The Carlton House Ball of March 1784

I have previously written about Georgian parties and let’s jut say, that no-one hosted more impressive parties than the ‘King of Bling’ himself, Prince George, later George IV.

Carlton House Plan in March 1784. RCT

During 1783 and early 1784 his London home, Carlton House was extensively renovated with a grand ball being held early March 1784. Looking at the royal accounts, just to give you an idea, he spent the equivalent of £123,000 on curtains alone!

The Gardens of Carlton House with Neapolitan Ballad Singers 1784. William Henry Bunbury. 10 May 1785. Gov’t Art Collection

A lengthy account by the Hampshire Chronicle 22 March 1784 reported that:

The elegant suite of apartments lately fitted up at Carlton House, were opened for the reception of a select party of the friends of the Prince of Wales.

The ball presented the most pleasing coup d’oeil of everything that was magnificent and delightful. The dresses of the ladies, with the charms of their persons, the sprightliness of the dances, and the excellence of the music, formed altogether a scene that was perfectly brilliant and enchanting. Among the beauties particularly distinguished on this occasion were the Misses Ingrams and Talbots, with Lady Beauchamp and sister, and many others of the first note for person and figure. The five above mentioned ladies all appeared in one uniform Spanish dress, composed on white crepe and gold, elegantly set off with precious tones.

The rooms were illuminated in the finest taste, and the supper was the most exquisite of whatever could be procured in the present season.

The Rebuilding of Carlton House c1783 RCT

The account continues:

The ballroom exhibits a pleasing contrast to the state room, and is, from the style in which it is laid out, admitted to be as nouvelle as it is beautiful. The panels are of a beautiful white, framed with a light moulding, which appears to be entwined with foliage and flowers after nature. On each side of the room are placed give large looking glasses, the framing of which is light and well in character for a ball room. A very magnificent glass is placed in one end of the room, of such dimensions, that it reflects almost every object in the room. On the other end is an orchestra, elevated about eleven feet from the ground. A painted railing, of blue upon a most beautiful crimson damask drapery appears, hung in a well-disposed style, and blended with festoons of artificial roses and leaves, that give the most beautiful relief. Plumes of artificial feathers, fixed in small coronets, are placed in proper distances around the room.

With great thanks to one of my lovely readers, I now know from the diary of Mary Hamilton more about the event, along with newspapers reports. Mary Hamilton described her preparations for the ball.

The ball commenced about 10pm, so Mary, along with some of the other ladies began to get themselves ready for the ball about 5pm with the help of a hairdressers and dresser, everything had to look ‘just so’ as this was an extremely important event  – after all, it was being hosted by the Prince, so only new dresses would suffice.

Mary explained that a little after 10pm Lady Stormont (the second wife of Lord Stormont, later to become 2nd Lord Mansfield) and her step daughter, Lady Elizabeth Mary Murray, came to collect her. Sadly, there was no mention in her correspondence that Dido Elizabeth Belle was with them, so we have to assume with no evidence to the contrary, that Dido was not  at this social gathering, otherwise, I feel sure she would have been specifically named, just as Lady Elizabeth was.

Mary described meeting the prince when they reached the second room and said of him:

his R. H was very gracious & expressed great pleasure in seeing me — had two long conversations with him

Later in the evening, the prince asked Lady Stormont to dance, but she had to decline as she was pregnant with their 4th child, Henry, who was born early August 1784.

Mary Hamilton also confirmed something I had read in the press, that there were between 500 and 600 people at the event, so it wasn’t exactly what most of us would think of as a small gathering.

Mary described not taking part in the dancing as the ballroom was too full, so instead she walked from room to room to chat with people. She had planned to dine under the protection of Lady Finch, but the prince sent for her to dine at his table. Later, the prince joined the others in the ballroom and according to Mary ‘he dances very finely. There were 4 or 5 minuets danced, but without ceremony or precision as to rank.’ Mary confirmed that she finally ate at 2.30am in one of the lower rooms, describing everything as handsome, proper and well attended. The pages were all dressed in uniform, which was a very dark coloured cloath, trimmed handsomely with gold lace, with the footmen who waited at the tables dressed in Royal livery.

Mary left the ball at quarter to four in the morning, but by all accounts, it went on until about 9am. That was quite some party, wasn’t it?

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4 thoughts on “The Carlton House Ball of March 1784

  1. Julia Abel Smith

    Thank you so much, Sarah. Just last night I read an account of the Ball in Saul David’s 1998 biography of the Prince of Wales: ‘Prince of Pleasure’, p. 52. and learnt that CH was designed by Lord Burlington and the gardens, extending as far as Marlborough House, by William Kent. Your post was fascinating and I was particularly pleased to see the CH floor-plan. Very best wishes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sarah Murden

      I think CH had several reincarnations from the little I have read about it, but it was lovely to find the floor plans on the RCT website 🙂

      Like

    1. Sarah Murden

      Thanks Penny. From the research I’ve done, it definitely appears that balls began at what we would perhaps describe as ‘late evening’ and often go on into early morning, say 4/5am. Clearly they were night owls – I’d never have survived that 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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