The New Female Coterie

We are delighted to welcome the ‘Georgian Gentleman’, aka Mike Rendell,  who like us, writes a blog about all things Georgian.  Mike’s book In bed with the Georgians: Sex Scandal & Satire in the 18th Century has just been published by Pen and Sword Books and is available at a discounted price direct from the publisher.

in-bed-etc

We will now hand you over to Mike to tell you more about the female coterie:

Caroline, Countess of Harrington
Caroline, Countess of Harrington

One of the things I enjoyed researching for my book “In Bed with the Georgians – Sex Scandal and Satire”  concerned a gathering of ‘fallen women’ known as The New Female Coterie. It was an informal gathering of women who were ostracised by polite society because they had been caught out. In other words they had all committed adultery and suffered public humiliation. The group was headed by Caroline, Countess of Harrington, a woman of great notoriety on account of her insatiable appetite and sexual proclivities. Members would meet for a drink and a gossip at a high-end London brothel run by Sarah Prendergast. This gave members an opportunity to take their pick of any male customers they fancied and to exchange news and views with other ‘fallen women’. So, let’s have a look at some of the other members. One was The Honourable Catherine Newton.

She had figured in a particularly infamous divorce case – a case where the lurid details of her repeated infidelities left little to the imagination. The details were published in 1782 as “The Trial of the Hon. Mrs. Catherine Newton, Wife of John Newton… Upon a Libel and Allegations, Charging her with the Crime of Adultery”.

She was 16 at the time of her marriage to the 58 year-old John Newton, and the trial records show a history of her cavorting nearly-naked with a succession of stable lads, house servants and so on. Servants being servants, there were many willing to testify to the occasions when hands were seen placed on naked thighs, or that inappropriate assistance had been given when Catherine was being helped to mount her horse. Housemaids complained of having to re-make the beds several times each day, and there was much evidence of adjoining rooms not being locked, and of undergarments being found in inappropriate places…  A young lad called Master Baggs appeared on the scene and Catherine’s attentions to him were so obvious that even her old goat of a husband noticed. He kicked her out and following her very public divorce she drifted to London and became part of the circle of disgraced ladies who sought support from each other’s company.

Penelope Viscountess Ligonier by Thomas Gainsborough

Another club member was Penelope Viscountess Ligonier. Like many women born into aristocracy, Penelope was still a teenager when she got married. Lord Edward Ligonier was the lucky guy. At 26 he was ten years older than his bride, and in celebration of the marriage, Lord Ligonier asked the artist Thomas Gainsborough to paint their portraits. The fact that he chose to have his portrait taken alongside his favourite horse shows his priorities!

Edward was an army-man through and through, and whereas he probably knew quite a lot about horses and how to look after them, that was more than could be said about the way he treated his young wife. Still, the couple put up the charade of the typical married aristocrats. They entertained many of their foreign friends at their home, Cobham Park. One of their visitors was Count Vittorio Alfieri, an Italian dramatist.

Edward, 2nd Viscount Ligonier by Thomas Gainsborough

Attractive, witty and hungry for the love she wasn’t getting from her husband, Penelope embarked on a very public affair with the Count. When the cuckolded husband found out about the adultery he challenged the Italian count to a duel, which took place in Green Park in London in May 1771. Edward, who was a soldier, managed to wound Alfieri but not kill him. He then applied to Parliament for a Private Bill of Divorce, which meant that all the lurid details of his wife’s adultery came out into the open. She may have hoped that the Italian would stand by her and offer marriage, but as he knew full well that she had been sharing her affections with several of the household servants, he declined.

Penelope faced financial ruin and social ostracism, so meeting up with women of her same social class who were in the same predicament as herself was probably a great comfort, as well as providing her with company and an extra income as  “guest of honour” at the Prendergast brothel.

There is even a story that at one particular masquerade where everyone wore disguises she inadvertently ended up making love to her former husband. He was not aware of the mistake until he found that she had given him a dose of what was known as the “Neapolitan Complaint.”

