Tag Archives: England

Handsome Devils and Their Digs: Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe

If a strong, serious profile makes the man, Lord Stratford Canning is made.  A bit stern of lip, perhaps, and knife sharp of nose, but this fellow has an intensity about him that draws the eye.  Most amusing to me, he actually looks uncannily like an ex of mine, which if I had no respect for his privacy, I would share.  Strange to look at a 19th century face and see a likeness–you would be dumbstruck by the resemblance, I’m telling you!

Lord Stratford Canning, 1st Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe, is 29 in this 1814  portrait and didn’t ascend to the peerage until 1852.  During his lifetime, he was most distinguished as a diplomat wherein he traveled as far as Washington and Constantinople.  He served as ambassador to the Ottoman Empires three times, his first appointment commencing during the Napoleonic wars, and although he was appointed Russian ambassador in 1832, Tsar Nicholas I didn’t think kindly to meeting him.  He was never received and the snub affronted all of England.  England’s foreign office subsequently refused to appoint a new ambassador, assigning the lowlier position of charge d’affaires instead.  The reasons for the Tsar Nicholas’s resistance can be explained by the danger the viscount posed.  As ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, he was well seasoned regarding Russian’s interests in the East.  Russia, fearing his politcal influence, prefered to work with a gentleman who had less intelligence on her foreign affairs.  The strength of the viscount’s personality was also a knock against him.  He was known for his “quick feelings” and “outspoken frankness” which had made him unpopular, among others, with the Russian ambassador’s wife.

Anglican Church, aka Crimean Church, in Istanbul of which Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe laid the foundation

As a result of his career, the viscount was infrequently in England.  He owned a townhouse in Grosvenor and called London home.  Based on what I found in the Gentleman’s Magazine, it appears the viscount was short-changed by his grandfather in regard to inheriting the family estate of Garvagh.  The estate was unentailed, the process of which I am very much in the dark about, and passed to the viscount’s uncle–a younger son–instead of directly to his father.  His father, Stratford Canning, was an Irish member of a banking and mercantile firm, but the family was by no means without any aristocratic relations, if still green around the edges.  His first cousin (the fellow who inherited Garvagh in Londonderry, Ireland) became 1st Baron of Garvagh in 1818 and had a mesalliance with the actress Mary Costello, whom he eventually married.  He later served as prime minister.

In regard to romance and marriage, the viscount wedded twice.  By all accounts, he loved his first wife,

Although he had children, the viscountcy went extinct with his death.  His first wife died without producing an heir and his only son with his second wife failed to have children and died before his father.

For an in depth look at the viscount’s fascinating life, including 19th century political matters and selections from his personal memoirs and letters, see The Life of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe.

A Criminal Conversation: Grosvenor v. Cumberland

This is why I love the 18th century–in terms of scandals the period is full of absurdities and titillating anecdotes.  Take, for example, the Duke of Cumberland and his affair with Lady Grosvenor.

In 1770 Cumberland was brought before the Court of the King’s Bench for a “criminal conversation” or rather, a suit wherein a cuckolded husband sues his wife’s lover for monetary damages.  Evidence usually consisted of eyewitness testimony from servants or acquaintances and love letters–positively damning in Cumberland’s case.  He not only seduced a married lady, he behaved below his station, impersonating a squire in order to visit Lady Grosvenor incognito.  After fashioning himself “Squire Morgan”, he proceeded to act like an idiot to fully disguise his improprieties.  Given that he was the king’s brother, this behavior was doubly mortifying when proof of the amorous affair came to light.

The “injured” party, Richard, 1st Earl of Grosvenor

Rumored to be involved in his own affaires de coeur, Lord Grosvenor intercepted the couple’s letters and copied them so he could have the pleasure of reading them in Court. Cumberland and Lady Grosvenor were also unlucky enough to have been caught in flagrante delicto, the details of which were cast into the gleeful public eye.  The shocking transcripts of the trial were the delight of London and prompted an interest in other high society sex scandals, including the Worsley criminal conversation of 1782.

