Friday, September 24, 2010

The Cult Of Celebrity In The Late Eighteenth And Early Nineteenth Century --
Guest Blogger Nicola Cornick

There is a tendency to see celebrity as a modern phenomenon, a product of the age of mass media but the concept of being lionised or celebrated was widely understood as far back as Greek or Roman times when gladiators, for example, were the heroes of the sporting arena. In the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries fame’s spotlight was provided via portraits and paintings, newspapers and scandal sheets, word of mouth and public appearances rather than by the electronic media, but its fundamental effect was the same as today.

The Written Word

The Reverend Henry Bate took the editor’s chair at the Morning Post in 1772 and from the start he concentrated the newspaper’s coverage on personalities. He joined the Beefsteak Club, where he met and cultivated Sheridan, Garrick and other contemporary wits and he had an entrée to the Prince of Wales’s circle of friends from whom he gained many items of scurrilous gossip. Throughout the eighteenth century the public appetite for scandal and secret history, as it was called, was given blanket coverage in the press, often fuelled by the salacious details of evidence from adultery cases heard in the House of Lords.

It was in keeping with this tradition of muckraking that scandal sheets were handed out in the London streets in Georgian and Regency times. Thus it was that the crowds who hailed Horatio Nelson as a hero were equally well acquainted with his personal relationships. Details of his ménage a trois with Sir William and Lady Hamilton were common knowledge. This appeared to make little impact on Nelson’s popularity and could arguably be said to have been an essential aspect of his celebrity persona.

Nelson also took an active part in the “spinning” of his own legend, starting with his own account of the events of the Battle of St Vincent in 1797. He consciously used the press to create the hero image that drew him to public attention and acclaim.

Public Appearances

Just as the film stars of the modern day turn out to wave to the crowds at premieres and parties, so the celebrities of the Regency age were feted in streets.

On his return to England in the summer of 1797 Nelson was greeted with public acclaim wherever he went. Each of his victories was celebrated by huge popular demonstrations. Nor was Nelson the only Regency celebrity to receive such popular acclaim. During the state visit of Czar Alexander of Russia and King Frederick of Prussia in 1814 celebrity-watchers went to ridiculous lengths to catch a glimpse of their heroes, some people renting windows along the route of the Grand Procession, others holding parties in kitchens and basements so that they could peer through the area grating to see the famous visitors pass by.

Sporting heroes of the day also used their popularity to generate public celebrity. George Wilson, famed for his achievements in the sport of pedestrianism, understood the value of publicity and used to advertise his events in advance, selling engravings of himself in action to onlookers. By 1815 he was so famous that when he turned up for a pedestrian event in Blackheath there was such a huge crowd that he had to employ men with whips and ten foot staves to cut his way through the throng, the equivalent of the modern day bodyguard.


Portraiture was another way in which celebrities could use the visual arts to project an image. There was a growing demand for glamorous and humorous pictures. Sporting heroes such as boxers Jem Belcher and Tom Cribb had their reputations enhanced through the production of tinted drawings like modern day sporting posters. Opera singers and actresses were celebrated in a similar way. The cartoons of Gillray, Cruikshank and Rowlandson lampooned celebrities and were reproduced by the thousand. The victims of the caricaturists prized their celebrity then just as their contemporaries do now and the Prince Regent paid vast sums to collect the originals of Gillray’s cartoons of himself.

Benjamin Haydon’s portrait of the poet Wordsworth was painted against a backdrop of the mountain Helvellyn – a hero in the setting of his deeds. The artists who painted Nelson were colluding with the subject to present him in heroic guise and burnish his celebrity. Lord Byron accompanied the publication of his poem The Corsair in 1814 with a self-portrait complete with exotic headscarf and cutlass, thus identifying himself explicitly with the smouldering piratical hero.

The fame of most Regency celebrities was based on accomplishment, whether military, sporting or other. It that respect it could be said to have a greater intrinsic worth than some modern day celebrity, though it could also be argued that the fame of Beau Brummell, for example, based on his skill as an arbiter of fashion, was no different from that of a top model today. As for the beautiful Misses Gunning, a comparison with reality television might be drawn when a crowd turned out at an inn one night simply to watch them eat!

