Category Archives: Historical Figures

Bengal Tiger Eats Westerner, 1792

Man’s fascination with the gruesome is often rooted in power—who has it, who doesn’t. In the case of Tipu’s Tiger, the 18th century Indian automaton that terrified and thrilled Europeans after the defeat of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore, it was an emblem of domination. Much like Louis XIV and his golden sun, Tipu Sultan cultivated an affinity to the almighty tiger, stitching its image on his standard, running its stripes along his soldiers’ uniforms, and placing its head on the hilt of his favorite saber. Even his gold and jewel ornamented throne bore the tiger’s shape.

Unlike his father Sultan Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan understood the importance of a fearsome image. His nickname, the Tiger of Mysore, was reinforced in his palace and beyond, but the depth of his representations weren’t understood by the west until the sack of Seringapatam in 1799 when many of his treasures were seized by the British.  Enter the object of Tipu’s amusement.


Tipu's Tiger, Victoria and Albert Museum

Attribution: Victoria and Albert Museum

Like any good Indian Sultan, Tipu grew up hating the British East India Company.  Their expansion across his father’s kingdom was an affront that resulted in four Anglo-Mysore wars, the first two bannered by Hyder Ali, the third and fourth by Tipu Sultan.  It was during the Second-Anglo Mysore War in 1781, when his father suffered a loss of 10,000 men to the British General Sir Hector Munro, though, that a cruel fate was sown.  Eleven years after Indian blood had been shed, a hunt for deer commenced on Saugur Island.   Bengal tigers had a reputation among westerners for being vicious predators, but they were unpredictable, sometimes attacking, other times retreating.  Sir Hector Munro’s only son, Hugh Munro, was not lucky enough to come upon a retiring tiger.  He stumbled upon a beast to make Tipu Sultan proud and died from the mauling within twenty-four hours.

Many think the automaton Tipu’s Tiger specifically commemorated the event.  One of the charms of his automaton–if it may be called that–is that when you turn a crank, the tiger emits a bellow while the man cries in agony.  You can see Tipu’s Tiger played in the video below, though from what I can tell we’re hearing the organ play a tune rather than the wretched sounds of Hugh Munro’s earthly departure.

If you’re interested in the Mysore/British conflict, Youtube also has a few educational videos on Tipu Sultan and his infamous tigers. You can also see why Tipu was trending in January 2014.

Napoleon, Otherwise Known as Puss in Boots

Believe it or not Puss in Boots, or General Junot Taken by Surprise is part of Thomas Rowlandson’s collections of satirical prints about Napoleon.  Confusing, I agree, as Napoleon is found nowhere in the print.  Instead we see a young girl marching around in boots with a sword and a shocked General Junot, who has been stirred upright from bed, trousers in hand.

Puss in Boots, or General Junot Taken by Surprise by Thomas Rowlandson (1811)

The story connecting Rowlandson’s print to the Emperor appears in the future Madame Junot’s memoirs, but occurred when she was just a girl and still called Martin de Permond.  Back then the Bonapartes were close friends of the de Permonds, and when Napoleon visited one day, he took the occasion to put on his uniform for the first time.  What resulted was a bit of girlhood fun and long-lasting grudge:

“I well recollect that on the day when he first put on his uniform, he was as vain as young men usually are on such an occasion.  There was one part of his dress which had a very droll appearance–that was his boots.   They were so high and wide that his little thin legs seemed buried in their amplitude.

“Young people are always ready to observe any thing ridiculous; and as soon as my sister and I saw Napoleon enter the drawing-room we burst into a loud fit of laughter.  At that early age, as well as in after life, Bonaparte could not relish a joke; and when he found himself the object of merriment he grew angry.  My sister, who was some years older than I, told him that since he wore a sword he ought to be gallant to ladies, and, instead of being angry, should be happy that they joked with him.

