Tag Archives: costume ball

Costume Ball 6: mothers, daughters and others

We’re back, possibly for the last time, at the Duchess of Devonshire’s Jubilee Costume Ball of 1897. Although we’ve seen many of the best pictures there are still a few of interest worth looking at if you’re fond of this sort of thing. (I know many of you are, and so am I)

There are even a few famous names left, like this one.

Countess Helena Gleichen as Joan of Arc p271

Joan of Arc, played by Countess (or Lady) Helena Gleichen, later a well known painter of landscapes and animals. We have a copy of her memoirs Contacts and Contrasts (John Murray, 1940) in our biographies collection at Kensington Library and she has this to say about the ball:

” I must have been about twenty when the celebrated Devonshire House fancy-dress ball took place…..(it was) settled that I, as the youngest should go. My mother went dressed as an ancestress, the Margravine of Anspach only discovering to her horror afterwards that the lady was not at all respectable… The first idea was that I should go as St Elisabeth of Hungary, the Queen who spent all her money feeding the poor of her realm much to the annoyance of her husband…Unfortunately the head dress did not suit me and when it was adjusted round my face I looked….disreputable.. so it was decided that I should go as Joan of Arc.. I was fitted with a tabard made of white cloth sprinkled wit gold fleur-de-lis. Sir Guy Laking lent me a small suit of real armour which was too heavy to wear in its entirety so I wore only the jambs and sollerets with spurs and the brassards. These last were agony as whenever I bent my arm they took pieces of flesh out. I should have had on a leather jerkin underneath as a protection but I wore only imitation leather which helped not at all. One of the Peels and Victor Corkran were my esquires and they walked behind me in full armour carrying my banner and big two-handed sword. My helmet was carried in front by Sir Arthur Sullivan and we made a very imposing cortege clattering up the marble stairs.

It shows how completely occupied I was with my own importance on that occasion that I remember no one else , only the general effect of brilliance and magnificence, which I have never seen equalled in any other function that I have attended.”

Helena’s mother:

page 48 - Copy

Princess Victor Hohenlohe as the Margravine of Anspach. (“a lovely red velvet gown with hoops and powdered hair… I wore part of the same gown at the jubilee of King George V and the material looked as fresh as it did forty years before.”)

Maybe you could never be sure what you got with ancestors. At least with scandalous fictional characters you knew what you were taking on.

The Hon Mrs Brett as Manon Lescaut p188 (2)

The Honourable Mrs Brett as Manon Lescaut, the title character of a notorious 18th century French novel by the Abbe Prevost. It was turned into an opera by both Massenet and Puccini, has twice been adapted as a ballet and has been filmed several times.

Next, Lady Hilda Keith-Falconer in a relatively simple dress.

Lady Hilda Keith Falconer as Lady Susan Gordon afterwards Duchess of Manchester p215

She was photographed several times in this costume, in her role as Lady Susan Gordon, Duchess of Manchester. (Who apparently ran off with her footman before separating from her husband the Duke – another scandal) She was taken standing and sitting and even with another guest, the Countess of Kintore (her mother, who was the daughter of the 6th Duke of Manchester and grand daughter of the same Lady Susan I think.)

The Countess of Kintore as Jane Duchess of Gordon (Lady Hilda Keith-Falconer with her) p211

They don’t make it easy for the modern blogger although this information would have been well known to celebrity devotees of 1897.

Another duo as The Duchess de Lavis and the Marquise de Vintimille.

Lady Cardross as La Duchesse de Lavis, the Hon Miss Erskine as La Marquise de Vintimille du Luc p262

The two young women are Lady Cardross and the Hon.Miss Muriel Erskine, another mother and daughter as far as I can work it out from the string of titles they have between them. (I expect someone can correct me on this one if I’m wrong.)

To further complicate matters we now have a trio:

Rt Hon Sir W V Harcourt MP as Simon Lord Harcourt, Lord Chancellor 1710, The Rt HOn A J Balfour MP as a gentleman of Holland, Mrs Grenfell as Marie de Medici p28

The Rt Hon Sir W V Harcourt MP (then Leader of the Opposition) as Simon Lord Harcourt, a Lord Chancellor of 1710 (possibly a relative of his), another MP, A J Balfour as “a gentleman of Holland” (pleasingly vague), and a Mrs Grenfell as Marie de Medici. It could be that the photographer herded three random guests together for this composition but perhaps they too were relatives. A J Balfour, of course was only five years away from being a Conservative Prime Minister. (Harcourt was a Liberal.)

