Queen Victoria and India (Part 2)

As mentioned in part 1, Queen Victoria viewed India as her special fief, and while she showed little interest in the subcontinent at the beginning of her reign, this began to change from the 1840s onwards. First there was her new husband Prince Albert – in his quest to carve out a role for himself, he found himself drawn to causes which involved Britain’s growing empire, such as the abolitionist movement. Secondly, with the fall of the Whigs from power they were replaced by the Tories whose view of governing India was very different from their rivals. As governor-general in the 1840s, Lord Ellenborough undertook the unprecedented move of communicating directly with the Queen especially with regards to information that was supposedly restricted to the East India Company’s Board of Control and the Cabinet. In addition, independent of the East India Company, Ellenborough also began to establish relationships with local rulers in the Queen’s name and helped facilitate direct diplomacy between Queen Victoria and these local rulers.

Some of this direct diplomacy turned into friendships and a few even went further than that. In 1852, Queen Victoria received the deposed Rajah of Coorg, Chikka Virarajendra and his daughter Gouramma (1841-1864) at Buckingham Palace. The purpose of the visit was to petition the Queen for the return of his wealth which had been seized by the East India Company after his kingdom had been annexed, as well as to have his daughter educated in Britain.

Princess Gouramma was also baptised at Buckingham Palace by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Queen was pleased to act as the girl’s godmother and also gave the little princess her own name and from then on she became known as Victoria Gouramma. Although the princess of Coorg was cared for by a succession of aristocratic guardians, Queen Victoria took an active interest in her education and upbringing. Victoria Gouramma was a regular guest at the various royal residences, played with the royal children and sat for the painter Franz Xavier Winterhalter and the sculptor Baron Carlo Marochetti.

DSC08879

Victoria Gouramma grew up to be an attractive and flirtatious young woman and it was the latter that worried her guardians and the Queen. To their relief, she finally married Colonel John Campbell and they had one daughter named Edith Victoria Gouramma but tragically Princess Victoria Gouramma died at the age of 23. She was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery and the inscription in her gravestone was composed by the Queen herself.

Queen Victoria much like with her own children and grandchildren had hoped for a grander match for Victoria Gouramma and the young man she had in mind for her was Duleep Singh (1838-1893), the Maharajah of Punjab who also lost his kingdom after Punjab was annexed by the East India Company. Like Victoria Gouramma, he also received a Western education and converted to Christianity. He was also a regular guest at the various royal residences and maintained a close friendship with the royal family. After Queen Victoria’s efforts to marry him off to Princess Victoria Gouramma ended in failure, Duleep Singh married Bamba Muller, the illegitimate daughter of a German businessman and his Ethiopian mistress. They had five children and Duleep Singh acquired a country home in Suffolk called Elveden where he lived the life of a British aristocrat.

200px-Dalip_singh_winterhalter

However his extravagant lifestyle and squabbles with the India Office among others apart from his reconversion to the Sikh faith led to his exile and estrangement from Queen Victoria. Despite all these, the Queen never wavered in her friendship and affection for Duleep Singh and they were reconciled before his death in 1893. Much like with Victoria Gouramma, the Queen acted as godmother and guardian to Duleep Singh’s five children.

Had Queen Victoria succeeded with her matchmaking plans to marry off Victoria Gouramma to Duleep Singh, it was hoped that the prospective union would lead to a new Indian Christian dynasty and would lead to the spread of the Christian faith in India although it is doubtful it would be the case even if Victoria Gouramma and Duleep Singh had married and had children.

When Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1887, the Indian army took a prominent role in the celebrations as soldiers from the various Indian regiments marched alongside their British counterparts, their uniforms providing a dash of colour and exoticism in the streets of London. It was also this year that two Indians joined the Royal Household – Mohammed Bukush and Abdul Karim – whose main function was to attend to the Queen during meals and undertake any other tasks Her Majesty might see fit for them to do. Four others joined the following year and they stood out in their distinct livery even when in Scotland where their Indian uniforms were made out of Balmoral tartan.

One of the Indian staff, Abdul Karim eventually stood out and he went from serving at the table to giving the Queen Hindustani lessons and finally becoming her secretary on Indian matters. To reflect this change of status, he was addressed as munshi or secretary and photographs of him waiting on the royal table were destroyed. The rest of the Household worried that they had another John Brown in their midst but as Shrabani Basu perceptively noted, the Munshi just as Prince Albert, Disraeli and Brown before him was able to tap into the Queen’s romantic side for “[a]s a Queen she lived in a man’s world and could have few women friends….and she had no one to turn to or confide in after Albert’s death…..Karim brought her close to India, the country that she had always longed to visit. A skilled raconteur, he told the Queen about his country, the religions and the culture.” (pp. 241-2)

DSC08891

While Victoria saw the Munshi as a romantic figure and someone she could confide to, others did not see it that way. The government was concerned over any leaks of Indian policy and as one of the Queen’s biographers Christopher Hibbert noted that the Queen due to the Munshi’s influence “was persuaded to see Indian affairs from an exclusively Muslim point of view” and which did not go down well with the government in India especially the provincial governors and civil servants. Sir Frederick Ponsonby, the Queen’s Private Secretary and Sir James Reid, physician in ordinary bore the brunt of having to mediate between the Queen, the government and the rest of the Household with regards to the Munshi. There was a mix of racism and snobbery underpinning the dramas over the Munshi but it would be simplistic to dismiss the general household attitude towards him as solely due to those two factors.

As the Queen piled on him more honours, money and gifts (among them a land and house in India), he became grander in attitude and bearing which also did not go down well with his Indian colleagues and the princes and other native dignitaries who paid visits to Victoria and the rest of the royal family. As another one of the Indian servants, Ahmed Hussain told Sir James Reid, Karim received a lot of favours from the Queen that even an Indian prince or a long standing servant of twenty years would not get. In addition, Karim was also less than honest about his background, claiming that his father was a doctor when in reality he was a lowly apothecary in India. Karim also brought his wife over from India and she lived in purdah, refusing to go out in public unless veiled – a source of much hilarity for some of his Indian colleagues who knew Mrs Karim back in India and knew that she was never in purdah.

Queen Victoria all her life had been free of racial prejudice and social snobbery and her treatment of the Munshi reflected that. But as Lord Salisbury believed, the Queen enjoyed the squabbles between the Munshi and the rest of the household since they were “the only form of excitement she can have.” That’s not necessarily the case but the issues with the Munshi also revealed the Queen’s stubborn side and her refusal to see the negative side of persons she favoured.

Longing to visit India but unable to, Queen Victoria recreated India back in Britain. This extended not only to having Indian servants and having Indian curry served at the royal table but also to commissioning a room where she could feel that India had come to her and live out her view of India.

The room in question was the Durbar Room at Osborne House in the Isle of Wight. The house was acquired by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as a family home in the 1840s in lieu of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton where the couple together with their nine children could live a much more domestic lifestyle. The house was designed in the Italianate style by Prince Albert which reminded the prince of his study trips and holidays in Italy, with the building work supervised by Thomas Cubitt. Underpinning the fact that this was a family home was in Lauren Palmor’s words that “Osborne lacked the requisite amenities for conducting state affairs – there was no throne room, formal dining room or stateroom” and the opportunity to take a break from her round of official duties meant that Queen Victoria always relished her time at Osborne. As she wrote to her then prime minister Sir Robert Peel: “We are more and more delighted with this lovely spot…the combination of sea, trees…the purest air…make it a perfect Paradise.”

All of this would change after Prince Albert’s death in 1861, when Queen Victoria would spend more and more time at Osborne House, and it was then decided to extend the house in order to accommodate rooms for official entertaining. The grandest of these rooms was the Durbar Hall which was designed and executed by the team of Sir Lockwood Kipling (father of the writer Rudyard Kipling) and Bhami Ram Singh. Both men were connected to the Mayo School of Art in Lahore (now in modern day Pakistan) and this was not the first royal commission they had worked on, the first being that of a billiard room for Bagshot Park, the country home of one of Queen Victoria’s sons, Prince Arthur Duke of Connaught. The Bagshot Park commission would lead to the Osborne House assignment which was built between 1890 and 1891 and the finished room with its teak carvings and intricate plaster would be in Jeremy Musson’s words, “not a room for quiet withdrawal and relaxation but rather for state banqueting; it was designed for imperial hospitality, to impress (and even intimidate) at the highest level.”

Just as in a typical building project, the finished product isn’t always to the original design. Princess Louise, one of the queen’s daughters and a professional sculptor herself, voiced her opposition to the gallery above the fireplace, considering it heavy and suggested a peacock design instead. Her suggestion was incorporated into the final design and one that visitors will see when they step into the room. Ram Singh stayed on to oversee the work and due to the high cost of bringing workmen from India, British builders under the firm of Jackson and Sons were engaged to turn Ram Singh’s design into a reality. However there were fixtures that were made in India such as the rug woven in Agra that brought colour into a room that is predominantly white in colour scheme.

IMG_4965

The Durbar Room was not only used for official entertaining but also for family events such as Christmas where during the festive season, the room was decorated with Christmas trees which stood on tables together with presents. This space was also used for tableaus and stage performances put on by members of the royal family and the household for Queen Victoria and her guests.

Osborne-House-tableau

Durbar-Room-Xmas

Another main function of the Durbar Room was for the display of gifts given to Queen Victoria by Indian princes and subjects. What surprises the visitor is that they do not correspond to our view of Indian opulence as this was strictly discouraged by the Queen and the government. Following her proclamation as Empress of India in 1876 and subsequent Golden and Diamond Jubilees in 1887 and 1897, the Queen preferred addresses of loyalty as she wrote to the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir that “kind words from a distant friend are the most precious of all gifts.” Her Indian subjects took this maxim seriously, apart from loyal addresses she was also sent books written about her or her husband Prince Albert as well as tomes dedicated to her. Local authors also took to translating Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands in various Indian languages and sending them as gifts.

Loyal addresses were sent in cases that reflected the skill, materials and design special to a particular region or area and the result is a microcosm of the Indian subcontinent all displayed in one room. The corridor leading to the Durbar Room is a preview of the room the visitor is about to enter as it is lined with portraits of the Queen’s Indian subjects, those of her staff painted by the artist Rudolf Swoboda (which included that of Abdul Karim), the architect Bhami Ram Singh and portraits of Indian princes presented to the Queen. Also in this corridor are the portrait of Duleep Singh by Winterhalter and the bust of Victoria Gouramma by Marochetti.

