The Prince Regent’s Grand Fete 1811

In 1811, George, became the Prince Regent, taking over from his father who was incapacitated. One of the first things he did was organise a Grand Fete at his home, Carlton House, reputedly to celebrate his father’s birthday, but for a guess it was simply an excuse for a party, and this was no ordinary party.

There’s bling and then there is Royal bling – and as everyone knows, the Prince Regent loved his bling, preferring gold to silver, as it was said to be warmer and ‘showier’, and where better to show it off, than at his Grand Fete.

On 22 May 1811 preparations began for the Grand Fete. Upwards of 100 men were employed in the furnishing and arranging of the different ornamental decorations to be introduced. Every room of Carlton House was to be thrown open during the celebrations. Rooms were to be hung with crimson silk damask, all the Chinese, Etruscan, Grecian and Hindoostan cabinets in ebony and ivory were to be exhibited for the first time.

Not only the interior would be used but also the gardens which would covered in and formed into one immense tent, resembling a marquee. The Gothic conservatory was to be filled with all kinds of rare exotics and illuminated by crystal lamps ‘of uncommon beauty’.

There were to be seven spacious rooms to promenade in, and the supper was to be given under the awning in the garden. The Prince Regent ordered 1500 chairs for the use of the banquet alone. The trees were to be illuminated with variegated lamps next to the park entrance which would be opened, and an avenue was to be formed for sedan chairs only.

To allow easy access and exit to the grand tent, three temporary flights of steps extending from the principal state apartments were to be added.

Everything was set for this grand event, but … ‘hold you horses, Prinny, not so fast’ the newspapers duly reported on 1 June 1811 that ‘party time’ was to be postponed as the King was unwell.

It was then postponed again at short notice following a letter from his mother, Queen Charlotte, who wrote to him to let him know that for a variety of reasons it was best to briefly postpone it. You can read the letter to her son in full here.

By the 15 June all preparations were complete in the temporary ‘Chinese rooms’ which were located on the lawn of Carlton House, 13,214 square feet, with 45,824 square feet of canvas (oil cloth) was used to cover the roofs.

The aisle (north and south) was 186 feet by 22 feet; the end one, 159 feet by 22 feet. At the end of the aisle, opposite to the grand entrance from the conservatory, was to be placed a large mirror, the dimensions – 12 feet high by 9 feet, the aim being to reflect every object by well-disposed girandoles and candelabras.

A set of twenty-four silver-gilt four light candelabra, each with three scrolling branches cast with acanthus and lion masks, on a tapering stem cast as three Greco-Egyptian monopodiae, and a gadrooned base with three paw feet. Royal Collection Trust
A set of twenty-four silver-gilt four light candelabra, each with three scrolling branches cast with acanthus and lion masks, on a tapering stem cast as three Greco-Egyptian monopodiae, and a gadrooned base with three paw feet. Royal Collection Trust

The whole aisle was to resemble an allée vert, or green walk, with garlands and festoons of roses of every colour, honeysuckle, pinks carnations and tulips, both real and artificial. Also, dwarf fruit trees, consisting of oranges, cherries. All the chandeliers were to be suspended from chains covered with wreaths of artificial flowers stretching for 2,000 yards.

Four superb marquees were erected in the interior of the treble cross as it was known, with connecting rooms for the servants. There were to be two principle rooms for dancing, the other was the grand council chamber. In the centre was G.III.R with the Royal Crown. The whole area encircle in a highly emblazoned manner, by the rose, the thistle and the shamrock, emblematic of the arms of the United Kingdom.

The Prince Regent’s Attire

The Prince Regent wore a Field Marshall’s uniform (as did the Duke of York), and a superb, brilliant star, a large diamond loop and button in his hat and feather, and wore a sabre, the handle and scabbard of which were richly studded with jewellery.

His Royal Highness = the Prince Regent. June 1811. Royal Collection Trust
His Royal Highness = the Prince Regent. June 1811. Royal Collection Trust

The Supper

In the conservatory, was the Prince’s table, elevated on a platform, about 6 inches from the ground.  From this table there were a range of tables, extending in line over the further extremities of the Prince’s bed-chamber, occupying a space of around 600 feet. Every table was covered with gold or silver gilt plate. Covers were laid on tables for his 140 particular friends.

Conservatory at Carlton House. Royal Collection Trust.
Conservatory at Carlton House. Royal Collection Trust.

