Meghan Markle made her first official appearance along with fiance Prince Harry in Nottingham on 1 December and her coat (Mackage ‘Elodie’ Navy Wool Coat US$790) and boots (KG by Kurt Geiger Violet Black Suede Over the Knee Boots £229) sold out on the same day. How did everyone find out what pieces she was wearing, so fast? Kensington Palace’s newest fashion icon has us mere mortals wanting to shop pieces, but how do we get the 411 about what they are and where to buy them? I mean before they sell out?
Well, it seems that Meghan has been a trendsetter since at least November 2016, when the website Meghan’s Fashion debuted. Loaded with photos of Meghan’s outfits and the required links to shopping those looks, this site should be bookmarked by all Royal watching fashionistas. Can’t decide between Meghan’s outfit or Katherine’s? No problem, there’s a Kate’s Closet site, as well.
Then there’s Meghan’s Mirror, a site similar to those above, but which also features Meghan’s best looks, her favourites, her fashion rules and even what’s on her reading list.
Want to see Meghan’s airport look? No problem!
And here’s Meghan’s yoga style
Even more exciting, Meghan has designed her very own dress line, The Meghan Markle Collection, available online at Canadian retailer Reitman on 27 April, in store 28 April. There’s no way to guess whether Ms. Markle will be able to continue selling her line beyond this season and after marrying into the Royal family, so this may be our only chance to get one of the gorgeous dresses below – all selling for under $100. Mark your calendars!
James Boswell is best known as the biographer of Dr. Samuel Johnson, but he was also 9th Laird of Auchinleck, in Scotland, with the family seat being Auchinleck House, in Ayershire, below, since it was built circa 1760. Boswell visited often and he and Dr. Johnson stayed here together in 1773 during their return from the Hebrides. As it turns out, a small group of lucky travelers will be staying here and we’ll have the entire estate to ourselves during Number One London’s 2018 Scottish Writer’s Retreat in September. Can there be a more perfect location for a writer’s retreat than the home of the author commonly said to have written the greatest biography in the English language – or the man who spent nine years working on The Dictionary of the English Language?
In light of my upcoming stay, I thought it would only be fitting for me to brush up on my Boswell/Johnson knowledge by re-reading Boswell’s Journals and Christopher Hibbert’s excellent biography, The Personal History of Samuel Johnson.
“In this magnificent work Mr Sisman describes the making of that greatest of all biographies, Boswell’s Life of Dr Johnson. To his contemporaries the task that Boswell had taken on was presumptuous indeed – to record the life of the greatest literary man of his age, while being dismissed himself as a frivolous and reprobate dilettante incapable of any serious activity. Well, the world knows that Bozzy succeeded in confounding his critics, but the tragic irony of his predicament was that he succeeded too well. While hailing the book as a masterpiece, the current and future literary establishment dismissed Boswell’s own role as little more than that of a stenographer. Macaulay’s damning essay on Boswell formed the opinion held by too many people for far too long. The true story of Boswell’s genius became well known to scholars in the 20th century; with this book, Mr. Sisman brings the story to a wider audience. It is a remarkable portrait of Boswell’s love for Johnson and the great struggles he endured to bring his hero to life in the pages of his biography. Battling drink, debauchery, depression and his own self-destructive nature, Boswell managed to pull off the one great sustained piece of effort of his life. In his book Johnson was brought to life once again, an image so convincing that it took over 150 years for people to discern the art behind the apparent ingenuousness of Boswell’s technique. Sisman does a good job of showing how the Johnson of the Life was as much a product of Boswell’s gift as the historical record (although I think readers would have benefited from a few examples of textual analysis to illustrate this). His final chapter on the gradual unearthing of the Boswell papers provides an exciting ending and his writing is clear and compelling. “Boswell’s Presumptuous Task” is nothing short of a triumph.”
The “gradual unearthing of the Boswell papers” mentioned above refers to a cache of Boswell’s private papers and journals found at Malahide Castle just outside of Dublin in the 1920’s. Boswell’s great-great-grandson, Lord Talbot de Malahide sold the papers to American collector Ralph Isham and they now form part of the collection at Yale University. Having only just visited Malahide Castle in September, I’m looking forward to reading Sisman’s book soon.
If you’re at all like me, you probably prefer watching British television to American television. Not so long ago, this was almost impossible to do in the USA. The only options available were Masterpiece Theatre or buying mini-series and movies on video tape or CD. Then came Acorn TV, which was much better than what we had, offering more content and many British shows otherwise unavailable to us. Acorn TVanswered a need and served a purpose. Yes, we had to pay for the service, but if you were a dedicated Brit telly fan, the monthly fee of $4.99 was worth it.
Enter Britbox, a joint service by the BBC, ITV and Amazon video, allowing those of us in America to stream UK telly. When it first launched I yawned. In fact, I’d been yawning for quite a while as my Acorn TV subscription had become a tad stale. Who needs Britbox, thought I, it will most likely be nothing more than another version of Acorn TV, where the same old programs were rerun again and again. And again. After several years of subscribing to Acorn TV, I’d grown tired of the slow turnover of “new” shows and I’d been seriously considering dropping my subscription. Admittedly, old standards such as Blacks Books, Cradle to Grave and Grandma’s House were interspersed with more contemporary, and desirable, shows such as Vera, Doc Martin, A Place to Call Home, and Happy Valley, but new episodes were slow in coming. And besides, I wanted access to more than just dated, and well watched, series TV. I wanted prime time British telly.
I’m a huge fan of Coronation Street, the UK soap opera that’s been on the air since 1960. I’ve seen every episode aired since 1970, discovering the program on YouTube and watching it for months until I’d caught up with the current episodes. I also used to be able to watch new episodes on YouTube, where a handful of lovely people would upload them soon after they aired in the UK. Recently, Coronation Street’s parent company, ITV, began policing YouTube and reporting “pirated” content, which was quickly taken down. It’s almost impossible to find a recent episode on the platform any more. When I learned that Hulu was streaming new episodes of Coronation Street, of course I headed their way. $5.99 per month, so worth it to see Corrie. I signed up for their free trial and waited for new episodes of Coronation Street. And waited. And waited. As of last night, as I write this on November 9, the latest episode available on Hulu was October 23rd. And that’s been the latest episode for almost two weeks now. Not. Funny. Not. Happy.
