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Posts Tagged ‘Princess Charlotte’

It is a rare occasion when we can compare a gown in a portrait with the actual dress. The painting, after George Daw, of the Prince Regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte, shows her wearing a charming blue gown in a domestic, albeit royal, setting.

Princess Charlotte in her Russian Dress. Painting after George Daw, 1817. Image @Wikipedia

A second portrait depicts the same dress more royally. Princess Charlotte (or the artist) has accessorized the dress with ermine, lace, and pearls.

The mannequin from the Museum of London exhibit a few years back is dressed more informally, as if she was in the morning room reading. I found the image on Pinterest, but unfortunately the pin did not state the image’s origin. (A reader wrote that the dress belongs to the Royal Collection.)

As you can see, the dress no longer possesses the rich blue hue as shown in the paintings. So many of the costumes of that era are not only in a fragile state and can rarely be shown, but we cannot trust that the colors have remained the same.

Princess Charlotte's "Russian" outfit as shown at The Museum of London. The gown belongs to The Royal Collection.

Below is the original portrait by George Daw, which shows Princess Charlotte wearing the same dress. Click here for yet another view of Charlotte in a similar gown, but without the trim and wearing a lace cap. My sense is that after her death Princess Charlotte’s image became sought after and that many portrait copies were made (both in oil and in print) to satisfy the mourning public.

Princess Charlotte, George Daw, 1817. Image @National Portrait Gallery

Find more views of the gown at Jenny La Fleur’s site. Images of the gown can be seen in the exhibit catalogue called In Royal Fashion: Clothes of Princess Charlotte of Wales and Queen Victoria, 1796-1901, which can only be obtained second hand.

The exhibit: Princess Charlotte, The Lost Princess, will be on display at the Prince Regent Gallery in the Brighton Pavillion through 10 March, 2013.

My other posts about Princess Charlotte:

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One can imagine that during her final illness, Jane Austen was no stranger to leeches. This method of bloodletting was so common in Great Britain (Wales especially) and France that by the 1830’s Hirudo medicinal leeches (common in Europe) were hard to find and had to be imported or home grown .

Leech finders, 1814. George Havell, Costumes of Yorkshire.

Gathering leeches was a traditional female occupation, although there are always exceptions to the rule. Take this passage about leech-fishers in France from the Gazette des Hopitaux:

Man leech fishing in a marsh in Bretagne. 1857. Image @Shutter Stock

If ever you pass through La Brenne, you will see a man, pale and straight-haired with a woollen cap on his head, and his legs and arms naked; he walks along the borders of a marsh, among the spots left dry by the surrounding waters. This man is a leech- fisher. To see him from a distance,—his wo-begone aspect, his hollow eyes, his livid lips, his singular gestures,—you would take him for a maniac. If you observe him every now and then raising his legs and examining them one after another, you might suppose him a fool ; but he is an intelligent leech-fisher. The leeches attach themselves to his legs and feet as he moves among their haunts; he feels their bite, and gathers them as they cluster about the roots of the bulrushes and aquatic weeds, or beneath the stones covered with a green and slimy moss. He may thus collect, ten or twelve dozen in three or four hours. In summer, when the leeches retire into deep water, the fishers move about upon rafts made of twigs and rushes.”  – Excerpt taken from Curiosities of Medical Experience (1838) by John Gideon Millingen, via The Condenser: Hunting Down Good Bits

Despite the many strides that were made in medicine regarding human anatomy and diseases, the knowledge about treatments lagged behind. Lack of anesthetics made surgery an excruciating experience, and there were no antibiotics. Useful plants, such as digitalis, were discovered more by luck than by science. Bloodletting or ‘breathing a vein’ was one way in which a patient could be treated by a physician who had few options. Applying leeches often resulted  in a severe loss of blood, which was more detrimental to the patient’s condition than not. A human with a poor immune response could suffer from wound infections, diarrhea and septicemia, all influenced by the bacterium, Aeromonas veronii, carried in the leeche’s gut.

19th century leech advertisement

Regardless of adverse consequences, bloodletting has been practiced for at least 2,500 years. The earliest instruments, or lancets, were sharpened pieces of wood or stone, but it is leeches that I want to write about. (I am more repulsed by their sight than a snake’s, and had a hard time searching for an image that did not make me gag.)  The ancient Greeks believed in the humoral theory, which proposed that when the four humors, blood, phlegm, black and yellow bile in the human body were in balance, good health was guaranteed. An unbalance in these four humors led to ill health. Fast forward to the middle ages, when superstition and religion gave weight to the art of bleeding. If you recall, the earliest surgeons were barbers as well. Their leeches cured anything from headaches to gout!

