Friday, June 17, 2011

The Prince Regent and
L'Ordre du Saint-Esprit 1815

The Prince Regent loved a costume, or a uniform, or any kind of ceremony which required extra-special dressing. So he must have been delighted when the King of France, early in 1815, created him a member of the French Order of the Holy Spirit, and sent him a 'superb dress' with the Order. The Literary Panorama and National Register of March 1815 published a complete description of the dress. When I read it, it sparked several questions in my mind….

The Prince Regent must have loved this outfit. And indeed, as a man who respected history and delighted in its details, he would have been honoured to receive the historic order.
Above is the Grand Royal Coat of Arms of France and Navarre. The collar of L'Ordre du Saint-Esprit circles the two shields at centre. The Order of the Holy Spirit was created by Henri III in 1578 to ensure the loyalty of his most powerful nobles. It was officially abolished during the French Revolution along with all other such orders. But it continued to be supported by the remnants of French royalty and nobility even after the French monarchy was completely eliminated after 1848.

The Collar of L'Ordre du Saint-Esprit

The king who presented the Prince Regent with the Order was Louis XVIII, who ruled around the comings and goings of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was the brother of Louis XVI, ruling de jure from 8 June 1795 to 16 September 1824, after his brother's execution and the death of his young nephew in prison. He only took the throne however from the 11 April 1814 to 20 March 1815 and then following Napoleon's final defeat from 8 July 1815 to his death in September 1824.
From these dates--and the date of the National Register item above--it is clear that King Louis XVIII bestowed the Order of the Holy Spirit on the Prince Regent just before Napoleon's last hundred days began. Within weeks of the bestowal, Louis was again in exile as Napoleon made his final push for domination. Even the journal must have been published just before Napoleon's escape in March 1815.

A final note that I found fascinating: the Cross of the Holy Spirit (part of the accountrements of the order) was hung from a blue riband and the Knights of the Order became known as Les Cordon Bleus. This term came to be associated with excellence--for example, blue ribbon sports winners, and, fine cooking. It is even suggested that the term Cordon Bleu cooking evolved from the brilliance of the Order's dinners!

Ah, the joys of research…

Next week, Regency mystery author Lynn Shepherd will be guest blogging about the niceties of detail in the Regency novel. Lynn is the author of the award-winning Murder at Mansfield Park. Her next book – another ‘literary murder’ – will be published in 2012. Visit her at her website

'Til next time,



Debra Brown said...

Thank you for the lovely details! I know that the Regent created much of the pomp and circumstance, ceremonies, etc. that is part of the British appeal, at least to foreigners, today. With the Prince being so meticulous in his grooming, I can imagine he was thrilled to receive this garb. And therefore doubly upset when Napoleon escaped! How could he go about in this fine outfit if Louis was not even on the throne? I'm sure it inspired him to send his best men to fight at Waterloo.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Such a good point, Debbie! It must have been frustrating for the Regent...and it must have been scary for him to see Louis XVIII struggle to hold his throne. Thanks for visiting.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Lesley,
Thanks for the great pictures and the interesting story. This is a bit of history that I wasn't familar with.


Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

I didn't know about it either Jana. It's amazing what you can find in 200 year old magazines :)