Guest post: The Early Dance Circle Annual Lecture

We are delighted to welcome The Early Dance Circle to the blog. On Friday 1st March they have their Annual Lecture, with this year’s guest speaker our good friend and fellow Pen and Sword author, Georgian Gentleman, Mike Rendell. So, to find out more about the event we hand over to Sharon, from the centre, to tell you more:

Join us on the dance floor of history – Learn how to dance Britain’s heritage or come to enjoy watching and help to pass it on.

If you love dance and want to safeguard and pass on its earliest forms in the UK and Europe, join us now. You can help us to secure a thriving future for early dance.

A Ball at Scarborough. Thomas Rowlandson. Yale Centre for British Art
A Ball at Scarborough. Thomas Rowlandson. Yale Centre for British Art

The Early Dance Circle (EDC) is a UK charity that aims to promote the enjoyment, performance and study of historical dance in the UK and beyond.  Formed in 1984, it counts individuals and groups, both amateur and professional, among its members. We believe that a knowledge of earlier forms of dance helps enrich the cultural life of the UK, by accessing a heritage of international importance that belongs to us all, but has been until recently largely forgotten.

Waltzing, c.1810s.
Waltzing, c.1810s. New York Public Library.

Our website, Early Dance Circle, offers information about classes & teachers, all our many events (including an Annual Early Dance Festival) our publications and lots of free resources about the 500 years of dance history in the UK and the rest of Europe. We have sponsored a free annual lecture since 1988.

Our Annual Lecture for 2019 will take place on

Friday 1st March 2019 at 7.15pm

Best foot forward – Georgian Style: Waltzing through History

Speaker: Mike Rendell, Social historian

Venue: Swedenborg Hall, Swedenborg House, 20 Bloomsbury Way,

London WC1A 2TH

Mike will look at dance in the Georgian era from a social history point of view – its importance, what it was like to go to Bath, to the Pantheon, to Almacks, what people wore, how they travelled, the role of the Master of Ceremonies, the growth of Masquerades – and finally some press reaction to the introduction of that grossly immoral and shocking dance, the waltz.

Her First Dance, William Quiller Orchardson
Her First Dance, William Quiller Orchardson; Tate

Mike is the custodian of a vast array of family papers dating back to the early 1700s. After he retired, he published The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman: The Life and Times of Richard Hall 1729-1801 (2011) about his Georgian ancestor. Currently working on no fewer than three books, Mike is known to 18th Century enthusiasts through his highly varied blogs on life in the Georgian period. He speaks regularly in the UK and abroad.

To reserve your free place, please book on Eventbrite (click here).

A suggested donation on the evening is £5.00

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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).

An Infamous Mistress and the Georgian Gentleman

Today we are going to direct you to the Georgian Gentleman which is hosted by Mike Rendell, author of The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman, where you can find a guest blog we have written as part of our blog tour.

Having read Mike’s post about George Pocock and his splendid Charvolant, we thought he might enjoy this story about Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s cousins Henry and Charles Mordaunt, 5th Earl of Peterborough, who would definitely have benefitted by some assistance from George Pocock!

So, with that we would like to direct you over to Mike’s excellent blog to find out more. Click here.

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Infamous-Mistress-Celebrated-Dalrymple-Elliott/dp/1473844835