In the case of Grosvenor v. Cumberland, Lord Grosvenor prevailed, his dignity bruised but his pocketbook amply padded for his troubles.  Cumberland ended up paying £10,000, an average sum for debauching a peer’s wife.  As a member of the royal family, he did have the unique benefit of the Lord Chamberlain forbidding the subject from being discussed in any public venue.  One can imagine this only fueled gossip in private withdrawing rooms though.

Modern Criminal Conversations
To my suprise, my lawyer husband advised me that criminal conversation, a.k.a. alienation of affection, still exists today.  In the U.S., it has been abolished in 43 states and the District of Columbia.  What’s left: Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.  I dipped my toe in legal research and found awards up to 1.4 million!  That’s painful for a little bit of bise bise on the side.

In England, the year of 1857 brought an end to formal revenge on rakes with abolishment of the civil action.  Criminal conversations were the most common in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  If you’re interested, the famous case of Worsley v. Bissett is covered in illuminating detail in Hallie Rubenhold’s Lady’s Worsley’s Whim (UK) /Lady in Red (US).  I did a post a while back on the Fleming sisters, Lady Worsley being one of them, with links to the trial transcripts.

Handsome Devils and Their Digs: 5th Viscount Chetwynd

On account of the summer heat, I’m feeling blog malaise and so I thought, what better way to revive myself and all of you than a bit of aristocratic eye candy?  Wigs notwithstanding, there were some striking faces in the bunch, especially if you like serious looking fellows.

Without further ado then, I invite you to unearth your inner gold digger (in the 18th century, this was no crime!).  Kindly allow me to present what might have been your future prospects if you were a) a lady of the ton living in Georgian England or b) a romance novel heroine.

First off, Richard, 5th Viscount of Chetwynd.

By Thomas Gainsborough, 1780s

(c)  Gainsborough’s House.  Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Chetwynd Digs (I’m misleading you here.  I’ll explain below):

The magnificent Ingestre Hall actually passed down to the 2nd Viscount Chetwynd’s daughter, Hon. Catherine Chetwynd, by testementary will which allowed the estate to pass to Catherine and her eldest male son, who  later became the 1st Earl of Talbot and Viscount Ingestre .  During this time, women could inherit if no male heirs remained.  As this was not the case, I’m not exactly certain what happened regarding the estate falling out of succession with the next Viscount Chetwynd.  In all likelihood, the estate was not entailed.

The 2nd Viscount’s sons having predeceased him, the title of Viscount Chetwynd passed to his brother, William, who was the heir-at-law.  Richard, our handsome devil of the day, was the great- grandson of William and was born at Heywood Park, Staffordshire.  Given that I couldn’t find any pictures of Heywood, Ingestre Hall is what you get to associate Chetwynd with for now.  I’ll aim for full-on accurancy next post.  Promise.

What else might you like to know about the Chetwynds?

  • They hail from Bearhaven, County Kerry, Ireland
  • The viscountcy was created by King George I in 1717
  • The family motto is Probitas Verus Honos: Probity is true honor
  • 6th Viscount Chetwynd, Richard’s son, was known as “Oroonoko Chetwynd” due to his dark complexion.  Oroonoko was the enslaved African prince in Aprha Behn’s 1688 novel of the same name.

On Entailment

Entailing property ensured the ancestral seat of any given aristocratic title  remained in the family, thereby retaining the rank, both in wealth and history, due to the peerage.  A number of problems existed when daughters inherited.  Firstly, in the case of several daughters, the estate would be broken up into equal portions.  When only one daughter was present to inherit, the estate would pass to her husband’s male descendants and out of the original patriarchal line.  Where primogeniture ruled, however, the estate was guaranteed to remain whole because entailed property could not be sold or deeded outside the succeeding male line.  This is exactly the dilemma of the Bennet family in Pride & Prejudice with Mr. Collins.  See Land, Law, and Love from the Jane Austen Society of North America for a more comprehensive  explanation of entailment.

