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?

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.

Lady Elizabeth Mary Murray

To date, I have written quite a few articles about Dido Elizabeth Belle, along with a few guest posts by Etienne Daly, but suddenly realised that I have largely ignored the co-sitter in the famous portrait, her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Mary Murray, so it’s time to rectify this, but of course it wouldn’t be complete without a snippet of new information about Dido, so do read on!

If we think today’s families are complicated, this might give you a clue that little has really changed since the 1700s.

Lady Elizabeth Mary’s father was David, the 7th Viscount Stormont, later to become the 2nd Earl of Mansfield. It was whilst he was ambassador to the Elector of Saxony that he met his first wife, Henrietta Frederica, the daughter of Henry Graf Bunau. By the time they met, Henrietta was a  widow, her husband Frederik de Berregaard, having died two years previously.

The couple married on 16 August 1759 and almost nine months to the day, on 18 May 1760, Lady Elizabeth Mary was born in Warsaw, Poland.  The couple went on to have another daughter, Henrietta, born 16 October 1763, but sadly, she died  in Vienna, whilst an infant, closely followed by Henrietta herself, who died on 16 March 1766 also in Vienna, aged just 29.

Henrietta was interred at the Protestant churchyard in Vienna, with minimal fuss and ceremony, but her heart was removed, embalmed and taken to Scone at the request of her husband.

Henrietta daughter of Henry Graf Bunau. Painted by Marcello Bacciarelli in Warsaw in 1759. Countrylife June 10, 2013
Henrietta daughter of Henry Graf Bunau. Painted by Marcello Bacciarelli in Warsaw in 1759. Country Life June 10, 2013

This left David with a daughter to raise alone, a situation which would be almost impossible, so he did what he thought was for the best, and brought Lady Elizabeth Mary  back to England in May 1766, and took her to Lord and Lady Mansfield at Kenwood House, who were able to give her a more stable upbringing, something that would have been extremely difficult given her father’s ambassadorial post.

Caenwood House 1786 European Magazine Volume 9 - January-June
Caenwood House 1786 European Magazine Volume 9 – January-June

On 6 May 1776 at St George’s Hanover Square, David married for a second time. His second wife being the Honourable Louisa Cathcart (1758-1843), thirty years his junior and just two years older than his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Mary who would have been just sixteen at this time.

They went on to have a further five children –David (1777-1840), George (1780-1848), Charles (1781-1859), Henry (1784-1860) and lastly, Caroline (1789-1867).

Their eldest son, David, Elizabeth Mary’s half-brother, would, in due course, become the 3rd Earl of Mansfield.

Mary Hamilton’s diary of Saturday 7th August 1784 provides a tiny glimpse into how others viewed Lady Elizabeth. It does have to be noted though that throughout Mary Hamilton’s whilst there are several mentions of Lady Elizabeth, she never mentions Dido.

As ye. Servant. told me Lord Stormont’s Daughter — was come from Ken-
Wood. I went in for a few Minutes. I found her in the library writing to relations to acquaint them of Lady Stormont being brought to bed — She told me she wrote ye. first letter to me yesterday to me — but Lord Stormont would not let her send it as he had written himself. Miss Murray told me she had seen Lady Stormont this Morning. & that she & ye. dear babe were charming well. She promised to give my love to Lord & Lady Stormont, she goes back to
Ken-Wood but is to come to Town every Morning. Miss Murray is Lord Stormont’s only child by his first wife who died when she was very young. She is near a year older than her mother in law — about 26 or 7. She lives with Lord Mansfield & was educated by the ye. late Lady Mansfield & two of Lord Stormont’s Sisters who also reside with Lord Mansfield. She is pleasing, good humour’d — well accomplished, & conducts herself with  that propriety which ought to distinguish a woman of fashion & good education.

In September 1796, David, 2nd Earl of Mansfield, died suddenly in September 1796, whilst at Brighton, from a stomach spasm.

When the 2nd Earl of Mansfield was buried at Westminster Abbey, he specifically requested that his heart should be removed, embalmed and take to Scone to be reunited with that of his first wife. There is a memorial to both the earl and Henrietta at Scone. I do wonder how his second wife must have felt about that!

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

From the Hampshire Chronicle 17 September 1796 account it would appear that the 2nd Earl’s funeral didn’t go quite as planned. His remains were brought from Brighton where he died, to his residence in Portland Place and from there to Westminster Abbey with all the pomp and ceremony you would expect for such an eminent person.