And so I found myself on the Britbox website. Since Britbox is affiliated with ITV, the producers of Coronation Street, chances were better that new Corrie episodes would drop in a more timely fashion. Taking a lesson from my Hulu experience, I checked the Corrie line up before getting too excited and, lo and behold, they had Corrie episodes right up until yesterday’s date. Joy! I cancelled my trial period at Hulu and signed up with Britbox and then browsed their line up of other shows.
And they had plenty that was current. Don’t get me wrong, there were still a good amount of old saws like Poirot, Dalziel and Pascoe, Rosemary and Thyme, Sharpe with Sean Bean (Sean Bean !!), Fawlty Towers, Upstairs, Downstairs and Cranford, but there were also many more current shows, such as Broken with Sean Bean (Sean Bean !!), Cold Feet 2017, Strictly Come Dancing, Kat and Alfie, The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge, Flog It!, In The Dark, Ordinary Lives, The Moorside, plus documentaries, Royal specials and, in addition to Coronation Street, new episodes of favourite soaps Emmerdale, Holby City and East Enders.
Acorn TV does seem to be stepping up it’s game with the arrival of Britbox on the scene, adding new shows like Loch Ness and The Good Karma Hospital, but they’re going to have to step up their line up of current shows in order to keep pace with the new kid on the block. For now I’ll keep both subscriptions for a total of $11 per month, but it would be lovely if the UK telly powers that be would just let us subscribe to their t.v. tax and allow us to watch real time telly. Until then, I’m happy to have new episodes of Coronation Street and I’m also enjoying Broken – it’s gritty, gripping and heartbreaking. In short, entirely binge worthy. As is Ordinary Lies. And Scott & Bailey. And Britbox will also be airing the Queen’s Christmas speech on the day.
If you’ve subscribed to any of these streaming services, or are considering signing on for any of them, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
John Hoppner – Lady Elizabeth Howard, Duchess of Rutland
From The Gentleman’s Magazine, December 1825
Duchess Of Rutland. Nov. 23. At Belvoir Cattle, in consequence of an inflammation of the chest, aged 45, Elizabeth Duchess of Rutland. Her Grace so lately as Friday the 18th was engaged in inspecting the progress of the numerous workmen employed in completing the splendid decorations of the grand drawing-room at Belvoir, which it was intended should have been first opened on the occasion of the Duke’s approaching birth-day: she also took her accustomed exercise, and wrote several letters. In the evening symptoms of the disease, with which she was severely attacked a year ago, began to manifest themselves; but on the following day they appeared to have abated very considerably. At two o’clock on Sunday morning, Mr. Catlett, surgeon to the family, who sleeps in the castle, was hastily summoned to her Grace’s apartment, and found her state so extremely dangerous as to excite the most alarming appreheusions. Expresses were instantly sent off to Dr. Wilson, of Grantham, Dr. Pennington, of Nottingham, Dr. Arnold, of Leicester, and Sir Henry Halford. The three first promptly obeyed the summons; Sir Henry arrived at the castle from London at 5 o’clock on Tuesday morning, but the hand of death was already on the Duchess; all the efforts of the faculty had been unremittingly exerted to arrest the progress of the disorder, but in vain. Her Grace, whose self-possession was remarkable, felt perfectly alive to the imminence of her danger, and the fortitude with which she bore her acute sufferings, and viewed her approaching fate, was in the highest degree affecting. The Duke never quitted the bed-side till she had ceased to breathe. Dispatches were immediately forwarded, announcing the afflicting event, to his Majesty, to his Royal Highness the Duke of York, and to the various branches of the Rutland and Carlisle families.
John Manners, 5th Duke of Rutland
Her Grace was the fifth, but second surviving daughter of Frederick Karl of Carlisle (Byron’s guardian, the 5th Earl of Carlisle), who died Sept. 4, 1825, by Caroline, daughter of Granville-Levison, the first Marquess of Stafford; was born Nov. 13, 1780. She was married to John-Henry Manners, Duke of Rutland, on the 22d of April 1799, and had issue nine children, of whom three sons and four daughters survive.
Due to her elevated taste, Belvoir Castle ( above) will long remain a magnificent monument. From its first commencement, 25 years ago, in despite of momentary interruption from the calamitous fire in October 1816, until its recent completion, the lamented Duchess had been the presiding Genius of the place, and selected all the plans for its erection; nor were her active and useful exertions restricted to the castle alone. The grounds, the villages, the roads in its vicinity, even the general aspect of the country, were improved through her agency. Every rational suggestion which had for its object the decoration and the embellishment of this beautiful domain, was adopted with eagerness. and zealously carried into effect under her personal and immediate superintendence.
What many individuals would have required a century to execute, her perseverance in a few years achieved; nor was her Grace less successful in the cultivation of the elegant accomplishments of her sex. Her drawings exhibit correct taste. Her poetical genius, hereditary from her noble father the late Earl of Carlisle, and her musical attainments were of the first order. Indefatigable in whatever might promote the general good, and alive to the true interests of her Country, the Duchess was a practical agriculturist. The farm she held, consisting of above 700 acres, visited almost daily by herself, has always been considered a model of scientific management. On several occasions she was complimented with premiums from the Society for the Promotion of Arts and Manufactures, for her extensive plantations and acknowledged improvements in the breeding of cattle.
It is striking that with predilections so marked and decided for a rural life, her Grace was one of the brightest ornaments of the English Court, and whenever she graced it with her presence, an object of universal admiration. The ease and dignity of her deportment, her refined and polished address, the graceful condescension of her manners, fascinated every one who came within the sphere of her numerous attractions. Married early to the object of her choice, as a wife, a parent, and a benefactress, she was alike exemplary. To the sorrowing hearts now and for ever bereft of her soothing affection, her tender care, her munificent charily, her death is indeed an irreparable loss!
Dec. 9. The remains of the Duchess of Rutland were deposited in the family vault at Bottesford. Crowds of inhabitants of the vicinity had assembled to pay the last tribute of respect to their esteemed benefactress. Early in the morning the Duke of Rutland arrived at Bottesford, and immediately proceeded to the house of the Rev. Charles Thornton. The procession left Belvoir Castle at ten o’clock, and arrived at Bottesford about one. It was followed by a long train of carriages and other vehicles. The following was the order observed :
Mr. Pound, his Grace’s woodman, accompanied by twelve tenants of his Grace, in deep mourning.—The Duchess’s Coronet, on a crimson velvet cushion, carried by a gentleman uncovered.—A favourite pony of the late Duchess, enveloped in a black cloth, in the corners of which were embossed her Grace’s armorial bearings, led by two of her Grace’s oldest servants. —The hearse, drawn by black horses which had belonged to ber Grace, and driven by her Grace’s coachman —Five mourning coaches, drawn by six horses each —Her Grace’s carriage, drawn by four horses.—W. F. Norton, esq. in his own carriage, accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Salmon.—Two carriages and four.— Forty-six of his Grace’s tenants in deep mourning.—Two of the carriages in the procession were occupied by the immediate family—one by the Earl of Carlisle and his brother, and the other by the brothers of his Grace.
