Monday, 30 April 2012

The Patronesses of Almack's

Almack's was the place to be during the Regency London Season. It was the marriage market, where reputations were made and destroyed, and where women had the power. Unlike most social clubs of the time, such as White's and Brooks's, Almack's was ruled by six, sometimes seven, women. These women were leaders of fashion and society who had the power to make someone a success or a social pariah. Admittance into Almack's assembly rooms was tightly controlled and only those who received vouchers from the patronesses were admitted in. Their approval was especially vital for the young ladies coming out into society, hoping to find a husband within the short (and expensive) season. Although their role may seem rather trivial, these women had connections that reached the very top - their fathers, brothers, husbands, lovers and friends ruled much of Europe - which meant that they had power over much more than just deciding which ladies could dance a Waltz. Below I've looked into two of the Regency time patronesses, their families, and names from their family trees. File:Lord Castlereagh Marquess of Londonderry.jpg

Amelia (Emily) Anne Hobart married Robert Stewart, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry, in 1794. Although the couple was by all accounts happily married, they had no children. Emily was one of the older patronesses, becoming one in 1812 when her husband became head of Foreign Affairs. She is best known for not allowing anyone to enter Almack's after 11pm, even the influential Duke of Wellington. She is supposed to have been a beauty and a devoted wife.

The brilliant Robert Stewart is perhaps best know by his courtesy title of Viscount Castlereagh. At the age of 29 he became Chief Secretary for Ireland and went on to have a successful career in politics, becoming  Leader of the House of Commons and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs during the Napoleonic wars. He became increasingly unpopular by the end of his career, and the constant criticism may have contributed towards his death. He started to suffer from paranoia and had a nervous breakdown. Many had become worried over his strange behaviour, including the Duke of Wellington and Princess Lieven, but even with his wife and doctor's intervention, Castlereagh, only 53, took his own life. His portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence (above) now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, which is a hop, skip and a jump away from the National Gallery. It is, in my opinion, Lawrence's best portrait.

A look at their extended family trees throws up some interesting, even unusual, names:

Mairi - The Scottish form of Mary
Maglona - The name of a Roman Calvary station 
Aline - A medieval short form of Adeline, although I have also seen it as a nickname for Alexandrine/a.
Emelina - Perhaps another less common Em- alternative to add to the list
Ivor - A name brought to Britain by the Scandinavians, it means 'bow warrior'

File:Emily Lamb by William Owen.jpg File:Palmerston 1802.jpg

Emily Mary Lamb married Peter Leopold Louis Francis Nassau Cowper, 5th Earl Cowper, in 1805. It was very much a mismatched marriage. Cowper was dull, nearly ten years older than his vibrant wife, and nowhere near as socially graceful. 

Emily, by contrast, shined. She followed in many of her mother's footsteps, including becoming one of the most popular hostesses of the age and having a string of well-known affairs. Only her first son, George Augustus Frederick (the heir to her husband's title) is likely to have been Cowper's child. The paternity of her other four children, Frances Elizabeth, Emily Caroline Catherine Frances, William Francis and Charles Spencer are disputed, although it is almost certain that William and Emily were the children of Henry John Temple. It seems that Emily had loved Temple - better known as Viscount Palmerston - for a number of years, and married him a year and a half after the death of her first husband. Unlike with her first marriage, Emily seems to have been a loving and faithful wife, taking much interest in Palmerston and his career (he served two terms as Prime Minister). With her connections, intelligence, wit, and political savvy, Emily was a success, becoming one of the most popular of  Almack's patronesses.

Some interesting finds from Emily and Cowper's extended family trees include:

Elyned - The name of a Welsh saint
Marslie - Maybe a nice name to squeeze in between the Marleys and Macys

Peniston - Must admit that I rather like the idea of a little boy with the nickname Penny, although I would settle for handsome Penn. Its possibly a Cornish name related to an estate or enclosure
Devereux - An attractive place name related to a town in Normandy
Einon - Once a popular Welsh name, it means 'son of the man of fortitude'

Image: Amelia Anne Hobart, Viscountess Castlereagh and Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Emily Lamb, Countess Cowper by William Owen. John Henry Temple, Viscount Palmerston by Thomas Heaphy.