The Prince sat at the head of the table, seated on a superb state chair, covered with crimson Genoa Velvet, embroidered with gold. The masterpiece being a serpentine bubbling brook of water which occupied a central space down the Prince’s table, 170 feet in length and 14 inches in depth. It was a running stream, produced by a reservoir at one end and waste pipes at the others. The canal was filled with gold and silver fish which meandered over the artificially created weeds and soil. A space in each side was allocated for moss and flowers, to give the banks a natural appearance.

The supper was described as being ‘the most superb ever exhibited in this country’. The whole dinner service was in gold. The food consisted of everything that was in season, along with fruits, confectionery and copious amounts of wine.

The tables ran through to the lower suite of rooms were so arranged that the Prince Regent could distinctly see and be seen from one end to the other. Along those tables the royal family of England, and that of the Bourbons.

Guests

The Grand Fête eventually took place at nine o’clock, on Wednesday 19 June 1811 with over 2,000 of the nobility and gentry in attendance. This was said to have been the largest event known in Europe at the time, with 1,600 guests under canvas and a further 400 in the house itself.

The family of the house of Bourbon entered through the gardens at about 10 and were ushered into the Privy Council Chamber, where the Prince Regent was sitting.  Guests were attended by 60 servants, seven waited on the Prince, besides 6 of the King’s and 6 of the Queen’s footmen in their state liveries, with one man in a complete suit of ancient armour.

Musicians played throughout the event and during the night a brilliant discharge of fireworks too place. The company sat down to supper about one o’clock and after taking refreshments they resumed their dancing until daylight.

Companies were always keen to be associated with anything royal and Charlton, Ladies Boot and Shoe Makers of Silver Street, Hull were no exception, telling potential customers that read the Hull Packet, 11 June 1811, that Mr Charlton had just returned from London and Windsor, where he has procured a variety of new patterns such as are now being made for the Prince Regent’s Grand Fete, called the ‘Regent’s Slipper’.

Sources

The Ipswich Journal 25 May 1811

Northampton Mercury 1 June 1811

Hampshire Chronicle 24 June 1811

Featured Image

Te Grand Service. The Service was made by the Royal Goldsmiths, Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, following an initial commission of £60,000 worth of plate. Royal Collection Trust

Review in Hyde Park attended by the Allied Sovereigns. 20 June 1814.

The review in Hyde Park attended by the Allied Sovereigns, 20 June 1814

The Tsar of Russia, the King of Prussia and other European sovereigns landed at Dover on the 6th of June 1814 for a visit lasting just over two weeks to celebrate the Peace of Paris and the abdication of Napoléon Bonaparte, who had been exiled to Elba.

The pursuits of the illustrious strangers while in London, consisted of visiting our public institutions; and their total indifference to pomp and parade, with the consequent facility afforded to exhibit the national good feeling and respect, elicited the admiration of the entire population, manifested by the loud shouts of welcome with which they were universally greeted.

The Allied Sovereigns at Petworth, June 1814
The Allied Sovereigns at Petworth, June 1814 by Thomas Phillips (George, 3rd Earl of Egremont is presented by George, Prince Regent, to Tsar Alexander I of Russia in the Marble Hall at Petworth with the King of Prussia, Frederick William III); National Trust, Petworth House

In the painting above, you can see the young Prince Augustus of Prussia (on the left-hand side of the portrait) turning his head to speak to Lord Charles Bentinck who is standing directly behind him. Lord Charles was the Prince Regent’s friend, equerry and putative former son-in-law and was a constant presence throughout the festivities, often found at the prince’s side. He is also the direct ancestor of the royal family and one of the subjects of our second book, A Right Royal Scandal. No doubt, Lord Charles Bentinck was present at the review which took place in Hyde Park, attended by the Allied Sovereigns, on 20th June 1814. But, before that, the dignitaries had been seen out riding.

The Emperor Alexander, in the dress of a private gentleman, and accompanied by the Duchess of Oldenburgh, his sister, frequently promenaded in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, at an early hour in the morning; and their Majesties, accompanied by the officers of the household, took an airing on horse-back in Hyde Park on the 12th of June, remaining nearly three hours, much to the gratification of the company there assembled.

Grand Duchess Ekaterina Pavlovna (1788-1819), the wife of Duke George of Oldenburg (1784-1812).
Grand Duchess Ekaterina Pavlovna (1788-1819), the wife of Duke George of Oldenburg (1784-1812). The State Hermitage Museum

All was pomp and ceremony on the day of the review, however.