Crowds of people gathered jostling to get a better view of the proceedings outside the abbey. The hearse door was opened, two of the bearers drew out the coffin, and had got it on their shoulders, but through the indecency of the multitude who pressed forward to teat off the ornaments, the horses took fright, and ran off before the other men were ready, consequently the corpse fell to the ground, and the coffin was shattered so much so that the foot part bulged, and a number of the nails and ornaments were forced out.

The concussion must have broken the leaden receptacle, as a large amount of water poured from it. It was all repaired as quickly as possible and his body was interred in the family vault. The former lord and his lady were the only two, beside his Lordship, who were buried in the tomb contiguous to the Earl of Chatham’s monument, on the north-west side of the chancel.

Louisa survived her husband by 47 years and didn’t waste much time in marrying again. On 19 October 1797, her second husband became Robert Fulke Greville (1751-1824), the son of Francis Greville, 1st Earl of Warwick. Robert was known to have been a favourite at court, initially an equerry to King George III, later becoming Groom of the Bedchamber.

Abbott, Lemuel Francis; The Honourable Robert Fulke Greville (1751-1797); National Trust, Calke Abbey

Louisa and Robert went on to have a further three children – Lady Georgiana (1798-1871), Lady Louisa (1800-1883) and finally, the Honourable Robert (1800-1867).

Returning to Lady Elizabeth Mary, she married into another long-established family, the Finch-Hattons. On 15 December 1785, at Lord Mansfield’s town house she married George Finch-Hatton by special licence, her fortune upon marriage was said to be £17,000 – £10,000 from Lord Mansfield plus £7,000 from her father (about 1.5 million pounds in today’s money).

Sussex Advertiser,  26 December 1785

Lady Elizabeth Murray marriage entry in parish register of St Gile's in the Fields, Holborn, confirming that they married in the home of Lord Mansfield

Lady Elizabeth Murray marriage entry in parish register of St Gile’s in the Fields, Holborn, confirming that they married at the home of Lord MansfieldFollowing the service performed by the Archbishop of York, the couple set off for celebrations at Kenwood House. There is no indication as to whether Dido Elizabeth Belle would have attended the wedding itself, but she would almost certainly have been present for the celebrations at Kenwood.

Richardson the elder, Jonathan; Daniel Finch, 2nd Earl of Nottingham and 7th Earl of Winchilsea; National Portrait Gallery, London

Whether this marriage was a love match or arguably, more about ‘keeping it in the family’ who knows, as Lady Elizabeth’s husband George, was the son of Edward Finch-Hatton, who was the son of Daniel Finch, 2nd Earl of Nottingham and 7th Earl of Winchilsea. Daniel’s youngest daughter was, co-incidentally, also the father of Elizabeth Finch, wife of Lord Mansfield.

Most places seem to show that Elizabeth Mary and George had just three children, so let’s set this record straight – they had seven.

Their first child was a daughter, Louisa, who was born 12 November 1786. Louisa married the Honourable Charles Hope (1768-1828), the son of John Hope, 2nd Earl of Hopetoun (1704-1781) and his third wife, Lady Elizabeth Leslie. The couple married on 30 April 1807 at the church at St. Marylebone, although their marriage was also registered at Aberlady, Scotland.

27 October 1788 at Gretton, Northamptonshire, their second child, Anna Maria was born. Anna Maria never married and died on 2 December 1837 and was buried a few days later at All Saints, Leamington Priors, Warwickshire.

Most records seem to have written Anna Maria out of history, and yet she was mentioned by the author Jane Austen in somewhat less than flattering terms, in a letter to her sister Cassandra on 6 November 1813:

Lady Eliz. Hatton and Annamaria called here this morning. Yes, they called; but I do not think I can say anything more about them. They came, and they sat, and they went.

It would be two years after the birth of Anna Maria, that their third child was born, Elizabeth Henrietta, who was born on 19 January 1790. Elizabeth never married and died at the age of 30, in 1820. Elizabeth helpfully left a will, in which she left bequests for all her siblings.

George Finch Hatton 10th Earl. National Portrait Gallery
George Finch Hatton 10th Earl. National Portrait Gallery

Their fourth child was their son and heir, George, who was born on 19 May 1791. He attended Westminster school, then Cambridge university. He then went on to have a military career, before becoming a politician and became well known for a duel with the then Prime Minister, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

The field of Battersea. Duke of Wellington as a lobster. British Museum
The field of Battersea. Duke of Wellington as a lobster. British Museum

George married three times, his first wife being Georgiana Charlotte Graham (1791-1835), his second wife being Emily Georgiana Bagot, who died in 1848 and finally Fanny Margaretta Rice, who outlived George who died in 1858. George and his first two wives died at Haverholme Priory, near Sleaford, Lincolnshire.

