Posts Tagged ‘Prince Regent’

For centuries, gambling was viewed as a vice typical of the upper classes, but during the Regency this way of passing the time became an even more accepted practice. Card games were played at private parties and at public assemblies, where both sexes indulged in these activities. While the games were often harmless and played for fun, high stakes betting could lead to vice, shocking losses, and crippling addiction. Men gambled and lost vast sums in the men’s clubs in St. James’s, often losing their inheritance. Politicians seeking to deter such an exchange of lands, which undermined the stability of property, held a double standard towards those whom they deemed worthy of winning such wealth:

Regency card party

Regency card party

If a landowner chose to ‘make a sport’ of his property and to lose it, say, at the game of hazard, to another son of broad acres, that was his prerogative. But if, on the other hand, he was foolish enough to throw away what he had inherited to low-born adventurers or, worse, to Jewish moneylenders, the loss was invariably considered serious. The nation’s rulers judged it a threat to their own kind when an estate or any significant portion of one passed into the ‘wrong hands’. The Regency Underworld, Donald A. Lowe, p. 128, ISBN 0-7509-2121-8

Cruikshank, Interior of Modern Hell

Cruikshank, Interior of Modern Hell

One gets the sense that Jane Austen and her social set played cards for amusement and to wile away a pleasant hour or two with friends and family. For some ladies, gambling for profit was an acceptable way of supplementing a fixed income:

Well-off women with no other income sometimes allowed their houses to be turned into gambling houses. The two best known at the end of the eighteenth century, Lady Archer and Lady Buckingamshire, were only the most prominent of a circle of “faro” ladies who owned banks in private homes.- Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling, David G. Schwartz, p. 162, ISBN 1-592-40208-9

Although the two ladies claimed that their aristocratic birth gave them license to run gambling operations, they were subject to ridicule. Lady Buckinghamshire slept with a cache of weapons to protect her bank, and Lady Archer was known for wearing too much makeup. Faro began to decline in popularity, and by the early 19th century, young ladies in boarding school were learning whist and casino. Young gentlemen continued to play hazard, baccarat, and whist in men’s gaming clubs, also known as Hells.


The politician Charles Fox, able to play for long periods without sleep, lost his fortune at the gaming tables. Horace Walpole described one of Fox’s marathon gambling sessions:

He had sat up playing Hazard at Almack’s from Tuesday evening, 4th February [1778], till five in the afternoon of Wednesday 5th. An hour before he had recovered £12,000 that he had lost, and by dinner, which was at five o’clock, he had ended losing £11,000. On Thursday he spoke, went to dinner at past eleven at night; from thence to White’s, where he drank till seven the next morning; thence to Almack’s, where he won £6,000; and between three and four in the afternoon he set out for Newmarket. His brother Stephen lost £11,000 two nights after, and Charles £10,000 more on the 13th; so that in three nights the two brothers, the eldest not twenty-five, lost £32,000. – Lowe, p 129.

Fox’s father, Lord Holland, paid off his son’s debt to the princely tune of £140,000. (In today’s terms this sum would be astronomical – depending on the inflation converter you used, you would multiply the sum by 97 to get at the value of 1780 money today.) The Prince of Wales, in rebellion against his frugal father, modeled his own conduct after that of Fox. Known for his extravagant lifestyle, Prinny set the pace for hedonistic living as Regent and King.

whist-markersWhist Markers

More links on gambling and games in the Regency Era:

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“That fellow Weston,” said Brummell, “is an inimitable fellow — a little defective perhaps in his ‘linings,’ but irreproachable for principle and button-holes. He came to London, Sir, without a shilling; and he counts more realized thousands than our fat friend does ‘frogs’ on his Brandenburg. He is not only rich, but brave; not only brave, but courteous; and not alone courteous, but candid. – Beau Brummel

Man's Great Coat by John Weston, 1803-1810


John Weston, Regency London’s most expensive tailor and draper to George, Prince of Wales, was frequently mentioned by Georgette Heyer in her novels. While Ms. Heyer peppered her novels with Weston’s name, I was actually unable to find much about him. This caption from the exhibit a the Museum of London, describes the greatcoat at right: 1803, tailored by John Weston of 38 Old Bond Street.

The prince was passionately interested in clothes and patronised London’s most skilful craftsmen. This slim fitting double-breasted coat, which has a silk velvet collar, is made of high quality British wool facecloth. Charles Jennens, a London button maker, supplied the gilt buttons.

The coat was discovered at Coutts Bank, where the tailor had deposited it for an unknown client, in 1956. A letter accompanying the coat described it as, ‘an exceed[ingly] good blue cloth great coat … made in ev[e]ry respect in the best manner’.

Men of fashion felt a sort of religious awe as they passed over the threshold of Weston, Brummell’s tailor, in Old Bond-street

Read more about London’s tailors at these links:

  • Jean Louis Bazalgette: Fascinating biography of one of the Prince Regent’s earlier, lesser known tailors. (Cached information.)

