Dec 192019

The Petit Trianon – west facade. Neo-classical geometric perfection, but no room for personal idiosyncrasies….


A few views of the interior – nothing soft or feminine here.

The Marlborough Tower – so called after a popular lullaby of the time

Driving  towards Paris this summer I stayed the night at Versailles – and it gave me the opportunity to  visit the gardens and, in particular, to go round the park of the Grand Trianon. It includes the small cube-shaped chateau called the Petit Trianon, built between 1762 and 1768 during the reign of Louis XV of France. It was intended, to begin with, as a private home for  the king’s mistress – initially for Madame de Pompadour but she died four years before its was completed and it went on to be occupied by her successor, Madame du Barry.

When Louis XV died he was succeeded by the newly-married Louis XVI. He gifted the Petit Trianon to his new queen Marie Antoinette and she quickly set about redecorating it and making it into her own retreat – a place to escape from the constant scrutiny and plotting which dominated life at Versailles. She  altered the botanical gardens, bringing in Anglo-Oriental gardens more in tune with prevailing tastes. She had married at the age of 19, and must have hated being surrounded by elderly courtiers constantly using her to try and influence the king. Here at the Petit Trianon she could  lay down rules about who could visit.









She also developed  the hameau or hamlet, a mock-rural idyll where, the story goes, she could dress as a peasant and spend her days milking the cows and parading  her sheep on the end of silk ribbons. It is certainly a curious place to visit – a place of leisure designed by the architect Richard Mique. There is a lake, a meadow-land, a classical temple of love, a grotto and cascade and a tower in the form of a lighthouse. There is a mill house – which never contained any mill mechanism – a dairy and a working farm house. Dominating the group of buildings is the “Queen’s House”, connected to the adjoining building by a wooden gallery.












The style of the rustic, supposedly vernacular, buildings reminded me of the group of houses at Blaise Hamlet at Henbury, just north of Bristol. These were designed by John Nash in the late 1790’s and both hamlets have a similar feel of ‘cultivated antiquity’ – they are fake, but they are pretty and lovely to visit.

Dec 152019

Today marks the anniversary of a wedding ceremony between George, Prince of Wales and his current squeeze, the Roman Catholic  Maria Fitzherbert,

She had originally married at the age of 18 to the 34-year-old Edward Weld of Lulworth Castle. He died almost immediately. Three years later she married Thomas Fitzherbert and had a child by him. The child died in infancy. Then Thomas died, in May 1781, leaving Maria a house in London’s Park Street – and an income of over £1000 a year.

A few years later she was introduced to the Prince of Wales by her uncle Lord Sefton, while visiting the opera. She was 27 and the Prince was five years her junior. The Prince fell for her charms, apparently oblivious to the fact that she was totally unsuitable in the eyes of his father the King – because she was a Roman Catholic. The couple knew that a ‘proper’ marriage was out of the question and contrary to the Royal Marriages Act, but the Prince searched around trying to find a vicar who would marry them The first two clergymen declined, but when he approached the Rev Robert Burt he got a positive response. It may have had something to do with the fact that the good Reverend had been appointed as one of the Prince’s chaplains in June 1784. Come December, he performed a marriage ceremony at the home of Mrs Fitzherbert. The date: 15 December 1784

The Prince vehemently denied to his father that the marriage ceremony had ever taken place, but lived openly with Maria for ten years until his mounting debts finally forced him into a marriage he never wanted – with Caroline of Brunswick. This was done in order to placate George III, who wanted to secure the succession with a legitimate heir. Here, a print showing the Prince and Maria in bed  the morning after the ‘marriage’ -with the Prince letting out a big yawn after a hard night between the matrimonial sheets….. Subtle eh?

The Morning After Marriage. © National Portrait Gallery, London

It appeared in April 1786 and is by James Gillray – this particular version is shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery but there are other (coloured) versions on the British Museum site and in the Royal Collection.

In fact Gillray was merely echoing the rumour of the marriage which had resulted in a print the previous month entitled  ‘Wedding Night, or the Fash[i]onable Frolic’. It appears on the Yale University Lewis Walpole Library site, where they quote an abstract  from the British Museum : ‘The Prince and Mrs. Fitzherbert, dancing to the fiddle of George Hanger (right), advance towards an open door (left) through which is seen a large bed, the curtains raised; above the pillows are a crown and triple plume. The feathers are repeated on a chamber-pot under the raised valance of the bed. They are  … elaborately dressed,  their arms are round each other’s waists, the Prince holds with his right hand the left hand of Mrs. Fitzherbert. She wears a small crown, with flowers and ribbons, and triple ostrich plume. George Hanger … stands in profile to the left, watching the couple fixedly; a bludgeon hangs from his wrist. An open music-book at his feet shows that he is playing the ‘Black Joke’. On the floor (left) are an open book, ‘Matrimony’, and a torn paper, ‘Cirtificate’. Over the door is a picture of Cupid with his bow turning away from Danaë receiving the shower of gold.’

On 21 March 1786 S W Fores had published a print by Henry Kingsbury in a similar vein, entitled ‘Twas Nobody saw the Lovers leap and let the cat out of the bag’ – showing the royal couple jumping over the broomstick (ie getting married) – this time under the auspices of Charles Fox who, like George Hanger, was one of the Prince’s inner circle.

In fact there had been a plethora of prints appearing in March. Here are two more, both on the Lewis Walpole site:

‘All for love’ shows the Prince jumping the broomstick with portraits of Mary Robinson and the Duchess of Devonshire looking on.  George Hanger is on the left holding one end of the broomstick – and he appears in the image above it called ‘The Follies of the Day – the Marriage of Figaro’ carrying what appears to be a shillelagh or cudgel.