Haverholme Priory in an 1826 sketch in The Gentleman's Magazine
Haverholme Priory in an 1826 sketch in The Gentleman’s Magazine, now a ruin

Today, in the neighbouring village of Ewerby, is a village pub named after the family, The Finch Hatton Arms, which was apparently used by the family as a hunting lodge.

Their fifth child and second son was Edward Frederick, who was baptised at Eastwell, Kent on 16 January 1793. Edward Frederick’s life was cut short, when he died at the age of just 20, and was buried 8 September 1813 at Eastwell. No cause of death was provided for Frederick, but the Kentish Gazette, 7 September 1813, reported that he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and was much lamented by his family and friends.

Their sixth child and third son was Daniel Heneage, who was born at the family home, Eastwell, Kent on 5 May 1795. Daniel went into the church and eventually married on 15 December 1825 at St George’s, Hanover Square and kept his marriage ‘in the family’ so to speak. As noted earlier, Daniel’s maternal step grandmother was Louisa, 2nd Lady Mansfield. On the death of Lady Elizabeth’s father, she married again. Her second husband being Robert Fulke Greville. Together they had three children. Daniel Heneage married the middle child, Lady Louisa Greville. Daniel died in 1866 at Weldon, Northamptonshire.

Emily was their seventh and youngest child and, who, like several of the others, appears to have been all but written out of history. Emily was born 12 Oct 1797 and baptised at Eastwell. In 1826, she married a vicar, Alfred Charnley Lawrence, who was the rector of Sandhurst, Kent.  The couple had three children and Emily died in 1868.

Lady Elizabeth Finch Hatton calling card British Museum
Lady Elizabeth Finch Hatton’s calling card British Museum

From the newspapers of the day you get the impression that Elizabeth Mary was something of a social butterfly, frequently paying visits to people within in her social circle, being seen in all the ‘right places’, attending and hosting balls, one of which that warrants mention, held for her three younger daughters:

Saint James Chronicle 10 May 1817

Lady Finch Hatton’s Ball – this elegant Lady opened Mansfield House, in Portland Place, on Thursday evening, with a ball and supper. It was a juvenile party, for the express purpose of introducing the three accomplished Misses Hatton into the fashionable world.

We must also remember that when Lady Anne Murray, Lady Elizabeth’s paternal aunt, died on 3 July 1817 at her Brighton home, leaving many bequests to faithful servants, she left the bulk of her estate to Lady Elizabeth Mary’s husband, George, along with bequests for all of their children.

Samuel Hieronymus Grimm’s 1787 depiction of Marlborough House, Brighton. Illustration: courtesy of the British Library. Previously owned, until his death by W G Hamilton MP (1729-1796)
Samuel Hieronymus Grimm’s 1787 depiction of Marlborough House, Brighton. Illustration: courtesy of the British Library. Previously owned, until his death by W G Hamilton MP (1729-1796) Shortly after it was purchased by Lady Anne Murray.

Lady Anne also left £50 to each of Dido Elizabeth’s 3 boys. This implies that in late 1804, when she wrote her will, that Dido’s son John, believed to have died in infancy was in fact still alive at that time. Lady Anne must have kept in touch with Dido’s family, as she knew Dido had died, but what became of her son John remains unsolved.

A View of the Earl of Radnor's House at Twickenham. Yale Center for British Art
A View of the Earl of Radnor’s House at Twickenham. Yale Center for British Art

Lady Anne’s sister, Lady Margery, who had purchased Radnor House, Twickenham after the death of Lord Mansfield, died in 1799, was also clearly very fond of Dido as she too left her £100 in her will.

To the late Mrs Daviniere's three boys fifty pounds each
Click to enlarge. ‘To the late Mrs Daviniere’s three boys fifty pounds each’

George Finch Hatton died in 1823 and Lady Elizabeth Mary, just two years later in Edinburgh.

Old Parish Registers Deaths 685/1 1000 17 Edinburgh
Old Parish Registers Deaths 685/1 1000 17 Edinburgh

She left a very detailed will, ensuring that all her surviving children were well provided for. In her will, there is a lovely mention of her late mother, Henrietta when she specifically left Anna Maria a miniature portrait of her, a memory of her mother kept safe for almost 60 years.

