ON THE SHELF: THE QUEST FOR QUEEN MARY

Recently, I was reading a royal biography and, as so often happens, it led me to another title, The Quest for Queen Mary, by James Pope-Hennessy (2018). The mention of this book described how screamingly funny the Queen Mary book was in parts. Of course, I went straight to Amazon Books online and searched for it, when I found other, similar quotes on the book jacket:

“One of this year’s funniest and most eccentric books.” Mail on Sunday.

“. . . Arguably the most riotously funny volume published this year.” The Sunday Times.

“Illuminating, intriguing and boundlessly entertaining.” Country Life

Naturally, I clicked the buy now button.

The Quest for Queen Mary is not a biography (find that here), but a compilation of the notes Pope-Hennessy wrote up regarding the people he met and the interviews he conducted while researching the biography, the whole edited by Hugo Vickers.

James Pope-Hennessy by Cecil Beaton

I was familiar with P-H (Pope-Hennessy) through the various inter-war diaries, letters and biographies I had read. He was a mainstay of the Bright Young Things set, socializing with the likes of the Mitfords, Cecil Beaton, Lord Berners, Rex Whistler, Duff and Diana Cooper, et al. For the life of me, I couldn’t recall that anyone had ever said that P-H had been particularly funny.

At one time, Richard James Arthur Pope-Hennessy had been editor of The Spectator. He was also a travel writer and a biographer whose book on Lord Crewe led to his being commissioned by the Queen in 1955 to write the biography of Queen Mary.  His brother was Sir John Pope-Hennessy, who had served as the Director of both the V&A and British Museums.

Friends did describe P-H as being two different people inhabiting one body. He could be a brilliant and talented work horse of a writer, but he was also known to have a darker, somewhat brooding side. James Lees-Milne once wrote of Pope-Hennessy that ‘the devil got a firm grip of him in his twenties and early thirties.’  He spent the money of older women whilst frankly discussing his homosexual life to them.

At one time, P-H had been in a relationship with Harold Nicolson, the former diplomat, writer and MP, and had also once shared a flat with the disgraced spy, Guy Burgess. His friends knew that he often sought the company of shady individuals and on occasion P-H paid for the services of ‘rent boys,’ one of whom lived at P-H’s flat at the time that newspapers reported that P-H had received $150,000 to write a book about Sir Noel Coward (1974). Believing that the money was in the flat, the rent boy recruited two friends and the trio bound P-H, who was then 57, and viciously beat him. P-H’s valet, Leslie (Walter) Smith, 25, returned to the property during the course of the attack and was stabbed. He managed to make it out into the street and summon help. Smith survived, Pope-Hennessy did not.

What makes The Quest for Queen Mary funny are P-H’s wonderfully drawn descriptions of the places he visited and the people he interviewed. His razor sharp perceptions and eye for both detail and the absurd all contribute to the laugh out loud moments in his book.

Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, who died 14 January 1892 at Sandringham.

Regarding Sandringham – Across the head of the main stairs is situated a truly sinister warren of small rooms . . . You go through and down two or three steps in a very narrow carpeted passage; the first door on the left is where the Duke of Clarence died. This dim and cheerless hole is surprisingly small: opposite the door a window, to the right of the door a fire-place and immediately on the r-hand wall the brass bedstead, so that you could touch the mantlepiece with your hand if lying on the bed. . . How 14 people, including the (rather fat) Duchess of Teck crammed into this room on the morning of 14 January 1892 foxes me completely . . . To sum up: this is a hideous house with a horrible atmosphere in parts, and in others no atmosphere at all. It is like a vast morgue . . . .

Pope-Hennessy related how he’d told Sir Owen Morshead (Royal Librarian) about being introduced (to Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone) as Mr. Poke-Henderson. Sir Owen duly addressed his next letter: “My dear Poke-Henderson . . . “ and told him that he had been called every possible name, including “Alan Horsehead.”

