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An Elegant Madness
This book is a dreadful confusion of mistakes and bunglesCompletely and frustratingly Venetia Murray seems to be unable to get her facts right. She continually misnames, misdates, contradicts or bungles events. If there is a wealth of information in here it is difficult to believe - as her mistakes so overshadow the book it brings her academic credibility into question.
She uses the 'long' Regency - that is the adult life of George IV as her limits - 1780-1830. Her chapters are generally written without dates but with everything in her text implying that these events happened in a progression. Closer examination reveal this 'progression of events' in fact are a hotch-potch which jump back and forth throughout this period with no relevance to development of anything but a theme in her mind. An event from 1800 might be followed by another from 1790, then 1830 and back to 1810 again. There is no progression to base her conclusions on, but she generally manages to conclude something from this 'progression.'
While this book might be a 'good read' I would go elsewhere to find out facts of the Regency because she cannot be relied on. The following are just a few of the facts that she managed to mix up or mistake - I don't think there is the space or the time to list them all - I certainly got tired of it
If you don't want to read on in detail I recommend you find a good book to read so
have a look at some of the reference books recommended by the Regency Collection.
It should be Sir James Wedderburn Webster, not James Webster-Wedderburn.
Lord William Pitt Lennox not Lord William Pitt-Lennox - he is in fact a younger son of the Duke of Richmond whose middle name
happened to be 'Pitt'. At no
stage in any writing was there ever a suggestion - even when he signed his own name - that this was a hyphenated surname.
He wrote as
William Pitt Lennox, but again, never with a hyphen.
She got the name of 'Old Q' wrong in the text of her book on page 44 - he
was the Duke of Queensbury, not the Marquis (who was Sir Charles Douglas and
inherited the title of Marquis on the Duke's death in 1810). Although to
give Murray her due, she does get it right in the index. Perhaps one of the few examples of her getting something right - she lists
a reference to the Duke of Queensbury on page 44 - and she the person she is talking about on page 44 is definitely the Duke of
Queensbury - its just on page 44 itself she calls him the Marquis of Queensbury.
Murray provides a long and substantial list in her bibiography - some seven books - specifically on the Spencer/Devonshire/Bessborough
families - yet she clearly has absolutely no idea of the relationships
as she constantly confuses them.Unfortunately there were three generations of Georgiana's and Harriets and Murray manages
to mix them up completely and with a consistency that can only be marvelled at.
Did she read these books at all? And if so - how on earth did she make her
notes? She should have had easily enough information to get a general idea, but she just couldn't get it right.
In one breathtaking page she managed to confuse the same Harriet by calling her first the aunt (Henrietta, Lady Bessborough), and later on the
next page the niece, (Lady Harriet Cavendish). Even her Index - which is a whole
separate issue in itself manages to compound these inconsistencies by confusing them all yet again in new and exciting ways.
They aren't that difficult to distinguish from one another - and certainly if she had actually read any of the books she had listed
it would have become patently clear who was who.
It should be Sir James Wedderburn Webster, not James Webster-Wedderburn.
Lord William Pitt Lennox not Lord William Pitt-Lennox - he is in fact a younger son of the Duke of Richmond whose middle name happened to be 'Pitt'. At no stage in any writing was there ever a suggestion - even when he signed his own name - that this was a hyphenated surname. He wrote as William Pitt Lennox, but again, never with a hyphen.
She got the name of 'Old Q' wrong in the text of her book on page 44 - he was the Duke of Queensbury, not the Marquis (who was Sir Charles Douglas and inherited the title of Marquis on the Duke's death in 1810). Although to give Murray her due, she does get it right in the index. Perhaps one of the few examples of her getting something right - she lists a reference to the Duke of Queensbury on page 44 - and she the person she is talking about on page 44 is definitely the Duke of Queensbury - its just on page 44 itself she calls him the Marquis of Queensbury.
Murray provides a long and substantial list in her bibiography - some seven books - specifically on the Spencer/Devonshire/Bessborough families - yet she clearly has absolutely no idea of the relationships as she constantly confuses them.Unfortunately there were three generations of Georgiana's and Harriets and Murray manages to mix them up completely and with a consistency that can only be marvelled at. Did she read these books at all? And if so - how on earth did she make her notes? She should have had easily enough information to get a general idea, but she just couldn't get it right.
