Royal Wedding – Why do brides wear white?

When Meghan Markle steps out in her wedding gown this Saturday, it will be a historically significant moment, relayed across the globe and replayed countless times over the coming decades. It is no wonder, therefore, that media speculation has mounted to fever pitch as everyone wonders: What will Meghan wear? Will she fly the flag for British design? How much will her dress cost? Everyone agrees on one point – it will be a traditional ‘white wedding’.

Arguably, one of the most memorable moments in the history of Royal Weddings occurred when Lady Diana Spencer stepped out of her carriage onto the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in that voluminous gown designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel. It was a beautiful dress of ivory silk taffeta and antique lace – but OMG it was so badly crumpled. Elizabeth later admitted, ‘I was horrified really, because it was quite a lot of creasing… I actually felt faint’. But the bride smiled and shook out the dress to reduce the wrinkling. Despite this setback, when Diana walked down the aisle she was the epitome of a fairy-tale princess. Thirty-six-years on, this dress remains iconic.

In April 2011, Kate Middleton looked stunning in a wedding dress of ivory satin and lace designed by Sarah Burton, creative director Alexander McQueen. Burton, admitted that key challenges lay in the fact that ‘it had to be a dress of historical importance and one which had enough presence for Westminster Abbey, and yet it needed to be modest’.

Undoubtedly, designing Meghan’s wedding gown will be a challenge as the dress will need to reflect her laid-back style. The Evening Standard wonders how she will ‘bridge the gap between contemporary cool and palace-worthy attire’. Speaking to Harper’s Bazar, American designer Vera Wang predicts that Meghan will go for ‘neither full blown royal wedding like Diana or Kate, and neither narrow, sensual and more sexy–I think she’ll go somewhere in-between that feels a tad more modern’. But Wang agrees that the dress will be a shade of white.

Queen Victoria is attributed with popularizing white weddings. She dazzled in a gown made of white silk and lace, when she married Prince Albert in 1840. However, the trend for white weddings started some decades earlier.

Catherine Tylney-Long, of Wanstead House, was the richest commoner in Regency Britain

In 1812, the heiress Catherine Tylney Long dazzled in a cutting-edge, all-white wedding outfit, when she married William Wellesley Pole. They were the celebrity couple of their era – rich, sexy, notorious – and they wed in a blaze of publicity. Newspapers reports were like a spread in Hello magazine, focusing on the bride’s remarkable ensemble. Catherine’s gown was made from delicate Brussels point lace. Over this she wore full-length pelisse jacket made from shimmering satin with a luxurious sweep of soft white swans feathers swishing at her ankles. Her headdress was ornamented with two ostrich feathers and a long lace veil.  The Morning Chronicle remarked on the enormous cost of Catherine’s outfit: ‘the Lady looked very pretty and interesting… The dress cost 700 guineas, the bonnet 150, and the veil 200’.

During the early nineteenth-century, white weddings were a relatively new trend reserved for the rich or the aristocracy. This is hardly surprising as the total outlay for Catherine’s ensemble was more than the average labourer earned in twenty years. Most women simply got married in their best gown regardless of the colour. But Catherine’s wedding outfit captured the public imagination, making white wedding dresses desirable across all classes in society. From this moment onwards, brides increasingly wore white as a symbol of romantic love and purity.

John F Kennedy’s marriage to Jaccqueline Bouvier in 1953 shows the universal appeal for white weddings

Catherine’s Regency wedding was a defining moment in the history of British weddings, setting a standard that remains popular today worldwide: the bride’s white wedding dress, the groom’s top hat and tails, the church ceremony, and the fine carriage to transport the newlyweds. Perhaps this formula had been used before, but never with such pomp or publicity.

 

There are no surviving images of Catherine in her ground-breaking outfit, but luckily a similar version was reproduced by BBC costume designers for this famous scene in Pride and Prejudice. It is a pared down copy of Catherine’s ensemble, without the elaborate detail of the Brussels lace, the luxurious sweep of swansdown, and the trendy ostrich feathers in the headdress. It provides a good indication of how Catherine and William would have looked on their wedding day, demonstrating just how glamorous they were.

