On May 2nd 1816 Princess Charlotte, the only child of the Prince Regent and second in line to the throne, married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. The marriage was to end the next year with the tragic death of the princess in childbirth, but, happily without the benefit of a crystal ball, the marriage was greeted with great acclaim.
Her grandmother the Queen held a Drawing Room especially to receive congratulations upon this significant occasion and the magazine La Belle Assemblée provided “copious particulars” of the event.
The Drawing Room was to commence at two o’clock at Buckingham House (known as the Queen’s House and later, of course, as Buckingham Palace after George IV had it remodelled) but the company began to arrive at twelve and continued coming until “past four at all the different entrances.”
“The distinguished characters who came to Court were kept in their carriages an uncommon time in the regular ranks; the carriages frequently reached to Oxford-street, and some who resided in St James’s-square had to go as far as Oxford-street before they could get into the rank.”
“The grand object of attraction, the Princess Charlotte and the Prince of Saxe-Coburg arrived at a quarter before two in state; their carriage being preceded by three others, in which were their full suites…escorted by a company of the Life Guards. The Prince Regent, the Duke and Duchess of York, the Duke of Gloucester, accompanied by his Royal Sister, came in state…”
“A few minutes after two o’clock her Majesty, with her usual punctuality, entered the Drawing Room with her numerous and illustrious family, all looking in extreme good health.”
Those who had come to pay their respects could not leave because of the great throng of carriages. “The windows of the Palace were in consequence, filled with elegantes, others promenaded the Palace courtyard and the grass-plat: and such an assemblage, in such splendid dresses, parading in the open air, must rarely have been seen in England upon any occasion.”
As well as the fashionable there was a full turn out of judges in their robes, King’s Counsel in their wigs, naval and army officers and the court servants in full state livery.
Not surprisingly there was a huge crowd to watch this spectacle – “...the top of the Queen’s guard-house covered with respectable persons, several trees filled with persons [presumably not so respectable], and the whole Park filled with people and carriages.”
La Belle Assemblée was unable to list all those presented because of the number, but the reasons for their receiving this honour were many and various – “Mrs Territt, on her arrival from abroad…Viscount Kinnaird, on his coming to his title… Capt. Toser on his promotion...Sir Simon Smart on his marriage…Colonel Thomas, of the Bengal army, by the Marquis of Wellesley…” Numerous young ladies were presented by their mothers.
There were twelve dukes present, including de Bourbon and Orleans, five duchesses, fifteen marquesses with their wives, forty seven earls and their spouses and column after column of lesser aristocracy, officers, ambassadors, bishops, right down to a list of plain misters and misses.
The magazine devoted seven pages, double column, to descriptions of the outfits worn by every female guest – in strict order of precedence.
Ladies would still be wearing hoops – ludicrous with the fashionable high waist - and ostrich plumes, and the men would be wearing dress swords and carrying chapeau bras, so the crowding must have been made infinitely worse by the clothes. Hoops were abolished by George VI and the print of Lady Worsley Holmes (above) at his first Drawing Room in 1820 shows this more rational style.
The Duchess of Buccleugh, to take one duchess at random, was wearing a white satin petticoat, decorated with rich white and gold stripes and a purple satin train. She seems to have been somewhat outdone in the bling stakes by the Marchioness of Blandford in “white satin petticoat, with magnificent gold lama draperies, elegantly ornamented with gold cord and tassels; train of purple satin, trimmed with a full lama border: headdress - feathers and jewels.”
The heat must have been incredible – and the smell of all those tight-packed bodies would hardly have been masked by perfume. And how on earth did they manage for loos – especially in those outfits? The modern mind boggles.