The thought of Richard III’s re-interment ceremony got me thinking about the royal festivals of the early modern era, when every coronation, wedding, procession, visitation or funeral was projected to peers and the public via the new medium of print. The festival books that record (or make up) these events are great examples of “official history”, or propaganda. If it was logistically impossible for the “new” monarchs of the sixteenth and seventeenth century to project absolute authority, they could at least project magnificence, even, as in the case of Richard’s vanquisher, Henry VII, and his granddaughter Elizabeth I, in death.
Monthly Archives: February 2013
Now that it has been confirmed that the skeletal remains found underneath a parking lot in Leicester, England are indeed those of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, at last he can be laid to rest in a place and manner befitting a king. His advocates, the Riccardians, have been uncharacteristically divided in the past few months over the burial: should Richard have a grand state funeral and be laid to rest in Westminster Cathedral, or remain in Leicester, or be interred at York Minster, which he himself might have desired? I took note of more than one newspaper British headline that read Bones of Contention, but in the end Leicester won out, so Richard’s bones will not have to travel very far.
I’ve already posted about Richard and the discovery of his bones, so today I have some rather random thoughts about reactions to their verification. My first thought upon hearing the news was for Josephine Tey, who wrote the 1951 historical detective novel (one of the first of its genre?) Daughter of Time about a twentieth-century detective’s efforts to untangle the Tudor mythology of Richard’s life and death. This little book definitely sparked my own interest in history when I first read it in my teens, and I’ve seen it have the same effect on countless students and friends. Though the recovery of Richard’s remains sheds little light on his life deeds and misdeeds, he is forever linked with historical curiosity for me.
The cover of the first edition of Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time, 1951.
And that really is the key point. Curiosity, and engagement, are fostered by uncertainty about the past more so than any presentation of supposedly well-established “facts”. It’s been so exciting to see historians, scientists, and the general public engage with each other over the discovery of the remains of a long-dead king, and a short-lived and unpopular one at that. This engagement might not be palpable here in the United States (where I heard a succession of broadcasters take great pains to point out that this was Richard III, not Richard the Lionheart) but it sure was coming over loud and clear on my Twitter feed (along with a lot of bad jokes: a hearse, a hearse, my kingdom for a hearse!).
The other thing I have noticed (watching from afar) is the very personal, even intimate, nature of this entire revealing. The Riccardians have always taken Richard’s demonization very personally, so that is no surprise, but the sight of his curved spine (but no withered arm!) and cleaved skull is a verification not only of his existence, but his suffering. On the other hand, I found the images of the facial reconstruction released yesterday a little off-putting, though it’s interesting to read comments of how handsome he was: not a monster, after all.
Scenes from the big reveal: University of Leicester archeologists Richard Buckley and Jo Appleby discussing the archeological and DNA evidence, Richard’s curved spine, the results of scoliosis, the facial reconstruction, and a late 16th century portrait of Richard III, Getty Images & the National Portrait Gallery London.
And so now Richard will be laid to rest (again). I’m sure there will be a lot more discussion about the ceremony for his re-interment (will the Royal Family attend?), but it sounds like David Monteith, the Canon Chancellor of Leicester Cathedral, has already given this a great deal of thought: he announced that an ecumenical service of remembrance is being planned for our time, as the King had most certainly received a proper Christian burial in his.
Cathedral and Guildhall, Leicester.
This past weekend, the exhibition Hats: an Anthology by Stephen Jones closed at the Peabody Essex Museum here in Salem while across the pond 50 Fabulous Frocks opened at the Fashion Museum in Bath, England. You know what they say in fashion, one day you’re in, the next you’re out. Seriously, Hats must have been an absolute blockbuster for the PEM and I’m sure the relatively new Bath museum organized the Frocks anniversary exhibition to expand their audience as well: fashion history is popular, and almost immediately accessible.
There’s been a lot of publicity for the Frocks exhibition, so even if you’re not able to make it to Bath this year you can still see many of the dresses, including one of the most famous in the museum’s collection, the “Silver Tissue” dress, dating from about 1660. I have seen this dress myself, and it is beautiful, and interesting: there is a contrast between the luxury of the fabric, a fine Italian linen interwoven with silver thread and trimmed in parchment lace, its coarser cotton trim and its relatively modest cut. Most likely this is due to the fact that it was worn by an adolescent girl, which explains the gown’s considerable charm. We are used to seeing more extravagant gowns from the era, made of less subtle silks and satins and much lower cut, most beautifully in the Peter Lely portraits of Charles II’s courtiers, family, queen or mistresses.
The “Silver Tissue Dress” at the Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council; a Peter Lely portrait of Henrietta Anne, the Duchess of Orleans, sister of Charles II, from the National Portrait Gallery, London; a doublet from the same era, made of similar fabric, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Keeping with the metallic theme, but moving forward 150 years or so, the next dress that emerges from the exhibition for me is this ball gown from the late 1820s, made of cream silk embroidered with gold ribbon. Of course it would be right at home in Austenland, but also in Salem’s Hamilton Hall–either in the ballroom or the bride’s room, I think.
Another ball gown which is sure to get a lot of attention is the Veuve Cliquot champagne bottle dress worn by an unnamed lady to a fancy dress ball in 1902: the cap is the cork!