Extract from Elizabeth's will re miniature of her mother for Anna Maria. Click to enlarge
Extract from Elizabeth’s will re miniature of her mother for Anna Maria. Click to enlarge

One final snippet of information, Lady Elizabeth Mary’s great grandson, Denys Finch Hatton (1887-1931) the son of Henry Stormont Finch-Hatton, 13th Earl of Winchilsea and 8th Earl of Nottingham (1852 – 1927), had a relationship with Karen Blixen, who wrote her autobiography – Out of Africa. The film of the same name was loosely based on her book.

As well

Sources

Paul. Sir James Balfour. The Scots peerage; founded on Wood’s edition of Sir Robert Douglas’s peerage of Scotland; containing an historical and genealogical account of the nobility of that kingdom. Volume 8. Page 208-209

Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Series PROB 11; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1280

The Scots Magazine 7 November 1763

Caledonian Mercury 14 April 1766

Oxford Journal 31 May 1766

Dublin Evening Post – Tuesday 27 December 1785

Hereford Journal – Thursday 22 December 1785

Bolton Chronicle 9 December 1837

Edinburgh Sheriff Court Inventories SC70/1/33

Feltham, John. A Guide to all the watering and sea bathing places 1813. p87

Art Detectives: Miss Mary Hatton by George Romney

I came across this portrait by George Romney, in the Frick Collection purely by chance, and wanted to know more about who the sitter was, so disappeared down one of my proverbial rabbit holes in search of more information about her.

Miss Mary Finch Hatton by George Romney, 1788.
Miss Mary Finch Hatton by George Romney, 1788. The Frick Collection

The first port of call was the Frick itself, who were extremely helpful and sent us all the information they had about the painting. So, exactly who was this enigmatic woman?

I knew that  Dido Elizabeth Belle’s cousin Lady Elizabeth Mary Murray had married into the Finch-Hatton family, but hadn’t come across this lady within the family, which slightly surprised us, as she would have been somewhere around the same sort of age as both Dido and Elizabeth, perhaps a little older, but not much.

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany. Now attributed to David Martin
Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany. Now attributed to David Martin

Some sources had suggested that the portrait was possibly Lady Elizabeth Murray, but somehow that didn’t seem to fit, I couldn’t see a likeness at all.  There was another suggestion that she was a  different Lady Mary Hatton, the daughter of Daniel Finch-Hatton, 7th Earl of Winchilsea, but it couldn’t possibly be her, as she died in 1761 and the portrait wasn’t painting until 1788, also her appearance confirmed that it had to post-date 1761.

Eventually, I came across a book, Pictures in the Collection of Henry Clay Frick which contained the same portrait and confirmed that she was:

Miss Mary Hatton, the daughter of Sir John Finch-Hatton of Longstanton Hall, Cambridgeshire and wife of Hale Wortham Esq.

Further information from Romney‘s own ledger tells us the number of sittings it took to complete the painting, where Mary was living at the time and how much was paid.

It seems quite feasible that this was a pre-wedding painting, as Mary married a gentleman named Hale Wortham at St Marylebone, on 4th December 1788, the very year it was painted or perhaps her mother wanted a painting of her daughter as a keepsake.

St Marylebone church, by James Miller. YCBA
St Marylebone church, by James Miller. YCBA

However, with more research, I discovered that even this information wasn’t quite accurate, she was not the daughter of Sir John Finch-Hatton, but his sister and that she was the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Hatton, 8th Baron of Longstanton, Cambridgeshire (1728-1787).

The marriage allegation for Harriot Askham and Sir Thomas Hatton
The marriage allegation for Harriott Askham and Sir Thomas Hatton

Sir Thomas and his wife Harriott Dingley (daughter of Dingley Askham Esq), married 22 April 1752 and had 8 children – Mary, in the portrait, was the eldest and born 4 October 1754 at Conington, Cambridgeshire.

Her siblings were Harriet (1755); Frances (1757); John (1758) later to become the 9th Baronet; Elizabeth Ann (1759); Susanna (1761); Anne (1763) and the youngest, Thomas Dingley Hatton (1771) who became the 10th and final Baronet.  When Sir Thomas died in 1788 he helpfully named all his children individually in his will, so I am were now certain I have the correct person.

