“Oh, a cottage! How charming. A little cottage is always very snug.”

(From Sense and Sensibility – 1995 Film)

*CAVEAT FOR THIS SERIES OF POSTS*

This series of posts will endeavor to explain the different categories and names given to the various historical homes in England. There are specific criteria that define each type of home by the reasons for which it was built and the purpose it served in the lives of those who lived there. However, these designations are not written in stone (pun not really intended,) and they often changed over time based on additions made to them, renovations, architectural design alterations, and changes of ownership. So a manor house could become a stately home or a country house. A castle could become a manor house. A stately home could be called a castle—just ask Castle Howard. Add to that the names by which these homes were known—Chatsworth House, Lyme Park, Shugborough Hall and it can all be a bit confusing. The purpose of this series of posts is to give the reader a sort of guide from which to start when identifying the historic homes of England and perhaps to understand why and when they came to be. Names are important, especially to living, breathing beings, and these marvelous places are indeed very much alive.

 

A few things to get straight from the outset

The English idea of a cottage, which is what this post is about, is quite different from the American idea of a cottage.

The American definition of a cottage emphasizes the purpose and location of such a structure. In the United States a cottage is generally a summer residence at a health or pleasure resort. In other words, it is a vacation home known for its small size and rather rustic appearance.

To make matters even more confusing, the English idea of a cottage covers a wide variety of structures each with its own character and specifications. The various types of cottage are defined by their structure, their appearance, their location, and yes, sometimes their purpose. But more about the different types in a bit.

A brief history of the cottage

The word cottage – medieval Latin cotagium – derives from the Old English word cot or cote meaning “hut” and the Old French word cot meaning “hut or cottage” both of which may have come from the Old Norse word kot meaning “hut.”

Under the feudal system in medieval England a cottage was the property of a cottager or cotter or bordar. The cottager’s property included a small house and a plot of land around it just large enough to plant a garden to feed the cottager’s family. In return for this the cottager had to perform some task or work in some position for the feudal lord who actually owned the property. The cottager had no rights based on tenure, worked full-time for the feudal lord, and worked in any spare time to provide for his family by way of the garden and any other skills he had.

                          

These cottages were small, built to basic function of local materials. In wheat-growing areas, it would be roofed in thatch, and in slate-rich locations, such as Cornwall, slates would be used for roofing. In stone-rich areas, its walls would be built of rubble stone, and in other areas, such as Devon, was commonly built from cob.

Cob was the English term for a basic building material that has been in use in some form all over the world for at least 4000 years. The term was first recorded in England in about 1600. The material consisted of local soil, water, straw, sometimes lime, and any other substrate that needed to be added to make the material sturdy enough for building.

By the mid-18th century and with the advent of the Industrial Revolution the cottage became an inexpensive form of housing for companies to provide for workers in factories, in skilled handcrafts such as weaving, and in the mining industry.

Weavers’ Cottages at Bradford-on-Avon

Notice the bank of windows across the top floors. These were installed so that the weavers’ looms were operating in the room with the most light. The weavers lived in the bottom two floors and worked in the top floor.

Abandoned miners’ cottages in Snowdonia – North Wales

These rows of cottages would have housed mine workers and their families. The roofs would have been either thatch or likely slate as this particular set of cottages housed workers at a slate mine.

Once we move into the 19th century, those cottages not associated with specific industry workers and built as actual homes for families tended to be larger, semi-detached or detached and were often dwellings built specifically on an estate or in a village to house retired retainers or poor relations (for lack of a better term.) Often the dwelling of a vicar was built in this more expansive cottage form.

    

Sketches of George Austen’s cottage parsonage in Steventon.

 

 

 

A few universal characteristics of these cottages are:

1. These houses were found in rural areas. One would not likely see a cottage in London.

2. Though they might, in any form, have been homes for farm workers, other laborers or even farmers who owned smaller properties, they could also be inhabited by parsons and their families or even used as manor houses by untitled members of the aristocracy or those with lower titles like barons and baronets.

3. The cottage can be found in many forms based on its location in England, the wealth of the owner, and its purpose.

4. By the mid-19th and especially in the late 19th century some of these cottages were quite large and quite elegant.

5. The basic tenets of the cottage form in England were and are simplicity, elegance, connection to the land, craftsmanship, tradition, and the beauty unique to rural England.