The procession, in the first instance, proceeded to the Rectory-yard, Bottesford, where it remained about one hour. The remains of the lamented lady were then taken from the hearse, and carried into the Church by eight Gentlemen. The coffin was covered with a rich pall of black velvet, decorated with her Grace’s armorial bearings. His Grace joined the procession at the Rectory. Twenty-six of the noble ancestors and relatives of his Grace lie entombed in the vault, which now also contains the remains of his late amiable Duchess.
Her Grace was not forgotten, as we see in a piece that appeared in Bell’s World of Fashion – January 1 1829
. . . entertainments of much splendour and liberality have been given in many a noble mansion; and these have not been bounded within a narrow space, but have extended to the country, as well as occupied the town. Of these, it behoves us particularly to mention the grand file given on the 5th ult. at Belvoir Castle, upon the congratulatory occasion of the birthday anniversary of his Grace of Rutland, its noble and worthy possessor. The Duke of Wellington, and a very large party of highly distinguished personages, were present.
A drawing-room, of truly magnificent dimensions, was for the first time opened; at one end of which stood a full-length statue, executed on the purest white marble (emblem of her stainless character and unsullied virtue!), of the late amiable and greatly regretted Duchess. The ceiling of this rich apartment was divided into sections, in which, cleverly painted, were the portraits of the Duke and late Duchess, the dowager Duchess, and other members of the noble house of Belvoir; also that of the late Duke of York, who was much in the habit of honouring the Castle with his presence, and its excellent possessor with his highest confidence and his purest friendship. This entertainment was the first given by his Grace since the decease of his late ever-to-be-remembered and esteemed Duchess.
Being at a remove of two hundred years from the victory at the Battle of Waterloo, it’s difficult for us to appreciate the Duke of Wellington’s resultant contemporary popularity. To put it in perspective, Wellington could be said, without exaggeration, to have been the world’s first rock star, a media phenomenon whose level of popularity reached fever pitch. Combine the present day public interest in Princess Diana with that of Michael Jackson and you’ll get a fair idea of Wellington’s celebrity status post-Waterloo and his ability to single-handedly drive the 19th century media engine. Printsellers, the contemporary equivalent to our modern day paparazzi, worked at fever pitch to regularly issue new Wellington engravings, with which the populace decorated their walls. The public clamored for news of Wellington’s doings, with no detail of his life being too inconsequential to report. The media responded by giving the public what they wanted – not a single day passed in which Wellington’s name was not mentioned in print.
Enter English journalist Albany Fonblanque who, from 1820 to 1830, was successively employed on the staff of The Times and the Morning Chronicle, whilst he contributed to the Examiner, to the London Magazine and to the Westminster Review. While writing for London newspapers, Fonblanque also sought to reform his profession, often turning to satire in order to point out the flaws in current journalistic styles. So, when the Duke rose to political power in 1828, and with the public still rabid for daily details of Wellington’s life, Fonblanque used satire in order to point out the absurdities in some of the pieces being printed and the level to which the press had sunk in order to provide the public with the content they desired. Fonblanque wrote a piece entitled, The Duke of Wellington at Home –
“THE Duke of Wellington generally rises at about eight. Before he gets out of bed he commonly pulls off his nightcap, and while he is dressing he sometimes whistles a tune, and occasionally damns his valet. The Duke of Wellington uses warm water in shaving, and lays on a greater quantity of lather than ordinary men. While shaving he chiefly breathes through his nose, with a view, as is conceived, of keeping the suds out of his mouth; and sometimes he blows out one cheek, sometimes the other, to present a better surface to the razor.
“When he is dressed he goes down to breakfast, and while descending the stairs he commonly takes occasion to blow his nose, which he does rather rapidly, following it up with three hasty wipes of his handkerchief, which he instantly afterwards deposits in his right-hand coat pocket. The Duke of Wellington’s pockets are in the skirts of his coat, and the holes perpendicular. He wears false horizontal flaps, which have given the world an erroneous opinion of their position. The Duke of Wellington drinks tea for breakfast, which he sweetens with white sugar and corrects with cream. He commonly stirs the fluid two or three times with a spoon before he raises it to his lips. The Duke of Wellington eats toast and butter, cold ham, tongue, fowls, beef, or eggs, and sometimes both meat and eggs; the eggs are generally those of the common domestic fowl. During breakfast the Duke of Wellington has a newspaper either in his hand, or else on the table, or in his lap. The Duke of Wellington’s favourite paper is the “Examiner.” After breakfast the Duke of Wellington stretches himself out and yawns. He then pokes the fire and whistles. If there is no fire he goes to the window and looks out. At about ten o’clock the General Post letters arrive. The Duke of Wellington seldom or never inspects the superscription, but at once breaks the seal and applies himself to the contents. The Duke of Wellington appears sometimes displeased with his correspondents, and says pshaw, in a clear, loud voice. About this time the Duke of Wellington retires for a few minutes, during which it is impossible to account for his motions with the desirable precision.
“At eleven o’clock, if the weather is fine, the Duke’s horse is brought to the door. The Duke’s horse on these occasions is always saddled and bridled. The Duke’s horse is ordinarily the same white horse he rode at Waterloo, and which was eaten by the hounds at Strathfieldsaye. His hair is of a chestnut colour. Before the Duke goes out, he has his hat and gloves brought him by a servant. The Duke of Wellington always puts his hat on his head and the gloves on his hands. The Duke’s daily manner of mounting his horse is the same that it was on the morning of the glorious battle of Waterloo. His Grace first takes the rein in his left hand which he lays on the horse’s mane; he then puts his left foot in the stirrup, and with a spring brings his body up, and his right leg over the body of the animal by the way of the tail, and thus places himself in the saddle; he then drops his right foot into the stirrup, puts his horse to a walk, and seldom falls off, being an admirable equestrian. When acquaintances and friends salute the Duke in the streets, such is his affability that he either bows, touches his hat, or recognises their civility in some way or other. The Duke of Wellington very commonly says, “How are you?’—‘It’s a fine day’—‘How d’ye do?’—and makes frequent and various remarks on the weather, and the dust or the mud, as it may be. At twelve o’clock on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, the Duke’s master comes to teach him his political economy. The Duke makes wonderful progress in his studies, and his instructor is used pleasantly to observe that ‘the Duke gets on like a house on fire.’