The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in 1935

P-H was invited to stay with the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester at Bramwell in order to conduct his interviews with them – I returned to the drawing room, having seen my very comfortable room, and observed with pleasure a small, framed notice on the dressing table . . . ‘Guests are particularly requested not to offer gratuities to the indoor or outdoor staff as they are NOT allowed to accept them.’ I sat down, waiting for the next episode and looking at the drink tray, and smoking. There was a huge, high, Coromandel screen with six folds hiding the door, so that it was rather exciting, like a good play with new characters, waiting to see who was going to enter next. There was a good deal of heavy breathing and heavy martial shuffle, and the Duke of Gloucester, eyes bulging and his hair standing on end from the wind, entered, wearing corduroys, a jersey, a Guards tie and a tweed coat. . . he veered off like a tacking sailing ship towards the drink tray and began delicately dropping angostura bitters out of a tiny silver-topped bottle into a large glass. He then took the gin bottle out of the three bottle canister on the table and said: “Haven’t you had a drink?” . . . He struggled to get the ice, which was a half moon shape I had never seen anywhere before, out of the silver ice pincers. “Oh, damn.” There was a long silence while we stood by the window and looked at the floor.

Staying with the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort at Badminton – P-H joined the Duke and Duchess at the breakfast table on the morning after his arrival. The Duchess was busy giving the dogs their porridge out of plastic saucers coloured pink and pale green. They related how when Lord Digby stayed for three days during the Badminton Horse Trials, he had eaten the dogs’ porridge by mistake one morning and none of them knew how to break it to him, so he went on doing it throughout his stay.

Lady Reid, Maid of Honour to Queen Victoria and widow of James Reid, Queen Victoria’s doctor, told P-H how as a new Maid of Honour, she accompanied Queen Victoria while she was out for a drive at Osborne – Miss Baring (as she was then) trotted beside the pony-carriage. These were the only times one was alone with her, and could speak of anything, but it was all rather breathless, ‘keepin’ up with the pony.’ Her first real outing with the Queen was soon after her arrival for first duty. Miss Phipps explained to her that the Queen liked to distribute her Christmas presents herself at Osborne, and off they set in a great high royal carriage, the Queen and Miss Phipps facing the horses, Miss Baring with her back to them and a pile of presents beside her. At the first cottage a woman came out and stood on the steps of the carriage (‘poor woman it was agonizing for her to hold on’); Miss Baring took the appropriate parcel and handed it to the Queen, saying, “It’s a rug, your Majesty.”

The Queen said nothing and turned to Miss Phipps. “What an odd thing to say, a rug, a r-r-r-rug! I have never heard it called that before. A rug is something which one stands on. It can be called a plaid, or a shawl, or even a wrap. But not a rug. And Susan calls it a r-r-r-rug. I have heard it called a plaid or a wrap, but never a rug. This monologue went on for several minutes, over and over again while the woman was clinging to the steps; and Miss Baring, overcome by it all, laughed and laughed till she nearly died.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor

About the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, with whom P-H stayed twice at their house in France while conducting interviews – The Duke of Windsor is, on first sight, much less small than I had been led to believe; he is not at all a manikin, but a well-proportioned human being. . . I was soon startled to find that, except for occasionally repeating a complete story (which the Duchess stops when she can), he is not only the one member of the Royal Family for whom one needs to make no allowances whatever, but that he is exceedingly intelligent, original, liberal minded and quite capable of either leading a conversation or taking a constructive part in one. He is also one of the most considerate men I have ever met of his generation. Like the Duchess, he is perhaps too open and trusting towards others; or else he was determined to be specially helpful to me.

On the Duchess of Windsor – This is one of the very oddest women I have ever seen . . . Like her house, she is tremendously American, and specifically Southern – it was like being back in Montgomery, Alabama, without the tree moss. I should therefore be tempted to classify her simply as An American Woman par excellence, were it not for the suspicion that she is not a woman at all. She is, to look at, phenomenal. She is flat and angular, and could have been designed for a medieval playing card. The shoulders are small and high; the head very, very large, almost monumental; the expression is either anticipatory (signalling to one, ‘I know this is going to be loads of fun, don’t yew?) or appreciative – the great giglamp smile, the wide, wide open eyes, which are so very large and pale and veined, the painted lips and the cannibal teeth. . .

