As many of you will be aware we are busily writing the biography of the noted 18th century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott, for a few months mistress of ‘Prinny,’ who was later to become King George IV. Her daughter Georgiana was said to be the Prince’s progeny.
So far much of our work has been researching her life, leaving little time to write any blogs about her. We’re really excited by this research which will shed new light on Grace but in the meantime we felt that it really was about time we began to share something about her with our readers. Whilst we can’t give away too much yet, there are one or two things we can release and so we give you the Bellona Cap or Helmet, as invented by Grace herself which was the height of fashion and taste during the spring of 1786 in Paris.
Firstly a description of the cap from The General Evening Post of the 30th March 1786, and it’s attribution to Grace’s invention:
Bellona’s helmet is the fashionable ornament at present in Paris for the mode comme il faut. The vizor is of tiger spotted sattin, bordered with a narrow black ribbon, the cawl, very high and puffed, of blue sattin, tied round with a broad nakara-coloured ribbon, edged with black. This ribbon forms a large bow before, and another behind, and joins two wide lappets of Italian gauze, descending below the waist. Five feathers, two of which are green, two nakara, and one black, form the crest of this beautiful helmet: The hair flowing behind, and two large buckles falling on the bosom, complete the tout ensemble. The honour of this invention is intirely due to our handsome countrywoman Mrs. E____, still the favourite of the D. of O.
The Whitehall Evening Post, reporting a couple of days later also made mention of Grace.
Mademoiselle E. the Duke of O.’s mistress, is at present the Perdita of Paris. Her new invented Bellona Cap is the reigning ton there . . .
And now, the cap itself, from Cabinet des Modes, 15th March 1786. As you can see it completely matches the description above, right down to the black edged nakara (bright poppy red) ribbons.
In case you wondered, this is not an image of Grace sporting the hat, sadly! We do know from archive records that not only was Grace an innovator of fashion but that she was also the Imelda Marcos of hats, having purchased in the region of 100 hats and bonnets in a wide variety of colours, styles and fabrics, but predominantly made from silk and taffeta, over a two year period whilst in France, costing in total around 2,000 Francs!
Bellona was a Roman goddess of war, always depicted wearing the military helmet which inspired this cap. In ancient Rome senate meetings were held in the Temple of Bellona (Templum Bellonæ) where the fetiales (priestly advisers) held ceremonies regarding war, peace and foreign treaties which raises the very interesting possibility that Grace was presenting herself as such an adviser to her lover, the Duke of Orléans, in pre-revolutionary Paris?
For more information about hats from the era, you might enjoy our blog ‘Hideous Hats’.