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It may seem odd on a blog devoted to Unusual time periods
to even mention the Regency but when I
was researching my latest His Unsuitable
Viscountess, I came across an interesting fact — there are no modern
biographies of the women who ran the Ton (i.e. The Lady Patronesses of Almack’s)
during the point when the Regency was at its height. When I started investigating the lives of these women my views of fashionable women in the Regency were turned upside down upside down and my jaw was literally on the floor.
It would be tempting to take them at face value and consider
them to be the Regency equivalent of Paris Hilton orany number of modern celebrities
who were famous for being famous. I will admit to doing this prior to doing the
research. After all I have read countless Regency romances and such women had
to be there because of an accident of birth. And everyone knows that women
could not vote et etc. However the more
I dug, the more interesting they became. These are the women who single-handedly
changed the nature of men’s fashionable evening dress (Brummell is generally given the credit, but
if the Lady Patronesses had taken against his attire, they would have not
allowed in Almacks. Equally Dorothy Lady Nevill disputes it was Brummell in any case.) and introduced a variety of dances such as the quadrille,
waltz and polka as well as a number of Scottish reels. Who were they really? Fashionable for being fashionable? Women of privilege,
certainly but they were also influential beyond mere fashion. I would argue
they are ripe for more serious consideration.
The first quadrille at Almacks, Lady Jersey 2nd left
Lady Jersey was the senior partner in one of the leading
London banks, Childs which she had inherited from her grandfather. She served
in this position from 1806 -1867 and therefore would have been privy to rumours
about certain members’ financial situation. She was also an active political
hostess and regularly held salons. She is credited with introducing the quadrille.
If someone deserves a proper biography,
Lady Jersey certainly does.
Countess (later Princess) Lieven was the wife of the Russian
ambassador and is credited with introducing the German waltz.. She was tireless
in promoting Russia’s interests in the United Kingdom. She was considered much more influential than
her husband. Her salon was reputed to be the listening and observational post
of Europe. She played a key role in the establishment of modern day Greece and
Belgium. Again, there is no modern biography. In fact the whole role that
Britain and Russia played in the establishment of Greece is an under researched
area of 19th century history.
Lady Castlereagh, the woman who famously shut the doors of
Almack’s on Wellington was the wife of the British Foreign minister who was
responsible for holding the coalition which ultimately defeated Napoleon
together. She travelled everywhere with her husband and was a noted political hostess. She was also related to
most of the Irish aristocracy.
Princess Esterhazy was the wife of the Austro-Hungarian
ambassador to London. Like Countess Lieven, she did have political influence which went
beyond her husband’s position. Also she had intimate knowledge of the
Austro-Hungarian and middle European aristocracy.
Mrs Drummond-Burrell was a prominent member of Scottish aristocracy. A number of Scottish
reels bear her name.
Margaret Craven, Lady Shefton was the wife of the one of the
founders of the infamous Four In Hand Club. Among other things, she sponsored
Mrs Fitzherbert (George IV’s secret wife) in society. She was
an intimate of the Prince Regent’s set.
Lady Cowper (nee Lamb) was a member of a prominent political
family. Her brother was Lord Melbourne,
the prime minister and she had a long affair with and later married Lord
As you can see the women had extensive knowledge of the
political scene and were more than
simply pretty faces. They were not fashionable simply because they had pretty
faces, foreful personalities or knew how to manipulate the media. They had
connections and were not afraid to use them to advance their various causes. It
is through their influence, rather than in spite of it, that Almack’s was able
to command such a place in Regency society. It is about time there were modern
biographies of these women which re-assess their place in shaping modern
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical
romance in a wide variety time periods from Roman and Viking to Regency and
Victorian. Her latest, His Unsuitable Viscountess which features a successful Regency
businesswoman whost make a marriage of convienence in order to safeguard the family bvuiness under the terms of her step-father's will is published in August by Harlequin Historical in the US and Mills and Boon in the UK. You can read more about Michelle's books on www.michellestyles.co.uk