Bloodletting with leeches is an ancient tradition

Leeches are commonly affixed by inverting a wine-glass containing as many as may be required, upon the part affected. The great disadvantage of this practice is, that some of them frequently retire to the upper part of the glass and remain at rest, defying all attempts to dislodge them, without incurring the risk of removing those that may have fastened.” – James Rawlins Johnson, A Treatise on the Medicinal Leech

Francois Broussais proposed in  his Histoire des phlegmasies ou inflammations chroniques (1808) that all disease resulted from excess build up of blood. The alleviation of this condition required heavy leeching and starvation. Leeches subsequently became the most prevalent way of treating a patient, especially in France, where tens of million of leeches were used per year, resulting in a drastic leech shortage. The British were equally enamored with this form of therapy. It is conjectured that Princess Charlotte’s death in childbirth in 1817 was exacerbated by her physician, who prescribed a rigorous course of blood letting and starvation diet during her pregnancy, weakening her before her agonizing 50+ hours of labor. (Read my article on this topic.)

In 1833, bloodletting became so popular in Europe, that the commercial trade in leeches became a major industry. France, suffering a deficiency, had to import 41.5 million leeches. The medicinal leech almost became extinct in Europe due to the extremely high demand for them. Leeches were collected in a particularly creepy way. Leech collectors would wade in leech infested waters allowing the leeches to attach themselves to the collector’s legs. In this way as many as 2,500 leeches could be gathered per day. When the numbers became insufficient, the French and Germans started the practice of leech farming. Elderly horses were used as leech feed where they would be sent into the water and would later die of blood loss. – Maggots and Leeches Make a Comeback

Oh, how I pity those elderly horses!

 

Large leech collector jar.

Intestinal tract of the hirudo leech

Leeches are quite extraordinary in that they have 31 brains and can gorge themselves up to five times their body weight before falling off their host. Afterward they require no feeding for another 6 months. There are over 650 known species of leeches, not all of which are bloodsuckers (some eat earthworms, for example). Placing leeches onto a patient (making sure the frontal sucker with teeth was directed to the skin) is relatively pain free, for their bite releases an anaesthetic. During feeding they secrete compounds, such as a vasodilator that dilates blood vessels and anticoagulant that prevents the blood from clotting. The worms are hermaphrodites, functioning as both the male and female sex. Even after being frozen, leeches can be coaxed back to life!  Needless to say, these creatures must provide an endless source of interest to scientists.

Early 19th century rare cobalt blue transportable leech jar. These were mostly made of clear glass. Cloth covered the everted lip to prevent escapees.

People (meaning mostly women) stood in fresh water marshes, lakes, pools, and the edges of river banks, and allowed the leeches to attach to their legs. (I shudder as I type this.) Once the leeches were gathered, they were placed in a basket, ceramic pot with breathing holes, or a reservoir.

One of these traders was known to collect, with the aid of his children, seventeen thousand five hundred leeches in the course of a few months; these he had deposited in a reservoir, where, in one night, they were all frozen en masse.” But congelation does not kill them, and they can easily be thawed into life, by melting the ice that surrounds them. Leeches, it appears, can bear much rougher usage than one might imagine: they are packed up closely in wet bags, carried on pack-saddles, and it is well known that they will attach themselves with more avidity when rubbed in a dry napkin previous to their application. Leech-gatherers are in general short-lived, and become early victims to agues, and other diseases brought on by the damp and noxious air that constantly surrounds them ; the effects of which they seek to counteract by the use of strong liquors.”  Excerpt taken from Curiosities of Medical Experience (1838) by John Gideon Millingen, via The Condenser: Hunting Down Good Bits

Pewter box for transporting leeches. Image @Science Museum of london

Leeches were carried in a variety of containers made of glass, silver, or pewter. Small bowls were portable, and the larger ones were probably kept in an apothecary’s shop or pharmacy. The everted lips were used to attach a cloth, which prevented the hapless creatures from escaping.

Portable leech carriers made of glass, silver and pewter. Small leech tubes directed the worm to difficult to reach places in the mouth, larynx, ear, conjunctiva, rectum and vagina, begging this question: How did one retrieve the engorged leech?