DSC08901

So all in all, what do all these tell us about Queen Victoria? As the writer Theo Aronson mused, India held an enduring fascination for the Queen for its exoticism, mystery, excitement and colour and we can see this with the portraits and the rooms that she commissioned, not to mention the gifts she received and the uniforms worn by her Indian members of staff. As he continued:

“The Indians were a subject people, ‘belonging to me’ as she would say. More so than any of the other colonies, the Queen felt personally associated with India; she regarded herself as being directly responsible for ‘that enormous Empire which is so bright a jewel in her Crown.’” (p. 142)

However this was only one side of the story. As her relationships with Duleep Singh, Victoria Gouramma and Abdul Karim showed, the Queen was not bothered by differences in skin colour, status or religion, she was naturally a curious person and they whetted her appetite to know more about a country so different from the one she reigned over. They brought out her maternal side as well and she was prepared to overlook their caprices in a way that she would not have tolerated in her children and grandchildren.

Proclaiming Queen Victoria “Empress of India” represented a triumph of the view that Indians were different from the British and that having the British monarch as emperor or empress would appeal to the perception that Indians were very conscious of gradations in status. The Imperial title would make these distinctions clear and appeal as a symbol. In addition, it would help foster a closer bond between the monarchy and the Indian princes that would remain in force until 1947.

 

Further Reading:

Robert Blake. Disraeli (London, 1966)

Robert Blake. Gladstone, Disraeli, and Queen Victoria Centenary Romanes Lecture (Oxford, 1993)

C.P. Belliappa. Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg (Kolkata, 2010)

Michael Alexander and Sushila Anand. Queen Victoria’s Maharajah, Duleep Singh, 1838–93 (London, 1980)

Thomas Metcalf. Ideologies of the Raj (Cambridge, 1994)

C.C. Eldridge. England’s Mission: The Imperial Idea in the Age of Gladstone and Disraeli 1868-1880 (London, 1973)

Jan Morris. Pax Britannica: The Climax of an Empire (London, 1968)

Christopher Hibbert. Queen Victoria: A Personal History (London, 2000)

Shrabani Basu .Victoria and Abdul (London, 2010)

Elizabeth Longford. Victoria R.I. (London, 1964)

Jane Ridley. Bertie: A Life of Edward VII (London, 2011)

Kate Hubbard. Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household (London, 2012)

Hannah Pakula. The Last Romantic: A Biography of Queen Marie of Romania(London, 1984)

HRH The Duchess of York and Benita Stoney. Victoria and Albert: A Family Life at Osborne House (London, 1991)

Michaela Reid. Ask Sir James: The Life of Sir James Reid, Personal Physician to Queen Victoria (London, 1987)

Kajal Meghani. Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India, 1875-1876 (London, 2016)

Emily Hannam. Eastern Encounters: Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent (London, 2018)

William Ewart Gladstone. Midlothian Speeches 1879 (Leicester, 1971)

Milinda Banerjee. ‘Ocular Sovereignty, Acclamatory Rulership and Political Communication: Visits of Princes of Wales to Bengal’ in Frank Lorenz Műller and Heidi Mehrkens (eds) Royal Heirs and the Use of Soft Power in Nineteenth-Century Europe (London, 2016), pp. 81-100

Julius Bryant. ‘Kipling’s Royal Commissions: Bagshot Park and Osborne’ in Julius Bryant and Susan Weber (eds) John Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London (London, 2016), pp. 434-467

https://open.conted.ox.ac.uk/resources/documents/%E2%80%98-right-royal-tamasha%E2%80%99-imaging-queen-victoria-kaiser-i-hind-malvina-pollock

Lauren Palmor. ‘Queen Victoria’s Durbar Room: The Imperial Museum at Home’, Past Tense: Graduate Review of History, vol. 3 no. 1 (2015), pp. 60-74

L.A. Knight. ‘The Royal Titles Act and India’, The Historical Journal, vol. 11 no. 3 (1968), pp. 488-507

Miles Taylor. ‘Queen Victoria and India, 1837-61’ Victorian Studies, vol. 46, no. 2 (2004), pp. 264-274

David Washbrook. ‘After the Mutiny: From Queen to Queen Empress,’ History Today 47 (1997), pp. 10-15

Cartoons taken from the http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/history/victoria/20.html

Durbar Room photos taken by blogger who visited Osborne House on 11 June 2018

Advertisements

Queen Victoria and India (Part 1)

One of our enduring images of Queen Victoria is the woman always dressed in black with a white widow’s cap atop her head. Her jewel are also devoid of colour, not for her coloured stones such as emeralds and rubies but always pearls and diamonds and in some portraits, she is depicted wearing a pearl and diamond bracelet with a miniature portrait of her husband Prince Albert. His untimely death in 1861 sent the Queen into mourning from which she never recovered and for the next forty years until her own death in 1901, she wore black in Albert’s memory.

Queen_Victoria_by_Bassano

Her only concessions to colour were the orders and decorations she would wear for state portraits and occasions. These included the sash and star of the Order of the Garter and pinned on her left shoulder were the badges of the Order of Victoria and Albert and the Order of the Crown of India. The latter was established to mark Queen Victoria’s proclamation as Empress of India in 1876 and was one of the three Indian orders of chivalry that cemented the link between the British crown and her Indian subjects, most especially the various princes.

Crown of India

The insignia of the Order of the Crown of India contained the initials “VRI” which stood for “Victoria Regina Imperiatrix” (Victoria Queen Empress) and underlines Queen Victoria’s relationship with and image of India. In this blog, I will be looking at this relationship through two prisms; first with Queen as Empress of India and secondly, her fashioning an image of India based on her dealings with individual Indians and the addition of the Durbar Room at Osborne House.

Queen Victoria as Empress of India

On 27 April 1876, Queen Victoria was proclaimed “Empress of India” after the passage of a bill granting her the title and style of empress was passed in both Houses and received royal assent. In reality, the title was a watered down version of what Victoria originally wanted – “Empress of Great Britain, Ireland and India” which the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli with his customary tact and flattery was able to dissuade the Queen from assuming said title as well as avoid controversy by giving assurances that Britain and Ireland would not be included.

This is not to say however that the move to grant Queen Victoria the title of “Empress of India” was smooth sailing, far from it as from the moment the Queen articulated her desire for the title, most explicitly when she opened Parliament in person the year before, what became known as the Royal Titles Bill was dogged by controversy. The debates over the Royal Titles Bill not only reveals to us Queen Victoria’s view on foreign and imperial matters as well as that of the political establishment but also says a lot about how the British saw themselves and crucially how the British saw India. In many ways, the assumption of the title “Empress of India” by Queen Victoria represented the triumph of the romantic over the liberal view of India which for better or for worse has coloured British policy in India during the days of the Raj.

What were these two views? The first was influenced by late eighteenth and nineteenth century liberalism which viewed that India was corrupt and decadent. Their solution lay in reforming India through education, rule of law and free trade which the Liberals believed would result into a prosperous land freed of its decadent past. To this end, officials such as Lords William Bentinck and Dalhousie presided over policies and reforms that provided infrastructure, an administrative system among other things. The most significant however came with regards to education and stamping out practices that the British found abhorrent such as sati or wife burning. Education along Western lines, a Westernised code of laws and administrative system were among those heavily promoted and enacted with the optimistic view that would result the creation of, in Thomas Babbington Macaulay’s words, “a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, morals and intellect.”

This optimism was not to last however as the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 led to the Government of India Act the following year which transferred the functions of governing India from the British East India Company to the Crown. This also led to a shift in view with regards to how best approach Indian affairs. The Liberal view of a corrupt India which could be improved through education and rule of law was set aside in favour of the more romantic view that India was “unchanging” and its traditions should be cherished rather than changed or suppressed. Corollary to this was the belief that Indians were not like the British and it was unfair to treat them as such.

In February 1876, opening Parliament for the first time since the death of Prince Albert, the Queen spoke of “the hearty affection with which he has been received by my Indian subjects of all classes and races assures me that they are happy under my rule, and loyal to my throne.” This was reference to the tour of India being undertaken by her oldest son and heir Albert Edward Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) from 1875 and its success became the impetus for Queen Victoria to request Parliament to add “Empress of India” to her existing titles.

The success of the on-going tour was not the only motivation for Queen Victoria to request for the title of Empress of India. First of all, Victoria in her mind was already empress since the Government of India Act if not even earlier. This view was exploited by politicians such as Lord Ellenborough who as Governor-General in the 1840s was extending her authority in India through the annexation of territories and facilitating relationships with the various Indian princes and the Crown independent of the East India Company. These bonds were cemented with the exchange of gifts, correspondence and crucially the establishment of an honours system with the creation of the Order of the Star of India. The latter was established following the suppression of the mutiny as a way to reward the princes who remained loyal to the British. Its insignia and motto “Heaven’s Light Our Guide” was designed and conceptualised by Prince Albert and this honour could be seen as being in line with the Government of India Act’s provision for the princes becoming central to British policy in India.

Secondly was with regards to Britain’s relationship with Russia which could be described as cool even chilly due to two main issues – the so-called “Eastern Question” regarding the concerns of the European Great Powers with the Ottoman Empire’s continuing political and economic instability. Britain’s view was that the Ottoman Empire was an important buffer state in order to check Russia’s desire to exploit nationalist sentiment in the Balkans and position itself as the champion of the Slavs. The other was with regards to the “Great Game” which came about due to Russia expanding its empire into Central Asia which placed its borders next to India. There was fear on the British side about a possible Russian incursion into India while the Russians were suspicious of British commercial attempts into Afghanistan and Central Asia.

The antipathy towards Russia also spilled over closer to home. In 1874, Queen Victoria’s second son Prince Alfred Duke of Edinburgh successfully courted and won the hand of Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia. The courtship opposed by both sets of parents – Queen Victoria was a passionate Russophobe who was not thrilled with the idea of a Russian daughter-in-law while Tsar Alexander II and his wife were loath to lose their only daughter on who they relied on heavily. Despite misgivings, the marriage went ahead and there arose issues of precedence as the Duchess of Edinburgh would rank third behind the Princess of Wales and the Princess Royal. The Tsar also made matters worse by requesting that his daughter should retain her style of “Imperial Highness” which displeased Queen Victoria. In the end, a compromise was made where the new princess was styled “Her Royal and Imperial Highness the Duchess of Edinburgh.”