“At the Treasury the Duke of Wellington does nothing but think. He sits on a leathern library chair, with his heels and a good part of his legs on the table. When thus in profound thought, he very frequently closes his eyes for hours together, and makes an extraordinary and rather appalling noise through his nose. Such is the Duke of Wellington’s devotion to business that he eats no luncheon. In the House of Lords the Duke’s manner of proceeding is this: he walks up to the fire-place, turns his back to it, separates the skirts of his coat, tossing them over the dexter and sinister arms, thrusts his hands in his breeches’ pockets, and so stands at ease. The characteristic of the Duke’s oratory is a brevity the next thing to silence. As brevity is the soul of wit, it may confidently be affirmed that in this quality Lord North and Sheridan were fools compared with him.”
Back in May, I revisited the Battlefield at Waterloo with author and battlefield guide Ian Fletcher, accompanied by one of my favourite travel mates, Denise Costello. Ian and I were on a mission to put together a different kind of Waterloo Tour. He is experienced in battlefield tours and can bring every moment of the Battle to life in a way that is both engaging, educational and exacting – which regiments were where, who was leading the charge, why were certain geographic points chosen by the French and Allied armies, what went wrong . . . . and what went right?
On the other hand, my tours are focused more upon social history – which English families were living at Brussels during the Battle, who attended the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, how did the civilians fare before, during and after the Battle and what wide ranging impact did the Battle, and the victory, have upon life in London and England at large?
In an effort to blend these two views of Waterloo, Ian and I hit upon the idea of doing a tour that focuses on the year 1815 as a whole, instead of focusing on the Battle alone. And so the 1815 London to Waterloo Tour was born. Before the Tour heads for Belgium, our group will explore the London of 1815, including Apsley House and the many clubs, houses, streets and sites that have a connection with the campaign, including the house in St. James’s Square where Henry Percy delivered the captured French Eagles to George IV after the Allied victory. Author Louise Allen will speak to our group on the subject of her book, To The Field of Waterloo: The First Battlefield Tourists 1815 – 1816. Once in Waterloo, we will walk the key sites on the Battlefield and also visit a host of museums and related sites including the superb new Waterloo Memorial with its high-tech exhibits and 3D cinema, the famous Lion Mound and panorama, the wonderful presentation at refurbished Hougoumont and the headquarters of both Wellington and Napoleon.
Speaking of Waterloo tourists, below is an account of Dr. Samuel Butler’s visit to the Battlefield a year after the Allied victory. His vivid impressions take in all of the sites we’ll be seeing on the Tour, complete details of which can be found here.
The Forest of Soignes
From: The Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel Butler: Headmaster of Shrewsbury School
July 9th. 1816 —From Brussels through Waterloo to the field of battle, about fourteen miles, through the Forest of Soignies, almost all the way a most detestable pavi full of holes. Waterloo is a miserable village of about twenty houses; its small red brick church, designed in segments of ellipses, is about twenty-five or possibly thirty feet in diameter. Here are monumental inscriptions to the memory of many of our brave country men. In about half a mile from Waterloo we quit the Forest of Soignes, and the ground becomes an elevated plain with some moderate undulations. In about two miles more we come to a place where a bye-road crosses the principal road. Here is an elm of moderate size on the right-hand side of the road, some of whose branches have been torn off by cannon balls; this is the famous Wellington tree, where the Duke was posted during the greater part of the battle, and is somewhat nearer the left wing than the centre of the battle. Close to the cross-road opposite this runs La Haye Sainte, a broken stumpy hedge. Directly opposite this tree, on the road-side, lay the skeleton of an unburied horse, and near the tree itself I picked up a human rib. The whole field of battle is now covered with crops of wheat and rye, which grow with a rank and peculiar green over the graves of the slain and mark them readily. About one hundred and fifty yards below the Wellington tree, which itself stands on the top of Mount St. Jean, in the hollow, is the little farm of La Haye Sainte, where the dreadful slaughter of the German Legion took place; they defended the place till they had spent all their ammunition, and were then massacred to a man, but not till they had taken a bloody revenge. The house and walls, the barn doors and gates, are full of marks from cannon and musket balls. In the barn are innumerable shot holes, and the plaster is still covered with blood, and the holes which the bayonets made through their bodies into it are still to be seen.
La Haye Sainte
“In a hollow near this scene of carnage lie the bodies of two thousand French Cuirassiers in one grave, and about twenty yards farther is the spot to which Bonaparte advanced to cheer the Imperial Guard for their last charge; it is scarcely possible but that he must have exposed himself greatly in so doing. The little valley between the undulation of Mount St. Jean, where the British were posted, and that of La Belle Alliance, which was occupied by the French, is not more than about a quarter of a mile across; the Duke of Wellington and Bonaparte, whose general station was on this hill, cannot have been more than that distance, or a very little more, from each other. On going to the station of Bonaparte we had a fine view of the whole field, and, though quite ignorant of military affairs, could not but see the superiority of the British position. The undulation on their side being a little more abrupt than that of the French, they were themselves protected in some measure, and their force considerably concealed, while that of the French was perfectly distinguishable. The right wing of the British was at Hougoumont [rather Goumont], a chateau of great importance and of very considerable strength. Their left wing was at the end of La Haye, about a short half-mile or less from the farm of St. Jean, which was almost of the same importance for its protection as Hougoumont for that of the right. The whole line could not extend more than a mile and a quarter. The French were posted on the opposite eminence, and here in this small space three hundred cannon, independent of all other weapons, were doing the work of death all day. Our guide, a very intelligent peasant, told us that the whole ground was literally covered with carcasses, and that about five days after the stench began to be so horrid that it was hardly possible to bury them on the left of the British, and of course on the right of the French position. At less than a mile and a half is the wood from which the Prussians made their appearance. La Belle Alliance is about half a mile or a little less from Mount St. Jean; here we turned off to see the chateau of Hougoumont, which was most important to secure the British right and French left wing, and was therefore eagerly contested; four thousand British were posted here, and withstood with only the bayonet and musketry all the attacks of an immense body of French with cannon. The French were posted in a wood, now a good deal cut down, close to the wall of the garden at Hougoumont. The British had made holes in the wall to fire through, and the French aimed at these holes. The whole wall is so battered by bullets that it looks as if thousands of pickaxes had been employed to pick the bricks. The trees are torn by cannon balls, and some not above eight inches in diameter, being half shot away on one side, still flourish.
