Posts Tagged ‘Prinny’

Jean Louis Bazalgette, the Prince Regent's tailor

Most of the known accounts published about George, Prince of Wales, and his profligate spending on clothes and luxury items say that his main tailor was John Weston. It is also said that under the influence of young Beau Brummel he patronized other London tailors such as Meyer, and Schweitzer and Davidson. Steven Parissien, in his very interesting book ‘George IV, Inspiration of the Regency’ has a whole chapter entitled ‘Clothing & Militaria’ which lists tailors, bootmakers etc. used by the Prince.

The name of the unknown man who was the Prince’s tailor for 32 years – Louis Bazalgette – shows up in none of these sources. He appears to have started quietly supplying the Prince with all manner of clothes in great quantities in about 1780, and carried on making most of his clothes until at least 1795.

A dandy and his tailor

In 1794, the sixteen-year-old Brummel attracted the interest of the Prince, who under his influence began slowly to change his style of dress, so that by 1795 Bazalgette was making less of the gaudy outfits of which Prinny had been so fond. However, Louis continued to make most of the Prince’s uniforms, and the livery for his servants, until at least 1806.

Louis was the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Charles Bazalgette (r), who is writing his life story. The book contains a great deal of new material; as a foretaste, Charles has started a blog which can be accessed at this blog http://chasbaz.posterous.com/

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The Prince Regent – “Prinny” – made no secret of his reluctance to marry Princess Caroline of Brunswick. Some years before he had secretly married Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert, a Catholic widow and the woman he loved. But according to the Royal Marriage Act their union was illegal. Princess Caroline, the daughter of Prinny’s eldest aunt AND a Protestant, was considered a more suitable consort by King George III. This proposed union with his cousin went much against the Prince’s  wishes, and when he met the 27-year-old German Princess in 1795, he turned to Lord Malmesbury and said, “Harris, I am not well. Pray, get me a glass of brandy.”

The Prince of Wales had acquiesced to his father’s wishes only to clear his debts, which totaled £630,000 pounds, a staggering sum for that era, and for an increase in his yearly allowance. Although Prinny’s first impression of Caroline was unfavorable, she was thought to be quite pretty in her youth. The Prince, who was soft and fat,  made an equally distasteful first impression on the Princess, and thus the couple, both spoiled and eccentric (to put it mildly) were off to a bad start. During the ceremony Prinny continually looked at his mistress, Lady Jersey, instead of his wife, and at one point the King had to persuade the Prince to finish the ceremony.

The marriage ceremony proceeded as arranged, attended by his well pleased father, on the evening of 8th April, 1795 at the Chapel Royal at St. James’ Palace. The bride wore a elaborate dress of silver tissue and lace and a velvet robe lined with ermine. The distraught bridegroom spent his wedding night lying on the bedroom floor by the fireplace in a drunken stupor.

Prinny and his German bride (Image from the Georgian Index)

Although he was repelled by his wife, George eventually did his duty and brought himself to consummate the marriage and the Princess of Wales gave birth to a daughter and heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte, on 7th January, 1796.”  – English monarchs

Although not entirely unattractive, Princess Caroline was neither graceful nor elegant, nor did she behave in a regal fashion. Her “clumsy deportment and jerky movements made one MP liken her to a “Fanny Royds” (a weighted Dutch doll with red cheeks that jumps up to standing position)” – Historicizing Romantic Sexuality. Her German manners and demeanor never quite came up to English royal expectations or their level of “sophistication.” Lady Jersey, the Prince’s mistress at the time, was cruel enough to wear a pair of pearl bracelets in front of Caroline that the Prince had originally presented to his bride as a wedding gift. He then took the jewelry back and gave the bracelets to Lady Jersey. The cartoon in the first image, which is sympathetic towards Caroline’s marital situation, shows Lady Jersey as an old hag welcoming a virginal Caroline to England.

