18th Century glamour girl: searching for Miss Chudleigh

The story so far: three actresses from the Chelsea Pageant of 1908 have traveled back to the 1740s to meet celebrity bigamist Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston and / or Countess of Bristol at the Venetian Masquerade in Ranelagh Gardens. Now read on:

We caught a glimpse of Miss Chudleigh last week in the six thousand-strong crowd at the Royal Jubilee Venetian Masquerade which was held on April 26th 1749 (when she was still only married to one man, but was keeping it a secret so she could still have an income as one of the Queen’s Maids of Honour). Her scandalous costume was of Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon, ready for sacrifice. According to the story Iphigenia was lured by the promise of a marriage to Achilles to the place where the Greek fleet was to set sail to Troy to become an offering to Artemis, the goddess her father had offended. At the last minute she was spirited away by magic and replaced by an animal, a deer or a stag. Miss Chudleigh’s costume was said to have been so revealing that the high priest could already see her entrails. There were many artistic renditions of the costume.

Not one of the more flattering versions, here she is accompanied by a gesticulating carnival goer, and Mr Punch, himself no stranger to human sacrifice. Here is a more pleasing version:

She wouldn’t have been Duchess of Kingston at the time of course so this must be a much later picture. The problem for both artists is that she didn’t actually wear the revealing outfit at Ranelagh. She did wear some kind of controversial costume four days later at a private Subscription Masquerade at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, a far more exclusive occasion at which she made a favourable impression on the King but outraged some of the other guests.  No accurate description of what she was wearing that night exists, although there has been sufficient speculation for the dress to be famous after two centuries.

She would have been at Ranelagh though, perhaps in conventional dress, perhaps masked in a fanciful costume so our trio of actresses could encounter her in the throng, either outside by the Chinese Pavilion and canal:

Or watching one of the stranger performances in the Gardens:

It might be safer to look inside the Rotunda amongst the dancers, as in this Cruickshank print.

She might have been dressed more like this later portrait:

In any case with music, dancing and fireworks, it was a spectacular celebration.

Iphigenia also provided the inspiration for a song performed at Ranelagh:

The story of Iphigenia and Cymon comes from Boccaccio’s Decameron rather than Greek myth (hence the modern dress?)

Lord Leighton later rendered the subject more artistically:

The celebrations went on till a late hour. Maybe our actresses found Miss Chudleigh, maybe they didn’t but once the Masquerade is finished the Rotunda lies empty.

The fire in the former orchestra stalls is burning down.

It was said that at night with the light still burning the Rotunda looked like an enormous lantern.

The Misses Jourdain and Moberly reported that at the end of their strange experience at Versailles the world seemed to flatten out and drain of colour and sound when they were about to return to their own time. Perhaps our time travelers are now experiencing something similar. Attentive readers will already have realized that our three actresses have entered the world not only of Elizabeth Chudleigh but of a woman we already know the mysterious Marianne Rush. The empty interior is one of her pictures. Look at this detail from the night picture:

Two women walk off into the night. For one of our travelers the journey is not yet over. She is about to enter the mysterious world of Marianne Rush. See you next week.

3 responses to “18th Century glamour girl: searching for Miss Chudleigh

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