Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Queen Charlotte's Hairstyling: Curling and Powdering

Diary and Letters of Madame d'Arblay. London: Henry Colburn, 1854.
Volume III is opened to the frontispiece, showing Queen Charlotte,
circa, from her dress, the 1770s.
The quality of paper these volumes is a joy to handle: no flimsy, yellowing
ground-wood paper here!
For Christmas my husband presented me with the 7 volumes of Fanny Burney's (Madame d'Arblay) letters and journals. Besides being fantastic reading -- what a master she is at painting character and motive through conversation! -- there are, here and there, hints about her daily life. Never a gourmand or modish, she rarely describes either food or dress in much detail, but when either are mentioned, we have insights worth remembering.

At one period of her long life, she reluctantly became Second Keeper of the Wardrobe to Queen Charlotte, a position of very little rest and almost no freedom that entered her into the most intimate details of royal living.

Since we've been talking about hair, here is some of what she has to say about the process: when it occurred and what it included, depending on the day.

On one of her first mornings of attendence on the queen at Windsor Castle, noon approached. She writes:

A malencholy portrait of Queen Charlotte, circa 1789-1790,
by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Painted not long after her husband, King George III,
began to suffer from what people think may have been a neurological
disease, that caused symptoms of mental illness.
Wikimedia Commons.
The Queen's hair is craped and curled and frizzed in the fashion
of the 1780s, but her dress otherwise harks back to the previous
decades: her open robe has a stomacher, for example.
See another portrait, in which the Queen wears long locks, by Benjamin
West, 1789, at the Royal Collection.
I called also at Madame La Fite's; but she was so urgent with me to prolong my stay, that I returned too late to dress for my noon attendance; and just as I was in the midst of my hair dishevelling, I was summoned.

I was obliged to slip on my morning gown, and a large morning cap, and run away as fast as possible. The Queen, who was only preparing for her own hair-dresser, was already en peignoir: she sat down, the man was called in, and then, looking at me with a smile, she said "Now, Miss Burney, you may go and finish your dress."

Away I galloped as fast as possible, to be ready against her hair-dresser departed: but when I came pretty near my own apartment, I was stopped in the gallery by a lady, who coming up to me, said "Miss Burney?"...

Fanny was stopped in her gallop to her own apartment in the Castle no less than three times, all, it turns out, by the members of a family eager to make her acquaintance.]

"...I was forced to let her go and run into my own room, and fly---to my toilette!---Not quite the sort of flight I have been used to making. However, it is all so new here that it makes but a part in the general change of system."

We learn here that towards noon people of quality (how that term bothers me, but it shows just how class-bound that society was) took off their morning dress -- always including a cap, or also a hat if one went outdoors, we learn -- and put on clothes, such as a little jacket and petticoat, that would withstand hairs, pomades, cosmetics, and hair powder. Then they would dress "for the day" -- the day, they called it, although it was just for the afternoon.

Poor Fanny was to have quite a time learning the minutae of Court ettiquette and procedure, and training herself to bells, clocks, and people forever tapping her on her door. (Vol. III, pp. 16-17.)

A last note: Madame la Fite was a friend who also lived at the palace.

The Three Eldest Princesses: Charlotte, Princess Royal, Augusta and Elizabeth.
Thomas Gainsborough, 1784. This is just two years before Fanny
Burney arrived at Court. Hair styles didn't change much in the interim.
Curling Time!

"The hour advanced on the Wednesdays and Saturdays is for curling and craping the hair, which it now requires twice a week."

A quarter before one is the usual time for the queen to begin dressing for the day [except on the curling days.] Mrs. Schwellenberg [First Keeper of the Robes]  then constantly attends; so do I; Mrs. Thielky [the wardrobe woman -- note, she is not called a lady], of course, at all times. We help her off with her gown, and on with her powdering things, and then the hair-dresser is admitted. She generally reads the newspaper during that operation.

When she observes that I have run to her but half dressed, she constantly gives me leave to return and finish as soon as she is seated. If she is grave, and reads steadily on, she dismisses me, whether I am dressed or not; but at all times she never forgets to send me away while she is powdering, with a consideration not to spoil my clothes, that one would not expect belonged to her high station.

