Three Mid-nineteenth Century Royal Beauties and Their Beauty Secrets

Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Three mid-nineteenth century royal beauties served as the glamorous ideal for women in the Victorian Era. These three beauties were the Empress Eugénie (wife of Napoleon III, Emperor of the French), Princess Alexandra of Denmark (wife to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and heir apparent to Queen Victoria), and Elizabeth of Austria (wife to Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, and monarch of other states in the Austro-Hungarian Empire).

Newspapers, journals, and fashion magazines regularly referred to the three women. Portrait artists, such as the German painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter, known for his portraits of royalty in the mid-nineteenth century, also captured their beauty on canvas. However, what all Victorian women wanted to know was the beauty secrets of these three royal women. Continue reading

The Calash Bonnet

Calash Bonnet: Large Calash of 1770, 1770s, with Fan-shaped Pleating and Ribbons on Either Side
Large calash of 1770s, with fan-shaped pleating and ribbons on either side. Courtesy of

The calash bonnet (known in France as the thérèse or caleche) was a popular and intriguing millinery item in the mid-1700s and were worn through the early 1800s. It came about because it protected the towering hairstyles that were popular at the time from inclement weather and it allowed for decency. Because it tied under the chin, it was considered more of bonnet than a hat. On the tall calash versions, ribbons were attached to the brim to allow the wearer to draw it up as required. Thus, it operated similar to the collapsible top found on the carriage by the same name. One description of how the bonnet operated was provided by Englishman Thomas Wright: Continue reading

Silhouette Artist and Prosopographus Inventor Charles Samuel Hervé II

Likenesses created from the prosopographus. Courtesy of Bonhams.

The silhouette artist and prosopographus inventor Charles Samuel Hervé II (hereafter referred to as Hervé) was christened on 28 February 1785 at the All Hallows London Wall. His father was a British-born French Huguenot merchant named Peter Daniel Hervé and his mother Margaret Russel. They had several sons Peter (born 1779), Henry (born 1783), Francis (born 1787) and Hervé, who was the youngest. Continue reading

Tales of Madame Tussaud’s Exhibition

Drawing by Francis Tussaud. Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London.

Madame Tussaud oldest son Joseph was wandering around the Baker Street exhibition one day. He saw an old gentleman standing in front of a display of Napoleon Bonaparte. At the time, to reduce the amount of dust in the display, the curtains over Napoleon’s camp bedstead were closed at night. The old gentleman appeared to be desirous of seeing the display and so Joseph raised the curtain. There was Napoleon lying-in-state on the bedstead. He was wearing a green uniform and the cloak that he wore at Marengo. His arms were crossed over his chest and he held a crucifix. At that point, the visitor removed his hat to study the figure more closely, and it was then that Joseph discovered that man was actually Napoleon’s nemesis, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

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George III’s Golden Jubilee

Today’s guests are authors Sarah Murden and Joanne Major. They have chosen to write about King George III’s golden jubilee:

King George III was 71 years of age and had reigned longer than any British monarch since Edward III some four centuries earlier. It was a momentous occasion but technically, as was pointed out at the time, 25th October 1809 marked the beginning of the fiftieth year of King George III’s reign – he ascended to the throne upon the death of his grandfather on that day in 1760 – and so the jubilee of 1809 celebrated his forty-nine years on the throne.

George III., Royal Collection Trust.

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Conjurors and Conjuring in the 1700s

William Hogarth’s a “Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism,” March 15, 1762. Courtesy of the British Museum.

Conjurors and conjuring existed long before the 1700s, and in its simplest form, conjuring was a performance of tricks that appeared to be magical and usually involved some sort of sleight of hand. Well before conjuring became popular in the 1700s, conjuring performances were given in antiquity and in the middle ages. However, there was never an overabundance of conjurors, even in the late 1800s, as one historian noted:

“I have said nothing concerning the manners and habits of conjurors, simply because there is nothing to be said. There are so few conjurors, as compared with circus performers, or members of the theatrical profession, that they do not contract those peculiarities of manner, language, and dress by which individuals of other classes of entertainers may almost invariably be distinguished. Performing singly, and each being (except occasionally in London or Paris) the only conjuror in the town which he is temporarily located, they have few opportunities of association, and those peculiarities which are the product of gregariousness are, in consequence, not developed. The conjuror, again, is very seldom trained to the profession from his youth, … and this being the case, as it has been with all the most eminent performers of legerdemain, they carry into the profession the habits and manners of the section of society in which they are born.”[1] Continue reading

Firsts Related to Ballooning

Chapeau à la Montgolfier and Chapeau au Ballon Aérostatique. Public domain.

In the late 1700 and early 1800s, there were a number of firsts related to ballooning, and all of these first caused the public to embrace what was called “balloonmania.” Clothing was printed with balloon images and fashions were styled au ballon that included rounded skirts and huge puffed-sleeved dresses. Hair was also coiffed à la montgolfier, au demi-ballon, or à la Blanchard. In addition, women began wearing what was called the “balloon hat,” described by one person as “worn low down on one side, and high on the other.”[1] Dresses, hair, and hats were not the only items that sported a balloon theme. People could buy almost anything decorated with images of balloons. For instance, numerous engravings were printed to commemorate balloon flights, chairs were designed with balloon backs, and silver and pewter plates were engraved with balloons, as were all sorts of snuff boxes. There were also the following items: Continue reading

The Trials of Teething: Soothing Infants in the Nineteenth Century

Mallory James

My guest today is Mallory James. Mallory has long been interested in the nineteenth century and set up her blog, Behind The Past, to indulge this passion. Her blog is made up of a series of how-to guides and lifestyle hints, aimed at any aspiring Regency and Victorian ladies and gentlemen. Here is her post on Victorian teething:

Early on in A Treatise on First Dentition, Jean Baptiste Timothée Baumes repeated a statistic which was seemingly accepted at the time: one sixth of infants lost their lives to ‘the accidents of dentition.’ While we may not be able explore the history of that figure here, and it should be added that Baumes’ text originally dates to the eighteenth century, it is not difficult to grasp the danger that illnesses such as fever and diarrhoea – which were commonly associated with teething – would have posed to infants during the nineteenth century. Clearly, the trials of teething are not to be taken in jest. Continue reading

The French Conjuror Val in England

The French conjuror Val made his first appearance in London in the spring of 1803 at Willis’s Rooms, charging an admission of seven shillings. Val, like other conjurors, performed tricks that usually involved some sort of sleight of hand and appeared to be magical. However, those who saw Val quickly discovered he was no ordinary conjuror and that his performance was superb. They loudly praised him stating: Continue reading

Frisky Matrons of the Victorian Era

A ballroom scene by James Tissot in 1873 titled “Too Early.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One reporter declared in 1863 that there were too many “frisky matrons” of the Victorian Era. He claimed that married women were become all too common a sight at London balls and at English country houses. To justify his position, he wrote the following piece that he titled “Frisky Matrons,” which is provided nearly verbatim:

Whoever had charge of the Japanese Ambassadors last year must have attempted to explain to their puzzled Excellencies the object and meaning of a ball. It is intended, he probably said, to enable the youth and beauty of each sex to mingle in the dance. Hither fair maidens flock, for the purpose of captivating their future husbands. Their mothers attend, at the cost of much physical suffering, not so much from the promptings of parental instinct, as from a high, perhaps exaggerated, sense of decorum. Continue reading