There’s royalty galore in this book, on both sides of the Channel, and they are infinitely amusing whether being interviewed or being spoken about by the interviewee. If you’re a fan of royalty, or Queen Mary or historic houses or the period in general, I highly recommend this book.

Oddly, no one P-H interviewed once mentioned Queen Mary’s alleged habit of pinching things from the homes she visited.

AN ELOPEMENT, A STATELY HOME AND A ROYAL VISIT

Robert Petre, 9th Baron Petre

From The Letter-bag of Lady Elizabeth Spencer-Stanhope

March 1st. (1805)

“Your father is very well. He was sorry for the fate of the Slave Trade Bill last night. The Elopement and distress in the House of Petre has been the chief subject of conversation for the last few days. Miss Petre  made her escape from her father’s house in Norfolk with her Brothers’ tutor on Monday last. It is said they are at Worcester and married only by a Catholic Priest. However, Lord and Lady P. are gone there and it is expected she will be brought back to-night. They can do nothing but get her married to the man at Church. She is 18, he 30, and no Gentleman. She was advertised and 20 guineas reward offered to anyone who could give an account of the stray sheep. It is a sad History. What misery this idle girl has caused her parents, and probably ensured her own for life.

Marianne Stanhope to John Spencer Stanhope.

March 3rd. (1805)
“You have doubtless read in the papers the account of Miss Petre’s elopement with her brother’s tutor, Mr Philips. He is a very low man, quite another class, always dined with the children, never associated the least with the family, a sort of upper servant. Lady Petre thought him rather forward, he was to have left them at Easter. She had seen her daughter at twelve the night before, and only missed her at breakfast . Her clothes were all gone. A friend of his, a brandy merchant, accompanied her in the chaise, the tutor rode first. A clergyman refused to marry them some time ago at Lambeth, but they have since been married at Oxford by a Mr. Leslie, a Catholic priest, which is not enough. They are not yet discovered.”

The Miss Petre referred to above was Maria Juliana, daughter of Robert Edward, 9th Baron Petre. She was born 22 January 1787, married on 30th April 1805, to Stephen Philips, Esq., and died 27th January 1824. I have been unable to find much else concerning her life, but here is her obituary, as it appeared in The Catholic Spectator: “The Hon. Mrs. Philips, wife of Stephen Philips, Esq. of H. M. Customs, and eldest daughter of the late Rt. Hon. Edw. Lord Petre, and Lady Mary, surviving,  of a decline, aged 37. To the ardent and unremitting zeal of this Lady, in her personal and most charitable attentions to the Female Catholic Charity School, at Stratford, Essex, may principally be attributed her lamented and premature decease. She has left five children and a husband to deplore the loss of a model for the Christian wife and mother.”

However shocking his daughter’s elopement may have been for Lord Petre, there was more disappointment ahead. Like many other aristocrats before and after, Lord Petre’s home, Thornton Hall, was chosen as a base for a royal visit in October of 1778 by King George III and Queen Charlotte. And, like others, Lord Petre went to great expense to prepare for his royal guests. We have the following account of the preparations and the visit from Reminiscences For My Children by Catharine Mary Howard (1838) –

General Lord Amherst

September 22nd—General Lord Amherst was commanded by his Majesty to inform Lord Petre, that he was graciously pleased to accept of his offer to make Thorndon his residence, during his intended review of the troops encamped on Warley Common, on or about the 5th of October. Lord Petre, anxious to receive his sovereign with every mark of respect, duty, and affection, becoming an attached and loyal subject, set about immediately making every necessary preparation for his entertainment, which the vicinity of Thorndon to the capital enabled him to do with more expedition. His lordship sent for Mr. Bracken, his upholsterer, and asked him whether it was possible, in so short a time, to re-furnish the drawing-rooms, the state bed-room, and dressing-rooms —the drawing-room being forty feet by twenty-five, and twenty-three feet high, which is the height of all the rooms on the first floor. He replied, it might be done if a sufficient quantity of damask, of English manufacture, (as was ordered,) could be procured to cover those spacious apartments. Among other things ordered, were fifty tabourets to be covered with damask, as only kings and queens upon such occasions sit upon chairs. In a few hours he sent down patterns, of which a beautiful light green was chosen for the drawing-rooms and the King’s dressing-room, and a red and white damask for the state bed-room and the Queen’s dressing-room.

