In early April, 1814, Napoleon’s career as l’Empereur, came to its first end. Spoiler Alert: it didn’t last for long…
Following the disaster of his failed invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon’s brilliance as a general seemed to fail him. After losing thousands of troops in the battles and long trek back to France, his Grand Armée never regained its primacy. Napoleon lost the Battle of Leipzig against the Sixth Coalition (Great Britain, Austria, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Spain, and Portugal) in October, 1813, the largest and bloodiest battle of the Napoleonic Wars, with over 90,000 casualties.
After this defeat, Napoleon’s forces were doomed. Coalition forces pursued him into France from the east and the British-led armies of the Peninsular War had invaded France from the south. Paris fell to the Coalition in March 1814.
Napoleon had withdrawn to the palace at Fontainebleau where, learning of the French Senate’s act deposing him, he abdicated in favor of his son on April 4, 1814. His second wife, Marie Louise, was to be regent. The Coalition Allies were not amused. They insisted on a complete abdication, with Marie Louise and her son to be sent out of France, as well as Napoleon himself.
On April 11, 1814, he signed the act of abdication declaring he “…renounces, for himself and his heirs, the thrones of France and Italy, and that there is no personal sacrifice, even that of his life, which he is not ready to do in the interests of France.”
After saying farewell to the last of his faithful troops, Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba off the southern coast of France.
We all know the familiar story of his escape from Elba in February 1815 while the leaders of the Allies were conferring at the Congress of Vienna about how to undo his conquests, his return to France and his attempts to regain full power by retaking Belgium. Unfortunately for his ambitions, the Allies had other ideas. Led by the 1st Duke of Wellington, the Allied Armies defeated the French in the Battle of Waterloo, June 18, 1815. Within a few weeks, Napoleon surrendered to the British (July 15, 1815) and was sent to the remote south Atlantic island of St Helena, where he died six years later.
Napoleon (1769-1821) is one of those historical characters who has become much larger than life since his death. In the nearly 200 years since he was decisively defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and subsequently exiled to St.Helena, his accomplishments have apparently outweighed his destruction of thousands of lives in popular thought. He had taken power in France in 1799, in the aftermath of the Revolution and Reign of Terror. His reign brought many needed reforms, such as ending feudal practices and enforcing religious toleration. He is particularly honored for his adoption of the new system of national law, the Code Napoleon.
After his 1821 death in St Helena, he was buried on the island. In 1840, his remains were returned to France with great pomp, and his elaborate tomb was set in the Dôme des Invalides in Paris, completed in 1860.
However his accomplishments have been honored, Napoleon’s ability to justify incredible national sacrifice in service to his ambition to rule all of Europe is not as admirable. His efforts took more than ten years, cost a countless thousands of lives, and destroyed great swatches of territory. You can have your Napoleon, if you want him — we’ll take the real hero, Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington!
A mix of town and country, this tour includes a blend of residences from London townhouses to grand stately homes in an array of styles, complete with glorious gardens and each one filled with fabulous furnishings and artwork from various eras and complete with glorious gardens – Visit Kenwood House, Apsley House, the Wallace Collection, Waddesdon Manor, Syon Park, Osterley Park and Sir John Soane’s House.
Based in London, the Town and Country House Tour will allow you to visit a broad range of homes both in Town and in the surrounding countryside. Waddesdon Manor, above, was home to Baron de Rothschild and, along with Syon Park, Kenwood House and Osterley Park, is a fine example of the type of stately home built by prominent aristocrats whose interests were tied to London and who required proximity to the City.
Apsley House, home to the 1st Duke of Wellington, and the Wallace Collection, above, housed in the former home of Lord and Lady Hertford, will both offer glimpses into life in London’s grandest residences, while Sir John Soane’s Museum, Leighton House and 18 Stafford Terrace demonstrate how the homes of 19th century writers and artists would have appeared.
In addition, guided walking tours will bring you to aristocratic areas, elegant squares and lesser known corners that will immerse you in the history of London and bring the 18th and 19th centuries to life.
The complete itinerary for the Town and Country House Tour can be found here.
I’m gobsmacked. I truly can’t believe that Number One London has been around for ten years today, or that we’ve now published over 1,650 posts or that we’re still being visited by more than 3,500 readers per month. Who would have thought? Certainly not Vicky and me when we wrote our first blog post all those years ago. And now that Louisa Cornell is onboard with us, we three want to thank you for your loyalty and support over all these years – here’s to making it to 11!