Here is a less complicated trio. The Empress Josephine played by  The Marshioness of Tweedale simply has a couple of willing attendants by her side. The dress is a representation of Josephine’s coronation robes.

The Marchioness of Tweedale as the Empress Josephine page 133


At this point I long for some simplicity. Below, Emilia Yznaga plays Cydalise, a character in the Comedie Italienne at the time of Louis XIV. Miss Yznaga does not have a complicated back story.

Miss Emilia Yznaga as Cydalise of the Comedie Italienne in the time of Louis XV p210 (2)

Of course that’s easy for me to say. Everybody has a complicated back story if you dig deep enough.

The Hon Mrs George Curzon a Valentina Visconti of Milan AD1447 p200

Valentina Visconit was the wife of the Duke of Orleans (brother of King Charles V of France).  Lady Mary Curzon looks commanding in this recreation of a costume of 1447. Are you convinced of its historical accuracy? The dress below only goes back to the 17th century.

Lady St Oswald as Duchessa di Calaria a Venetian Lady of the XVI century p172 (3)

The classical background  seems to place it somewhere else. My mind wonders off to Westeros a little. But for the record Mabel, Lady St Oswald plays the role of a Venetian noblewoman, the Duchessa de Caluria.

The Hon Mrs A Lyttleton after a picture by Romney (2)

Mrs Lyttleton, according to the caption is simply wearing a dress from a Romney painting, something we’ve seen before. Dame Edith Sophie Lyttleton was a novelist, a political campaigner and a spiritualist, who lived until 1948. I haven’t stressed that aspect of these pictures but it is odd to think that many of these guests were to live through two world wars and witness unprecedented changes in the world they inhabited.

The stern looking Lady Margaret Spicer, below, as another Russian aristocrat Countess Zinotriff, lived till 1949.

Lady Margaret Spicwe as Countess Zinotriff Lady in Waiting to the Empress Catherine of Russia p248

She was also painted by John Singer Sargent.

It’s time to  end this visit to the costume ball. I’m not so sure now that this was the final visit. When I went looking for Helena Gleichen’s mother I spotted a few more pictures I liked, so I can’t say that we won’t be back here again this time next year. Helena’s account spurred me on – surely some of the other guests must have written about “the brilliance and magnificence” of the event?

I can’t leave you with 13 pictures so let’s have just one more.

The Hon Mrs Algernon Grosvenor as Marie Louise p177 (2)

The Hon Mrs Algernon Grosvenor as Marie Louise, looking just a bit tired of the whole business.


Helena’s mention of Elisabeth of Hungary brought me back to another favourite subject, the Whitelands May Queens. The story of the saint, which was unfamiliar to me was evidently popular in this period and she features as a character in performances at the May Queen Festival. That’s another angle for my annual post on the May Queens. But here’s a taster for you, showing a slightly less magnificent and brilliant (but possibly more entertaining) performance.

031e Princess Elizabeth of Hungary 1913

I’m a bit late publishing this post as there were a few things I wanted to chase first. I nearly kept it till the early hours of the new year but in the end perhaps it’s better as the final post of 2015. Next year another year of searching for and waiting for ideas begins. A happy new year to you all.

Costume Ball 5: more ladies, more gentlemen

It’s January, so we start the new year by going back to the Duchess of Devonshire’s Jubilee Costume Ball of 1897, for another visit. But don’t think I’m scraping away at the bottom of the barrel. There are still plenty of interesting costumes to see, and no shortage of eminent ladies (and a few gentlemen) who had put some considerable effort into selecting their outfits for the event.

We can start with a couple of Duchesses:

The Duchess of Marlborough as the wife of the French ambasador at the court of Catherine of Russia page 116

This is the Duchess of Marlborough, in the role of “the wife of the French Ambassador at the court of Catherine the Great of Russia”. The Duchess was formerly Consuelo Vanderbilt an eligible American heiress who was apparently forced into her marriage (to the 9th Duke of Marlborough) by her mother. The marriage ended in divorce in 1921. She remained friendly with some members of her husband’s family including Winston Churchill.

Another Russian connection below, the Duchess of Newcastle as Princess Dashkov (or more properly Dashkova)

The Duchess of Newcastle as Princess Dashkofs p254

Princess Ekaterinawas a close friend of the Empress Catherine. She lived in Edinburgh from 1776 to 1782 and on her return to Russia became Director of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, the first woman to hold a hign government post. The Duchess of Newcastle, Kathleen Florence May Pelham-Clinton was a celebrated dog breeeder. Should I risk boring you with a slight coincidence? The Duchess died in the year of my birth and shared two of her Christian names with my mother.

