A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND – CAVERSHAM

Following the Number One London Georgian Tour, Vicky flew in and met me in London for a night before we headed off on our epic research journey, visiting three Archives that hold documents related to the Duke of Wellington. Our first stop was the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading. We had booked a hotel in nearby Caversham and our good friend, author Beth Elliott was kind enough to pick us up at the station.

You’ve heard me speak of Beth here on the blog before. She’s the sort of friend who is a comfort, a joy and who also happens to be very funny. In an understated English way. So, Beth collected us at the train station and drove Vicky and me to our riverside hotel, where we met a gaggle of other local residents.

Later that evening, we all went out to the nearby carvery and indulged in that most comforting of British food, the Sunday Roast, even though it was actually a Wednesday.

Next day, Vicky and I headed off to the Museum of English Rural Life.

We had ordered the documents we wished to see in advance, one of which was the Marriage Settlement between Richard, Marquis Wellesley and Maryanne Patterson, below. You’ll see that the Duke of Wellington was one of the executors of the Settlement. Between his brother and his former mistress. Yes, you read that correctly.

We spent the entire day reading historic documents and attempting to read Wellington’s handwriting. Boxes and boxes of letters and documents. Naturally, by the end of the day, Vicky and I were ready for a drink. And when we met up with Beth later that evening, we told her we’d love to have a plate of roast beef for dinner. Again. So we did.

Afterwards, we strolled through historic Caversham, which, as Cavesham, was mentioned in the Domesday Book and which sits on the north bank of the Thames.

Good friends, good food and good Wellington documents. As you can imagine, it was a wonderfully satisfying day. And one I’ll always remember. More to come . . . .

FLORIZEL AND PERDITA MET ON 3 DECEMBER, 1779

by Victoria Hinshaw

The Prince of Wales, afterwards King George IV, after Sir William Beechey, circa 1806
George Prince of Wales was only 17 years old when he attended a performance of Florizel and Perdita, a play adapted from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale.  In the words of actress Mary Robinson’s biographer, Hester Davenport, the Prince “was looking for a woman to worship,” perhaps HAD been looking already, when he sat in his box at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and “fell in love.” 
As Ms. Davenport points out, this was not Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, but an adaptation by David Garrick, known as Florizel and Perdita, in which Perdita is a sweet and charming maiden. The Prince sent Mary notes addressed to Perdita and signed them Florizel, as though they were the characters in the play. So began his first publicly known affair, the first of many.  
Mary Robinson by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Mary was born Mary Darby in Bristol in November of 1757 or perhaps 1758, which made her a few years older than the prince (b. 1762). Her “disastrous” marriage at age 16 to Thomas Robinson brought her a daughter, Maria Elizabeth (b. 1774), but little financial or emotional support. Eventually, she began to perform on the London stage, often in “trouser roles,” playing young men and displaying her fine figure for all to admire.
Though Prince George did not remain faithful to her for long, Mary was known as Perdita all her life.  While she enjoyed the Prince’s attentions, she was the toast of London, extolled and excoriated in the newspapers, the object of considerable gossip in noble salons, especially among the males.

By the time the fanciful caricature above was published in 1783, the relationship was “quite out of date.” When the Prince quite publicly took up with other females, Mary refused to send back all his letters and other tokens of his fickle adoration. Later she received a not-so-secret payment in exchange for the return of some of them.

In 1781, Mary sat for a portrait by Thomas Gainsborough, commissioned by the Prince. In this version of the painting in the Wallace Collection above  (another is in the Royal Collection), Mary holds a miniature of the Prince in her right hand.

Mary had only a brief time in the limelight of the London demi-monde. Only a few year later, she was reported to be “desperately ill.” Various explanations for her condition have been suggested, but the causes of her maladies remain mysterious. In May of 1791, she published a book of poems, “a small but handsomely bound volume with marbeled end papers,” made possible by sums raised by 600 subscribers, including the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Duke of Clarence and many other luminaries.

In 2010, Kristine and Victoria, along with Kristine’s daughter, Brooke, visited with Hester Davenport in Windsor, here at the Castle.

Hester Davenport chronicles the reception Mary’s book received. Readers seem to ask, “How was it possible to connect the frivolous woman of 1780s gossip with a writer of pensive odes, elegies and sonnets?” That Mary acquired the title ‘The English Sappho,’ possibly at her own instigation, may have added to the this (seductive) sense of being wooed.

Visiting the burial site of Mary Robinson in Old Windsor with Hester Davenport

Mary lived only a few more years, dying in 1800, having never recovered her health. She had, however, continued to write poetry as well as her memoirs, several novels, plays and feminist essays.  