Caroline, Princess of Wales (Image from LIFE)

In her youth Caroline could look quite presentable. A contemporary described her as being

… above the middle height, extremely spread for her age, her bosom full but finely shaped, her shoulders large, and her whole person voluptuous, but of a nature to become soon spoiled; and without much care and exercise she will shortly lose all beauty in fat and clumsiness. Her skin is white but not a transparent white. There is little or no shade in her face, but her features are very fine. Their expression like that of her general demeanour is noble. Her feet are rather small, and her hands and arms are finely moulded She has a hesitation in her speech amounting almost to a stammer … – Memoirs of the Court of England During the Regency (1811-1820)

Observers did agree on several aspects about Caroline: her manners could be coarse and gruff, and her taste in dress was atrocious. Mary Berry described the princess in her journal: “Such an over-dressed, bare-bosomed, painted eye-browed figure one never saw”.  She flouted convention,  “even if this meant exposing her decidedly lustful nature”; this rebellious streak, accompanied by her “outlandish ways and bizarre dress sense” combined to give Caroline an eccentricity not becoming in a female member of the British court, let alone its royal family.” – Elizabeth Fay, Historicizing Romantic Sexuality. As Caroline aged, her penchant for wearing virginal gowns made her look ridiculous and she became a target for satirists, as in the image below.

Caroline tended to dress too youthfully for her age and often cut a ridiculous figure in public.

Caroline, who flaunted her unconventional and ribald tastes, surrounded herself with people of questionable morality.

The Princess evidently preferred gay company, a certain sprinkling of intelligence with a good flow of animal spirits being the ordinary passports to her society. No questions appear to have been asked of either sex; it is therefore not surprising that several of the favoured circle were celebrated more or less for their independence of moral obligations.” – Memoirs of the Court of England During the Regency (1811-1820)

The Duke of Buckingham and Chandos observed of her childhood: “Her faults have evidently never been checked nor her virtues fostered.” The Princess remained capricious and lewd all her life, and her risque conversations kept her attendants  in daily dread of her impetuous pronouncements.

Portrait of Caroline by Thomas Lawrence

Caroline was  –  in her husband’s eyes – expendable. He thought her an unfit wife and mother and permitted her to see her daughter Princess Charlotte only once a week. Prinny’s reluctance to live with his wife and daughter, his politics, and his profligate ways made him unpopular with the public. Princess Caroline made the most of this situation, publicly playing the role of victim, even though by contemporary accounts she did not demonstrate much affection for her daughter. The Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder, published in 1820, demonstrates how sympathetic many were to her plight as the Prince Regent’s ostracized wife. Jane Austen famously wrote:  “Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman and because I hate her Husband.”

Sartiric Cartoon: Princess Caroline shows up at the King's Theatre during the performance of Don Giovanni, reminding the Prince that he is married

Banned from the social gatherings at the Prince’s lodgings and at Carlton House, Caroline established a rival court at Kensington Palace and Blackheath. The strange marriage between this eccentric couple provided an endless source for gossip, for Caroline’s indiscretions (as well as Prinny’s)  were public knowledge:

… her Royal Highness had associates of an infinitely lower grade to whom she often devoted herself with an abandonment of self respect that equally perplexed and disgusted the ladies of her suite.  With such a Court, as may be imagined, the pursuits of the Princess were not remarkable for dignity were often remarkable for its violation.” – Memoirs of the Court of England During the Regency (1811-1820)

In 1814, Caroline moved to Europe, traveling to Germany and Switzerland, and living for some time in Italy.  The Prince sent agents to spy on her in order to prove not only her unfitness as mother and wife, but the burden she placed on the privy purse as well. Her every movement was reported back to England. And there was much to report, for her randy behavior was shocking, so much so that the members of her English entourage left her one by one. She dyed her blond hair black, favored short, diaphanous dresses that were designed for women half her age (she was in her forties), bared her bosom and arms, and danced and partied until the wee hours of the morning. Caroline loved spectacles and grand entrances:

At Genoa, [she] drove through the streets in a phaeton with a child dressed as a cupid leading two tiny horses who pulled the shell-shaped carriage. Caroline was dressed in a body-revealing pink gauze bodice, short white skirt and pink-feathered headdress.” – Historicizing Romantic Sexuality

Lady Bessborough wrote a description of Caroline at a ball during this period:

The first thing I saw in the room was a short, very fat, elderly woman, with an extremely red face (owing, I suppose, to the heat) in a girl’s white frock looking dress, but with shoulder, back, and neck, quite low (disgustingly so) down to the middle of her stomach; very black hair and eyebrows, which gave her a fierce look, and a wreath of light pink roses on her head…I could not bear the sort of whispering and talking all round about…” – The Prince of Pleasure, J.B. Priestley

Caroline and Pergami in the Bath

When she arrived in Milan, the peripatetic Caroline met Bartolomeo Pergami, a tall and handsome ex-soldier who became her chamberlain. She began an affair with him, treating him more like her consort than lover. Their brazen relationship opened an investigation into her behavior. Thirty-one Italian witnesses were called, resulting in the conclusion that Caroline had engaged in continued adulterous intercourse. The Two Green Bags illustration (below) comes with the following interpretation: “In this iconic caricature, George and Caroline are depicted as a pair of fat green bags, a clear reference to the green bags that contained the evidence collected against Caroline by the Milan commission. George is much fatter than Caroline, and his bag is girded by a garter belt, part of which hangs down in the manner of a limp penis.” Wikimedia Commons. The truth was that the Princess was happy with Pergami and would have been content to remain in Italy had she been provided with a handsome enough income. (At that time she received 35,000 pounds per year.)

Two green bags

Prinny, who did not bother to hide his many scandalous affairs from the public, was excessively cruel to Caroline when their daughter, Princess Charlotte, died in childbirth. Instead of contacting Caroline directly, she heard about her daughter’s death through secondary sources. When King George III finally died, Caroline returned to England to claim her rights as Queen. Arriving in Dover in June 1820, she was cheered by crowds as she traveled in triumph to London.  The irony was that despite her outlandish behavior abroad, the public so hated George IV that they supported her with wild (almost blind) loyalty, burning bonfires in her honor and setting off illuminations. Caroline took full advantage of her popularity, showing up at public events as often as possible. Her celebrity did not deter George from seeking a formal separation and a divorce from his much loathed wife.

Caroline returns to England against much winded opposition (image from The Queen's Matrimonial Ladder)

He persuaded Lord Liverpool and his government to bring in an Act of parliament to deprive her of the title Queen and to declare the marriage “for ever wholly dissolved, annulled and made void”. The Whigs opposed the measure and their were public demonstrations against the new king.” – Historicizing Romantic Sexuality

Queen Caroline repulsed from Westminster Abbey (LIFE magazine image)

The bill to deprive Caroline from her right, privileges, and pretension to Queen Consort was thrown out after weeks and weeks of political wrangling. Caroline, who was no fool, said: “No one cares for me in this business.” She appeared fully and royally dressed at King George’s coronation but was turned away from the doors of Westminster Abbey a number of times, as she tried repeatedly to enter several entrances with no success. This outrageous action resulted in further public demonstrations that ended when Caroline died suddenly on August 7th in 1821 of an unknown gastric disorder. She was 53.

Queen Caroline in 1820, (LIFE Magazine image)

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London grew by leaps and bounds during the 18th century, becoming the largest city in Europe with a population of over one million people. Formal squares sprung up in the tony West End, where it became de rigeur for the upper classes to rent a “First rate” townhouse and spend the Season in “Town.” These Palladian-influenced townhouses, though a vast improvement over the helter-skelter, hodgepodge buildings of medieval London, were not huge by today’s standards. Four stories high and at least over 900 square feet in size, town dwellings were much smaller than a family’s country house counterpart.
Successful parties and dances were deemed to be crushes and squeezes when over a hundred invited guests attempted to circulate in townhouses no more than two rooms wide. As with theatre or stadium traffic today, it would often take an hour for a carriage to queue up before it reached the front door and could disgorge its passengers. The guests would then be announced by the butler (in stentorious tones, no doubt) as they entered inside. Jane Austen described a crush in the Upper Assembly Rooms in Bath as Mrs. Allen and Catherine Morland made their way around the rooms, and such a situation was frequently mentioned in Georgette Heyer’s novels.   The illustration by George Cruikshank below visually sums up the experience:

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Image from Wikimedia Commons

“The inconveniences of a crowded drawing room”, a famous May 6th 1818 caricature by George Cruikshank. Shows a crowded royal “drawing room” reception (in a London palace). The woman at the left (whose train is being stepped on) is wearing the old-fashioned hooped “court dress” (abolished 1820), while the man in the door is wearing formal breeches (many of the other men are wearing military uniforms). The moustache of the man on the right had connotations of foreign (Continental) and/or military dandyism at the time. – Wikimedia

Even Carlton House was not immune to crushes, where George IV as Prince Regent entertained his guests on a massive scale. On one occasion he opened the lavish banqueting room to the public. The prince regent had acquired a 4,000-piece Grand Service made of silver gilt, which included 140 dishes, 288 silver plates and a variety of cutlery from goldsmith, Rundell, Bridge, and Rundell at a cost of £60,000 (more than £3million in today’s money). Heavily in debt, this profligate prince held a banquet on June 19, 1811 for 2,000 people at Carlton House to celebrate his elevation to Prince Regent, though he excluded the queen, his wife, and Princess Charlotte, his daughter. His mother chose not to attend.

The guests were invited to arrive at 9 pm for a dinner which did not commence until 2 am, and they found the most extraordinary thing they had ever seen. Along the length of the building was a table, 200 ft long, with a stream running down the middle of it. Not only was this babbling brook lined with banks of moss and aquatic flowers, but it even had real fish swimming in it.

Beyond the main building, extra rooms and marquees had been erected to cope with the numbers while covered walks through the gardens were lined with rose-filled trellises and mirrors. The tradesmen’s bills for temporary fittings alone came to £2,585 (more than £130,000 today).

‘Nothing was ever half so magnificent,’ wrote one guest, Thomas Moore. ‘It was, in reality, all that they try to imitate in the gorgeous scenery of the theatre.’

The source of the artificial river was a fountain in the Gothic Conservatory. Above this fountain, in a feather-backed mahogany chair, sat the Prince Regent himself, dressed in the uniform of a Field Marshal. George III had always refused to give his son the rank of Field Marshal, but now the heir to the throne was also Regent, he bestowed it on himself anyway.

Behind the Prince, an enormous display of gold and silver plate had been piled high, just in case anyone needed reminding of his wealth and status. But because the Prince had yet to buy much of the Grand Service, even he was still a little short of silver for a party of this magnitude.*

To accommodate such an enormous number of guests, the prince had to borrow seven tons of gold and silver plate for the occasion. Sixty servants waited on the guests, some of whom stayed until 5:30 AM. The prince opened the palace to the public for three days afterwards. Instead of diminishing, the crowds arrived in increasing numbers, creating chaos.

State banquet room, Buckingham Palace

State banquet room, Buckingham Palace

‘The condescension of the Prince in extending the permission to view the arrangements for the late fete at Carlton House has nearly been attended with fatal consequences,’ reported one newspaper.

‘Wednesday being the last day of the public being admitted, many persons took their station at the gates so early as seven o’clock. By twelve, the line of carriages reached down St James’s Street, as far as Piccadilly, and the crowd of pedestrians halfway up the Haymarket.

At three o’clock the crowd had so much increased that the Guards were forced to give way; several ladies were unfortunately thrown down and trampled upon; and we regret to learn that some were seriously hurt, among whom were Miss Shum of Bedford Square, and a young lady, daughter of a gentleman at the British Museum.

‘Another young lady presented a shocking spectacle; she had been trodden on till her face was quite black from strangulation, and every part of her body bruised to such a degree as to leave little hopes of her recovery.’

The crush led to acute embarrassment as people lost their clothes – or control of their bladders. As the Rev G.N. Wright observed, those ‘fortunate enough to escape personal injury, suffered in their dress; and few of them could leave Carlton House until they had obtained fresh garments’.*

The prince’s brother climbed a wall and told the crowd that there would be no further public admission, and the crowd dispersed, but not before leaving an indelible impression. Prinny continued to add to his Grand Service and held another grand fete in the Duke of Wellington’s honor five years later.