The question over precedence and status also played an important factor with the Queen’s desire for the title. In reality Queen Victoria was not as status conscious as her continental counterparts however she was annoyed at continental royals maintaining that her children were socially inferior to the children of a Russian tsar or an Austrian emperor. What aggrieved her further was after German unification in 1871, the new emperor Wilhelm I (father-in-law of her oldest daughter Victoria Princess Royal and Crown Princess of Germany) thought that he ranked higher than Victoria who was a mere queen.

All these also chimed in with the Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s vision of empire which would be a source of national pride. It was during his premiership that Indian and Imperial interests became synonymous with national interest and having Queen Victoria assume the title “Empress of India” would not only appeal to the Queen’s vanity but also to put her on equal footing with the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Royal’s Russian and German in-laws respectively. As Disraeli’s biographer Robert Blake observed: “[b]asically the Royal Titles Bill, like the Prince’s visit, was a counter-blast to the threat of Russian invasion or subversion of India, a measure designed to reaffirm and symbolize British power.” (p. 562)

When the Royal Titles Bill was announced on 17 February 1876, it was greeted with derision and met with stiff opposition not helped by the fact that Disraeli had failed to inform the opposition of plans to introduce the bill through Parliament. The debates in Parliament and general public opposition to the imperial title tell us a lot about how the British saw themselves as a people. As the Liberal MP Robert Lowe pointed out, “sentiment clothes the title of emperor with bad associations” and used the Roman empire as an example which he described as “the wretches who have filled the throne of Imperial Rome, who have been often raised to their position by military violence, and who sank below ordinary human nature in debauchery and crime.”

Disraeli’s reply to Lowe’s charge of Roman emperors coming to the throne through violence was to cite the example of the Antonines or the “Five Good Emperors” who reigned from 96-180AD. And while it may be true that Rome flourished under the reigns of these five men and that the succession was peaceful, it did not detract from the fact that a cursory glance at the list of Roman emperors, the great majority obtained the throne through the sword and died by the sword.

Opposition to the title also featured in the press. The Times called the idea of Victoria as Empress of India “tawdry” while cartoonists had a field day lampooning Disraeli’s imperial pretentions. A famous cartoon by John Tenniel (who famously illustrated Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland) depicted Disraeli dressed as a Jewish peddler brandishing a foreign and gaudy crown in front of the Queen who is shown carrying a much more modest crown. Captioned “New Crowns for Old Ones” it was a play on the story of Aladdin and reflected what Malvina Pollock Kalim called a “widespread concern over corrupting influences that would either degrade her as the successor to a weak and degenerate Mughal ruler or encourage her to turn to an ‘Eastern potentate’.”

new-crowns-for-old-ones-victoria

The debates also showed how much Disraeli and Queen Victoria betrayed an ignorance of the British public.  They did not foresee the popular opposition to the title of Empress with its negative connotations not only to Rome but also its association with autocratic European states such as Russia, Germany and Austria as well as France with its Napoleonic past. The British were proud of their constitutional and democratic (by the standards of the time) institutions and practices which did not sit well with the “autocratic flavour” of an imperial title.  As Jan Morris mused, “in those days the word ‘Empire’ still referred in liberal British minds, to the dominions of foreign tyrants, and the idea of a British empress seemed a monstrous negation of principles.” (pp. 37-8) and this was a theme William Gladstone returned to during his famous Midlothian campaign where after dismissing the title as  “theatrical bombast and folly” asked his audience in Glasgow:

“But I will now assume that it was right; and if it was right, gentlemen, I call upon you to agree with me in this, that in order to complete the transaction, that assumption of a higher title ought to have been accompanied, in the face of the vast Indian people, by increase in franchise or of privilege, by augmentation of benefit, by redress of grievances and correction of abuse. Is that the course of government, which has since been pursued in India?”

The answer to these questions as Gladstone outlined in the rest of his speech was a resounding “no.”  In the end, the title of empress was simply in Ralph Metcalfe’s words “a determination to assert Britain’s equivalence as a major power with her European rivals” as well cement the bonds between the British crown and the Indian people and princes under the person of the British monarch.

Contrary to Queen Victoria’s view that the bill was passed by a large margin, in reality it was only a slim one and on the condition that the new title only applied to India. The Prince of Wales meanwhile only learned of the passage of the Royal Titles Act not through official channels but through the newspapers while still on tour. This was something that the press picked up on as shown in a cartoon by John Gordon Thomson for Fun magazine which depicted a bewildered Prince of Wales upon seeing his mother Queen Victoria riding in state atop an elephant and attended by the assorted paraphernalia of Indian royalty. Outwardly, the Prince received the congratulations and felicitations graciously but behind the scenes, he wrote a stinging letter to Disraeli miffed at not having been informed, stating his opposition to the title and any moves to change his style to that of “Imperial Highness.” The Prime Minister having handled the passage of the bill badly was afraid that the press and public would find out about the Prince’s opposition to his mother’s new title quickly wrote to reassure him that there would be no change to his title and the rest of the royal family.

Royal Titles Act cartoon

The Prince of Wales was partly mollified by Disraeli’s reassurance but as his recent biographer Jane Ridley wrote: “Bertie had good reason to feel ill-used by the Queen. Victoria had strenuously opposed his plan to travel to India, but when the trip succeeded, she executed a spectacular U-turn and, without consulting him, stole his glory by upstaging him with this coup de theatre. The Queen, who took a close interest in India, which she saw as her special fief, had no intention of leaving all the kudos to her son.”  (p. 181)

 

Further Reading:

Robert Blake. Disraeli (London, 1966)

Robert Blake. Gladstone, Disraeli, and Queen Victoria Centenary Romanes Lecture (Oxford, 1993)

C.P. Belliappa. Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg (Kolkata, 2010)

Michael Alexander and Sushila Anand. Queen Victoria’s Maharajah, Duleep Singh, 1838–93 (London, 1980)

Thomas Metcalf. Ideologies of the Raj (Cambridge, 1994)

C.C. Eldridge. England’s Mission: The Imperial Idea in the Age of Gladstone and Disraeli 1868-1880 (London, 1973)

Jan Morris. Pax Britannica: The Climax of an Empire (London, 1968)

Christopher Hibbert. Queen Victoria: A Personal History (London, 2000)

Shrabani Basu .Victoria and Abdul (London, 2010)

Elizabeth Longford. Victoria R.I. (London, 1964)

Jane Ridley. Bertie: A Life of Edward VII (London, 2011)

Kate Hubbard. Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household (London, 2012)

Hannah Pakula. The Last Romantic: A Biography of Queen Marie of Romania (London, 1984)

HRH The Duchess of York and Benita Stoney. Victoria and Albert: A Family Life at Osborne House (London, 1991)

Michaela Reid. Ask Sir James: The Life of Sir James Reid, Personal Physician to Queen Victoria (London, 1987)

Kajal Meghani. Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India, 1875-1876 (London, 2016)

Emily Hannam. Eastern Encounters: Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent (London, 2018)

William Ewart Gladstone. Midlothian Speeches 1879 (Leicester, 1971)

Milinda Banerjee. ‘Ocular Sovereignty, Acclamatory Rulership and Political Communication: Visits of Princes of Wales to Bengal’ in Frank Lorenz Műller and Heidi Mehrkens (eds) Royal Heirs and the Use of Soft Power in Nineteenth-Century Europe (London, 2016), pp. 81-100

Julius Bryant. ‘Kipling’s Royal Commissions: Bagshot Park and Osborne’ in Julius Bryant and Susan Weber (eds) John Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London (London, 2016), pp. 434-467

https://open.conted.ox.ac.uk/resources/documents/%E2%80%98-right-royal-tamasha%E2%80%99-imaging-queen-victoria-kaiser-i-hind-malvina-pollock

Lauren Palmor. ‘Queen Victoria’s Durbar Room: The Imperial Museum at Home’, Past Tense: Graduate Review of History, vol. 3 no. 1 (2015), pp. 60-74

L.A. Knight. ‘The Royal Titles Act and India’, The Historical Journal, vol. 11 no. 3 (1968), pp. 488-507

Miles Taylor. ‘Queen Victoria and India, 1837-61’ Victorian Studies, vol. 46, no. 2 (2004), pp. 264-274

David Washbrook. ‘After the Mutiny: From Queen to Queen Empress,’ History Today 47 (1997), pp. 10-15

Cartoons taken from the http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/history/victoria/20.html

Durbar Room photos taken by blogger who visited Osborne House on 11 June 2018

 

 

 

 

Exhibition Review: Royal Women: Public Life, Personal Style (Fashion Museum, Bath)

The strong interest in what female members of the British royal family wear continues with the latest addition in the person of the Duchess of Sussex. The coverage of her wedding gown and the ensemble she wore to her first official engagement demonstrates that this interest in royal fashion has not abated and is exacerbated by the presence of blogs, social media and the omnipresent 24/7/365 news culture.

This interest is not new however as demonstrated by an on-going exhibition at the Fashion Museum in Bath entitled Royal Women: Public Life, Personal Style, featuring clothes worn by Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) and Princess Margaret; each a wife or sister of a monarch. As public figures and being royal there are expectations to be met such as being above politics, so they should be seen and not heard. What royal women wear should be above fashion and be suitable for the occasion and the people they will meet: hence the bright colours in order to stand out, hats must never obscure the face, bags should never get in the way of shaking hands and accepting gifts from well-wishers. Even shoes are selected with comfort in mind.

DSC08189.JPG

The exhibition is a small one with the clothes drawn from the museum’s own collection and loans from the Royal Collection. What was interesting is the information regarding how the museum was able to acquire dresses with royal provenance. Some like Princess Margaret’s were donated to the museum by the princess herself, while others such as a gown worn by Queen Mary were given by one of her ladies-in-waiting. Displayed chronologically, the clothes are a mini-history of royal fashion from the 1860s to the 1950s as well as highlighting how the four royal women featured used fashion and clothes to create their image and assist in their performance of their royal duties.

The women featured fall into two headings. Trendsetters like Queen Alexandra when as Princess of Wales she popularised tailored separates for day wear and jewelled chokers (to conceal a scar brought about by scrofula) for evening, and later Princess Margaret whose fashion choices generated headlines and epitomised glamour, especially after the austerity of the Second World War. Or in the case of Queens Mary and Elizabeth, their style was an integral part of their identity and as such instantly recognisable. Queen Mary remained wedded to the Edwardian styles that went out of fashion even during her lifetime, while Queen Elizabeth, with the help of designer Norman Hartnell, became known for her sparkling evening gowns which were heavily embroidered and beaded and in the distinct crinoline shape.