Now a few Countesses:

The Countess of Yarborough as a Lady of the Court of Catherine II of Russia p124

The Countess of Yarborough is another “lady of the Empress Catherine’s court” according to our book of the Ball. (It must have been quite a challenge for the photographer’s assistants to get all this information down, hence the occasional unknown name). Further research tells us that Marcia Amelia Mary Pelham was playing another Countess, Countess Tchoglokov. She was also two Baronesses, Conyers and Fauconberg, if that information takes your fancy.

Coming back to these islands, the Countess of Pembroke, Beatrix Louisa Lambton is another of those guests playing one of their own ancestors.

The Countess of Pembroke as Mary Sydney Countess of Pembroke after the picture by Marcus Gheeraedts p121

She is Mary Sydney, the Countess of Pembroke, sister of the poet Philip Sydney and a poet in her own right. She was a highly educated woman who was a patron of both the arts and sciences. She edited some of her brother’s works after his death including Arcadia and may have known Shakespeare. At one point she lived in Crosby Hall, the building famously transported from the City to Cheyne Walk, in Chelsea in the 1920s.

Here is an Elizabethan duo:

Lady Tweedmouth as Queen Elizabeth, Lord Tweedmouth as the Earl of Leicester p257 (2)

Queen Elizabeth herself, played by Lady Tweedmouth, while her husband Lord Tweedmouth plays  Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, the Queen’s favourite. An intriguing pair of roles for a married couple to play. Lord Tweedmouth was Lord Privy Seal under Gladstone. His wife, Fanny Octavia Louise was another member of the Spencer-Churchill family. She died of cancer in 1904.

Continuing the Elizabethan theme, and coming slightly down the social scale Mrs Arthur James plays Elizabeth Cavendish, the daughter of Bess  Of Hardwicke (Countess of Shrewsbury) who married the 1st Earl of Lennox, Charles Stuart.

Mrs Arthur James as Elizabeth Cavendish daughter of Bess of Hardwicke p256 (2)

I’ve allowed Mrs James to create a discrete gap on the page between Robert Dudley and his wife Amy Robsart:

Mrs C G Hamilton as Amy Robsart p160 (2)

She is played by another lady making use of the feathery fan, Mrs C G Hamilton. Lady Dudley is famous for falling downstairs and dying in suspiscious circumstances, supposedly to clear the way for Queen Elizabeth to marry Sir Robert. This of course never happened. I wonder if Mrs Hamilton stayed away from Lord and Lady Tweedmouth during the Ball, or if they just laughed about the suggestion of murder?

Perhaps we should turn to some guests whose costumes  have a purely aesthetic effect.

Lady Bingham p228

This slightly confused lady is noted down as simply Lady Bingham, with no suggestion as to who she represents.

Other guests chose roles from the world of art.

Lady Beatrice Herbert as Signora Bacelli after Gainsborough p123

This is Lady Beatrice Herbert portraying Gainsborough’s Giovann Baccelli. Compare her with the painting itself:


A pretty accurate rendition I would say. the orginal painting is in the collection of Tate Britain.

Another artistic lady:

Lady Evelyn Ewart as the Duchess of Ancaster Mistress of the Robes to Queen Charlotte 1757 after a picture by Hudson p178

Lady Evelyn Ewart doesn’t quite replicate the pose but the dress is almost exactly the same


I haven’t been able to find an exact image of the original but this is based on a miniature by Cosway.

Miss Madeleine Stanley as Lady Hopeton after a miniature by Cosway p227

Miss Madeleine Stanley looking languid and pastoral as Lady Hopeton. She may be a relation of this gentleman, the Hon.G Stanley:

the Hon G Stanley as Maro - period of Louis XVI page 104

I’m surprised I haven’t used him before. Possibly because the picture is labelled “period of Louis XVI” which deosn’t quite fit with the Roman style costume. It’s a good picture though.

There are still some pictures left for another post another day but let’s finish on one of the lying down poses.


Lady Georgiana Curzon as Maria Leschynska p170 (2)

Maria Leschynska was the daughter of King Stanislaw I of Poland (not a king for very long) who married Louis XV of France.  Sitting for the photographer is Lady Georgiana Curzon, (nee Spencer-Churchill) daughter of the 7th Duke of Marlborough (John Winston Spencer Churchill) and hence younger sister of Lady Tweedmouth and some kind of relation to the Duchess in the first picture. You can work it out. I’m going to follow Lady Georgiana’s example and lie down.