“‘You are nothing but a child–a little pensionnaire’, said Napoleon, in a tone of contempt. Cecile, who was twelve or thirteen years of age, was highly indignant at being called a child; and she hastily resented the affront by replying to Bonaparte:

‘And you are nothing but a puss in boots.’  This excited a general laugh among all present except Napoleon whose rage I will not attempt to describe.  Though not much accustomed to society, he had too much tact not to perceive that he ought to be silent when personalities were introduced and his adversary was a woman.  Though deeply mortified at the unfortunate nickname which my sister had given him, yet he affected to forget it; and to prove that he cherished no malice on the subject, he got a little toy made and gave it as a present to me.  This toy consisted of a cat in boots, in the character of a footman running before the carriage of the Marquis de Carabas.  It was very well made and must have been rather expensive to him considering his straitened finances.  He brought along with it a pretty little edition of the popular tale of Puss in Boots which he presented to my sister, begging her to keep it as a token of his remembrance.”

Fast forward years later when Napoleon is married to Josephine [she is forty], and General Junot and his sixteen year old wife Madame Junot are dining with the couple at Malmaison.  Old Nap has not forgotten the Puss in Boots slight of many years past, and had since developed what many thought of as a smarting wit:

Napoleon as First Consul by Jean-Antoine Gros (1802)

Napoleon as First Consul by Jean-Antoine Gros (1802)

“Madame Bonaparte that day wore powder for the first time.  It became her very well but the first consul [Bonaparte] did nothing but laugh at her, and said she would do admirably to act the Countess d’Escarbagnas [a diva countess in Moliere’s play who was subjected to provincial suitors, none worthy of her).  Josephine was evidently displeased at this and Bonaparte added, ‘What, are you afraid you will not have a cavalier?  There is the Marquis de Carabas[fictional nobleman/master of Puss in Boots],’ pointing to Junot.  “He will offer you his arm I am sure.”

The first consul had often before this called both Junot and Marmont the Marquis de Carabas, but it was always in perfect good humor.  It was, he said, on account of their taste for dramatic representation.  They, of course, merely laughed at the joke.  Madame Bonaparte, however, took it more seriously and betrayed symptoms of vexation.  This was not the way to please Bonaparte.  He took his glass in his hand and, looking towards his wife he bowed his head ,and said, ‘To the health of Madame la Comtesse d Escarbagnas.’

Empress Josephine by Andrea Appiani (1808)

Empress Josephine by Andrea Appiani (1808)

The continuance of this pleasantry brought tears into Madame Bonaparte’s eyes. Napoleon observed this and he was, I believe, sorry for what he had said.  To make amends, he again took up his glass and winking at me, he said:  ‘To the health of Madame la Marquise de Carabas.’  We all burst into a fit of laughter in which Madame Bonaparte joined but her heart was nevertheless full.”

Which brings us full circle to why Rowlandon’s Puss in Boots print is part of his Napoleon collection.  Mystery solved for today!   If any of you come across a Rowlandson print that wants explanation and doesn’t appear readily available, send it my way.  I might just be inclined to spent an afternoon looking it up.

The Duke Buys a Wife

Once upon a time in December 1744…


Selling a Wife by Thomas Rowlandson (1812-14)

An ostler named Jefferyes decides to rid himself of his wife. He ties a halter around her neck and hauls her, like he would any poor beast, to an inn in Newbury called The Pelican.  Inside, the second Duke of Chandos and his companion are dining and notice a commotion taking place in the yard outside.

“Wife for sale” somebody shouts. “He’s leading her around by a halter,” shouts another. “Whoopie,” shouts a third.

“What can this be?” thinks the duke. It’s not everyday he gets to witness the sale and purchase of a female, though wife selling is not an uncommon occurrence. In the days pre-dating divorce, how else is a fellow to ameliorate his unsatisfying experiences at home?  He cannot kill her, or at least he ought not.  No, auctioning her to the highest bidder is the right of the common man, and the duke decides he may as well see what’s being offered before he repairs to London.