One of the interesting highlights of the exhibition was how clothes were not only re-worn but even recycled. Queen Alexandra’s wedding gown is virtually unrecognisable in the photographs of her on her wedding day but this is not unusual, as wedding dresses during this period were worn more than once – first on the wedding day and then reworked. As the wedding dress was the most expensive outfit in the entire bridal trousseau, it made sense for the gown to be designed in such a way that it could be worn again and again.

A second example of this clothes recycling was the dress worn by Queen Mary for Princess Elizabeth’s wedding in 1947. Designed by Norman Hartnell and described as “gold lame and turquoise cut velvet”, it originally had long sleeves and a high neck. The gown was later altered with the neckline adjusted and the sleeves cut to create the floaty panels around the upper arms. Both gowns demonstrated how clever alteration can result into a new dress created out of an old one.

Another interesting highlight was with regards to the change in Alexandra’s wardrobe after 1892 which marked a turning point. The death of her oldest son the Duke of Clarence hit her hard and after a period of deep mourning, she decided to wear half mourning for the rest of her life in his memory. This was in marked contrast to her mother-in-law Queen Victoria who wore black for forty years following the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1861. Her choice is reflected in two gowns in dusky blue and mauve – two popular colours associated with half mourning, and they give us a good idea of the colour palette in Alexandra’s wardrobe during the last three decades of her life.

While the clothes are well presented, it’s a shame that apart from a hat and two pairs of shoes that belonged to Queen Mary as well as a glove that belonged to Queen Alexandra accessories are absent, which prevents the viewer from getting a more rounded picture of each woman’s taste and look. However this is a minor quibble more than anything. What is disappointing was there is nothing on display from Queen Elizabeth’s famous “White Wardrobe” designed by Norman Hartnell for the state visit to France in 1938. More than anything, the “White Wardrobe” represented a crossroads in Elizabeth’s over all look that marked the beginnings of the popular and iconic images of her as queen consort and queen mother.

The exhibition closes with a surprise loan from the Countess of Wessex which brings the exhibition fully to the present and demonstrate that while fashion have moved on, the demands of royal dressing have not. There is also a film showing the four featured women out and about performing their public duties which gives us a glimpse of them and their clothes in movement.

Certainly this exhibition leaves me wanting more but while small it is packed full with interesting information and trivia and as the surprise loan demonstrates, the public’s fascination with what royal women wear continues.

 

Royal Women: Public Life, Personal Style is on at the Fashion Museum Bath until 28 April 2019. Admission included in the ticket price.

For more information please visit: https://www.fashionmuseum.co.uk/

The bloggers visited the exhibition on 23 May 2018 and photos were taken by the bloggers.

Some thoughts on Iolanthe

On the 24th of February, my husband and I went to the London Coliseum to watch the English National Opera’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera Iolanthe, which the press release and programme notes mention is the first after 40 years. It was a packed matinee performance and it didn’t disappoint as the audience laughed along to the witty dialogue, physical comedy and catchy tunes with a bit of audience participation thrown in.

Iolanthe

Iolanthe or The Peer and Peri is one of many collaborations between composer Sir Arthur Sullivan and writer Sir W.S. Gilbert which included The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, The Mikado and Patience. In Iolanthe, the title character is a fairy recalled from her exile after breaking the law that forbade a fairy from consorting with a mortal. The sentence was originally death but the Fairy Queen had this commuted to exile on condition that she never sees her husband again. Iolanthe and her husband part but not before they manage to have a son – Strephon – who becomes a shepherd and who has no idea who his father is.

Twenty five years later, Strephon has fallen in love with Phyllis, a shepherdess, and proposed marriage to her but she is ward of the Chancery under the Lord Chancellor  and he has forbidden the match: declaring that Strephon is not a suitable match for Phyllis. There is also the added complication that the Lord Chancellor wants to make Phyllis his wife and further complicating matters is that several members of the House of Lords are also smitten with the young shepherdess. Strephon asks his mother for help and due to mistaken identity, an angry Phyllis breaks off the engagement and declares that she will consider marrying either Lord Tolloller or Lord Mountararat.

More chaos ensures as the Fairy Queen causes the election of Strephon as a Member of Parliament with his proposed bills passing through Parliament. One bill particularly alarms the House of Lords – a bill that would open the upper house based on merit to those who pass a competitive examination. The peers plead with the fairies to lift the curse but love is in the air as the fairies fall in love with the peers. Meanwhile Strephon learns that his father is the Lord Chancellor and Iolanthe risks death by revealing herself to the Lord Chancellor who is surprised to learn to his wife is still alive and that he has a son. The Fairy Queen arrives to carry out the punishment on Iolanthe for having violated the terms of her exile and then realises that she will have to carry out the same punishment on all the fairies. Everyone is saved by the Lord Chancellor who makes a legal intervention by adding a single word to existing fairy law –  “every fairy shall die who doesn’t marry a mortal.” With this, the Fairy Queen agrees and the peers rush off to join the fairies in fairy land.

Gilbert and Sullivan used their operas to poke fun at anyone and everyone in British society and there were no sacred cows for this duo. Everyone was fair game – politicians, the army, the aristocracy, the royals, civil servants, the law, fads and ideologies. With Iolanthe, both men returned to two targets that they had previously lampooned; the aristocracy and the law. One main theme that recurs time and again in Iolanthe is the absurdity of the hereditary system as embodied in the House of Lords. As one of the main characters, Lord Mountararat sings:

When Britain really ruled the waves –

(In good Queen Bess’s time)

The House of Peers made no pretence

To intellectual eminence,

Or scholarship sublime;

Yet Britain won her proudest bays

In good Queen Bess’s glorious days!

When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,

As every child can tell,

The House of Peers, throughout the war,

Did nothing in particular,

And did it very well:

Yet Britain set the world ablaze

In good King George’s glorious days!

And while the House of Peers withholds

Its legislative hand,

And noble statesmen do not itch

To interfere with matters which

They do not understand,

As bright will shine Great Britain’s rays

As in King George’s glorious days!

The song itself belies Lord Mountararat’s self-awareness that he has reached where he is due to accident of birth. Not through hard work or pluck but simply because of who his antecedents were. By this point in real life the House of Commons was slowly opening up to men who had reached Parliament due to hard work and merit but the House of Lords remained entrenched in their ways and were resistant to any attempts at reform. When Strephon proposes to open the House of Lords to competitive examination, the number between the peers and Strephon seems to read as a premonition of the showdown between the Lords and the Commons that resulted into the Parliament Act of 1911:

PEERS:

Young Strephon is the kind of lout

We do not care a fig about!

We cannot say

What evils may

Result in consequence

But lordly vengeance will pursue

All kinds of common people who

Oppose our views,

Or boldly choose

To offer us offence.

FAIRIES, PHYLLIS, and STREPHON:

With Strephon for your foe, no doubt,

A fearful prospect opens out,

And who shall say

What evils may

Result in consequence?

A hideous vengeance will pursue

All noblemen who venture to

Oppose his views,

Or boldly choose

To offer him offence.

Of course in the opera, love conquers all as a change in the law allows the fairies and the mortals to marry each other without any fear of death. In real life, the peerage itself – already under assault by financial crises – would be dealt with more blows that perhaps not even Gilbert and Sullivan could have ever foreseen. However if both men were alive during the first half of the twentieth century, they would have certainly have found more material to lampoon the aristocracy and perhaps even P.G. Wodehouse would struggle to compete with Gilbert’s dialogue and Sullivan’s music.

However back to the ENO’s production – the acting and singing were spot on and under the direction of Cal MacCrystal who recently directed last year’s film hit Paddington 2, the acting and singing were anchored by touches of physical comedy, just enough but not overdoing it. This production has also remained faithful to how Gilbert and Sullivan envisioned it and mercifully, we have been spared any references to current events. Instead what we have is simply over two hours of sublime music and comedy. I hope that we won’t have to wait another 40 years for another staging of this classic.

 

The English National Opera’s porduction of Iolanthe is on at the London Coliseum until 7 April. For more information, please click on this link: https://www.eno.org/operas/iolanthe/ and https://www.eno.org/whats-on/iolanthe/

 

 

Forgotten Women: The Suffragists and the Fight for Enfranchisement (Part 1)

“Of the two sexes of which the species is composed, how comes it that all natural right to political benefits is confined to one?”

Jeremy Bentham, 1789

“The elderly women of my childhood grew up believing that they would never be allowed to vote. Women within living memory. In the UK.”

Quote from internet site, January 2018

 

The legislation that governs women’s rights in society is astonishingly recent. The Married Women’s Property acts made it legal for wives to hold money and property in their own name. Until 1970 it was perfectly legal to pay a woman less than a man for doing the same job, and rape in marriage was not made a crime until 1991 in the UK. Inequality was seen as inevitable, natural and right – that married women (and most women were married) were property, with no rights at all or legal existence. That a woman who had murdered her husband was executed for treason as if she had committed a crime against the state. That women who spoke up and defied convention and what was regarded as the natural order of women subordinate to men were classified as mentally disturbed and shut away, sometimes for years. For centuries rape was prosecuted not as a sexual crime against a woman, but as a theft from her family – their good name and honour smirched and their property so devalued that no-one would want it in marriage. In the words of Amanda Vickery, “male mastery and female servitude were written into the DNA of society.”

Votes for women is the most visible face of a wave of female emancipation and struggle for civil liberties and political rights that began in the 19th century to take on an unstoppable momentum. Like the women in the quote above, my grandmother and great aunts didn’t get the vote until they were in their 20s. Even in her late 60s my grandmother (born in 1905) didn’t vote until the general election of 1972, when my mother and I almost literally dragged her into the polling station and when she asked what she should do said “Make a cross! Anywhere, against any name, but make it!” – so determined were we that she should use the vote that women seventy years before had suffered and fought to acquire for her.

Experiences such as above are perhaps now distant memory as it’s now easy to take for granted that women now have the vote. With this year being the 100th anniversary of the granting of suffrage for some women and the 90th anniversary of giving women this right on equal terms with men, it’s not surprising that there is a rush of books, exhibitions, talks, documentaries and discussions about the struggle of women to obtain the right to vote.

However the problem that I have noticed with the aforesaid rush of books, exhibitions, talks and documentaries is that they focus disproportionately on Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes. While there is no denying that Pankhurst and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) grabbed the headlines then and capture the public imagination now, the irony is that the granting of suffrage to women in 1918 and 1928 was the result of long years of hard work and struggle by thousands of women who preferred to make their point through peaceful, legal and quasi-legal means; and it can be argued the suffragettes’ campaign of violence and intimidation of public figures alienated many who might have otherwise supported them and gave weight to their opponents’ argument that women were not fit, mentally, morally or intellectually, to be granted the vote. While the suffragettes have dominated the discourse over the history of women’s suffrage this blog hopefully will attempt to redress the balance by focusing on the suffragists, women who preferred peaceful means and reasoned debate to make their voice heard.

