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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