Untold lives blog

14 posts from January 2014

09 January 2014

George IV in Highland Dress

The Prince Regent became King George IV on 29 January 1820 and was crowned on 19 July the same year.  The coronation provided the occasion for a display of unparalleled magnificence – not least in the new monarch’s dress.  George IV was keen for further opportunities to display himself in royal state to his subjects.  In 1821 he visited both Ireland and Hanover.  In 1822 it was the turn of Scotland.

Portrait of George IV when Prince of WalesNocPortrait of George IV (when Prince of Wales) from The British Gallery of Contemporary Portraits. London, 1822.  (Tab.1249.a.)

The Scottish visit was recorded in some detail by Robert Mudie, at that time a reporter for the London newspaper the Morning Chronicle, in A Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland published soon afterwards.  Mudie provided a minutely detailed account, from the King’s journey to Greenwich to embark for his voyage to Edinburgh until his departure from the Scottish capital for his return by sea to London.

Apart from the ecstatic reception on his arrival in Edinburgh, one of the high points of the visit was the King’s levee held at the palace of Holyrood on 17 August 1822.  The Caledonian Mercury for 19 August provided a report, declaring:

On Saturday, his Majesty held his first levee in the Scottish metropolis, which was most splendidly attended, and we hear that the numbers exceeded those of any levee ever held in London.

There followed a lengthy list of those who ‘had the honour of being presented to his Majesty’.  According to Mudie ‘The King himself remarked at the close, that there must have passed him not less than 2000 persons’.

George IV at Leith - arriving by boatNocDetail from a plate in Mudie, A Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland, ‘TheLanding of King George IV at Leith, 15th August 1822’. (811.d.33)

George IV took care to be appropriately attired.  According to the Caledonian Mercury ‘His Majesty was superbly dressed in the Highland costume, with trews of the Stuart tartan. … the manly and graceful figure of his Majesty was finely displayed in this martial dress’.  London’s Morning Post for 22 August added a few details - ‘his Majesty was dressed in a full Highland uniform, and wore the broad sword, pistols, and philebeg [a belted plaid]’.  The King was painted in his Highland dress some years later by Sir David Wilkie - the portrait is now in the Royal Collection.  Wilkie took care to emphasise George IV’s ‘manly and graceful figure’ and to depict the many rich jewels that formed part of the King’s exuberantly luxurious appearance.


Moira Goff
Curator Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800 Cc-by

Visit our  exhibition Georgians Revealed

Further reading:
Robert Mudie. A Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland. Edinburgh, 1822.
Stephen Parissien. George IV: the Grand Entertainment. London, 2001.
E.A. Smith. George IV. New Haven and London, 1999.


08 January 2014

George III and Architectural Drawing

King George III’s education included languages (English, German and Latin), sciences (physics, chemistry and astronomy), history and mathematics.  He learnt about art and architecture, and he was taught several accomplishments.  Amongst these last, he learnt to dance, to fence, to ride, music (he played the harpsichord and the flute) and to draw.  His artistic education was varied.  The artist and architect Joshua Kirby (1716-1774) was appointed as his drawing master in 1756, while George was still Prince of Wales, and taught him perspectival drawing.

In 1761, not long after George succeeded his grandfather as King of Great Britain, Kirby published The Perspective of Architecture.  The large folio volume included ‘One Hundred Copper-Plates’ with a frontispiece designed by William Hogarth, and cost three guineas ‘in sheets’ (unbound).  It was a luxurious and expensive volume, dedicated to the King.  The elaborately calligraphy of the engraved dedication leaf proclaimed that the work was ‘begun by Your Majesty’s Command, carried on under your Eye, and now Published by Your Royal Munificence’.  More than that, it also included one plate for which the original had been drawn by George himself, although Kirby did not have the presumption to say so explicitly.

Plate 66 shows a colonnaded house in Palladian style.