 

THE BEGINNINGS OF THE SUFFRAGE CAMPAIGN:

We can trace the beginnings of the women’s suffrage campaign in 1866, when a group of women’s rights activists petitioned John Stuart Mill to sponsor a bill granting women the right to vote, as during this time Parliament was locked in a series of debates whether or not to extend the terms of the 1832 Reform Act and enfranchise urban working men and those in the country with small landholdings.

Concurrent to this was the myriad of campaigns aimed to secure women such rights as keeping their own property and money even after marriage, the right to an education and to enter a profession as well as calling for reforms in marriage and family law. It was also at this time where women such as Josephine Butler became active in causes such as the temperance or anti-slavery movements and prison reform as well as working with the poor and sick. Many of these causes and those who espoused them overlapped each other; it was through these campaigns that many like-minded women were led into coming together to effect change.

Early gains such as the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870 and the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act in 1886 together with advances in technology gave women some legal protection, opportunities to work outside the home and pursue leisure on a greater scale. Beginning in the 1860s, there were already calls to extend the suffrage to women, and this call became even louder as the decades went on. Many women’s rights activists believed that suffrage was one of the rights that women ought to have, this right being seen as a means to an end which was social reform on a much wider scale.

Primarily the campaign to secure women the right to vote on the same terms as men as set out in the existing Reform Acts (1867 and 1886) was a movement dominated and organised by middle class women. In time they would be joined by both upper and working class women but the bulk of the activists came from the middle class.

Why was this so? Just as with campaigns for the right to education, seeking paid employment and reforms in family and property law, nineteenth century feminism was a response to the desire by middle class women to take advantage of the educational and vocational opportunities open to middle class men but that were denied to them. Society itself was changing – industrialisation and technological advances were giving women better opportunities: not just with regards to work but also leisure. Social sciences were also questioning conventional assumptions about men and women especially about the alleged weakness of the latter. As Constance Rover observed:

“There was a general feeling amongst middle class-women that their status was in some ways inferior to that of women of other classes. The upper class woman had her social position to give her some influence; also the upper classes were prone to arrange marriage settlements and bestow dowries upon their women. The former gave a wife a measure of economic independence and the latter, although humiliating in some respects, at least had the effect of letting the wife feel she had brought with her a positive contribution to the new household. In the eyes of the middle class woman, the woman factory worker, although underpaid and exploited, had a measure of independence as a result of her work and wages which she herself lacked.” (pp. 36-7)

Although J.S. Mill’s attempts to introduce a women’s suffrage bill ended in failure, another attempt was made, this time in 1884, when another round of debates was on going to further extend the franchise – this time to those who paid an annual rent of £10 or who owned land of the same value. Yet again women were excluded after another Reform Act was passed in 1886 and this despite the fact that more women especially married ones would have met the property qualifications set by Parliament.

Despite this setback, the late 19th and early 20th century saw greater female participation in public life. Apart from being involved in campaigns for social reform and canvassing for votes and campaigning for local and national politicians there were also baby steps towards granting women the right to vote and to stand for local elections. Initially women could stand and vote for positions on local education and Poor Law boards. By 1910, women could stand as town and county councillors and even become mayors. New legislation also ensured female participation – for instance the Education Act of 1902 abolished the school boards and required county councils to include at least one woman in their education committees. There was also the Unemployed Worker’s Act (1905) which mandated that women should be included in local distress committees.

Whether serving as Poor Law guardians or county councillors or heading up local Conservative or Liberal Party organisations, women were getting a taste of political participation and exercising the duties of citizenship. Many believed that by demonstrating their capabilities on the local level they could prove that they were fit to exercise the right to vote on a national level.

 

A HOUSE DIVIDED:

Despite feminist rhetoric about sisterhood and solidarity the reality was that women’s suffrage just like any other campaign or cause was always going to be divided. Inevitably there would be differences with regards to defining about the terms and conditions about their struggle – would they want the right to vote based on the existing qualifications? Or do they want the vote regardless women owned property or not? There was also the inconvenient point that even after 1886, not all men had the vote and they ranged from those whose annual rent or land holdings were valued at less than £10 or those who were in jobs (such as domestic service) that provided board and lodging as part of their employment package.

There was also the question of methodology. While late Victorian women’s suffrage activists furthered their cause through meetings, public speaking, debating, petitioning leading politicians and cultivating support from influential people; others felt this didn’t go far enough and by the beginning of the twentieth century, others were getting impatient and felt the need to restore to drastic measures in order to make the government and the public sit up and take notice.

And while opponents of those who were calling for extending women the right to vote were mostly men, perhaps unsurprisingly the most vocal of those who opposed women’s suffrage were women as well, including prominent ones such as the author and social campaigner Mary Augusta Ward (Mrs Humphrey Ward) and the archaeologist and Near East expert Gertrude Bell. Male opponents focused on the common belief that men and women were characterised by different moral and intellectual qualities endowed by God to enable them to perform their respective duties. There was too the general consensus that women were more emotional, easily swayed by sentiment, less reasoned and logical as well as being more sensitive. Biology was also used as an argument against women’s fitness to participate in public life (which included voting) as women’s conditions such as menstruation and pregnancy would make it hard for them to exercise their mental faculties and judgement in a clear and rational way – or as Anne De Courcy succinctly puts it in her biography of Margot Asquith (another opponent of female suffrage) – the belief that “once a month, women go mad.”  There was also the question whether women would be able to understand and comprehend issues of national and imperial importance such as the economy, defence and foreign policy.

Female opponents of women’s suffrage on the other hand argued that women had their proper sphere and giving them the vote would undermine the home and family, and that women should be content to exert their influence in that sphere. They were horrified that women they regarded as less educated and intelligent as themselves should be enfranchised, or that the lower classes should be afforded power and entitlement, because who knew how that power would be used?

This is not to say however that these female antis were totally opposed to women’s suffrage; on the contrary, they were vocal supporters for female participation at the local level and worked hard to increase participation in county politics. There was also general cynicism about national politics and the fear that women would be used as a tool for manipulation by politicians. Just as with the other great issues of the day, women’s suffrage had its multitude of voices and two of the loudest camps differed over strategy and how to win hearts and minds.

 

PEOPLE’S FRONT OF JUDEA VS JUDEAN PEOPLE’S FRONT AND ALL THE OTHERS AS WELL…..

Martin Pugh in his March of the Women mused that despite the coverage and studies that the suffrage campaign has generated, on a whole, several aspects remain neglected and studies as a whole remain unbalanced. The Pankhurst family and the suffragettes especially the WSPU have long dominated the narrative with regards to the campaign to secure women the right to vote.

During the late 1880s, the women’s suffrage movement was very divided and de-centralised. There were many small groups, often small local or workplace societies. In 1907 the Artists’ Suffrage League was formed, and the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage: over the next few years they were followed by such societies as the Actresses Franchise League, the Women Writers Suffrage League, the Barmaids Political Defence League, the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, the Tax Resistance League, the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement, the Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society and the United Suffragists. The latter was created for both men and women, and was said to be disapproved of by Christabel Pankhurst.

The formation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1897 was one way to make the movement much more coherent and unified as well as in David Rubenstein’s words calling for a “closer union and cooperation between the various societies.” They elected as their president Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929), sister of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson who was the first woman to qualify and practise as a doctor as well as be elected town mayor. Millicent Fawcett was the widow of Liberal MP and politician Henry Fawcett. She was also in known in her own right as an author and for her crusades for women’s and children’s rights.

Garrett-964-1

Millicent_Fawcett_-_Women_Wanted

While the NUWSS was predominantly a middle-class organisation, they also had support from the upper classes; among them Lord and Lady Selborne and Lord Robert Cecil (son of the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, three times Prime Minister of the UK). In addition, the organisation did not ally themselves with any political party and were dedicated to winning hearts and minds through peaceful rallies, speeches, articles, pamphlets, deputations and cultivating important allies within the Establishment in order to secure support for their cause. They also sought to bring their message far and wide through local NUWSS branches and allied organisations, as well as supporting women candidates and men sympathetic to the cause standing for elected posts.

In addition the NUWSS also engaged in debates with their opponents and did so using careful arguments and logic. Recognising that the weight of scientific opinion was against them, the likes of Fawcett refrained from wading into any physiological or psychological argument. As Pugh pointed out: “the aim, for them, was to develop whatever natural capacity men and women had to start with.” They also contested views that women were weak and that they lacked the stomach to cope with political life by arguing that women especially those from the working class were already exposed to dangers and struggles that took no notice of notions of femininity and questioned the claim that femininity was fragile – if it was, they argued, then the human race would have long ago have died out.

By the 20th century it seemed that there was no progress being made: especially as the Liberals were returned to power in 1905. Unlike the Conservative Party whose leadership was sympathetic to the cause of women’s suffrage, the Liberal leadership was hostile to it. In 1908, Herbert Henry Asquith became Prime Minister and with his hostility to the cause, the struggle entered a much more dangerous phase.

Several women’s suffrage activists felt that the NUWSS didn’t go far enough and direct action was the solution to shake the government and the political establishment out of its torpor and sometimes open hostility to the cause. In 1903, the Women’s Social and Political Union was founded under Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) with the slogan “deeds not words” and they quickly gained attention for acts of organised militancy and violence. Not only were they content to heckle politicians especially those who were seen as hostile to women’s suffrage but eventually their acts also included throwing stones and even later setting fire or planting bombs at their homes.

Emmeline_Pankhurst,_seated_(1913)

These women became known as “suffragettes,” a pejorative term coined by a journalist named Charles E. Hinds, and in time the WSPU took this word as a badge of honour. Those who refused to follow the militant route and stuck to peaceful means and logic to obtain the vote became known as the “suffragists.” In an echo of the Life of Brian’s People’s Front of Judea versus Judean People’s Front, the movement was never coherent and although the goal was the same, the methods to secure it were different. Suffragists were seen as too passive and patient, but Fawcett perceptively argued that women’s suffrage would come not as an isolated incident, but as a necessary corollary to the changes already taking place. The suffragists were also accused of being too complacent and too reliant on reason as well as lacking in passion and urgency – this was what was used by the Pankhursts and the suffragettes to rally women to their cause.

