Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for January, 2011

Highclere Castle as Downton Abbey was a beautiful setting

Now that the last episode of Downton Abbey has aired, I can reflect back on the series and revisit some of the most surprising scenes. Indeed, the unexpected plot developments, which kept the viewers on their toes,  helped to make this series so unforgettable. Throw luscious costumes into the mix, stunning locations, a wealth of detail about Edwardian life, and great acting and you get one of the best costume dramas in recent years. Oh, the series had its faults with one or two too many stereotypical characters, but overall I give it a grade of A.

Reader alert: Spoilers!!

Surprise #1: Thomas kisses the Duke

Thomas (Rob James-Colier) and the Duke of Crowborough (Charley Cox)

This scene, which upset parents watching with their children, helped to seal the character of Thomas, the first footman, and clued the viewer into the the Duke’s motives for hightailing it to Downton Abbey when he thinks Mary will come into a boatload of money.

The duke learns the true situation of Lady Mary's finances from Lord Grantham.

The Duke finds and burns Thomas’s letters, which were the footman’s only means of blackmailing him, and then he scurries away the moment he discovers that Lord Grantham’s estate is entailed to the closest male heir, making his chance to marry into the Grantham fortune less than zero. Thomas goes on to demonstrate his sleazy character in many more ways, but his move on the Duke packed a real punch.

Surprise #2: Lady Mary is not just another cookie cutter heroine

Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley

From the moment we meet her, Lady Mary comes off as a cold, calculating, and complex woman, whose vulnerability does not come into full view until the third episode. When the viewer meets her, she worries about having to wear black after the death of her fiance on the Titanic and only mourns the fact that she cannot mourn him. Haughty and immodestly aware of her attraction to men, her pursuit of a wealthy and titled husband begins to take on a hint of desperation, which is why her fall from grace with Evelyn Napier’s attractive Turkish friend, Kemal Pamuk (Theo James), is even more shocking.

Surprise #3: Lady Mary, Lady Cora, and Anna share a terrible secret that cannot be contained

Lady Mary is in deep trouble after Pamuk dies in her bed.

The scene in which Pamuk dies in Lady Mary’s bed and the women secretly carry him back to his bedroom could have descended into slapstick comedy, but it did not due to great directing and acting. As I watched, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or whoop it up. All I knew was that in no way did I anticipate this plot development, which would affect Mary’s story arc and uneasy relationship with her mother for the rest of the mini-series.

Consequences of Lady Mary's fall from grace. Anna and Cora carry Pamuk back to the bedroom.

Handsome Pamuk is reduced to a limp corpse. And Mary? What on earth was she thinking? When Matthew finally proposes, Cora reveals to Violet that Mary wants to confess about the circumstances of Pamuk’s death, prompting the dowager to exclaim:  “She reads too many novels. One way or the other, everyone goes down the aisle with half the story hidden!”

Surprise #4: The Enjoyable Saga of One Upmanship Between Two Well-Matched Battle Axes

Violet, the dowager countess (Maggie Smith) and Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), Matthew's mama

Violet and Isobel: Two strong-willed women, both firm in their belief that they are right, one with modern notions, the other clinging to old-fashioned ways, provide a colorful but minor story line. Isobel Crawley, despite her comparative lack of social status (when matched against the Dowager Countess), manages to make her will known and felt. Violet can only sputter and rage at Isobel’s interference, and she finds scant satisfaction in proving Isobel’s diagnosis and treatment of Molesley’s skin condition wrong. But Isobel was not born yesterday, and at the Flowershow Death Match she shames Violet into giving the trophy for best roses to Molesley’s papa, instead of appropriating it as her own for the umpteenth time.

Violet graciously gives this year's prize to old Mr. Molesley.

In their scenes together,  Penelope Wilton  gave the incomparable Maggie Smith a run for her money. The enjoyable interplay between these two marvelous actresses was as surprising as it was worth watching.

Surprise #5: Cora’s Pregnancy

Lord Grantham's surprise at learning of Cora's pregnancy. (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern)

Did you see this scene coming? I did not, although it made sense, for this unexpected pregnancy explains much about the entail and why Matthew Crawley was only the presumptive heir and therefore essentially helpless in changing his situation. As long as the earl could possibly sire a son, Matthew’s claim to the inheritance would remain tenuous. The entail could not be broken for the Grantham was still  a healthy and virile man, as this scene shows. The pregnancy led us to discover…

Surprise #6:  O’Brien’s True Malevolent Impulses

Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) holds the fatal bar of soap

O'Brien shoves the bar of soap in harm's way.

Cora’s fatal flaw was in thinking that she and O’Brien had developed a mutual friendship and trust. While Cora receives glimpses of O’Brien’s true character, she never fully understood the anger and insecurity that her ladies maid harbored. O’Brien’s pang of conscience about shoving the broken half of the bar of soap from under the bath tub came too late, and Cora slipped and fell, losing the male heir that she and Lord Grantham so desperately wanted.  O’Brien’s dark impulse was for naught. Cora wasn’t actively looking to replace her, but only helping her mother-in-law in hiring a new ladies maid. This surprising news hit the viewer at the same time as it did O’Brien.

O’Brien’s momentary second thought comes too late. (Siobhan Finneran)

Surprise #8: The Spiteful Tug of War Between Two Sisters

Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) realizes that her sister Mary was behind Lord Strallan's cool departure.

At first the viewer felt a great deal of sympathy towards plain Lady Edith, who was only to happy to go after Lady Mary’s leavings. But as the mini-series progressed, the viewer came to understand just how much animosity the two women felt towards one another and how far they would go to extract their revenge, Lady Edith writing the Turkish embassy about Mary’s part in Pamuk’s death, and Lady Mary sabotaging Lady Edith’s happiness with Sir Anthony Strallan, who was about to propose.

Lady Mary salutes her triumph over Lady Edith.

In the end, neither sister came up smelling like a rose. The surprise was that their story line was written so well that many viewers came away feeling sympathy towards both women.

Surprise #9: Lady Sybil’s Firm Stance Behind Women’s Rights

Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay) urges Gwen (Rose Leslie) to keep trying to find a job as a secretary

Lady Sybil’s story arc did not truly begin until the second episode and reached its full glory in episode four, when she is struck during an election rally and is carried from the scene bleeding.

Matthew Crawley and Lady Sybil at the election rally

A smart, independent, and kind woman, one can only hope that Lady Sybil’s character gains traction in the second series that is currently being filmed. The surprise here is that quiet, sweet Lady Sybil is truly the most daring and courageous of the three sisters. Jessica Brown-Findlay has true star status, and any time she came on the small screen, she lit it up.

Lady Sybil's daring new harem pants.

 

The family reacts to Lady Sybil's harem pants. Priceless.

Surprise #10: The ending

 

Lord Grantham, "I regret to announce we are at war with Germany."

Obviously a second series is in the works, for the story line is left hanging. World War I has broken out, causing consternation among the group.

Matthew refuses Lady Mary's acceptance of his proposal after her baby brother's death, and vows to leave Downton Abbey to make his own way.

Lady Mary accepts Matthew’s proposal, but he refuses her, unsure of whether the baby’s death had anything to do with her acceptance, and he declares his intention to leave Downton Abbey and make his own way in the world. Lady Mary, in a Scarlet O’Hara moment, realizes too late that she waited too long to accept Matthew.

Lady Mary understands she has made a mistake in waiting so long to accept Matthew's proposal.

Bates,  who cares for Anna as much as she cares for him, refuses to discuss his wife’s whereabouts with her.

Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggat) find themselves in the throes of bittersweet love.

And so, the viewer must wait an entire year to see what will happen to the characters in Downton Abbey, testing our patience sorely.

None too soon, Thomas announces his resignation to Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes

In addition to my ten choices, there were other surprises and great story arcs in Downton Abbey: Cook’s failing eyesight and the operation that saved it, Daisy’s blindness towards Thomas’s true character, which leads her to lie,

Daisy is haunted by what she saw in the corridor and her lies about Bates.

Mrs. Hughes’s longing for her own family, which made her momentarily receptive to an old flame’s advances, and Mr. Carson’s past as a performer, of which he is ashamed.

Mrs. Hughes says no to Joe, an old flame (Bill Fellows).

For those of you who missed certain episodes or who would like to watch the series again, PBS has made it available for online viewing until February 22. DVD’s are also available for sale.

My question to you is this: Of all the characters and story lines, which was your favorite? Please feel free to leave a comment.

Read Full Post »

The servants in Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @ITV and PBS Masterpiece.

Downton Abbey. Gosford Hall.  Manor House. Regency House. Each film follows the servants and takes the viewer up and down back stairways, into kitchens and butler’s pantries, and stables and courtyards. But how were the servants’ quarters laid out, and where were they placed in relation to the public and private rooms that the family used? Each house had a different arrangement, to be sure, but patterns did exist.

A narrow corridor leads from the kitchen. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece.

The interior and exterior shots of Downton Abbey were filmed in Highclere Castle,but because the servant kitchens and bedrooms below-stairs no longer existed as they once were, the servant quarters for the mini-series were reconstructed in Ealing Studios in London. The cost of reconstructing these “plain” rooms was relatively affordable. Imagine if one of the elaborate public rooms had to be reconstructed. As script writer Julian Fellowes observed: “The thing about filming in these great houses is that if you were to start from scratch, you simply couldn’t build this and if you did you would have used up all your budget in one room.”

Servant stairs in Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

The ground plan from Eastbury Manor House is representative of a great house. It shows the servant quarters at the right near tight round servant stairs, or back stairs, that the servants used instead of the grand staircase reserved for the family and their guests. Maids were expected to work invisibly and sweep and dust when the family was asleep, or work in a room when the family was not scheduled to use it. In fact, many of the lower servants never encountered the family during their years of service.

Unless they were polishing or cleaning the grand staircase, the servants would use the backstairs for all other occasions. A small housemaid’s closet would be located near the back stair on the bedroom floor to accommodate brushes, dusters, pails, and cans. In “modern” Victorian and Edwardian houses, such a closet might  contain a sink that provided water for mopping.  Some great houses boasted a linen-room on the bedroom floor, where clean bed linen and table linen were stored. In this instance, a dry environment was essential.

Late 19th c. maid and lad at the back entrance

Servants were expected to enter the house in their own entrance, even in smaller houses, such as townhouses.  The Regency Townhouse Annex shows a typical entrance below street level. If you click on the links on the various rooms, you can see the other servant areas in this site.

Stairs to servant’s entrance. Bath. Image @Tony Grant

In a country house, the entrance would be in the back of the building or from a courtyard, where supplies could be delivered. The philosophy of a smooth running household was that servants were out of sight and out of mind.