TYPES OF COTTAGES FOUND IN ENGLAND

Cotswold Cottage

Dating from as far back as the 16th century, cottages in the Cotswolds are characterized by stone walls or limestone walls in shades of honey-color, steeply pitched roofs, and mullioned windows. The doorways are usually arched and the chimneys lead down to large inglenook fireplaces. Gabled windows and stone ornamentation are some of their other features. The interiors tend to be somewhat Tudor in style. Their exterior walls are usually covered with climbing flowers. Roses are a favorite. Small colorful gardens finish off the outdoor appearance. They can be detached or semi-detached or even row houses.

Arlington Row in Bibury

 

Rose Cottage Honnington

 

 

Thatched Cottage

Thatched cottages are perhaps the quintessential image that comes to mind when one thinks of a cottage in England. The most visible characteristic of these cottages is the thatched roof, which has actually been in use in British homes since 7600 BC. A thatched roof is made from reeds and dry straw tightly packed together.  In the earliest days of its use thatching was roofing for the poor, a method of convenience where the closest available material was used to protect homes from harsh elements.

Thatch is also a natural insulator, and air pockets within straw thatch insulate a building in both warm and cold weather. A thatched roof ensures that a building is cool in summer and warm in winter. Thatch also has very good resistance to wind damage when applied correctly.

 

 

 

 

Tudor Cottage

Tudor cottages are characterized by timber-framed construction that features exposed beams and intricate woodwork. As the name denotes this style of cottage came into being during the Tudor era (1485-1603.) The architectural style is derived from the craftsmanship of the medieval era. The facades are usually half-timbered and the windows are generally leaded windows.

Tudor homes are characterized by their steeply pitched gable roofs, elaborate masonry chimneys (often with chimney pots), embellished doorways, groupings of windows and decorative half-timbering. The latter is an exposed wood framework with the spaces between the timbers filled with masonry or stucco. Inside the rooms can sometimes contain dark wood paneling.

Coastal Cottage

Coastal cottages are generally small and compact – typically one-and-a-half stories with dormer windows under a steeply pitched roof. They feature weathered wood siding, soft pastel colors, dormer windows, and a large front porch. The exteriors are weather-beaten in appearance due to their proximity to the coast. The walls inside and out are whitewashed as this is the sturdiest and simplest wall covering and tends to stand up to the predations of salt air.

They are generally one or two stories and have a limited number of rooms with one room opening into another. The second floor can feature a sort of balcony corridor around the central ground floor with bedrooms that open onto that corridor.

Riding officer’s cottage at King’s Cove

Chocolate Box Cottage

I am not going to say a great deal about the idea of a “Chocolate Box” Cottage. This term does not refer to a specific style of cottage per se. Gaining popularity in the mid-20th Century, the phrase ‘chocolate box cottage’ derives from the picturesque scenes printed on boxes of Cadbury’s chocolates throughout the 1950s and 60s. During this period, the confectionery company included scenes from the ‘model village’ of Bourneville on their packaging.

A few final words on the English Cottage

The cottages described above tend to create a picture of a small, cozy, cute structure meant to be extremely utilitarian and plain or cozy and cute. But the term cottage covers a lot of structures throughout English history. Many were small and functional. But some were actually what you and I might consider nice large homes, even mansions. Which reinforces the idea that many building historians and architects have – A cottage is a cottage in the eye of the beholder.

When Fanny Dashwood made her statement that I have used as the title for this post, she certainly meant to issue an insult about the Dashwood girls fallen circumstances. However, you can rest assured the image in her mind was not one of the smaller residences depicted above. She knew that a cottage on an estate offered by Mrs. Dashwood’s cousin would be a somewhat substantial residence, even with the poky hall and smoky fireplace! In Fanny’s mind the cottage likely looked like this.

