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Friday, July 22, 2016

The Life and Loves of Madame Recamier

© Cheryl Bolen 

(This article first appeared in A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life.)
The Duke of Wellington and Napoleon opposed each other not only on the battlefield but also for the affections of a certain beautiful lady. That lady, Madame Recamier, spurned both of these powerful men. Napoleon was so outraged, he banished her from France and her famed Parisian salon where authors and intellectuals—most of whom despised Napoleon—gathered. 
In an era when, as Lord Egremont said, “Women considered it a stain upon their reputation if they hadn’t taken a lover,” Juliette Recamier (1777-1849) went four decades without knowing a lover—not even the wealthy, much-older banker she had married at age 15. 
Madame Recamier on the piece of furniture which would later carry her name.

Called a figid coquette, Madame Recamier directed her sensuous flirtations on virtually every man who came to her salon on rue du Mont-Blanc—and most of them became captivated by her beauty and voluptuous charm. Author and political philosopher Benjamin Constant said, “Madame Recamier takes it into her head to make me fall in love with her . . . My life is completely upset.” For the next fourteen months, he was tortured by his unrequited love for her.  

He was one of dozens over the years. 

Lady Bessborough,  who was among the English aristocrats who flocked to Paris in 1802 after the signing of the short-lived Treaty of Amiens, gives this interesting account of meeting the beautiful Madame Recamier.

I must tell you [Lady Bessborough wrote to her lover, Granville Leveson Gower] tho’, a nasty and an indelicate story, but how distress’d I was at Mad. Recamier’s. We went there and found her in bed—that beautiful bed you saw prints of—muslin and gold curtains, great looking glasses at the side, incense pots, &c., and muslin sheets trimm’d with lace, and beautiful white shoulders expos’d perfectly uncovered to view—in short, completely undress’d and in bed. The room was full of men. 

During her salons, Madame Recamier commonly reposed on a chaise longue—a piece of furniture which would later be named a recamier in her honor. A famed portrait by Jacques Louis David of her on her chaise longue hangs in the Louvre.  

The only child of Marie Julie Matton and Jean Bernard, the king’s counsellor, Juliette was born in Lyon, but the family later moved to Paris. During the Reign of Terror, she married Jeanne-Françoise Julie Adélaïde Récamier, who was 27 years her senior. Mystery surrounds the marriage. There is some credence that Recamier married to pass on his fortune if he should fall to the Terror. It was said he was very close to Juliette’s mother. Some suggested Juliette remained a virgin because Recamier was her natural father, but this has been discounted.  

As she neared the age of thirty, Madame Recamier finally fell victim to Cupid’s arrow when she fell in love with Prince Augustus of Prussia, a nephew of Frederick the Great. They met in the Swiss home of her friend, the famed Madame de Stael, who encouraged the romance. Juliette Recamier wrote to her husband to ask for a divorce, but at the time he was besieged with financial woes (he eventually went bankrupt). His response appealed to her sensibilities while telling her she could not have picked a worse time. He also expressed regret that he had respected her virginal susceptibilities.  

Writing years later about her lover, Madame Recamier said, “We were convinced that we were going to be married, and our relationship was very intimate; even so, there was one thing he failed to obtain.” 
Prince Augustus' portrait with Madame
Recamier's portrait behind him.

Before the two lovers parted, they exchanged written promises. Prince Augustus wrote, “I swear by my honor and by love to preserve in all its purity the sentiment that attaches me to Juliette Recamier, to take all steps that duty allows to unite with her in the bonds of marriage, and to possess no woman as long as there is hope that I may join my destiny with hers. AUGUST, PRINCE OF PRUSSIA.” 

Madame Recamier wrote, “I swear by the salvation of my soul to preserve in all its purity the sentiment that attaches me to Prince August of Prussia; to do everything that honor permits to dissolve my marriage, to have no love nor flirtation with any other man, to see him again as soon as possible, and, whatever the future may bring, to entrust my destiny entirely to his honor and his love. J. R.” 

The Recamiers did not divorce, and Prince Augustus never married, though two of his long-time mistresses bore him eleven children. Ten years after he fell in love with Juliette Recamier, he had his portrait made standing in front of her portrait.  

Back in Paris, the Recamiers were forceed to sell their house on the rue du Mont Blanc, their silver, and Juliette’s jewelry. She suffered the losses with the same languid serenity that governed her life. By 1809, Recamier was once again in business but on a much smaller scale.  

Even though her circumstances were reduced, Madame Recamier’s salons were as popular as ever. Later she resided in apartments in a former convent, now demolished, at 16 rue de Sèvres in Paris. 

It is believe she finally lost her virginity at age 40. Her lover was the 50-year-old author Chateaubriand. 

Her husband died in 1830. She lived another nineteen years before cholera claimed her at age 71. She was buried in the Cimetiere de Montmarte.—by Cheryl Bolen, whose three Pride and Prejudice Sequels are now available.  


Herold, J. Christopher. Mistress to an Age: A Life of Madame de Staël. The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1958. 

Lady Granville, The Private Correspondence of Lord Granville Leveson Gower, 2 vols., London, John Murray, 1917.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Titles, heirs apparent & heirs presumptive

by Donna Hatch

Since the subject of titles in Regency England seems to be both confusing and detailed, it bears revisiting. For today's post, I will focus on heirs: both heirs apparent and heirs presumptive.