After the 1830s, the practice of leeching began to decline as medical diagnostic skills improved. Physicians realized that patients who were leeched did not often recover more fully than those who were not, and other, more beneficial treatments,  including pharmaceutical and homeopathic remedies, began to replace leeching

Red and cream Staffordshire leech jar

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Leech bowl

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Princess Charlotte's embroidered linen mittens

Among the fashion items in Kensington Palace are a pair of hand-embroidered mittens owned by Princess Charlotte, daughter of George 1V and Caroline of Brunswick  (the Princess Diana of her day) who died tragically young in 1817 while in childbirth. Read more: Mail Online

Silk 18th C. mittens. Image @Metropolitan Museum

Your average 18th century mitt would have a thumb (or rather half a thumb), but not have any other fingers. It would sometimes extend not just over the hand but over part of the fingers as well. This meant that it would keep you warm (or protected from the sun in the summer) but not hinder your movements at all. You could do things like write, draw or do needlework with mitts on. And combined with a muff, they were quite enough even for venturing outside in the winter.” – Mitts & Fingerless Gloves

18th century mittens. Image @Metropolitan Museum of Art

Mrs. Bates and Miss Bates wearing lacy mitt gloves

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Wedding dresses in the royal collection. Princess Charlotte's gown is in the middle. Image @Daily News

The Telegraph.co.uk features a video of five beautiful wedding dresses of the past, Queen Victoria’s and Princess Margaret’s among them, and asks the question, “How will Kate Middleton’s gown measure up to history?” Featured is Princess Charlotte’s beautiful silver wedding gown, which has not been on view for several decades and which, as the oldest wedding dress in the collection, requires quite a bit more conservation. In these images pulled from the film you can see the beautiful sheen of the silver fabric, which was meant to represent British wealth, status, and power.

It was made by Mrs Triaud of Bolton Street, from ‘cloth-of-silver’, silk bobbinet embroidered with heavy silver lamé, embellished with Brussels lace, and with embroidered flowers and shells festooning the hem.” -Telegraph.co.uk

Contemporary images simply do not do the dress justice.

One can see in this small (blurred) image how the dress sparkles under lights. The dress required “500 hours of detailed hand-stitching in ultra-fine, mono-filament silk threads, almost invisible to the naked eye.” Those poor seamstresses must have gone blind. The Regency Fashion page carries a description of the dress and ceremony in La Belle Assemblee.

The manteau was of silver tissue lined with white satin, with a border of embroidery to answer that on the dress, and fastened in front with a splendid diamond ornament. Such was the bridal dress” … La Belle Assemblee

Princes Charlotte and Prince Leopold on their wedding day in 1816, Chapel Royal, St. James's Palace

The historic wedding dresses are among the 10,000 items in the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. Queen Victoria’s wedding dress will be publicly displayed in March 2012, in the new permanent exhibition at the refurbished Kensington Palace, ‘Victoria Revealed” hrp.org.uk . –  Telegraph.co.uk

In this older image you can see the gown's train. Image @Museum of London

The jewellery of the royal bride is most superb; beside the wreath, are a diamond cestus, ear- rings, and an armlet of great value, with a superb set of pearls.” – La Belle Assemblee

Contemporary depiction of Princess Charlotte's wedding

Sadly, the marriage did not last for even two years, due to Princess Charlotte’s death in childbirth (see article below.) Thank you, Brandy Parfums for alerting me to this video and article!

More posts about Princess Charlotte and Royal Weddings:

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Embroidered bells on Princess Charlotte's court gown.

Several years ago I featured Princess Charlotte’s bellflower court dress, a sumptuous creation that must have taken a boatload of seamstresses untold hours of work to complete. I had the privilege of viewing this fragile dress when it was on exhibit at the Museum of London, and I often wondered how the bell flowers (which were worked with silver thread and tiny glass beads) were made.

The court dress, 1814. Image @Museum of London

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Needlework (1870) provides a glimpse. Although the illustrations are rough compared to the royal example, one begins to understand how time consuming this needlework was for the women who labored long hours in poor lighting conditions.  The book describes the process for bluebells, which were embroidered in a raised satin stitch. The pieces were worked separately, then half of the embroidered piece was sewn onto an outlined embroidered shape on the fine fabric. This shape represented the inner part of the flower.

Bluebell embroidered work.

The first two illustrations from Beeton’s book show 1) the complete bluebell and 2) the inner part of the flower with the overcast outline.

The flat outer part of the bluebell. This piece is fastened onto the outline.

