Back to the party: the Duchess of Devonshire’s Costume Ball 1897

After nearly a year of blogging I’ve been looking back at the most popular posts of the last twelve months and at number four was the original post about the Duchess of Devonshire’s Diamond Jubilee costume ball in 1897.  The photographers of the Lafayette Company photographed 200 guests that night as souvenirs for guests and to turn into collectible cards. There are still some remarkable pictures left to see.

Lady Alexandra Acheson strikes a pose in a hunting costume of the Louis XV period, when the French aristocracy also enjoyed dressing up.

Count Omar Hadik as his own ancestor Field Marshall Count Hadik, easily the least embarrassing male costume.

The Countess of Gosford as an 18th century version of Minerva, goddess of wisdom. Check out her owl, which later appeared in the original Clash of the Titans film.

Many of the guests leaned towards the 17th and 18th centuries.

Lady Meysey Thompson as Elizabeth Queen of Bohemia the aunt of Charles II and wife of the Elector Frederick V, who has become a significant figure in esoteric history.

Another of her Stuart relatives:

Lady Katharine Scott as Mary Queen of Scots, with the look of a martyred saint in a religious painting.

None of these costumes are entirely accurate although the look of the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries was probably well known to historians and costumiers at the end of the nineteenth but they had to look attractive too, just like costume designs in films and television.

It was probably easier to work with more obscure characters from history, literature and mythology which gave more scope for artistic license as in this costume:

Lady Alice Montagu as Laure de Sade, an ancestor of the Marquis de Sade, and possibly the Laure who inspired the poet Petrarch in the 14th century. We saw a gentleman portraying Petrarch himself in the previous post.

Another poetic muse who was brought to life at the Ball by two different guests:

The Countess of Mar as Beatrice Portinari the woman who inspired Dante, who has I think the edge over Lady Southampton’s more contemporary version:

Instead of playing a muse Viscountess Milton opted for a creator, Marie Antoinette’s court painter Madame Le Brun.

Other guests chose mythological identities, where the costume designers had free reign:

Lady Gerard, describing herself as the Moon Goddess Astarte. Astarte is a goddess who was worshipped over many years in many different countries in the ancient world under several names. She isn’t exactly a moon goddess but we can let that go.

Lady Lurgan, surprisingly nonthreatening as Alecto, one of the Furies (“the implacable or unceasing anger”).  Megaera (Jealousy) and Tisiphone (Vengeance) appear to have had another party to go to that night. Alecto has also made a film appearance, in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.

Mrs Ronalds as Euterpe the Muse of music – her costume has many clues to her identity.

On the musical front Wagner was still very popular in the 1890s so it is not surprising that there was a Brunhilde (Mrs Leslie):

And a couple of narrow waisted Valkyries (Two sisters, the Mademoiselles de Courcel):

Turning from northern European mythology to British legend and literature, here is a King Arthur out of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King played by Lord Rodney:

And finally a royal character out of Shakespeare:

The ethereal beauty of Mrs J Graham Menzies in the role of Titania, Queen of the Fairies who can now get back to the party with the rest of the guests. Shall we leave them to it?

No wait, one more. The patroness of bloggers and other storytellers everywhere played with some conviction by a lady with no title, Miss Goelet.

Scheherazade.

More pictures from the costume ball here and here.


4 responses to “Back to the party: the Duchess of Devonshire’s Costume Ball 1897

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