In one breathtaking page she managed to confuse the same Harriet by calling her first the aunt (Henrietta, Lady Bessborough), and later on the next page the niece, (Lady Harriet Cavendish). Even her Index - which is a whole separate issue in itself manages to compound these inconsistencies by confusing them all yet again in new and exciting ways.
They aren't that difficult to distinguish from one another - and certainly if she had actually read any of the books she had listed it would have become patently clear who was who.
The Earls of Barrymore.It should be pointed out that the Earl of Barrymore mentioned on page 42 of An Elegant Madness and described as one of 'The Prince Regent's hell-raising friends of his youth." was not the Earl of Barrymore during the Prince Regent's youth but in fact his brother. Murray gets herself confused about the two of them and clearly has decided that there was only one Earl. A look at Murray's index confirms this. There is only the Seventh Earl of Barrymore listed, no other. I can't find any reference to any other Barry, (family name) Barrymore, (title) Henry, or Cripplegate. So these are the two:
The Seventh Earl, Richard Barry died in 1793 in a rather bizarre shooting accident. He was only 23 or 24 years and already a Rake of very disspated habits and known as 'Hellgate'.
The brother (which she does mention on page 4) was Henry Barry, also known as 'Cripplegate' who became the eighth Earl of Barrymore on Richard's death. He was also a close friend of the Prince of Wales and was almost as dissipated as his brother. Murray mentions the family on page 4 however she implies that it is the seventh Earl of Barrymore, "Hellgate" that attended the wedding of Princess Caroline to the Prince of Wales - this is somewhat improbable since he had been dead for some 2 years. The Barrymore, if he was at the wedding in 1795, would have been the eighth Earl, "Cripplegate"
She can't even get her page numbering right for this either in her index she claims that there is an Earl of Barrymore mentioned on page 52. There is no Earl there that I can find, so I can only assume that she meant to list page 42 where there is an Earl of Barrymore mentioned - a fact she fails to mention in her index.
Just for interest there was also a third brother in the family, Augustus Barry who was nicknamed "Newgate" that being a women's prison and the only he had not been thrown inside. There was quite an infamous sketch of the three published in the late 1780s (I think) called "Le Trois Magots" which was rather damning of the three.
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Marriage to Deceased Wife's sisterShowing just how much Murray doesn't know her stuff on this period she manages to mislead everyone on this point saying on page 63 that the elopement of the Marquess of Worcester with his deceased wife's sister was against the law. In fact she is wrong, it was not against the law at the time. There was definite resistance from the clergy to it though. It took the Marriage Act of 1835 to make them illegal.
The prohibition on marrying your brother's wife comes from an Old Testament text: "If a man shall take his brother's wife, it is an impurity: he hath uncovered his brother's nakedness; they shall be childless." (Leviticus xx,21.) Now you might well notice that this could easily mean don't take your brother's wife _while he is alive_, but the medieval church interpreted it to mean that people could not marry their deceased spouse's sibling, at all. The church did, however, grant dispensations from the prohibition.
There was no outright civil ban on these marriages in England although they were certainly discouraged but these marriages were considered voidable, (meaning either party could use the relationship as a reason to annul the marriage) but were not void. Many couples had to go to France to contract these marriages because the clergy in Britain opposed it because of the canon law.
By the 1830's, eminent people who had contracted these marriages and feared they might later be declared void, sought to have their position stabilized and a bill was introduced by Lord Lyndhurst to regularize them. The bill that was passed in 1835 enacted that "all marriages which shall hereafter be celebrated between persons within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity or affinity shall be absolutely null and void to all intents and purposes whatsoever." At the same time the act did legalize all marriages within the prohibited degrees of affinity (i.e. with deceased wife's sister) that had been celebrated before August 31, 1835. That meant that all those eminent people (and their children) were safe.
It was only any later marriages, after the date of the Marriage Act which were void. Beginning in the 1860's, bills were introduced in Parliament just about annually to allow marriage with deceased wife's sister; it finally passed in 1907. The issue prompted the classic line from Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta 'Iolanthe' - "We will prick that annual blister, marriage to deceased wife's sister". Marriage with deceased husband's brother did not become legal in England until the 1960's.
Devonshire HouseThere is a piece on page 53 that really annoys me. On it Murray says; "It must have been difficult for a debutante brought up at Melbourne or Devonshire House, for example, to know how to act." Her implication is, with all the affairs going on, how was a young thing expected to know how to act as a debutante.