Together with his companion, he ventures into the yard only to be struck by Cupid’s arrow.  “Damnation,” thinks the duke.  His father died this past August and because of the South Sea Bubble, the duke is left with a miserly inheritance.  He cannot afford a blinding attraction to an ostler’s wife, but it’s not like he’s going to marry her.  Even so… The beautiful creature before him has been humbled.  She is not prideful but submits to her husband’s indictments, peeping not a word.  Some who witness the scene later imagine the ostler has beaten her, and the duke swoops in as her noble rescuer. Others say the duke is so sympathetic to her plight that he believes it better to be sold by a villain than to bed down with one. Either way, he’s so overwhelmed by her charms he cannot help himself.  

He buys her.

Still from The Slipper and the Rose (cinderella story)

And so Ann Jeffreyes, chambermaid, is at one moment the unwanted wife of an ostler and the next the property of a duke. “How unbelievable,” she must think to herself. “How terrifying and exciting.”  And then, “Yes, I’ll marry you!”

It’s true. Henry Brydges, the widower Duke of Chandos, makes his pretty purchase a duchess and a Cinderella story is born.  He and Ann give life to every servant girl’s dream: one doesn’t have to be born a lady to become one.  One only needs to be sold and purchased.  Preferably with a duke attending her auction, but there’s always earls and viscounts to be had…

Anatomy of a Breakup: Søren Kierkegaard & Regine Olsen

“You, my heart’s sovereign mistress (‘Regina’) stored in the deepest recesses of my heart, in my most brimmingly vital thoughts, there where it is equally far to heaven as to hell–unknown divinity!  Oh, can I really believe what the poets say:  that when a man sees the beloved object for the first time he believes he has seen her long before, that all love, as all knowledge, is recollection, that love in the single individual also has its prophecies, its types, its myths, its Old Testament?  Everywhere, in every girl’s face, I see features of your beauty, yet I think I’d need all the girls in the world to extract, as it were, your beauty from theirs, that I’d have to criss-cross the whole world to find the continent I lack yet that which the deepest secret of my whole ‘I’ magnetically points to – and the next moment you are so near me, so present, so richly supplementing my spirit that I am transfigured and feel how good it is to be here…” 2 February , 1839.

Regine Olsen by Emil Bærentzen (1840)

The tormented philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard pursued Regine Olsen for two years before he proposed and ultimately regretted the decision he’d made.  They met in the spring of 1837 while Kierkegaard was still a student.  His liking for her was immediate.  He pursued her as a friend and then a suitor before he confessed his true feelings, which he recounted in his writings about the awkward event nine years later:

“On 8 September I left home with the firm intention of settling the whole thing.  We met on the street just outside their house.  She said there was no one at home.  I was rash enough to take this as the invitation I needed.  I went in with her.  There we stood, the two of us alone in the living room.  She was a little flustered.  I asked her to play something for me as she usually did.  She does so but I don’t manage to say anything. Then I suddenly grab the score, close it not without a certain vehemence, throw it onto the piano and say: Oh! What do I care for music, it’s you I want, I have wanted you for two years.  She kept silent.  As it happens, I had taken no steps to captivate her, I had even warned her against me, against my melancholy.  And when she mentioned a relationship with [Johan Frederik] Schlegel [future husband and former teacher], I said: Let that relationship be a parenthesis for I have first priority…She mostly kept silent.”

Not the stuff made of ladies’ dreams, is it?  Despite his fumbling, Regine agreed to marry Kierkegaard, and they were engaged for almost a year before he sealed his engagement ring in a breakup letter and put it in the post on 11 August, 1841.  Is that today’s equivalent of breaking up via text?  Among a few other lines which aren’t necessary to relate, he wrote: “Above all forget the one who writes this: forgive someone who whatever else he was capable of could not make a girl happy.”

Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard. Based on a sketch by Niels Christian Kierkegaard

Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard, 1840. Based on a sketch by Niels Christian Kierkegaard.