The Prince of Wales always provided good copy for the caricaturists – which probably explains why the Prince built up a huge collection of satirical prints, many of them aimed at him. It is ironic that the royal collection was considered to be ‘surplus to requirements’ a hundred years later by George V – who preferred collecting his postage stamps, and he flogged the caricature collection to the United States. Our loss – their gain! And it is why the Library of Congress in the States has such a splendid collection of 18th and 19th century satirical prints.

Dec 102019

On 10 December 1791 a print was published by S W Fores of 3 Piccadilly showing the apparent eagerness with which the King and Queen had greeted the news that their son Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany, had found himself a wealthy bride. She was to become Princess Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina, Duchess of York, and she lived until 1820. The print was drawn by Isaac Cruikshank  and a similar (but different) image appears on the British Museum site where it is described as  showing ‘the Duke of York, surrounded by delighted women, holding an open box in which stands a tiny figure representing his bride. On the inside of the lid is a double-headed Prussian eagle and ‘13,000 & Great Expectations’. He advances towards the throne (left), where the King and Queen watch on eagerly; the King looks through a spy glass, the Queen holds out grasping hands. The fat woman in green looking  at the ‘Pearl’ is probably Mrs. Schwellenberg.’

Juliane von Schwellenberg lived between 1728 and 1797 and was always the subject of ridicule, accused of siphoning off money and sending it back to Germany. She was one of the Queen’s Ladies of the Bedchamber  or more accurately, Keeper of the Robes. One of her rivals after 1785 was Fanny Burney, with whom she quarreled.  Madame S exerted considerable influence over the Queen – you couldn’t get to see the Queen unless you first chatted up Madame S over a cup of tea in her private rooms at Buckingham House.

The caricature was one of a group of satirical prints which came out towards the end of November, linked to the arrival of the Duke and Duchess.

I rather like this James Gillray image which had come out on 22 November 1791 and published by Hannah Humphrey. The Lewis Walpole site quotes from the British Museum catalogue: ‘The Duke of York leads his bride to the King and Queen, who are seated side by side on the throne (right), much caricatured, making gestures of eager greed. The King looks through a glass, the Queen holds out her apron to catch the coins which the Duchess holds in her apron. Behind the pair on the extreme left walks a gigantic Prussian soldier with extravagantly long moustaches, carrying a large money-bag under each arm, inscribed ‘£100000’ and ‘£100 . . .’

The fact that the new duchess was wealthy was much talked about. Two weeks earlier  another Gillray print had come out entitled ‘The Soldiers Return – or Rare news for Old England.’  The British Museum catalogue describes the scene: ‘The Duke of York and his bride walk arm in arm, in the manner of a tramping soldier and his wife. A large bundle on his back is inscribed ‘£ 300,000’; he uses his sabre as a walking-stick. She is pregnant, and carries a large money-bag: ‘Pin Money £50,000 Pr Annm’. Behind them (left) in the distance is a castle with a flag inscribed ‘Berlin’. The Duke wears regimentals with his star; the Duchess wears a simple straw hat, tilted back to show a tiara.” [Disregard the scandalous suggestion that the new duchess was pregnant – she wasn’t!]

Frederick Duke of York painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1816

The Duchess of York, by Darbes

As for the royal wedding – Frederick Augustus was the ‘Grand old Duke of York’ of nursery rhyme fame. The second son of the King and Queen, he was twenty-eight when he settled down and married. His bride was his cousin.  She was the daughter of King Frederick Wiliam II of Prussia and he married her not once but twice – the first time on 29 September 1791 at Charlottenburg, Berlin, and on the second occasion on 23 November 1791 at Buckingham  House.  Unfortunately, going through a second ceremony did not make it any happier and the couple soon separated.



The Marriage of the Duke and Duchess of York by Sir Henry Singleton

After they separated, Frederica retired to Oatlands Park Weybridge, where she lived until her death in 1820. There were no children – a fact which led to pressure being brought on the Duke’s elder brother (the Prince of Wales) to  ‘do his duty’, give up the divorcee Maria Fitzherbert, and to settle down and father a legitimate heir.

Meanwhile the union with the ‘Prussian Pearl’ had led to one of the most famous of the caricatures ever drawn by the great James Gillray – ‘Fashionable Contrasts’. The background had been the sycophantic  avalanche of gushing nonsense in the British Press – how delicate her features were, how tiny her feet., etc etc. Gillray showed the couple having it off on the matrimonial bed – and suddenly it killed the sycophancy stone dead. Clearly there was a lot of sexual innuendo going on about the correlation between  the size of the feet and the size of other anatomical features…

This Isaac Cruikshank sketch of the shoe of the duchess shows the fascination with her dainty feet:

James Gillray produced half a dozen caricatures based on the new duchess; in this one he seems to be suggesting that she attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales and that he was rather keen on his kid brother’s new bride. It shows her dancing the minuet with the Prince (recognizable by his profile and his choice of clothes). She is showing an immodest amount of cleavage and, most shocking, is displaying rather a lot of  ankle and calf – plus, of course, those minute feet!

Poor Princess Frederica – after her death she was described as  “a harmless but an eccentric little woman, with an extraordinary fondness for cats and dogs” . The eccentricity extended to the keeping of pet monkeys – and flocks of birds in an aviary – as well as eighteen dogs. She liked music and was said to have devoted  her time to charitable works. Apparently she lived in a somewhat twilight world –  she required her household staff to read aloud to her until the late hours of the night and then did not rise until 3 in the afternoon. In the winter one suspects that she never saw sunshine from one month to the next….



(All caricatures shown courtesy of the Yale University Digital Library )