But the review of the household cavalry, and volunteer and regular infantry of the metropolis ordered for the 20th of June, was probably the most interesting exhibition that occurred during their stay in London; the novelty of the assemblage of two foreign crowned heads, accompanied by veteran leaders of their armies, to witness a military spectacle in the suburbs of our metropolis, and in the presence of the Prince Regent: with the singular coincidence of the proclamation of peace on the same day, at the usual places, and at which ceremony also, a portion of those troops were afterwards called upon to assist, combined to produce a general feeling of pride and satisfaction, as shewn in the faces of the countless multitudes who were seen hurrying at an early hour towards the scene of action.

This Print Representing His Majesty Reviewing the Volunteer Corps assembled in Hyde Park, in honor of his Birthday, June 4 1799
This depiction of George III reviewing troops at Hyde Park in 1799 gives an idea of how the scene would have looked at the Allied Sovereigns’ visit in 1814. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The various regiments took up their position by 9 o’clock in the morning, and the arrangements being completed soon after ten, a scene then presented itself which was never surpassed on a similar occasion, being greatly enhanced by the serenity of the weather, the sun beaming in all his glory, shedding his bright refulgence on the scene. At half-past eleven a royal salute of twenty-one guns announced the arrival of the royal party at the park gate, at the same moment the deafening cheers of the populace were heard at all parts of the park.

Review in Hyde Park attended by the Allied Sovereigns. 20 June 1814.
Review in Hyde Park attended by the Allied Sovereigns. 20 June 1814. Royal Collection Trust

The Prince Regent entered the park with his hat off, bowing to the vast assembly, the Emperor Alexander riding on his right hand, and the king of Prussia on his left, the magnificent Staff which followed, comprised nearly three hundred persons, of all nations, among whom the veteran Field-Marshal Blucher, and the Hetman Platoff shone conspicuous.

Count Platoff, Hetman of the Cossacks by Peter Edward Stroehling, signed and dated 1814.
Count Platoff, Hetman of the Cossacks by Peter Edward Stroehling, signed and dated 1814. Royal Collection Trust

After their Majesties had inspected the line, a general feu de joie was discharged, and the regiments afterwards passed in review order. The illustrious visitors having expressed the greatest satisfaction at the discipline and general appearance of the troops to the officer in command, the corps marched off the ground, highly gratified by the flattering encomiums passed upon them by some of the greatest warriors of the age.

His Majesty George III Reviewing the Armed Associations on the Fourth of June 1799 in Hyde Park
No doubt the scene in 1814 would have looked similar to this print of George III reviewing troops in Hyde Park 15 years earlier. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The public anxiety was so great on this occasion, to witness the proceedings, that every tree was filled with people, and in consequence several melancholy accidents happened, by limbs of the trees breaking and falling on the heads of those standing beneath, the pressure of the crowd rendering it impossible to escape.

Number of Corps reviewed at Hyde Park on the 20th June 1814

We have also written about the visit of the Allied Sovereigns for our great friend and fellow author, Laurie Benson. You can find our guest blog in her Cozy Drawing Room.

Source: Historical Recollections of Hyde Park by Thomas Smith (of Mary-le-bone), 1836

Sketch of a ball at Almack's 1815, from The reminiscences and recollections of Captain Gronow, being anecdotes of the camp, court, clubs and society, 1810-1860. Beau Brummell is to the left, deep in conversation with the Duchess of Rutland.

The Cut of the Clothes: A Story of Prinny and Beau Brummell

It is our pleasure to welcome a new guest to our blog. She writes under the nom de plume of Erato. Her latest book is a fictional account of the relationship between Prinny, the Prince of Wales and the infamous George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummell.

Why should a story about beauty and fashion be about a bunch of men? — When Beau Brummell takes centre stage, what else can the book be about?

The Regency Dandy, Beau Brummell
Beau Brummell

Many modern grooming habits, which we take for granted today, were established by Beau Brummell. These include the exclusively drab colours for men’s formalwear, the absence of lace and frills, and the practice of bathing daily. (Brummell’s bathing habits were so mystifying to the Regency gentlemen that they actually lined up at his house to watch him bathe every morning — a lengthy procedure, as the Beau was quite thorough about it, taking as much as two hours to complete his washing).

A Dandy, c.1818.
A Dandy c.1818. Lewis Walpole Library

In The Cut of the Clothes, we learn about Brummell from the viewpoint of his famous friend and rival, the Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent, later King George IV. It was the Prince’s support that allowed Brummell to claim the sort of influence he obtained over the London ton, but soon the young Beau began to overshadow his mentor’s influence. Famously, when someone once asked what Brummell would do if he lost the Prince’s support, he quipped, I’ll cut young George and make a fashion of the old one. (The old one being the Prince’s father, George III.)