What scandalised society was that when Penelope wrote about the affair with her Italian lover she made it clear that she did not regret it for a second, and that everything was a price worth paying for escaping from a loveless marriage. That to the Georgians, was a truly shocking confession.

henrietta-lady-grosvenor-by-thomas-gainsborough-in-the-public-domain
Henrietta, Lady Grosvenor by Thomas Gainsborough

Another member of the coterie was the beautiful Henrietta, wife of the First Baron Grosvenor.

Despite the fourteen year age difference, she had married the man within a month of their first meeting, presumably unaware of his appetite for gaming and whoring. He is generally thought to have lost some £250,000 on the horses and at the gaming tables – a vast sum of money even for the gambling-mad eighteenth century. More to the point, he was one of the most debauched characters of the time, spending his time with a constant succession of whores. This left Henrietta with the view that what was sauce for the gander was sauce for the goose, and she embarked on an affair with George III’s brother, Henry, Duke of Cumberland.

Henry, Duke of Cumberland

In the court case which followed, Henrietta had tried to play down the significance of her affair by throwing as much dirt as possible at her husband, producing witness after witness from a variety of brothels across town. It worked in so far as it enthralled the readership of the newspapers which reported every word of the trial, but failed in the sense that her husband was awarded £10,000 in damages – a sum met by King George III, and hence ultimately by the British taxpayer.

The mud-slinging produced strong moral outrage at Henrietta’s conduct (presumably the conduct of her lover and her husband was no worse that was to have been expected). She became the object of innumerable bawdy songs and faced hostility in the press. The legal separation from her husband left Henrietta with a paltry annual allowance of £1200, and it seems that she may well have supplemented her income by ‘a spot of freelance work’ at Sarah Prendergast’s seraglio.

While her husband was alive, and was unable to divorce her because of his own adultery, she remained in social limbo until his death in 1802. Within a month his widow had become married to George Porter, Sixth Baron de Hochepied, and lived quietly and out of the public eye until her death in 1828.

For anyone wanting to know more about the New Female Coterie I thoroughly recommend Hallie Rubenhold’s book  The Scandalous Lady W (Lady Worsley’s Whim).

Bums, Tums and Downy Calves

No readers, we have not ‘lost the plot’ nor has this become a blog about exercise. We have been looking at the ways 18th-century people used enhancements to improve their looks.

The Bum Shop, 1785 Lewis Walpole Library

FALSE RUMPS

Until the mid 1770s skirts were made to appear full by the use of hoops, however, from 1776 onward it would appear from this somewhat amusing article below from Town and Country magazine (January 1776) that the fashion changed courtesy of Henrietta Vernon, Lady Grosvenor and her use of ‘cork rumps’, otherwise referred to as ‘Chloe’s Cushion’ .

Sir,

The town has been for some time entertained with various accounts of cork rumps; a friend of mine, who lives at some distance from the capital, and who does not believe all that he reads in a news-paper, notwithstanding he is not a cockney, seems to entertain his doubts concerning the real existence of these cork, rumps; I have, therefore, in order to satisfy him, taken great pains to enquire into the existence or non-existence of these cork rumps. In the course of these researches I have traced their origin to lady Gro—nor [Lady Grosvenor], who having had her fortune told a short time before the regatta, was advised to be very careful of water, as the conjurer foresaw danger in the wind; but her ladyship not being able to resist the temptation of so fashionable an amusement, consulted some members of the society for recovering drowned persons.  She received little or no satisfaction from them, as they acknowledged they could be of no service to her till she was actually drowned, and not being willing to try the experiment upon whole terms, she had some thoughts of trying a cork jacket but reflecting upon the uncouth figure she would make in such a garb, when conquest was her principal view, her imagination was called into play, and after some days cogitation she hit upon the cork rump. 

She wore it upon this occasion, and was a spectator of the regatta, without being under the least apprehension from the prediction of the conjuror. Every one complimented her ladyship upon the elegant appearance she made, the slope of the back, and the striking protuberance beneath, were objects of every one’s wonder and admiration. Instead, she found the cork rump such an amazing improvement to her dress that she resolved to wear it constantly upon all occasions, and to preserve the secret to herself: but accidents will happen.