Chawton Cottage

Or perhaps this:

Frogmore Cottage
Yes, THAT Frogmore Cottage

 

 

The final post in this series will deal with terraced houses another unique and elegant form of residence in English history. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A PALACE IS A PALACE – ROYALTY OPTIONAL

*CAVEAT FOR THIS SERIES OF POSTS*

This series of posts will endeavor to explain the different categories and names given to the various historical homes in England. There are specific criteria that define each type of home by the reasons for which it was built and the purpose it served in the lives of those who lived there. However, these designations are not written in stone (pun not really intended,) and they often changed over time based on additions made to them, renovations, architectural design alterations, and changes of ownership. So a manor house could become a stately home or a country house. A castle could become a manor house. A stately home could be called a castle—just ask Castle Howard. Add to that the names by which these homes were known—Chatsworth House, Lyme Park, Shugborough Hall and it can all be a bit confusing. The purpose of this series of posts is to give the reader a sort of guide from which to start when identifying the historic homes of England and perhaps to understand why and when they came to be. Names are important, especially to living, breathing beings, and these marvelous places are indeed very much alive.

 

What exactly is a palace?

The simplest and most often offered answer to this question is: A palace is the home of the king or queen. That answer isn’t wrong. However, there is more to the answer than that. A king or queen can and usually does live in a palace. A king or queen can also live in a castle. The presence of a king or queen does not turn a castle into a palace. To complicate the answer even further, a palace can be home to someone other than a king or queen. In English history at least, palaces have also been the homes of bishops, cardinals, and even powerful ministers in the government as well. Well drat, if that is the case, what distinguishes a palace from the other structures a monarch might call home?

The evolution of the word Palace.

The word castle came from the word castellum in Latin which designated a fort or tower built as a watchtower or for defense. Eventually castellum became chateau in French and finally became castle in English.

The word palace  came from the word palatium in Latin which was the term the Romans gave to the hill in Roman cities where the wealthiest houses were. (Living on top of a hill in Roman cities was an advantage for a number of reasons. Do a little research on Roman sewers!) Palatium became palais in French which eventually became palace in English.

These terms were in use in England from the medieval era forward.

Of course there have been palaces in countries all over the world since long before they came into existence in England. Palace is most definitely not a western creation.

The earliest surviving palace is thought to be the Palace of Knossos on Crete which was built around 1950 BC, almost 4000 years ago.

Palace of Knossos
Knossos Palace

 

 

What makes a palace a palace?

Hint: The Palace of Versailles contains 2300 rooms. Buckingham Palace contains nearly 800 rooms.

The following characteristics can be found in palaces.

1. They feature elaborate architecture and decor.

2. The emphasis is on luxury and opulence.

3. They generally contain massive banquet halls.

4. They usually contain at least one ornate throne and throne room.

Kensington Palace Throne Room

 

 

 

 

Throne Room
Buckingham Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. They feature gilded, copious, and expensive table settings and other accessories.

State Dining Room Buckingham Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. The furnishings, linens, carpets, and drapes are usually of the finest and most expensive materials. Practicality? Optional. Time and effort to keep clean? Massive.

King’s Bedchamber
Holyrood Palace

7. There are usually large and numerous windows to allow in natural light. (And to show off the opulence more clearly.)

Kensington Palace

8. Gilt. Lots and lots of gilt. Pretty much gilt on anything that will sit still.

Buckingham Palace

9. There are numerous large and ornate rooms designated for public entertaining.

Blue Living Room
Buckingham Palace

10. Most palaces are surrounded by expansive, beautiful, and creative gardens.

Hampton Court Palace Gardens
Hampton Court Palace Gardens
Hampton Court Palace Gardens

 

 

 

 

 

Defining a palace by its purpose.

It is in their purpose that we can separate the castles from the palaces. To refresh your memory on a castle’s purpose check out the previous post here:

https://numberonelondon.net/2024/04/what-makes-a-castle-a-castle/

Like a castle, a palace was built for a couple of very specific purposes.

1. No matter how lavish and expansive, a palace was built fundamentally as a home. Simply that – a home, not a base of defense.

2. Palaces were built to showcase the wealth, prestige, and power of the resident, be that resident a king, a bishop, or a government official.

3. Palaces were built to display the spoils of war. Kings and queens have been stealing the most expensive treasures from each other’s kingdoms and homes for centuries. Once these items were stolen one needed a place to display them. A palace served that purpose.

4. Palaces were built to house and show off the resident’s prized possessions which included artwork in the form of paintings, sculptures, and tapestries. Many of these were huge and therefore required large rooms with lots of floor-space and wall-space on which to display them.