The celebrated designers of the twentieth century are all represented in the exhibition, including Poiret, Vionnet, Chanel, Dior, Schiaparelli, and St. Laurent. There’s a bright tartan satin ball gown from the 1860s, which (except for its length) has a very 1950s silhouette and a Mickey Mouse dress from the 1930s which looks like it could be from the 1960s–to my untrained eye. A little lace Alexander McQueen dress, trimmed with leather, appealed to me the most among the modern dresses: again, it looks like it can transcend the date of its creation: 1999.
We live right next door to Hamilton Hall, an elegant Federal-era assembly hall attributed to Salem’s famous architect and woodcarver Samuel McIntire. I wake up every morning and look out my bedroom window at McIntire’s carved eagle and swags on the exterior, and I’ve posted about most of its interior spaces here as well. The Hall’s grand ballroom, with its spring dance floor, Palladian windows, gilt mirrors, and musician’s balcony, always gets a lot of attention, but today I want to feature a more utilitarian room below the stairs: the “brick hearth room” with its Rumford Roaster, the cutting-edge culinary technology of the early nineteenth century. Here it is, built into the large hearth that dominates the room, in my photographs and a doctored drawing from the very charming 1947 Hamilton Hall Cook Book (containing recipes for “Afternoon Tea Dainties”, “Shrimp Wiggle”, and many puddings).
The Rumford Roaster transferred cooking from the open fire to an enclosed oven (the round opening, lined with metal inside), which was heated by the small square firebox directly below. There are openings in the sides of the oven to control the temperature, and the entire device was vented through the central chimney. The Rumford Roaster at Hamilton Hall is characteristic of the earliest examples in that it was built into the hearth (also see the roasters at the Gardner-Pingree House here in Salem and the Rundlet-May House in Portsmouth, below) but freestanding models developed a bit later. Its evolution seems to run parallel to the evolution of the American kitchen.
Rumford Roasters in the kitchens of the Gardner-Pingree House, Salem (Peabody Essex Museum) and the Rundlet-May House, Portsmouth, New Hampshire (Historic New England).
The Roaster was invented and named after Count Rumford (1753-1814), an absolutely extraordinary man whose biography reads like a (really bad) dime novel. Born plain old Benjamin Thompson in what was then the small village of Woburn, twelve miles northwest of Boston, he transformed himself into quite the continental Count through a combination of scientific genius and what can euphemistically be called “adventuring”. His biographical details can be found elsewhere (this account was good yet succinct; I think his life, work and times demand a larger volume), so I’m going to summarize as much as I can: Thompson was apprenticed to merchants in both Salem and Boston in his adolescence, and then he obtained a position as a schoolmaster in Rumford (now Concord), New Hampshire. There he met and married a wealthy and well-connected widow about ten years his senior. Through her, he made all sorts of useful connections and became a commissioned officer in the New Hampshire militia by the mid-1770s, but it turns out that he was at best a Loyalist and at worst a spy: he fled to London in 1776, abandoning his wife and child, after accusations of “being unfriendly to the cause of liberty”.
From a British perspective, Thompson distinguished himself in both public service and scientific experimentation during the American Revolution, serving in the British Colonial Office while simultaneously conducting experiments in ballistics and munitions: these lessons in military combustion would later be applied to more domestic mechanisms. He was knighted by King George III in 1784, but somehow was at the same time under suspicion of spying for the French !!! and so made his way to the Continent and wound up in the service of one of the most powerful German princes, Karl Theodor, Prince–Elector, Count Palatine and Duke of Bavaria. He remained in Bavaria for over a decade, working on such diverse projects as poorhouse reform and urban planning (including the creation of the Englischer Garten in Munich) while continuing to conduct experiments on the nature and applications of heat. In 1791, Sir Benjamin Thompson was made a Count of the Holy Roman Empire, and he chose the title “Rumford”, in reference to his New England origins. This, and the fact that he left a good part of his fortune to Harvard University to establish a Rumford professorship, indicates that there were some misgivings about betraying his native country. During the last phase of the Count’s life, there is something of a “man without a country” air about him; despite his honors there were whispers of spying (AGAIN–this time for Britain), which forced him to leave Bavaria. His last decade was spent traveling back and forth between England and France, where he died in 1814, “the spy who conquered the cold”.
Count Rumford was certainly a household name by 1800, inspiring both portraits and caricatures. Above, a mezzotint portrait by John Raphael Smith (1801) and a caricature which is poking fun at Rumford’s fashionable Royal Society lectures: he is the man who is “producing” steam in James Gillray’s 1802 print, Scientific Researches! New Discoveries in Pneumaticks! Or, an Experimental Lecture on the Powers of Air, both British Museum. And look at these companion satires below!
James Gillray, The Comforts of a Rumford Stove, 1800; Charles Williams, Luxury, or the Comforts of a RUMPFORD, 1801, British Museum.
Well, back to the rather less racy Rumford stove at Hamilton Hall! A couple of more shots are below, including open views of the oven (with the arm of a helpful Hall trustee) and the ash box below. There are great records of the administration and maintenance of the Hall in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, so we know that this Roaster was supplied by Elijah Fuller of Neptune Street in Salem; I searched through the Salem Register for references to Fuller’s shop and found the notice below, from July 1803. Rumford was clearly a recognizable name–and product–over on this side of the Atlantic as well.
Hamilton Hall has been the setting for countless “assemblies” over its two hundred + years, including large dinners for such dignitaries as the Marquis de Lafayette, Nathaniel Bowditch, and Martin Van Buren in the first phase of its history; I imagine that the catering of these events was greatly facilitated by the presence of Count Rumford’s Roaster.
In the Spotlight: a photograph of Hamilton Hall taken last week, during the dawn-to-dusk production of a music video.