copyright thorndonhall.co.uk

“Mr. Davy, the house-steward, was despatched the next day to town, to procure trades-people of every description, who arrived at Thorndon in various conveyances, both public and private, amounting to one hundred, and who were all lodged and fed in the house. He was also daily employed in providing every luxury for the King’s table; and was empowered by Lord Petre to order a service of gold, in addition to the family plate, which was very considerable. Much, also, was hired, and a quantity borrowed from the Duke of Norfolk, assisted by some families in the neighbourhood— Lord Waldegrave, Lady Mildemay, and Mr. Conyers. Every thing went on briskly, but no decided day had been named for the King’s arrival.

“October 3rd—An express came from Lord Amherst, to announce that his Majesty would not be at Thorndon before the 19th instant. The cooks and confectioners were therefore sent back to London; and three large dinners were given to the neighbours, to which the officers and their ladies were invited, who partook of the good things that had already been prepared, while the workpeople went on more leisurely, and with less fatigue.

“On the 15th, the fourteen additional men-cooks and confectioners returned, and re-commenced their culinary labours with great spirit, so that all was in readiness, in every department, by the 18th October.

George III, Queen Charlotte and their six eldest children by Johan Zoffany

“October 19th, three o’clock Behold! in the avenue, the finest sight of the kind that ever was seen !—The sun bright—troops drawn up on each side—innumerable people—the King and Queen appearing with their numerous equipages, horse guards, attendants, etc. and numberless horsemen sent by Lord Petre to meet them, headed by his land-steward, with all the people he could collect— the park of artillery saluting, which was re-echoed in the woods with the shouts of the people—the rapidity with which the King’s chaise ran on, scarcely five minutes having elapsed, from the time of its appearance at the top of the rising avenue, (a full mile and a half from the house,) to their Majesties coming up to the door—the lawn in one instant covered with horsemen—and the horses panting—all contributed to resemble the work of enchantment! From Brentwood, a double row of carriages had placed themselves behind the troops, the horses being taken off to prevent accidents.

“Lord and Lady Petre received their Royal Visitors at the door. Lord Petre handed the Queen up stairs, while the King, with Lady Petre, walked on together through the entrance-hall— carpeted for the occasion up to the carriage-door— towards the first drawing-room, into the great drawing-room, which shall henceforth be designated by the presence-chamber, where two state chairs were placed on a raised platform. Lord and Lady Petre then kissed their Majesties’ hands, who soon shook off all form by their easy manner. They asked directly to see the house, and, followed by their suite, went through all the different apartments. On their return to the presence-chamber, the King desired to see Miss Petre, whom he played with, and afterwards took a great deal of notice of.

 

King George III by Ramsay

“At four o’clock, dinner was announced, when Lord Petre handed the Queen to the dining-room. Her chair alone was placed at the table, but her Majesty desired the ladies to sit down; and tabourets were immediately brought forward for Lady Egremont, lady of the bed-chamber, Lady Amherst, and Lady Petre. On no other occasion excepting at commerce, were they asked to sit down.

“His Majesty dined in the great hall, a couvert being laid only for him. He also desired the gentlemen to sit down; and stools were immediately placed near the table for Lord Lothian, gold stick, Lord Carmarthen, chamberlain to the Queen, General Carpenter, equerry to the King, Colonel Harcourt and Colonel St. John, aides-decamp, Lord Amherst, General Pearson, Majorgeneral Sir David Lindsay, as commanding officer of the day, Major-general Morrison, and Majorgeneral Fawcett. Lord Petre sat on the left hand of the King, and acted as cup-bearer. After the first glass was drunk, his Majesty ordered the wine round to his right, that he might not take the trouble to get up again.

