Monthly Archives: June 2013

A French Family, 1792

after Thomas Rowlandson“Such precious manners and such indecency,” scowl the English.

Displayed here is the perennial contentiousness of French vs English through the eyes of satirist Thomas Rowlandson in 1792. What’s being poked at in this engraving? Fashionable deshabille. The central man is without his breeches, the lady wears a scandalously clingy and popular Chemise a la Reine, and the child below the fiddler is inspecting the curiosities beneath its nightshirt. Beyond the hired musicians, the most fully dressed figure is a dog. One of them wears not only a dress but a hat, and has feigned a delicate paw. The flaw, however, can been seen in the impudently raised tail, peeping out the too short vestment.

Can you readers spot any other bits an actual French family might find objectionable? Do tell! To the delight of his most astute observers, Rowlandson loved to sneak in telling details.

Queen Henrietta Maria & Lord Minimus

In case you’re in need of a refresher or an introduction, the queen’s abbreviated bio is this:

Unpopular consort of King Charles I, youngest daughter of King Henri IV of France, catholic, subject of several Anthony Van Dyck’s paintings, and woman with “a strong penchant for private theatricals.” Also, keeper of Lord Minimus.

Who was Lord Minimus, you ask? Scroll to the Van Dyck with Henrietta Maria and the male figure who I, upon first glance, believed was a child. As far as records go, he was consistently described as a miraculously well-proportioned dwarf, which accounts for my momentary blunder.

But first a few lavish pictures of Henrietta Maria with her tight curls and early to mid 17th century get-ups.


by Van Dyck (1632)


Miniature by John Hoskins (1632)


by Van Dyck (1638)


With Sir Geoffrey Hudson (1633).

Comically known as Lord Minimus, Sir Hudson was the queen’s official court dwarf. According to Wikipedia, he killed a man in a duel via pistols on horseback (the challenged fellow dared bring a squirt gun and was thus shot dead), spent 25 years as a slave, and was 18 inches tall (yeah, right). An 1894 volume of The Strand says he was 3 feet 9 inches by 30; at two years he was 18 inches–much more believable. The Strand also states he was knighted as a joke, but he did hold a captain’s commission with the Cavaliers in England’s Civil War. He apparently had a boisterous, “peppery” personality, but he didn’t think much of being Henrietta Maria’s little man. That’s okay though; the formerly mentioned fellow he shot dead was his queen’s brother. The account was described in one of the queen’s letters wherein she stated she wished permission to “dispose of them [servants] as I please, in dispensing either justice or favour.” This was how slavery happened to Geoffrey. He was expelled from court and captured by Barbary pirates. Many years later he returned to England and was thrown into prison, possibly for being Catholic. The rest of his life has been described as: Lived where? Unknown? Died when? Unknown. Died how? Ring-a-ding. Unknown.

Beyond Henrietta Maria’s flair for unusual courtiers, if you’re interested in her epistolary life or royal relations in the 17th century, you can read her letters.

Whig or Tory? The Politics of Beauty Patches

Joseph Addison founded The Spectator with his chum Richard Steele in 1711 for the promotion of wit and Enlightenment morality,  as well as to amuse with anecdotes of fashionable London society.   Purposed as a light education over tea or chocolate, it was read by over 60,000 as private subscribers or patrons of coffee houses, and was marketed to members of the rising middle class.  The fictional Mr. Spectator, a perspicacious observer and upright gossip, if you will, swore it his duty to relate weekly modes of society and celebrity.  555 papers were eventually printed and collected into seven volumes, and though The Spectator was defunct by the end of 1712, it experienced a revival in 1714 when a number of print runs were collected for an eighth volume.

The Spectator from a 1788 Edition

From a 1788 edition, a testament to its longevity which would last in reprints throughout the 19th century.  The eight volumes can easily found online on gutenberg and google books.

Our passage of interest relates to No. 81 on Saturday, June 2 and records Addison’s experience seeing an  opera at Haymarket Theatre, where he makes a political discovery regarding patches.  Now, if you are unfamiliar with the 18th century’s answer to the beauty mark, you’ll want to read To Patch or Not to Patch to learn their common use as a flirtation device.  Apart from Addison’s reference, I’ve never known them associated with political affiliation, but I rather like women bringing brains to their beauty, even if it did result in the petty partisan squabbling we still see today:

Une Dame à sa Toilette by Francois BoucherUne Dame à sa toilette by Francois Boucher

‘ . . . I could not but take notice of two parties of very fine women, that had placed themselves in the opposite side boxes, and seemed drawn up in a kind of battle array one against another!  After a short survey of them, I found they were patched differently; the faces, on one had, being spotted on the right side of the forehead, and those upon the other on the left: I quickly perceived that they cast hostile glances upon one another, and that their patches were placed in these different situations, as party signals to disguise friends from foes.  In the middle boxes, between these two opposite bodies, were several ladies who patched indifferently on both sides of their faces, and seemed to sit there with no other intention but to see the opera.  Upon inquiry, I found that the body of Amazons on my right hand were Whigs and those on my left Tories, and that those who had  placed themselves in the middle boxes were  a neutral party, whose faces had not yet declared themselves.  These last, however, as I afterwards found, diminished daily, and took their party with one side or the other; insomuch that I observed in several of them, the patches, which were before dispersed equally, are now all gone to the Whig or Tory side of the face. The censorious say, that the men whose hearts are aimed at, are very often the occasion that one part of the face is thus dishonoured, and lies under a kind of disgrace, while the other is so much set off and adorned by the owner; and that the patches turn to the right or to the left, according to the principles of the man who is most in favour.

‘But whatever may be the motives of a few fantastical coquettes, who do not patch for the public good so much as for their own private advantage, it is certain, that there are several women of honour who patch out of principle, and with an eye to the interest of their country.  Nay, I am informed that some of them adhere so steadfastly to their party, and are so far from sacrificing their zeal for the public to their passions for any particular person, that in a late draught of marriage articles a lady has stipulated with her husband, that whatever his opinions are, she shall be at liberty to patch on which side she pleases.’

Gotta love that.

You can read more of Addison’s reflections on patches in No. 81 where he goes on to discuss a famously beautiful Whig partisan who had the misfortune of a prominent mole on the Tory side of her face, an unexpected matronly zeal for patches, and patch wars.

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