absolutely fascinating.

To read "Oh Promise me! Marriage Vows through History" click here.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

19th Century Costume: A Glossary


I have always been one to enjoy a fancifully written menu, with a goodly amount of French thrown in to give it that certain je ne sais quoi. You know the kind of thing I mean. Take Le Gavroche's menu as an example: Fricassée de St.Pierre Facon Bouillabaisse (fish soup). Sublime!

So it is my belief I would have made an avid reader of
La Belle Assemblee or Ackermann's, because there is nothing that your regency lady enjoyed more than a superbly romanticised description. Unfortunately for us, it makes some of the descriptions on costume plates well nigh indecipherable.

It was with great joy therefore that I turned to the back pages of Ackermann's Costime Plates: Women's Fashions in England, 1818-1828 edited and with an introduction by Stella Blum, to find a three page long glossary of fashion terminology from the period. Wonderful!

Below is a selection of some of the most commonly used (by my reckoning, nothing scientific there), followed by some of the most delightfully fanciful:

Most Common Terms

Á la militaire.
In the military style.

Á l'antique. In the manner of the Greeks of antiquity.

Bandeau (pl. bandeaux). A narrow band worn either on the head or on the costume for decorative purposes.

Blond lace. A lace made of fine mesh with patterns worked in silk producing shiny satin-like pattern. Blond lace could be natural coloured, black or, occasionally in other colours, such as green

Bombasine. A textile having a twilled appreance with a silk warp and a worsted weft. It was usually black and because it was lustreless, was often used for mourning.

Cambric. Very fine thin linen.

Coquelicot. Poppy red (see pictured turban).

Corsage. Bodice or upper part of a lady's dress.

En gigot. Sleeves shaped like a leg of mutton.

French crepe. A thin, wrinkled silk, cotton or wool.

Fichu. Kerchief or small scarf, generally of thin, filmy material, that was worn around the neckline.

Gros de Naples. An Italian silk with a corded surface.

Jaconet. A thin cotton fabric somewhat like muslin.

Kerseymere. A fine woolen fabric with a twill weave having a special texture with a one third of work threads above and the rest below.

Leghorn. A plaited Italian wheat straw used in hats.

Rouleau (pl. rouleaux). A strip of fabric loosely stuffed into a tube-like shape and used to trim dresses, generally at the hem.

Round gown. A closed one-piece dress.

Sarsnet. A thin silk with a taffeta weave and a slight sheen.

Vandyke. A pointed tooth-like border of lace or other material similar to those in the works of Van Dyck.

Delightfully Obscure and Fanciful Terms

Ailes de Papillon. Cloth ornaments arranged to suggest the wings of a butterfly.

Bouilloneée. Puffed or bubbling out.

Couleur d'oreille d'ours. Colour of Polyanthus, the oxlip or some varieties of Narcissus.

Folia peltata. Leaves with stems attached to the underneath part instead of to the edges.

Noued. Bow or knot.

Soie de Londres. Satin or satin-like silk.

Toque de Ninon. A toque, possibly in the style of Ninon de Lenclose, a fashionable french lady (1620 - 1705).

Zephyrne. Light-weight fabric of silk or wool.

For many more terms along with gorgeous fashion plates with full descriptions (both colour and monochrome) I highly recommend Stella Blum's book.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Louis X IV and Mickey Mouse: Branding Brothers


I just got back from an interesting trip to Paris, which encompassed the Palace of Versailles (a treat for me) and Disneyland (a treat for my daughter). Visiting both sites within 24 hours, I couldn't help but be struck by the similarities. It's almost as though Louis XIV had been employed as Brand Consultant by Disney - not because the two places look the same (they don't), but because the masterminds behind both clearly Knew Their Stuff.

Let's take Versailles for example. The humble visitor approaches up a wide avenue towards the palace, which rears up before her like The Mothership. It's an awe inspiring sight, huge, gilded and gleaming. Supposing you were seeking an audience with the King himself, or that you had been invited to a levee. Before getting within spitting distance of the Monarch you would be required to pass through chamber after chamber each adorned with artworks bearing testimony to the Greatness of Louis.

Once we had passed the fifth portrait of the Sun King, my husband was heard to mutter "I think it's fair to say this guy had ego issues!". We have Louis on horse back, Louis represented in myth, Louis as Alexander the Great, Louis' marriage blessed by the gods. Each room is more splendid and more gilded than the one before - and that's before you reach the glittering grandeur of the Hall of Mirrors, a breath-stealing sparkling royal wonderland overlooking regal gardens. Only once you have made it through these areas do you reach the King's Chamber (unless he had decided to receive you in the throne room).

The Gardens at Versailles were designed along similar lines. World famous and designed by Andre le Notre between 1662 - 1700, they were the finest example of Garden à la francaise to be found anywhere, as well as being the largest gardens in Europe. The gardens were laid out on an east-west axis which followed the course of the sun: the sun rose over the Court of Honor, lit the Marble Court, crossed the Chateau and lit the bedroom of the King, and set at the end of the Grand Canal, reflected in the mirrors of the Hall of Mirrors.



