Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Night at Chambord & Chenonceau

While visiting these châteaux you just have to wonder–what’s it like at night when you are NOT ALLOWED to visit?  What does it feel like to, say, slink around in the shadows, watching the royals sleep?

Okay, that’s creepy.  But you kind of want to know, don’t you?  When nobody else is around but ghosts, when all is dark and silent, what mood stirs beneath the moonlight?  An imaginary nocturnal visit to Chambord and Chenonceau, if you will . . .

Chambord

Louis XIV Ceremonial Bedroom

(I didn’t scale down the resolution – click away for the full experience)

The dude who (occasionally) slept here

Louis XIV – Charles le Brun (1661)

The Queen’s Bedroom

Marie Thérèse of Austria, wife of Louis XIV – attributed to Charles Beaubrun (1666)

Chenonceau

Louise of Lorraine’s bedroom

The Lady in White (aka Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, one time Queen of France) designed this room for her retirement from Court.  In grief after the assassination of her husband Henri III, she bedded down here for the remainder of her years.  The matte black walls and white motifs are symbols of mourning.  Take a closer look at the chandelier-esque stencil on the lower lefthand wall.  It’s actually a cornucopia of eternal tears.  Images of death abound: crosses surrounded by spades and picks, widow’s cordons, crowns of thorns, and the Greek letter lambda to represent Louise’s and Henri’s initials intertwined.

I’m not sure what it says about me that I thought this room was amazing when I visited Chenonceau. I’m sure the pious Louise wouldn’t approve, but it looks positively witchy to me.

Regarding photography in this post:

Creative Commons License

Peach and Persimmon

Craving fresh peaches this time of year is dangerous.  Fortunately, persimmons are available through the rest of February, but these peaches and persimmons (including one dapper duke with cheetah cuffs) are tasty all year long.

Baroness de Neubourg-Cromiere – Alexander Roslin  (1756)

 Portrait of Grand Duchess Maria Fiodorovna – Alexander Roslin  (1777)

Princess Anna Alexandrovna Galitzin – Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun  (1797)

Johann Joachim Winckelmann – Anton von Maron (1768)

 Varvara Ladomirsky – Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun

 Madame Bouret as Diana – Jean Marc Nattier (1745)

 Victor de Rochechouart, Duc de Mortemart – Jean-Marc Nattier (1756)

Portrait of a Woman, possibly Madame Claude Lambert de Thorigny – Nicolas de Largillierre (1696)

 Grand Prince Pavel Petrovich – Virgilius Erichsen

 Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante – George Romney (1784)

Lady Caro Crops Her Hair

The worst I can say about Lady Caroline Lamb is that she suffered from erotomania.  This is the medical euphemism for saying she was sexually, intellectually, and psychically besotted with Lord Byron to a degree that made him squirm in his trousers.

Lady Caroline Lamb – Thomas Phillips

Their short affair lasted from March to August of 1812 and made an indelible impression on his poetry.  A number are direct rejoinders to Caro’s immoderate behavior.  (*Sigh* All the years I spent at university learning about Romantic poets and never once encountered Byron’s “Remember Thee”.  The poem was a stab at his ex-lover when, in a fit of desperation, she descended upon his household and scribbled in the flyleaf of one of his books “Remember thee!”)

 Lord Byron – Thomas Phillips

For the man she had initially spurned as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” Caro had it bad.  She is credited with being the first celebrity stalker, running her sprightly self around London trying to enflame Byron by Any Means Necessary.  She even impersonated Byron in writing, requesting his favorite miniature portrait of himself from his publishers.

Mimicry was nothing new for Caro.  As Lady Morgan recounts in her memoirs, Caro’s childhood at the Duchess of Devonshire’s household:

Caro’s unconventional education was her solace amid the madness of the aristocracy.  Her perspective turned her into a novelist and poet, and to Byron’s annoyance, a damn good copyist.  He criticized her for modeling the great originals in her work, lamenting over her ability to capture voice—especially his own.