Mary Robinson as Perdita by John Hoppner, 1782

As an endorsement of the value of her literary work, the painting of Mary Robinson by Hoppner, above, was acquired for the Chawton House Library, where it is displayed prominently. Many works by Mary Robinson are available from their website. Her biography is here.

We all hope that future scholars will pay attention to this fascinating woman and her body of work. In the epilogue of her biography, Hester Davnport writes, “Mary Robinson was dead: the talented actress, spectacular Cyprian, accomplished and industrious  author, committed feminist and radical, charming and witty hostess, spendthrift, devoted daughter and mother, compassionate, sensitive and sometimes spikily difficult woman.  A genius? Perhaps only in her extraordinary versatility, but not undeserving of the ‘One little laurel wreath,’ she craved.”

Mary Darby Robinson (1758? – 1800)
Note: Victoria, Jo Manning and Kristine lost their dear friend Hester Davenport in September 2013. We like to think that she and Perdita are together, drinking tea and catching up on two centuries worth of gossip.

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: THE FOOD

 

Room service breakfast, Sloane Square, London

 

Cheese board, Grenadier Pub, Wilton Mews, London

 

Sunday roast, The Albany, Great Portland Street, London

 

Steak platter, The Herd, Pulteney Bridge, Bath

 

Cheese platter, our Townhouse, Bath

 

Afternoon tea, Richoux, Piccadilly, London

 

Steak, Castle Hotel, Ryde, Isle of Wight

 

Pea soup, Osborne House, Isle of Wight

 

The table is laid, the Durbar Room, Osborne House

 

Moules, Albert Cottage, Isle of Wight

 

Cheese board, Albert Cottage, Isle of Wight

 

Sunday roast, the Green Man, Great Portland Street, London

 

Sunday roast, the Carvery, Caversham

 

Pimm’s riverside, Henley

 

 

 

 

Sunday roast, the Duke of Wellington, Southampton

 

Latte and cookie, Mottisfont Abbey

 

Pimms, The George, Chichester

 

Hot chocolate and scone, Vintage Tea Room, Chichester

 

 

The table is laid, Arundel Castle, West Sussex

 

As seen in a cheese shop in Arundel, where Vicky instead bought us some Stinking Bishop, which was certainly aptly named. I almost passed out in the cab while bringing it back to our cottage. Subtle it is not.

 

 

 

WHAT WE SAW AT THE V&A

 

Following Number One London’s Georgian Tour, Louisa and I had a day to ourselves in London and decided to spend a good portion of it in the V&A. Following are  photos of just a few of the things we saw on display in their Fashion Collection.

Fashion doll, 1885

From the V&A website: French Doll. Fine bisque head with fixed glass eyes. Tightly curled mohair wig. Pierced ears (no earrings). Ball-jointed strung composition body.
Dressed in an English costume; silk satin formal day dress in gold and peacock blue, trimmed with deep blue silk velvet. Fully lined in white cotton. Large bustle. White lace at neck and wrists. Dress fastens in back with embroidered buttons. Smocking at yoke, bodice and cuffs. Leather shoes and crochet socks, some white cotton underwear. Doll was originally mounted/sewn to a padded cushion and had her shoes pasted to a cardboard base for display purposes; this has since been reverted by Conservation.

 

 

 

 

 

THE TREASURE HOUSES OF ENGLAND – CASTLE HOWARD

Castle Howard

There are ten stately homes that have been designated as “The Treasure Houses of England,” and three of them are included on our 2019 Country House Tour – Harewood House, Castle Howard and Chatsworth House.

Castle Howard, above, is not a true castle, but this term is also used for English country houses erected on the site of a former military castle. It may look familiar to you because it was used as the fictional “Brideshead,” both in Granada Television’s 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and a two-hour 2008 remake for cinema.

Castle Howard is unique as it grew out of an idea begun in 1699 at the legendary Kit Kat Club when the 3rd Earl of Carlisle decided to build his estate to the design of Sir John Vanburgh – who had never before undertaken an architectural design. Working with Nicholas Hawksmoor, Vanburgh designed the house, situated on the site  of the ruined Henderskelfe Castle. The project took over 100 years to complete.

The Howard family are descended from Lord William Howard, the youngest son of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. George Howard, 6th Earl of Carlisle,  (17 September 1773 – 7 October 1848), styled Viscount Morpeth until 1825, served as Lord Privy Seal between 1827 and 1828 and in 1834 and was a member of Lord Grey’s Whig government as Minister without Portfolio between 1830 and 1834.  Lord Carlisle married Lady Georgiana Cavendish (1783–1858), daughter of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire and Lady Georgiana Spencer, in 1801.

You can take a tour of Castle Howard via the video below –