“Passing round the garden wall to the gates, the scene of devastation is yet more striking. The front gates communicate with the chateau, a plain gentleman’s house, the back ones (which are directly opposite) with the farmer’s residence. This was occupied three times by the French, who were thrice repulsed; but the English were never driven from the chateau. The tower, or rather dovecote, of the chateau was burnt down, but a chapel near it, about twenty feet long, was preserved in the midst of the fire; the flames had caught the crucifix and had burnt one foot of the image, and then went out. This was of course considered a great miracle. From the chapel we went into the garden. Its repose and gaiety of flowers, together with the neatness of its cultivation, formed a striking contrast with the ruined mansion, the blackened, torn, and in some parts blood-stained walls, and the charred timbers about it. In a corner of this garden is the spot where Captain Crawford and eight men were killed by one cannon ball, which entered opposite them by a hole still there and went through the house and lodged in another wall; I have seen the ball in the Waterloo Museum.
The Waterloo Musuem, Wellington’s former headquarters
Going along the green alleys of the garden, quite overarched with hornbeam, we see the different holes broken by the English to fire on their enemies, and a gap on the northeast angle of the garden is the gap made by the French, who attempted to enter there, but were repulsed. Had they gained entrance the slaughter would have been dreadful, as we had four thousand men in the garden, which from its thick hedges has many strongholds, and they were greatly more numerous. The English also lined a strong hedge opposite the wood in which the French were, which they could not force, but the trees are terribly torn by cannon. The loss of Hougoumont would probably have been fatal to us. From the gap above mentioned, looking up to the line of the British on Mount St. Jean, is one small bush; here Major Howard was killed.
La Belle Alliance
“Leaving Hougoumont, we returned to La Belle Alliance, where we once more reviewed the field of battle, and found some bullets and fragments of accoutrements among the ploughed soil. The crop is not so thriving on the French side, but it was still more richly watered with blood; in fact the soil, which on the British position is rather a light sand, is here a stiffish clay. From La Belle Alliance we proceeded to Genappe, another post, passing by a burnt house called la maison du roi; here Napoleon slept on the eventful eve of the battle. Following the course of the French in their retreat, we proceeded to another post, to Quatre Bras. Here was the famous [stand ?] made by the Highlanders against the whole French Army on the 16th. It is a field a little to the left at the turning to Namur. Hence we proceeded, having Fleurus on our right, to Sombreffe, where was the severe battle of the Prussians on the 16th, and thence to Namur, where the French continued their retreat.
The tourqoise circle upper right marks Genappe
“At Genappe, which is a straggling village, with narrow streets, dreadful slaughter was made by the Prussians on the night of the 16th; here Bonaparte’s carriage was taken, and he narrowly escaped himself. From hence to Namur the road was strewed with dead, the Prussians having killed, it is thought, not less than twenty thousand in the pursuit. Nothing can be more detestable than the paved roads, more miserable than the villages, or more uninteresting in the natural appearance of the country than the whole course from Brussels to Namur, about forty-seven miles, the scene of all these great historical events in the present and past ages.”
I’m pleased to say that Number One London’s Country House Tour was a resounding success and that a good time was had by all! Our group was the perfect size – eight like-minded people traveling together through Derbyshire in search of houses, history and a whole lot of fun.
Of course, the Tour included stately homes, amongst them were –
Along the way, we met house stewards and curators who provided our group with private, behind-the-scenes tours –
And we were fortunate enough to be joined by author Catherine Curzon, who spoke to us about the Georgian Royals over lunch at Chatsworth House
Our group stayed in the historic Old Hall Hotel in Buxton, below . . .
which provided us with atmospheric accommodations and memorable meals
In addition to stately homes, we were also able to study examples of historic fashion and furnishings
We found photo opportunities around almost every corner
And a few of us were lucky enough to find the new Jane Austen ten pound note
I’ll be doing future posts on the individual sites we visited, but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who joined me on this Tour for making it so memorable, and so much fun!
If you’d like to join me on the next Country House Tour, this one with an Upstairs, Downstairs twist, please visit Number One London’s Tour website for complete details of the April 2018 tour.
Had she lived, Charlotte would have been Queen of the United Kingdom. Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales was the only daughter of George IV, then Prince of Wales, and his wife and first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, who loathed one another and who separated soon after Charlotte’s birth, never to live together, nor indeed be civil to one another, again.
A protracted battle of wills went on for years concerning Princess Charlotte. The Prince was willing to accede to the wishes of his father, King George III, but wanted Caroline to have no influence in her daughter’s education, while the king wanted Queen Caroline to be party to decisions about her daughter. In the end, Charlotte remained in the care of her father and the the Princess of Wales was forbidden to see her daughter and in 1799 she went abroad, inviting scandal by taking lovers and running up vast debts.
When Charlotte reached a marriageable age in 1813, the Regent engaged her to the Prince of Orange, whom she loathed, in December. Having served under Wellington (whose set referred to the Prince as “Silly Billy”), and been educated in England, he was eligible as a husband but his residence in Holland, owing to his father’s return from exile to the throne, became a necessity. Princess Charlotte was not happy. Not only did she not want to leave England, but she saw this as a means for her father to get her out of his hair. Things had not been going smoothly for some time, as mentioned in a prior post on this blog. Charlotte asked that the marriage treaty contain a clause to the effect that she should never be obliged to leave England against her will and told Prince William that her duty to England was ‘such as to make even a short absence inconvenient and painful.’
The following is from a book called The Beloved Princess: Princess Charlotte of Wales by Charles E. Pearce –
The Regent was bent upon hurrying the courtship. He came to see Charlotte the next day, bringing with him the Prince of Orange, whom Miss Knight further describes as “particularly plain and sickly in his look, his figure very slender, and manner rather hearty and boyish.” A more unsuitable mate for the robust, impulsive, and warm-blooded Charlotte could hardly be imagined, and if there was any love-making on this occasion it must have been of the most vapid and uninteresting kind. At all events, the young man had the opportunity, for the Regent turned aside, leaving the two together, and sat by the fire chatting to Miss Knight in an adjoining room. The object of the chat was to make it known to the lady companion that the Princess Charlotte was engaged to the young Prince, but that Miss Knight was to tell no one until he gave her leave. The Regent evidently had his doubts as to Charlotte’s real sentiments, for he desired Miss Knight to give her good advice, particularly “against flirtation.”