The girls bought up at Melbourne House were one, Lady Emily Lamb. She was the only daughter of Lord and Lady Melbourne and left home when she married her Lord Cowper in 1805. There were no daughters in the house after that as neither of her brothers George nor William Lamb had daughters. Therefore Murray must have been talking about Emily, Lady Cowper.
I would point out that Lady Melbourne is renowned as one of the most discreet and best hostesses of the period, and her daughter was made in her mold. I would also point out that Lady Melbourne believed that discretion was everything and followed this tenet firmly. Of her four sons only the eldest, Peniston Lamb, was the son of husband. The other three were sons of prominent men of society, but she conducted her affairs with discretion and finesse. Perhaps in modern morals she would not be respectable, but by Georgian standards she was, appearance was everything to them. The Lady Melbourne conducted her life with dignity and discretion was admired and respected. Her daughter, Emily, certainly learnt her place in society and how to conduct herself from her mother. She was well loved and respected as a person and a hostess as well as a fascinating letter writer. On the death of her first husband Lord Cowper she married Lord Palmerston who at one stage was Prime Minister of Great Britain.
At Devonshire House there were four girls in the house. The two daughters of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Georgiana and Lady Harriet Cavendish. Their cousin, daughter of Duchessses sister, Lady Caroline Ponsonby. And the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and Lady Elizabeth Foster, Caroline St Jules.
All of them bar Lady Caroline (who married William Lamb), led exemplary public lives. They had all firmly instilled in them that manners and discretion above all were vital for their position. There was no confusion as they were brought up to know the difference between a public and a private life.
Only Lady Caroline refused to submit to this - she knew the difference but frequently held forth on the dishonesty of it. Her affairs were public, usually unhappy, and generally dramatic. So to say that life in Melbourne or Devonshire house would have made it difficult for them to know how to act is patently ridiculous. They clearly did know how to act - and followed it carefully. Lady Caroline Lamb who didn't cannot be blamed for this. There was clearly something wrong with her mentally from quite early on - before she went to live at Devonshire House from the age of nine.
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WellingtonOn Page 49 Murray recounts an incident in which the Duke of Wellington was refused entry to Almack's. I think it should be said that the duke quite agreed with the ladies, he was a stickler for rules himself and when he was refused entry he was unoffended by it.
WellesleyIn Murray's index she lists; Wellesely, 1st Marquess pages 17,144.
The 1st Marquess Wellesley was Richard Colley Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington's eldest brother. Richard had inherited the family title, and became the Second Earl of Mornington then later, around 1798, he was created 1st Marquess Wellesley.
On page 17 Murray calls the Marquess Wellesley Wellington's brother - which is true. Yet on page 144, the only other index listing for the Marquess Wellington she says: "The Marquess Wellington, a nephew of Wellington's, was a confirmed Dandy....".
So for the same index person she has the first Marquess Wellington as being both Wellington's brother and his nephew - a difficult situation even within the close intermarriages of the upperclasses of this time - and of course quite untrue. There was only one Marquess Wellesley and that was Richard, Wellington's older brother. Richard lived from 1760-1842 - he had no legitimate heirs so the title died with him.
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Hazlitt, Keats and CobbettOn Page 19 Murray throws us the sentence ;
"The noble science of pugilism attracted such diverse admirers as Hazlitt Keats and Cobbett."
While most people will be aware that Keats is a poet, I would say there are far few readers who would have any idea who Hazlitt and Cobbett were, so how they could deduce that that this group of three were 'diverse' I have no idea.
I had a look in Murray's index and there are a few entries for Cobbett. When I looked them up I noticed he is generally referred to as just 'Cobbett' although in the last two entries Murray relents and calls him William Cobbett, and she almost hints at what he did. Although she never comes out and actually explains it. In fact William Cobbett (1763-1835) was a journalist, most famous at the time for his editorship (from 1802) of 'Cobbett's Political Register'. He was for the workers and against privelege and corruption.
In 1830 he published his book "Rural Rides" which describe his rides through the south (mostly) of England in 1821 and are an excellent source of information on conditions of the rural life at the time. He also published a number of other books including "The English Gardener".
I also checked Murray's other references for Hazlitt - out of interest - and while she has a few other pages mentioned I can't see his name or his work on any of the listed pages apart from page 19. If someone else wants to check, she also has listed pages 24, 112, 128, and 277 as mentioning Hazlitt. I might have missed his name or something.