Regine was rightfully devastated.  She thought herself in love with a melancholic heart, and the poor girl threatened to commit suicide.  She was so put out that Kierkegaard stopped writing her “I don’t love you anymore” letters (he thought indifference would convince her of his unworthiness) and finally visited her in person on 11 October, 1841…where he said some dick things:

“…I received a letter from him [her father] saying that she had not slept that night, that I must come and see her.  I went and made her see reason.  She asked me: Will you never marry.  I answered: Yes, in ten years time, when I have had my fling, I will need a lusty girl to rejuvenate me.  It was a necessary cruelty.”

Kierkegaard was capable of intellectual romantic excesses and though he broke with Regine because of his depressive nature, his inability to be writer and husband, and what he decided was divine opposition, the complicated man remembered her fondly for the rest of his life.  Upon his death, he wished Regine to have “whatever little I  may leave behind… [his books and author’s rights].  What I want to express in this way is that to me an engagement was and is just as binding as a marriage, and that therefore my estate is her due exactly as if I had been married to her.”  It was later revealed in 1896 that her husband Schlegel refused the inheritance.  Regine is also said to have destroyed her letters to Kierkegaard, so there isn’t much from her point of view, but Kierkegaard, who some biographers say suffered from hypergraphia, later reflected:

“I cannot quite place her impact on me in a purely erotic sense.  It is true that the fact that she yielded almost adoringly to me, pleaded with me to love her, had so touched me that I would have risked everything for her.  But the fact that I always wanted to hide from myself the degree to which she touched me is also evidence of the extent to which I loved her… Had I not been a penitent, had my vita ante acta not been melancholic, marriage to her would have made me happy beyond my dreams.  But even I, being the person I unfortunately am, had to say that without her I could be happier in my unhappiness than with her – she had touched me deeply, and I would so much, ever so much, have done everything.”  24 August, 1849

You can read more about Kierkegaard’s writing on Regine in Papers and Journals: A Selection. I also did a series of posts a while back on Napoleon’s letters (Achy Breaky Heart part one or part two) to Josephine if you find yourself in an epistolary reading mood.

Handsome Devils and Their Digs: 1st Baron Dover

May I introduce you to this handsome fellow,

George Agar-Ellis, 1st Lord Dover, by Thomas Lawrence (1823)

his digs,

Gowran Castle, Kilkenny Ireland

and his lady wife,

Georgina Agar Ellis, Lady Dover, 19th century

Lady Dover and son Henry, attributed to Joseph Lee, after Joshua Reynolds (1832 or thereabouts).  You can also view her here.

George Agar-Ellis, 1st Baron Dover, was husband to the charming Lady Georgina, nee Howard.  He was also the father of four children, two boys (3rd and 5th Baron Dover) and two girls.

The house engraving confused me at first because a mansion is depicted, yet it is called Gowran Castle.  This is because the mansion was built on the grounds on the old castle, which was purchased by the Agar family during the Restoration, and I guess they just kept the name.  The first Agar to hold it, James Agar, Esq, expended a considerable amount in 1713 to improve the castle by casing it in stone and raising its front to two stories.  Unfortunately, by the time of its tear down date in 1816, the castle was in ruins.

I would have liked to find an image of the castle in its pre or post-remodeled glory because the old castle has a fascinating history. During the Third English Civil War, it was an important stronghold when Oliver Cromwell’s forces seized it and shot all within–except the dude who had given them the key to the castle.  He was pardoned, and Cromwell then ordered the Franciscan friar inside to be hanged and the castle burned to the ground.

After the Third Civil War ended, the remains were seized from the royalist Butler family and given to the Lord Deputy of Ireland.  Eventually, James, Duke of York, was granted a number of “forfeited” Irish properties and filled his coffers by selling them. James Agar, Esq. purchased from York, and was the last to put his stamp on the castle.

Gowran Castle post-1819 was the seat of the Viscounts of Clifden and would have been George Agar-Ellis, 1st Baron Dover’s, home had he not predeceased his father, Henry Agar-Ellis, 2nd Viscount Clifden. Lord Dover died when he was just 36, but he managed to cram in a considerable amount of accomplishments during his life.