The Queen’s Gallery – Buckingham Palace

As you can see a palace is a distinct entity unto itself. Just like the stately homes, manor houses, and castles in previous posts a palace is distinguished by its form and its function.

In the next post we will discuss what makes an English cottage so unique.

WHAT MAKES A CASTLE A CASTLE?

*CAVEAT FOR THIS SERIES OF POSTS*

This series of posts will endeavor to explain the different categories and names given to the various historical homes in England. There are specific criteria that define each type of home by the reasons for which it was built and the purpose it served in the lives of those who lived there. However, these designations are not written in stone (pun not really intended,) and they often changed over time based on additions made to them, renovations, architectural design alterations, and changes of ownership. So a manor house could become a stately home or a country house. A castle could become a manor house. A stately home could be called a castle—just ask Castle Howard. Add to that the names by which these homes were known—Chatsworth House, Lyme Park, Shugborough Hall and it can all be a bit confusing. The purpose of this series of posts is to give the reader a sort of guide from which to start when identifying the historic homes of England and perhaps to understand why and when they came to be. Names are important, especially to living, breathing beings, and these marvelous places are indeed very much alive.

 

What is a castle?

Warwick Castle

One would think the answer to that question would be fairly obvious. A castle is…well, a castle! Something like the one pictured above – Warwick Castle. Towers, turrets, drawbridges, big, imposing, and made of stone. In truth there is far more to a castle than that. However, for the purposes of basic architectural identification for a building to be deemed a castle there are a few things to consider.

When was it built?

Generally speaking castles in the UK were built between the 11th and 17th centuries. Sort of. There are several candidates for the oldest castle in the UK. If one counts fortresses built from or on the ruins of Roman forts an entirely separate group of edifices is included in the count. Some of the oldest castles in the UK include:

The Tower of London – Built in the 1070s by William the Conqueror the Tower is considered the oldest intact castle in the UK.

The Tower of London

Porchester Castle – Built in the 3rd century portions of this castle are still inhabitable, which is another criterion to consider when labeling a building a castle.

Porchester Castle

Beeston Castle – Begun in the 1220s by Ranulf, Earl of Chester, one of the greatest barons of Henry III’s England, this castle was built on a site that was occupied and used as a fortress since the Bronze Age. The best-preserved part of the castle, the inner bailey, commands extensive views across eight counties, from the Welsh Mountains to the west to the Pennines in the east.

Beeston Castle

Pevensey Castle – Built in 280 on the ruins of a Roman Saxon fort.

Pevensey Castle

The Oldest Castles in England

Rank Castle Name Year Constructed Location
1 Berkhamsted Castle 1067 Berkhamsted
2 Norwich Castle 1067 Norwich
3 Warwick Castle 1068 Warwick
4 Lincoln Castle 1068 Lincoln
5 Colchester Castle 1069 Colchester
6 Windsor Castle 1070 Windsor
7 Richmond Castle 1071 Richmond
8 Hedingham Castle 1086 Castle Hedingham
9 Carlisle Castle 1122 Carlisle
10 Rochester Castle 1127 Rochester
11 Newcastle Castle 1172 Newcastle upon Tyne
12 Oakham Castle 1180 Oakham, Rutland
13 York Castle 1265 York, Yorkshire
14 Dover Castle 11th Century; exact date unknown Dover
15 Portchester Castle 11th Century; exact date unknown Portchester
16 Lancaster Castle 11th Century; exact date unknown Lancaster

You get the picture. Castles in the UK were and are buildings built before the first manor houses and definitely before the first stately homes and palaces. Are there older castles and palaces in the world? Of course. But this post is about those that can be found in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Most of the castles were built after the arrival of William the Conqueror and were built as the center of the feudal government he established.

What was its purpose?

In the previous post we discussed the purpose of a stately home (showing off) and the purpose of a manor house (a house for the master and a seat of local government.) A castle served two basic purposes – a home for the lord (or laird in Scotland) and its primary purpose – a place that offered security, protection and a base of military operations.

Now as the home of the lord a castle might also serve as the seat of local government for the lord’s fiefdom. However, the main purpose of a castle was as a place of safety and security for the lord, his family, his entourage and army, and the people of his fiefdom – in that order. During the heyday of castles and the feudal system a great deal of fighting went on between the various lords, between the various factions under the reign of the king, and between families and clans that just didn’t get along. A castle offered a place to withdraw and fight it out.