Anyway - seeing as I can't find any mention of who Hazlitt was in Murray's book this is just a brief biography. William Hazlitt, (1778-1830) was a one of the most influential essayists of his time. He wrote mostly politically at first in in 1807 published "The eloquence of the British Senate." After this he turned more to literary criticism and contributed to periodicals like "The Edinburgh Review". I would have thought a simple explanation might have helped on this - but clearly she had no idea who they were anyway.
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Mutiny at GilbralterThe Mutiny at Gibralter not only does Murray not date this event but she is misleading in what caused it. The date of the mutiny she throws into her book is 1802 and in fact the mutiny wasn't about his "gratuitous brutality". There was a briefly mutinous period on Christmas Eve of 1802 by one Regiment, the 2nd Battalion of Royals (which was fired on by the others when it tried to incite them to riot) and again 2 days later by about a third of the 25th regiment. From Roger Fulford's "Royal Dukes" - pg 179-80 - "The Duke and his code of orders was entirely responisble for the mutiny and mothing by good fortune saved a much more serious outbreak." I might only add that this same book is cited as a source in Murray's bibliograhpy.
The main problem arose as this incident was overplayed in the British papers causing them to send a replacement sent out to take over, as he arrived in Gilbralter he reported that he was surprised to see the flag still flying.
Basically the problem behind the mutiny of 1802 was not his 'gratuitous cruelty" but a 300 page code of conduct that included things like the length of hair, date that it could be cut and amount of pomander and powder that were to be used. He regulated to within an inch of his life. The most critical thing he regulated was the drinking of soldiers which was severely restricted and in the case of the mutiny he had deemed that Christmas Day was _not_ to be for merriment and getting drunk. Once again, Murray has been entirely misleading in her statements.
So to get the story straight, Prince Edward (as the Duke of Kent was known until March 1799) - was first sent to Gilbrater in 1790 at the age of 23 where he was renowned for being a stern disciplinarian. He served there until 1791 when reports started to filter back to Britain about unrest among the troops about his treatment of them. The Prince followed this rigourously and he drilled and disciplined relentlessly and cruelly. It was only in the beginning of the nineteenth century with changing warfare and weapons that large scale drilling movements of huge numbers of exposed troops began to phase out and the Rifleman, with his independent thought and ability to skirmish and snipe arouse in popularity.
Part of the problem was the position of Gibralter. There had been a prolonged seige a decade before, but the small piece of land was really only a parade ground. The Prince had read much of the theory of war of the time which put successful battles won down to absolute discipline of the troops and the ability to drill as a complete unit - this would make the British soldiers the finest in the world - or so it was thought.
After Gibralter the Prince was packed off to Canada which had recently been captured by the British from the French - he reached Quebec in June 1791. Again he instituted his drilling regime and men began to desert. When one man was caught the Prince sentenced him to 999 lashes (the maximum allowed) a group of men decided to kill the Prince but they couldn't keep it secret and were arrested and court martialled - mostly to lashes but Private Draper was sentenced to death. There was a rather gruesome march to the execution grounds with Draper in his burial clothes and a coffin coming along behind - however at the gallows the Prince pardoned him.
The Duke was never popular with the troops. In March of 1799 he had been created Duke of Kent and Strathern and Earl of Dublin. He returned to Britain in September of 1800.
He stayed in Britain for 2 years before his final - unsuccessful stint at Gibralter where the minor muntiny described above occured in 1802.
I think Murray makes a bit of mull of this as well. Her impression is the troops in Gibralter mutinied from cruelty - which they didn't. There was unrest becauseof discipline and driling in 1790 in Gilbralter - but no mutiny, there was certainly unrest and a plot for his lashing in Canada - but the only actual mutiny or close mutinous action in Gilbralter in 1802 was related to drink not lashing.
900 lashes was certainly a great punishment, but I have read of other punishments of similar nature and Haythornthwaite mentions punishments up to 1,200 for some soldiers. Usually they were administered by the regiments buglers in 25 lots (so the arm wouldn't tire and deliver weak lashes). The man would be cut down after a certain number of lashes, given time to recover and the rest would be administered when he had healed enough. The whole Battalion would be present for the punishment.
It was the nature of the army at the time. There were floggings in the 95th Rifles one of the new and less brutal regiments of the army, but these were rare, and thought to be fair.