The second illustration shows the raised outer part as a flat piece. This second embroidered piece was fastened in a three dimensional way onto the overcast outline. Then the excess material was carefully cut away without damaging the underlying fabric. (This job must have been tougher and more delicate with Princess Charlotte’s gauzy net dress.)

I recall clearly seeing that some of the bellflowers had been torn away or were missing – and wondered if someone had stepped on Princess Charlotte’s train, or if she had snagged the hem on something.

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Robert Morley and Wendy Hiller, The First Gentleman, 1945 (Image, LIFE magazine)

While researching information for my post about the Prince Regent and his strange marriage to Princess Caroline of Brunswick, I ran across this obscure item – a play in two acts about Prinny named The First Gentleman, written by Norman Ginsbury and performed in London in 1945. Robert Morley played Prinny and Wendy Hiller portrayed the doomed Princes Charlotte (who died in childbirth in 1817, the same year that Jane Austen died). I surmise that Frances Waring acted the role of Caroline of Brunswick, but could not confirm this detail. About Wendy Hiller’s performance, Roberth Morley said:

Wendy Hiller as Princes Charlotte hides under the table

She was never afraid of over-acting when she felt instinctively that the role required her to do so and, as Princess Charlotte, she was in turn so fierce and so gentle that, on some evenings, after she had died in the second act it seemed a waste of time continuing with the play.- Dame Wendy Hiller

The play ran in London’s New Theatre for a run of 654 performances. In 1948, a film of the same name was made. This movie, released in 1949, also remains obscure.

Set Design for The First Gentleman, Columbia, 1948

A theatre programme from the pre-West End touring production in Liverpool’s The Royal Court Theatre was recently for sale online. The play’s cast also included Brown Derby, Wilfred Walter, Guy Le Feuvre, Sigrid Landstad, Una Venning, Christina Horniman, Helen Stirling, Catharina Ferraz, Christine Lindsay, Robert Beaumont, Geoffrey Toone, Amy Frank, Mary Masters, Ian Sadler, Beryl Harrison, Pamela Carme, Martin Beckwith, John Baker, Grenville Eves, Robin Christie, Mary Marshall, Sebastian Minton and Valentine Richmond.

The Prince Regent after Charlotte's death

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Princess Charlotte's Court Dress, 1814-16, also known as the Bellflower Dress

Princess Charlotte's Court Dress, 1814-16, also known as the Bellflower Dress

embroidered-bellsWhen I saw Princess Charlotte’s bellflower court dress (1814-16) at the Museum of London I remember being transfixed and standing in front of the glass case for a half hour. I could not get over the exquisite details and embroidery of this gossamer thin gown, and wondered at the hours it took to create it, the number of seamstresses that must have toiled over it, and its cost. It was so beautiful that I mistook it for a wedding dress. The train, which showed slight damage where some of the embroidered bells were missing, is similar to the one on Princess Charlotte’s silver net wedding gown. Tradition has it that this court dress was made for Princess Charlotte on her engagement in 1814. The bellflowers were fashioned from silk covered wire and net decorated with silver thread darning and the tiny beads were made from blown glass. (The London Look, p 22)

The Museum of London website states that this sumptuous dress, which is “covered with hundreds of tiny three-dimensional bellflowers, exemplifies the technical excellence of London’s dress-makers in this period. The dress needed 600 hours of conservation work and is so fragile it may never be shown in public again.”

Detail of bells and net embroidery

Detail of bells and net embroidery

Short in stature and slightly dumpy, and not known for her fashion sense, Princess Charlotte could easily afford elaborate costumes. Her provisioners included the William King of Pall Mall, a silk mercer, and Mrs. Triaud and Mrs. Bean, London dressmakers who worked on her trousseau. (The London Look, p 22.)

According to a contemporary description, the Princess entered her mother’s drawing room in May 1815 in an exquisitely beautiful dress that (from the description) looked similar to the bellflower dress:

Gold lama and white draperies over a petticoat of rich white satin and gold twisted trimming; train of rich figured white satin, body elegantly trimmed with rich gold and blond lace; head-dress, plume of ostrich feathers, with a beautiful diadem of brilliants; necklace and ear-rings of diamonds. – The London Look, p 24

  • The London Look, Fashion from Street to Catwalk. By Christopher Breward, Edwina Ehrman, Caroline Evans, 2004

princess-charlotte-court-dress3Front of gown, Museum of London

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