Tag Archives: Duchess of Devonshire’s 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:

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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.

Costume Ball 4: Ladies only

It’s the time of year for parties so we’re back at that social event of 1897, the Duchess of Devonshire’s Diamond Jubilee Costume Ball which has proved to be one of the most popular subjects on the blog. The Duchess and her party organiser must have been well aware of the interest the Ball would generate. The Lafayette photography company set up their portable studio in a tent in the grounds of Devonshire House, and the photographers must have been working hard to get through nearly 200 subjects in the course of the evening. But it would have been worth it. They would have been able to sell postcards and prints of the guests to a public which was already generating an early version of what we now call celebrity culture. In addition there were expensive souvenirs. The book I’ve scanned these pictures from is a large heavy volume produced in a limited edition.

This selection features only female guests. Their costumes were the main focus of interest for the photographers so I’m following this example as any popular magazine edition would have done. As I’ve noted in previous posts (1st,2nd,3rd) the costumes were mainly historical with the 16th,17th and 18th centuries providing most of the subjects. But there were also literary, mythological and artistic costumes.

Lady Ampthill, as “a lady of King Arthur’s court”.

Lady Ampthill p219 as a lady of King Arthur's court

And here, Queen Guinevere herself:

Lady Rodney as Queen Guinevere p114

Lady Rodney’s costume designer has a slightly different take on fashions at Camelot. A similar free reign could be taken when creating costumes for characters out of antiquity.

Miss Keith Fraser as Delilah p152 (2)

Miss Fraser as Delilah, a Biblical character familiar to most people of the time.

Miss Muriel Wilson as Queen Vashti page 101

Miss Muriel Wilson as Queen Vashti, the first wife of King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther. Vashti is sometimes called a proto-feminist icon for her refusal to appear before the King’s guests at a banquet.

Some of the costumes were more conceptual:

Lady Herschell as Night p251

Lady Herschell looking slightly unhappy as Night (costumes expressing ideas like night and day were quite common at fancy dress parties).

The Countess of Westmoreland as Hebe page 82

The Countess of Westmoreland as Hebe, the Greek goddess of youth, daughter of Zeus and Hera. Did she bring that bird herself, I wonder or did the photographer have it handy, in his box of props?

Lady Edith Villiers as Lady Melbourne after Cosway page 60

There were some costumes inspired by artworks including this one, Lady Edith Villiers as Lady Melbourne after a portrait by Cosway, and in a similar vein:

The Hon Mrs Reginald Fitzwilliam after a picture by Romney

The Hon Mrs Fitzwilliam after a portrait by Romney.

But as I’ve said, the majority of the guests came as historical figures. In this case the photographers were unable to identify the costume worn by Mrs Leiter:

Mrs Leiter p245

Suggestions welcome. Other ladies were more readily identifiable if sometimes a little obscure:

The Duchess of Buckingham and Chandos as Caterina Cornare Queen of Cypress p144 (2)

The Duchess of Buckingham and Chandos (a fine title) as Caterina Cornare, Queen of Cypress.

Lady Aileen Wyndham Quin as Queen Hortense  p139

Lady Aileen Wyndham Quin as Queen Hortense. I’m assuming that this is Hortense de Beauharnais, stepdaughter of Napoleon and daughter of Josephine. She was Queen of Holland as the wife of Louis Napoleon and the mother of Napoleon III.

The Hon Mrs Lowther as Madame de Tallion - Incroyable p186

The Hon Mrs Lowther as Madame Therese de Tallion an “Incroyable” according to the caption in the book, one of the fashionistas of post Reign of Terror Paris, although my cursory research indicates that the Incroyables were the male ones and that the correct term for the women was Merveilleuses (marvellous women). Hortense de Beauharnis was also a Mervelleuse in her younger days.

Lady Fitzgerald as Marie Josephe Queen of Poland

Lady Fitzgerald as Marie Josephe Queen of Poland.

Lady Moyra Cavendish as Countess Lazan page 62

Lady Moyra Cavendish as Countess Lazan, a person I haven’t been able to find out anything about, but it’s a good costume.

Lady Lister Kaye as Duchesse de Guise, time Henri III p131

Lady Lister Kaye as Antoinette de Bourbon, Duchesse de Guise and maternal grandmother of Mary Queen of Scots.

The Duchess of Hamilton as Mary Hamilton Lady in Waiting to Mary Queen of Scots p207 (2)

The Duchess of Hamilton as Mary Hamilton, a lady in waiting to the same Mary Stuart, and possibly one of her own ancestors.

Lady Alington as Duchesse de Nevers, Dame de la Cour de S.M. Marguerite de Valois p213

Lady Alington as the Duchesse de Nevers, a lady from the court of Marguerite de Valois. She looks to me as if she has been very patient with the photographer but is now ready to go.

The Hon Marie Kay as Mademoiselle Andree de Taverney AD1773  page 240

The Hon Marie Kay as Mademoiselle Andree de Taverney, another 18th century lady who has evaded me today.

And finally, posed as if walking away:

The Hon Maud Winn as Madame la Motte page 59

The Hon Maud Winn as Madame la Motte, possibly the thief and adventuress who was involved in the complicated affair of the Queen’s diamonds in the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. It’s an incongruously disreputable note on which to finish with this grand and respectable event.


The Ball took place in July, which must have made some of those heavy costumes uncomfortable. Not really appropriate for this time of year either. One of the other characters who’ve appeared in the blog, Jerry Cornelius held a spectacular party in the Final Programme. So from him I take this message: a happy new fear to all my readers.

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Party time again: Costume Ball 1897

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 William James as the Archduchess Elizabeth of Austra p282 a

Mrs Elizabeth James as the Archduchess Anne of Austria. Or below:

double 01

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.

The Countess of Kilmorey Ellen Constance nee Baldock as Comtesse du Barri p267

She is 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.

Sir Charles Hartopp as Napoleon I, Lady Hartopp as the Empress Josephine p270 (2)

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, Lady Chelsea as an Italian Flower girl p221  (2)

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 p129

Mrs von Andre as Desdemona. Other guests strayed out of the strict historical plan.

The Hon Mrs Reginald Talbot as a Valkyrie p183

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 as Megaera p150a

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 .

2 furies

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 the family group by Gainsborough

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 as Helen Countess of Dalkeith p236 (2)

The Countess of Dalkeith playing  Helen, a previous Countess of Dalkeith.

Lady Margaret Innes-Ker as Lady Eglinton, Lady Victoria Innes-Ker as Elizabeth Linley after minatures by Cosway p169

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 (Major Wynne-Finch with her) p239

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:

Lady de Trafford as Semiramis Queen of Assyria p261

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 Merlin and Vivian p265 (2)

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.

More pictures from the costume ball here and here.

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.


More pictures from the costume ball here and here.

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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