Belowstairs entrance, Bath. Image @Tony Grant

Upon entering, servants would walk along a long hallway to reach the servants’ rooms and other work areas such as the kitchen, scullery, servant’s hall, housekeeper’s room, butler’s room, storage room, etc.  Country were at least two or three stories tall. Servants climbed the stairs and came down them again all day long, cleaning, hauling water, carrying meals or coal for fires, and a myriad other duties. They rose before the family, often from top floor garrets with small windows, and worked long after their employers had gone to bed.

Interior, Upstairs Downstairs web page. Notice the tiny garret bedrooms.

In this image, you can see the small garret rooms reserved for servants in the attic of a townhouse. Men’s and women’s quarters were separated, as in Downton Abbey, with the women’s quarters called the virgin’s wing. The most common servant quarters are described below.

A meal belowstairs. Downton Abbey. Notice the servant bells on the back wall. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

Servant’s Hall:

The servant’s hall was a common room where the work staff congregated, ate their meals, performed small but essential tasks, like mending, darning, polishing, ect. A long table was its main feature, as well as a window that would let in enough light for the tasks that needed to be accomplished. This window is a feature in images of several servants halls, which makes me think it was essential, for many of their tasks (darning, polishing shoes, ironing, and the like) required good light.

1907 Watercolor of the windows in a servant’s hall

The servants would regard the hall as their living room, for they ate their meals there and congregated in the hall for the evening. Often the cook did not regard making the servants’ meals as part of her duty, and this task would be left to the kitchen maids. Servants would also receive the visitors’ servants here (as in Gosford Park), persons of similar rank, or their own visitors on a very rare occasion.

Image of Victorian servants eating dinner in the servants hall.

The servant bells were located in this area, as well as hooks for coats and uniforms.

Daisy puts on her coat as William speaks to her just outside the servants hall. Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @PBS masterpiece

The servants followed a hierarchy downstairs as strict as upstairs, and the upper servants, the butler, housekeeper, cook, valet and ladies maid would be served meals and tea by the lower servants.  The highest ranking servant was the stewart, then came the butler and housekeeper.

Anna completes a task in the servants hall. Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

The ladies maid would defer to the housekeeper and the valet to the butler. Standing low down was the scullery maid or tweeny, who often was just a young girl of twelve or thirteen. Her hours were the longest, for she would make sure that the water was boiling for the cook before she began her day.

Kitchen:

The long work table is the focal point of the kitchen. Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

The kitchen even in great houses were utilitarian, and positioned away from the family quarters to keep cooking smells away yet near enough for the delivery of food. Kitchens were also located near an entrance were supplies could be delivered, and near the kitchen gardens (but not always. See below.)

Harewood house and grounds. The kitchen was a 20-minute walk to the walled garden.

Kitchens tended to be oblong and dominated by a large kitchen table, where the majority of food preparation was done. The window would be ideally positioned to the left side of the range, and the kitchen dresser, where essential equipment was held, would stand close to the work table.

Kitchen suite, 1900 house.

The cook worked under the housekeeper, but the kitchen was her domain. She saw to its cleanliness and neatness, and made sure the larders were well-stocked. Not only were the floors, shelves, and work spaces scrubbed, but they had to be thoroughly dried to prevent mold and mildew from contaminating food stuffs and work tops. The arrangement of the scullery and kitchen was convenient, so that one did not need to cross the kitchen to reach the scullery. Natural light in both rooms needed to be ample. 

This kitchen in the Royal Crescent in Bath needs renovation and preservation.

She (for by the end of the 19th century, most of the cooks in British households were female) oversaw the meals and kitchen staff, consisting of kitchen maids and the scullery maid.

Scullery and kitchen in the Fota House, Ireland

Scullery:

Cleaning in the scullery

The scullery was always located in a separate room from the kitchen so that food would not be contaminated by soiled water. Double stone sinks were the main feature of this room, where pots and pans and the servants’ crockery were rinsed and cleaned. The family’s fine china would be washed in a copper sink, whose softer surface prevented chipping. A cistern above the sinks was used to flush the drains, which led out of house. This was one reason that sculleries were located next to the outer walls and nearest the courtyards or an outer garden. Often, the scullery had no door into the kitchen (only a pass through), and one could enter the room only from the outside. An outside door in the scullery was also known as the “tradesmen’s entrance”.

Scullery, Image @Harewood House.

Food preparation also occurred in this area, such as chopping vegetables. Hygiene was essential in order not to contaminate existing food supplies, or the people within the house with soiled cutlery or water. This meant constant hauling of fresh water, scrubbing, washing, and cleaning. The scullery floor, made of stone, was lower than the kitchen’s, which prevented water from flowing into the cooking areas. Dry goods were stashed well away from the scullery, which also had to be kept dry in order to prevent mold. To prevent standing in water all day long, raised latticed wood mats were placed by the sink for the scullery maid to stand upon.

Panorama of a Victorian scullery with boiler and laundry features

Sculleries also contained a copper for boiling clothes on laundry day, washtubs, washboards, irons, and cabinets for cleaning supplies. In 1908, an eight-room house required 27 hours per week of labor, which did not include laundering clothes. One can only imagine how long a house the size of Downton Abbey took to manage.

Scullery sinks, Chawton

She stood at a sink behind a wooden dresser backed with choppers and stained with blood and grease, upon which were piles of coppers and saucepans that she had to scour, piles of dirty dishes she had to wash. Her frock, her cap, her face and arms were more or less wet, soiled, perspiring and her apron was a filthy piece of sacking, wet and tied round her with a cord. The den where she wrought was low, damp, ill-smelling, windowless, lighted by a flaring gas-jet……with many ugly dirty implements around her. – The History of Country House Staff

In this 17th c. image, the scullery maid stands upon a platform to keep her feet dry.

In Downton Abbey, the scullery maid is nowhere to be seen. (Daisy is the kitchen maid,  with vastly different duties.) Two modern women who played the scullery maid in Manor House quit the series, unable to pursue that role for the duration of the series. Only the third person, Ellen Beard, who had a better understanding of the scullery maid’s duties of endless washing, managed to remain at her station until the very end. Click on this link to hear a short podcast of a Scottish scullery maid, who described her job as slave labor.

The butler polishes the silver, 1868.

Butler’s room and Butler’s Pantry

The duties of the butler confine him to the drawing-room and dining-room. The dining-room, however, is his particular domain; he sees that everything is in order, that the table is laid correctly, the lighting effect satisfactory, the flowers arranged, and in short that the room and appointments are in perfect readiness for a punctual meal. In this work a parlor maid assists him by sweeping and dusting, and a pantry-maid helps him by keeping everything immaculate and in readiness in the pantry. The butler serves at breakfast, luncheon and dinner.” – Vintage Maids and Butlers

Butlert’s pantry, 1896. Staatsburg House, McKim, Mead, & White

The butler’s rooms, which included the Butler’s Pantry, were located in the basement nearest the dining room upstairs and back entry, and had no connection with the kitchen, except for service. When he was summoned, even in his rooms, the butler could appear quickly. In smaller establishments, such as Matthew Crawley’s house, the butler also acted as valet. In all instances, except for the steward, he was the highest-ranking servant, answering directly to the master.

One of the duties of the butler (Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey) is to account for the wine. In this instance, he notices a discrepancy in the tally and the books. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

The butler’s pantry was kept under lock and key, so that thievery was impossible at best, and at the very least deterred. A plate-closet or safe were placed there, as well as a private scullery for cleaning. The butler’s bedroom was a necessary (and lockable) adjunct in large houses for the protection of the plate.

Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson chat in her sitting room. Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

The Housekeeper’s Room

The housekeepers room in large establishments served as both a sitting- and business-room where she would take the directions of the day from the lady of the house. She would also entertain visitors of similar rank in her quarters. The housekeeper oversaw the female servants, and when she walked, a thick assortment of keys, symbols of her status and which dangled from her waist, would jiggle and certainly make a sound.

The housekeeper’s room in Uppark. At times the upper servants would congregate there for tea, and in some houses, for dinner.

Before dinner in the servants hall, the upper servants would assemble in the housekeeper’s room, also known as the Pug’s Parlour, and walk in for dinner, with the butler leading the way. This was known as the Pug’s Parade. After dinner, the upper servants would withdraw to the housekeeper’s parlor again for conversation.

Servant Bedrooms

Anna and Gwen confronted by O’Brien in their unlocked room. Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

In the latter half of the 19th century, servants slept in attic bedrooms. These were often cold and damp in the winter and hot in the summer, with little light coming in from small windows. Some male servants slept downstairs to guard the family silver. The furnishings in servant quarters were basic and essential. A servant might have a locked box in which personal materials were kept, but the rooms were open and subject to inspection by their employers.

The valet’s simple bedroom. Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

One source for servant quarters and duties of the servants cautioned that books about servant etiquette discussed ideal behavior. In reality, servant turnover was high, theft did occur, and servants did not always know their place. In this humorous Punch cartoon, the mistress arrived home unexpectedly, catching the servants eating upstairs and generally misbehaving. The truth, I suspect, is somewhere in between.

“Oh, hey, the missus! Servants eating a meal upstairs.” Cruikshank. Punch

Sources: (A long list that fleshes out the topic.)

Read Full Post »

There Must Be Murder, a very nice story by Margaret C. Sullivan,

It is one year after Catherine has married her Henry. She still is sweet and naïve, but she now possesses the womanly knowledge that every bride with an adoring husband soon comes to know. Henry Tilney is as charming as ever and clearly loves his pretty Cat. The couple, only one year married, live in Woodston Parish with a cat named Ruby Begonia and an assortment of dogs, including a Newfoundland named MacGuffin. Catherine has redecorated the pretty parsonage, and the couple has a habit of cozying up together as Henry reads passages from The Mysteries of Udolpho. During one such occasion, Catherine fondly recalls her introduction to Henry in Bath by the Master of Ceremonies, Mr. King, and in no time Henry has arranged for a visit to that ancient city.

“Henry, you know perfectly well that I keep no journal. Besides, I did not know then that you were my future husband.”

“Some husbands would be injured at such an admission, but not I; after all, I did not know that you were my future wife. I remember that I was wandering about the Rooms like a lost soul, having no acquaintance there. The master of ceremonies, Mr. King, took pity upon me and asked if I would like an introduction to a clergyman’s daughter who was in need of a partner. In Christian charity, I could not decline; though from my past experiences of ladies described as ‘clergymen’s daughters,’ I expected to be presented to an elderly spinster with a squint. You may imagine my relief when Miss Morland turned out to be rather a pretty girl, and I considered myself fortunate that no other gentleman had already claimed the honour of dancing with her.”