Nicola Cornick is the author of 35 books for Harlequin Historicals and HQN. A double RITA and UK RNA Award nominee, Nicola also works as a historian in the 17th century hunting lodge Ashdown House. She has an MA in Public History and studied hero and hero legends for her dissertation.

WHISPER of SCANDAL by Nicola Cornick
- October 2010 Release!

Lady Joanna Ware is the darling of the Ton, a society hostess who has put behind her the misery of her unhappy marriage to a philanderer. Until her late husband bequeaths to her joint care of his illegitimate child…

Alexander, Lord Grant, is an explorer lauded as a hero and adventurer. He scorns the Ton and wants no family ties. Until his best friend bequeaths to him joint care of his illegitimate child…

Joanna and Alex disagree from the moment they first meet, so how are they ever to stay civil long enough to join forces and rescue the orphaned baby girl? Saving Nina takes them from the celebrity salons and balls of Regency London to the frozen wastes of the North Pole and tests both of them - and their emotions - to the very limit. For what will happen when their bitter hostility turns to an equally passionate desire?

Friday, September 17, 2010

William Kilburn-A Practical Artist

William Kilburn was a Georgian--strictly speaking much of his work was done before the Regency era. But his beautiful floral renderings shaped the look of Regency world, through the fabrics and furnishings that decorated it.

I first became aware of Kilburn some fifteen years ago with a small pocket diary from British company, Past Times. It bore illustrations of Kilburn's work from a Victoria and Albert Museum treasure trove called the 'Kilburn Album'.

William Kilburn was born in Ireland in 1745 and lived to 1818. He began his working life as apprentice to a calico-printer, and showed great talent in design and drawing. His skill at botanical drawing led him to England to work on the famed Flora Londinensis published by William Curtis in 1777. After 1777 however there is no evidence of further botanical illustration, and Kilburn seems to have concentrated on floral design particularly for fabrics. He was the manager of a calico-printing works, and in 1787 he was one of the prime movers in the passing of a copyright law protecting the artists and printers of patterns from theft of their designs.

I find his floral illustrations utterly delightful. This design with an intense blue background shows a distinct flavour of chinoiserie in the angular branches that unite the flowers.

In this cream-grounded design, the pattern is concentrated in sprays of flowers; this would have a delightful impact if used in wallpaper or silk hangings.

William Kilburn was a financial success in the calico-printing industry. To me, however, his success lies in leaving a legacy of beauty for future generations to enjoy. His designs have the power still to give pleasure and satisfy the design esthetic of anyone who loves flowers. Thank you, Mr. Kilburn.

Next week, notable Regency author Nicola Cornick will be guest blogging here on The Cult of Celebrity in Regency England. Be sure to come back then and enjoy Nicola's informative post.

'Til next time,


P.S. The Kilburn family is still involved in artistic pursuits. You can visit Alistair Kilburn, William's great-great-great-grandson, and view the delightful work of the current generation.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Gold and Gems, Paste and Pinchbeck--
The Beauty of Regency Jewelry

I love jewelry--my family will attest to the fact. Rings, earrings, pins, and necklaces of all sorts--I could deck myself like a Christmas tree every day and be perfectly happy. In my life, unlike my Regency heroines, I have to show restraint and so I like to look at Regency jewels and relish their beauty.

As fashions turned to classical simplicity in the early 1800s so too did the jewelry worn with them. The heavy silks and brocades of the 18th century were suited to massive jewels, stomachers, brooches and parures. The light muslins and softly draped silks of the Regency lent themselves to delicate necklaces, chains, lockets, and pendant earrings. Bracelets suited the new fashions, armlets were worn above gloves on the bare upper arm revealed by evening gowns, and tiaras transformed into classical diadems.

While goldsmiths and gem dealers made objects of great beauty and individuality (charming sapphires and diamonds above), the industrial revolution was encouraging machine made jewelry and materials like pinchbeck (a form of brass) and delicate Berlin ironwork were becoming popular. Semiprecious stones rivalled diamonds in popularity, and paste (glass) jewels and jet were often chosen to ornament the neoclassical designs.

Pearls were always fashionable and particularly suitable for very young ladies, the white variety symbolizing innocence and purity. Pearls were also a popular daytime jewel, when sparkling stones were not appropriate. 

