Gentlemen, Place Your Bets!

Although the Prince of Wales claimed that gaming had never been one of his favorite vices, he rarely declined to indulge in the pastime when it was put before him. In his young days, he and his circle of noble intimates visited the most popular and most exclusive gaming establishments of the land: the gaming tables set up in the homes of some of London’s titled ladies.

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In the 1790s, a handful of noble women with an eye to repairing their shattered fortunes, set up their own faro banks. Mrs. Strutt, Mrs. Hobart, and Lady Elizabeth Luttrell (the sister of the notorious Duchess of Cumberland) all set up gambling tables.

Lady Elizabeth Luttrell

Lady Elizabeth Luttrell

The most celebrated proprietress, however, and the one who most often enjoyed the Prince’s patronage, was Lady Sarah Archer. Lady Archer’s gaming establishment (which she euphemistically called a “garden party”) hosted the most glittering members of the nobility, and she knew how to attract gentlemen of fortune. She was a keen businesswoman who shrewdly turned criticism to her advantage despite the fact that moralists of the time charged that the ladies who frequented her tables served a more iniquitous purpose (which, no doubt, increased her business considerably!). In The Private Life of a King, John Banvard charged that Lady Archer’s Cyprians were “training up to that character under the auspices of the patroness of the night.”

Lady Archer driving to the perfume warehouse in Pall Mall

Lady Archer driving to the perfume warehouse in Pall Mall

“In all the arts and mysteries of love,” Mr. Banvard declared, “she was acknowledged to be the paragon of the day.”

One of the most prominent men who fell under the spell of Lady Archer’s charms was the Duke of York, who it was said introduced the Prince of Wales to Lady Archer’s faro table.

The Whist Party by Edward Frederick Brewtnall

The Whist Party by Edward Frederick Brewtnall

It’s difficult to estimate the frequency of the Prince’s visits to Lady Archer’s establishment; but her acquaintance with the Prince blossomed to the point where she felt comfortably secure enough to invoke his name whenever she thought it might do her some good.

When authorities began fining and bringing charges against illegal gaming establishments, Lady Archer and Lady Buckinghamshire (another noble woman who gave “garden-parties”) were two proprietresses of the trade too conspicuous for the law to ignore. Lady Archer, determined to keep her establishment open, applied to the magistrates for a license under the name of Mr. Martindale (one of her more frequent customers) and not-so-subtly hinted that the license had better be forthcoming because her gaming rooms were patronized by the Prince of Wales.

King George IV when Prince of Wales

King George IV when Prince of Wales

The magistrates were not fooled by the name on the license application and immediately whisked the case up to Lord Kenyon (at the time, Lord Chief Justice of England) to rule on the matter. Lord Kenyon had already made known his disapproval of lady gamesters. “If any ladies of rank were convicted of [gaming without a license] before him, they should stand in the pillory!” he declared. In this case, however, with the name of the Prince of Wales looming over his decision, he did not stand quite so firm. Instead, he referred the matter back to the magistrates, trusting that “they would do their duty fearlessly and refuse the license.”

The Gaming Table by Thomas Rowlandson

The Gaming Table by Thomas Rowlandson

But the magistrates, it seems, weren’t any more willing than Lord Kenyon to take a stand against the Prince, and before they could rule one way or another in respect to issuing a gaming license to “Mr. Martindale,” Lord Kenyon received a rather spirited letter from the Prince himself.

The Prince wrote: “As I am thoroughly persuaded that in the administration of justice the very last thing that could enter your lordship’s thoughts would be any remark that would fall from your lips to unwarrantably prejudice the public mind against an individual of any description whatever, I am confident that your lordship could never have used the expression which in the notion of every one so decidedly alludes to me . . . It is true that, from applications from many respected quarters, I have been induced to assent to my name being placed among others as a member of a new Club, to be instituted under the management of Mr. Martindale, merely for the purpose of social intercourse, of which I never can object to be a promoter, and especially as it was represented to me, that the object of this institution was to enable his trustees to render justice to various honorable and fair claimants. But if these were really your lordship’s words (which I cannot for a moment suppose) give me leave to tell you that you have totally mistaken my character and turn, for of all men universally known to have the least predilection to play, I am perhaps the very man in the world who stands the strongest and most proverbially so upon that point. I shall not trouble your lordship further upon this strange circumstance . . .”

Lord Kenyon’s response to the Prince was swift and apologetic: “I am confident that I meant nothing offensive to you . . . May I presume to hope that your Royal Highness will pardon this trouble.”

Of course, the Prince did pardon him; and Lady Archer did, indeed, receive her license. Her “garden-parties” continued but private homes were not the only place a gentlemen of title and wealth could gamble. Gentlemen’s clubs offered a comfortable atmosphere where men could gather and talk a bit of politics, do a lot of drinking and engage in high-stakes gambling.

