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