Catherine’s eyes were shining. “You thought me pretty?”

“Indeed.” Henry reached for her hand and kissed it.

Margaret C. Sullivan, the author of this charming tale, deftly combines old characters (General Tilney and Henry’s sister, Eleanor) with the new – an apothecary named Mr. Shaw, a pretty but calculating woman named Judith Beauclerk, her mother, Lady Beauclerk, and Sir Philip, to name a few. Ms. Sullivan takes us on a sweet journey over familiar territory, paying homage to Jane’s characters while staying true to her own writing style. The book is illustrated with pen and ink drawings by Casandra Chouinard, which certainly enhance one’s enjoyment of the novella.

Catherine, Mr. King, and Henry Tilney. Image @There Must Be Murder

Fans of Jane Austen will recognize Margaret as the editrix of Austenblog, the longest surviving Jane Austen blog on the blogosphere, and as one whose knowledge of Jane and the Regency period is that of an expert. And thus the details set down in this tale are accurate and true to the time, including the use of arsenic in beauty potions. Margaret’s humor also shines through, and I found myself turning page after page until I had finished the story in one sitting.

Here’s her bio, with an example of her humor: Margaret C. Sullivan is the author of numerous Jane Austen sequels and editrix of AustenBlog. Her first book, The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible yet Elegant Guide to Her World, will be in bookstores this spring. She likes to think that Henry Tilney would dance with her at the Lower Rooms, although she is an almost-middle-aged spinster with a squint.

If you are intrigued by my short review, you may purchase the book in several ways. Girlebooks, an excellent source of free Ebooks, now offers original eBooks that have never been published, such as There Must be Murder. You have a choice of several platforms in which to download the book or purchase a printed copy. It is available for $9.99 at Amazon paperback and for free at Smashwords at this link .

The novella was first commissioned by the Jane Austen Centre, and you may read the book chapter by chapter in this link.

Enjoy! I certainly did.

Book Giveaway (Closed – congratulations to winner, Cecilia): If you leave a comment, you have a chance to win my hard copy of the book with all its charming illustrations. The drawing (by random number) will be held on February 5th.

Read Full Post »

When Nicole Whitcomb’s car runs off a Colorado mountain road during a blinding snowstorm, she is saved from death by a handsome, fascinating, and enigmatic stranger.

Snowbound with him for days in his beautiful home high in the Rockies, she finds herself powerfully attracted to him. But there are things about him that mystify her, filling her with apprehension. Who is Michael Tyler? Why does he live in such a secluded spot and guard his private life so carefully? What secret—or secrets—is he hiding?

Review of Nocturne: From the desk of Shelley DeWees (The Uprising) …

“Never have I had such an intense relationship with books as when I was a young girl. I raged inside them and lived a double emotional life, half real girl, half inhabitant of a distant world, and I chose book neither because of, nor in spite of, their artistic merit, only for their ability to pull me through the looking glass.”
–Caitlin Flanagan, What Girls Want: Vampire Novels Illuminate the Complexities of Female Desire

It’s Saturday afternoon. The rain is lashing against the windows of your bedroom, obscuring your view into the outside world and in turn, hiding yourself from anything beyond your immediate surroundings. A delicious sense of solitude creeps through you, and you know you’ve got all day to sit and soak it up…no job, no husband, no nothing to distract you. Relieved and carefree, you toss yourself on the bed and carefully unfold the book you’ve been waiting to read, the book you’ve been toting around in your bag for weeks or clutching to your chest like some kind of emotional armor. You’re quickly absorbed once again, lying on your stomach with your legs in the air, and hours upon hours of unbroken silence pass before you know it while your brain floats on a cloud of imagination…

Typical Saturday? Maybe in our most magnificent fantasies. Or how about in our memories?

Losing yourself in a book is truly a remarkable thing. The moment when you look at the clock to realize that midnight has come and gone is a special one, not to be taken lightly. That is, of course, until you become conscious of that fact that, yes, you have to be up in 3 hours and to work in 5. And therein lays the problem. Somewhere along the path of growing up we lost the ability to retreat into our heads, forsaking our giggly girl-reader for a woman almost-reader with a car payment and a pension plan. We traded away the gift of reading trashy, poorly written books that take you somewhere else in favor of using our adult scrutiny to decide whether a book was “good.” When you were a girl, a book became “good” simply if it gave you the giddy feeling that 40-something men must get when they get an unexpected glimpse of pornography: “a slingshot back to a world of sensation that, through sheer force of will and dutiful acceptance of life’s fortunes, you thought you had subdued,” says Caitlin Flanagan, author of “What Girls Want: Vampire Novels Illuminate the Complexities of Female Desire.

Fortunately for us and our shriveled imaginations, it’s never too late to get it back. Thus, I’d like to introduce you to a vampire romance where the characters are predictable and the plot is laughably absurd. The weak woman falls hopelessly in love with a too-perfect man, surrounded by an idyllic setting where gender roles from the 1960’s abound….and no, I’m not talk about that other vampire series. Nocturne, the newest gift from Syrie James, is infinitely better written than that other thing, far better in terms of structure and development but equally silly and delicious.

Nicole Whitcomb, with her lovely red-headed beauty and underdeveloped common sense, drives off the road in a winter storm and is saved by the overly enchanting Michael Tyler. She wakes up in his perfect house among his flawless made-to-attract-her life and…big surprise…falls for him. But wait! He’s a VAMPIRE! What, didn’t you know that? Whoa. Their story unfolds just as you would expect, and the no-I-can’t-yes-you-can banter progresses just as it did in that other novel series. However, the sexual energy builds and the two characters finally succumb to their urges…very well, by the way.

I found myself glued to the pages of this novel, despite its definite installment under the “brain candy” column. A slight glimmer of the teenager I once was showed her face once again, and I dissolved into giggles and gasps like a silly school girl. My adult brain got to take a hiatus for awhile, sipping on margaritas while my imagination hummed into motion, and only shouting in protest at one or two points. It’s not artistic literature, but Nocturne will grip you like books once did, upstairs in your room, hidden away while still in plain sight. It was a unique moment, something that I’m a bit embarrassed to admit (but that must be my overachieving adult side talking).

Excerpt from Nocturne:

Nicole’s heart began to beat erratically. She’d heard scary things about mountain men who’d lived too long in isolated places. Who was this guy? He seemed cultured and spoke very formally, as if he belonged in the Queen’s court or in a palace surrounded by servants.

What was an Englishman doing in this remote corner of the Colorado mountains, unless he was hiding from something? But if he was a killer, surely he would have murdered her already, instead of carefully tending to her wounds. Wouldn’t he?

“You haven’t told me your name,” she said, straining to keep her voice even.

“Haven’t I? I beg your pardon. Michael Tyler.”

“How is it that you live up here? I thought this was national forest land.”

“It is. But there are pockets of private land scattered throughout.”

“Do you live here all year long?”

“I do.”

“By yourself, or …”

“I live alone.”

Her questions seemed to annoy him. He stood up and Nicole sensed that he was about to leave the room. In an effort to lighten the mood—or maybe just to put herself more at ease—she glanced at the grand piano and said with a forced smile, “So I take it it’s either you who plays that piano, or the resident ghost?”

A surprised twinkle lit his blue eyes. He sat back down in his chair with the first hint of a smile. “Definitely the ghost. Watch out for her. She plays at the oddest hours and has been known to leave candles burning in the most unlikely places.”

“She?”

“A raven-haired beauty. From her clothing and hairstyle, I deduce that she’s from the previous century. Which is strange when you consider that I only built the house ten years ago.”

Nicole laughed. His smile was charming. His accent was so lovely, she could listen to it all day long. Maybe there was nothing to be afraid of after all…” (Read a longer excerpt here.)

Syrie James

More links:

Read Full Post »

Curious readers: Tony Grant (London Calling) has contributed an article about Kew Gardens and his beautiful photographs to go with it. Relax and enjoy this visual feast of gardens, walkways, and flowers.

The Royal Entrance at Kew. Image @Tony Grant

I have been to Kew Gardens, which is only a couple of miles from where I live, on the other side of Richmond upon Thames, many, many times for more than thirty years. When I first visited Kew gardens all those years ago the charge to get through those regal, ornate gates was 1p, a penny, a mere token payment. Kew is a government research centre and a leading authority on plants throughout the world. I think they felt in those far off days that a token payment, just to keep the paths swept, was all that was required. It was and is a government-owned establishment, and so by default, we, the British public, own it, (A little like The National Gallery and The National Portrait Gallery. Those paintings belong to me you know. So, why shouldn’t I get in free?)

Bumble bee at Kew. Image @Tony Grant

Nowadays, it costs an arm and a leg to get into Kew Gardens. I’ll whisper this; “it’s £13.90 for an adult.” The Government decided, to help finance research, and to develop further public facilities in the gardens, we should all pay to get in. It’s such a beautiful place and such an elemental place that, yes, I’ll pay to get in. No questions asked. I need my dose of Kew. And many, many thousands of others just love to pay to get in too.

Through the glass wall. Image @Tony Grant

Oh, by the way, if you are a mum with a baby and young toddlers in tow, it’s free for the children, totally free. An example of British quirkiness in action. The gardens are a great place to meet for morning coffee in one of the 18th-century orangeries, to have a chat and a place to let the youngsters roam.

The Chinese Pagoda. Image @Tony Grant

My first encounter with Kew, I must admit, involved fellow students, bottles of wine, cans of beer, some very attractive females (my future wife amongst them), and an appreciation of nature and trees gained by lying on my back looking up through leafy branches to a clear blue sunny sky beyond.

Approaching a palm house. Image @Tony Grant

Kew to me means pleasant tree-lined walks, elegant plant houses with their acres of glass and miles of fine wrought iron structural parts painted white and curved and curled into shapely structures. It is a place to look closely at beautiful flowers, contemplating their wondrous shapes and form, and their intense colours, and to take in their seductive perfumes. It is uplifting to observe the majesty of the many varieties of trees, with their beautiful patterned leaves, and their branch and twig systems like fine black lace against changing skies.

Environmental art at Kew. Image @Tony Grant

Kew calms the spirit. It is a meditative place. You can become one with yourself as you walk around or find a place on the grass to sit.

A Zen Garden. Be at peace. Image @Tony Grant

It is vast enough to give you personal space and there is tranquillity amongst the greens and shade.