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During Jane Austen’s time, Brighton, a town along the south Sussex Coast and seen above in a John Constable painting, was the popular resort destination. Bath’s desirability had plummeted among the Ton, as it had gained the reputation of being a stodgy tourist attraction for the elderly and infirm. By the time the Prince Regent’s fashionable set frequented Brighton, it had grown from a sleepy seaside village of 3,000 in 1769 to a booming tourist town of 18,000 by 1817-1818.

The lengthening of the formal season helped in establishing Brighton as a holiday destination. By 1804 the season started late July and lasted until after Christmas, and by 1818 it had been extended until March. Visitors of note were always mentioned in Brighton’s newspaper, and there were a host of them. (Illustration below is of Fashionables in Brighton, 1826)

The first notables were both members of the Royal Family, the Duke of Gloucester in 1765, and then the Duke of York in 1766. From 1771 the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland were regular visitors and the town’s popularity with his uncles might have been one reason why the Prince of Wales came in 1783 and why he stayed for eleven days.

The Prince of Wales, after he became Prince Regent, began to spend enormous sums of money refurbishing Brighton Pavillion to his own fanciful specifications, using John Nash’s designs. Click here for my post on this beautiful palace.

In the early 18th century visitors were left to their own devices to find entertainments, but by 1810 guide books pointed out sites of interests in surrounding villages, amusements to be had, and picturesque walks. The sea was also used for entertainments such as yacht races and water parties which were watched from the shelter of the Steine. Military manoevres on the Steine and the Downs were popular.

Read more about Brighton here:

Quotes: Georgian Brighton, 1740-1820, Sue Farrant, University of Sussex Occasional Paper No. 13

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Curious to find out more about the tastes of George III (above), the father of the Prince Regent, and the Prince Regent himself? This site, The Royal Collection: Royal Palaces, Residences, and Art Collection allows you to find the works collected by George III and George IV, as well as artifacts about both men. The collection includes the aquisitions of the British monarchy, including an essay on architecture by George III (which you can zoom in on and read); collections of paintings, prints, manuscripts, and sculptures; and images of the family.

Also included are a wide variety of images of George III and George IV, and other royal collectors. This site brims with information about the royal palaces, and is well worth the visit.

Princess Augusta, 1802, Sir William Beechey

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Royalty at Close Quarters

King George IV in his coronation robes.

If one of the key pleasures of metropolitan public life was the witnessing of royalty, nobility and greater gentry at close quarters, then the ultimate spectacle was obviously the royal court. After Whitehall burned down in 1697 the focus of court display was St. James’s Palace. Great ‘public’ festivities were held at court on the monarch’s birthday, and on the anniversary of the accession and coronation, while smaller drawing room assemblies were held every week in the Season…The royal family was also to be seen at prayer in the Chapel Royal – a conventional stop on tourist itineraries for over a century. Indeed, for all that the vigour and prestige of court society was in relative decline, and the fact that the pageantry of royal ceremonial varied from monarch to monarch, the ‘splendid appearance’ of royalty and nobility, was still greedily beheld by the genteel at every opportunity.

The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England, Amanda Vickery, P 228

St. James’s Palace

Coronation Procession of King George IV, 1821

For more about the Coronation of George IV, Georgian Index click here.

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It is an historical fact that the Prince Regent and Beau Brummel had a falling out. The actual events are not known for sure, but here are two knowledgeable sources that speculate as to the nature of the rift.In The Most Polished Gentleman, Cynthia Campbell writes, “There had been frequent minor quarrels in the past; one was in the Pavilion, when, as Captain Gronow recounts, Brummell had thrown his snuffbox onto the fire after the Bishop of Winchester had unthinkingly helped himself from it. The Regent, who, Gronow said, had a great reverence for Bishops, considered this action an unforgivable insult. They were never close after this, although they continued to meet.” p.133

In The Wits and Beaux of Society, Grace Wharton and Philip Wharton write,”A quarrel did take place between George the Prince and George the Less, but of its causes no living mortal is cognizant: we can only give the received versions. It appears, then, that dining with H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, Master Brummell asked him to ring the bell. Considering the intimacy between them, and that the Regent often sacrificed his dignity to his amusement, there was nothing extraordinary in this. But it is added that the Prince did ring the bell in question—unhappy bell to jar so between two such illustrious friends!—and when the servant came, ordered ‘Mr. Brummell’s carriage!’ Another version palms off the impertinence on a drunken midshipman, who, being related to the Comptroller of the Household, had been invited to dinner by the Regent. Another yet states that Brummell, being asked to ring the said bell, replied, ‘Your Royal Highness is close to it.’ No one knows the truth of the legend, any more than whether Homer was a man or a myth. It surely does not matter. The friends quarrelled, and perhaps it was time they should do so, for they had never improved one another’s morals; but it is only fair to the Beau to add that he always denied the whole affair, and that he himself gave as the cause of the quarrel his own sarcasms on the Prince’s increasing corpulency…”

Carlton House


Cynthia Campbell goes on the say, “There was a final encounter. While waiting for their carriages after the opera, in a great crush, they came close. An eyewitness reported that Brummell was about to bump into the Regent. “In order to stop Brummel, therefore, and prevent an actual collision, one of the Prince’s suite tapped him on the back, when he immediately turned sharply round, and saw there was not more than a foot between his nose and the Prince of Wales’. I watched with intense curiosity, and observed that his countenance did not change in the slightest degree nor did his head move; they looked straight into each other’s eyes, the Prince evidently amazed and annoyed. Brummell, however, did not quail or show the least embarrassment. He receded quite quietly, and backed slowly step by step till the crowd closed between them, never once taking his eyes off those of the Prince….

