I don’t mind admitting that if I had been born in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century I am not sure that I would have been as much of a traveller. My spirit would probably have been curious but whether I would have translated that curiosity into action is quite another matter because in that period it was not really the done thing for ladies to travel - unless they were following their husbands, of course.
There were some adventurous exceptions to the rule, and I came across one in the shape of Elizabeth, Lady Craven. Elizabeth was a woman who travelled beyond the more fashionable countries of Europe at a time when it was very unusual for any lady to do so of her own accord as a private individual. But then Elizabeth Craven was something of an original. Born in 1750, Lady Craven was a society beauty, famous for her published plays and her apparently excruciatingly bad verse and equally famous for her indiscreet love affairs. In 1780 she left Lord Craven and went to France, settling for a little in a house near Versailles. She did not like to stay in one place for long, however, and between 1783 and 1786 she travelled extensively around France, Italy, Austria, Poland, Bulgaria, Russia, Greece, and Turkey. Sometimes she journeyed in comfort in her liveried coach, accompanied by servants. Sometimes she rode side-saddle and alone.
In 1787 Robert Walpole suggested that Lady Craven publish an account of her travels, and A Journey through the Crimea to Constantinople appeared in 1789. In it Lady Craven describes manners, customs, and landscapes, pronounces Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's favourable account of Turkey a forgery, and constructs a self-image of redoubtable British vigour. A second edition appeared in 1814.
Lady Craven returned to live in England after the death of Lord Craven but the wanderlust was evidently in her blood because after her second husband died in 1806 she set off again, travelling to Germany and from there to Revolutionary France (Where she was accorded safe passage by Napoleon himself) and to Italy. She finally settled in Naples where, in her last years she was described “working in her garden, spade in hand, in very coarse and singular attire, a desiccated, antiquated piece of mortality, remarkable for vivacity, realising the idea of a galvanised Egyptian mummy,” a striking if not particularly flattering image of the old English aristocratic lady abroad!
Do you think you would have enjoyed travel in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century? Would you have ventured abroad alone?
Labels: Regency travel