Although history relegates her to the archives of the sexually diseased, she was witty and singular.  Her work and legacy deserve a closer look.  Dickens called her “One of the most interesting stories of fashionable life . . . [a] really clever woman—a heroine in a way. . .”  Byron recognized her eccentricity saying, “I do not at all know how to deal with her, because she is unlike everyone else.” (BLJ 2:222)

Lady Caroline Lamb – Sir Thomas Lawrence (1805)

Caro’s reputation, through much her own fault, was defamed by her peers.  In a letter of November 1824 written to Captain Thomas Medwin, Byron’s biographer and close friend, she imparts her version of a salacious tale following their breakup:

“. . . unhappily, we continued occasionally to meet. Lord Byron liked others, I only him–The scene at Lady Heathcote’s is nearly true–he had made me swear I was never to Waltz. Lady Heathcote said, Come, Lady Caroline, you must begin, & I bitterly answered–oh yes! I am in a merry humour. I did so–but whispered to Lord Byron ‘I conclude I may waltz _now_’ and he answered sarcastically, ‘with every body in turn–you always did it better than any one.  I shall have a pleasure in seeing you.”–I did so you may judge with what feelings.  After this, feeling ill, I went into a small inner room where supper was prepared; Lord Byron & Lady Rancliffe entered after; seeing me, he said, ‘I have been admiring your dexterity.’ I clasped a knife, not intending anything. ‘Do, my dear,’ he said. ‘But if you mean to act a Roman’s part, mind which way you strike with your knife–be it at your own heart, not mine–you have struck there already.’ ‘Byron,’ I said, and ran away with the knife. I never stabbed myself. It is false.”

Take the tale out of context and Caro does seem crazy, but if we are to trust her word, Byron taunted her nearly as much as she harassed him.  They were that broken couple, terrible together, terrible apart.

It didn’t help that Caro refused to shrug off her individuality.  Her inability to comport like other ladies made the ton jittery and even estranged her friends.  She possessed an artful way of living but was artless, by her own account “not a woman of the world.”

Physical and emotional hardships persisted throughout her life.  At age 19, she married William Lamb for love.  By 26, she’d lost a daughter and tried to raise her mentally handicapped son.  She’d turned from her former piety, aped the ton’s moral ambiguities, and taken Byron as a lover.  She was a woman like no other, cropping her hair when hair, no matter how tightly wound upon the head during the day, was long and heavy against the neck at night.  As she said about herself once:

“…everybody wishes to run down and suppress the vital spark of genius I have, and in truth, it is but small (about what one sees a maid gets by excessive beating on a tinder-box). I am not vain, believe me, nor selfish, nor in love with my authorship; but I am independent, as far as a mite and bit of dust can be.” *

Further Information:

The Magnificient Cheek of Harriette Wilson

Harriette Wilson liked to insult her suitors.  Early on in her career she discovered the fastest way to get a man on his knees was to show him how little he could succeed the first go around.  Courtesans, of course, were famous for this.

For a certain caliber of female, hardships birth wit, and to the gentleman trapped in a stratum of dull, mannered ladies, wit was an aphrodisiac.  So, it seems, was cheek.

Harriette’s method was ridiculously simple.  She laid siege to powerful men by writing queries like the one she “half in humour” dashed off to the Prince of Wales: “I am told that I am very beautiful, so perhaps you would like to see me. . .”  When his  reply was returned to her in the affirmative, she further wrote,

This sauciness inspired the ardor of many influential men during her reign, including the Duke of Wellington, the Marquess of Worcester, the Duke of Argyll, and Lord Melbourne’s son, the Honorable Frederick Lamb.  One can scarcely leave out her first lover, the Earl of Craven.

At the age of 15, Craven introduced her to the pursuits of pleasure, but she was no more enamored of him than of his cocoa trees from the West Indies.  By her own account, he would amuse her by drawing pictures of his “fellows” along with the dreaded trees, a practice Harriette called a “dead bore.”  It didn’t help that she despaired of his cotton night cap.  “Surely,”  [she] would say, “all men do not wear those shocking nightcaps; else all women’s illusions had been destroyed on the first night of their marriage.”

Harriette Wilson’s dismal opinion of marriage was borne from early experience: “. . .my dear mother’s marriage had proved to me so forcibly the miseries of two people of contrary opinions and character torturing each other to the end of their natural lives, that, before I was ten years old, I decided in my own mind to live free as air from any restraint but that of my own conscience.”

