Cutting historical portraits apart is just the sort of thing I like to do in my spare time, so I thought I’d start sharing it with you guys. I don’t really know much about Lady Francis Courtenay except that she subscribed to books on Greek mythology, hung out with Mary Granville (better known as Mrs. Delaney, the botanical artist who got her start at age 72), and was married to 1st Viscount Courtenay. She also liked ostrich feathers, but c’mon, it was the 18th century. Who didn’t?
This portrait by Thomas Hudson has an unknown date of origin. The lady was married in 1741 and interred in 1761, so we’ll go with 1740s to 1750s. She also lived in Powderham Castle in Devon which was pre-tty nice. Here’s a drawing of it from 1745.
The moralist may want to decry the Monks of Medmenham as holy terrors, devil-begotten and dancing down the moon, but in reality they were Rabelasians. Were they bawdy? Of course. Hedonistic? Definitely. But Satanists? I think not.
6 Reasons the Monks of Medmenham Sucked at Satanism
1. The monks took “wives”
Bawds Charlotte Hayes and Elizabeth Dennison may have routinely supplied the monks with hanks of fresh meat but the monks appear carnivorous of one flesh at a time. It was forbidden for, say, Sandwich to take a bite out of Dashwood’s supper. This would have caused the monks to go all un-monkly on each other which leads to . . .
2. The monks had private chambers
This is by far their greatest breach in practicing Satanism. Do naked witches dancing around a bonfire mean nothing to them? Were the monks not lurking in the dark forest, their little demons in wait for the ritual orgy? Nope. Conjure for yourself an image of spare chambers with beds, two bodies writhing together, and in the next chamber, the same damned thing. I cannot say the devil would approve. Even the earliest pagans succeeded in open-field intercourse and what the hell is a vagina shaped into the lawn for if not to roll in it?
3. Gatherings were limited to two weeks a year
When the monks had to keep the debauchery fresh and exciting by limiting it to 14 days out of 365, how immoral could they possibly be? We can suppose they sinned the whole year through (and in Lord Sandwich’s case, he likely did) but English has a word for these types: rakes. Lots of gentlemen were rakes. Maybe they mocked religion with sexuality, but satanist seems a facile label. Moreover, for the Georgians it was a lazy justification for the actions many of their contemporaries disdained and/or misunderstood.
4. A goodly number of the inner circle had pious wives at home
Saying nothing of the education gap between men and women during Georgian England or the standards of female conduct, a zealous wife and a randy husband do not make for good bedroom sport. Add to this the fact that men were expected to look outside their wives for sexual pleasure and the diversions of home pall even further. Boredom nags and man, in a state of psychological expenditure, inverts the woes of his existence. Pious wife becomes whore, restraint becomes revelry, and atheism and/or contempt of the church becomes mock-satanism.
5. High-born women visited Medmenham under conditions of anonymity ONLY AFTER they were assured no male relative was present
With the exception of Dashwood’s half-sister Mary Walcot (and it is speculated whether or not she actually participated at Medmenham) the intermingling of monks with blood and familial relatives was taboo. The revelers had limitations. But why limit indulgence? I’m not suggesting a mésalliance á la the Lannisters in Game of Thrones, though maybe that should be on the table as well, but surely a satanist relative would forgive the women under his legislation if they possessed the same fleshly desires as he? Surely he would not expect her to follow God’s rules and be chaste?
6. Lord Sandwich and the baboon
John Wilkes was a trickster who shared a mutual loathing for Lord Sandwich. He viewed the monks’ fascination with the dark arts as flummery, and so, to amuse himself, he rigged a ceremonial chest used during the Black Mass. He tied a cord to a spring loaded door and ran said cord beneath the rug to where he could pull it at his leisure. One night after the Black Mass had commenced and the monks were kneeling before the chest, imploring the Dark Prince to appear and receive their adoration, Wilkes grinned and pulled his cord. A baboon, dressed as the devil and shrieking with fear and glee, launched onto a startled Sandwich. And what did this wicked fellow do? Collapsed in a babbling fit, foreswearing his alliance to Satan.
Satanism, one might surmise, is not for the faint of heart.
Perhaps my problem arose because I spend too many hours in a haphazard array of cotton and fleece, writing in a cold climate, in a cold downstairs room, and as I am told, looking like a quasi-homeless person.
Perhaps, to contradict my prior musing, it’s because I have a tendency to lust after frippery, stopping just short of slapping it on my person. Stealing from museums, you see, is not really a realistic pursuit at this point in my life. Well, to be honest, it never was.
Oh, the woe.
Fantasies of reckless fashion acquistions thus abandoned, the obsession I am referring to today, readers, involves what has passed out of natural life and into state and private collections, namely the luxuriant and often excessive finery that prompted Madame de Pompadour to gaze at her surroundings and proclaim, “Après nous, le déluge.”
As curiosity is a weakness of mine, I find it impossible to blithely stroll past a gown this richly nuanced and not ferret out under what extravagent circumstances it was worn. The occasion, as I was soon to learn, belonged to a little known Englishwoman whose portrait has been lost to the public, though a history of the Fanshawe family once described her as ‘strikingly handsome’. We’ll have to take their word.
Not to be confused with Lady Ann Fanshawe, the 17th century English memoirist, our Ann Fanshawe was th eldest daughter of the newly appointed Lord Mayor of London. Her father Crisp Gascoyne, Master of the Brewers since 1746, was sworn into office one cool evening in November 1752, and it fell upon Ann, a 28 year old wife and mother, to don this magnificent gown and pose as ‘Lady Mayoress’ in place of her deceased mother.
As you can glean from the considerable amount of silver thread used throughout, every inch of fabric was designed to glow in the flickering candlelight that presided over the night’s celebrations. Sadly, the gown was worn only once but then again, it’s not exactly something a gentlewoman can step out in twice. “Oh, look, she’s wearing the beer gown again.”
If only for a night, Ann must have looked a shining advertisement of the family’s glory. The white silk is Spitalfields; the brocade serves as both an allusion to her father’s successful brewery business and a reassurance of his future achievements as the Lord Mayor.
Look closely and you’ll see a theme: barley and hops spill from silver cornucopias, silver anchors rest on silver barrels, and indigo and crimson flowers flourish over the remainder of the mantua. There’s even a tale behind the indigo dye and the expense involved, but if you want to read more about the gown and its creation, head on over to the Museum of London.