Colonnaded house in Palladian styleJohn Kirby, The Perspective of Architecture. London, 1761. Plate 66 (Reference: 56.i.19-20) Noc

The original drawing in pencil, pen and ink and grey wash is now in the Royal Collection, described as a ‘Perspective drawing of a classical building with pavilion wings’.  An annotation by Kirby ascribes it to his royal pupil.

Kirby and his son William were made joint clerks of the works at  in 1761.  George III’s interest in architectural drawing, also fostered by his simultaneous study of architecture with Sir William Chambers, continued for many years.  It is evident in the King’s Library (where what must have been Kirby’s presentation copy is kept) and the King’s Topographical Collection, which contains many drawings as well as innumerable architectural prints.  Both collections provide ample testimony to the range and depth of the King’s artistic and cultural interests.

George III Tobias Smollett. Continuation of the Complete History of England. London, 1760-65. Vol. 4 (Reference: 1608/476)  Noc


Moira Goff
Curator Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800 Cc-by

Further reading:
Jeremy Black. George III: America’s last King. New Haven and London, 2006.
John Brooke, King George III.  London, 1985

Visit our exhibition Georgians Revealed

07 January 2014

King in Masquerade

George II succeeded his father as King of Great Britain in 1727, at the age of forty-four.  He has had a bad press ever since, for he is still seen as a dull, regimented, tight-fisted philistine. This image is far from being accurate.

George IIGeorge II, frontispiece. Thomas Salmon. The Chronological Historian. 3rd ed. London, 1747. (291.f.22-23)  Noc

When George I came to England in 1714 to claim his new throne, he was accompanied by his son and daughter-in-law, George and Caroline the new Prince and Princess of Wales.  The young couple quickly began to pursue an active cultural life, regularly attending public plays and operas and playing a key part in court life from drawing room receptions to balls.  When Prince George quarrelled with his father in 1717 (the two were not reconciled until 1720), he and his wife set up a rival court at Leicester House on the north side of what is now Leicester Square.  George I was forced to undertake an uncharacteristically lively programme of court entertainments to keep up with them.

George II was very fond of Hanover, where he had been born and grew up.  Once he became king he returned there as regularly as he could, usually during the summer months when the British parliament was not sitting and he could safely be absent from his kingdom.  On one such visit he showed that he was as capable of fun as any of his subjects.  In the summer of 1740, George had been widowed for some three years and had an acknowledged mistress, Amalie Sophie Marianne von Wallmoden who had recently been created Countess of Yarmouth.  His fourth daughter Mary had just been married to Friedrich II, Landgraf of Hessen-Kassel.  Her visit to Hanover with her new husband provided a perfect excuse for courtly festivities.

A description of some of the entertainments was provided by a visiting courtier and diplomat from Prussia, Baron Jakob Friedrich Bielfeld.  His letters were published in an English translation in London 1768-1770.  In the autumn of 1740, Beilfeld wrote of the ‘grand entertainments’ given by George II in Hanover, including a ‘superb masked ball’.  However, an even greater entertainment was to come:   

Some days after we had a grand masquerade at the opera hous [sic] at Hannover, which was finely illuminated with wax lights.  The number of masks was prodigious.  The king was in Turkish dress, the turban of which was ornamented with a magnificent egret of brilliants: this mask was very proper for a prince … because it disguises well, and has a commanding aspect.  Lady Yarmouth was in the habit of a Sultana.

Bielfeld was clearly dazzled by royalty.  Even so, his account contradicts the image of George II as invariably boring and miserly.  When the mood took him, the king clearly knew how to royally entertain himself, his court and his subjects.

Moira Goff
Curator Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800 Cc-by

Visit our  exhibition Georgians Revealed


06 January 2014

George I and the French and Italian comedians

When he became King of Great Britain in 1714, George I was fifty-four years old.  He has routinely been dismissed in popular histories as an old, dull German prince who spoke no English.  In fact, the king had some spoken and written English.  He had good French, German and Latin.  He preferred to use French, a language also popular with the British upper classes.  As the ruler of Hanover, George had enjoyed and fostered a court culture strongly influenced by France and Italy.  He brought these tastes with him to England.

