Tuesday, May 22, 2018

What the Groom Wore: Prince Harry's Frock Coat

Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Susan reporting,

Like millions of other people willing to get up extra early on a Saturday morning, Loretta and I have been enthralled by this week's royal wedding of Ms. Meghan Markle and His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales. One thing that fascinated us the most was the dashing dark uniform that Prince Harry chose to wear to his wedding.

The long coat is described as a frock coat, and is particular to the Household Cavalry, which is formed of two regiments - The Life Guards and The Blues and Royals - while another version with slightly different cuffs is also worn by the Foot Guards. (The style of the knee-length frock coat evolved from men's 19thc fashion, with additional inspiration from the Ottomans.) It was worn in "Undress" instead of Full Dress, most likely because the choice of Windsor Castle made the wedding a less formal affair. This was not a state occasion, nor will Harry be king. Harry's brother William, Duke of Cambridge, wore the same uniform for the ceremony, and miniature adaptations were created for the bride's page boys.

Both brothers' uniforms were created by traditional military tailors Dege & Skinner on Savile Row, and were said to have taken over 100 hours to stitch and tailor by hand. Details are everything, even in a seemingly monochrome coat: the intricate interwoven braid on the sleeves (which was barely visible on television) took a single skilled craftsman over a week to create. The frock coat's primary fabric is doeskin, a fine satin-weave woolen cloth, and the lining is silk.

The frock coat is closed with hidden hooks instead of buttons. Many Americans were perplexed by what they saw as "ribbon bows" on the front of the jacket. This is instead a braiding made of black mohair, and is unique to the Household Cavalry and the Life Guards. While the braid loops appear to fasten to the olivets (the toggle-style buttons on the far sides of the chest), they are purely decorative.

The illustrations, right, are from Dress Regulations for Officers of the Army 1900, and show the approved pattern of the Frock Coat of the Household Cavalry. The illustrations show the details of the frock coat that weren't visible in the wedding broadcast (click on the image to enlarge.)

While the very dark navy color made for a striking contrast to Meghan's bright white gown, it's not simply a style choice, but a uniform that Harry has earned the right to wear. He served as a Captain in The Blues and Royals, and after retiring from active duty in 2015, he received the honorary military title of Major from the Queen, as signified by the crown on his shoulder. According to Kensington Palace, he also requested and received express permission from the Queen to wear the uniform on his wedding day.

Rumor has it that the Queen also bestowed a certain leniency to Harry in another way. Officers in the Army are required to be clean-shaven, and there was speculation that Harry would shave away his now-familiar beard for the wedding. The fact that he didn't suggests that the Queen gave him special permission to keep the whiskers.

One more detail: did you notice that both brothers wore silver spurs as members of the cavalry?

Many thanks to Patrick Baty for his always-excellent assistance with this blog post. 

Upper left: Neil Hall/Pool/Reuters
Lower left: PA/UK Images

Monday, May 21, 2018

From the Archives: Queen Victoria's Wedding Drew a Crowd, Too.

Monday, May 21, 2018
Queen Victoria in her wedding dress painted 1847
Loretta reports:

The recent marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex sent me back into the archives to look at the excitement that accompanied Queen Victoria's wedding on 10 February 1840, in rotten weather.  Researching for the short story I wrote at the time, I learned, among other things, that royal wedding frenzy is nothing new.
~~~
All ranks of the people in the metropolis, and for many miles around, began to rise before the appearance of the dawn, some to prepare to take their stations in the progress of the approaching great ceremony; but the great multitude, of course, thinking that their exertions would be well repaid, if they could get only a moment's glimpse of the Queen and her husband, or even a glance at the procession going and returning. Notwithstanding the discouraging weather, the streets were crowded at an early hour with thousands, coming from every point of the compass, and making the best of their way, with emulous and unceremonious haste, to St. James's Park, as one common centre. The concourse of females was prodigious. It seemed as if every one of her Majesty's sex, from the infant in arms to the decrepit matron, now far advanced in second childhood, had made a vow not to stay at home. Women, who could not see their way without spectacles, nor walk it without crutches, were to be seen anxiously struggling for precedence at every point of the park, whence a glance at the Queen and Prince might be obtained; and, having once obtained an eligible spot, they held fast by it, heedless of the too frequent probabilities of being crushed or trodden to death. The trees, the lamp-posts, and the spikes of the railings, were contended for with as much eagerness as if the summit of every one's ambition was at the top of one or other of these elevations; and the wonder was, how many, who had climbed up to certain dangerous eminences, could ever get down in safety again. However, these adventurous folks justly thought, that that question was their own " look out," and no one's else's. About ten o'clock St. James's Park was completely filled with a vast, miscellaneous, curious multitude, not a tithe of whom, unfortunately, could see even the carriage of the Queen when it did at length pass.
The Mirror of literature, amusement, and instruction, Volume 35, 1840
Marriage of Queen Victoria

Illustrations:  Franz Xaver Winterhalter  (1805–1873) Queen Victoria, in her wedding dress and veil from 1840, painted in 1847 as an anniversary gift for her husband, Prince Albert.
Source/Photographer. Original painting owned by the Royal Collection. Source of photograph unknown.

The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 10 February 1840, painted by George Hayter 1840-1842. Royal Collection RCIN 407165, via Wikipedia.
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of May 14, 2018

Saturday, May 19, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The art and mystery of 18thc mantua-makers.
• The poet John Keats, and cats.
• Whitewashing ancient statues.
• The fast and the feminine: women, cars, and advertising.
• Eighteenth century ships unearthed in Alexandria, VA offer glimpse of colonial era.
Image: A rare and possibly unique 17thc document stating that a Dorset woman, Joan Guppy, is not a witch.
Isaac Henry Robert Mott, piano-forte maker in Victorian London.
• When literary classics are packaged as pulp fiction.
• The Bohemian heiress who shattered 19thc taboos.
• A trove of "letter locking," or vintage strategies to deter snoops.
• The curious history of mommy-and-me fashion.
• "The scourge of evil": the persecution of witches at Edinburgh Castle.
• The rare, surviving sento, or bathhouse inside Seattle's Panama Hotel, an important relic of Japanese-American history.
Ann Roberts, foster mother to a king - at a terrible sacrifice, 1910.
National Geographic's digital archive has every map ever published in the magazine since 1888.
• The legend of Pope Joan, who reputedly gave birth during a papal procession.
• When King George VI broke the lock to the New Bodleian library.
• This trunk filled with unread letters from the 17thc is an historian's dream.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday Video: Fashion Show of 1951

Friday, May 18, 2018

Loretta reports:

Those of us familiar with 1950s fashion will recognize at least some of the designers featured in this short film. If you like mid-century style, you might swoon over several ensembles—or maybe all of them. However, the audience is interesting, too. Those of us who follow such things are used to seeing the various Fashion Week shows with a large audience lined up on either side of a long runway. This one, at the Savoy Hotel, London, feels very exclusive, very much a private showing. It’s sedate, with no attempt at being inventive about the presentation or the venue. You may also notice how differently from today's models these women carry themselves: they have a different way of walking and they actually smile a little.


She Walks In Beauty (1951) British Pathé

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on the title to this post or the video title.
Image is a still from the video.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

From the Archives: Jane Austen's Surprising Aunt Philadelphia

Thursday, May 17, 2018
Susan reporting,