The Faro Table by James Gilray

The Faro Table by James Gilray

White’s was the quintessential London club. It was difficult for a gentleman to gain entry and it was famous for its notorious betting book where outrageous bets were recorded.

Horace Walpole wrote in 1744 about a recorded wager of £1,500 that a human being could live under water for twelve hours.

Lord Alvanley wagered £3,000 (estimated at over $100,000 in today’s economy) that one raindrop would beat another raindrop to the bottom of the club’s famous bow window.

Lord Alvanley (again!) wagered Mr. Talbot one hundred guineas to ten guineas that “a certain person understood between them does not marry a certain lady understood between them in eighteen months from this day, January 5, 1811.” The betting book indicates Lord Alvanley won the wager.

Gambling Hell by Cruikshank

Gambling Hell by Cruikshank

High stakes wagering went on at the tables, too. In Days of the Dandies Captain Gronow tells the story of General Scott, father-in-law of George Canning and the Duke of Portland, who won £200,000 in one night at whist. George Harley Drummond, of the famous banking-house, Charing Cross, lost £20,000 at whist to Beau Brummell. As a result, Mr. Drummond was forced to retire from the banking-house of which he was a partner.

Hard Hit by Sir William Quiller Orchardson

Hard Hit by Sir William Quiller Orchardson

At Brooks’s club the gambling stakes were stratospheric. Charles James Fox, the great Whig politician was bankrupted multiple times at Brooks’s tables. Lord Robert Spencer, brother of the Duke of Marlborough, lost his entire fortune, down to the last shilling, then won it back at faro. Lord Chalmondeley kept a faro bank at Brooks’s that was said to have ruined half the town. A Mr. Paul, who returned home from India with a fortune, lost £90,000 to the faro bank in one night. He immediately returned to India to make another fortune.

Of course, no women were ever allowed inside the hallowed portals of a Regency era gentleman’s club, so all accounts I’ve read are from the man’s perspective. I used my imagination to fill in some blanks when I wrote the gambling scenes in my book A Scandalous Season. The hero is the kind of high-stakes gambler who probably would have graced Lady Archer’s faro table. Under the influence of a bruised ego and a bottle of wine, he makes a foolish wager for a ridiculous amount, much like Lord Alvanley’s wager with Mr. Talbot. Luckily, my hero is wealthy enough to cover his bet and charming enough to win the heroine’s heart. Click here to read more about A Scandalous Season.

Additional sources:

  • George the Fourth; including His Letters and Opinions, with a View of the Men, Manners, and Politics of His Reign by Percy Fitzgerald.
  • Huish’s Memoirs, George IV, Vol. 1 by Robert Huish.
  • Social Caricature in the Eighteenth Century by George Paston.
  • Western Argus, October 2, 1906, p. 44.

Glossy Olde England

Magazine-All FiveMy mail carrier is a wonderful man named Tony who has never once complained about the vast poundage of glossy magazines he has to deliver to my house every month. Most of the magazines I subscribe to are related to England and in order to keep my supply coming, I bribe Tony with Starbucks gift cards, thank you notes, and promises to keep my dogs locked up at scheduled times during the day when there’s a chance his mail truck is within a 15 mile radius of my house.

A friend once asked me which magazine about England was my favorite. I struggled to answer her question in the same way a mother struggles when someone asks which child is her favorite. After some thought and several minutes of indecision and flip-flopping, I finally narrowed my favorites down to five.

Why are they my favorites? They all have stunning photography, entertaining articles, wonderful style, and insights into English culture that are hard to come by in America. Here’s how they break down:

Magazine-English HomeThe English Home
This magazine is filled with page after page of wonderful interior and exterior shots of homes set in ideal English locations. With every photograph I think to myself, “Oh, yes, I could live here. Yes, I definitely could live here.” I love the look of today’s English country house and this magazine indulges my fantasy of living in a comfortable but perfectly decorated home that happens to give a nod to a bygone time. Here are just a few of the topics covered in the latest edition:

  • Updating a fourteenth-century manor house
  • A newly-built home decorated in late Georgian/early Victorian styles
  • An exploration of Durham in north-east England
  • How to blending patterns, texture, light and shade to create a modern romantic interior in the English style

Magazine-Discover BritainDiscover Britain
With an eclectic and imaginative mix of articles, history, and unique places to visit that are off the usual tourist track, this magazine inspires my inner traveler. I usually read this magazine with a package of red tape-flags at hand so I can keep track of the sites I “must add” to my ever-growing list of places to visit on my next trip to England. One of my favorite features: Each issue includes a list of novel places to stay in the UK, from unique inns and hotels to country estates and city townhouses. A few of the features from the last issue:

  • A tour of Abbotsford House, the home of Sir Walter Scott
  • A feature on “Essential Lancashire” that includes a guide to Blackpool, the fortunes of Georgian merchant families, and walking in the footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkein
  • A tour of King Henry VIII’s warship Mary Rose
  • Photos of Roald Dahl’s writing hut
  • Touring an Edwardian English country garden

Every issue inspires me to discover a part of England I’ve never seen before.