George IGeorge I, frontispiece. The Annals of King George, Year the First. London, 1716. (1568/8697) Noc

In London, George I occasionally attended the public theatres – his preference was for musical works, particularly the newly imported Italian opera.  However, in November 1718 a troupe of French comedians arrived in London to play at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre.  On 26 November the King attended a performance. He saw two farces adapted from plays by Molière and the Original Weekly Journal  for 29 November reported ‘we hear, his Majesty gave 100 guineas’ to the company. George had obviously enjoyed the show.

In later years, George I occasionally attended English plays and as a patron of Handel he continued to go to the opera.  By the 1720s, the most popular entertainment in London’s theatres was the pantomime – a show which used dancing, singing and farcical action derived from the commedia dell’arte, with sophisticated scenes and machines intended to dazzle audiences.  In January 1726, the new pantomime at Lincoln’s Inn Fields was Apollo and Daphne. The Daily Post for 18 March recorded the King’s visit:

Last Night His Majesty went to the Theatre Royal in Lincoln’s-Inn Fields to see the Play of the Country Wife, and the Entertainment of Apollo and Daphne, in which was Perform’d a particular Flying on that Occasion, of a Cupid descending, and presenting his Majesty with a Book of the Entertainment, and then ascended.

The newspaper said nothing of the King’s reaction, but ‘the Audience seem’d much pleas’d’.  It is likely that the King enjoyed it too.

In the autumn of 1726 a company of Italian comedians arrived in London.  Their first performance, at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket on 28 September 1726, was both commanded and attended by the King with the Prince and Princess of Wales.  George I commanded every performance by the troupe while they were in London and attended at least eleven times.  He must have been among the company’s patrons. He obviously enjoyed the commedia dell’arte plays, with their swift, lively and bawdy action intermingled with dancing, which must surely have reminded him of the court entertainments of his younger years.

So, was George I really that dull?

Moira Goff
Curator Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800 Cc-by

Further reading:
Ragnhild Hatton. George I. New haven and London, 2001
Harry William Pedicord. “By Their Majesties’ Command”. The House of Hanover at the London Theatres, 1714-1800. London, 1991.

Visit our exhibition Georgians Revealed


03 January 2014

Drawing the Line – the partition of India and Pakistan

Drawing The Line is a new play by dramatist Howard Brenton.  The line in question is the international boundary between India and Pakistan which was hurriedly drawn up in the summer of 1947, almost immediately prior to independence and partition on 15 August that year.  Major historical figures such as Gandhi, Mountbatten, Attlee, Jinnah and Nehru are all portrayed on stage as trying and failing to avoid the horrendous loss of life that ensued.

Jinnah & Nehru Nehru & Jinnah walking together in the grounds of Viceregal Lodge, Simla, 11 May 1946  Photo 134/2(28)  Noc

The play, however, chooses to concentrate on the plight of the hapless Cyril Radcliffe, the British civil servant handed the daunting and all but impossible job of working out the border on the map.  Neither a politician nor a cartographer, he had never visited India before in his life and only arrived in Delhi on 5 July, with a brief to complete his task by 7 August.

His private secretary - also a character in the play - was Oxford graduate Christopher Beaumont.  The British Library holds copies of letters he wrote home to his mother between January 1937 and August 1947.  Some of the material is typescript, but most is in Beaumont’s rather crabbed handwriting.  Two of the letters were composed while he was airborne when members of the Boundary Commission flew between various Indian cities as the deadline for British withdrawal approached.

Map of Punjab boundaryIOR Maps Noc

Beaumont is usually very guarded about commenting on the work of the Commission, although in a letter of 28 July 1947 he does go so far as to say:
  “The actual job is difficult. Neither the Punjab nor Bengal was ever intended to be partitioned and it will not be possible to do it otherwise than by leaving nearly everyone with a grievance – more or less legitimate.  The position of the Sikhs in the Punjab will be particularly hard. Altogether a thankless task …”.