These doubts were soon confirmed, for while he was talking the conversation was interrupted in rather an embarrassing fashion. The Princess was suddenly heard sobbing hysterically. The Regent started to his feet, and Miss Knight followed him to the door of the other room, where they found the Prince of Orange looking very frightened and Princess Charlotte in great distress. ” What, is he going away ? ” exclaimed the Regent.
The question could only have been put in a bantering spirit. He saw something was amiss, but he did did not trouble to inquire further, and soon after took the Prince away, as they had an engagement to dine in the City.
When they were gone Charlotte explained what had caused her outburst of emotion. The Prince had told her it was expected she should reside every year two or three months in Holland, and even when necessary follow him into the army; that the Regent and his Ministers had not thought it advisable to tell her this, but that, as he always wished they should be open and fair to each other, he was resolved to tell her.
The announcement descended upon her like a thunderbolt. Apart from the humiliating thought that the father and the Ministers were plotting to keep her in the dark, there was also the suspicion that they wanted to banish her from England.
It can hardly be doubted that Charlotte had secret ambitions to fulfil the high station which fate had apparently designed for her. If at any moment the Regent died, she would be Queen of England. She could then marry any one she pleased.
Charlotte certainly never pretended to have any affection for the Prince of Orange, and did not hesitate to ridicule him even after their betrothal. She told her mother that his being approved of by the Royal Family was quite sufficient to make him disapproved of by her; for that she would marry a man who would be at her devotion, not theirs. “Marry I will,” said she to the Princess of Wales, “and that directly in order to enjoy my liberty, but not the Prince of Orange. I think him so ugly that I am almost obliged to turn my head away in disgust when he is speaking to me.” The engagment, for various reasons, ended in 1814.
In the end, Charlotte was married to Leopold George Christian Frederick of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield, (above) her own choice as a husband. Leopold was the youngest child of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Augusta of Reuss-Ebersdorf. The couple were married on 2 May, 1816, at Carlton House. After spending their honeymoon at Oatlands in Surrey, the country seat of her uncle, the Duke of York, the couple set up home at Claremont. The cool and collected Leopold was to prove a calming influence on his tempestuous and headstrong wife and life was idyllic for the couple.
However, in 1817, after two miscarriages, Charlotte became pregnant with what was hoped would be a grandson and the heir in the next generation to the British throne.
Once again we turn to The Beloved Princess: Princess Charlotte of Wales –
Princess Charlotte’s persistent ill-luck mysteriously pursued her to the last. When she was expecting to crown her hopes and those of her husband, and the question of her medical attendant became of importance, her intimate friend Lady Ashworth urged her to have Sir William Knighton, an accoucheur of some eminence. The matter was apparently settled, and Lady Ashworth went away to Rome. When she returned she found, to her dismay, that the Princess had, upon the advice of a lady, decided to appoint Sir Richard Croft. It was too late to alter the arrangement, and Croft, a pompous, vain, and selfopinionated man, entered upon his duties. Stockmar, who was part of the household at Claremont, describes him as ” a long, thin man, no longer very young, fidgety and good-natured, seems to have more experience than learning or understanding.” Croft had a craze for lowering the physical strength of his patients, and this suicidal course was pursued with the Princess Charlotte. Miss Murray tells that the Princess was accustomed to have a mutton-chop and a glass of port for lunch. Croft did away with this, and substituted tea and bread and butter. She became weak and depressed, and one day a friend found her in tears. This mistaken treatment was continued for weeks. The calibre of Croft’s mind can be guessed from his foolish remark in reference to his suggestion that the Princess should wear no stays : ” A cow does not wear stays, why should the Princess Charlotte?”
Her life was thrown away, for when the supreme moment was at hand, weak as she was, she was unsustained for fifty hours by any kind of nourishment in the way of food ; the obstinate and self-deluded accoucheur thinking it much better that she should not eat. The baby—a boy of unusual beauty—was born. It was dead, and Croft tried to bring back life, but in vain. Meanwhile the mother was left to herself, for the accoucheur refused to have any other doctor present. Not even any of Charlotte’s ladies were with her, only the nurse.
The child was born at nine o’clock, and apparently the mother was going on fairly well, but towards midnight Croft became alarmed and went for Stockmar, telling him the Princess was dangerously ill and that the Prince must be informed. Leopold knew that the child was dead, but he did not realise the nature of the impending calamity. It was all over when he set out for her room, and on his way he sank on a chair overwhelmed. Recovering himself, he staggered on, reached the bedside, and kneeling down kissed the cold hands—” those beautiful hands which at the last while she was talking to others seemed always to be looking out for mine,” were his pathetic words—and amid the stillness of death the falling curtain closed upon the tragedy.
Though the mother seemed at first to be recovering well from her horrendous ordeal, she complained that evening of severe stomach pains and began to vomit. She later developed a pain in her chest, before going into convulsions. Soon after the Regent was awoken by his brother, the Duke of York and informed that his only daughter was dead.
The following details of the Princess’s death are taken from a letter, addressed by Mr. H. F. Cooke to Mr. Thomas Raikes (under date November 6, 1817), and published in the interesting volume entitled The Correspondence of Thomas Raikes with the Duke of Wellington and other Distinguished Contemporaries.
” The Princess Charlotte’s death has caused a general gloom throughout the country. The particulars of this truly melancholy event will be made known to you through the papers, with all the accuracy of official report.
There are some few circumstances as attending the death of this interesting woman that may not find their way abroad; for example, the courage with which she suffered, and the resignation which she displayed in death. The faculty of mind never abandoned her. She asked, about an hour previous to death, whether there was any danger: the difficulty of breathing from about that time prevented her speaking much. When Baillie and Croft administered brandy, hot wine, sal-volatile, &c, she said, ‘ You make me drunk. Pray leave me quiet. I find it affects my head.’ And shortly after this, raising herself in the bed, she heaved a deep sigh, fell back, and expired.
“The act of dying was not painful. There certainly must have been spasm, but I have not heard that it was at the heart. Neither do I believe the family conceived that she was in danger, even an hour before she died. It is a blow which the nation really appears to feel acutely, as much as it is possible to suppose the fate of any one not materially connected with one could be felt.
“The Regent is terribly shook by this blow; so unexpected that he was completely overset when he was told of it. He had left Sudboum upon hearing of the protracted labour, but was in London informed that the child was dead and she remarkably well.”
Indeed, a deep and black mourning was proclaimed as soon as the Prince Regent and the country learned of the death of Princess Charlotte. No one was more bereft than Prince Leopold.