The Suffragette WSPU

The suffragists did support the WSPU in the early years due to the view that the suffragettes were helping the cause through their “pluck and determination” (in the words of Lady Knightley, a suffragist). Many in the NUWSS believed that the actions of the suffragettes were making people sit up and take notice in a way that more peaceful campaigns had failed to do, and many suffragists lent their support to the demand by the suffragettes to be treated like political prisoners.

Even the rank and file would often disagree with the leadership over politics as much as tactics and within the suffragette movement, there were varying methods of participation. Many of the suffragettes attended meetings, marched peacefully, sold and distributed literature or raised funds. Pugh observed that “[a]s a result militancy tended to be concentrated in London and a few regional capitals; it was not necessarily a central part of WSPU activity and the dramatic events that captured the headlines were largely the work of itinerant activists who travelled out to the provinces when a visit by a leading politician offered a suitable target.” In the regions as well, there was greater cooperation between the suffragettes and suffragists for the reasons above.

BBIHZ0o

BBIHSsN

However, it was militancy that was gaining the headlines and increasingly even within the WSPU there were those who recoiled from the actions of their fellow members such as Emily Davison (whose fanaticism even the WSPU leadership found hard to swallow). Many of these suffragettes questioned the autocratic views of the Pankhursts and believed that militancy had lost its way and was damaging to the cause. Jill Liddington in her book One Hand Tied Behind Us noted that:

“The WSPU operation became more and more military in character, with Christabel issuing orders for her troops to carry out. No dissent could be tolerated…..[m]ilitancy coupled with the attendant newspaper publicity, had begun as an inspired idea in Christabel’s head in 1905. But it seemed to carry with it the seeds of its own destruction: each act had to be more violent than the previous one in order to hold public attention; and violence only attracted public interest, never mass support. In the end the WSPU resorted to arson……as the WSPU membership was reduced down to an elite corps, so its politics correspondingly narrowed.” (p. 210)

A group of suffragettes led by Charlotte Despard (1844-1939) became so disillusioned with the WSPU’s lack of democracy and increasing militancy that they broke away and formed the Women’s Freedom League (WFL). The WFL could be described as a halfway house between the NUWSS and the WSPU; they did engage in stunts such as chaining themselves to railings as they attempted to present petitions and through caravan trips to spread the message of Votes for Women, but their militancy was channeled into much more peaceful means through civil disobedience and passive resistance.

The WFL did this through means such as refusal to pay tax. A woman called Dora Montefiore refused to pay her tax in 1906 on the grounds that if she didn’t have the right to vote then she shouldn’t be subjected to taxation. Bailiffs were sent to her home to confiscate her property, so Montefiore barricaded her home for a few days and survived with the help of sympathetic neighbours and tradesmen who smuggled in supplies until the bailiffs broke through and carted off objects that could be sold to meet her unpaid tax bill. Being wealthy, she managed to buy them back but the “Siege of Montefiore” as it became known became useful as a propaganda tool. It demonstrated the contradiction that women were expected to submit to taxation of their income without having any say through the vote on how that tax money should be spent.

Montefiore’s act of defiance generated publicity and the WFL saw another opportunity with the upcoming census which was to take place in 1911. Due to the government’s programme of social welfare, they were pinning their hopes on the census delivering the information that would assist in crafting legislation that would see through reforms such as in housing, health, education and economy. After the issue of women’s suffrage had been yet again omitted at the King’s Speech in 1910, the WFL decided to call for a boycott of the census. Their aim was in Liddington’s words “not a violent confrontation…..but a peaceful civil disobedience to challenge the very meaning of citizenship. What did it mean in an otherwise supposedly mature democracy like Edwardian Britain, to be a grown woman, yet to be treated politically like a child, a criminal or a lunatic?”

Failure to participate in the census resulted in a fine and many of those who took part in the boycott either spent the day in shelters organised by the WFL and those who supported the boycott. Others defaced their forms, for instance an Ethel Smyth from Woking wrote in her form “no vote, no census” while a Mary Hare from Hove scrawled “women don’t count therefore will not be counted.” However it is difficult to gauge if the boycott was successful or not; the NUWSS and other women’s groups such as the Women’s Co-operative Guild objected to the boycott as they believed that the data collected from the census could be used to assist reforms that could benefit the public and especially women. The census takers did manage to collect the data of some of the women who participated in the boycott through enquiries to neighbours and well- meaning family and friends. Crucially, the government declined to prosecute those who refused to take part in the census or defaced their forms. Already facing criticisms over the force feeding of suffragettes in prison, the authorities did not want to make martyrs out of the refuseniks.

As mentioned earlier, not all men had the vote and several women’s suffrage activists had been campaigning since the late 1860s to remove the male gender bar. By 1900, 61% of men were disenfranchised and they were barred due to not owning or occupying property of a certain minimum amount. The rise of the Labour movement resulted into greater calls for full adult suffrage but many of them stopped short of calling for the same right to be extended to women. Equally many suffragists and suffragettes also opposed full adult suffrage, preferring to keep the status quo of property ownership or occupation as the qualification.

The question was what was more important – adult suffrage or women’s suffrage? Many suffragists argued that women’s suffrage was much more important; a woman can never be a man so for as long as the vote excluded women, they could not change their circumstances in order to obtain the vote under the present system. However men could in theory reach the minimum qualification in order to obtain the right to vote. Those who were in favour of universal suffrage were called “adultists” and in the early 1900s, the People’s Suffrage Federation was established with the aim of obtaining “full adult suffrage regardless of sex on a three month resident qualification.” It sought to unite women’s suffragists and adultists by ensuring the enfranchisement of women was included in any calls for further amendments to the existing Reform Acts. They also believed that full adult universal suffrage was integral towards a fully representative and democratic government.

But the adultists were a small group compared to those calling for women’s suffrage. As the suffragettes stepped up their campaign of militancy, the suffragists knew that they had to find a way to show that the militants were a minority and to reassert reason and logic in the bid to enfranchise women.

 

Further Reading:

Martin Pugh. March of the Women: A Revisionist Analysis of the Campaign for Women’s Suffrage (Oxford, 2002)

Sandra Stanley Holton. Feminism & Democracy: Women’s Suffrage and Reform Politics in Britain (Cambridge, 1986)

David Rubinstein. A Different World for Women: The Life of Millicent Garrett Fawcett (London, 1991)

Millicent Garrett Fawcett. What I Remember (London, 1924)

Millicent Garrett Fawcett. Women’s Suffrage: A Short History of a Great Movement (London, 1912)

Jill Liddington & Jill Norris. One Hand Tied Behind Us: The Rise of the Women’s Suffrage Movement (London, 1978)

Jill Liddington. Selina Cooper, 1864-1946: The Life and Times of a Respectable Rebel (London, 1984)

Constance Rover. Women’s Suffrage and Party Politics in Britain 1866-1914 (London, 1967)

Jill Liddington. Vanishing for the Vote: Suffrage, Citizenship and the Battle for the Census (Manchester, 2014)

Lucinda Hawksley. March, Women, March (London, 2013)

Susie Steinbach. Women in England 1760-1914 (London, 2004)

Jane Robinson. Hearts and Minds: The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women won the Vote (London, 2018)

http://www.jliddington.org.uk/

 

 

The Devonshire House Ball (1897): Dressing Up on a Grand Scale

One of the main displays in the current exhibition at Chatsworth House is about the Devonshire House Ball of 1897. The Great Chamber contains displays pertaining to the ball together with life sized images of some of the famous guests at the ball such as the Duke and Duchess of York (the future King George V and Queen Mary), Victor Cavendish (the future 9th Duke of Devonshire) and Mrs Arthur Paget, while next door in the State Drawing Room was a display of some costumes worn during that evening.

DSC03173

The ball was held at Devonshire House in Piccadilly, London on the 2nd of July, during the height of the London Season. What made this ball special was that it was held in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and as Deborah, the 11th Duchess observed, at a time when there were balls almost every night during the height of the Season, for a ball or event to stand out and generate interest, it had to be special. And indeed it was special – invitations were sent out and the dress code was “allegorical or historical costumes before 1815”. This was an encouragement to the guests to give their imaginations full rein for the costume that they planned to wear that evening.

The hosts of the ball were Spencer Compton Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire and his German born wife Louise. The 8th Duke was a politician: as Marquess of Hartington he served as a Member of Parliament and a cabinet minister as a member of the Liberal Party. He also turned down the opportunity three times to become Prime Minister. By 1897 and now Duke of Devonshire, he was sitting in the House of Lords and had split with the Liberal Party over the issue of Irish Home Rule. With his personal life, the 8th Duke would have made a prime example of the saying “appearances can be deceiving” for his intellect and sense of duty was masked by a languid appearance and indifference towards the social side demanded of his position. He was known to be forgetful, shabbily dressed and had the habit of sleeping anywhere and everywhere. Once, finding the ministerial bench at the House of Lords fully occupied, he found another bench and promptly fell asleep. When he woke up and saw what time it was, he exclaimed, “Good heavens, what a bore, I shan’t be in bed for another seven hours.”

His appearance and bearing also masked a complicated personal life. A bachelor of many years standing, he carried on a long term affair with Louise Duchess of Manchester but during the 1860s was also involved with the noted courtesan Catherine (“Skittles”) Walters who was known for her prowess as an equestrienne and on the hunting field. The then Marquess of Hartington was smitten with her, provided her with a home in Mayfair and together was openly seen out and about in events such as the Derby. As Sophia Murphy observed that, Lord Hartington “made no secret of his love for her” but in the end their affair was mentioned in the papers (albeit in the form of coy blind items) and coupled with the weight of disapproval from the highest echelons of society, the affair ended, but he made sure that she was well provided for. Catherine for her part, left for France, only returning to Britain once memories of the affair had faded, and her discretion was rewarded by the Cavendish family who carried on forwarding the annual sum promised to her until her own death in 1920.

The main driving force behind the ball was Louise Duchess of Devonshire. Known as the “Double Duchess” because until only a few years before, she had been Duchess of Manchester. Born Louise von Alten, she was the daughter of a German count and in 1852 had married William Drogo Montagu Viscount Mandeville, heir to the Duke of Manchester. Three years later they became Duke and Duchess of Manchester. Beginning in the 1860s, she began an affair with Lord Hartington with the full connivance of her husband; their affair followed the usual pattern, it began long after she had provided her husband with the requisite sons to carry on the family line and was conducted discreetly among the whirl of dinners, balls, teas and shooting parties. Louise also maintained her dignity even when Hartington had other women and she never allowed her affair to threaten her own relationship with her husband. Such behaviour today would be seen as hypocritical but they scrupulously observed the rules governing their class and so long as those rules were observed there was no scandal and everything went smoothly.