Portrait of an English Schoolboy

One rule about schoolboys you must observe: they are unruly.  Early attendees of schools such as Eton, Oundle, and Rugby were under no fear of their headmaster’s stern hand.  Rather, these beastly tyrants annihilated each other in what is affectionately remembered as “mob rule.” 

Excepting the shy, sensitive boys, early pupils ran roughshod over each other, erecting traditions such as fagging, carousing about the local countryside, and fighting amongst themselves in pint-sized coups. 

Ah, the terrors.  Or, rather, not so much this anymore . . .

A Visit to the Boarding School, George Morland, 1788

This bad behavior, in part, spawned from the public schools’ need for fee-paying students.  During the early Georgian period, most young children were educated at home with a governess or, in the case of a male, a tutor.  After discovering that the acceptance of non-paying scholars did not allow for suitable growth, the schools decided to develop a platform with the express purpose of readying noblemens’ sons for university.  This occasioned the worst sort of student who had no mind of being a student at all. 

Lordlings, accustomed to the pomp and bluster associated with their future status, reigned over their schools like mini-dictators.  They brought with them personal tutors, rented local lodgings, and lived under no direction but their own, looking for trouble at all hours.  George III, on the occasion of meeting an Eton pupil, was known to ask, “Have you had a rebellion lately, eh, eh?” 

As most children are wont to be hellions without supervision, these boys were no different.  Learning Latin–the primary course of study at the time–by no means exhausted their minds.  Subjects outside the classical curriculum such as science, mathematics, and geography were considered “extras” or private studies to take up on Saturdays.  The Dissenting Academies, two of which were located in London, began in the Restoration period as pedagogical institutions for dissenting clerics and, unlike other schools, were taught exclusively in English.  They exposed their students to the most progressive educational atmosphere available at the time.  Daniel Defoe attended Newington Green and other notables such as William Godwin (founder of philosophical anarchism) and Richard Harley, Earl of Oxford, cut their teeth on the curriculum at the Dissenting Academies.

An 18th Century Classroom

The middle to latter part of the century saw reformation within the school administration, altering the frat boy lifestyle.  One of the major changes was boarding.  Under supervision, however poor, the boys were no longer able to let rooms in town and drown in their cups till dawn.  Gambling and drinking (and wenching for the older boys) were still mainstays of their education—a custom which would serve them well when they later joined Gentleman’s clubs like White’s, Brook’s, or Boodles—but partying was now conducted under the eyes of the headmaster.  Although sports were disapproved of by some headmasters, organized games likes cricket and football also diverted the boys’ rampaging energy.  Matches within and between schools brought the kind of structured rivalry we know and love today.

The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant – A Review

“I was 17 from a fishin’ family, a family that was starving.  I was always a bit wild.  I should have listened to my father.  I should have listened to my mother.  But I didn’t.”

And so begins The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant, the tale of a provincial young woman who is shipped off to Botany Bay after being convicted of stealing food.  From the beginning, it has the makings of a tawdry novel: a heroine with child; a love triangle—a handsome fellow prisoner or the powerful lieutenant; schemes and necessary betrayals.  But before you imagine yourself watching a bodice ripper, know that the setup is merely the enticement.

Despite historical inaccuracies that make the film tragically romantic, The Incredible Journey is a miserable movie mostly because it’s a miserable story.  People starve, women are raped, children die and what’s worse, it’s based on actual events.   There is, however, something inspiring going on about all the stench and despair and that’s Mary.  She’s a quick study with a surprising sense of loyalty and a fighting spirit.

After surviving both a punishing voyage and the violent convict uprisings , she calls Botany Bay a paradise.  Determined to claim her piece of happiness, she convinces Will Bryant to marry her because married couples are allowed to build houses (it doesn’t hurt that he’s an Alex O’Loughlin).  The clever girl then secures a fishing job for her husband along with a percentage of the catch.  All’s well and good until the English crops, failing in the arid soil, convince her that she can’t feed her children if she stays put.  In the “real” story, by all accounts Will got 100 lashings for selling fish without the governor’s approval, but onward with the drama.

