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).
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.