Museum Number One, Economic Botany. Image @Tony Grant

The Importance of Kew

Kew is an important place. It has a seed bank that holds 10% of all the worlds’ plant species, and contains samples of nearly all endangered species. It also has a herbarium whose collection is being added to virtually daily. At the Joderell Laboratory at Kew, they research the molecular systems, and study the physiology and biochemistry of plants. They study the plants to find natural medicines, specifically for anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory drugs. One department focuses on agricultural research, and there are also botanical illustration and photography departments. Kew is a world leader in conservation and plant technology.

18th century orangery. Image @Tony Grant

Development of Kew

The development of Kew began in the 16th century when Henry VII built a palace at Richmond just along the Thames from Kew. By the 17th century the area round Richmond had become established as a hub of political power for part of the year. Everybody who was part of the court and the government came there in the summer when the king was in residence. Later, James I combined all the royal land in the area, along with former monastic land, with the park that existed at Shene, and created a new hunting ground of 370 acres. Robert Stickles, the architect, built a hunting lodge called Richmond Lodge right in the middle of it.

Temperate House and pagoda. Image @Tony Grant

After Charles I was executed, and The Commonwealth had taken over under Oliver Cromwell, much of the Royal property around Richmond and Kew was sold off. However, those sales were reversed during the reign of William III. Robert Stickles’s Richmond Lodge had survived, and it was extended and turned into a royal palace. The old deer park was reassembled, and the land around Richmond Lodge was turned into formal gardens. So began what we know today as Kew Gardens.

The broad walk.Image @Tony Grant

In the 1690’s, George London created the Broad Avenue, a wide path that goes nearly the full length of the gardens connecting many of the main gardens features. Charles Bridgeman and William Kent, two great 18th century landscape gardeners, primarily created the layout and design of the original gardens.

William Kent

Capability Brown added to the design later. Because of these three great garden designers’ influences and ideas, the garden at Kew were watched and visited, so that new ideas in garden design could be disseminated. Kew was an important influence to 18th century garden design throughout Britain.

Shape, pattern, colour. Image @Tony Grant

This early 18th-century plan was overlaid by later designers, although some of the Capability Brown’s features still persist. It is also likely that some of the older trees might have been planted by Charles Bridgeman. In 1731, King George II’s son, Frederick, Prince of Wale,s leased Kew farm. In 1736 he married Princess Augusta of Saxe Gotha, and together they began some drastic changes at Kew. They commissioned William Kent to redesign Richmond Lodge. He added extensions and covered the façade in white stucco. It became known as The White House.

Monkey puzzle tree. Image @Tony Grant

Frederick and Augusta were garden enthusiasts, and they were helped by the Earl of Bute, who advised them on obtaining plants and landscaping. He later became the tutor to their son, who became George III. Unfortunately, Frederick died in 1751 due to a bout of pleurisy and a burst abscess in his chest. He wasn’t able to fulfil his plans for the gardens. At the time it was said his death was a great loss to the development of gardening in this country. George III, Frederick’s son, succeeded to the throne on the death of his grandfather, George II in 1760.

 

The Dutch House at Kew, Kew Palace. Image @Tony Grant

Capability Brown was commissioned to re-landscape the gardens. The royal family used Richmond Lodge as a summer home. When, Princess Augusta, George’s wife, died, the royal family moved to the White House, whilst The prince of Wales and his brother Prince Frederick lived in the Dutch House, which still exists today and is now called Kew Palace. The royal children were given lessons in botany and botanical illustration. During his bouts of illness, the King lived at Kew.

George III

During the Georgian period Joseph Banks became friends with George III and was the unofficial director of Kew Gardens. He became one of the most influential botanists of his time and began many of the work botanists do today.

Natural art beside an orangery. Image @Tony Grant

Sir Joseph Banks (1743 – 1820)
In 1761he inherited his father’s estate in Lincolnshire to which was attached considerable wealth. His first voyage of discovery was to the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador on the ship HMS Niger. On his return to London in 1767 he was elected a member of the Royal Society at the tender age of 23.

Joseph Banks

When the society proposed an expedition to observe the transit of Venus in the Pacific in 1769, Joseph Banks financed his own expedition with his own team of scientists, including the botanist Daniel Solander and the artist Sydney Parkinson. HMS Endeavor under Captain Cook left England in August 1768.

Inside a green house. Image @Tony Grant

Joseph Banks’ botanical collection formed the basis of the Herbarium at Kew today. His original specimens an still be studied there. Later he mounted expeditions to Iceland, the Hebrides, and the Orkneys. Banks helped organise the first collections at Kew. Specimens arrived from all over the growing British Empire, a typical trait with Empire building.

Water lillies. Image @Tony Grant

The initial impulse were trade and wealth, but so many other things went along in parallel with that:  science, exploration, discovery, art, culture. The British Empire brought religion, government, and even citizenship along with it. You can see examples and parallels with The Roman Empire, the Spanish exploration of South America, and present-day empire building.

Inside the roof of the Palm House. Image @Tony Grant

Kew is a special place, and a visit there brings home the importance of plants, the keystone of our planet and very existence. They do so much for us, and their beauty brings us peace and joy. Is it such a strange thing to do – hug a tree?

Scots pine. Image @Tony Grant

More images:

Before opening. Image @Tony Grant

Environmental art at Kew. Image @Tony Grant

Inside the Palm House. Image @Tony Grant

Side entrance. Image @Tony Grant

Stairs inside the Palm House. Image @Tony Grant

Water tower. Image @Tony Grant

Read Full Post »

The valet (rhymes with pallet) is a personal manservant who tends to his master’s every need, from a clean room to seeing to his clothes to making sure that his entire day goes smoothly from the moment he rises to the time he goes to bed. Also known as a gentleman’s gentleman, the valet is the closest male equivalent to a lady’s maid.

Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth) dresses with the help of his valet, who stands ready to put on his coat. In this scene, Mr. Darcy changes his mind and chooses another coat before visiting Elizabeth at the inn. Image @Pride and Prejudice, 1995

Mrs. Beeton describes a valet’s duties in her excellent 1861 book on household management:

His day commences by seeing that his master’s dressing-room is in order; that the housemaid has swept and dusted it properly; that the fire is lighted and burns cheerfully; and some time before his master is expected, he will do well to throw up the sash [open the window] to admit fresh air, closing it, however, in time to recover the temperature which he knows hismaster prefers. It is now his duty to place the body-linen on the horse before the fire, to be aired properly;

Edwardian clothes horse. Image @Denhams.com

to lay the trousers intended to be worn, carefully brushed and cleaned, on the back of his master’s chair; while the coat and waistcoat, carefully brushed and folded, and the collar cleaned, are laid in their place ready to be put on when required. All the articles of the toilet should be in their places, the razors properly set and stropped, and hot water ready for use.

Barry Lyndon (Ryan O’Neal). While the master shaves, his footmen assist him, making sure his implements are at hand. His valet would have overseen the arrangements and will sharpen the razor and clean the shaving brush after Barry has finished shaving. Image @Barry Lyndon

Gentlemen generally prefer performing the operation of shaving themselves, but a valet should be prepared to do it if required; and he should be a good hairdresser. Shaving over, he has to brush the hair, beard and moustache, where that appendage is encouraged, arranging the whole simply and gracefully, according to the age and style of the countenance. Every fortnight, or three weeks at the utmost, the hair should be cut, and the points of the whiskers trimmed as often as required. A good valet will now present the various articles of the toilet as they are wanted; afterwards, the body-linen. Neck-tie, which he will put on, if required, and, afterwards, waist-coat, coat, and boots, in suitable order, and carefully brushed and polished.”

Other valet duties:

Ian Kelly (Brummel) and Ryan Early in Beau Brummel (2006 play)

  • As his master goes out, the valet hands him his gloves and hat, opens the door for him, and receives his orders for the rest of the day.
  • He puts his master’s dressing-room in order, cleaning combs and brushes, folding clothes and putting them in drawers.
  • If his master has no clothes sense, the valet will select suitable clothes, making sure they are clean, particularly the collars, and maintained in good repair.
  • He consults with the tailor, perfumer, and linen-draper.
  • He awaits his master’s return, making sure that his drawing room is picked up by the maids, and dusted and swept by them, and that the room is made ready with a lit fire and candles.
Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Bates (Brendan Coyle) assists Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) in Downton Abbey. A valet and his master become close over the years. Image @Downton Chaser

  • The valet stands ready to help his master dress for dinner or any other occasion.
  • He makes sure that the washing table is ready, filling the ewer and carafe with fresh water, and placing the basin towels, brushes, hot water, and shaving apparatus near at hand.
  • In case of wet weather, when his master has returned from riding, the valet lays out a change of dry linen and clothing, and is ready to assist his master out of the damp clothing.
  • He helps his master prepare for journeys, packing enough linen and other clothing for the trip. At the Inns, he takes charge of his master’s comfort as he would at home, and has everything ready to assist his master in dressing and undressing.
  • If no footmen is available during the journey, the valet will also see to these services, even at table.
Bates at the moment he is informed that he must leave Lord Grantham's service. Despite their long association, it was imperative that a valet was physically capable of performing all his duties, including standing in as footman when the occasion required. Bates' reliance on a cane prevented him from carrying a tray. (We all have learned that Lord Grantham is a softie and kept Bates on.) Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Bates at the moment he is informed that he must leave Lord Grantham’s service. Despite their long association, it was imperative that a valet was physically capable of performing all his duties, including standing in as footman when the occasion required. Bates’ reliance on a cane prevented him from carrying a tray. (We all have learned that Lord Grantham is a softie and kept Bates on.) Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The valet keeps his master’s clothes in good repair:

  • Hats are kept well brushed on the outside with a soft brush, and wiped inside with a clean handerchief.
  • Clothes placed in a wardrobe are covered with brown holland or linen wrappers to secure them from dust.
  • He places boots and shoes cleaned by the under footman in the dressing room.
  • Slippers are aired by the fire.
  • As soon as his master finishes shaving, the valet will clean the razor and brushes.
  • Before he hangs damp clothing by the fire, he rubs the cloth with a sponge until the smoothness of the nap is restored. If the clothes are allowed to dry before brushing, then later brushing might not remove the roughness.
Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

In Downton Abbey, Matthew resists Molesley’s services, causing an undue amount of stress to the butler, who also acts as his valet. Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Valets in humbler households:

The butler in a second or third rate establishment takes on the duties of the house steward, valet, and footman as well. He is likely to pay market bills, assist his master in dressing, serve at table and oversee the wine and silver, and superintend other male servants.