With my manuscript deadline drawing ever-closer, here's another favorite post from the archives about a woman who could certainly inspire a book of her own.

In 18thc Britain, it wasn't only younger sons who went out to India in search of fortune and adventure. English women also made the arduous journey in the hopes of finding fortune, adventure, and, most importantly, husbands in a male-dominated land where the odds would be much in their favor.

One of these adventuresome women was Philadelphia Austen Hancock, who in her later years became a favorite aunt to novelist Jane Austen. As a child, however, Philadelphia was no one's favorite. Born in 1730, she soon lost her mother in 1733, and her father in 1737. Her stepmother had no interest in raising either Philadelphia or her younger brother and sister, and as was sadly common at the time, the three young siblings were separated and sent to live with other relatives.

While the two younger children were sent to Austen family members, Philadelphia was given to members of her mother's family, the Hampsons. The Hampsons had both money and position - Philadelphia's uncle was a baronet - but they seemed to have shared little of it with the inconvenient little girl. While Philadelphia's brother George was sent to Oxford to become a clergyman, Philadelphia was apprenticed at fifteen to a London milliner named Hester Cole. No doubt the Hampsons considered their familial obligations done.

Some modern Austen-fans choose to interpret Philadelphia's occupation as a euphemism for prostitution, jumping to the conclusion that because many milliners (and seamstresses, and mantua-makers, and parlor-maids, and just about every other trade that a young woman might attempt in 18thc. London) were so underpaid that they turned to prostitution to support themselves. The fact that Mrs. Cole's shop was in Covent Garden also makes it tempting to speculate about Philadelphia's real trade. But however disinterested the Hampsons may have been in her, it seems unlikely they'd send her to a bawdy house, nor is there any historical proof of Philadelphia earning her living in any less-than-honorable way.

Whatever the case, Philadelphia must not have found millinery to her taste, because at twenty she sailed for India, her passage paid by a relative. No one knows if she went boldly through her own choice, or was perhaps sent away by the Hampsons (another hint of scandal?) Either way, it must not have been an easy decision, and it's hard to imagine a young woman making such a desperate journey alone, and without any real prospects or friends waiting for her in a very foreign land. Without a dowry, her face really would have been her only fortune.

But Philadelphia's gamble paid off.  After a short time in India, she did marry, quite respectably, to Tysoe Saul Hancock, who was a surgeon with the East India Company. They had one daughter, Eliza. Again the centuries-old whispers appear, hinting that Eliza's real father was her wealthy godfather Warren Hastings, the future Governor General of India. Again, too, there is no real proof to substantiate the rumors, but Philadelphia had chosen her daughter's godfather - or her own lover - well: Hastings provided Eliza with a substantial legacy of £10,000.

In any event, Philadelphia and her daughter returned to London, while Hancock continued to toil in India. Eliza was raised as a lady, with a full compliment of lessons in dancing, French, and the harp, and all the advantages that Philadelphia hadn't had for herself. When Dr. Hancock died, the two women found London too expensive for the fashionable life they wished to live, and they went instead to Paris, where they were quickly swept up into the gay life of the French society in the last days before the Revolution. Wanting the security for Eliza that she couldn't provide herself, Philadelphia urged her towards a marriage with a French count, who died on the guillotine. (Eliza's second marriage, to her cousin Henry Austen, was both longer and happier.) While Philadelphia's decisions might not always seem today to have been the wisest for her or her daughter, she made them as a woman of her time, with limited options and resources.

Regardless of the shadows in her past, Phila (as she was known in the family) was welcomed at the home of her brother George, now a clergyman, and she was with George's wife when their daughter Jane was born. It's easy to imagine why Aunt Phila became Jane's favorite aunt: not only was she a trusted member of the family, but she also carried with her that hint of mystery and scandal, along with the exoticism of India and the sophistication of Paris - all in short supply in the home of a country clergyman.

When I look at the little miniature of Philadelphia shown here, I see only an elegantly attractive lady, with a fashionable hairstyle and a genteel smile. That little half-smile only makes me long to know the truth about her personal history, and to fill in all those scandalous gaps that time (and perhaps the well-meaning and more respectable George) have glossed over. Ahh, Jane, if only you'd written your aunt's story!

Top: Miniature portrait ring of Philadelphia Austen Hancock, by John Smart, c1768. Private collection. Photograph copyright Rowan & Rowan.
 
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