An entry in the Dictionary of National Biography suggests that before Mr Wortham, Mary’s hand in marriage had been sought by Dr Richard Farmer of Emanuel College, Cambridge.

At this time he [Farmer] formed an intimacy with Sir Thomas Hatton, bart., of Long Stanton, Cambridgeshire, and for some time aspired to the hand of his eldest daughter. The marriage was postponed on account of Farmer’s want of means, and when after many years this objection was removed, he found on mature reflection that his habits of life were too deeply rooted to be changed with any chance of perfect happiness to either party. Such is George Dyer’s version of the story; but Cole says: ‘Dr. Coleman told me, 3 May 1782, that he had it from sufficient authority, that Sir Thomas Hatton had refused his eldest daughter to Dr. Farmer, but upon what foundation he knew not. The lady is 27 or 28, and Dr. Farmer about 47 or 48. It will probably be a great mortification to both, as to every one it seemed that their regard for each other was reciprocal. Dr. Farmer’s preferment is equal to 800l. per annum; and I guess the lady’s fortune, there being six daughters and two sons, not very great’

Richard Farmer by George Romney. Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge
Richard Farmer by George Romney. Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge

I still hadn’t worked out where the Finch-Hatton mistake had come from in her name, she was simply Mary Hatton, not Finch-Hatton. Even at her death, there was no reference to the Finch part of her surname. According to the Oxford Journal 1st November 1828 and the London Evening Standard, 21st October 1828:

Mary, relict of the late Colonel Wortham and eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Hatton, Baronet of LongStanton, died 17th October, aged 74.

So I moved on the checking her will, which was proven on 20 November 1828. Mary left a number of bequests to each of her living sisters, Anne, Elizabeth Ann, and Susanna, all just named as Hatton, not a ‘Finch-Hatton‘ in sight. She also left £200 (which is around £13k in today’s money) to Addenbrookes hospital.

Finally, this led me to the will of one of her siblings, Anne who died in 1842 and in her will she left part of the family estate to a relative – Rev Daniel Heneage Finch-Hatton, the son of Lady Elizabeth Murray, so it seems likely that is where the erroneous addition to Mary’s surname came from, but quite what their connection was to the Finch-Hatton’s we still haven’t managed to confirm, so, more work required!

Sources and Notes:

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 18: Farmer, Richard by Thompson Cooper

A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies of England, Ireland and Scotland by John Burke and Bernard Burke, 1841

Pictures in the Collection of Henry Clay Frick: at One East Seventieth Street, New York, 1910

Birth/baptism of Mary and her siblings – Familysearch online

The will of Sir Thomas Hatton (1788) – The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1161

The will of Mary Wortham nee Finch (1828) –  The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1748

The will  of Anne Finch (1832) – The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1799

Hale Wortham died February 19th, 1828 (Cambridge Chronicle and Journal 29 February 1828)

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.

The 18th Century fashion for Turbans

It’s been a while since we wrote a fashion post, so to make up for that we’re going to take a look at a piece of headgear – the turban, a piece of headwear that according to Vogue is making a comeback for this Spring and Summer.

We were inspired to write this post having watched Amber Butchart’s fascinating programme on BBC4, ‘A Stitch In Time’, during which she looked at the outfit worn by Miss Dido Elizabeth Belle. Nina Mikhaila, historical costumier and her team recreated the outfit including the turban, which proved to be quite a challenge, trying to find the correct fabric and to recreate the style itself.

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.
Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.

Amber speculated that the turban was perhaps worn as part of a fancy-dress costume and made Dido appear even more exotic; whilst in part she is correct, there is something a little more significant about the origin of Dido’s turban which Amber  wasn’t aware of at the time making the programme (she does now, however, but we can’t spill the beans on that one yet, so it will be a story for another time!). To find out more see our follow up blog – Art Detectives: a new perspective on the portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle

Dido Elizabeth Belle

 

The portrait of Dido is so unusual in so much as that Dido was not a servant but the daughter of Sir John Lindsay. The painting depicts her with her cousin Miss Elizabeth Murray was reputed to have been painted by Zoffany c.1778. Whilst the turban had been worn by men in the UK during the earlier parts of the eighteenth-century, along with oriental-inspired banyans or wrapping gowns, it was not yet a common sight as a fashion accessory for women. There were, as always, a few exceptions, with the likes of Margaret Kemble Gage, sporting a turban in this portrait by John Singleton Copley c.1771, but examples like this were unusual.

