Friday, 12 January 2018

The minuetiae of Historical Research

The minuetiae of research detail = one simple object that is often taken for granted within a Regency novel. Take a carafe as opposed to decanter - one and the same but in which country would it be a Carafe not a decanter, and who when visiting England may refer to it as a carafe? 

Did you think clothes hangers didn't exist during the Georgian period, that coat hangers were much later inventions. They were markedly different than coat hangers of today but existed as far back as the 1700s if not before - If you've seen meet hooks of old (from a smithy) then you are looking at precisely how robes, gowns during the late 17th century (1600s) were kept crease free from being hung inside out from hooks. That said, make a note of the next paragraph. 

Simple meet hooks became the forerunners to early clothes hangers? Now that is a fact discovered by a couple who purchased a  French chateau and there by chance during internal renovations a hidden closet was found behind a spring-loaded hinged panel; itself adjoined to one of the bedchambers. Inside were numerous hangers similar to this one - why the extra hook? Good Question, but not all had that extra hook, so it was supposed gowns etc., were hung from the ribbon loops (as sewn into the shoulders of gowns much as they are today) and made life a good deal easier for a mistress of the robe when selecting gowns!  

Have you assumed when purchasing a dress, evening gown, or even a humble T-shirt, that the ribbon ties attached to the shoulders are a handy device merely to prevent the item sliding from a hanger? I'll let you into a secret, those ties were once the hallmark of good in-house seamstresses, and most high ranking aristocrats had several within the household, who made shirts, chemise/sundries et al, and glorious gowns. Whereas for others a local modiste or a fashion house served purpose in provision of more regular clothing, and as today, the chances were likely two ladies may have ended up with similar if not identical gowns from a modiste. Tailors of course for the gentlemen. 

But I digress from those hangers, and where they themselves were attached = iron bars within dressing closets, much like the iron bars which supported drapes to tester beds. Dressing closets were purely for storage, sometimes quite narrow, sometimes spacious.     

This is a modern refashioning of an early Robe Closet, but it gives a fair example of curtains used as dust prevention! Bear in mind vacuum cleaners didn't exist in the Georgian period. And an armoire or two were often kept within the closet.  A royal closet resembled (according to a duchess' journal) a theatrical dressing closet with clothes strung from rails.  

Bear in mind ladies entertained within their boudoirs, so clothing on show was considered slutty within the bedchamber.    

A very basic Armoire.

Elaborate Armoir with lower drawers.  

So what did ladies of the robe to a Queen, and grooms to a King's bedchamber do with the clothes of their master's and mistresses. Given that Ladies of the Robe were the forerunners to a lady's maid (abigail), thus Ladies of the Robe were usually a duchess or countess in her own right. The latter "abigail/lady's maid" were a great deal lesser and merely of lower commoner order, many employed as servants to senior lady courtiers. 

Not all trunks had hasp catches. Many had iron rings to left and right of the chest, and when the lid closed it too had iron rings which fell in line with the rings on the chest. An Iron bar was threaded through the rings.  

Captains' trunks were great for storage and popular for travelling in earlier times when coaches were slower! 

Thus Flat-topped trunks became more popular for travelling because they stacked safer on the rear or the roof of the faster coaches/carriages of the 18-19th centuries. 

Light and winter weight clothing were interchanged with the seasons from packing trunks to those meet hooks within dressing/robe closets - the Grooms and Ladies of the Robe being "wards" of the royal clothing = modern terminology Wardrobe = a place to store hanging clothes. 

But, early armoires/wardrobe interiors consisted of shelves and drawers where shirts, chemise, neckties/cravats, hose, and accessories were stored. 

Similarly Grooms to the Bedchamber were rarely lesser than a knight/baron, though untitled commoners (squire) indeed often made it into the King's bedchamber staff and were oft knighted during service to that King - basically favoured subjects. Such rank was standard for many decades, most noticeable during the reign of Charles II and thence onward until the latter Georgian period and the coming of The Regent.

Positions within the Regent's entourage acquired differing titles recognised in earlier decades as quite other in respect of duties performed. A squire was no longer a servant, he was a lower gentry localised county landowner and often a Justice of the Peace. 

Thus valet's once again became in vogue for Dukes, Earls, and any gentleman of means who commanded or served in the military during the Georgian Period. Bedchamber staff became singularly intimate with their masters (one as opposed to many), and of those valets, many were formerly non-commissioned officers assigned duties of care and attendance to the former commander/officer's upkeep in turnout (dress). In general a valet's rank was from sergeant upwards to commissioned lieutenant: later referred to as a batman. In the navy from a cabin boy to flag lieutenant served as a valet to captain upwards to admiral - in differing ways from menial tasks to personal assistant.     

For the lesser gentleman Here's a pic of a dumb valet, and one can see where the design for a gentleman's wooden hangers originated in the latter part of the 19th century. But, iron and brass hangers were already popular in Continental countries.   

This particular dumb valet is circa 1800.