During the Regency period, attending the theatre was a passion shared by nearly everyone from London’s aristocratic upper ten thousand down through the middling classes and the lower orders, i.e. those whose lives consisted mainly of serving their betters. Only a few playhouses in England were approved by the king. Those theatres so blessed were known as Patent Theatres and were thereafter distinguished as being a Theatre Royal. Non-patent theatres were prohibited from producing serious drama and had to limit their performances to farce or light comedy. To avoid fines, closure, or prosecution theatres unapproved by the king took to including singing and dancing within their dramatic productions, including Shakespearian plays!
London’s premier patent theatres, Drury Lane and Covent Garden, were both also granted permission to remain open throughout the winter months, meaning for them, the theatre season ran from mid-September through mid-June. Another London patent theatre, Haymarket was mainly a summer playhouse open from May to early autumn.
Unfortunately, none of London’s theatres at this time were immune from disasters ranging from fire and bankruptcy to contentious and often public disagreements amongst its management and performers. In 1803, the patent theatre Covent Garden was the theatrical home of the famed actor John Philip Kemble and his sister, the equally famous actress, Sarah Siddons, who had been lured away from Drury Lane. After Covent Garden burned to the ground in 1808, performances were staged at the Italian Opera House in summer and the Haymarket in winter. A year later, when Covent Garden reopened, touting a new tier of private boxes, the higher ticket prices, instituted to finance the rebuilding and renovation of the theatre, resulted in what became known as the ‘Old Price’ riots as angry patrons protested. The riots continued for sixty nights and were so intense that on one occasion, the noise drowned out Kemble’s performance of Macbeth.
The patent theatre, Drury Lane, located between Bridges and Russell Streets in London, claimed to be fireproof, yet, in February 1809 it, too, burned to the ground. The theatre was eventually rebuilt and reopened in October 1812. In the interim, performances were staged at the Lyceum and Haymarket theatres. Two years later in 1814, Drury Lane was once again remodeled with the popular poet Lord Byron serving on the management board. Drury Lane’s most famous manager was the playwright Richard Sheridan, who on the day the theatre burned was observed sipping a glass of port as he watched the flames viscously devour the building. In his defense, Sheridan remarked, “Surely a man may enjoy a glass of wine before his own fireside.”
For the first ten years of the century, one of Drury Lane’s most sensational actresses was Dorothea Jordan, who for two decades was mistress to the Prince Regent’s brother the Duke of Clarence, the future King William IV. Though the pair never married, during their time together she bore him ten children, all of whom took the surname FitzClarence. Mary Robinson was another sensational Drury Lane actress who became the Prince Regent’s first mistress, he at the time being a mature gentleman of seven and ten. Historians differ as to whether or not theirs was a full-fledged love affair, but the fact that love letters were exchanged and assignations were made and kept was enough to set tongues wagging. That the affaire ended badly was not disputed.
In the latter years of the Georgian era, the King’s Theatre, located at the corner of Pall Mall and Haymarket in London, was essentially the home of the opera. Because most all operas at this time were sung in Italian, the King’s Theatre became known as the Italian Opera House. Lavishly decorated, the Opera House catered to an exclusive and aristocratic audience. Boasting five tiers of private boxes, one could rent a box for the entire season for a mere three hundred guineas. Declared the Times in 1808, “The boxes are painted within sky blue . . . the curtains are scarlet and match the seats of the pit. The boxes belonging to the Royal Family are all lined with scarlet drapery. The ceiling exhibits a beautiful mythological painting of Aurora in the centre.” Said the visiting Persian Ambassador Abul Hassan, “[It is] nothing like I have ever seen before; it has seven magnificent tiers all decorated in gold and azure, and hung with brocade curtains and paintings.” Not everyone found the décor quite so lovely. “In spite of the brilliant lighting, it is over-decorated with paintings,” said foreign visitor Joanna Schopenhauer. “. . . in rather poor taste with hosts of little cupids swarming everywhere amidst thousands of scrolls and garlands.” In 1818, gaslight was added to the interior of the Opera House, although the use of candles for lighting was not entirely abandoned until a good many years later.
Amongst the non-patent theatres of this period was the Pantheon located in Oxford Street. Permanently closed in 1814, it reopened a decade later as a shopping bazaar. The Regency Theatre, named in 1811 in honor of George, the Prince of Wales becoming Regent, was situated in Tottenham Street and was formerly a riding academy. In 1800, the Royalty Theatre, located in Wellclose Square, was owned by Philip Astley, a former cavalry officer whose equestrian spectacles drew large crowds. During his winter season, Astley staged his circuses at the Royalty, which was later renamed the East London Theatre. In 1806, Astley began staging his productions at the Olympic Theatre in Wych Street, which caused that venue to become known as Astley’s Pavilion.