Although Harriette forbore blaming her parent’s marriage, and indeed stressed that her dear mother did not influence her choice in profession, an unhappy home life seemed to affect the family at large.  Among her sisters, three of them turned Cyprian—Amy, Sophia, and Fanny.

The closest in age, Harriette and Amy spent their careers competing for affections with the latter sister stealing lovers from the former.  Harriette blamed Amy for instigating the strain between them, once stating, “Amy’s virtue was something like the nine lives of a cat.”  Amy later bore a son by the Duke of Argyll, Harriette’s third lover.

Fanny and Sophia are, by degrees, less interesting.  Fanny was described by a mutual acquaintance as “. . .the sweetest creature on earth.”  Harriette had nothing but affection for her, saying she was “. . . the most popular woman I ever met with.  The most ill-natured and spiteful of her sex could never find it in their hearts to abuse one who, in their absence, warmly fought all their battles . . .”  Settled for seven years after the death of her lover and the father of her three children, Fanny died young after a three week illness.

The youngest sister, Sophia, endowed the family with honor by marrying her protector, Lord Berwick, in 1812.  She, however, inspired much exasperation in Harriette before she retired into matrimonial bliss.  On one occasion, her sisters were in hysterics when the 14 year old Sophia “…went away with Lord Deerhurst [that prince of hypocrites], being innocent as an infant as to the nature of seduction and its consequence . . . Sophie was a child, and not a very clever one…”  The situation sounds strikingly similar to Lydia’s flight with Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.

A connection between Jane Austen and Harriette’s first lover, Lord Craven, can be found here.

 S.W. Fores of Piccadilly printed a caricature by H. Heath in 1825 called “La Coterie Debauché”  

Harriette is writing while her cadre of lovers watch on.

Although a well-known courtesan in Regency times, we have Harriette’s memoirs to thank for her enduring legacy in ours.  The memoirs were published in 1825, a move she describes as a “desperate effort to live by my wits.”  This is a marked contrast from the manner in which she formerly earned her living.  The memoirs gained her a reputation far exceeding that of a demimondaine.  Rather than earning admiration for her enterprise in a sticky situation, she was scorned by her methods.

Harriette was nearing old age–in truth, her thirties–when her protectors decided she wasn’t worth the jangle in their pockets.  Denied the annuity promised by the Duke of Beaufort upon her agreement to forsake his heir, the Marquess of Worcester, Harriette was left penniless.  Her beauty diminishing along with her funds, the woman who later wrote, “I will be the mere instrument of pleasure to no man.  He must make a friend and companion of me, or he will lose me,” dared blackmail the feckless gentlemen who had thrown her off.  The famous reply by the Duke of Wellington, “publish, and be damned,” arises from Harriette’s request for funds in exchange to leave his name out of her memoirs.

Regardless of who paid up, the suprisingly tasteful history of her love life earned her a small fortune.  Her publisher, John Stockdale, was forced to queue the crowds that stormed his shop upon the latest print installments.  This nail biting manuever served Harriette well.  The installments tested the nerves of her former lovers while they awaited the appearance of their names in the next issue.  How many cried off at the last minute, we can only imagine.  From the date of their publication, her memoirs increased in notoriety and exceeded Harriette’s hope of twenty editions. reaching thirty in its first year as well as the six volume French version.

Even today they are great reading.  Harriette may have resorted to blackmailing and thereby acquired a reputation for unreliability, but she has an intelligent wit.  She vilified some of her lovers, yes, but treated others with a fair pen.  And she did not always spare herself in the telling.

The eBook format for Harriette’s memoirs can be downloaded free here.

Various plates from a set of eight satirical illustrations to the memoirs of Harriette Wilson from The British Museum

Further Sources:

If This Were The 18th Century: Madonna’s Superbowl Half-Time Performance

I was planning on featuring this Madonna performance in an entirely different post, but it’s too tempting now that she performed “Vogue” at the Superbowl.  She’s stunningly perfect with her platinum pouf, darkened brows, and beauty patch near the eye (signifying passion).  Very Madame Pompadour.  And like Madonna at her best, she makes it all look naughty.

Curious about patches?  See To Patch or Not to Patch