Queen Charlotte 1779

“. . . . . In rising from table at eight o’clock, Lord Petre poured rose-water upon his Majesty’s hands, from a golden ewer and basin which were given by Mary, Queen of Scots, to the Earl of Derwentwater, his maternal grandfather. He then conducted his Majesty to the presence-chamber, bearing lights before him.

“After coffee, the King conversed for half an hour with the gentlemen in the outer drawingroom, to whom he talked of the army, and, with Lord Petre, chiefly about the camp. All the company then took their departure, leaving only the attendants.

“The King immediately proposed playing at commerce, and made the following party:—Lady Egremont, Lady Amherst, Lady Petre, Lord Lothian, Lord Carmarthen, Colonel St. John, and Colonel Harcourt. The latter won the first pool, and Lord Petre the second.

“Supper was prepared in the great hall at twelve o’clock. The Queen only sat down to supper, around whose chair the King, with the gentlemen, and a great number of attendants, stood at the bottom of the table. At one o’clock, their Majesties retired. Lord Petre carried lights before the King, and Lady Petre before the Queen, to their apartments.

“Here a little occurrence caused some disappointment. As their Majesties always carried their own little beds with them, the state bed had to be removed to make place for them, from within the gilt-iron guard that surrounded it. Fortunately, the tester was fastened from above, with the curtains, independent of the bedstead, and remained to form a stately awning to the two ordinary red and white check tent-beds.

“The next morning their Majesties breakfasted alone in the presence-chamber. Between nine and ten o’clock, they sent for Lord and Lady Petre, with whom they walked about the house, and up and down the south portico of the great saloon, until the carriages were ready to convey them to Warley Common. Here Lord Petre had prepared a stand, tacked and furnished in a very sumptuous manner, which was placed in the most advantageous position for seeing the sham-fight and the military movements, with which the King expressed his approbation in the strongest terms, but which were reported in the Gazette in an ordinary style.

“All passed on in the same manner as on the preceding day, excepting that the peers, and colonels of the regiments encamped at Warley, were asked to dine at the King’s table, making a party of thirty. One hundred and thirty dishes were served up, besides high ornamental decorations in the centre. Among the dainties gathered from all parts of England, I observed in the poulterer’s bill, a bustard, marked five guineas.

“His Majesty was in high spirits, conversed with cheerfulness and freedom, and did not rise from table till ten o’clock ; after which he proposed another pool at commerce, which his Majesty won, and in the course of the game drew kings twice. The second time he threw them on the table, he said, `Here are these things again, here are these things again.’

“At twelve, their Majesties retired to rest; and next morning they breakfasted in the presencechamber, as they had done on the preceding day. At ten o’clock, Lord and Lady Petre, with their little daughter, were sent for by the King, who throwing open one of the windows, that the whole party might be seen by the populace, who had collected from all parts in great crowds in front of the house, remained a considerable time—the King holding Miss Petre before him, and Lord Petre standing on his right, with Lady Petre on the left of the Queen. Their Majesties then, in the most obliging manner, expressed their thanks for the kind and handsome reception they had met with at Thorndon, which they condescendingly repeated several times.

“Lord and Lady Petre had the honour to kiss their Majesties’ hands, as they had done on their arrival. Lord Petre then handed the King and Queen into their carriage—drawn by six beautiful greys—who drove off for Navestock, to dine with Lord and Lady Waldegrave, where Lord and Lady Petre were commanded to meet their Majesties; and they went up to town the following day, to attend the drawing-room at St. James’s.

“As vails were not then abolished, the King left a hundred guineas for the servants, as also money for the poor.”