The practice of social “cutting” was what led to perhaps the most famous piece of Brummelliana: when the Prince at last became fed up with Brummell’s insults, he cut Brummell, and made his decision clear at a party.

As it is told in The Cut of the Clothes, from the Prince’s viewpoint:

He had lately won an almost unheard of £20,000 at the table. To commemorate this achievement, he and his core dandy friends were to throw an extravagant ball; one which I daresay must have consumed a goodly portion of the funds it was meant to celebrate having gained. Every body who was any body in the ton was to be there. Frances, Isabella, even Caroline were invited (though I understood the lattermost to have left the country for Italy by then, praise be to God.) Lord Byron would be there. Frederica and my brother were to attend. Not a name was missing from the guest list, but for one. It was mine.

George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron, 1807-1809 by George Sanders.
George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron, 1807-1809 by George Sanders. Royal Collection Trust.

This was surely no oversight; the Beau must have known I had cut him, and have therefore influenced his friends (with whom I was still connected) not to invite me as any guest of their own. And yet, as Prince Regent, I did not need an invitation.

It was like a modern droit du seigneur: if I chose to attend at any ball or assembly, invited or not, it was considered an honor to the hosts to have me there. Naturally, Mr. Brummell was to be at this event, and I surely had no desire to see him again; but I took into consideration how many others whom I dearly loved and wish’d to see, would be there.

Was that wretch to deprive me of my company, of my happiness? Never! I wrote to the hosts of this party, announcing my plans to attend notwithstanding their little oversight about inviting me. There was no need to ask their permission.

George IV when Prince Regent by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1814.
George IV when Prince Regent by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1814.
© National Portrait Gallery, London

The fashionable Argyle [also Argyll] Rooms had been rented to accommodate this glorious event. It is a most splendid location: the entrance hall is painted with frescos of Corinthian pilasters and compartments, footed with green marble. It was there, waiting to greet the guests, that I saw my four hosts in all their tasteful finery: Alvanley, Mildmay, Pierrepoint and, naturally, the Beau himself. They were lined up, two to each side, in suits so well tailored that there was not a single wrinkle between them.

It was my polite duty to greet them. I began at the left side, speaking first to Mildmay; then across to Pierrepoint. Beside him was Brummell, eyes glaring at me despite his false smile. I passed him over, making every display of not having noticed him at all, as if the man were no more visible to me than a f–t. People around us saw what I had done; I could feel a sudden chill to course through the whole room. I had just affronted the great Beau Brummell, and made known to everybody my cut of his company. I crossed back to the left to greet Alvanley, and that done, was about to make my way up to the vestibule and stairs.

Then loudly, loudly, oh! so loud, there was a cry from behind my shoulder in the voice which I knew belong’d to Brummell:

            Aw, Alvanley, who is your fat friend?

Every person who stood in that passageway cringed. There was a moment of silence as nobody knew what to do. Then I heard, dreadfully, the rising sound of a giggle: a crescendo that soon became a mighty roar of laughter. Everybody was laughing, and this delight was being had at my expense. Brummell was plainly quite pleased with himself to have thus humiliated me. 

If you have ever wondered “Who was Beau Brummell?” then you might like to read the account of his reign as the king of fashion in The Cut of the Clothes.

 

A View of Paris from the Pont Neuf by Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet, 1763, Getty Museum (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Grace Dalrymple Elliott – New book due out January 2016

The 15th of May marks the anniversary of the death of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Georgian Era courtesan and reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ daughter, Georgiana Augusta Frederica.

Georgiana Augusta Frederica Elliott (1782–1813), Later Lady Charles Bentinck courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Georgiana Augusta Frederica Elliott (1782–1813), Later Lady Charles Bentinck courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Grace died in Ville d’Avray, Paris, in 1823, having lived a long and tumultuous life filled with adventure and experiencing both the highs and the lows of the society of her age. Although she is best remembered as a demi-rep, there is so much more to her than that: she was not merely a fashion icon and the mistress of titled men, but a strong woman in her own right, one who lived upon her own terms. Sadly though, at the end of her life, Grace had little left; her one remaining close family relative was her young grand-daughter who she adored, and Grace’s dying regret was that she had nothing but her best wishes to leave her.

As long-term readers of our blog may know, we have written a biography of Grace, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, the product of many years of research into her life, which will be published by Pen and Sword. It contains much information that is new to Grace’s story, and some rarely seen illustrations and pictures too; our book is also a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, interspersed with the fascinating lives her maternal and paternal family led across the globe. It is both the story of Grace’s life and her family history.

Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott will be published in January 2016, and is available for pre-order from this summer.

If you would like to be kept informed in the meantime, please do consider subscribing to our blog where, alongside our remit of ‘blogging about anything and everything to do with the Georgian Era’, we will also now post regular updates on the progress of our book.

Napoleon and the Prince Regent

Napoleon_Bellerophon

We would very much like to welcome our latest guest, Shannon Selin who has so very kindly offered to write an article about Napoleon and the Prince Regent for us.  Shannon is the author of Napoleon in America, which imagines what might have happened if Napoleon had escaped from St. Helena and wound up in the United States in 1821. She blogs about Napoleonic and 19th century history at shannonselin.com.  Shannon’s book is available from Amazon in paperback or from Amazon  as an E-book by clicking on the links.

There has recently been publicity about the letter Napoleon Bonaparte wrote to King George IV (then the Prince Regent) requesting asylum in England after his 1815 abdication from the throne of France. The letter, which is on display at Windsor Castle as part of the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, reads:

“Royal Highness, Prey to the factions which divide my country, and to the enmity of the greatest powers of Europe, I have terminated my political career, and I come, like Themistocles, to seat myself at the hearth of the British people. I put myself under the protection of their laws, which I claim from your Royal Highness, as the most powerful, the most constant, and the most generous of my enemies. Rochefort, 13 July 1815. Napoleon.”

Before writing this, Napoleon said to his advisors, “I am not acquainted with the Prince Regent; but from all I have heard of him I cannot avoid placing reliance on his noble character.” According to Lord Holland, on reading the letter the Prince Regent reportedly said, “Upon my word, a very proper letter: much more so, I must say, than any I ever received from Louis XVIII.” These words are surprising in the context of Prinny’s general view of Napoleon.  Member of Parliament Samuel Whitbread wrote in April 1814: “I hear [the Regent] says I am the worst man God Almighty every formed, except Bonaparte….”

The Prince Regent detested Napoleon and was a great supporter of France’s Bourbon monarchy. During Napoleon’s reign, he provided refuge in the UK for Louis XVIII and his family. Prinny openly advocated the return of the Bourbons to power, in contrast with the more cautious approach taken by his cabinet. Britain’s foreign minister, Lord Castlereagh, feared that Britain’s European allies would regard British patronage of the Bourbons as an attempt to scuttle the 1814 peace negotiations with Napoleon. To get around this, the Prince Regent made a personal overture to Russia’s Tsar Alexander, through Russian ambassador Prince Lieven, entreating him to dethrone Napoleon.

George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Not surprisingly, Napoleon’s 1815 request for British asylum was refused. Napoleon was instead exiled to the island of St. Helena, where he remained until his death in 1821. For a while Napoleon continued to harbour illusions that Prinny had no particular dislike of him. He blamed his exile on those surrounding the Prince. He told British Admiral Pulteney Malcolm that “if old George [III] were well he would have been better treated, he was not so much in the hands of his ministers as the Regent; besides, he would have seen the bad consequences to royalty of debasing a person who had once worn a crown by the choice of a nation. The Regent should remember the flattering messages he sent to him at the Peace of Amiens.

Napoleon considered writing to Prince George from exile. When he learned that the letter would be opened and read by British officials before it was delivered, he decided not to, considering that inconsistent with both his and the Regent’s dignity.

Caricature_of_George_III_&_Napoleon

Napoleon was not entirely unaware of Prinny’s true character. Pressing Admiral Malcolm for details about English drinking habits, Napoleon said, “It was the fashion when the Prince Regent was young. I have been told he sometimes sat at table till he fell off his chair; was it not so?

Napoleon also thought it strange that the Prince Regent should choose as his mistress the Marchioness of Hertford, a lady who was over fifty and already a grandmother. “It appears that you like old women in England.”

Marchioness_of_Hertford_1800

The longer Napoleon sat pondering his fate, the more it dawned on him that the Prince Regent might not be his advocate. He told his companion General Gourgaud, “When Louis XVIII dies, great events may take place; and if Lord Holland should then be Prime Minister of England, they may bring me back to Europe. But what I most hope for is the death of the Prince Regent, which will place the young Princess Charlotte on the English throne. She will bring me back to Europe.”

In the end, Napoleon was probably not far off thinking the thoughts the caricaturist George Cruikshank puts in his mouth as he addresses Prinny, the “Sun”: “To thee I call— But with no friendly voice, & add thy name—G—P—Rt!. to tell thee how I hate thy beams, that bring to my remembrance from what state I fell &c.”

Boney Addressing the Sun