And therein lies the main criterion for the designation castle. A castle was a building originally built fortified against attack with thick walls, battlements, towers, and often a moat. More often than not the windows, when there were windows, were slits through which one might fire an arrow, but not much more.

Of course there is more to an actual castle than that,  but we will save the dissection of the parts of a British castle for another post.

But…what about those places that don’t look even remotely like a castle but are called castle?

Highclere Castle
Castle Howard
Culzean Castle

 

 

 

 

Well these “castles” came to be called castle for one or both of two reasons.

  1. Castles that aren’t suited for battle are called castles because they were built on top of an old castle.
  2. Any castle rebuild or renovation in the UK after the 18th century had the sole purpose of making something grand and fancy. And after the beatifications the owners chose to keep the name “castle.”

In other words, if one has the money, and one builds a house grand enough, one can pretty much call said house whatever one wants. Within reason. Are you going to tell the guy whose house looks like this:

Castle Howard

 

Castle Howard

he cannot call his house a castle? I think not !

In our next post we will discuss When Is a Palace Not a Palace?

Louisa

WHEN IS A STATELY HOME NOT A STATELY HOME?

LOUISA CORNELL

This series of posts will endeavor to explain the different categories and names given to the various historical homes in England. There are specific criteria that define each type of home by the reasons for which it was built and the purpose it served in the lives of those who lived there. However, these designations are not written in stone (pun not really intended,) and they often changed over time based on additions made to them, renovations, architectural design alterations, and changes of ownership. So a manor house could become a stately home or a country house. A castle could become a manor house. A stately home could be called a castle—just ask Castle Howard. Add to that the names by which these homes were known—Chatsworth House, Lyme Park, Shugborough Hall and it can all be a bit confusing. The purpose of this series of posts is to give the reader a sort of guide from which to start when identifying the historic homes of England and perhaps to understand why and when they came to be. Names are important, especially to living, breathing beings, and these marvelous places are indeed very much alive.

The obsession of all three of the authors of this blog with visiting the UK in general and English stately homes in particular is well-documented. If you visit our blog with any frequency I daresay you are as big a fan of English stately homes as we are. One would think any old, elegant, expensive, historic edifice once, and sometimes presently, occupied by a family, usually of aristocratic origins, would be designated a stately home. Perhaps for all intents and purposes that holds true. However, these edifices generally fall into four categories, and only one of those categories is strictly a stately home.

By way of explanation…

What is a stately home?

Chatsworth in Devonshire

There are four basic criteria for a mansion like this one to be designated a stately home.

1. Usually built during the 16th, 17th, or 18th centuries (and sometimes the early 19th century) these homes were designed to display the wealth and social status of the owner. In other words, they were showplaces first, a home second.

2. Secondly, the sheer size and grandeur of such an edifice indicates its status as a stately home. They are built on huge estates with extensive grounds. Said grounds are usually set out in large gardens, landscaped woodlands, and designed parks. The houses themselves usually have grand facades, sweeping staircases, and impressive rooms, each designed to strike awe and envy in those who were fortunate enough to be invited to visit by the owners.

3. A third criterion of stately homes would be their architectural style. Some stately homes were inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture – all of those Grand Tours no doubt. They can be identified by the classical style, the columns, pediments, and other decorative elements. As with all things fashionable, however, stately homes might also incorporate other architectural styles from Gothic to Baroque to Rococo, depending on what the newest craze of that particular era might be. This also explains why some stately homes exhibit a variety of styles. Each consecutive owner wanted to leave their mark in order to show off both their wealth and their sense of fashion.

4. And fourth, a stately home is defined by its purpose. These homes were built to show off the owner’s wealth, yes, but they were also built to entertain. Some of these owners never visited their stately homes save to throw a ball or a house party in order to support a political cause, aid in a family member’s search for a spouse, conduct an expected seasonal entertainment or other social purpose. They were seldom intended as actual homes. More like a venue for social interactions and grand gestures. That is not to say some families did not occupy these homes for at least part of every year. Some families simply did not care for London life. But the majority spent some time in their country homes and the majority of their time in London or elsewhere.