George Agar-Ellis, Baron Dover

Study for Patrons and Lovers of Art by Pieter Christoffel Wonder (1826-1830)

Lord Dover is on the left

© National Portrait Gallery, London

When doing these posts, I like to think about what type of man I’m writing about, and I think that Lord Dover seemed not so much a devil as he was a kind, considerate man.  During his earliest youth, the borough of Gowran was described in one church record as being filled with “wretched habitations” that contributed very little to the borough’s taxable base–essentially the community was poverty stricken.  The 19th century Gowran house would have been the nicest abode around.  Lord Dover grew up to be sensitive and liberal-thinking, a self described “decided reformer” and Whig politican, maybe as a result of his personal and familial history.   His ancestors hailed from the French Comte Venaissin, who fled France due to religious persecution.  A collector of fine art, he was also a man of letters who rescued and edited his family’s letters on the Revolution, 1686-88, from the British Library where they languished in obscurity because he thought them important to English history.  He also wrote a number of books including The True History of the State Prisoner: Commonly Called the Iron Mask, mostly because he found the original history written by Monsieur Delort convoluted and and excessively flattering to King Louis XIV.  Yes, the thoughtful Lord Dover was offended that Delort bestowed compliments on the monarch while “recording one of the most cruel and oppressive acts of the Sovereign’s cruel and oppressive reign.”  See what I mean by sensitive?  His obituary is quite lengthy and lists him “involved [in] the cause of learning, the fine or useful arts, charities, and the improvement of people.”

I think he might be the least eligible “devil” I’ve written about, but it’s refreshing to have a nice guy around these parts once in a while.  You can see more pictures of Lord Dover at the National Portrait Gallery, and if you’ve an exceptionally good eye, you can play where’s Lord Dover in famous Trial of Queen Caroline by Sir George Hayter.  Good luck!

Elizabeth Milbanke, Viscountess Melbourne by Richard Cosway (1784)

Byron’s BFF in Lady Melbourne

In 1812 Byron burst onto the London literary scene with his first two cantos of Childe Harold.  Almost instantly, the ladies of the ton were scrambling to have him at their house parties.  Elizabeth Milbanke Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne, was one of the first to issue an invitation and soon prided herself on playing hostess to Byron.  She was much older than Byron at the time–she was 62, he, 24–but they struck up an intimate friendship.  He once wrote of her, “If she had been a few years younger, what a fool she would have made of me had she thought it worth her while, and I should have lost a most valuable and agreeable friend.”

Elizabeth Milbanke, Viscountess Melbourne by Richard Cosway (1784)

Elizabeth Milbanke Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne by Richard Cosway (around 1784)

Over the years of their correspondence, Lady Melbourne was to influence him in unexpected ways, encouraging his relationship with her niece, Anna Isabella Milbanke, later made Baroness Byron in 1815.  Given Byron’s history with Melbourne’s family, this event might have been shocking to outsiders.  In personal matters, however, it was practical. In 1812 when Byron first became acquainted with Lady Melbourne, he commenced a tempestuous and highly public affair with the married Lady Caroline Lamb, Lady Melbourne’s daughter-in-law.  It was disastrous.  Lady Lamb went crazy over him, stalked him, and generally made a fool of herself.  By September of 1812, Bryon had abandoned his doomed love affair, writing to Lady Melbourne in reassurance:

“I presume you have heard and will not be sorry to hear again, that they (Lady Bessborough and Lady Caroline Lamb) are safely deposited in Ireland, and that the sea rolls between you and one of your torments, the other you see is still at your elbow. Now, if you are as sincere (as I sometimes almost dream) you will not regret to hear that I wish this to end, and it certainly shall not be renewed on my part.  It is not that I love another but loving at all is quite out of my way.  I am tired of being a fool, and when I look back on the waste of time, and the destruction of all my plans last winter by this last romance, I am–what I ought to have been long ago.   It is true from early habit one must make love mechanically, as one swims. I was once very fond of both, but now, as I never swim unless I tumble into the water, I don t make love till almost obliged, though I fear that is not the shortest way out of the troubled waves with which in such accidents we must struggle.”  (Cheltenham, September 10, 1812).