Dressing in a great hurry for Ranelagh, she forgot to secure this new appendage to grace effectually, and unfortunately she dropped it in the Rotunda. A circle immediately surrounded it, all eyes were fixed upon it, the gentlemen were astonished; the ladies were enchanted with it, and in less than a week, there were very few toasts upon the Ton, whose tails were not as light as Lady Gro—nor’s.

This, Sir, is the rise and progress of the cork-rumps, which being so great an improvement in dress and elegance,  must certainly merit the attention (particularly) of your female country readers of taste, who will certainly soon be in the fashion, and thus secured, neither fear the dangers of a regatta, or even an East India voyage.

My country friend having shewn my letter, with this intelligence, to his wife and daughters, I have received orders to procure one of them immediately; which I shall do, without loss of time, as that is great reason to believe that the price of cork will be greatly enhanced, by th: general fashion that will soon prevail all over England ; nay, I am well assur’d that these cork-rumps have already made their way to Edinburgh, and that a cargo of them is only detained by contrary winds at Chester, bound to Dublin.

I am, Sir,

Yours etc, etc.

An old Observor

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

The December edition of Town and Country magazine wrote the following, presumably a ‘nod’ to the Lady Grosvenor incident.

Bum-shops are opened in many parts of Westminster for the sale of cork bums, and report says they go swimmingly on. Tall ladies, and short ladies – fat ladies and lean ladies, must have bums’.

Image courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library Clearly the False Rump was not without its problems!
Image courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
Clearly, the False Rump was not without its problems!

This fashion trend was somewhat short lived, possibly for obvious reasons, as above. By 1788 ‘the bum-less beauties’ had become all the rage.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

FALSE STOMACHS

This one really does beg the question ‘why on earth would you do this?‘  It was apparently quite common practice during the Georgian Era to wear false stomachs, often these were made from either tin or cork, to imitate pregnancy. It gets better … we discovered in the newspapers that men also wore them!

Attributed to Cruikshank, courtesy of the Met Museum
Attributed to Cruikshank, courtesy of the Met Museum

These tin pinafores were described by Archenholtz in the following way

 ‘This was the most senseless invention, against all decency and delicacy, and disfiguring the female body; it caused a deformity which is only seen in the female sex during pregnancy. These decorations were called pads, and the smaller ones paddies; they were usually made of tin, and were therefore called “tin pinafores”. These artificial stomachs were in great favour, particularly with unmarried women, which caused the wits to say that a revolution had taken place amongst the signs of the Zodiac, and the Twins had come too near Virgo. But above all, these pads were the butt of jokers, who used them unmercifully, and their use soon had to be discontinued. Such a fashion was in too bad taste to last long. It was in existence in London in February 1793, but by the end of the spring it was over in England and went to Dublin, where it was welcomed by the women. During the migration which took place as a result of the French war, it was taken to Germany by refugee English women, but was not copied there.’ 

The newspapers carried a variety of report about such items including this one from The Morning Post of 1781 that stated that they were in fact worn by the gentlemen and not the ladies at that time for the following reason:

The cork protuberance, par derriere is not of modern invention; – formerly in France great bellies were thought to confer an air of dignity, and to command respect, and as soup maigre would seldom confer that ornament, false bellies were worn by the men, whereupon the ladies put on false rumps, so that the men appeared to carry all before, and the women to carry all behind.

 Our second offering is an extract from a much longer letter written by a country gentleman who was clearly nonplussed by England’s behaviour at the time who took it upon himself to write to the editor of The Tomahawk newspaper on the 5th February 1796.

What is the custom, is always thought becoming and decorous; though it sometimes is neither the one nor the other. What could be more indecorous than the false bellies and backsides worn by our ladies some time ago? Or, when a fat swarthy lady wore them, more unbecoming, not to say ugly and detestable?

Is it not truly ridiculous to see a thick fat fellow, with a neck like a bull, lap three or four yards of muslin round it, so as to become quite a raree shew, because it is the custom?