And so he might in return for such lavish entertainments. The People’s History of Essex by  Duffield William Coller (1861) provides further details into the entertainments organized for the King: “The street and roadway from the London entrance of the town, down to the park gate, a distance of nearly two miles, were lined with soldiery; and the royal pair passed beneath a triumphal arch to the hull door, where they were received by Lord and Lady Petre. A royal levee, a grand dinner party, a concert, and a display of fireworks, filled the roll of festivity at the baronial hall; while the loyalty of Brentwood blazed forth at night in a general illumination, as brilliant as it could be made at a time when gas as yet lay slumbering undiscovered in its heap of coal dust. The following day his Majesty reviewed the little army which lay encamped at Warley, and afterwards held a levee upon the ground for the reception of the military officers and county gentry. While this was passing upon the green turf of the common—while the cannon were thundering out in mimic fight, troops of horse flying across the plain, and columns of infantry crashing through the neighbouring woods to show royalty how a battle was lost and won—a fairy-like surprise was preparing at Thorndon Hall. At the west end of the magnificent dining-room, a noble orchestra rose as if by magic. On the front was emblazoned the royal arms, with Fame sounding her trumpet, and underneath, in large characters, were the words —” Vivant Bex et Regina.” On each side were finely-executed portraits of their Majesties, and guardian angels crowning them with laurel. The orchestra itself was filled with artists of firstrate talent The whole was carefully concealed till the royal party and the other guests were seated, and the course had been served, when on the first flourish of the royal fork, the screen was suddenly removed. The fine strains of ” God save the King” bursting out from the midst of this flash of light and these things of beauty, gave it the air of an enchanted scene; and general expressions of delight greeted the noble host.”

We now return to Reminiscences For My Children for the sorry aftermath of the Royal visit and to learn what Lord Petre, who had spent so much, on so many levels, received for his pains.

“From that period no particular mark of attention in any manner was ever shown to Lord and Lady Petre, by their Majesties King George III. and Queen Charlotte. On the contrary, they were not even asked to the Queen’s concerts or private parties the following winter, or to any other entertainment ever after, solely on the plea of their religion (they were Catholics); and in 1798, his Majesty refused to sign Lord Petre’s son’s commission to a volunteer corps he had raised, because, his Majesty said, he could not help being aware that he was a Roman Catholic, having been in the chapel at Thorndon House.”

It seems odd that the King should claim to only have discovered that Lord Petre was a Catholic after his visit, as Lord Petre had been a force in the move for Catholic Emancipation, all neatly laid out in this entry from Wikipedia.

As a side note, the Thorndon Hall website relates the following: “At the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 Lord William Petre (11th Baron 1793 to 1850) is said to have captured Marengo, the grey Arabian horse of Napoleon I of France, although in talking with his decendent the current Lord Petre he does not believe that his ancestor would have been at the battle being a Catholic. However whether or not the Baron was present at the battlefield it is believed that he acquired the horse and brought it back to the Thorndon Hall,  later selling it to Lieutenant-Colonel Angerstein of the Grenadier Guards for stud. Marengo lived on for another 11 years and died at the age of 38. The horse’s skeleton was preserved and is now on display at the National Army Museum in Chelsea, London.”

THE 2019 SCOTTISH RETREAT – GLAMIS CASTLE

 

We’re looking forward to our Scottish Retreat in September and thinking about our upcoming visit to Glamis Castle, a site that is steeped in history. Glamis (above) has been the ancestral seat to the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne since 1372, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the childhood home of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and birthplace of HRH The Princess Margaret.

While the Castle has been used in the past as a stronghold, a barrack and a hospital, Glamis is first and foremost a beloved family home, as these pictures of the interiors attest, many of which we’ll be seeing during our guided tour of the Castle –

 

 

 

 

Unsurprisingly, many legends surround the Castle, most notably that of the “Monster of Glamis,” a hideously deformed heir who was hidden away in a secret room for life. Then there’s the stubborn bloodstain that cannot be removed from the floorboards in one of the castle rooms, said to be the blood of King Malcolm II, who was cut down by the Claymore swords of his rebellious subjects in the castle in 1084, and the tale of the Ogilvies, neighboring aristocrats who came to Glamis and begged for protection from their sworn enemies, the Lindsay family. The Ogilvies were escorted to a chamber under the castle and left there without food or water for over a month. When the chamber was opened, only one of the Ogilvies was barely alive. Rumour goes that their skulls are still kept in yet another secret chamber within the Castle.

While every Castle needs a good legend, or three, I prefer the real life story of the bravery of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who visited Glamis often throughout her lifetime.