An heir apparent is the son of a titled lord or landholder. Let's say, for example, the father is the Earl of Charming. Charming probably has a secondary title or two (or more), because most peers did due to the whim of royalty over the years. If one of Charming's secondary titles were, say the Viscount Handsome, then Charming's eldest son would bear the courtesy title of Viscount Handsome. Handsome is Charming's apparent heir, so he bears the courtesy title and is known as his "heir apparent." I think of it as; "His heir is apparently his son."

Note: Despite what you may read in some novels, sons who are heirs apparent cannot be disinherited from their rightful titles just because the father thinks the son is undeserving. It takes an act of parliament to do such a thing and those were granted in extreme cases.

Now, what if the Earl of Charming has no son--only daughters (or no children)? At this point, he now must grant his title and estates to his heir presumptive. It may be his younger brother or even a distant cousin--whomever is the closest living male relative. The heir presumptive does not use the courtesy title of Viscount of Handsome, but he can presume that he will someday be the Earl of Charming because no other living male heir stands in his way. Yet. Anyone who can be supplanted in the line of succession by the birth of a boy is an heir presumptive, no matter how unlikely that birth seems. One can think of this as; "The heir presumptive presumes he will inherit the title and property."

If, of course, the good Earl of Charming eventually has a son, even in his latter years, the heir presumptive no longer can hope for such a grand inheritance, because it all goes to Charming's son, his heir apparent. Immediately upon his birth, the new baby boy bears the courtesy title, Viscount of Handsome. 

Now this works the same way even if there is no title involved. Let's say Mr. Dashing is a landowner, similar to the Bennett family in Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. If Mr. Dashing had a son, his son would be his heir apparent. If he had 5 sons, the eldest would be his heir apparent. If, however, Dashing has no sons, only daughters (or no children) all of his entailed property now goes to the closest living heir--a younger brother or a nephew or a cousin, even if he is as obnoxious as the unforgettable Mr. Collins. In other words, the heir presumptive is granted the same way regardless if there is a title or courtesy title involved. 
If Dashing's estate is entailed, he cannot choose to whom he will leave the property. It's set in stone. It goes to the closest living male relative or heir. Dashing can will non-entailed property to anyone he wants, but nothing entailed, which most estates were.

In my Amesbury family series, The Rogue Hearts Series, the father of this unruly bunch is the Earl of Tarrington, and his eldest son, Cole, is his heir apparent who uses the courtesy title Viscount Amesbury and has since birth. When the Earl of Tarrington dies, Cole becomes the new Earl of Tarrington. Cole's heir presumptive would be his younger brother Jared, until Cole and his wife have a son, who then becomes the heir apparent and uses the courtesy title, Viscount Amesbury.

So, in a nutshell, a lord's son is his heir apparent.

A lord's brother or nephew or cousin, whomever is closer to him in the bloodline, is his heir presumptive.

I hope this has cleared up any confusion and is useful to you in some way, even if all it does is explain why the annoying Mr. Collins assumed he would inherit Mr. Bennett's property and why Mrs. Bennett was in such a state of agitation that she and her daughters might be thrown out into the cold, cruel world immediately upon her husband's death (which actually kind of happened in Sense & Sensibility, if you'll recall). 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Pin Money

evening gown 1819
by Donna Hatch

Ladies in Regency England had no real money of their own. Before they married, their fathers were in possession of all their money. After they married, all of the money, possessions, and property went to their husbands immediately upon marriage unless it was tied up in some kind of trust which specified the husband couldn't have it. However, ladies had ways of spending money without having to ask, even if their father or husband technically held their purse strings.

When a lady married, she almost always had a marriage settlement or contract similar to today's prenuptial agreement.  In the agreement, it outlined her dress and clothing allowance, pin money, and jointure--what she received in money or housing if she outlived her husband. Early in my research into the Regency Era, I found it odd that pin money would be called out in the settlement. Why pin money? Was it actually used for pins, or was it a vague term?

Truthfully, pin money was meant to buy pins. At least, in the beginning. Oddly enough, pins were an indispensable part of a lady's wardrobe. Zippers had not yet been invented, and not every gown had buttons or hooks and eyes. Some gowns needed ties to fasten together. However, a great many ladies relied on pins to keep their clothing together. Yes, straight pins, not safety pins. I assume women either got stuck a lot or knew a trick to avoid such misery. A popular type of gown was an apron style, also known as drop-front or bib-front gowns. These were not only fashionable during the earl Regency, but also comfortable. They could also be easily adjusted if the lady's figure changed due to weight gain or loss, or pregnancy. They were also ideal for hand-me-downs.
drop front gown--Isobel carr
Here is a picture of a drop-front gown I found on Isobel Carr's website, and she was gracious enough to give me permission to use it. This a great example of this style of gown--typically a day gown in muslin or calico, although I found an evening gown in velvet with a drop front. As you can see, the gown in this picture needs to be either pinned, buttoned, or hooked with hooks and eyes, and then also tied under the bust in back.

Since pins in those days were not made from stainless steel but rather from brass, they rusted quickly. This made them a consumable product. Expensive, necessary, and consumable, they became a  major expense for a lady to undertake. However, pin money was not meant exclusively to buy pins. It actually became a type of allowance a lady had to spend on whatever she wanted. Her annual wardrobe expense was set, and she really had no money of her own, so she used her pin money for incidental expenditures. A lady could use pin money to buy supplies for anything she wanted--her craft supplies, sheet music, entrance into parks or museums or subscription balls, perfume, or treats at Gunther's Tea shop, to name a few.

In some Regency romance novels, the heroine uses her pin money to pay for postage to send secret letters or even to buy stage coach fare (and food) to run away from home. The possibilities are endless if she has a generous pin money or is wise enough to save her pin money for important things.