Sunday, February 26, 2006

Diary of Lady Shelburne - 5th Post: a ball

This is the fifth set of entries from the diary of Lady Shelburne, written in 1766-69. Here are links to the others: first, second, third, fourth. As before, the entries come from the Fitzmaurice biography of the Earl of Shelburne.

Wycombe, Saturday 28th [of January, 1768]. As we were breakfasting Jack Conyers arrived from Oxford. He was as good humour'd and amiable as usual, and enliven'd us extremely. At four o'clock Lord Shelburne came and brought Lord Clare with him, and at half an hour after six our company of dancers began to assemble. We danced in the parlour to the number of fifteen couple. I began the ball dancing a minuet with Lord Clare. I must not omit that Lord Shelburne danced too, which I had never the pleasure of seeing him do before. Amongst our ladies was a very pretty bride, the wife of the Mayor Mr. Rose. Lord Clare divided his compliments between her and Miss Kitty Shrimpton. We sup'd at eleven in the India paper room, that we might not encroach upon Sunday morning. During this time my Lord Clare sung ridiculous songs, and the whole was over at twelve o'clock, and nobody the worse for this sober recreation.

March 17th (at Bowood). Lord Bottetort breakfasted with us in his way from Hungerford to Stoke. It being Good Friday we had prayers in the morning, after which I attempted taking a little walk, but was driven back by the cold. The work they are now upon is levelling the lawn before the house, to the edge of the water, for which the weather has been very unfavourable. My Lord is very much satisfied with Farmer Manfield, by whose care the park is got into fine order, and the flock of sheep increasing very fast; these circumstances and the number of workpeople employed there, make Bowood have no appearance of the scarcity so alarmingly conspicuous in most parts of this country, and so severely felt by the poor.


By Wycombe, Sophie means Loakes House, a manor which Shelburne owned but which was not their primary country residence. According to the GenUKI site, "The manor house of Loakes, which is situated near the town [of High Wycombe], was formerly the seat of the Archdales: it was considerably enlarged and improved by Lord Shelburne: the Marquis of Lansdown bestowed much cost in laying out the gardens and pleasure grounds." There are some photos of High Wycombe here, but none of Loakes House. Wycombe lies between London and Oxford. In Sophie's day High Wycombe was known as Chipping Wycombe.

Jack Conyers was a cousin of Lady Shelburne.

Lord Clare was John Fitzgibbon, 1st Earl of Clare. At the time Sophie wrote, he was a highly-regarded student at Trinity College, Dublin. The portrait (obviously) shows him in later life when he became an ardent supporter of Irish subordination to the English government and, as reports the Columbia Encyclopedia: "He was [as Irish lord chancellor] a resolute upholder of the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. He was instrumental in effecting the Act of Union (1800) between England and Ireland [and became] so unpopular in Ireland that his funeral was broken up by a mob." He is still hated in Eire, as reflected somewhat in the Wikipedia article on him, whose factual accuracy is disputed. See also the article on Clare in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

This shows a minuet.
{Click to enlarge.}
It's from William Hogarth's series, Analysis of Beauty. Of it, Hogarth wrote: "[T]he beauty of this kind of mystic dancing, as the poets term it, depends upon moving in a composed variety of lines, chiefly serpentine, govern'd by the principles of intricacy..."

I've no specific information about the Mayor, Mr. Rose, but, as Wycombe mayor, he probably would have been subjected to a curious tradition: "A traditional ceremony of the town [of High Wycombe] since the medieval period is the weighing of the mayor, where at the beginning and end of the mayor's serving year, they are weighed in full view of the public to see whether or not they have gained weight at the taxpayers' expense. This custom is still in order, and the same weighing apparatus are used as in the 19th century" (source).

Regarding Kitty Shrimpton I know nothing, but it's interesting that the famous British model, Jean Shrimpton, was born in Wycombe (in 1942).

Bowood. This was the Shelburne's principal country residence, a huge mansion and estate. The best source of information about it is the Bowood site itself.

Norborne Berkeley, 4th Lord Botetourt had been an MP, a county Lord Lieutenant, and Groom of the Bedchamber. At the time Sophie wrote, he was about to leave for a term as Governor of Virginia. He died there in 1770 and is buried in the College of William and Mary, Williamsburgh.

It was Capability Brown whom Shelburne hired to make re-make the grounds at Bowood.

Capability Brown's lake at Bowood
{click to enlarge}

The scarcity Sophie writes about, "so alarmingly conspicuous in most parts of this country, and so severely felt by the poor" was an agricultural depression of the late 1760s affecting mainly production of wheat and other grains. See, for example, the Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 18, No. 3, p. 138. George Rudé wrote: "the quarter of wheat in London rose sharply from 20s.-25s. in June [1767] to 26s.-36s. in July." It would continue to rise in the remainder of 1767, rising to 50s. 6d. in May 1768. (Rudé, "London 'Mob' of the Eighteenth Century," Historical Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, p. 1).


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