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.
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:
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.)
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.
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.
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.”
More on the topic: