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Home: The Toast

A few Minutes after Seven this Morning, her Majesty was most happily brought to Bed of a Prince, to the great Joy of every Lover of Great Britain.

Thursday the servant maid of an eminent tradesman in Maiden-lane, Covent-garden, was committed to New Prison, Clerkenwell, for robbing her master of cash to a considerable value.

To be SOLD,

At the sign of the Turk’s Head, opposite to the New Church on Green Bank, Wapping,

A Small tame Monkey.

***

As a political event,  the birth of Prince George Augustus Frederick in 1762 was announced  with gunshots and bell-ringing in Britain and its colonies. The Palace published an official as a single-page ‘Gazette Extraordinary.’ Yet this was perhaps the first royal births of a mass-media age, and the London newspapers took the Gazette’s few lines and ran with them. They spun the Palace’s news into columns and pages, bulking it out with rumours, old histories, embroidery, opinion and speculation which invited readers to imagine themselve intimate with the Hanovers. In 1762, the country was at war, the economy was suffering. People liked to read good news.

Queen Charlotte, the papers wrote, had given birth in a suite of rooms in St James’s Palace. Also present had been her mother-in-law (with whom she was not on good terms), their ladies-in-waiting, several Privy Councillors (hovering in the next room to avoid indecorum), and the Archbishop of Canterbury. A midwife called Mrs Draper delivered the Prince, but a surgeon “was in waiting, in case of his help being wanted.” George III had waited anxiously, and given the messenger who brought the news of his son five hundred pounds. The family would live at Kew, or at St James’s, or in Richmond. A respectable wet nurse had been hired. Charlotte – a simple country girl – had wanted to nurse her baby herself. Charlotte – the daughter of one of the oldest families in Europe – would dutifully follow royal protocol and hand her baby over.

Charlotte and George would go on to have fourteen more children, of whom twelve survived to adulthood. Reports on each birth – and the two deaths – appeared in the press. Newspapers were not organised as they are now; there were no pictures and rarely any headlines. Items were added to the pages mainly in the order they arrived at the printers, rather than in order of importance.  As a result, big news, like the birth of a royal heir, was jumbled with minor reports, announcements, advertising and letters: reminders, now, of both the strangeness and the familiarity of late eighteenth-century London and its most famous family.

***

We learn every day, by letter from Russia, some fresh particulars relative to the dethronement of the Czar. Some accounts say, that the malcontents began with gaining the Emperor’s Mistress, a relation of the Chancellor’s; that they learnt from her all the Emperor’s projects, that Prince being very open when he was in cups; and that they learned, among other things, that they intended to put away his Empress.

A great part of the grand furniture of the Royal Palace at Kensington is removed to St. James’s Palace and the Queen’s House.

On Tuesday Morning will be published, Price 6d.

A NEW Humourous Satirical SONG, called The ASSES of GREAT BRITAIN.

In Answer to HARRY HOWARD’S Song on the QUEEN’s ASS.

By FART-inando, a modern ASS-trologer.

***

George III was personally certain of his own sacred right to rule. His country, though, was less convinced, having executed one king and deposed another almost within living memory. Visitors from more autocratic countries were shocked at the extent to which the press could criticise or mock the royal family, and the way that the king, queen, and baby prince appeared alongside actresses and opera singers as familiar celebrities.

Whether as a deliberate adaptation to these political circumstances, or the consequence of growing up ignored and insignificant (only becoming heir to the throne unexpectedly in 1751 when his elder brother died), the new king dropped the conventional style of royal public image. This style echoed that  of Roman emperors, all flowing robes, horses, and oversize swords. Instead of this, George III’s public persona was that of a private man who liked children, gardening, and charity. Stories were circulated of his anonymous daily rides through the suburbs, dressed as a gentleman farmer and attended by a single retainer, doling out half-crowns to loyal subjects who would then – gasp! – recognise the face on the coin as that of the kindly, curious stranger. He was respectable in a nice middle-class way; he didn’t keep an official mistress, as his father had done, or lead armies into battle. He had refused, a few years earlier, to marry the magnificently-titled niece of Frederick the Great of Prussia, Duchess Sophie Caroline Marie of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, apparently complaining that he didn’t want to be “bewolfenbüttelled.”

He pottered. He got up early, liked to save money, made small talk at official functions, and often repeated his favourite jokes. If you were a middle-class English reader, he was your father or your uncle or your grandfather. When he later struggled with his rebellious eldest son, or rebellious colonies, or sickness and insanity, it was your father or your uncle or your grandfather that you pictured and worried about.

The English royal family began to be marketed towards the middle classes, the start of a process which would lead in time to fake-candid family photos and Kate’s-wardrobe-watch. Royal celebrity in the 1760s was exploited to sell prints, fans, cosmetics, fashion, newspapers, and terrible poetry (“the lovely Bride!/ In white-rob’d Virtue! Elegance of Form!/ Rivall’d alone, but by her mental Charms!”). “Around their couch, around their board, / A thousand ears attentive wait,” tutted the poet laureate in an ode written for the king’s birthday in 1763. “A thousand busy tongues record / The smallest whispers of the great.” Though in the real world they were still isolated in gilded rooms, watched by servants and archbishops, in the pages of the newspaper, the king and his family were surrounded by the everyday, and became part of the ordinary.

A Gentleman takes this Method of addressing himself to a Lady of Character and Fortune not less than 2000l. or more than 35 Years of Age. That Lady who has Resolution enough to take up her Pen to answer (by Penny Post or otherwise) a Challenge thus given, by directing a Line for Y.Z. to be left at the Lombard-Street Coffee-House, appointing an interview, shall be more particularly informed of the Cause of this Method of Address.

BUGGS, be they ever so intolerable, are effectually destroyed by ANDREW COOK at the Three Flying Fish, in Scroop’s-Court, opposite Mr Day’s Pawnbroker, Holborn.

DESERTED from the 39th Regiment, recruiting at Worcester, THOMAS HIGGINS, Aged twenty two Years, five Feet three Inches high, large Complexion, brown Hair, hazel Eyes, pitted with the Small Pox, by Trade a Breeches Maker. He deserted the 22nd of July from Tenbury, in Worcestershire, without his Wig, in a brown Cloth Coat, Pink-coloured Worsted Waistcoat, and clean Leather Breeches. Whoever apprehends the said Deserter shall receive Two Guineas Reward.

***

Ordinariness has to be balanced with glamour, of course. When the queen had arrived, aged seventeen, from the tiny Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz to be married, she had travelled in the royal yacht, renamed for the occasion the Charlotte. This ship, newspapers told their readers, was provided with a gilded velvet bed, a harpsichord, a brass band, a crew in scarlet and gold uniforms, a carriage-load of sweetmeats, and “Abundance of Poultry.”

Landing in England, Charlotte had been brought to London with the windows of her carriage open so she could be seen by the crowds who gathered in each town and called for her to appear at the windows of the houses in which she rested.  Newspaper coverage also followed her progress, reporting on her meals, her clothes, and her visitors. At Lord Abercorn’s, according to the London Evening Post, Charlotte ate her dinner alone while “the Dutchess of Ancaster, the Countess of Effingham, and Mrs. Dashwood, supped together in an adjacent Room, and afterwards came and eat Fruit with her Majesty.” All the way through this apparently private meal, the public were invited to file past the table as though they were visiting a particularly crowded branch of Madame Tussauds:  “during the whole Time of her Majesty’s Supping, the People were allowed to pass by her through the Room, but not to stop.”

Charlotte danced the evening after her wedding in “a silver flowered tissue negligee, with gold trimmings, and a fly cap with lappets.”It was the queen’s job to promote English-made silks and lace, and she and her ladies – including the wet nurse – were expected to wear fine formal dresses which had to be changed for each public appearance. Her portrait, in 1762, shows her jewels, brocade, fur and lace ruffles hanging heavily on a painfully commonplace, slightly pink teenager.