I hope you consider these fancy dress posts suitable for the post-Christmas period of idle entertainment. They’re usually popular anyway. We’ll be back to more local matters next week.The other costume ball posts here.

I’ve just seen the Mayor’s firework display from my kitchen window. Not bad. A happy new year to you all.

Fancy Dress 1897: the Duchess of Devonshire’s Diamond Jubilee Ball

The Time Machine seems to be a bit sluggish after its month long stay in the 19th century. So it’s hardly surprising that its first jump has only got us as far as 1897. It’s landed us outside the borders of Kensington and Chelsea as well but as this is a Diamond Jubilee year for the Queen we shouldn’t miss this opportunity to hang around at one of the main events of the last Diamond Jubilee. We’re in a tent in the grounds of Devonshire House on July 2nd 1897. The photographer James Lauder of the Lafayette Company and his assistants are going to perform the considerable feat of taking photographs of 200 guests in sumptuous costumes in front of different backdrops over the evening. We’re going to see costumes from history, literature, art and mythology. The occasion is the social event of the year, the Duchess of Devonshire’s Diamond Jubilee Costume Ball.

The Princess of Wales came as Queen Marguerite de Valois. Some guests followed the Royal example and stayed with European history. The Duchess of Portland as the Duchess of Savoy:

Or HRH the Duchess of Connaught as Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV (I looked that up so you don’t have to):

Other guests ventured into art:

Sir Edgar Vincent as a character from a painting by Franz Hals. Like the photographers I am throwing in a few token men but concentrating on the female guests. (The Lafayette Company expected to sell prints of the photographs and the costumes of the ladies which were nearly all very expensive and made to order. Out of 700 guests, 200 or so were photographed, the majority of them women) Lady Vincent also came as a character from a Dutch painting:

Here’s another artistic pair:

The Ladies Churchill as Watteau shepherdesses. Shepherdesses of course have always been a favourite dressing up role for the aristocracy, favoured by Marie Antoinette and even Louis XIV’s brother who was always called Monsieur.

Lady Margaret Villiers, either by coincidence or design is dressed as Monsieur’s wife Madame, Duchess d’Orleans (and sister of Charles II) who had three children by the bisexual royal Duke, took part in the negotiations for the secret Treaty of Dover, and who may have been poisoned, all by the age of 26.

The men at these affairs usually look more uncomfortable if not actually unconvincing:

The Hon Mr Fitzwilliam as Nelson and Lord Staverdale as Petrarch. Mr Henry Holden pulls it off by refusing to take the whole thing too seriously:

He is portraying Will Somers, the first Queen Elizabeth‘s court jester. The costume looks a lot less effort as well.

The hostess the Duchess of Devonshire looked to the classical world for inspiration. She dressed as Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra.

Others followed her example and these I think are the most interesting costumes at the ball.

Lady Randolph Churchill (Sir Winston Churchill’s mother) as the Empress Theodora, wife of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.

Lady Alexandra Colebrooke as Roxana, wife of Alexander the Great. And below the Hon Mrs Algernon Bourke as Salammbo the princess of Carthage in Flaubert’s novel. Although she was fictional she had a definite influence on art and fashion in the late 19th century.

There were even two, possibly three versions of Cleopatra:

I don’t know if Mrs Paget and the Countess de Grey had to be kept apart at the Ball. What’s the etiquette if two rival versions meet? The book I’ve used for these pictures printed just after the Ball also describes the picture below as Cleopatra:

Princess Henry of Pless has the edge I think in terms of the most impressive costume (none of them are likely to be all that accurate) but some authorities say she’s dressed as the Queen of Sheba, which deals with any further clash of characters. The backdrops for these images are influenced by painters such as Moreau and of course our own Lord Leighton and Lawrence Alma-Tadema. The world of ancient Rome and the Middle East was seen as a fantasy land of sensual pleasure in the late Victorian imagination. As we explored in the post about Vickie and Nance’s Egyptian trips, travellers, writers and painters were being drawn into a new imaginative relationship with the countries around the Mediterranean.

Queen Victoria herself, the object of the celebration was not present at the Ball but in the final picture we see Mrs Wolverton as Britannia.

This is a good place to end. Mind you, I haven’t even got to King Arthur, the two Valkyries, Dante’s Beatrice, Titania or Scheherazade. But we have to get back to that time machine and out of the nineteenth century. We may drop in on Mr Linley Sambourne again next week.

More from the costume ball here and here.

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