In her letters, Lady Shelly wrote, “To-day the Duchess of York goes into the country to receive the unhappy Prince Leopold of SaxeCoburg, whose grief is as deep as during the first. He spends some hours every day in the bedchamber of Princess Charlotte. That apartment is still as it was when the Princess left it the day before she died! Her pelisse, her boots, and even her hat, which she had carelessly thrown aside on the sofa, are left just as they were, for no one but the heart-broken Prince has entered that room. It is a case of real grief, and absolutely without parade.”
An austopsy was conducted upon the Princess and, at the time, it was believed that her death was due to a post-partum hemorrhage after giving birth to a stillborn son. Modern day doctors who have examined the autopsy findings now tend to believe that the Princess died from a pulmonary embolism.
Blackwood’s Magazine offered the following account of the events in the days following Charlotte’s death –
Yesterday the mourning for the much lamented Princess Charlotte commenced in this city, and was very general. The pulpits and desks of all the churches were hung with black. . . In the fore preserved in a similar manner to that of its royal mother, (the child) by being secured in several wrappers round the whole of the body, with light bandages, and being secluded, by means of wax, from the air, it will remain in a perfect state of preservation for a number of years. The whole of the body is enclosed in blue velvet, tied with white ribbons.
Windsor, Nov. 19—This morning, a little before one o’clock, the funeral procession with the remains of the late universally-regretted Princess Charlotte, arrived here from Claremont. They were received at the lower Lodge, where she is to lie in state this day, previously to the interment at night. The mourning coach, in which were the infant and urn, proceeded to the chapel, where eight yeomen of the guard, in attendance, carried and deposited them in the vault. The procession of the hearse and five mourning coaches, preceded by a number of men on horseback, was escorted into the town from Egham by a party of the Royal Horse Guards. Although the hour at which it arrived was so very late, the road and streets through which it passed were lined with spectators.
Funeral of the late Princess Charlotte – The last sad and solemn rites have been paid to the mortal remains of the lamented Princess Charlotte of Wales. It was near two o’clock before the procession arrived at Windsor. The remains of the Princess were received at the lower Lodge by a party of the yeomen of the guard, who carried the coffin. A guard of honour from the 3d regiment of Foot Guards, who are quartered at Windsor, was stationed on the outside of the lodge. Prince Leopold, his attendants, and others, in the mourning-coaches, alighted at the lodge. The anti-room was hung with black cloth, and the interior chamber, in which the coffin reposed, was entirely lined with the same . . . The coffin was covered with a large black velvet pall, with a deep white border that fell on each side, and spread itself on the floor. On the coffin was the Princess’s crown, and at the head of the coffin, against the wall, was a large escutcheon of silk, similar to those placed on the fronts of houses when death has taken place in a family. Three large wax candles were on each side of the coffin; numerous small wax candles were burning on all sides of the room—The gentlemen of the College of Arms were busily employed during the morning in arranging the stalls in the chapel for the reception of the Knights of the Garter, and in other preparations for the funeral. The machinery for letting the corpse down into the vault was completed. —Windsor continued crowded to excess throughout the day. At dusk, it was thought necessary to clear the Castle Yard, and none were afterwards admitted without pass-tickets. The 1st, 2d, and 3d regiments of Guards took a principal part of the duty. The door opened a few minutes before seven, and those who had tickets were admitted into the grand entrance of that superb edifice. By half past eight all was ready, and the funeral cavalcade was put in motion. Proceeding at half-foot pace, it was nine o’clock when it reached St George’s Chapel. At eight o’clock each fourth man of the Royal Horse Guards lighted a torch. About half past eight the procession began to move from the lower lodge.
This memorial to Princess Charlotte and her son stands in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor
The moon shone with peculiar brightness during the whole time. The procession entered by the gate on the south aisle of the chapel, through which it proceeded, and moved up the nave into the chapel. The aisle on each side was lined by a detachment of the Foot Guards, three deep. It is but pure justice to the assembled soldiery to say, that they conducted themselves with the most exemplary conduct, and evinced their full participation in the anguish and distress of their fellow-citizens. Prince Leopold followed the coffin as chief mourner. He walked along with unsteady step, and took the seat provided for him at the head of the coffin, between the Dukes of York and Clarence. The coffin was placed with the feet towards the altar. The usual anthems were chanted with proper solemnity; but the reading part of the ceremony did not attract any particular observation; the Dean went through his portion of it with dignity and pathos. When it was over, Sir Isaac Heard read the titles of the Princess, in a voice much more broken by grief than age, and the mourners walked back, though without the state accompaniments. The Prince Leopold looked distressingly ill; and indeed his state of health and feeling might excite alarm, if it were not that he has latterly been able to procure some sleep. The melancholy business was over before eleven o’clock, but the chapel and the avenues were not completely cleared till twelve o’clock. The baronesses who bore the pall were Ladies Grenville, Ellenborough, Boston, and Arden.
Below are a few examples of the momento mori connected to Princess Charlotte.
Further reading: Royal Mourning and Regency Culture: Elegies and Memorials of Princess Charlotte by Stephen C. Behrendt, Palgrave Macmillan, 1997, ISBN 9780312210496, 282pp.
So, here we are at St. Kenelm’s Church on a cold, wet, foggy December day when our surroundings look for all the world like a Hammer Studios horror movie set. On the day we visited, the air was crisp and cold and the place was as deserted as it looks in the photos below. There was nary a footprint to be seen in the graveyard and it was so quiet that you could hear the snow crunch beneath your boots with each step. . . no one spoke . . . . . no one dared to break the eerie silence as we made our way through the ancient tombstones . . . . . don’t be afraid – I’m sure the legends of the Minster Lovell Hall ghost are just rumour . . . . . . . .
St Kenelm’s church in Minster Lovell (above) is mainly 15th century, built on the foundations of an earlier priory minster. This explains the unusual cruciform shape with a central tower. The whole church is “almost entirely unaltered and has handsome details” (Pevsner). It is situated next to the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall, pictured below.