Faced with the impending gloom of starvation–which Mary has suffered from before–Mary eats her fear.  This is where her story gets incredible.  Impossible though it seems, she plans to escape the penal colony which just so happens to be in the middle of the Australian nowhere.  Along with her children and a seven man crew, she sets to sea on the governor’s stolen boat and navigates the uncharted Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Straits—a feat for any seaman, much less a motley crew.  66 days and 5,000 miles later, she and her companions land on the Dutch island of Timor.  Styled as merchant class shipwreck survivors and afforded the luxuries that come from well-fashioned lies, Mary and her fellows live a life of ease until a chance encounter with her lovesick lieutenant, whom she has seduced and abandoned during her scheme to escape, ends in tragedy.

I won’t tell you the rest, as it ruins the suspense.  As an historical curiosity, however, it should be known that Mary was rumored to have an affair with the famous 18th century man of letters and biographer, James Boswell.  As he did her a kindness, resulting in the eventual betterment of her life, who knows the truth of their relationship given Boswell’s reputation for tendres with lower class women?  Either way, she’s a fascinating woman who defied the odds and made history by doing what she was told was impossible.

The Bones of Holkham Hall

 

Holkham Hall is the ancestral seat of  Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, and his descendants.  As one of the most notable examples of 18th century Palladian revival, which celebrated the symmetrical style of ancient Greece and Rome, its construction lasted a total of 30 years, between 1734 when its foundation was laid and 1764 when the great house was finally completed.

This early blueprint is based on the principal plan of the piano nobile, or first floor, drawn by Matthew Brettingham in 1761.  For purposes of understanding what an 18th century country estate might look like to the bones, it’s fantastic.  The reception rooms are situated around two courtyards.  Wings extend from the heart, comprising the bedchambers and the family’s various private rooms.

Upon close review, Holkham Hall might look familiar to you.  The 2008 film, The Duchess, was set on location here.  The Great Hall in particular was the setting for many of Georgina’s emotional interludes, including her  argument with Charles Grey after she’s returned from their love affair in Bath.

The Library

The Chapel

The Salon or Saloon

For more information, see:

360 degree view of Holkham Hall

Visit Holkham Hall

More pictures

How a Yank Doodles his Dandy, or London’s Macaroni Clubs

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony
Stuck a feather in his hat
And called it macaroni

When I was a little girl, I always thought this song sort of silly.  Yankee Doodle.  First of all, ridiculous name.  Split it into a noun and a verb and it becomes positively mystifying.  Yank was how my Georgia-born grandfather referred to me when I asked him about the “aggressor” in the American Civil War and doodle was what I did when I absolutely, for the dozenth time, feigned total lack of spelling comprehension so I wouldn’t have to partake in the spelling bee.   

Then there’s the “A-riding on a pony” part which is just as confusing as the first bit.  I mean, come on!  What man in his right mind a-rides on a pony without losing all sense of dignity?   Exactly my point.  And feathers?  Mortifying.  Feathers belonged not to a hat but to boa wrappers and old ladies who wore magenta lipstick that smeared on their teeth when they smiled.  Calling “it” macaroni (whatever “it” was) merely exacted the mortal blow that prevented me from singing this ditty.  After all, a little girl who likes to roll unfamiliar words off her tongue can only be so careless before she’s kicking her heels against the naughty chair in detention.

But back to how Yankee Doodle gets equated with macaroni.  Late in the 18th century, an establishment called the Macaroni Club was formed wherein a London dandy could nosh on pasta, strut his affected airs, and in general, be fabulous.  Card carrying members (okay, I don’t really think there was a card) consisted of gentlemen who had gone on a continental Grand Tour and returned with a passion for all things Italian. 

