Fashion for a Fashionable Item

Hand-held fans, previously reserved for royalty and aristocrats, become a must-have accessory for every lady in high society at the end of the 17th century. The trend to carry a fan spreads rapidly through society. With this, the decoration of the fan leave becomes light-hearted: The religious and classical motifs give way to pastoral scenes, al fresco parties, and themes of love-and-courtship. Interestingly, fashion itself also features on the fashionable accessories, serving as a fashion plate and fashion statement.

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Jane Austen, the Captain and the Smugglers of a Tiny Island

Captain Corbet James D’Auvergne could lay claim to knowing Jane Austen. The authoress mentions him in two letters to her sister Cassandra. Read more about Captain D’Auvergne connection to Jane Austen, and his achievements as Acting Governor of a tiny island in the North Sea called Heligoland.

After a ball at the Dolphin Hotel in Southampton in December 1808, Jane Austen – proficient as ever in summing up a gentleman’s potential as a spouse – noted that Corbet James D’Auvergne was both a captain in the Royal Navy and a ship owner. The remark might have been a joke about husband-hunting, but the Captain was indeed a good catch for a lady looking for hero-material in her husband. Besides, he was still single. Any lady furthering her acquaintance with him should know, however, that he had his hands in large-scale smuggling.
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Lord Stanhope and the Mysterious Death of Kasper Hauser

Lord Stanhope (left) and Kaspar Hauser (right)

On 14 December 1833 in Ansbach, a small town in Bavaria, a young man staggers home with a deep wound in his left breast. He states that he was lured to the Court Garden where a stranger stabbed him while giving him a small bag. The young man is known as Kasper Hauser, a local celebrity of his time, and also a mysterious youth of unknown origin.

A policeman searches the Court Garden. He finds a purse containing a note in mirror writing indicating in riddled form the attacker’s identity. He finds neither the weapon involved nor any other helpful evidence. Kasper Hauser dies of his wound three days later.

The death of Kasper Hauser in 1833 is a one of the most famed-famous unsolved cases of criminology. Until today, we don’t know for sure whether the young man was murdered or died by inflicting himself a wound with a knife that penetrated much deeper than he had intended. Until today, we don’t even know who Kasper Hauser was: an imposter, a hereditary prince, an innocent boy?

The story of Kaspar Hauser, a ‘feral child’, who claimed to have lived in isolation and captivity, has all ingredients of a novel of Mrs. Radcliffe: political intrigue, espionage, and conspiracy theories. But what has the English aristocrat, Philip Henry Lord Stanhope, 4. Earl Stanhope (1781-1855), to do with the young man, his secret and his death? Continue reading

The Reichenbach Case – Industrial Espionage at Boulton & Watt

In the late 18th century, Bavaria was an economically backward state, heavily relying on agriculture. Bavaria’s Elector, Karl Theodor (1777-1799), though usually more interested in arts and philosophy than in state affairs, was aware of the problems arising from a weak industrial economy – especially with the French revolutionary army roaming Europe. Karl Theodor looked to England, a prosperous nation, and the number 1 in technical innovation.

Plotting

Karl Theodor – probably inspired by his consultant, the smart Count Rumford – came up with a cunning plan: Continue reading

Sleigh Rides: An 18th-Century Winter Pleasure

Hard winters were common in the 18th century, especially on the Continent. Snow and ice made roads impossible to pass by carriages. They were, however, still manageable by mule-drawn sleighs. Actually, in the Alps, frozen roads were easier to travel in the winter than in the summer, and bridges made of snow allowed people to cross many rivers otherwise impassable. Thus, the beginning of the winter did not mark the time to stay at home but to start traveling. Famous poet Goethe, e.g., crossed the St. Gotthard pass, enjoying the winter scenery.

“A great train of mules brought the place to life with the sound of their bells. … The way led up over the rocks of the ever-cascading Reuss and the waterfalls here form the most beautiful shapes.”

Traveling in the winter

Many travelers from England discovered the delights of the picturesque winter scenery while on the Grand Tour.   Continue reading

Byron, Murder, Carbonari!

Masonic object

In this post:
– Ravenna and the poetry of politics
– Plotting insurrection: the tight situation in Italy
– Murder!
– Byron and the secret society of the Carbonari
– Under surveillance and attack

Lord Byron (1788 – 1824), a man of scandals, had by 1815 crowned his wild life with a stormy affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, and a breakup with his wife. He left England to travel the Continent. True to the verdict ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know´’, he didn’t led a virtuous life there. In December 1819, he arrived in Ravenna, Italy, where he took up residence to be near his mistress Teresa Guiccioli, a married woman. There was more scandal and adventure to come: Byron became involved in the national movement in Italy – meaning secret societies plotting insurrection against the Austrian und clerical rulers. Indeed it was in Ravenna that Byron found his calling in serious political activities. Continue reading

Eleonore Wickham: The Master Spy’s Wife

On 25th September 1799, shortly before 5 o’clock in the morning, the Wickhams woke up by the sound of guns. Were the French marching against Zurich again? William Wickham (1761 – 1840), England’s leading spy on the Continent, placed his wife Eleonore (1763-1836) under the care of his private secretary, the Count of St. George. He himself rode out reconnoitring the situation. Continue reading

Object of Interest: Coach Clocks

Coach clocks were, in principle, enlarged pocket watches with a diameter of 9 to 12 cm. However, a clock to take with you on a journey by carriage had to provide some special features. First of all, it had to be robust against the bumps of the road. That’s why coach clocks were kept in padded protective cases made of copper or brass, often covered with fine leather. The metalwork of the case was done in delicate broken ornaments to allow the sound of the mechanism to penetrate. Continue reading