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After ousting James II from the throne with the support of the English nobility, William III began a series of wars that required him to summon parliament regularly to secure funds for his war chest. Beginning in , the titled nobility came to London for the yearly meeting of parliament and the London season was born. The level of investment made by titled personnel in metropolitan life in the s in terms of time, money, property, and culture was unprecedented. A man of fashion was much more than a well-dressed man.

The Beau Monde

He was nearly always a member of the peerage. While there were members of the beau monde who were not aristocrats, these were rare exceptions rather than the rule. For example, Elizabeth and Maria Gunning were famous beauties but, as lower-class interlopers who were merely physically attractive, they had the potential to upset the power structures of the beau monde. Unsurprisingly, exile was reserved for female transgressors of the unwritten codes governing the metropolitan elite; adultery did not result in exile, but an adulterous pregnancy did.

As for fraud, this was typically an attempt to pass forged checks or gain expensive goods on credit by masquerading as a duke or earl. The Beau Monde is fascinating and comprehensive: I found it difficult to choose examples for this review.

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Readers interested in history and culture will find an abundance of detail to relish. Forty black and white illustrations are expertly placed and include cartoons and sketches, formal portraits, architectural drawings, and photographs of clothing and diamond jewelry. In many ways, it is through such satires and scandals that Georgian high society has come to be defined. The mass of contemporary letters and diaries that form the family archives kept by the manuscripts department are an especially rich resource.


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It is impossible not to be moved by seeing eighteenth-century ink on paper and imagining the hand that wrote it and the eyes that first read it. I have spent years in the Manuscripts Reading Room with these fashionable figures for company. Dr Hannah Greig is a lecturer in history at the University of York. She also works as a historical adviser to film, theatre and television, with credits including The Duchess film and a forthcoming BBC mini-series Death Comes to Pemberley. Books , Collections , Fashion. In contrast, the beau monde went to the gardens and theatres several times per week, sat in the best boxes, and indulged in food, drink, and other extras without worry.

Their particular form of attendance was completely different from that of others.

The Beau Monde by Hannah Greig | Waterstones

In addition, she reveals that proximity did not mean intimacy; in fact it often meant quite the opposite. Members of the provincial gentry or urban middle-class may have gone to the pleasure gardens in hopes of spotting the fashionable, but spotting is very different from engaging with.

The 19th Century Obsession with Costume Dramas

Meanwhile the fashionable, at these putatively public spaces, went with, for, and to meet one another; they kept to specific areas and routes and did not associate with the populace. Urban sociability was not for mingling; it was a way of consolidating, advertising, and benefiting from prestige and networks. Chapter three focuses on the ways that outfits worn to court broadcasted political decisions. It makes a contribution to 18th-century political historiography by arguing alongside Linda Colley and in contrast to G.

Trevelyan that both royals and court were, in fact, politically important —9. While the sources she cites on the irrelevance of the court are not recent, the perception of the lumpy Hanoverians as somehow sidelined from elite political culture persists and is worth challenging. When we turn to Parliament in chapter four, Greig expands on the important work of Elaine Chalus 2. Most readers will be unsurprised to learn that the culture of the beau monde incorporated politics.

But Greig goes further, revealing that letters between aristocratic wives and husbands traditionally seen as sources for history of gender or of the aristocracy but not of politics are in fact rich sources for political history, however high or narrowly construed. In chapter five, Greig unpacks the notion of beauty.

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Acknowledging that beauty is always socially constructed, she argues that when women of the beau monde were judged for their beauty, physical and aesthetic concerns were secondary. The sixth and final chapter explores the means by which the boundaries of this exclusive club were policed. In the first part of the chapter Greig looks at those who were exiled from the charmed circle, who were almost always sexually transgressive women.

Following an adulterous affair that resulted in an illegitimate child, Lady Sarah Bunbury lived in exile in a small country cottage for 12 years; she ultimately remarried and reentered society, but never regained her former status pp. But Lady Susan Fox Strangeways — exiled for marrying an actor — was never able to reenter society in spite of efforts by both the couple and her family pp. In the second part of the chapter, Greig looks at two fascinating imposters, Marmaduke Davenport Esq. She stresses, though, that both men were able to fool only the bankers and merchants who served the beau monde ; they would not have been able to fool members of the beau monde.

If I have one quibble regarding this book, it is that Greig could have done a bit more trumpeting of the larger implications of her work.

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