Sources:

Read Full Post »

Tea is always served by the host/hostess or a friend, never by servants. Tea is never poured out, then passed several cups at a time, the way coffee may be, because it cools very quickly. Instead, it is always taken by the guest directly from the hands of the pourer.” – Etiquette Scholar

The ceremony of making tea is almost always included in costume dramas like Downton Abbey or a Jane Austen film, such as Emma. When Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess of Grantham invited her daughter-in-law, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), to the Dower House for tea in Downton Abbey, the arranged time was most likely at four o’clock in the afternoon.

 

Cora and the Dowager Countess sit down to tea

In one particular scene, the two women entered the drawing room in which a small table had been laid out with an elaborate tea set, fine china, and silver spoons. An assortment of tiny sandwiches, cookies, and scones were arranged upon a beautiful batttenburg lace tablecloth that covered the table. Low tea (an Edwardian dowager would never have said high tea) was meant to blunt the appetite before dinner.

The duchess pours boiling water over the tea leaves in the tea pot

A tea ceremony provided an intimate setting between the hostess and her guests, for it was the hostess who prepared and served the tea, catering to each guest and handing them their custom-prepared tea one cup at a time. In this time honored ritual, one of the most important questions the dowager would ask was: “Would you care for weak tea or strong tea?” Cora’s preference would guide the Countess in the next stage of tea preparation, for if she said “strong tea,” then the Dowager would pour the tea as she had prepared it into Cora’s cup. Had Cora said “weak tea”, the Countess would pour a smaller quantitiy of the brew into the china cup, then top it off with hot water.

Cora eats a crustless sandwich as her mother-in-law prepares the tea

The Dowager would then ask her guest how much milk and sugar to add. She would have poured boiling water over the tea leaves in a tea pot, and steeped the leaves for three minutes, all the while conversing with her guests. At this point the water was no longer boiling. Then the Countess would pour in the milk. (If she poured it in first, she would have found it difficult to judge the strength of the tea by its color.) Hudson, the butler in Upstairs, Downstairs, said about pouring milk into tea: “Those of us downstairs put the milk in first, while those upstairs put the milk in last.”

In this instance, the Dowager leaves her guest in the middle of serving tea, a faux pas

History of Low Tea

On September 25, 1660, Samuel Pepys recorded: “did send for a cupp of tee (a China drink) of which I had never drank before.” By June 1667, tea was considered to be a healthy drink. One day Pepys arrived home to find his wife making tea, which his apothecary had found good for her cold.

Emma, 1996 (with Kate Beckinsale). Emma and Harriet drink tea during Mrs. Elton's first visit

Samuel Johnson was a self-described “hardened and shameless tea drinker, who has, for twenty years diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea muses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and with tea welcomes the morning.” His chronicler James Boswell observed that “It was perfectly normal for him to drink sixteen cups in very quick succession, and I suppose no person ever enjoyed with more relisht the infusion of that fragrant leaf than did Johnson.”

Silver tea set by Odiot, Paris, circa 1880. Image @A.Pash and Sons, Mayfair

Until the 1760’s, only the rich could afford teapots, which were made of silver. Then in 1765 Queen Charlotte commissioned Josiah Wedgwood to create a tea service made from his quality cream colored earthenware, which he named Queen’s Ware (with the Queen’s permission, of course) and gave to her as a gift. From that moment on he was the Queen’s potter. Wedgwood’s creamware was thin, attractive and durable. After receiving the Queen’s patronage, his firm became quite famous. The attractive new tableware quickly became popular, and by 1775 other manufacturers, including those on the Continent, had widely copied Wedgwood, imitating Queensware and creating increasingly fanciful teapots. It is said that this tableware was instrumental in spreading the popularity of tea.

Wedgwood Queensware, c. 1790. Image @Christies

In 1840, the Duchess of Bedford began serving tea with refreshments in the afternoon to appease her appetite before dinner, and the custom of afternoon tea, or low tea, took off. To read more about drinking tea between the 18th and mid-19th centuries, read my post about Tea in the Regency Era.

Some interesting facts about tea:

  • Notice, this is a change: The difference between high tea and low tea: Low, or afternoon, tea is served at four o’clock with light snacks, such as sandwiches, cookies, and scones. High tea is a full meal served with tea, including meat, bread, side dishes and dessert on a table of regular height. Hence high tea.

16th century tea bowl, Korea

  • Tea cups at first were fashioned after Chinese bowls without handles or saucers. In the mid 1750-s, a handle was added to prevent ladies from burning their fingers.
  • A saucer was once a small dish for sauce. During the Dowager Countess’s day, it was acceptable to pour tea into a cup’s saucer to cool the beverage before drinking it.
  • In the late 17th century, a lady would lay her spoon across the top of her cup to signal that she was through drinking. Other signals included turning the cup upside down, or tapping the spoon against the side of the cup.
  • Filling the cup with tea almost to the rim is considered a faux pas.

"Might I give you this cup?" The Dowager hands her tea to Moseley while visiting Matthew Crawley.

Sources:

Read Full Post »

Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary stroll through the town, Episode 3

While it is popularly known that the interior and exterior scenes of Downton Abbey were filmed in Highclere Castle, the market town of Brampton, where the scenes of the town were shot, is not so well known. Bampton is located in Oxfordshire and was chosen because “the village provided an authentic backdrop close to London.”*

Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Mrs. Crawley (Penelope Wilton) arrive in their new home

Yesterday, villagers gathered outside St Mary’s Church to watch Penelope Wilton, who plays Mrs Reginald Crawley, and Dan Stevens, who plays her son Matthew Crawley, arriving at the family home.

Ms Wilton said: “This is one of the prettiest villages I have ever been to. It feels like living in a timewarp.”*

The film crew was not able to hide all 21st century influences. Notice the t.v. arial

 

Drama as Modern Life Intrudes in Hit TV Show discusses the difficulty of filming a period movie in a location, and viewers “have spotted a TV aerial on a roof, electricity pylons, a modern conservatory and double yellow lines on a road.” One villager remarked, “nothing is ever perfect.”

Bampton (St. Mary's Church in the background), 1965. Image @Francis Frith

Read Full Post »

 

Thomas Lawrence Exhibit, National Portrait Gallery, London. Image @Tony Grant

Gentle readers, if you are lucky enough to be near London you have only a few days to see the exhibit at the National Portait Gallery of the splendid painter, Thomas Lawrence. This is Tony Grant’s (London Calling) review of the show.

On entering the exhibition you are met with the bright gaze from a young Thomas Lawrence.

Self Portrait, Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1788 Image @PRA

Under the title of the exhibition, “Regency Power & Brilliance,” hangs a self-portrait, of oil on canvas, completed in the years 1787 – 1786 when Lawrence was 19 years of age. It is typical of Lawrence’s style that it is new and innovative for it’s time. Lawrence is sitting with his body facing to the right and his head turned to look at you the viewer over his right shoulder. The stare is steady, confident and penetrating. His face is almost illuminated and glows brightly out of the picture.

 

Bristol in the 18th century

Thomas Lawrence was the leading portrait artist of the Regency period. Born in 1769 at 6 Redcross Street, Bristol, he came from a humble background. His father was also called Thomas Lawrence and his mother was Lucy Read, the daughter of a clergyman. Thomas’s father had several jobs, including innkeeper at the White Lion in Bristol. Later became the innkeeper of the Black Bear in Devizes where famous writers and artists, including David Garrick the actor and theatre owner, on their way to Bath, would stay. The young Thomas Lawrence would meet them.

Devices Heritage .orgThe Black Bear in Devices

Thomas was the entertainment in the inn. He would recite poetry and use his natural talent for sketching people to amuse and interest them. When the senior Lawrence became bankrupt, the family moved to Bath where the younger Thomas Lawrence took over being the breadwinner for the family by selling his sketches and miniature oval portraits in pastel and chalk. Some of the wealthy people in Bath commissioned his work. From an early age Thomas had had prodigious natural talents for sketching and reciting poetry. Wealthy people allowed him to study their collections of paintings and Lawrence’s drawing of a copy of Raphael’s Transfiguration was awarded a silver gilt palette and a prize of 5 guineas by the Society of Arts in London. In 1787 he moved to London where he was introduced to Joshua Reynolds. He started exhibiting at the Royal Academy exhibitions held at Somerset House and his career took off.

Royal Academy at Somerset House, Viewing Art, Rowlandson

The period in history that Lawrence came to prominence was also to have an affect on his development as an artist. There was much turmoil and political change. There was The French Revolution and the long wars against France. Once these came to an end, Thomas was able to travel across Europe. He did this commissioned by the Prince Regent, later George IV. He was able to make portraits of many of the great names of the time – generals, Emperors and the Pope. On his return from Europe in 1820 he was elected as the president of the Royal Academy and produced some of the best portraits of the time. Unexpectedly he died in January 1830 and was honoured with a state funeral.

What is evident in this exhibition is Lawrence’s original ideas, his naturalism and his particular use of colours.

Elizabeth Farrren, Thomas Lawrence. Image @Met Museum

One of his early portraits, when he had only begun his career in London in 1790, was of Elizabeth Farren. He was only 21 at the time and this particular portrait attracted peoples interest. It shows a full length portrait of a slender, beautiful young girl caught in the act of walking through a rural landscape of trees and pathways with her dizzy blond head high in the dramatic surroundings of a stormy sky and dressed in a shimmering three quarter length white silk shawl over a long white gauze like garment. With this portrait and with all the others in the exhibition, for all the costume, dress and surroundings they might have, what always stands out, like an illuminated beacon, is the face of the person in the portrait. This is the most important part. It shows the persons character, and personality. Elizabeth has pale smooth skin, bright red lips and eyes that smile at you the viewer.

 

Emilia, Lady Cahir, later Countess of Glengall, Thomas Lawrence

What is evident with all the pictures in this exhibition is that when you are standing looking at one of these portraits, no matter how many other people there are in the gallery, it’s just the two of you. You could almost have a conversation together. The paintings certainly allow you to relate to them in a very personal way. I think this is true of all of Thomas’s portraits. Many of the portraits of beautiful young women, as with the Elisabeth Farron portrait, show them, young, always beautiful but often unmarried. The full title to this particular portrait is, Elizabeth Farron, later Countess of Derby. There are a lot of portraits with the name and then the phrase,.. “later the duchess of…” appended to the end. These portraits must have served an important part of the marriage trade. I certainly felt my blood rising at the sight of some of these beauties.

Three Colleagues, Thomas Lawrence

Thomas Lawrence showed great originality. One of his portraits of 1806, of Sir Francis Baring, John Baring, his brother and Charles wall, shows three businessmen contemplating business. It’s extraordinary. They have their work set out in front of them spread on a table and they are planning, scheming, thinking, working things out. It is an action packed picture. Although they are not walking or physically moving anywhere in the picture, things are happening, great decisions are being made right there in front of you. The different angles and poise of each character is quite disconcerting at first. It is not smooth and elegant. It shows action of thought, creativity and influence.