"The views and perspectives, to and from the palace, continued to inifinity. The king ruled over nature, recreating in the garden not only his domination of his territories, but over the court and his subjects."
Lucia Impelluso, Jardins, potagers et labyrinthes, pg. 64


Like my husband said, the guy had issues.

Architecture, landscaping, art and ornamentation were designed to tell one story: that of Louis XIV as absolute monarch and supreme power. His court resided with him at Versailles, to ensure that he had them under his control. No one was about to be allowed to up and start up their own faction, they were subsumed into the absolutism of Versailles.

Just like Mickey Mouse. Okay, so I'm not trying to say that Mickey Mouse is an absolute monarch.

However, there are parallels. Disney is instantly recognisable world-wide and its brand is incredibly strong. Those brand values are captured in Disneyland and the visitor is left in no doubt as to the power and reach of the Disney message. You want magic? Come to the world authority on the magical world of childhood.

Once you pass through the golden gates into Disneyland, the visitor is faced with a long avenue lined with all things Disney. This leads out into a central courtyard (the centre point for dance and spectacle, loved by Disney and Louis XIV alike) and the visitor is hit by the sight of Sleeping Beauty's enchanted castle, full scale and spectacular, dominating the skyline. That's a castle which is familiar to anyone who watches Disney films: it's the logo and title sequence for Walt Disney Pictures. Like the Parthenon in Athens, or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Castle is the point around which the visitor can orientate herself and from its foundations the different zones (Adventureland, Fantasyland etc) spread.

The magical message is built into every aspect of the place: from restaurants to shops, to rides and entertainments. It's difficult not to be enthralled and impressed: my toddler was enchanted.

Promotion, PR and Branding are a full scale industry these days - Louis IVX didn't have the benefit of working with Saatchi and Saatchi but his strategy was undeniably effective and consolidated his position for the 54 years of his reign.

His tools as a self publicist were similar to those available today. He used spectacle: in 1653 he danced as the Sun King in the Ballet royal de la nuit, establishing not only the definitive icon but also the practice of his autocracy. The image is captured in paintings from the 1650s such as the one included here.



Visual imagery was significant, both in communicating symbolism and in the veneration with which it was treated. In Louis' absence, a portrait of him took his place in the throne room of Versailles and it was an offence to turn one's back on the portrait even as much as it was an offence to turn once's back on the King.

The association of Louis and Alexander the Great was made through art and the King's long relationship with artist Charles LeBrun was profitable to both of them. LeBrun helped to create the King's lasting image and autocratic sun king and shaped the Palace of Versailles, the King paid his wages and gave him a preeminent position.



Alexander is not the only figure from the classical world to feature strongly. Apollo too is featured throughout Versailles, as a sculpted centerpiece to the Gardens and on murals and paintings throughout the Palace. The Apollo Room is itself a tribute to the magnificence of Louis XIV. The ceiling shows Apollo awakening France and Magnificence by rising from the waves in his Sun Chariot: a fitting emblem for the Sun King.



Louis' image adorned coins and was the subject of poetry, theatre and satire. His written words were controlled just as carefully: many of his letters were ghost-written by authorised secretaries, including his love-letters (demonstrating the usefulness of delegation!).

Louis' public image did not come about by a happy accident, it was the result of long planning and intense concentration not only by Louis XIV himself, but also by his advisors. Louis XIV was packaged and marketed using ideology and propaganda and manipulating public opinion with a professionalism more than equal to anything which exists today.

The legacy of his cult of celebrity echoes down through the ages, in a popular fascination with high profile figures in our generation and those in the intervening years. The association of environment and brand, once the preserve of royalty (Brighton Pavilion and the Prince Regent) are now more frequently the creation of multinational corporations who wish to make a statement about themselves.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Newhailes: "the most learned room in Europe"


I'm pleased to share some more pictures from my local source of inspiration, Newhailes, the former home of the Dalrymple family which now lies in the hands of the National Trust for Scotland.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, Newhailes is a Palladian mansion which lies between Musselburgh and Edinburgh. The original house was built in the 1680s by an architect, James Smith, for use as his own home. Unfortunately for him, Smith went bankrupt and in 1701 the estate was sold to Lord Bellenden, the second son of the 2nd Duke of Roxburghe. In 1707, it was purchased by Sir David Dalrymple (c. 1665-1721), fifth son of Viscount Stair, as a country seat outside of Edinburgh. Sir David, an eminent lawyer and statesman changed the name of the house from Whitehill to Newhailes after Hailes Castle near East Linton, which was also owned by the Dalrymples. By the mid 1700s, the house had been extended by William Adam and Sir David's grandson, Sir David Dalrymple (1726 - 1792) who became Lord Hailes had added to his grandfather's magnificent collection of books and created a wonderful library. Samuel Johnson described it as the most 'learned room in Europe.'