Louise quickly assimilated into her adopted country and through her entertaining advanced the political careers of both husbands. Although all her life she identified with her first husband’s political party, the Conservatives, her circle of friends and acquaintances was politically diverse. She didn’t hesitate to ensure that her dinners and balls were filled with leading politicians, regardless of their political affiliations and persuasion; her objective was that her home should be a meeting place for politicians of all stripes where they could talk in a more relaxed atmosphere away from the pressures of Westminster. Above all, she wanted to be surrounded by people who were interesting and who she liked and to ensure that they had a good time.

She also gained a reputation for being a skilled political hostess who became a sounding board for leading politicians and statesmen, and although she was dismayed that the 8th Duke of Devonshire three times turned down the opportunity to become Prime Minister, his status and wealth as well as his ability meant that Louise could entertain in style and befitting their position in the social and political life of the country. Louise’s marriage to the 8th duke which finally happened in 1891 meant that her position was more secure. As Duchess of Devonshire, she was chatelaine of seven houses (Chatsworth, Devonshire House, Bolton Abbey, Lismore Castle, Hardwick Hall, Chiswick House, Compton Place) and had large funds at her disposal which meant that she had a wider scope for her social talents. Esther Simon Shkolink in her study of late Victorian and Edwardian political wives noted that contemporary accounts were more or less unanimous in their praise of Louise’s entertaining with her “charm and attentiveness as a hostess but also her careful attention to detail.” Her guest list was always eclectic and came from different political parties and social classes as the Devonshire House Ball would later demonstrate.

The Devonshire House Ball in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was part and parcel of Louise’s pattern of entertaining. She and the Duke were fond of horse racing and annually held a dinner and a ball during and after Derby Day, regularly entertained the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) and gave lavish parties for special occasions, but the Diamond Jubilee gave Louise the idea to push the boat out – throw a ball but with a twist in the form of a fancy dress party.

Fancy dress balls had been a fixture at least since the sixteenth century; costumed masked balls were popular in Italy, particularly Venice, from where they spread to the rest of Europe. During the eighteenth century, they became popular at the various royal courts, especially in France, while in Britain costume masked balls were ticketed events held in pleasure gardens and assembly halls in major cities such as London and Bath. In these balls, attendees would usually be cloaked and masked (either with one covering half their face or one trimmed with silk or lace to cover the whole face) or dressed as characters from the past or from popular entertainment such as the commedia dell’arte. In the nineteenth century, theme balls became popular – Queen Victoria and Prince Albert threw three lavish themed costume balls during the 1840s and 1850s. The first was a medieval ball where the hosts and their guests were dressed in the style of the court of King Edward III; the second featured a Georgian theme while the last, held in 1851 had the court of Charles II as the subject. As Queen Victoria withdrew from social life following the death of Prince Albert, the mantle of royal entertaining passed onto her oldest son the Prince of Wales and his wife Alexandra, and during the 1870s they hosted a lavish costume ball at their London home Marlborough House which was heralded as a success and ensured the continued popularity of such events.

For her own ball, Louise decided that the theme would be “court or allegorical costumes before 1815” and as a later Duchess of Devonshire, Deborah mused in an article she wrote:

“It was not difficult for Louise Duchess to mobilise her female guests – they can have had little else to do but arrange themselves for such an occasion and one can easily picture the excitement and pleasure it gave. But even clever old Louise must have been surprised at managing to persuade a lot of middle-aged men to order their costumes and suffer the tedium of trying them on.”

Fortunately help was at hand. Due to the popularity of fancy dress balls, there was a plethora of books and specialist hire shops on hand to offer advice. One such book was entitled Fancy Dress Described or What to Wear at Fancy Balls by Ardern Holt and it went through several editions. It gave descriptions of the most popular costumes which ranged from historical personalities to characters from fiction, myth and legend down to allegorical and national costumes from various parts of the world. In addition, the book also gave recommendations of what costumes would suit a particular hair colour, skin complexion and age.

The ball was eagerly anticipated and as Sophia Murphy observed that “[a]n invitation to the fancy dress ball confirmed membership of the ‘smart set’, and was therefore much sought after. Apart from this, everyone was eager to witness what promised to be one of the most lavish spectacles of the century; since it was the main subject of interest that season, everyone wanted to have the fun of trying to keep their outfits a secret while at the same time trying to discover what the others were wearing.” Many of the guests came together as a group and organise a procession and in the end five main groups or courts were organised: Elizabeth I of England which was led by Lady Tweedmouth; Maria Theresa of Austria under the Marchioness of Londonderry; Queen Guinevere & the Knights of the Round Table led by Lady Ormonde (she ended up being unable to attend due to bereavement so Lord and Lady Rodney went as King Arthur and Queen Guinevere); Louis XV & Louis XVI of France under Lady Warwick (as Marie Antoinette) and the court of Catherine the Great of Russia led by Lady Raincliffe.

Three other groups more loosely defined were categorised by the costumes they were wearing such as the Italian, Oriental and Allegorical. Many other guests however decided not to join any group or procession as they went in an assortment of costumes ranging from their ancestors to those modelled from famous paintings or historical figures that did not fit into any of the groups or courts organised. With her customary attention to detail and zeal, Louise planned everything down to the last detail and even the servants on duty were in costume – the men were dressed in in Devonshire livery from the 18th century while the female staff were dressed in costumes from the Elizabethan period. Due to the large number of guests, it was necessary to hire outside staff for the night and Louise had them dressed in either Egyptian or Elizabethan dress.

On the night of the ball, the guests were greeted by Louise herself and her costume was described by The Times in great detail:

“The Duchess of Devonshire, as Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, wore a magnificent costume. The skirt of gold tissue was embroidered all over in a star-like design in emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, and other jewels outlined with gold, the corners where it opened in front being elaborately wrought in the same jewels and gold to represent peacocks outspread tails. This opened to show an underdress of cream crepe de chine, delicately embroidered in silver, gold, and pearls and sprinkled all over with diamonds. The train, which was attached to the shoulders by two slender points and was fastened at the waist with a large diamond ornament, was a green velvet of a lovely shade, and was superbly embroidered in Oriental designs introducing the lotus flower in rubies, sapphires, amethysts, emeralds, and diamonds, with four borderings on contrasting grounds, separated with gold cord. The train was lined with turquoise satin. The bodice was composed of gold tissue to match the skirt, and the front was of crepe de chine hidden with a stomacher of real diamonds, rubies and emeralds and jewelled belt. A gold crown incrusted (sic) with emeralds, diamonds, and rubies, with a diamond drop at each curved end and two upstanding white ostrich feathers in the middle, and round the front festoons of pearls with a large pear shaped pearl in the centre falling on the forehead.”

One of the guests Margot Asquith (wife of the future Prime Minister Herbert Asquith) expressed surprise at her host’s choice of costume. For her, Zenobia evoked beauty and romance but Louise in her view was neither. In her youth, Louise was known and praised for her beauty but as she grew older, her looks faded while her features became coarse and her figure grew rounder. As Duchess Deborah wrote: “The ‘Double Duchess’ was considered a great beauty, though with her frizzed up hair and short, thick neck it is hard to recognise her beauty in most of the likenesses we have of her. The people I have talked to who saw her only remember the crazily cracked make-up plastered thickly over her face, which made a bizarre effect on this grande dame receiving at the top of the staircase at Devonshire House.” Her costume was designed by the House of Worth and such was the skills of that venerable fashion house that they managed to make Louise a stately and imposing Queen of Palmyra rather than fat and coarse.

DSC03174

DSC03175

The Duke of Devonshire was dressed as the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V based on his portrait by Titian and keeping up with his modest tastes, the Duke’s costume was simple and the only adornment was the badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece which had been lent to him by the Prince of Wales for the evening and which the duke wore around his neck.

L1350.TIF

duke-of-devonshire-emperor

Among the guests were Lady Randolph Churchill (nee Jennie Jerome) as the Empress Theodora, Mrs Arthur (Minnie) Paget went as Cleopatra, the Duchess of Sutherland was costumed as Jane Seymour, the former Prime Minister the 6th Earl of Rosebery who was dressed as a gentleman from the 18th century (he wasn’t amused when some of the papers said that he was costumed as Horace Walpole), Lord Rownton who went as an archbishop and Arthur Balfour (future Prime Minister) as a Dutch gentleman. The Cavendish family meanwhile was represented by the Duke’s nephew and heir Victor who was costumed as Jean de Dinteville from Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors while his wife Evelyn went as a lady from the court of Maria Theresa.  Consuelo Duchess of Manchester, Louise’s daughter-in-law from her first marriage went as Anne of Austria “in a very striking gown of white and silver satin, decorated with swags of gold satin. On her head she wore a diamond crown with a large single pearl ornament in the centre of her forehead.”

DSC03176

lady-randolph-churchill-as-empress-theodora-wife-of-justinian-page-203-theodora-copy

As the ball was in honour of Queen Victoria (who did not attend), she was amply represented by members of her family. The Prince and Princess of Wales (who were costumed as a Grand Prior of the Order of St John of Jerusalem and Marguerite de Valois respectively) together with their children and in-laws attended as well as the Duke and Duchess of Teck and Prince Alfred of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Foreign diplomats such as the Portuguese ambassador the Marquis de Soveral (a close friend of the Prince of Wales) and the Austrian ambassador Count Albert Mensdorff were also present and it’s no wonder that with such a guest list, the Devonshire House Ball was seen as the event of the 1897 London Season.