 

Charles William Vane Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry

Another thing I noticed and it became a quest for me to find in each portrait throughout the exhibition, was Lawrence’s use of the three colours red, white and black. At first I thought, why would he include these in every picture he painted. They do create very dramatic atmospheres. The Elizabeth Farron portrait has bright red lips, masses of white in her dress and one small pitch black shoe poking from under the hem of her dress but many of the other portraits have great swathes of each of these three colours.

 

Arthur Atherley, Thomas Lawrence

The title of the exhibition is, “Regency Power and Brilliance.” Lawrence paints many of the leading figures of that period from right across Europe. You might think, well how does the power bit enter into portraits of individuals? If you want to see ultimate overarching power embodied in an individual human being you only have to look at the faces in Lawrence’s portraits. All the men show this in their eyes, their demeanour. One small room in the gallery has three portraits of three different men. Arthur Atherley is a youth of about twenty who has just left Eton College, one of the top public schools. He is shown in 1792. The next shows Robert Banks Jenkinson 2nd Earl of Liverpool. This one is painted when the sitter was in his late twenties.

 

Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool

The final picture shows, Edward Thurlow, Baron Thurlow. It was painted in 1802 when he was in his early seventies and he had retired. They are the different stages of a mans life. Arthur Atherley has a precocious energy, a steady stare revealing a sense of utter belief in his powers and where and what he is about to achieve in life. There is no swerving of thought or doubt. He is totally assured of his position and power in life. It’s quite unnerving to see this unwavering belief looking you right in the eye especially from somebody so young. I kept coming back to this portrait. He has long luxurious black hair, a bright red ornate coat and a bright luminous white neckerchief. The three colours work in a very dramatic way in this picture. Robert Banks is a thin spider like creature, slightly twisted and turning his face towards you from the picture, dressed in black from head to foot. A white pale face looking straight at you, looking into your very soul. He looks full of energy. He wants to get things done with his rolls of documents before him. His personality is like a force of nature almost leaping out of the portrait at you. He can get things done. No doubt about that.

Baron Thurlow, Thomas Lawrence

Finally Edward Thurlow, at first looks, benign, very pleasant and friendly and almost smiling but the eyes are piercing and forceful. He is friendly but you couldn’t cross him. He wants talent, imagination, achievement and hard work from anybody who works for him. The three portraits, although of different people, could almost be the same person at different times of their life. In that small room in the gallery it’s quite an encounter. You could almost feel, coming away, that you have been for a tough penetrating job interview.

 

Master Lambton, Thomas Lawrence

Lawrence’s women fall into various categories. He obviously liked women and children too. There are quite a few pictures showing children. The children are active, playing, interacting, sometimes in a precocious way towards their mother or father in the pictures. He shows real children, not posed children.

Mrs. Jens (Isabella) Wolff, Thomas Lawrence

His friend Isabella Wolf, who may have been his lover, is shown in two portraits. He drew and painted her over many years. The painting of her done in 1803 shows her examining some Michaelangelo prints. She was also separated from her husband. So this picture shows an intellectually curious women who also has broken the bounds of society in her personal life. There are also portraits of Queen Charlotte and Princess Sophia. Royalty is a theme that runs through the exhibition.

 

John, Lord Mountstuart, Thomas Lawrence

The picture that is most controversial is that of John, Lord Mountstuart.. He was a young politician and had lived in Spain for a while because he was the son of Britain’s ambassador to Spain. Lawrence painted him in 1795 when he had just returned from Spain. In many ways the picture is shocking. It is a full-length, life size portrait. It is hung so that at eye level you are confronted by a pair of very muscular legs showing all the muscular contours sheathed in very tight black leggings. As you look up you are confronted by a rather large black shining bulge in the crotch area. The top half of his body is swathed dramatically in a swirling fur trimmed embroidered black cloak with a dark jowelled, bright eyed, ruddy cheeked quite beautiful face surmounting the whole confection. It is a very erotic picture to say the least. It has lead to questions about Thomas Lawrence’s sexuality. But if you took one of his female portraits, almost any of them, you can say the same thing. Sensuality and a slight erotic air pervade many of Lawrence’s pictures.

 

George IV when Prince of Wales, Thomas Lawrence

There are fifty-four pictures in this exhibition and each of the people portrayed in them are a delight to be with and a pleasure to spend time with. Some other characters you may care to come across are Arthur Wellesley, The Duke of Wellington, King George IV as King and also as Prince Regent, Field Marshall Blucher, who lead the Prussian forces who pursued Napoleon, Charles, the Archduke of Austria and Pope Pius VII and many more delightful and very interesting people.

Pope Pius VII, Thomas Lawrence

I have tried to give you a taste and flavour of this exhibition. (Click here to see a PDF document of more paintings in the exhibit.) It is not something you can grade from good to bad, give a level to, say you must see it, or not see it, or apply any subjective or objective assessment like that. What I can say though, if you do get a chance to see it, be prepared to meet real people face to face in those portraits. You will have some very interesting encounters along the way. You will learn something about power, personality, individual characters and yes, brilliance.

Read Full Post »

Inquiring reader: Sit back, relax, and grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine! This is a long post about foxhunting. (Note: because of the helpful suggestions from equestrian readers, crucial edits have been made.)

Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle) and the start of the hunt

The fox hunting scenes in PBS Masterpiece Classic’s Downton Abbey fascinated me and prompted me to ask: How accurate was the depiction of this sport? Aside from the fashions, how different was fox hunting in the Edwardian era from the Regency era? And what happened to that wily fox, whose odds of escaping a score of determined hunters and a pack of excited hounds must have been close to zero? Or were they? My research uncovered a few interesting bits of information:

Hounds milling before the hunt. Notice William with refreshments. Downton Abbey

Description of the Hunt:

In 1910, 350 hunts existed in Britain, almost twice as many as today. Foxhunting was one of the few country sports in which women played an active role. It had become so popular that foxes were even imported from Europe to meet demand. The anti-hunt movement was a fledgling organisation concerned largely with horse beating and vivisection. For the vast majority, fox-hunting was seen as a harmless and ancient tradition. – Manor House

Before the start of an Edwardian hunt. Image @The Antique Horse

The Master will sound his horn and he and the hounds will take off on the hunt. Everyone else follows. The hounds are cast or let into coverts, which are rough brush areas of undergrowth where foxes often lay in hiding during the day. Sometimes the huntsmen must move from covert to covert, recasting the hounds until a scent is discovered. Once the hounds pick up the scent of a fox, they give tongue. The hounds will trail and track for as long as possible. Either the fox will go to ground or find an underground den for safety and protection or the hounds will wear him out and overtake him in a kill. Temperature and humidity are huge factors in how well hounds keep the scent of a fox. Often the chase involves extreme speed through brush and growth. A rider will need to be skilled in racing, jumping brooks, logs, brush, and the horses must be in excellent condition as well.”  – The history of fox hunting

Moving accident by flood and field

Moving accident by flood and field

Filming the Fox Hunt for Downton Abbey:

While the crew were at the castle they filmed various scenes, inside and out. Lady Carnarvon explained that on one particular day they filmed a hunt. “It was wonderful. It was a beautiful day on the day they were doing it too. The funny thing is the one thing I asked them not to do was go across the lawns because there was to be a wedding. They started very early and they were all hanging around. They were going up and down for hours on end, and then suddenly just out of the laurel bushes went a fox – a real fox. The fox took off towards the secret gardens and the hounds turned in full pursuit. The fox wasn’t caught. It just ran off. The hounds were eventually brought back having gone through a couple of cold frames in the garden. I could see the location manager thinking that is the one thing I asked them not to do,” she laughed. – Highclere Castle is the star of the screen

Dirt dog work, circa 1560

History of the Fox Hunt:

Talk of horses, and hounds, and of system of kennel!

Give me Leicestershire nags, and the hounds of old Meynell!

While Hugo Meynell is widely considered to be the father of modern foxhunting as we know it today (his Quorn Hunt between 1753 and 1800 was quite fashionable), hunting foxes with hounds was not new. Evidence exists that fox hunting has been practiced since the 14th century. In 1534 a Norfolk farmer used his dogs to catch a fox, which consisted of hunting on foot and trailing the animal back to its den. Foxes were thought to be “vermin” and left to commoners to hunt. In those early times, royalty and the aristocracy hunted stags, or deer, which required great swathes of open land and an investment in horses, hounds, and stables. Considering the chasing and killing of vermin to be beneath their status, the aristocracy continued to chase stags until these animals became scarce.

Hunting with hounds on foot

Hugo Meynell began breeding hounds that could keep up with the foxes at the same time that an increased number of 18th century men could devote their time to leisurely pursuits. Consequently, the sport of fox hunting began to take off. (See Rowlandson, The Humours of Fox Hunting: The Dinner, 1799 for a depiction of a group of men enjoying the after effects of a hunt.)

There were no formal hunt clubs during this period. Rather, large landowners kept hounds that accompanied them on private hunts. The hunts were not very effective in controlling the number of foxes in any given area, but the sport was safer than the practice of using spring traps, which could snare a human as well as a fox. (Animal traps from the 16th century. )

 

18th century spring trap

By the early 19th century, a more formal style of foxhunting began to be organized. Roads and railways had cut the land into smaller portions, and it became more convenient for rich landowners and their guests to hunt foxes. Railways also gave a larger number of people in towns and cities easy access to the countryside and an opportunity to join in the sport.

The rising middle clases, eager to improve their social standing, joined the clubs, and by the late 19th century the sport had reached the height of its popularity. In fact, the demand for foxes was so great that some hunts were called off if the probability was high that the fox would get killed. Foxes were so scarce that a large numbers of the animals were imported from Europe to be sold in England.

The Bilsdale Hunt. Image @MSNBC.com

The oldest continuous fox hunt in England is the Bilsdale Hunt in Yorkshire, established by George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham in 1668. Since 2005, foxhunting with hounds has been illegal in Britain, but there are groups that are still unhappy with this turn of events, for foxes are still allowed to be hunted and shot in England. Supporters of the foxhunt state that organized foxhunts never caught enough foxes to affect the total population and that the kills were clean. In addition, foxhunting supports a minor economy of farriers, grooms, horse stables, dog kennels, trainers, veterinarians, shops, inns, taverns, and the like. Since it became organized, the hunt also provided a spectator sport to local villages and market-towns and inspired railroads to expand their services so that participants could join the hunts and travel up and back within a day. The landscape also benefited from the hunt in that landowners planted low bushy coverts for the foxes and maintained their hedges to facilitate jumps. – Encyclopedia of Traditional British Rural Sports: History of Fox Hunting

 

Foxhunting Schedule:

Fox hunting began on the first Monday of November; traditionally a hunt was held on Boxing Day (Dec 26).