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BrummellThe initial meeting between Brummell and the Prince of Wales did not occur in such a pastoral idyll as is laid out by Murray. It was one of the tales spread about him that is not only unlikely but highly improbable as no one has been able to track down this aunt 'Searle' that is mentioned. She could have done a little more research before spouting off this apocryphal tale.
It is much more likely that the Prince of Wales met Brummell either at Eton (as he was known to visit) or equally as likely through Devonshire House where Brummell met the Duchess of Devonshire. Brummell's father was on very good terms with Charles Fox, the MP - who was a close friend of the Duchesses.
Certainly there is no definitive record of their first meeting - but in May 1794 he was gazetted as a cornet in the 10th Light Dragoons, The Prince of Wales Regiment, less than a month before his 16th birthday.
Murray mentions the Incident on page 31 which she states as 1814 - "Whose your Fat Friend" actually occurred (in all the books I've read) in 1813.
The situation was that Brummell, Lord Alvanely, Sir Henry Mildmay and Henry Pierrepoint had had a marvellous run of luck at Hazard at Watier's in April of 1813 and decided to celebrate they would hold a ball at the Argyll rooms. The Prince of Wales was already cold with Brummell and was also no longer on good terms with Mildmay. So Pierrepont was deputed to ask if he would like to attend.
So the Prince said yes and all four hosts were there to receive him. The Prince arrived, shook hands with Pierrepont and Alvanely , but looked Mildmay and Brummell full in the face before passing on without a word. The insult was deliberate not to mention premeditated. If he had been angry with them the Prince did not have to attend, nor did he need to stoop to such public rudeness - it was a deliberate calculated snub. It was then that Brummell delivered his line, "Alvanely, who's your fat friend."
The Prince of Wales was not a little sensitive about his weight by the way.
Murray states firmly that this was the reason their friendship ended - however no biography on Brummell claims this - they all put the end down to various misunderstandings that happened much earlier. The "Fat Friend" incident being the final, and public demonstration of this fall out.
She also implies it is Brummell's rudeness when in fact this comment from Brummell was preceded by that incredibly boorish incident by the Prince. It should be noted that Brummell kept life long friends - unlike the Prince who went through friends like water - even in his exile Brummell's friends still visited and wrote to him, proving his power of friendship beyond his influence on society.
I would also like to add that there is yet another error in Murray when she talks of the Prince of Wales offering Brummell a cornetcy in the 10th Hussars in the 1790's (which was the Prince of Wales Regiment). The Prince of Wales Regiment was the 10th Light Dragoons. It was changed into a Hussar Regiment in 1806, some 8 years after Brummell sold out.
I would also question her assertion that Neckclothatania (published in 1818) mentioned on page 33 (although not by name) was solely satirical - or had fictional ties. Lewis Melville in "Beau Brummell" seems to think it real enough, as do a number of other writers I have read. Certainly the Four-In-Hand knot is the one that most men use today to tie their ties. Neckclothatania was published some 2 years after the flight of Brummell to the continent.
I would also add that in a later chapter Murray asserts that Brummell spent most of his money on clothes. In fact it seems that Brummell spent considerably less on his clothes than many other men of his time - he lost his money - as did most of his contemporary's - on gaming.
Also on Page 31 she refers to Brummell living 'beyond his means' in a house on Chesterfield Street, previously she refers to him inheriting 30,000 pounds. In fact Brummell put this a lot higher - probably more like 50-60,000 pounds which gave him an easy income of 2,000 pounds a year.
Considering he rarely entertained, dressed with care but not extravagantly and did fill his house with exquisite but I don't think excessive furniture etc - it is much more likely that the other biographers that have referred to his gaming and the huge stakes at the clubs he frequented, this is more likely. He did joke once when asked how much a single man would need to live on in town, as 1000 pounds. This was clearly one of his satirical statements as it would have cost much less than that - assuming they didn't get corrupted by the gambling clubs on the way.
Just a note on his house in Chesterfield Street. He lived at no.4 Chesterfield Street from 1797 until 1809 - although I have heard it referred to as 'lodgings' rather than he bourght the house. In 1810 he moved to 24 South Street, and moved again in 1812, at the height of his fame and influence, to Chapel Street, where he lived until his flight to the continent.
Also, as far as I am aware, no one at his Levee's (the invitations to watch him dress in the mornings) was actually allowed in the dressing room. The doors would be opened after he had done his ablutions (as recorded in Murray) but they would be in another room, not actually with Brummell himself.
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