For those of you who are not especially interested in the Duchess of Devonshire’s Jubilee Costume Ball of 1897 my apologies. But according to my blog statistics there are many of you who can’t get enough of the photographs taken by the Lafayette Company to record the costumes worn by the guests, so I hope the others will forgive us another visit to the party.
I’ve done a small amount of research on Victorian fancy dress. There was an entire book on the subject, Fancy Dress Described by Ardern Holt which ran to six editions of detailed descriptions of costumes for every occasion in alphabetical order. The Duchess’s guests didn’t stop with written descriptions. According to an account in the Times they haunted the art galleries of London making notes and sketches for their dressmakers.
It was often customary to organise the guests into groups of related costumes called quadrilles who could then dance together in a pre-arranged routine. Holt suggests seasons, constellations, Noah’s Ark, packs of cards and shepherds and shepherdesses. But the Duchess had loftier ideas – “allegorical or historical costume dated earlier than 1820” was her brief for the guests. They responded by sorting themselves into four Courts – Elizabethan, Louis XIV/XVI, Maria Theresa of Austria and Catherine II of Russia with other groups of “Italians” (which included characters from history and literature) and “Orientals” (this group headed by the Duchess herself as Queen Zenobia included characters from antiquity and classical literature.)
Some of the guests stuck with the plan:
Mrs Elizabeth James as the Archduchess Anne of Austria. Or below:
Two of those Italians – Lady Robert Cecil as Valentine Visconti and Lady St Oswald as the Duchessa di Calaria. From the French court came the Countess of Kilmorey.
She playing La Comtesse du Barri, the mistress of Louis XV (and of course a character in Doctor Who). Coincidentally Ellen Constance Needham was herself a royal mistress, the lover of Prince Henry of Teck, brother of the future Queen Mary (wife of George V). There was a minor scandal when Prince Henry who died quite young left some family jewels to the Countess. The will was suppressed and the jewels quietly bought back by the Royal Family. Nellie, as she was known, in her late thirties at the time of the ball, lived on until 1920 just reaching that other decade of conspicuous pleasure.
As we’ve seen before the greatest interest then as now was in the costumes worn by the lady guests. Occasionally the men could play a supporting role.
The Emperor Napoleon and Josephine as played by Sir Charles and Lady Hartopp. They, or the photographer have caught the ambiguous relationship of the people they are portraying. I wonder if Sir Charles was as short as the original?
These two are not so well known as a couple:
Lord Charles Montagu as Charles I, with Lady Chelsea as an Italian flower girl. It could have been just a random combination. Perhaps no-one came as Charles’s wife Henrietta Maria.
Still roughly part of the plan for the ball:
Mrs von Andre as Desdemona. Other guests strayed out of the strict historical plan.
Another Valkyrie (there were several of those knocking about at the ball) played by Mrs Reginald Talbot. The spear and the shield must have been quite a burden to carry around.
In the previous post I showed you a lady dressed as Alecto, one of the Furies and I wondered where the others were. I did find Megaera:
Lady Sophie Scott. I’ve also managed to find a picture of the two of them together not from the book I’ve been using but from another source .
Lady Scott is on the right I think with Lady Lurgan on the left. They look a little alike (apart from the costumes). Were the two of them related? I haven’t been able to find out. I expect the torches were extinguished in the ballroom itself.
There were also more costumes from the realm of art:
The Hon. Mrs Baillie as Mrs James Baillie from a Gainsborough portrait. She was playing one of her own ancestors. Is that being a bit too clever? This lady did the same thing:
The Countess of Dalkeith playing Helen, a previous Countess of Dalkeith.
Two sisters, the Ladies Margaret and Victoria Innes – Ker as two unrelated ladies out of miniatures by Cosway. Richard Cosway was a celebrated painter of miniatures but so was his wife Maria.
We’ll end this week with some more characters from the ancient world which had just as much of a hold on the Victorian imagination as it does on our own.
The Hon. Mrs Maguire as Dido, Queen of Carthage anachronistically accompanied not by a man dressed as Aeneas but by a Major Wynne-Finch, whose role is not recorded as far as I can tell. Actually they don’t look too odd together as her costume is not likely to be particularly accurate.
No more than that of Lady de Trafford:
She is playing Semiramis Queen of Assyria.
Finally a couple who look like they actually enjoy each other’s company.
Mr and Mrs Hall Walker as the magician Merlin and Vivian the Lady of the Lake who enchants him in some versions of the story. It’s good to finish on a couple of Walkers.
It was also good to take the time machine back to familiar territory but we’ll be somewhere quite different next week.
Three of the many editions of Fancy Dress Described can be found in the Costume Collection at Chelsea Library and the 6th edition can be downloaded online. The descriptions are nothing if not exhaustive.