By 1816 Brummell had such heavy gambling losses that he had to leave England to escape arrest for debt. He lived for many years in Calais, and later in Caen. With sad irony, the old age of the prince of dandies, the paragon of cleanliness, was one of imbecility, decrepitude, and disease. “His habits were so loathsome that an attendant could hardly be found for him.” He died in a Caen asylum in 1840.

For a humorous doggerel recounting the rift, click on the link below:

Prince Regent According to Albert Igginbottom

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One of my favorite descriptions of the Regency dandy, and one that I contributed to Wikipedia, is the following in which author Venetia Murray quotes an excerpt from An Exquisite’s Dairy, from The Hermit in London, 1819:

Took four hours to dress; and then it rained; ordered the tilbury and my umbrella, and drove to the fives’ court; next to my tailors; put him off after two years tick; no bad fellow that Weston…broke three stay-laces and a buckle, tore the quarter of a pair of shoes, made so thin by O’Shaughnessy, in St. James’s Street, that they were light as brown paper; what a pity they were lined with pink satin, and were quite the go; put on a pair of Hoby’s; over-did it in perfuming my handkerchief, and had to recommence de novo; could not please myself in tying my cravat; lost three quarters of an hour by that, tore two pairs of kid gloves in putting them hastily on; was obliged to go gently to work with the third; lost another quarter of an hour by this; drove off furiously in my chariot but had to return for my splendid snuff-box, as I knew that I should eclipse the circle by it.

Beau Brummell, image from the British Library

Beau Brummell was the quintessential dandy of the era. Dandies are described in Prinny’s Set on the Georgian Index.

Find a short history of Brummell’s most famous sartorial contribution on the The White Satin Cravat.

Here is another quote about Brummell: “George Bryan “Beau” Brummell, then, must qualify as the most committed dandy of them all. Not only was he an enthusiastic, lifelong slave to his mirrors, he also polished them with champagne. His outrageously flamboyant, nascent rock’n’roll lifestyle, decadent splurging, shameless narcissism and meticulous attention to vanity and wardrobe has set the gold standard for dandies ever since.” (From All Mouths and Trousers)

Click on the following links to learn more about Mr. Brummell:

Beau Brummell: The Dandy

George Brian Brummell: Biography

The Sartorial Dandy

Lesson Two: The Gentleman’s Wardrobe

Upon My Word! Regency Fact and Figures

The Emergence of the Dandy

Dandyism: Andrew Solomon

Also on this blog: Male Bastions: The Clubs of St. James’s

Dandy Clubs for Research

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In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to manDown to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

–Samuel Taylor Coleridge

When I visited

Brighton Pavilion in Brighton, a charming seaside town in Sussex’s South Downs, I found it more beautiful and fantastic than the drawings, paintings, and photos I’d seen. The building, rebuilt between 1815-1822 by John Nash, the Prince Regent’s architect, is starkly white and stands in the center of town. Approaching it on foot, one is astounded by the intricacy of the architectural details, from the exterior domes, spires, and columns, to the interior with its gothic touches, fantasy rooms, and exquisite color combinations and patterns.

The Prince Regent was known for his excesses and expensive tastes, and his architect John Nash succeeded in fulfilling the Prince’s most outrageous wishes. The Gothic Revival was in full swing during the Regency Era, including the love for all things mid-Eastern, Chinoise, and Arabian. This Arabian Nights fantasy in stone has been well documented in picture books and on the web. I will merely point out a few spectacular rooms and some of the details that struck me as being particularly beautiful or unusual.

The kitchen, a cavernous room created to comfortably accommodate the Prince’s idea of an intimate dinner, is depicted on this web page. Click here and scroll down to the kitchen. You can also see a panoramic view of the kitchen on the page if you have a real player. It was not unusual for the Prince to throw a banquet with 36 courses, hence the kitchen was designed to accommodate the scores of cooks and enormous amounts of food stuffs and ingredients required to prepare these foods.

The long gallery is indeed long. The colors are riotous, and one feels as if one is traipsing through a fantasy land.

On the left is a picture of John Nash’s long gallery. On the right is a photograph of the long gallery today.

The banquet room also lingers in my memory, with its long, long banqueting table, the exquisite details in the ceiling, and the fantastic carved dragons peeping out from chandeliers disquised as palms.

Salon & Music Room

Images of Brighton in the 19th Century:
Evening Gathering at Brighton Pavilion in the Yellow Room

Brighton, a seaside resort

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