In the early morning workers stopped up the holes of the dens where the foxes rested, forcing these nocturnal animals to find shelter above ground during the day.

Around 11 a.m. the riders (field) would assemble, with around 40-50 hounds.

The Master of the Hounds was in charge of the hunt and supervised the field, hounds, and staff. The huntsman, who had bred the hounds and worked with them, would be in charge of the pack during the hunt.

Chasing the fox. Downton Abbey

Once the group was assembled, the hunstman would lead the pack of hounds and field to where a fox might be hiding. When the fox was flushed out into the open, the group would pursue the fox, with the huntsman leading the group. The field would follow at a gallop and watch the hounds chase down the fox.

When the fox was cornered, the hounds took over.

Hunt festivities included lawn meets, where food and drink were served to the people who gathered together, and hunt balls.The cost of horses, outfits, and operating expenses made the activity prohibitive for those with limited means, and only those with a great deal of money could afford to participate. – What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, Daniel Pool – p171-173

Women and Foxhunting:

Waiting for the hunt to begin, Downton Abbey

Few women rode in a fox hunt during the Regency period. It took great skill and courage for a woman to join the hunt, for in those days the side-saddle lacked the leaping horn, which offered a more secure seat and made taking fences safer.

The Inconvenience of wigs, Carle Vernet. Image @Yale University Library

By the mid-19th century, women began to join in the sport in greater numbers. An article written by Catriona Parratt discusses women’s involvement:

“Preeminent among these activities was foxhunting, one of the few sports for which there seems to have been no rigidly prescriptive code limiting women’s participation. In fact, some women embraced the sport with a zest which was evidently not considered inappropriate. This may be explained in part by the extreme social exclusivity which attended to the leaders of the foxhunting set. Members of the aristocracy and the upper middle classes were probably sufficiently secure in their status to ignore, to some extent, more bourgeoise notions of respectability… According to one enthusiast, 200 riders was considered a poor turn out, while few meets attracted less than 100 men and women. A figure of thirty women is given in an account of the Tipperary Hunt in the 1902 season, but the overall evidence is very impressionistic…

There are also several accounts of women achieving the honour of being the first to ride in at the death of the fox, something which seems not to have offended their supposedly more delicate sensibilities. In a 1900 meeting of the Dartmoor Pack, the brush [tail] was awarded to a Miss Gladys Bulteel, of whom it was noted that her pony “was piloted with exceptional skill,” while in a previous month’s run of the same pack, a Miss Dorothy Bainbridge claimed the coveted trophy. None of this is to suggest that women participated in equal numbers or on equal terms with men… Rather, it is clear that some women were active, enthusiastic, and skillful participants who were drawn to the sport by “the enjoyment, the wholesomeness, even the nerve-bracing dash of danger.” – Athletic “Womanhood”: Exploring Sources for Female Sport in Victorian and Edwardian England Cartriona M. Parratt*, Lecturer, Dept. of Physical Educ

Kemal Pamuk (Theo James) meets Lady Mary

Comments about the Fox Hunt in Downton Abbey from the Horse and Hounds forum:

As I researched foxhunting, curiosity led me to a discussion forum at the Horse and Hounds website. I wanted to know what the experts thought of the foxhunting scenes in Downton Abbey. Here they are in a nutshell, with the names of the individuals taken off:

Master of the Hunt sounds the call

They should have told that daft lady [Mary] side saddle person to put a bloody thong and lash on her hunting whip and hold it the right way too..thong end up please. Suppose we should be grateful it was’nt filmed in high summer! And WHY film the field and hounds all mingled but apparently in full cry..UUURRRGGGHH it drives me nuts.”

“Not unless they have a leather loop on one end for the thong and lash? Do sidesaddle whips have bone “gate hooks” on the top end?? In one shot the lady did have a thong attached ..but still holding it the wrong way anyway, shortly before, no lash!! Pathetic.”

“My thoughts that the horses were not typical or hunters of that era, also would there have been a coloured, I thought that the craze for colours was a recent thing and they were frowned on in ‘those days’. “

The field follows the Master and pack

I am amazed that finally a TV programme has made the effort to show not only a hunting scene but a lady hunting on PRIMETIME TV and people are moaning about minor details! I hunt side saddle, I do it because I love it, so I was over the moon to finally see something relevant to it on t.v. Would you have preferred they didn’t show it at all and cut the hunting scenes entirely??

Lets not forget these programmes are filmed for public entertainment, they are not historical documentarys. Please could we all be a little more supportive of equines on TV regardless of the reasons, then maybe we would see more.”

“Well if you want to moan about the most minute details of the scenes (and don’t forget, what you see on screen in a STORY not a documentary !!!) why not start with the fact that the forward seat was unknown in Edwardian times?”

Master of the Hunt and pack set off ahead of the field

We noticed the coloured horse too and said no way would they have had one of them!! They only pulled carts in those days. Still – we all got excited when the hunting scene started!!”

Lady Mary and Evelyn Napier, Downton Abbey

Lady Mary and Evelyn Napier

Did anyone spot which hunt’s tail coat was being worn by Mr Evelyn Napier?”

“It was the vine and craven hunt huntsman David Trotman scarlet coat with gold vine leafs on black collar. The Vine & Craven [were] filming at Highclere Castle…”Horse and Hounds forum -

Riding hell bent for leather through the fields. Downton Abbey

Master of the Hunt and other staff:

The Master of the Fox Hounds (MFH) or Joint Master of the Fox Hounds operates the sporting activities of the hunt, maintains the kennels, works with, and sometimes is, the Huntsman. The word of the Master is the final word in the field and in the kennels.  The Huntsman is responsible for directing the hounds in the course of the hunt.

The Huntsman usually carries a horn to communicate to the hounds, followers, and whippers-in.  Whippers-in are the assistants to the Huntsman. Their main job is to keep the pack all together.”  – Human roles in fox hunting

The huntsman drinking a pre-hunt drink. Image @Icons A Portrait of England

From Baily’s magazine of sports and pastimes, Volume 2, 1861, p. 182: “As well might you assert that because a nobleman throws open his house and grounds to the public one or two days in the week from free goodwill that he has not the right to exclude any persons he may object to. A Master of fox hounds hunts his country upon the same conditions. Any landowner can prevent him riding over his fields or drawing his coverts. By the landowners he stands or falls. He recognizes no other power to interfere with his conduct in the field.”

Edgar Lubbock, Master of the Blankney Hunt

Description of the above image: Edgar Lubbock LLB was the Master of the Blankney Hunt at the turn of the 20th century. He was born on 22 February 1847 in St James, London the eighth son of Sir John William and Harriett Lubbock. Educated at Eton and the University of London he studied Law and became an accomplished lawyer. Through his career he held varying positions, including Lieutenant of the City of London, Director of Whitbread Brewery, Director of the Bank of England and in 1907 Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire. He died in London on 9 September 1907 aged 60 whilst Master of the Blankney Hunt. – Metheringham Area Mews

The Dogs:

The true point of riding to hounds was (and is) to watch the hounds work. Those who galloped wildly or jumped unnecessarily were termed “larkers” – an insult – and disdained by the serious hunters. – Word wenches, fox hunt

The hounds are the most vocal component of the hunt and the means by which the fox is flushed out and then chased until it was too exhausted to go farther. In England, there were two breeds of dogs that were necessary to the hunt: Harriers, which are slightly smaller than foxhounds, and who chased the fox over hill and dale; and terriers, who followed the fox into the den and dug it out.

Harriers (Hare Hounds or Heirer)


The Harrier, also known as the Hare Hound or the Heirer, is a hardy hound, with a strong nose, that was developed in England to hunt hare.  Hare hunting has always been popular in England, sometimes being even more popular than fox hunting because hunters could trail their hare hounds on foot, without the need for the many horses required to follow fox hounds on the hunt. Moreover, hare hunting was never reserved to royalty; it was always accessible to commoners, who could add their few Harriers to a “scratch pack” made up of hounds owned by different people and still participate in the sport. Reportedly, in 1825, the slow-moving Harrier – in size between the larger English Foxhound and the smaller Beagle – was crossed with Foxhounds to improve its speed and enable it to better hunt fox in addition to hare. – Harrier overview

Terriers

Fox Terrier. Image @Chest of Books

With the growth of popularity of fox-hunting in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, terriers were extensively bred to follow the red fox, and also the Eurasian badger, into its underground burrow, referred to as “terrier work” and “going to ground”.[1] The purpose of the terrier is that it locate the quarry, and either bark and bolt it free or to a net, or trap or hold it so that it can be dug down to and killed or captured.[2] Working terriers can be no wider than the animal they hunt (chest circumference or “span” less than 35 cm/14in), in order to fit into the burrows and still have room to maneuver.[3] As a result, the terriers often weigh considerably less than the fox (10 kg/22 lbs)[4] and badger (12 kg/26 lbs),[5] making these animals formidable quarry for the smaller dog. – Wikipedia

My terrier no longer has the slender girth to chase a fox into its den, for he eats too many doggie biscuits.

Read more about terriers:

The Kill:

Foxes were killed in one of two ways:

1) Hounds chased the foxes until they were caught and then dispatched it. There seems to be a widespread disagreement about the kill, some saying it was quick, and that the fox died from a nip to the back of the neck, and others saying that the fox was repeatedly bitten or torn apart, and sometimes died slowly from its injuries.

2) The fox went to ground (inside a hole or den), and then was dug out with terriers.

Animal rights experts also found the chase itself, with the fox hunted to the point of exhaustion, cruel.

A lurcher adopts a fox cub, the opposite of a kill. Jack and Copper are famous in the U.K. Image @Animal Tourism.com

I could not show an image of a kill, so I’ve presented you with the opposite image: This young lurcher has adopted a fox cub. Jack, the hound, and Copper, the cub, are famous in the U.K. for their playful wrestling matches. Image @Animal Tourism.com

Final Words about Foxhunting in America:

Since Cora (the Countess of Grantham) in Downton Abbey was an American heiress, the information below regarding the American fox hunt is appropriate to this post:

Description of a Fox Hunt by a New England minister

Fox hiding in the covert.