Lyme Park – Cheshire
Shugborough Hall in Stafford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is a manor house?

Igtham Mote – Kent

(By the way, I visited Igtham Mote in 1981. It is a spectacular manor house and has been kept as it would have been when built and occupied by the original owner.)

A manor house was built as a home for the lord of the manor who owned most of the land in the surrounding area. Unlike the stately home, the manor house was built primarily as the owner’s residence and as an administration building for the estate. This home was generally the center of economic and social activity for the area.

The criteria for a home to be designated a manor house were:

1. Most manor houses were built in the middle ages, though some were converted into stately homes by those who inherited them.

2. They were generally built in the countryside away from major cities and were surrounded by lands that belong to the owner, lands that were therefore unoccupied save by those who worked the estate as tenants of farm workers.

3. They were built from local materials – stone, timber, or brick whereas stately homes were often built of imported materials.

4. The manor house is a distinctly British architectural style whereas stately homes, castles, and palaces often copied the architectural styles of other countries.

5. A manor house usually was surrounded by a moat. There were fewer rooms in this house than there were in stately homes. The rooms usually included a great hall, living quarters and sleeping rooms for the family, sleeping quarters for the servants, kitchens, and a chapel.

6. The lord of the manor held court there and dealt with disputes dispensed justice where needed. Most of the surrounding land was divided into farms and occupied by tenants who owed their allegiance and much of the profit derived from their endeavors to the lord of the manor.

Widworthy Barton in Devon
Haddon Hall – Derbyshire

 

Are all of those magnificent houses sometimes called stately homes? Of course. However, these houses are more than a label. Each type was built for a specific purpose and in a specific age as a way to mark the history and human progress across Britain.

 

What about castles, you say? And palaces? And cottages? And… Patience, gentle reader! I will be posting about those specific forms and what makes a castle a castle and why our idea of a cottage does not necessarily mesh with Jane Austen’s idea of a cottage. Stay tuned!

Louisa

 

 

 

 

An Account of Queen Charlotte’s Drawing Room 1818

 

Queen Charlotte
Queen Charlotte

The following first-hand account of his attendance at Queen Charlotte’s Drawing Room was recorded by Richard Rush, American Ambassador to Great Britain, in his Memoranda of a Residence at the Court of London, Comprising Incidents Official and Personal from 1819 to 1825 (Lea & Blanchard, 1845. 1st ed.).  If you’ve not read the book, I urge you to do so. Rush had a keen eye and, more importantly, the eye of an outsider, an American, who witnessed the good and the great, important events and the many idiosyncracies of London life during the Regency Period. Thus, he set down details, habits and the minutae of daily life that the native born Englishman might not have considered worthy of being recorded.

February 27 1818 – Yesterday her majesty held a drawing room. It was in celebration of her birth day. My wife was presented to her, by Lady Castlereagh. Besides being a birth day celebration, it was the first drawing room of the season, and the first since the death of the Princess Charlotte. The weather was fine; the sun brilliant. A permit had been sent from the board of green cloth for my carriage to pass into St. James’s Park through the gate on Constitution hill.

Going through Hyde Park , I found the whole way from Tyburn to Piccadilly, (about a mile) filled with private carriages, standing still. Persons were in them who had adopted this mode of seeing those who went to court. Tenfold the number went by other approaches, and every approach, I was told, was thronged with double rows of equipages, also filled with spectators. I was to be set down with the rest of the diplomatic corps, and others who had the entré, at a door assigned, within the court yard of the palace. Arrived in its vicinity, my carriage was stopped by those before it. Here we saw, through the trees and avenues of the park, other carriages coming up, in two regular lines from the horse guards and St. James’s. The glitter of the carriages was heightened by the appearance of the numerous servants in glowing livery, there being generally two and often three footmen behind each carriage. The horses were all in the highest condition . . . Trumpets were sounding, and the Park and Tower guns firing. There were ranks of cavalry in scarlet, with their bright helmets and jet black horses; the same we were informed, men and horses, that had been at the battle of Waterloo. Their appearance was in a high degree martial and splendid. The hands of the men grasped their swords in gloves of white buckskin, reaching half way up to the elbow – a prominent part of the equipments that made up the exact uniformity and military beauty of the whole array.