When I return [to her own room], I finish, if anything is undone, my dress, and then take Baretti's Dialogues, my dearest Fredy's [her friend Mrs. Locke] Tablet of Memory, or some such disjointed matter, for the few minutes that elapse ere I am again summoned.

I find her then always removed to her state dressing-room, if any room in this private mansion can have the epithet of state. There, in a very short time, her dress is finished." (Vol 3, pp. 21-22).

Ordinarily Fanny had some morning time to herself: usually until a quarter til noon, but on Tuesdays and Saturdays, just until a quarter til eleven.

It's pretty clear then, that it took serious time for the hair-dresser to curl and crape the queen's hair.

During that time, by the way, Fanny merely stood by, never to speak unless addressed by the queen, and always standing, for no one, except the King, ever sat down in her presence, unless the Queen specifically requested it. Can you imagine how tired Fanny's back and legs could become, with so much standing? It's good she had her stays to at least give her some back support.

Court-Day Dress

The Queen wears full dress: hoops, triple sleeve ruffles, an abundance of bows, jewelry, and high-dressed hair. Again, this is the frontispiece to my Volume III of the Diary and Letter of Madame d'Arblay. The plate is after Gainsborough
This being a court-day, we went to town. The Queen dresses her head at Kew, and puts on her drawing-room apparel at St. James's. Her new attendant dresses all at Kew, except tippet and long ruffles, which she carries in paper, to save from the dusty roads. I forgot to tell you, I believe, that at St. James's I can never appear, even though I have nothing to do with the drawing-room, except in a sacque; 'tis the ettiquette of the place. [Vol. 3, p. 26].

Some explanation may be helpful here. Ever few weeks the King and Queen received visitors for an afternoon -- and sometimes into the evening -- in a drawing room at St. James's Palace in London. Only those who had previously been presented could attend. It appears to have been an occasion to see, be seen, and be perhaps taken notice of by a member of the royal family. It was very dressy. On the occasion her described, the family had been at their rural, informal Kew retreat.

I think that the tippet to which Fanny refers is a length of embroidered fabric or lace that goes round her neck and tucks into the center of her bodice, but I am just guessing. The long ruffles are the pretty embroidered or lace sleeve ruffles tacked or pinned to the edge of the bodice sleeves. Since she puts them on in London, I almost imagine that pinning would have been the more sensible option.

Oh, by the way, we learn a page later that the Queen's necklace is tied on. Ribbons still, folks!

Visitors During Hair-Dressing

"At her toilette, before dinner, Lady Effingham was admitted. The Queen had her newspapers as usual, and she read aloud, while her hair was dressing, several interesting articles concerning the attack..." (Vol. 3, p. 43)

It appears that the Queen, who really was a rather private person, didn't often have too many people in her room: it wasn't the social levée that we see sometimes in paintings, especially French ones, where men and women come in to the dressing room for a chat and a flirt.

The attack? Not long before, a mad-woman had attempted to stab the King in the street. She did not harm him.

Other Images of the Queen, and Her Hair

The Royal Collection Trust, of Great Britain, maintains an online database with lots of pictures of Queen Charlotte. They are fascinating. The images may not be copied, so I cannot show you any here.

Reading about her, I've begun to like and pity her; she had a rough road to travel, even with all of the advantages she enjoyed.

In Other News

I have new glasses and can see the eye of a needle at last. Little lilac spencer, you'll be finished yet.



Isis said...

Interesting. I do have her on my "must-read" list, only that pile is so big...

A friend of mine who is a bit on an expert on 18th century jewelry has told me that necklases were commonly tied on with ribbons and not with clasps. :)

ZipZip said...

Dear Isis,

I urge you to move Fanny Burney closer to the top of your list, if you can. So fascinating. You watch her grow up, mature, wrestle with duty, tragedy, opportunity, fame, while all time she is keeping an eye on all around her.

Yes, I wondered when clasps came in, because I see clasps in the Regency era...

Very best,