The Newhailes Library collection was given to the National Libraries of Scotland in 1978 in lieu of death duties. Together with manuscripts also acquired from Newhailes House, it is the most important contemporary collection to survive from the Scottish Enlightenment. The collection consists of c. 7,000 volumes and a number of pamphlets, broadsheets, prints, maps and music; British and foreign works, of the 16th to the 18th century, with three incunables and some 19th century material (see website of the National Library of Scotland).

Among the papers is the manuscript of Lord Hailes’s Annals of Scotland, annotated by Samuel Johnson, and letters of his contemporaries including Hume, Robertson, Beattie and Burke. Sir David's brother Alexander (1737-1808) was the first hydrographer to the Admiralty and a writer on geographical matters. The Newhailes Library collection also contains his private and East India Company charts, published between 1769-1786, as well as the books of his East Indies nautical memoirs.

The spectacular oak-panelled library is itself fascinating. Added in the second decade of the 1700s, the two-story library was built to open from floor level out onto the Cabinet Garden, an architecturally cut clearing or room within the woods (pictured below). As an extension to the library, it was designed as a place for discussion and contemplation and is an example of the interweaving boundaries between the house and the landscape which is a theme throughout the estate. The Newhailes library provided a forum for key figures from the Scottish Enlightenment (1750-1800), such as David Hume and James Boswell.




The interface between intellect, debate and the natural world was very much of its time and reflective of the politics and philosophy of the day.

In the 18th Century, the concept of "Landscape" or "English" gardens was spreading across the continent, promoted by the philosophers and revolutionary thinkers of the 18th century. The Landscape garden, as epitomised by the work of Capability Brown, provided a naturalised, idealised look. This was a direct contrast to its predecessor - the garden "à la française" or French Classical style which was modelled on the symmetry and grandeur of Versailles and associated with autocracy and France's ancien regime. In the garden à la française man dominates nature, forcing rationality and authority upon the natural world and placing the house or palace at the centre. As absolutism became challenged, so too did the strict formality of the garden. The movement towards the natural, picturesque style represented rebellion against autocratic rule and a desire for natural freedom.

"Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains," Rousseau


Newhailes is an early example of the natural style from a transitional period: it references classical thought but also has the features of a Rococo garden: regular irregularity and architectural incident (such as the grotto and the Tea House) on a scale that is small rather than grand.

The mid-18th century Tea House was situated at the Northern extremity of the estate's water gardens and was designed as an eyecatching endpiece to the Newhailes stretch of Brunstane Burn. The Tea House is a contemporary copy of the famous Palladian Bridge built by the Earl of Pembroke at Wilton House, Wiltshire. The Tea House exemplifies early-mid 18th-century neo-Augustan ideal. It is intended for quiet contemplation and bears the inscription "nos humilem", a reference to Horace "for my self, I will sacrifice a humble lamb...". Information on the archaeology of the Tea House can be found here and an image of it as it once was is below.





The other key feature of the water gardens is the Shell Grotto which I discuss more in my earlier post.



THe interaction between the house and gardens at Newhailes helps to capture the atmosphere of a particularly fascinating period in our history: the birth of the modern world. In the 1700s the dominance of intellect and reason led to an explosion of scientific and economic progress, much of which was led by Scotland. In reaction, in the 1800s imagination, romance, creativity and the natural world became highly prized leading to the preeminence of the romantics in the visual and literary arts. The formal, splendid structure of 18th century costume with its towering hair and painted faces gives way to the soft, empire-style muslin robe and tumbling natural curls. Satire gives way to romance and nature is allowed to shine in the natural artifice of the landscape garden.

This is a fertile environment to allow the imagination free reign. How exciting it must have been to have been privy to such intellectual progress and confusing it must have been for the autocrats of the early 1700s to understand the romantic inclinations of their children and grandchildren.

Newhailes is a magnificent resource for anyone with an interest in this period - there will be more images to view in the next few weeks.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Primary Sources for Regency Romance: The Mother Lode

I have just stumbled across the BEST site for primary sources on the web! I am so excited! Whether you are looking for an image of an historical figure, such as dancer Madame Celeste (pictured here as the Maid of Cashmere, V&A) or an example of a 19th century wedding dress (pictured, V&A)you will find them by searching on Creative Spaces.


Creative Spaces pools images of more tan 300,000 objects from the wonderful collections of the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate, the Imperial War Museum, the Sir John Soames Museum, the Wallace Collection, the Natural History Museum and the Royal Armouries Museum. For those of us who live outside of London and have little access to these phenomenal national collections, this is a godsend.

Once you have found your desired object, you can add it to an online notebook with comments. This enables you to build up your own personal online collection - invaluable for the historical author. You could, for example, have a collection of objects from 1825, or of historic figures of the regency era, of waistcoats, or 19th century wedding dresses. The possibilities are endless. You can even use the site as a social networking resource, to find others who share your interests.

Having found this resource I cannot wait to start exploring!