Also at this time, a good many provincial theatres could be found in other English towns and villages such as Bath, Brighton, Bristol, Margate, Dover, Maidstone and Plymouth where both itinerate acting companies, and visiting thespians, regularly performed.
The following is a brief compendium of early theatre terms:
Tokens – were used in place of tickets, which at the time did not exist. Theatre-goers instead purchased special round or oval-shaped tokens made from bone, ivory or even silver. Tokens were purchased for the duration of one or two seasons. Since theatre seats were not yet numbered, a patron’s name and the number of his personal theatre box might also be engraved upon his individual token.
Theatre Lights – consisted of lit candles placed in hanging chandeliers that were suspended over the heads of the audience. Because candles could not be dimmed during a performance, it was not uncommon for a dribble of hot wax to drop down upon a theatre-goer’s head or arms causing the patron to cry out, or shriek in pain. The stage was lit by oil lamps hanging in the wings with smaller lamps placed along the outer rim of the stage. Since the auditorium was constantly lit, patrons could easily observe one another as well as the performers on stage. Patrons often talked back, or called out, to performers, or to those seated in the pit, which contained row upon row of backless, unpadded benches.
The Second Seating – A stream of patrons were let into the theatre often upon the conclusion of the first act, which is when the price of admission was reduced. To avoid paying full price, many less affluent patrons waited outdoors until the price of admission fell, often by half.
The Gallery – that area of the theatre also known as the Gallery. Located high above the private boxes, the auditorium, and the pit (ground level), the gallery is where the common folk, or servants of the wealthy, sat.
Fop’s Alley – an aisle on the pit level where rakes and dandies liked to parade.
Orange Girls – were young peasant girls who sold oranges to patrons. It was said that Nell Gywn, a famous actress who later became the mistress of King Charles II, began her career in the theatre as an orange girl before she became a well-known stage performer.
Playbills – were posted in nearby inn and coffee house windows. Orange sellers might sell them to patrons in place of a program before a play commenced.
Costmes – Despite a well-established theatre’s stock wardrobe, players were expected to provide their own costumes, although leading thespians were often given a special stipend to be used especially for that purpose.
Afterpiece – following a serious drama, or a double bill of plays, a light farce or pantomime called the ‘afterpiece’ was staged. A full ballet was generally performed following the completion of an opera. Given the length of plays and operas at the time, a night at the theatre truly meant a full night spent at the theatre!
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MARILYN CLAY, former founder and publisher of The Regency Plume, an international newsletter focused on the Regency Period in English history, is now the best-selling author of over two dozen fiction and non-fiction books. Marilyn’s popular Regency-era mystery series features Miss Juliette Abbott as the clever young sleuth who always manages to run the criminal to ground, often at great peril to herself, or her intrepid young lady’s maid Tilda.
Marilyn Clay’s newest title in her Juliette Abbott Regency Mystery Series, Murder At Montford Hall, is now available in both print and Ebook from all major online retailers. In this seventh book of the series, a group of London’s formerly famous theatrical personages find themselves stranded at Montford Hall during a blinding snowstorm. When it appears that someone is attempting to kill them all off one-by-one, tempers flare out of control as the terrified thespians point fingers at one another. Found standing over the dead body of a beloved actor, Miss Abbott is instantly declared the guilty party, but can she run the real murderer to ground before the company of angry houseguests take matters into their own hands?
Other titles in Marilyn Clay’s Juliette Abbott Regency Mystery Series include, Murder At Morland Manor, Murder In Mayfair, Murder In Margate, Murder At Medley Park, Murder In Middlewych, Murder In Maidstone, and now Murder At Montford Hall.
It took 50 years from the invention of the telephone to make transatlantic phone calls possible, as there was much more than the mere laying of a cable to achieve the feat, since the voltages involved in telephone calls were too low to be passed though such a long cable and there was no known technology for underwater repeater amplifiers. It wasn’t until the wireless was invented that across the pond communication became possible. Bell System engineers achieved the first voice transmission across the Atlantic, connecting Virginia and Paris briefly in 1915. A year later they held the first two-way conversation with a ship at sea. However, these were just experimental demonstrations and it wasn’t until 7 March 1926 that the first transatlantic telephone call, from London to New York, was completed. The first commercial telephone service, using radio, began on January 7, 1927, between New York and London. The initial capacity was one call at a time at a cost of $75 for the first three minutes.