We were soon set down, and entered the great hall. . . We were not out of time, for, by appointment, my carriage reached the palace with Lord Castlereagh’s; but whilst hundreds were still arriving, hundreds were endeavouring to come away. The staircase branched off at the first landing, into two arms and was wide enough to admit a partition, which had been let in. The company ascending took one channel; those descending the other and both channels were full. The whole group stood motionless. The openings through the old carved balusters brought all under view at once, and the paintings on the walls were all seen at the same time. The hoop dresses of the ladies, sparkling with lama; their plumes; their lappets; the fanciful attitudes which the hoops occasioned, some getting out of position as when in Addison’s time they were adjusted to shoot a door; the various costumes of the gentlemen, as they stood pinioning their elbows, and holding in their swords; the common hilarity created by the common dilemma; the bland recognitions passing between those above and below, made up, altogether, an exhibition so picturesque that a painter might give it as illustrative of the English court at that era. Without pausing to describe the incidents during our progress upwards, it may be sufficient to say, that the party to which I was attached, and of which lady Castlereagh towering in her bloom was the leader, reached the summit of the staircase in about three quarters of an hour.

Four rooms were allotted to the ceremony. In the second was the queen. She sat on a velvet chair and cushion, a little raised up . Near her were the princesses, and ladies in waiting. The general company, as they reached the corridor by one arm of the staircase, passed on to the queen. Bowing to her, they regained it, after passing through all the rooms, by an outlet that led to the other arm; which they descended. When my wife was presented, her majesty addressed some conversation to her, as a stranger. . . . The Prince Regent was there and royal family; cabinet ministers and their ladies; foreign ambassadors and ministers with theirs. These, having the entré, remained, if they chose, in the room with the queen. A numerous portion of the nobility were present, their wives and daughters; with others distinguished in life, though bearing neither title nor station.

If the scene in the hall was picturesque, the one up stairs transcended it in all ways. The doors of the rooms were all open. You saw in them a thousand ladies richly dressed. All the colours of nature were mingling their rays, under the fairy designs of art. It was the first occasion of laying by mourning for the Princess Charlotte; so that it was like the bursting out of spring. No lady was without her plume. The whole was a waving field of feathers. Some were blue, like the sky; some tinged with red; here you saw violet and yellow; there shades of green; but the most were of pure white, like tufts of snow. The diamonds encircling them caught the sun through the windows, and threw dazzling beams around. Then, the hoops; these I cannot describe. They should be seen. To see one is nothing; but to see a thousand and their thousand wearers on such a day! Each lady seemed to rise out of a gilded little barricade, or one of silvery texture. This, topped by her plume and the “face divine” interposing, gave to the whole an effect so unique, so fraught with feminine grace and grandeur, that it seemed as if a curtain had risen to show a pageant in another sphere. It was brilliant and joyous. Those to whom it was not new stood at gaze, as I did; Canning for one took it all in. You saw admiration in the gravest statesmen; Lord Liverpool, Huskisson, the lord chancellor – every body. I had already seen in England signs enough of opulence and power. Now I saw, radiating on all sides, British beauty. So appeared to me the drawing room of Queen Charlotte .

The ceremonies of the day being ended as far as myself and suite were concerned, we sought the corridor to come away. In good time we reached the head of the descending channel. Will it be believed! both channels were as full as ever of hoops and plumes. . . . We got down stairs in about the same time it took to get up. As we waited in the hall for our carriage, military bands were playing in the court yard, some mounted on the superb cavalry, some on foot; amidst the strains of which we drove off .   (Hoops were last worn at court on April 23rd of this year).

King George IV

From the sublime to the ridiculous, we now turn to The Chronicles of Holland House 1820-1900 (Earl of Ilchester, ed., John Murray 1937). Lady Mary Fox, afterwards Lady Mary Lilford, was presented at Court in 1820, when the whole was presided over by the Prince Regent. She wrote, “The toilet of the Royal person, I fancy, is so laborious and fatiguing, and so laced up is he, that it is impossible for him to stoop low enough to come in contact with the cheek of the young beauties below a certain stature; in consequence of which, such are suddenly lifted up* by the attendants behind them to the level with the Kingly cheek.”

*With a hand under each arm.