Anne Isabella Byron by Sir George Hayter (1812)Anne Isabella “Annabella” Byron by Sir George Hayter (1812)

Whatever Lady Melbourne’s schemes were regarding Byron’s attachment to her niece, she formulated them quickly.  By October of 1812, Byron’s proposal was presented to Miss Milbanke (supposedly by Lady Melbourne).  Miss Milbanke refused him.  It was a wise decision she later reversed.

Byron offered a second proposal in September 1814, and Miss Milbanke married him on January 2, 1815.   To the mathematically gifted heiress, Byron made a scoundrel of a husband. Meanwhile, Lady Caroline gladly spread (and perhaps concocted) vicious rumors about domestic violence,  infidelity, and Byron’s propensity for sexual deviance.  Finding the situation intolerable, Miss Milbanke left Byron a year after she’d stood beside him in Seaham Hall, giving credence to her husband’s scandalous behavior, whatever it might have been.

Upon Miss Milbanke’s first refusal in early October of 1812, Byron had already acknowledged that she “deserves a better heart than mine.”  In a letter to Lady Melbourne days afterward he writes of Miss Milbanke, “She is right in every point of view . . . Finding I must marry, however, on that score, I should have preferred a woman of birth and talents, but such a woman was not at all to blame for not preferring me; my heart never had an opportunity of being much interested in the business further than that I should have very much liked to be your relation.”  (Cheltenham, October 17th, 1812).

A typical opinion toward marriage given the time, but disheartening when coupled with Byron’s socially ruinous affairs.  No woman wanted wreckage to litter her household or to follow her like a stench wherever she went.  And Miss Milbanke was not a tart to be tasted and put back on the shelf.  Where his previous lover Lady Lamb was fiery and obsessive in response to Byron’s impassioned temperament, Miss Milbanke was rational, an intellectual to the core. In light of Byron’s rock star status, he attracted all kinds of awful while Miss Milbanke was interested in mathematics.  Hardly a match made in heaven.  His intentions in acquiring a wife didn’t aspire to poetry, and marriage didn’t change his tune.  The sensitive side of Byron was funneled into his work and the fellow that was “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” as Lady Lamb so aptly defined him, strolled through town gathering scandals.

It makes you wonder what the “sagacious” Lady Melbourne was thinking.  During their exchange of letters regarding Miss Milbanke’s refusal, Byron confided somewhat naughtily to Lady Melbourne, “Tell Annabella that I am more proud of her rejection than I can ever be of another’s acceptance; this sounds rather equivocal, but if she takes it in the sense I mean it, and you don t blunder it in the delivery with one of your wicked laughs, it will do for want of something better. It merely means that the hope of obtaining her (or anybody else — but skip this parenthesis) was more pleasing than the possession of St Ursula and the 11,000 virgins (being a greater number than have ever since existed at the same time) in that capacity could possibly have been to her ‘disconsolate and unmathematical admirer, X. Y. Z.'” (Cheltenham, October 20th, 1812).

Despite being friends, why would Lady Melbourne have desired a connection to Bryon? I fear that any explanation shines poorly on Lady Melbourne’s moral character but, after all, Byron was THE literary celebrity of the Regency.  She increased her family’s stature by the association, and in the very least something brilliant did come out of Byron’s union with Lady Melbourne’s niece: Ada Lovelace, the self-described “Analyst (& Metaphysician.”