L1335.TIF

Devonshire-Ball-1897

oooOOOooo

Many guests did take much time and effort with their costumes. It was said that one guest who wore an Oriental dress wanted to make an entrance via an elephant and enquired London Zoo about the possibility of borrowing one. The zoo authorities however refused on the grounds that the elephant would be unable to cope with the crowds and traffic of London. One can simply conclude that she made her entrance via the usual horse and carriage. Others in their desire for accuracy and to stand out suffered through the evening with uncomfortable headdresses and props – such as the Hon Mrs Reginald Talbot who went as a Valkyrie and who developed a headache due to the metal winged helmet she was wearing but refused to take it off as it might ruin her hairdo. There was the Countess of Westmoreland costumed as Hebe cupbearer of the gods who was restricted with her movements the entire evening due to the huge stuffed eagle on her shoulder: while Lady Wolverton who attended as Britannia would have had to contend with not only a feathered helmet but also a triton and shield.

rule-britannia-masquerade-ball

While some male guests such as Herbert Asquith went to the ball grudgingly and made little effort with their costumes, others threw themselves wholeheartedly into the spirit of wearing fancy dress sometimes with even more enthusiasm than their wives. One of the most expensive costumes was worn by the 9th duke of Marlborough who went as the French Ambassador in one of the courts. It was made by House of Worth, a confection of velvet embroidered in silver, pearls and diamonds with a waistcoat made out of white and gold damask. The whole costume was mostly embroidered by hand as well as the pearls and diamonds and cost 5,000 francs. As Jean Philippe Worth later recalled, even he was shocked by the bill as he presented it to the duke.

duke of marlborough

Outwardly the ball can be seen as the pinnacle of aristocratic dominance both in the political and social scene but in reality, the ball reflected the gradual changes happening in society. It was observed that society was “less clearly defined than it had been twenty years before” and the guest list reflected Louise’s wide circle of friends and acquaintances that crossed the political divide. More crucial however was the presence of men and women whose origins and occupation would have barred them from other aristocratic homes but who were invited to the Devonshire House ball while most of the aristocratic old guard were not. Examples of these were Ernest Cassel and Alfred Beit both of whom were Jewish and were in banking; the Earl of Iveagh and Lord Rothschild both of whom made their fortunes in commerce and finance; the actor Sir Henry Irving and the American born singer Mrs Ronalds who appropriately came as Euterpe, “the Spirit of Music” in a costume decorated with the musical score from Verdi’s opera Un Ballo in Maschera.

The ball in 1897 was the last major event held in Devonshire House and with the 8th Duke’s death in 1908 followed by Louise three years later marked the end of an era for the Devonshires. The 9th duke was faced with crippling death duties from his predecessor’s estate as well as debts from the 7th duke’s failed investments. In order to economise, the 9th duke accepted the position of Governor-General of Canada where he served from 1916 to 1922. While in Canada, negotiations for the sale of Devonshire House had begun and it was finally sold in 1920. Not long after the house was demolished and an office block now stands in its place.

The sale of Devonshire House showed that following the end of the First World War not even the grandest and wealthiest of the aristocracy were immune from the changes sweeping through the aristocracy as well as feeling the financial pinch. In the years following the sale and demolition of Devonshire House, other aristocratic townhouses were sold to be demolished, converted into office spaces or museums. At the same time, aristocratic entertaining also changed – many in the aristocracy could no longer afford to entertain on the same scale as their predecessors and balls and dinners were ceasing to become extensions of cabinet meetings and parliamentary sessions. The Devonshire House Ball of 1897 would certainly be the last of its kind and one that would never be repeated.

 

Note:

Photos from the House Style exhibition at Chatsworth House taken by blogger

Further Reading:

Deborah (Cavendish) Duchess of Devonshire. Home to Roost and Other Peckings (London, 2009)

Deborah (Cavendish) Duchess of Devonshire. Chatsworth: The House (London, 2002)

Ardern Holt. Fancy Dress Described or What to Wear at Fancy Balls (London, 1881)

Sophia Murphy. The Duchess of Devonshire’s Ball (London, 1984)

Sophia Topley. ‘The Devonshire House Ball’ in Laura Burlington and Hamish Bowles (eds) House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth (New York, 2017) pp. 123-139

Esther Simon Shkolink. Leading Ladies: A Study of Eight Late Victorian and Edwardian Political Wives (New York and London, 1987)

David Cannadine. The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy (London, 1990)

http://www.npg.org.uk/blog/from-downton-abbey-to-devonshire-house-american-heiresses-at-the-devonshire-house-fancy-dress-ball.php

https://fromthebygone.wordpress.com/2015/11/12/late-victorian-fancy-dress-the-devonshire-house-ball-in-1897/

https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/fancy-dress-1897-the-duchess-of-devonshires-diamond-jubilee-ball/

http://www.thecourtjeweller.com/2017/08/jewel-history-hired-jewels-are-much-in.html

http://lafayette.org.uk/dhblist.html

http://www.rvondeh.dircon.co.uk/incalmprose/ball.html

https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/back-to-the-party-more-pictures-from-the-duchess-of-devonshires-costume-ball-1897/

https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/party-time-again-costume-ball-1897/

https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/costume-ball-4-ladies-only/

https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/costume-ball-5-more-ladies-more-gentlemen/

https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/2015/12/31/costume-ball-6-mothers-daughters-and-others/

TV Review: Victoria (ITV) series 2 – A serpent in Paradise

Compared to the happy ending of the first series, the second series began on a sombre note – the first episode opens with a shot of the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan then shifts to Buckingham Palace where a few months have passed since the birth of the Princess Royal. It’s clear that her mother is bored, unhappy at the length of her confinement and being treated like an invalid. Finally she loses patience when being towed about in a bath chair: footmen were summoned to carry the chair down and she snaps that she’s more than capable of walking.

In Victoria’s absence, Albert has been deputising on her behalf on top of his own duties and upon receiving the news of the difficulties encountered by the army in Afghanistan resolves to hide it from his wife for fear of “distressing her”. Unaware of this turn of events, Victoria declares that she wishes to return to her duties and take up outdoor activities again which she does after grudgingly having to submit to the ritual of “churching“.

Her eagerness to resume her active life is compounded by her inability to bond with her daughter which is in contrast to Albert’s joy and optimism. Complicating matters is the meddling of her Uncle Leopold (Alex Jennings) and her father-in-law (and uncle) the Duke of Coburg (Andrew Bicknell) with the former already plotting to marry off the infant princess to a Prussian Prince while the latter is expecting that the next child will be a Prince of Wales. The constant pressure of bearing another child grates on Victoria and most likely on the viewer as well. If we are not being beaten over the head with the Queen’s Doctor McCoy-like pronouncement that she is a “queen not a brood mare” there’s also the constant reference to her supposed weak constitution following childbirth when it’s clear that she’s as fit as a fiddle and doesn’t need to be wrapped in cotton wool.

VICTORIA_SERIES2_EP1_-25

Meanwhile Afghanistan is fast becoming a disaster and the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel (Nigel Lindsay) believes that Britain has no business being in that area in the first place, something that many people today would agree with in the light of current events. Albert sees this military disaster as an impetus to reform the army from recruitment to promotion and even to the design of the uniforms. In the end, Victoria and the public learns of the disastrous military campaign after the remaining troops are massacred, save for Dr Brydon who managed to escape and return to Britain. Incensed that Albert has kept this information from her all this time, Victoria lashes out, also accusing him of undermining her authority and position as Sovereign.

This tension between monarch, wife, mother and woman recurs in the second episode when Albert expresses his keenness for more children: declaring his aspiration for their offspring to “shine like a beacon of domestic bliss”, a sentiment echoed by King Leopold who seconds the Duke of Coburg’s wish that the next child should be a Prince of Wales. Much like with “Operation Albert”, Leopold’s Wile E Coyote like dedication is now centred on “Operation Coburg” – he hopes that Victoria and Albert’s future children will marry into the various royal families of Europe, thus ensuring that there will be a Coburg on every throne in the continent.

Again Victoria digs her heels in. Apart from the fact that she finds being pregnant, the process of childbirth and child rearing distasteful, she is finding it hard to come to terms with being a mother and finds herself resenting the baby for changing the dynamics of her relationship with her husband. Always intellectually curious and with his interest in science and technology, Albert is invited to a lecture-demonstration by the Royal Society of Mathematics where he’s introduced to Charles Babbage (Jo Stone-Fewings) and the Countess of Lovelace (Emerald Fennell) who have worked together on a computing machine which impresses Albert, who proclaims that such devices could do the work of men in the future. Mr Babbage and Lady Lovelace are subsequently invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace honouring those in the arts and sciences. Victoria also invites Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell) to the event and her delight at his presence is very obvious – much to the alarm of uncle Leopold and Albert – while Victoria feels pangs of jealousy over the rapport her husband establishes with Lady Lovelace.

VICTORIA_SERIES2_EP2_36

Episode 2 concludes with Victoria discovering that she’s pregnant for the second time much to her dismay and she turns to Lord Melbourne for advice. She admits that she finds it difficult to come to terms with being both a queen and a wife and mother and he advises her to look to her husband for support. Albert learns of the news and is happy that he will be a father again but it’s clear that Victoria is not pleased with a pregnancy so soon after her first child, seeing it as another form of prison: much like her childhood.

Certainly a theme is emerging from the first two episodes where Albert notices a change in Victoria especially with regards to their marriage. While it remains as passionate as ever, he bears the brunt of her anger which as his brother Ernst (David Oakes) perceptively points out is directed towards any attempt to control her, and that she guards her royal prerogatives fiercely and resents anything that encroaches on them. Other things this series more or less gets right is Victoria’s inability to bond with her child and her dislike of pregnancy, as well as attitudes towards childbirth and the latent anti-Catholicism prevalent in Britain during that time (as exemplified by the bigotry demonstrated by Mr Penge against Miss Cleary the new assistant dresser). Another bit that the first episode got right was the change in the Mistress of the Robes following the fall of the Whigs from power and Victoria selecting the elderly Duchess of Buccleuch (Diana Rigg) from a list provided by Sir Robert Peel to replace the Duchess of Sutherland. (Nevertheless the real life Duchess of Buccleuch was in her late twenties where she was personally selected by the Prime Minister to assume the post. Victoria thought that she was “an agreeable, sensible, clever little person” who was of great help when it came to helping organise royal tours of Scotland. The duchess’s eldest daughter was named in honour of the Queen who also agreed to stand as one of the godmothers).

However, the romance and soap opera elements never really go away and this is most acute in episode 2 where Victoria and Albert’s mutual jealousy over Lord Melbourne and Lady Lovelace are very much contrived and does not make any sense at all. If the whole point was to show how the dynamics of their marriage would change further with another pregnancy as Victoria feared, there was no need to resort to that well-worn and clichéd plot device of stirring up jealousy. Ironically, the opening episode of Edward the Seventh (1975) presented Victoria and Albert’s opposing attitudes to parenthood and the prospect of a new addition to the royal nursery much better.

Compared to series 1, series 2 so far has shown some improvement. There is far less of the shenanigans downstairs which in my opinion is as it should be because it detracts from the main narrative and further muddles it. Perhaps Daisy Goodwin should do well to remember the cardinal rule of K.I.S.S – Keep it Straight and Simple because somewhere in here is a decent drama that doesn’t need to be padded out with contrived story lines and that bane of historical drama, the importation of 21st century attitudes.