Tag Archives: Lafayette

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.

Scheherazade.

More pictures from the costume ball here and here.


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