The letters are thus perhaps more useful in illustrating aspects of the daily life of a British official in the twilight of the Raj.  First going out to India at the age of 24, Beaumont has to get used to extremes of climate, to bouts of dysentery and prickly heat.  He frets about whether or not he will pass the language examinations he is required to sit; he relaxes with occasional rounds of golf and games of tennis and bridge, although sometimes bats interrupt his cooling midnight swims; and he gets to feel at home in the United Service Club in Simla (“It is limited in membership to the I.C.S. and Army so that the rabble is excluded …”).  Quite early on (26 July 1937) he writes that “Amritsar is about the most seditious town in India, & riots are endemic …”, seemingly without wondering why this should be so. 

He is not above commenting waspishly on some of his colleagues, such as a judge – “a peculiar little man with a penchant for alcohol” – a police superintendent – “a taciturn fellow with little humour” – and a surgeon – “He started life as a clarinet player in Melbourne and saved enough money to take the medical exams.  He never speaks without prefacing his remarks with an oath.”  Beaumont did, however, come to like India, retaining generally fond memories of it until his death in 2002.

Hedley Sutton
Asian and African Studies Reference Team Leader Cc-by

Further reading:
IOPP/Mss Eur Photo Eur 428 Photocopies of letters from Herbert Christopher Beaumont (born 1912), Indian Civil Service, Punjab 1936-44, Indian Political Service 1944-47, Private Secretary to Chairman of the Boundary Commissions (Sir Cyril Radcliffe) 1947, to his mother commenting on his life in India.
IOPP/Mss Eur R150 Tape recording of interview, given 1984, by Herbert Christopher Beaumont (b 1912), on his career in the Indian Civil Service, Punjab 1936-44 and in the Indian Political Service 1944-47.

01 January 2014

New Year gifts to the poor from Queen Victoria

Having shared the story of Queen Victoria’s enthusiastic participation in Hallowe’en jollity in Scotland, I was keen to discover how she celebrated New Year.  I searched in vain for reports of royal Hogmanay celebrations at Balmoral – the Queen spent New Year at Windsor.  Newspapers focus on her annual distribution of gifts to the poor of Berkshire rather than on merrymaking at the Castle.

Q is for Queen illustration

From Cousin Chatterbox's Railway Alphabet - 12985.c.1. plate 9 Images Online Noc

Every year Queen Victoria gave gifts of food, fuel and clothing to the aged, infirm and ‘deserving poor’ of Windsor, Eton, and Clewer.  The Berkshire Chronicle of 1 January 1853 explained how a committee of royal officials and local dignitaries selected ‘those most deserving of the royal bounty, such as persons who had distinguished themselves by tidiness and prudence in the management of their household affairs, more particularly those who, in compliance with royal wishes, had shown a disposition to help themselves’.  The chosen recipients were divided into five classes according to the size of their family and the amount of goods given to them was adjusted accordingly.  In 1853 the first class of largest families received 7lb of beef, 3lb of plum pudding, and 2½cwt of coal.  The total amounts donated that New Year were 900lb beef, 2700lb pudding, and 50 tons of coal.  Bread, potatoes, blankets and ‘useful’ clothing were also provided.  It appears that tickets for ale were issued early in Victoria’s reign but this was dropped as being impolitic in 1846 (The Era 3 January 1847).

The distribution took place in the Riding School at Windsor Home Park. The building was decorated with banners, flowers and evergreens.  The Queen and members of her family attended with their New Year guests from the Castle, sitting in the gallery which afforded an excellent view of proceedings.  The poor entered by the west door, moving to the centre where the supplies were handed to them by local officials.  Sometimes members of the royal family tasted the plum pudding and walked amongst the stacked tables to see the ‘interesting proceedings’ at closer quarters. The poor left by the eastern entrance beneath the Queen’s gallery, ‘each, as they walked up the building, laden with their gifts, respectfully acknowledging to the Queen her Majesty’s kind benevolence’ (The Era 3 January 1847).

Happy New Year from Untold Lives!

Margaret Makepeace
Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Queen’s Hallowe’en
British Newspaper Archive