Given their outrageous sartorial choices including the much caricatured club wigs with shruken Nivernois hats, the French-style red heels and striped stockings, not to mention the occasional thrown in parasol and sword garlanded with ribbons, “macaroni” quickly became a choice insult for unmanly behavior.  Homoerotic connotations abounded and gender boundaries blurred.  If a fellow was proclaimed a Macaroni, he was not only a peacock of fashion, but weak, effeminate, and altogether contrary to stereotypical masculine authority.  Perhaps worst of all, in the insular minds of proper Georgian Englishmen, he was a xenophile.  

At a time when France and Spain were aggressively encroaching on British territory and the American colonials were stirring in their breeches, possessing continental sympathies was akin to being unpatriotic. Britain didn’t become an empire by imitating Italy.  Well, actually they did.  It’s called the Roman Empire, but that’s ancient history, long forgotten, rubbish, rubbish.  Point is, stiff upper lips shuddered at what these fancy poodles were doing to their country’s reputation.

Fortunately, a solution soon arrived where dandified Londoners weren’t the lone targets of mockery.  Enter the Americans. During the Revolutionary War, British soliders ridiculed the unkempt colonials who thought it the height of fashion to stick feathers in their hats and how better to unman the enemy, I ask, than by breaking out into song? 

Yankee Doodle keep it up

Yankee Doodle dandy

Mind the music and the step

And with the girls be handy

 

P.S. Still wondering how a Yank doodles his dandy? Doodle, as used in the ditty, refers to a fool or simpleton. In the early 18th century, however, doodle was also a verb, as in “to swindle or make a fool of”. A derivation of the German word, dudeln, it is possibly the root for the modern American “dude”.

Hot Chocolate in the 18th Century

La Famille du duc de Penthièvre en 1768

Around 1657 a Frenchman opened a shop on Gracechurch Street in London where he sold chocolate, exotically advertised “as a West Indian drink [which] cures and preserves the body of many diseases.”   The French, ever more sophisticated than the English, had been drinking chocolate since the early 17th century, touting it as a remedy for many ailments.   Not everyone was a fan, however.  Madame de Sevigne commented on its excessive popularity throughout the court at Versailles in a letter to her pregnant daughter during the year 1671, warning “the Marquise de Coëtlogon drank so much when she was expecting that she gave birth to a little boy, black as the devil, who died.”  Clearly, a woman of sound sense.

Despite such declarations, hot chocolate was an exalted beverage among the upper classes.  It was taken daily by Louis IV during his public morning ablutions and Madame du Barry notably gave the aphrodisiac, mixed with amber, to stimulate her lovers.  Marie Antoinette likewise indulged, arriving on French soil with a personal chocolate maker in tow.  Adhering to a common 18th century recipe circulated among the wealthy, vanilla and sugar were mixed with cocoa paste to create a sweet, drinkable chocolate similar to today’s darkest chocolate, if a little more bitter.  It wasn’t until 1727 that milk was added, creating the creamy confection we know as milk chocolate.

Recipes

Variation in chocolate recipes is almost endless, but many were imbibed for their powers of remedying illness or seducing would-be lovers.  Marie Antoinette created a most noble position at court, Chocolate Maker to the Queen, and as such had quite the arsenal at her disposal.   Her recipes included, “chocolate mixed with orchid bulb for strength, chocolate with orange blossom to calm the nerves, or chocolate with sweet almond milk to aid the digestion.”   “Chocolate a la capucine,” though not credited to Antoinette, would have proved useful to French court ladies, who were beginning to suffer abuse over fattening their bottoms with too much chocolate.   All one needed to become svelte was “4 oz. of chocolate, 6 oz. sugar, eggs beaten well and a good half-litre of Madeira!”   Consume at breakfast and don’t eat until dinner. . . because you have probably passed out. (The Temptation of Chocolate).

Among the weirdest recipes recorded: the Marquis de Sade’s “chocolate cantharnidine”, a toxic, aphrodisiacal blend derived from beetles mixed with cacao.  Needless to say, formal complaints soon followed at court and the debauched Sade received a royal scolding.