Mrs Thomas Gage by John Singleton Copley, 1771.
Mrs Thomas Gage by John Singleton Copley, 1771. Timken Museum of Art, San Diego.

Turbans didn’t take centre stage until towards the end of the century as wigs and ‘high hair’ had been the predominant fashion statement – a turban plonked on top of one of those wigs wouldn’t really have worked!

A lady in a fine room dressed in macaroni style with high hair standing in profile to left looks directly out with her fan held open. January or February 1773.
A lady in a fine room dressed in macaroni style with high hair standing in profile to left looks directly out with her fan held open. January or February 1773. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The turban presented an image of Turkey and the exotic east; it was something worn at a fancy-dress ball rather than everyday wear, as you can see from this extract in the Stamford Mercury of 1773 which was attended by one of Lord Mansfield’s nieces.

Lord Chief Baron’s daughters, Miss Nancy a Sultana, with a turban quite brilliant with a profusion of diamonds and Miss Betsey, a country girl selling eggs and the other two also in pretty attire. Hon. Miss Kitty MacKenzie, sister to the Earl of Seaforth, a milkmaid; Miss Fletcher, a Sultana; Miss Lindsay, niece to Lord Mansfield, a shepherdess.

Portrait of a woman, traditionally identified as Lady Hervey by Angelica Kauffmann c1770. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
Portrait of a woman, traditionally identified as Lady Hervey by Angelica Kauffmann c1770. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

Just a few years later, however, an advert in the Ipswich Journal September 1778, implied that the turban was the latest fashion statement when attending a ball and was linked to the artist, Johann Zoffany.

Loiacon, Ladies Hair Dresser, begs leave to acquaint his customers and those ladies that will honour him with their commands, that he has with him an assortment of powders and pomatums, at 15 shillings each, French powder at 1 shilling. During the fair, he intends to dress ladies’ hair on a ball day, at 2 shilling and 6 pence.  The Zoffany with Rubin, as the newest fashion, like a turban (he likewise differs various ways in dress or undress) which appear neater than any cap whatever.

We move on to January 1787 when the turban was very much the headgear to be seen wearing for balls as we found at this account.

The ball on Thursday night, in honour of her Majesty’s birthday, fell nothing short of general expectation. The number and brilliancy of the company attending having never been equalled in this country upon any similar occasion. The Ladies were dressed with great neatness and elegance. Many of the Ladies of fashion in different coloured satins, ornamented with festoons of flowers, crepe, foil etc. A very prevailing headdress was the turban cap, decorated with feathers, cut steel, pearls and diamonds.

Over in Paris by 1790, the turban was all the rage:

The caterers of fashion in Paris, have availed themselves of the late grand spectacle at the Champs de Mars by introducing a new head-dress for the ladies, called the ‘Confederation Turban’ and the volatile beaux of fashion have just introduced the national colours in their striped silk stockings, which are termed the ‘National Gaitars’.

Lady Henrietta Cavendish-Bentinck (1737-1827), Countess of Stamford by George Romney
Lady Henrietta Cavendish-Bentinck (1737-1827), Countess of Stamford by George Romney; National Trust, Dunham Massey.

In 1795 newspapers offered helpful, detailed guides as to the correct items of fashion to be worn and for what occasion, just so that you didn’t get it wrong.

An Evening Dress

The hair dressed in light curls and ringlets, Turban of light blue crepe; bandeau of gold foil, set with diamonds and pearls; the hair turned up, mixed with the turban, and the ends returned in ringlets. Jacket and petticoat, of muslin; four plaits across the petticoat; the jacket turned on the back with lace; Sash of blue satin ribband; three strings of pearls round the neck; pearly ear-rings; blue satin shoes; white gloves; Swandown muff.

Mrs Mary Chatfield by John Opie
Mrs Mary Chatfield by John Opie; Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries

At the turn of the century, we find that turbans are no longer the domain of evening dress but are now entering everyday wear from around 1802 onwards.

We finish with this self-portrait of the artist Marie-Elizabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun who also followed the turban fashion as we see in this self-portrait of 1800.

Self portrait of Marie-Elizabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1800. Courtesy of the State Hermitage Museum
Self-portrait of Marie-Elizabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1800. Courtesy of the State Hermitage Museum

To discover more, we recommend the book by Paula Byrne, Belle: The True Story of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

If stories about women whose lives didn’t conform to the norm of the day interest you, then you might enjoy two of our biographies:  An Infamous Mistress and A Georgian Heroine.