Ada Lovelace by Alfred Edward Chalon (1840)By Edward Alfred Chalon (1840)

Rosalie Duthé, Original Dumb Blonde

Rosalie Duthe by Drouais 1768Rosalie Duthé by Francois-Hubert Drouais, (1768)

When I was a towheaded girl, having to humor more than my fair share of dumb blonde jokes, I would have liked to know the name of Rosalie Duthé.  The scandalous lady who inspired gibes that would endure well past her 250th anniversary, marking their favor in bottle blondes like Marilyn Monroe and Pamela Anderson, has been an unknown pain in my ass since I can remember.  As an experiment in my teenage years, I dyed my hair auburn and guess what happened?  Science.  Men generally acted politer and the endless spate of jokes withered in people’s heads.  Ultimately, maintaining a brownish hue when nature has bestowed you with fair hair is a futile and expensive endeavor.  I gave it up within six months and have since rejoined the ranks of women, dyed or otherwise, who (allegedly) have more fun.  In the eye of the beholder, the stereotype rings true.  For better or worse, in person or on dating sites, blondes get more attention.  In studies, they have been shown to be more aggressive and confident because they’re accustomed to special treatment.  They also make men less clever, and are thought of as more approachable.  Men, however, prefer marrying brunettes because they “take more care of their appearance, are great cooks and are better at house work.”  And apparently blondes are high maintenance seductresses: brunettes are also considered more experimental in bed.

Rosalie Duthé by Lie Louis Périn-Salbreux

Rosalie Duthé by Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux

Doubtless, Marilyn Monroe, the not so original breathy-voiced blonde, discovered the power of sunlit locks before all several studies diminished an iota of the blonde’s prowess.  But Rosalie Duthé is truly the original master of the birdbrained coquette.  Born in 1748, she became the mistress of an English financier after leaving convent school.  Her alleged chum while hanging out with nuns?  None other than the racy blonde, Madame Du Barry.  After her first conquest as mistress, Duthé danced at the Paris Opera Ballet, but it didn’t take her long to ensnare numerous protectors.  She was a favorite of well-heeled gentlemen, including Charles X of France, and played the muse of many a painter.  But not everything was rosy in Duthé charmed sphere.  She was satirized in the 1775 one-act play Les Curiosités de la Foire as a dimwit.  In On Blondes by Joanna Pitman, Duthe is likewise recalled as a robot, then described in a fair program:

“Machine: a very beautiful and extremely curious contrivance representing a handsome woman.  It performs all the actions of a living creature, eating, drinking, dancing, and singing as if it were endowed with a mind.  This mechanical woman can actually trip a foreigner to his shirt in a matter of seconds.  Its only difficulty is with speech.  Experts have already given up hope of curing this defect and admirers prefer to study the machine’s movements.”

Pitman goes on to say that Duthé was “arrogant, dyed blonde, and vain.”  Similar to the stereotype we enjoy today.  Whether Duthé deserved the harsh criticism or reaped jealous sneers on account of her reputation for sexual conquests, 18th century or 21st, some things never change.  It probably didn’t help Duthé that her image was widely reproduced, or that she relished posing for full nudes.  Regardless of her social accomplishments, a courtesan by trade rarely ascended beyond the designation of lowly whore when an insult was fitting, and there must have been countless opportunities to tear down the favorite of royalty and nobility.  What made her popular also made her an easy target–so easy she galvanized dumb blonde jokes in generations to come. Not without help, of course.  According to Revlon, blonde hair dye outsells other colors five to one, and there’s always another Rosalie Duthé willing to flip about her flaxen hair in order to gain male attention.   But Madame Duthé is distinguished by being the first trollop infamous for being a dumb blonde.

Rosalie Duthe by Henri Pierre Danloux 1792

Rosalie Duthé by Henri Pierre Danloux (1792)

Rosalie Duthe by Lie Louis Perin-Salbreux

 By Lie Louis Perin-Salbreux.  I’m guessing the eyebrows are drawn with charcoal and the hair is powdered, making her look barely blonde.