From Kelly’s Directory 1891 – To the south-east of the church, near the river Windrush, are the ruins of an ancient mansion, formerly the residence of the Lovell family: the buildings, when perfect, formed a square, the south side being parallel to the river and within a few feet of its bank; the whole of the south and east sides are now destroyed and the only portions standing are the north side, part of a tower at the south end of the western side and a low wall attached to it, with several fine but now roofless and dismantled apartments; in 1708, during the rebuilding of a chimney here, a large vault was discovered in which was found the entire skeleton of a man sitting at a table on which were writing materials and a book and it has been assumed that Lord Lovell, who disappeared after the battle of Stoke, made his way to his house here, and concealing himself in this vault, was eventually starved to death; on his death, his titles, including the baronies of Lovell and Holland, Dean Court and Grey of Rotherfield, became extinct, and that of Beaumont fell into abeyance between his sisters, but was called out 16 Oct. 1840, in favour of Miles Thomas Stapleton esq. of Carlton, Yorks, one of the co-heirs thereto. The estates of the Lovells, confiscated by Henry VII, were subsequently granted to the Comptons, Cecils and other powerful families.
** An alternate version of the story of Lord Lovell is that he returned with his faithful dog to the Hall and was locked into the secret chamber by his faithful valet, who breathed not a word of Lord Lovell’s whereabouts to a single soul and who came twice a day to feed his master and his master’s dog. The valet, unfortunately, died before he could share his secret with anyone and so Lord Lovell and the faithful dog perished together, starving to death in their self imposed hiding place.
*** Yes, the place is rumoured to be haunted. By both man and dog. And what a perfect location for a ghost, visually. You couldn’t get much more Byron-esque if you tried.
I’ll leave you with images that are sure to conjure up visions of Christopher Lee . . . . .
Recently, I came across a book online called The Laurence Hutton Collection of Life and Death Masks: A Pictorial Guide by John Delaney, held in the Manuscripts Division in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University Library. The making of death masks became popular in the 1800s, but the practice has much older roots. The first masks and effigies made in wax directly from the features of the deceased date from medieval Europe. Personally, I don’t get death masks. All of the people from whom death masks were taken were prominent people who had had numerous portraits and busts taken during their lifetimes. Why not remember them thusly, in the prime of their lives, rather than take an image of them in old age – withered, toothless and, more often than not, after having just suffered hours of agony? Perhaps my aversion to death masks is a woman thing. After all, I’ve yet to come across the death mask of a female.
Making a plaster death mask, New York circa 1908, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress
I’d much rather remember, and hang on my wall, a picture of the Duke of Wellington looking like he does in the banner of this blog rather than like this:
The Duke of Wellington
In a volume titled, “The life of Richard Owen”, by Rev. Richard Owen (1894) there is reference to the death mask above in a letter written on November 13, 1852, to Mr. Thomas Poyser, of Wirksworth : ” I have been particularly favoured in respect of the remarkable solemnities in honour of the memory of the great Duke. The present amiable inheritor of the title called on me last Wednesday to request that I would call on him to see the cast that had been taken after the Duke’s demise, and give some advice to a sculptor who is restoring the features in a bust, intending to show the noble countenance as in the last years of the Duke’s life. It is a most extraordinary cast. It appears that the Duke had lost all his teeth, and the natural prominence of the chin and nose much exaggerates the intermediate space caused by the absorption of the alveoli. He of course wore a complete set of artificial teeth when he spoke or ate. My last impression of the living features is a very pleasing one. I brought it away vividly in my mind from Lord Ellesmere’s great ball last July.”
Napoleon’s Death Mask
Or is it? Is this the face of a short and rather dumpy fifty-one year old man? Napoleon died on May 5th, 1821, on the small island of St. Helena where he had been exiled for life after his shattering defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. A cast for a death mask was made by Dr. Francis Burton within a day and a half of Napoleon’s death. But, there was another doctor present at the time of Napoleon’s death, Dr. Antommarchi, who some say was mistakenly credited as the doctor who made the original mold. Immediately after the cast was made, it was stolen. It is believed that a woman named Madame Bertrand, Napoleon’s attendant, took the mold and sailed back to England. Dr. Burton tried but was unsuccessful in getting the cast back. Several years later a death mask turned up and was authenticated as being the original by Dr. Antommarchi, though historians have always argued against it, as the Antommarchi mask looked much too young to have been Napoleon, no to mention that bones of the face are heavier, the face itself longer and proportionally different when compared to the portraits that had been painted of the Emperor Napoleon. It is the official mask currently on display at Les Invalides in Paris, France.
Some believe that the death mask above was actually molded from the living face of the Emperor’s valet, Jean-Baptiste Cipriani. This is the mask that is thought to be authentic:
This death mask was on display at the Royal United Services Institute Museum in London for many years prior to 1973, when the mask was sold. You decide . . . . . here is one of the last portraits of Napoleon, painted by Sir Charles Lock Eastlake on board the ship Bellerophon.
And here is an enlargement of the face
Viola. Ze case it has rested. At least in my mind.
And the strange tales concerning death masks continue – It seems that there was once a special tunnel used to transport the bodies of the hanged from Worcester Gaol to the nearby Royal Infirmary, which stood across the road from the prison and has since been demolished. Until 1832, only criminals’ bodies were allowed to be dissected for medical research in the UK. The tunnel was found during work to transfom the former hospital into the new campus for the University of Worcester in the 1950’s – as were a number of death masks in the tunnel. These casts had been made to study the characteristics of the criminals’ personalities using physiognomy (shape and size of the head) and phrenology (study of the site of different abilities on the head), once thought to be useful in predicting criminal behaviour. The masks are now on display at the George Marshall Medical Museum in Worcester.
Perhaps the strangest story concerning a death mask – and physiognomy – is that involving Gershon Evan, who went on to live another 64 years after his mask was taken. In September 1939, 16 year old Evan was arrested along with 1,000 other young Jewish men and taken to Vienna’s Prater Stadium, where all were detained for weeks. Seeking out those with classic “Semitic” features, Nazi scientists — a commission of the anthropology department of the Natural History Museum — selected 440 men for study. Hair samples, fingerprints, hereditary/ biological appraisals and numerous photographs of the men were taken. The length and width of their noses, lips, chins and other facial features were meticulously documented. Evan was one of them. Soon after, Evan was ordered to submit to having a death mask taken.
“My head on the pillow, I stretched out on the table and closed my eyes,” he recalled in his memoirs years later. “The man advised me to relax, while he coated my face with a greasy substance. He applied it from the top of my forehead down to the throat and from ear to ear. The lubricant, he explained, was to prevent the hardened plaster of Paris from sticking to my skin.” At the end of the procedure, the death mask was removed, catalogued and archived. Evan was given a single cigarette for his troubles before being moved to Buchenwald, from where he was miraculously released four months later. At age 80, Evan was shown his preserved death mask and barely recognised himself in the youthful face held between the hands of a museum curator.
For more on death masks, including instructions on how to make one, visit Carlyn Becchia’s Raucous Royals blog.