Chocolate Houses

Back in England, coffee houses were rivaled only by chocolate houses, tea having yet to fully hit the scene.  One of the most famous establishments was Cocoa Tree, a gentleman’s club at 64 James’s Street.  Of note, the 19th century poet Lord Byron was a distinguished member, as well as a number of prominent Whigs in the earlier part of the 18th century.  White’s Chocolate House, as seen below, was also fashionable among the younger set.

Consumption of chocolate, along with every other luxury enjoyed by the rich, dwindled in France during the French Revolution.  Still, during the royal family’s Flight to Varennes in 1791, Marie Antoinette refused to part with her silver chocolatière.  The original service contained “one hundred items made of silver, crystal, porcelain, ivory, ebony and steel.” Spectacularly useful after the loss of one’s head, I’m told.

For more, make sure to check out:

Chocolate at Versailles

Hot Chocolate, 18th to 19th Century Style

Chocolatier to the Kings of France, particularly Pistoles of Marie Antoinette

Rèunion des Musees Nationaux, Chocolate Related Museum Pieces

The Dashing David Lyon

Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of David Lyon, 1825

I couldn’t help but pause upon seeing this picture of the dashing David Lyon and thinking there was a bit of Mr. Darcy in him.  He has the refined air, the pride instilled down to his slender musculature and elegant, chiseled face.  His richly nuanced clothes, from the fur lining his coat to the ever so slight cane and dandyish hankerchief, speak of high position and wealth in society.  And yet, David Lyon is no peer.  He is part of the landed gentry.

Hailing from Goring Hall, Sussex and Balintore Castle in Forfarshire, Scotland, David Lyon’s family descends from one of the sons of Patrick Lyon, 1st Lord Glamis, a Scottish nobleman whose origins date back to the mid-fifteenth century.  The last of the Goring branch of Lyons died in 1934.  David’s father, Lyon senior, was reportedly worth around £600,000 at the time of his death.  Although a second son, upon his elder brother’s demise, he inherited a family fortune rich in Jamaican sugar plantations, including exports of  rum, and business investments closer to home.  David Lyon junior (our portrait sitter and a third son) possessed business savvy of his own accord, however, amassing a fortune as a merchant in the Antilles.

A considerable marriage prize, if I may be at the liberty to call him so, Lyon remained a bachelor well into middle age.  Before his marriage, he was an MP of Beeralston from 1831-2.  Afterwards, in 1851, he was High Sheriff of Sussex.  At around age 55 in 1848, he married the 29 year old Blanche Augusta Bury (b. 1819), daughter of Rev. Edward and the well-known novelist Lady Charlotte Bury.  Lady Bury had numerous daughters from two marriages, all of them considered talented and beautiful, Blanche being “not less handsome than the daughters of her first marriage.”1  From Mrs. Grant Laggan’s Memoirs and Correspondence, Mrs. Laggan recalls of the young Blanche:

As niece to the Duke of Argyle on her mother’s side, her dowry likely substantial given her father’s “very superior endowments and worth,”2 it seems Blanche was no Elizabeth Bennett.  But Pride and Prejudice be damned; you still want hear the story, right?

The couple made their home at Lyon’s 600 acre estate Goring Hall in Sussex.  Rebuilt on the grounds of a tear down, the new Goring Hall (below) was completed in 1840, eight years prior to the wedding.  Lyon also kept a townhouse in London at 31 South Street, Grosvenor Square, a prestigious area of London near Hyde Park.

Wrought-iron gates stood at the eastern and western entries to the Goring property until 1940 when they were removed during the war.  The mediterranean holm oaks that still line the drive and road, known as Ilex Way or Avenue of Holm Oaks, were planted by David Lyon.

At the time of his death on April 8, 1872 at the age of 78, the Lyons had no children.  The estate passed to  David’s brother, William Lyon, and remained in the family until 1934.  David Lyon’s portrait now resides at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza  in Madrid Spain.