DOWNY CALVES

This article is for the gentlemen with a keen eye for fashion. Downy calves were false calves that were woven into the stockings to produce a ‘manly-looking calf’ and quite in vogue in the 1780’s. As a secondary benefit, they reputedly helped gentlemen afflicted with complaints requiring warmth. Mr Holland, of Broad Street, Bloomsbury developed a type of fleecy hosiery in which fine fleeces of wool are interwoven into a cotton piece of the common stocking texture.

We managed to find an entry in The World newspaper of 1788 advertising them.

An Entire NEW and highly-approved INVENTION, by HENRY and GEORGE HOLLAND,

At their Old Established Hosiery Manufactory, No. 2, Broad-street, Bloomsbury, opposite Drury-lane: Any Gentleman by applying as above, may have Stockings made with downy calves to look equal to the most beautiful formed by Nature. The flattering encouragement they have hitherto experienced from Gentlemen of the highest distinction, has induced the Inventors to usher this advertisement to the public.

Notwithstanding the downy calves are made on such a principle, as to be highly approved for their ease and elegance, the Inventors are enabled to sell them on very moderate terms. Made on the shortest notice to any size.

The description below from A Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, dated 1816, provides more technical information about how these were made.

FLEECY-HOSIERY, a very useful kind of manufacture, in which fine fleeces of wool are interwoven into a cotton piece of the common stocking texture. The following is the specification of the patent granted to Mr. Holland, of Broad-street, Bloomsbury, in the county of Middlesex, for a method of making stockings, socks, waistcoats, and other clothing, for persons afflicted with complaints requiring warmth, and for common use in cold climates, and for making false or downy calves in stockings.

“Having in the common stocking-frame, twisted silk, cotton yarn, flaxen or hempen thread, worsted or woollen yarn, or any such-like twisted or spun materials, begin the work in the common manner of manufacturing hosiery, and having worked one or more course or courses in the common way, begin to add a coating, thus: draw the frame over the arch, and then hang wool or jersey, raw or unspun, upon the beards of the needles, and slide the same off their beards upon their stems, till it comes exactly under the nibs of the sinkers; then sink the jacks and sinkers, and bring forward the frame, till the wool or jersey is drawn under the beards of the needles, and having done this, draw the frame over the arch, and place a thread of spun materials upon the needles (under the nibs of the sinkers), and proceed in finishing the course in the usual way of manufacturing hosiery with spun materials. Anything manufactured in this way has, on the one side, the appearance of common hosiery, and on the other side the appearance of raw wool. The raw or unspun materials may be worked in with every course, or with every second, third, or other course or courses, in quantity proportioned to the warmth and thickness required. The above-mentioned raw or unspun materials may be fixed also thus: having drawn the frame over the arch, hang them upon the beards of the needles, slide them off the beards upon their stems, and without sinking the jacks and sinkers, draw the frame off the arch, and bring the raw or unspun materials forward under the beards of the needles; then draw the same over the arch, and proceed in finishing the course, as before directed. The said raw or unspun materials may be fixed likewise thus: hang them upon the beards of the needles, without having the frame over the arch, and slide them off their beards upon their stems; then bring forward the frame till the raw or un-spun materials are drawn under the beards of the needles, and, having done this, draw the frame over the arch, and proceed in finishing the course as before directed.

Hosiery may be coated by any of these methods, not only with wool or jersey, but also with silk, cotton, flax, hemp, hair, or other things of the like nature, raw or unspun, but the method first described fixes them most firmly. The common stocking-frame is mentioned above, but any other frame, upon a similar principle, may answer the purpose. The method of making the false or downy calves in stockings is by working raw or unspun wool, or jersey, or any other raw or unspun materials, into the calves of  stockings, in the different methods before described, and to any required form or thickness. The latter use to which this invention is applied, we may be allowed to say, is somewhat ludicrous.

The Art of Stocking Framework Knitting, 1750. © British Museum. The man on the right is operating a framework knitting machine.
The Art of Stocking Framework Knitting, 1750. © British Museum. The man on the right is operating a framework knitting machine.

Sources

William Gibson Blog