She seemed more comfortable with her later role as a cosily virtuous matriarch, but for the few months between betrothal and birth, Charlotte was a Georgette Heyer heroine. She was, an endless stream of commentators insisted, not a beautiful woman, but “pale and homely,” with what the St James’s Chronicle described as a “graceful Carriage, fine Neck and Hands, brown Hair, round Face, blue Eyes, Mouth rather large, rosy Lips, and extreme fine Teeth.” Later there was a story that she had won the English king’s heart by writing him a feisty yet virtuous letter pleading for his help to save her home country from war. All this was supposed to offer what the pale homeliness of a romance heroine offers today – evidence of the wisdom of the hero who chooses her over bewolfenbüttelment, and, more importantly, an avatar for the escapist fantasies of readers dreaming of their own silver silk gowns and Abundance of Poultry.

***

On Thursday evening about seven o’clock, a young woman, genteelly dress’d, threw herself into the river Thames, at Queen-hith; a gentleman who saw her from his window, got assistance, and she was taken out alive, and proper care being taken of her, she recovered in a few hours. She was then asked what induced her to commit so rash an action? when she confessed, that she was with child by a man who refused to do any thing for her. She was then advised to go before a Magistrate, and swear the child to the right father, which accordingly she did yesterday.

There is a petulancy of wit in Lucia which she uses as her defence.

N.B. The following Goods are sold only by Warren and Co. as above, The Queen’s Royal Marble Wash-ball, at 10s. each. His Royal Liquid of Violets and Jessamine, for making the Hair grow thick and fast, beyond any other Composition, 2s. – His Royal Opiate of Pearls and Myrtle, for clearing, cleansing, and preserving the Teeth and Gums, 5s. a Pot.

***

In 1769, London silk weavers were rioting against falling wages and the importation of competing luxury fabrics from India, China, Italy and France. In an attempt to placate them and win over public opinion, the king and queen staged a ‘Junior Drawing Room’ at St James’s. The seven-year-old Prince George was dressed in a red silk costume and posed with his three-year-old sister, who wore a silk toga and reclined on a sofa. The children sat, still and patient, while an aristocratic audience admired them and scribbled down descriptions to be published in the papers. The weavers responded by stealing a hearse and driving it through the palace gates, but some of the newspapers’ middle-class readers must have adored it.

Look how much we care about you! said the publicity stunt, look at how we turn our children into mannequins for your benefit. Love me, seemed to say the puppet toddler prince, to people the real prince was barely aware existed: people whose yearly income was not enough to buy a baby’s toga, who would never have been allowed to set a real foot in the palace nursery. Love me like your own son, to people who could have been imprisoned and exiled for arguing against his sovereign power; people whom his father would happily see hanged for cutting down silk from looms. Silent, stared-at, and gorgeously dressed, the boy who would run up hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt by his early twenties and become the British monarchy’s first newspaper scandel magnet, Prince George took his place in the newspapers.

***

Yesterday afternoon a horse which had got loose, ran violently out of the White Swan Inn Yard, Whitechapel, and kicked a barrow of fruit to pieces; he then ran across the way into Mr. Bedell’s, a China-shop, and broke to pieces the sash door of the room behind the shop, in which were an elderly gentlewoman, a woman with a child at her breast, and the maid, and threw them all down, but they providentially received little injury.

Yesterday stocks fell one per cent.

A Gentleman at Lambeth has within this Day or two had all the Cabbages, Lettices and other Vegetables in his Garden destroyed by a large Swarm of Insects called Flying Moles: it is an Animal of the Locust Kind, with several Phangs resembling the fore Feet of a common Mole, or to give a better Idea, the Balance-Wheel of a Watch: They are extremely Ferocious, and whatever they fix upon they devour with the greatest Voraciousness.

It is said her Majesty had a very good Time of it, and both herself and the royal Infant are in the fairest Way of doing well.

Works Cited

St. James’s Chronicle, 12 August 1762
London Evening Post, 12 August 1762
Public Advertiser, 12 August 1762
Lloyd’s Evening Post, 12 August 1762
Gazetteer and London Daily Advertiser, 12 August 1762
London Chronicle, 12 August 1762

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Ruth Scobie is a postdoc research fellow at the University of Oxford, working on eighteenth-century celebrity culture. She would really like to talk about old newspapers, Sarah Siddons, Mary Shelley, and the flouncier wardrobe choices of British naval captains in the 1780s, if those seem like things you’d be interested in.

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