From the Castle website – “During the First World War Glamis Castle became a convalescent hospital. Lady Elizabeth’s kindness won her the hearts of many of the soldiers who passed through Glamis. On 16th September 1916 two soldiers discovered a fire in a room under the castle roof. As they ran to raise the alarm, the first person they came across was Lady Elizabeth who showed great presence of mind and immediately telephoned both the local and Dundee fire brigades. She then marshalled everyone to fight the fire, organising a chain to convey buckets of water from the river. Later, with the fire raging above them, she organised the removal of the valuables out onto the Lawn. In 1918 the armistice signalled the end of the war and the end of an era. Once the last soldier had left Glamis in 1919 Lady Elizabeth was launched into the high society of the day at her coming out party.”

Outside, you’ll find the walled and the Italian gardens.

 

During the Scottish Retreat in September, we’ll be staying at Gargunnock House, a classic example of the gentleman’s shooting box, complete with open fires, flagstone floors, period details, spiraling staircases and Georgian furnishings.

 

 

Being a period property, Gargunnock House has a limited number of bedrooms and there are only 5 spaces left on the tour.

Visit our website for dates and complete itinerary.

CHRISTMAS PAST – IN THEIR OWN WORDS

What would Christmas be without our trimming the tree? Some believe that it was Prince Albert who introduced the custom of the Christmas tree to England, while others maintain that they were introduced to England by King George III’s German wife, Queen Charlotte. However, it was only circa 1848, after the London Illustrated News ran the engraving depicting showing Queen Victoria and Prince Albert celebrating  around the Christmas tree with their children (above) that this tradition caught on with the public.
The painting above, Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree at Windsor in 1850 as painted by James Roberts (1824 – 1867), depicts presents around the tree from Prince Albert. We thought it might prove amusing to see what others had written about the Christmas tree in centuries past.
From Recollections from 1803 to 1837 by Amelia Murray:
“Christmas-trees are now common. In the early part of this century they were seldom seen, but Queen Charlotte always had one dressed up in the room of Madame Berkendorff, her German attendant; it was hung with presents for the children, who were invited to see it, and I well remember the pleasure it was to hunt for one’s own name, which was sure to be attached to one or more of the pretty gifts.”
From 20 Years at Court
The Hon. Eleanor Stanley (maid of honour to Queen Victoria, 1842-1862) to her Mother, Lady Mary Stanley, Windsor Castle, Saturday, Dec. 25th, 1847.
“Dearest Mama,—A merry Xmas, and many happy returns of the day to you and all the family at the dear old Castle. Yesterday evening we were desired, at a quarter to seven, to come down to the Corridor, to get our Gifts; we found all the gentlemen and Mrs. Anson already assembled, and presently the page desired us to go to the Oak-room, where the Queen and Prince already were, standing by a large table covered with a white cloth, in the middle of which was a little fir-tree, in the German fashion, covered with bonbons, gilt walnuts, and little coloured tapers. I send a bonbon as a Christmas box to little Blanche, which I took off the tree. . . . The children had each a little table with their new toys, and were running about in great glee showing them off; Prince Alfred, in a glorious tinsel helmet that almost covered his face, was shooting us all with a new gun, and Princess Alice was making us admire her dolls, etc. They had one Christmas tree among them, like us, but the Queen, Prince, and Duchess had each one, and altogether I never saw anything prettier than the whole arrangement.”
Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck
From The Memoirs of Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck
Cambridge Cottage, January 1, 1848.

“My Dearest Draperchen,  (her former governess, Miss Draper, whom she addressed as ‘Ma chere Draperchen), . . . Our Christmas went off very well. The room was beautifully decorated ; there were four fine trees, and these were connected by wreaths of laurel evergreens and holly.”

by the same author

Cambridge Cottage, January 9, 1849
“The Christmas holidays have been very happily spent by the inmates of Cambridge Cottage, and I have received a number of cadeaux! Our Trees were arranged in the Conservatory, which was hung with festoons of evergreens, from which transparent lamps were suspended. The whole was well lighted up, and looked remarkably pretty, and the three trees were quite covered with bon-bons and fruit.”
Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower

From My Reminiscences By Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower

“At Trentham, Christmas 1854, I find, on turning the pages of that record of my early years, much detail regarding our Christmas gifts and of the Christmas tree; now so general in English homes at Yuletide, but then hardly seen but in a few English houses. Our German tutor claimed to have introduced this pretty custom in this country in our family, the first implanted out of Germany having been erected by him in the hall at Stafford House. Until recently there was always one of these Christmas trees, richly decked, placed in one of the drawing-rooms at Trentham on Christmas Eve; and the household attended to see the illuminations and receive the gifts that were one by one cut off from the lighted boughs. No one was forgotten, from the most honored of the guests down to the kitchen-maids and stable-men. Christmas was worthily maintained in those days at Trentham. Generally after the tree there came a ball for the servants, given in a long gallery overlooking the stable-yard. All took part in the dances, which, with itscountry dances and Highland flings and reels, when the Scotch piper was in great demand, were always most successful festivities.”

From Letters by Lady Harcourt, December 17, 1885

“Yesterday I made an excursion to the city with Hilda Deichmann and her husband to buy things for our Christmas trees. It was most amusing ransacking in all the big wholesale houses, and reminded me of my childish days and similar expeditions to Maiden Lane . . . . . . . . Our shopping was most successful. All the prettiest things come from the German shops. The ginger-bread animals were wonderful,—some horses and dogs with gilt tails and ears most effective. The decorations were really very pretty—the stars and angels quite charming.”

 

by the same author

To G. K. S., Albert Gate, London, December 24, 1885.

“The sisters and I have been shopping all day getting the last things for the tree, which is to be on the 26th. The streets are most animated, full of people, all carrying parcels, and all with smiling faces. . . We wound up at the Army and Navy Stores, and really had some difficulty in getting in. They had quantities of Christmas trees already decorated, which were being sold as fast as they were brought in.”

Wishing you a memorable Christmas!

AN INVITATION TO THE ROYAL PAVILION

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton

One of the most iconic buildings in England, Brighton’s Royal Pavilion has come to symbolize the decadence of the Regency Period. Built as George IV’s pleasure palace by the sea, the Pavilion continues to astonish visitors, just as it did in the 19th century. Even the typically unflappable Duke of Wellington was taken aback by the Pavilion’s excesses and the Prince’s flamboyant style of interior decor. 

Princess Lieven recorded the Duke’s reaction upon first seeing the Pavilion in a letter to her husband written from Brighton on January 26, 1822:

I wish you were here to laugh. You cannot imagine how astonished the Duke of Wellington is. He had not been here before, and I thoroughly enjoy noting the kind of remark and the kind of surprise that the whole household evokes in a new-comer. I do not believe that, since the days of Heliogabalus, there have been such magnificence and such luxury. There is something effeminate in it which is disgusting. One spends the evening half-lying on cushions; the lights are dazzling; there are perfumes, music, liquers – “Devil take me, I think I must have got into bad company.” You can guess who said that, and the tone in which it was said. . . . ” 

After the death of the Prince Regent, his brother, King William IV, and later Queen Victoria, both visited the Pavilion. However, by Queen Victoria’s time, the town of Brighton had become much more developed and the population increased accordingly. Queen Victoria felt that the property could no longer afford herself and her family the seclusion they required and she sold the building to the Corporation of Brighton in 1850.

George IV
Queen Victoria

Today, the Royal Pavilion has been restored to it’s former Regency glory and is still astonishing the many visitors who arrive daily to experience the grandeur first-hand. Number One London Tours invites you to join us for a tour of the Royal Pavilion as part of the itinerary for our 2019 Queen Victoria Tour or our 2020 Regency Tour.

The video below offers the most comprehensive tour of the Pavilion’s interiors I’ve seen and it also includes a good overview of it’s history, so I’ve chosen to include it despite the interpreter’s very animated delivery. Final bit of trivia – Ironically, all of the kitchen copper-ware you’ll see in the video was once the property of the first Duke of Wellington and bears his ducal crest. It was transferred to the Pavilion in the 1950s, when Apsley House was placed under the control of English Heritage.