More links on this topic

  • *Article about the Buckingham Palace fete: Mail Online (Banquet image from this site)

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“That fellow Weston,” said Brummell, “is an inimitable fellow — a little defective perhaps in his ‘linings,’ but irreproachable for principle and button-holes. He came to London, Sir, without a shilling; and he counts more realized thousands than our fat friend does ‘frogs’ on his Brandenburg. He is not only rich, but brave; not only brave, but courteous; and not alone courteous, but candid. – Beau Brummel

Man's Great Coat by John Weston, 1803-1810


John Weston, Regency London’s most expensive tailor and draper to George, Prince of Wales, was frequently mentioned by Georgette Heyer in her novels. While Ms. Heyer peppered her novels with Weston’s name, I was actually unable to find much about him. This caption from the exhibit a the Museum of London, describes the greatcoat at right: 1803, tailored by John Weston of 38 Old Bond Street.

The prince was passionately interested in clothes and patronised London’s most skilful craftsmen. This slim fitting double-breasted coat, which has a silk velvet collar, is made of high quality British wool facecloth. Charles Jennens, a London button maker, supplied the gilt buttons.

The coat was discovered at Coutts Bank, where the tailor had deposited it for an unknown client, in 1956. A letter accompanying the coat described it as, ‘an exceed[ingly] good blue cloth great coat … made in ev[e]ry respect in the best manner’.

Men of fashion felt a sort of religious awe as they passed over the threshold of Weston, Brummell’s tailor, in Old Bond-street

Read more about London’s tailors at these links:

  • Jean Louis Bazalgette: Fascinating biography of one of the Prince Regent’s earlier, lesser known tailors. (Cached information.)

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I’ve written posts about the Prince Regent and his lavish lifestyle before. Click here, here and here to read a few of them. The Prince’s association with Jane Austen is minor but crucial: He admired her novels, and she dedicated Emma to him.

The conventional wisdom is that Austen tried to squirm out of the tribute to the Prince. Was it “incumbent on [her] to shew her sense of the Honour” by dedicating her forthcoming novel to His Royal Highness? she asked Clarke. “It is certainly not incumbent on you” to do so, he responded, “but if you wish to do the Regent that honour either now or at any future period, I am happy to send you that permission which need not require any more trouble or solicitation on your Part” (16 November 1815). – Colleen A. Sheehan, Jane Austen Society of North America

Aside from his admiration of Jane Austen, this extravagant, dissolute prince was known for sponsoring major building and park projects that transformed London, including the renovations of Carlton House in London and the sumptuous Pavilion at Brighton. Both were designed in the neoclassical and Gothic styles we’ve come to associate with the Regency era’s furnishings, fashion, and architecture.

Carlton House, sumptuously decorated in the height of fashionable Francophile taste in line with the prince’s Whig sympathies by the important architect Henry Holland (1745–1806), was the setting for a series of the extravagant parties which the prince so loved to give, culminating in the famous Carlton House fete in 1811 on his appointment as Regent. The dazzled Thomas Moore wrote to his mother about this fete, detailing the delights of the indoor fountain and the artificial brook that ran down the centre of the table, and concluding, ‘Nothing was ever half so magnificent. It was in reality all that they try to imitate in the gorgeous scenery of the theatre’ (quoted in Hibbert, 1973, p.371). (A Prince at Seaside, Learning Space)

(Image from Old London Maps)

You can view some of the rooms at Carlton Hose, such as the crimson drawing room, in this link to Decorative Arts and Design History in this link.

Blue Closet, Carlton House, The Royal Collection

The Prince Regent’s friends were also known as the ‘Carlton House Set.’ Read a detailed description of the Prinny’s high roller friends in this link: The Prince Regent and His Set from the Georgian Index.

From left to right depicted are the Earl of Sefton, The Duke of Devonshire, Lord Manners, “Poodle” Byng, Byng’s poodle (name unknown), and the Duke of Beaufort.

Post script: Today is the one-year anniversary of this blog! Since early April of this year, over 20,000 of you have dropped by to visit, and I want to thank you for your support.

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