Rosalie Duthe by Jean Honore Fragonard

(A very young) Rosalie by Jean Honore Fragonard

Rosalie Duthe by Claude Jean Baptiste Houin

By Claude Jean Baptiste Houin

The Lady in the Punchbowl

Lady Diana was an heiress worth £30,000 and a renowned Elizabethan beauty. She married firstly Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, who died within a year of their nuptials following a fever after a battle.  She later joined with with the 1st Earl of Elgin, ancestor of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl Elgin, and acquirer of the eponymous Elgin marbles.

Below is Lady Diana painted in typical William Larkin fashion.  Ever present Larkin curtains notwithstanding, I like the portrait, especially the gathered/Elizabethan-version-of-lasered details on the front on her gown.  I haven’t a clue what the technique is actually called, but it looks like she got in a creative sword-fight  on her way to the portrait being painted.  Maybe that offers at least one possibility for her expression. Frankly, it’s better than this  (very nice embroidery, btw) or this (they say).

lady diana, countess of Elgin by William LarkinLady Diana Cecil by William Larkin, (1614-18) (Ranger’s House, Suffolk Collection)

Lady Diana’s grave (known as ‘the lady in the punchbowl’) was a subject of humor for Horace Walpole who visited the Ailesbury Mausoleum* in 1771:

“At two miles from Houghton Park is the mausoleum of the Bruces, where I saw the most ridiculous monument of one of Lady Ailesbury’s predecessors that was ever imagined. I beg she will never keep such company. In the midst of of an octagon chapel is the tomb of Diana, Countess of Oxford and Elgin. From a huge unwieldy base of white marble rises a black marble cistern; literally a cistern that would serve for an eating room. In the midst of all this, to the knees, stands her Ladyship in her white domino or shroud, with her left hand erect as giving her blessing. It put me in mind of Mrs. Cavendish when she got drunk in the bathing tub.”

Mrs Cavendish is not specified by the editor of Walpole’s letter. It could be either Barbara Cavendish, daughter of the Bishop of Durham, or Elizabeth Cavendish, the bishop’s niece by marriage to his eldest son.

*The Ailesbury Mausoleum brochure has a picture of Lady Diana’s tomb.

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.

Married By Morning: A True Story

Elizabeth Gunning by Gavin Hamilton 1752-3, commission by Duke of Hamilton

Portrait of Duchess of Hamilton by Gavin Hamilton (1752-53) Commissioned by the Duke of Hamilton

He first sees her at an Opera House masquerade.  She is the shy Gunning sister, demure compared with the spirited and more beautiful Maria, but the Duke of Hamilton is fascinated.  Spurned by his former fiancée Elizabeth Chudleigh eight years prior, the bachelor Hamilton is freshly returned from his second continental tour.  He sets foot in London when the Irish Miss Gunnings are the toast of town.  They are 17 and 18, heralded as THE diamonds of 1752 despite hailing from an impoverished gentry, and soon the Duke of Hamilton will make one of them his duchess.

On the night of February 24, 1752 the dissolute gambler and drunkard, who is known to begin drinking anew as soon as his hangover diminishes, is hours away from the altar.  Gossip would later say he acted upon a wager during a binge, but either way, the result is the same.

At a ball thrown by Lord Chesterfield to celebrate his sparkling new Grosvenor residence on South Audley Street, the duke sets his sights on Elizabeth Gunning.  She is dressed in a simple Quaker’s gown and no sooner is his proposal aired than they are spirited away to Mr. Keith’s Chapel, the so-called “Gretna Green of Mayfair.”  The hour is midnight, and with one of the chaplains awakened, the ceremony on Curzon Street commences.  A curtain ring, you must know, is used in place of a jewel.

By earliest morning your graces are married and proceed immediately to the Hamilton seat of Sunburn in Hampshire for their honeymoon.  By the middle of March, the new duchess is presented at Court and come March 30th, they depart for Scotland before a crowd gathered outside Hamilton’s townhouse on St. George Street.  The duke, who proves a much better suitor than a husband, dies six years later and the ever successful Elizabeth goes on to bag a second duke, the Duke of Argyll.

Elizabeth Gunning by Sir Joshua Reynolds

The Duchess of Argyll by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1760)