Foxhunts were imported into America in the 17th century. In 1799, a wry New England minister gave a glimpse of the sport in the New World: “From about the first of Octor. this amusement begins, and continues till March or April. A party of 10, and to 20, or 30, with double the number of hounds, begins early in the morning, they are all well mounted. They pass thro’ groves, Leap fences, cross fields, and steadily pursue, in full chase wherever the hounds lead. At length the fox either buroughs out of their way, or they take him. If they happen to be near, when the hounds seize him, they take him alive, and put him into a bag and keep him for a chase the next day. They then retire in triumph, having obtained a conquest to a place where an Elegant supper is prepared. After feasting themselves, and feeding their prisoner, they retire to their own houses. The next morning they all meet at a place appointed, to give their prisoner another chance for his life. They confine their hounds, and let him out of the bag—away goes Reynard at liberty—after he has escaped half a mile—hounds and all are again in full pursuit, nor will they slack their course thro’ the day, unless he is taken. This exercise they pursue day after day, for months together. This diversion is attended by old men, as well as young—but chiefly by married people. I have seen old men, whose heads were white with age, as eager in the chase as a boy of 16. It is perfectly bewitching. The hounds indeed make delightful musick—when they happen to pass near fields, where horses are in pasture, upon hearing the hounds, they immediately begin to caper, Leap the fence and pursue the Chase—frequent instances have occurred, where in leaping the fence, or passing over gullies, or in the woods, the rider has been thrown from his horse, and his brains dashed out, or otherwise killed suddenly. This however never stops the chase—one or two are left to take care of the dead body, and the others pursue.” – Colonial Williamsburg, Personable Pooches

Middleburg Christmas parade. Image @Washington Post

Comment made on a Word Wenches post by a reader who lives in Virginia’s hunt cup country: I live in Virginia hunt country, in fact in the Old Dominion hunt area.  My property deed has one covenant on it. We must allow the huntmaster through. We can deny the rest of the hunt if we want. The covenant was signed by King Charles (I am not sure which one). Fauquier County has 3 hunts and the U.S. largest Steeplechase race, the Gold Cup. .. Many of the more recent mansions (post US Civil War through the 1920s) in Fauquier and neighboring Loudoun were built as hunt houses. – Word Wenches, Fox Hunting

Jacqueline Kennedy. Equestrian outfit in the 1970s.

Etiquette and Dress Code of a Fox Hunt:

The etiquette of the hunt field was (and is) as intricate and strict as that of the ballroom. I imagine (and please correct me if I am wrong), that each club has its own variation of rules. Loudoun County is west of Washington D.C. and sits near the middle of the hunt country of Northern Virginia, where Jacqueline Kennedy frequently hunted when she lived in Georgetown. Click here to read the extensive rules of etiquette of the Loudoun Hunt: Etiquette and the rules of Attire.

Edwardian riding habit. Image @side saddle girl

More on the foxhunt:

Addendum to original post:

This post began innocently enough, for I had no idea about the emotions surrounding the fox ban. Various views are presented in the comment section. Tony Grant, who writes for this blog and who lives in London, said in an email:

A fox creeps in Tony's yard towards the dustbins

Because foxes are no longer hunted their population has expanded unbelievably. They no longer keep to the countryside but live in the towns and cities as scavengers. They live in dens created in parks and the bottom of peoples gardens. They scavenge dustbins. We have an epidemic where I live in South London. They walk down my road and enter my garden on a regular basis. They are not afraid of humans.

Here are some pictures taken in my back garden. This fox wanted to raid our dustbins.

Read Full Post »

Lady Sarah Jersey

Gentle Readers: In my sidebar I call myself an amateur historian, an apt term as this post will attest. I try to quote from older sources, but this can sometimes backfire. Captain Gronow, for example, whose words I quoted for this post via John Ashton (1890) and Lewis Saul Benjamin (1909), wrote down his memories about the Regency era in 1863, a half century after the events occurred.  Gronow’s memory, unfortunately, was faulty in a few particulars, especially in recalling the names of the patronesses of Almack’s in 1814, and why they turned the Duke of Wellington away. I have placed a number of updates in the original post.

Any individual who has read a novel set in Regency England knows about the assembly rooms at Almack’s and the club’s exclusivity. While Almack’s was notorious for its stale refreshments and thin lemonade in the supper room, the Beau Monde never minded, for the idea was to hob nob with the right people, trot out one’s eligible daughters, and make the best marriages possible given their dowries and family connections. Looks and a personality had very little to do with a young lady’s success in her first season OUT, but a pleasing countenance matched with a fortune would swiftly speed up the unification of great estates or the purchase of a worthy title.

Almack's, Pall Mall, opened in 1765

The Patronesses of Almack’s guarded entry to the club like Valkeries prepared to do battle. No one, not even the Duke of Wellington, would dare to step a foot inside the establishment without a proper voucher, and, indeed, he was turned away once for wearing *gasp* trousers instead of knee breeches. But is this true? Please keep on reading.

This passage from Social England Under the Regency by John Ashton (p 383) is quite telling:

*The Duke of Wellington

Of course the Creme de la creme went to Almack’s, but numberless were the Peris who sighed to enter that Paradise, and could not. Capt. Gronow, writing of 1814, says: “At the present time one can hardly conceive the importance which was attached to getting admission to Almack’s, the seventh heaven of the fashionable world. Of the three hundred officers of the Foot Guards, not more than half a dozen were honoured with vouchers of admission to this exclusive temple of the beau monde, the gates of which were guarded by lady patronesses whose smiles or frowns consigned men and women to happiness or despair. These lady patronesses were the Ladies Castlereagh, Jersey, Cowper, and Sefton; … and the Countess Lieven.” (Note: At that time, two other patronesses included Lady Downshire and Lady Bathurst.)

Cruikshank, Longitude (Countess Lieven) and Latitude (in capri-length pantaloons) at Almack's.

In a Newspaper of May 12, 1817, we read – “The rigorous rule of entry established at Almack’s Rooms produced a curious incident at the last Ball – The Marquis and Marchioness of W__r, the Marchioness of T__, Lady Charlotte C__ and her daughter, had all been so imprudent as to come to the rooms without tickets, and though so intimately known to the Lady Managers, and so perfectly unexceptionable, they were politely requested to withdraw, and accordingly they all submitted to the injunction. Again at the beginning of the season of 1819, we find these female tyrants issuing the following ukase: “An order has been issued, we understand, by the Lady Patronesses of Almack’s, to prevent the admission of Gentlemen in Trowsers and Cossacks to the balls on Wednesdays, at the same time allowing an exception to those Gentlemen who may be knock kneed or otherwise deformed.” But the male sex were equal to the occasion as we find in the following lines: -

TO THE LADY PATRONESSES OF ALMACK’S

Tired of our trousers are ye grown?

But since to them your anger reaches,

Is it because tis so well known

You always love to wear the breeches.

*Image from Highest Life in London: Tom and Jerry Sporting a Toe among the Corinthians at Almack's in the West, by I. Robert and George Cruikshank, 1821

Update:  Regency Researcher, Nancy Mayer, was kind enough to contact me and set a few facts straight. I have placed her explanations in the update/update below. In the above image, the young bucks are wearing dark suits with dark, close-fitted trousers (Beau Brummel’s influence), while the older men are still in buff-colored knee breeches.

If anyone knows the true story about the Duke and his trousers, please contact me. One conjecture is that Wellington was turned away for arriving after midnight. (Read more about the Patronesses’ edict on trousers in this link to The Beaux of the Regency, Vol. 1.)

Update/Update: Pantaloons, which fitted snug to the leg, came in two lengths: capri and long. A strap under the foot kept long pantaloons in place. (The image below shows the strap.) Thus, the men in the image above were wearing tight pantaloons, for trousers at the time were slightly looser and would have sported gussets that extended the fabric low over the shoe.

Pantaloons with straps, 1821. Image @Republic of Pemberley

In 1814, the date Gronow recollected, trousers (below) were acceptable for day wear only. Pantaloons were worn as evening wear.

Nancy Mayer, a Regency researcher who provided much of the updated information, wrote in a second note: “Luttrell’s poem on Almack’s was published around 1819. According to the verse about the “trowsers”, I think trousers didn’t become an issue until after 1817, at least. Sometimes it is hard to tell if the men are wearing trousers or the longer pantaloons with the strap under the foot. Most of the Lords in the picture of the Trial of Queen Caroline 1820 are wearing trousers or the long pantaloons.”

 

Trouser with gussets, day wear, 1813

More on the topic:

*Images: Carolyn McDowell

Read Full Post »

Inquiring readers: Raquel Sallaberry from Jane Austen em Portugues sent the link to this post on Promantica about the entail in Downton Abbey entitled “Downton Abbey Fans – Welcome to the MOST Boring Law School Class.” The title is not exactly descriptive, for this wonderful post explains in great detail why the entail cannot be superceded, why Cora’s money is tied up and Lady Mary cannot inherit, and why Matthew Crawley cannot relinquish the title.

The Earl of Grantham and Matthew Crawley walk around the grounds of Downton Abbey

Magdalen, one of the blog contributors, introduces the expert:

By special request, I have asked my ex-husband to help us understand the law of the entail, critical to the plot of Downton Abbey.  Henry is a) British, b) an attorney, c) smart, and d) the son and grandson of QCs, i.e., barristers (British attorneys who appear in court) selected to be “Queen’s Counsel.”  (Although, to be fair, I think Henry’s grandfather took silk — Britspeak for becoming a QC — long enough ago that he was actually King’s Counsel!)
The blog goes on to describe the difference between real property, personal property, and intellectual property. Magdalen then dives into her questions:

First off, what’s an entail?
It is a limitation on the current tenant’s (in our case, the 6th Earl of Grantham) ownership interest in the estate. If he owned Downton Abbey outright, he would have a fee simple. Instead, he has a fee tail, which gives him a life interest so he can’t be evicted in his lifetime, but not the right to say who gets Downton Abbey after he dies.

The Earl of Grantham summarizes the situation best: "I'm a custodian, not an owner."

Okay, so how would an entail work?
The normal entail would be to “the 6th earl and heirs of his body” (meaning his legitimate biological children) or “and heirs male of his body” or “and heirs male of his body to be begotten on Cora.” When the 6th earl had no sons, the second and third of those would terminate, allowing the 6th earl to dispose of the money by will. The first would allow a daughter to inherit, but I’m not sure if it would pass to Mary or to the three daughters jointly or in shares…

To read the rest of this fascinating post, please click on this link to Promantica.

Thank you, Raquel (and Magdalen and Henry). This article is fascinating, fun to read, and very, very informative.

Read this blog’s other posts about Downton Abbey:


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,323 other followers