Magazine-British HeritageBritish Heritage
This is another magazine that ends up decorated with multiple red tape-flags by the time I’m done reading each issue. Take the latest (November) issue for example: it has an article on the discovery of the remains of Richard III as well as a four-page, center-fold article on the history of English puddings. Yum. And did I mention there were pictures of those puddings? And can I just say that some of those aforementioned pictured puddings were covered with awesomesauce (commonly known as “custard”)? Thanks to this educational article, I’m ambitiously planning to expand my thinking beyond plum pudding for my 2013 Christmas celebration; I’m currently hunting down recipes for Cumberland Rum Nicky, Spotted Dick and Bakewell pudding. To give you an idea of this magazine’s variety, the same issue had an article on bike riding through the Derbyshire Peak District and a 6-day guided tour from the Wye Valley to Shropshire. My favorite article in this issue (aside from those four heavenly pages devoted to pudding) was a feature on the old-fashioned way tweed is still made in the Outer Hebrides.

Magazine-This EnglandThis England
The lure of this magazine is that it provides a window into the English lifestyle, past and present. It reminds me a little of Reminisce magazine because many of its articles are written from the reader’s perspective. In the current edition, there’s an article on the original WWII Land Girls, a tribute to Thackeray, and a lovely two-page feature from a fledgling gardener as she readies her cottage garden for winter for the first time. There’s also a charming article by a woman who took a trip back to the old Essex childhood home her family lived in for 70 years, a list of favorite sandwiches submitted by readers, and a fun fact page full of old English words, phrases and lingo.

By the way, what do you call a horse’s attempt to dump his rider?

a) croupade
b) estrapade
c) caracole
d) ballotade

You’ll find the correct answer at the end of this post.

I love this publication because it demonstrates quiet pride in its countrymen, honors its veterans, and unabashedly celebrates the English way of life. There’s an unbelievable amount of information and charm in every issue, along with beautiful photographs and Colin Carr’s delightful artwork.

Magazine-BritainBritain
The publishers of Britain bill it as “The Official Magazine.” It has my vote, too, for being the best guide out there on what today’s England has to offer. Every issue is a traveler’s dream, filled with tried-and-true as well as new-and-unique destinations to visit. Want to experience London’s theatre district? There’s an article for that. Wonder what the top 12 best British sites are that you absolutely must experience? There’s an article for that. Where can you eat Dickensian-style food in London? There’s an article for that, too. Add linger-over-every-image quality photographs on each page and this publication makes you want to jump on the next plane bound for Heathrow.

So now, I ask you: With such wonderful magazines coming to my mailbox, how can I possibly choose a favorite? I can’t, but I can keep plying my mail carrier with Starbucks gift cards and find creative ways to let him know I appreciate the care he takes in delivering my England magazines in pristine condition. Tony, your next latte’s on me.

Do you subscribe to magazines about England? What are your favorite magazines and why?

Answer:

b) estrapade

The Art of the Fan

Ladies of fashion have been using fans for generations as an essential fashion accessory. As Joseph Addison said in The Spectator, “Women are armed with Fans as Men with Swords, and sometimes do more Execution with them.”

At the Opera by Robert Schumann

At the Opera by Robert Schumann

Mr. Addison described the following encounter with an attractive lady and her fan at a Sunday church service:

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She displayed the most beautiful Bosom imaginable, which heaved and fell with some Fervour, while a delicate well-shaped Arm held a Fan over her Face. It was not in Nature to command ones Eyes from this Object; I could not avoid taking notice also of her Fan, which had on it various Figures, very improper to behold on that Occasion. There lay in the Body of the Piece a Venus, under a Purple Canopy furled with curious Wreaths of Drapery, half naked, attended with a Train of Cupids, who were busied in Fanning her as she slept. Behind her was drawn a Satyr peeping over the silken Fence, and threatening to break through it.

Artist: Frederico Andreotti

Artist: Frederico Andreotti

It’s possible Mr. Addison may have drawn on his own experience when he wrote:

There is an infinite Variety of Motions to be made use of in the Flutter of a Fan. There is the angry Flutter, the modest Flutter, the timorous Flutter, the confused Flutter, the merry Flutter, and the amorous Flutter. Not to be tedious, there is scarce any Emotion in the Mind does not produce a suitable Agitation in the Fan.

Artist: Thomas Benjamin Kennington

Artist: Thomas Benjamin Kennington

In Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders, Robin Tremaine disguises himself as a woman and makes great comic use of a fan to flirt with Sir Anthony Fanshawe.

Artist: Gaetano Bellei

Artist: Gaetano Bellei

You can read more about the history of the lady’s fan here at Victoriana.