Sources:

1 New Monthly Magazine, Volume 11

2 Memoirs and Correspondence of Mrs. Grant Laggan, Volume 3

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid Spain

Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry…, Sir Bernard Burke

The Harrow School Register, 1801-1900, First Edition, 1894

Makeup: 18th Century Whores and Ladies

In 18th century England only one type of woman wore white powder and painted cheeks.  You guessed it, the courtesan or the actress, two demimonde professions which, by virtue of patrons and proclivities, tended to be nearly indistinguishable during the period. Courtesans rubbed elbows (and more!) with lords; actresses encouraged men’s capital admirations, gathering up diamonds the morning after.  Ah, the life.

But cleanliness is next to godliness, girls.  Unlike present day where we brown ourselves like baked chicken, cakey vampirish complexions were à la mode.   Staring around the late 17th century, women of a certain age would gussy up their necks, faces, and sometimes, hands with paint or a fine dusting of powder.  Few dared venture outside without a speck of makeup, be it rice powder or lead paint.  As is common knowledge, freckles were anathema, as were pox scars and blemishes, so pray tell: what was a proper, young lady to do?  Apply elderflower water, add a dash of desperate prayer, don’t forget sundry parasols and bonnets, and if all else fails, flaunt your patches (read To Patch or Not to Patch).

Compared to cosmetic blends, other means of achieving a wintry complexion proved downright vile.  Bloodletting, anyone?  What about fashionable consumption? Surely you wouldn’t object to that.  Women during the period went so far as to mimic one suffering from tuberculosis: white skin, glistening eyes, and waifish slenderness.  Lead paint was the cornerstone of this look, but truly, the usefulness of belladonna eye drops could not be underestimated.

Beauty is pain

If only someone had told the notorious Kitty Fisher that her ghostly visage would result in early retirement from earth, perhaps she would’ve steered clear of the stuff.  But . . . probably not.  She had a reputation to consider and besides, what was a little nerve tingling outside the bedroom?  Really, who cares that the French physician Deshais-Gendron believed in 1760 that pulmonary lung disease among high-born ladies was associated with frequent use of lead face paint and rouge.  A quack, I tell you!  A quack!

Kitty Fisher as Cleopatra dissolving the pearl, Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1759 (Eight years before her death)

Aside from courtesans and actresses, the French fared the worst.  The noblest ladies wore powder and paint by the gobs, whereas the lowest of prostitutes tempt custumors with freshly scrubbed visages.  Curious, but the French and English always were contrary to one another.

Medical Opinion of the Period

Doctors consistently advised their patients to abstain from heavy cosmetics, relating their use to all sorts of unsavory symptoms including, but not limited to: acne, blackening of the skin, rotting teeth, loss of appetite, and the coup de grâce, total paralyis of the nerves.  In Selling Beauty: Cosmetics, Commerce, and French Society, 1750 to 1780, the author Morag Martin states:

“Disease and death were the inevitable followers of fading looks.  Once the skin was exposed and damaged, the chemical in cosmetics affected the functioning of the senses and even the internal organs.  Eighteenth century posthumoral theory postulated that any foreign element in contact with the body forced normally expelled fluids into key organs and blood vessels, destabalizing the body’s balance.”

I think we all can agree:  BAD.

Recipe for Lead Powder 

Several Thin Plates of Lead

A Big Pot of Vinegar

A Bed of Horse Manure

Water

Perfume and tinting agent

 

Steep the lead in the pot of vinegar, and rest it in a bed of manure for at least three weeks. When the lead finally softens to the point where it can pounded into a flaky white powder (chemical reaction between vinegar and lead causes lead to turn white), grind to a fine powder. Mix with water, and let dry in the sun. After the powder is dry, mix with the appropriate amount of perfume and tinting dye.

I can safely assumes that none of you intelligent beings will attempt this at home, if nothing else because of the horse manure.  Lead is also poisonous!!