Descriptions of fashions in the Repository of the Arts from Rudolph Ackermann have a fund of information to offer about Regency jewelry. Pearls and jet often appear in the illustrations. An evening dress from 1818 is accompanied by "Earrings, armlets, necklace and cross composed of jet."  Another describes, "Necklace, earrings and bracelets of emerald and dead gold." I have not yet discovered the appearance of gold in this form but presumably it was not highly burnished. Earrings of the late Regency are variously described as "large, and of the Chinese bell-shape", "a la Flamande" (a long narrow pendant), and "pagoda".

  Medallion necklaces were particularly popular. The medallions might be pendant or integrated within the chain base, and could be cameos, stones, finely painted plaques, or pierced metalwork.

Likewise, beads were highly fashionable. Many materials lent themselves to beading--coral, jet, and hardstones such as agate and jade. Strings of beads might be interspersed with pearls, or precious metal beads as in the highly decorative strand below.      
I have seen some beautiful pieces of Regency jewelry on the BBC Antiques Roadshow, and the Sotheby's auction rooms website. I only wish I owned some along with my more modest pieces!

'Til next time,


For more information on Regency jewelry, please visit the websites below:

November's Autumn Blog

Suite 101

The Three Graces Fine Jewelry

Friday, September 3, 2010

Location, Location, Location!

Newspapers of the Regency era were full of property advertisements. Much like today, real estate was changing ownership constantly. The advertisements are as full of hyperbole in 1800 as they are today. Desirable, substantial, and spacious are words that appeared as frequently then as now.
"A Spacious, elegant, Leasehold Mansion, with Stabling for Six Horses, double Coach House, and every necessary attached and detached Office, suited to a large Family, late the Residence of a Lady of Fashion: The Premises are desirably situate No. 12, on the South Side of Hereford-Street, Grosvenor-Square, with Command of View over Hyde-Park from both Fronts, and contain a splendid suit of Apartments on each Floor, and have been recently put in the most elegant and compleat Repair."
To be sold by Auction by Mr. Christie, At his Great Room, in Pall-Mall (from the Daily Advertiser, January 1, 1796

In the same paper on the same day, Mr. Christie also offered the property of Sir John Lade for sale. Sir John and his wife Letty cut a swath through Regency society, being neither particularly cultured nor polite, but possessed it seems of a fine home.
"A spacious and singularly elegant Leasehold House, capital Stabling for eight Horses, Harness-Room, four Coach-Houses, Loft, Granary, and Servants Room, and suitable domestick Offices, suited to a large Family, having an additional Story, the Residence and Property of Sir John Lade, Bart. The Premises are elegantly situate the upper End of Piccadilly with beautiful Command of View over the Green Park, Surry Hills, etc. and the Locality to Hyde-Park renders them particularly eligible; and contain a Suit of three elegant Apartments on each Floor, principal and back Staircase, In the most elegant and compleat Repair, and fit for the immediate Reception of a large genteel Family. At the same Time will be sold, all the elegant Houshold Furniture, large French Plate Pier-Glasses, large Stock of excellent Wines, and other vaulable Effects."
One could only wish that prices were attached to these advertisments. How much did such a property cost? Further research is required!

If one removed from London, a garden villa was an option. One was sold by private contract by Mr. Scott of Ludgate-hill who advertised in the Courier and Evening Gazette in 1800.
"Champion Hill, near Camberwell, Surry - The Lease of a Genteel Modern Villa with Coach-house and Stables and a large Garden, delightful situate on the Summit of the Hill within four Miles of London, containing an elegant Drawing-room, Dining-room, and Study, eight Chambers, etc. with LAND ...with the Advantage of purchasing the valuable modern furniture at a fair valuation, and the Option of the genteel Drawing-room furniture."
There were also more modest, and business-like properties for sale. In the Morning Chronicle of March 1814, Mr. Lloyd in Nelson-Square offered:

"To be sold a Bargain, the Lease of a capital, substantial, new built House with two good parlours with folding doors, a large drawing-room, three good bedrooms, two attics, two good kitchens, cellars, and a counting house detached. Pleasantly situated having a commanding view of Blackfriars-road."
The possibilities were endless, but none of them mention bathrooms, or water-closets, gas lighting, or heating options. One can only assume all such amenities were for the future. The advertisments make the most interesting reading however, and bring us that little bit closer to the real people of the Regency and their fascinating world.

'Til next time,