Despite this bright start and some glorious years at Wanstead House, Catherine’s marriage was ultimately doomed. The shocking twists and turns of her life kept the nation enthralled for decades. It culminated in a high profile court case with widespread repercussions. You can read Catherine’s shocking story in in my bestselling book, The Angel and the Cad

I’m sure that Meghan and Harry will fare much better in their marriage! The very best of luck to them.

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Super Injunctions, Scandal & Celebrity

I love celebrity gossip and scandal. But recent debates over CELEBRITY SUPER INJUNCTIONS raises important questions: What is in the ‘public interest’? Do individuals give up the ‘right to privacy’ when they actively court celebrity? Is the need for privacy stronger than the right to publish?

The Duke of Wellington says 'Publish and be Damned!'

The Duke of Wellington says ‘Publish and be Damned!’

This is not a new dilemma. The cult of celebrity may feel like a modern phenomenon, but it exploded during the Regency period (1812-20), when innovations such as the steam powered press enabled the widespread distribution of daily newspapers and caricatures. The parallels between then and now are startling. Gossip became a tradable commodity as Gentlemen of the Press and satirists vied for the next big story. Almost immediately questions were raised about ‘privacy’, and the Duke of Wellington is attributed with the famous quote, ‘publish and be damned’.

Britain's first celebrity couple: bigger than Brangelina

Catherine and William were ‘bigger than Brangelina’

My bookThe Angel and The Cadexplores the blossoming of the tabloid press, together with the problems faced by those living in the public eye. It tells the true story of Catherine and William Long Wellesley, Britain’s first ever celebrity couple. They exuded glamour and wealth, and the public were intrigued by them because they were racy, trendy and exciting. They became household names constantly in the news. As a review in the Daily Mirror points out, ‘They were Regency England’s version of Brangelina, Kimye and Tomkat filling the gossip columns for more than two decades – and OMG! Their scandals would break the internet today.

Mr 'Long Pole' discovers that celebrity has its ups and downs

Mr ‘Long Pole’ discovers that celebrity has its ups and downs

Researching my book was a joy because contemporary newspaper reports were riveting, capturing all the drama and excitement of Catherine and William’s lives. The media deftly branded and packaged them for public consumption – She was ‘The Angel’ all virtue and goodness… He was labelled ‘Mr Long Pole’ due to this notorious sexploits. Their scandals were truly mind-boggling, with episodes of ‘grossest adultery’, obscene decadence, illegal abortions, slashed wrists and attempted kidnap. Nobody was surprised when their antics culminated in a landmark court case.

In 1825 William fought to protect his private life

In 1825 William fought to protect his private life

Wellesley v Beaufort opened in 1825, and the public were thrilled at the prospect of a courtroom drama with a celebrity cast. Evidence to be presented in court was highly salacious, with testimonies from people closest to the couple, including the butler, the valet and family doctor. Unsurprisingly, Mr Long Wellesley did not want details of his exploits in the public domain. With echoes of the current arguments over super-injunctions, he appealed to the Lord Chancellor Eldon demanding a private hearing. Chancery suits were often held behind closed doors and shrouded in mystery. But on this occasion Eldon ruled, ‘in cases of this anxious and delicate kind, a public hearing is preferable, because it is a guard to the conduct of the judge…as well as of public justice’.

The Lord Chancellor ruled for a public hearing to 'guard conduct'

The Lord Chancellor ruled for a public hearing to ‘guard conduct’

Eldon was right to order a public hearing to ‘guard conduct’. He recognized that celebrities are role-models that set trends and influence culture. It transpired that Wellesley v Beaufort was an important trial that set a new precedent in English Law. It also sparked nationwide debate about moral standards and raised the question – is it right to treat women this way? It set a benchmark that helped to redefine the role of men and women as Regency decadence gave way to Victorian values. This shows that the airing of private matters can often be in the public interest, and the lessons learned in 1825 continue to resonate in Britain today. You can read the full story in my bestselling book – The Angel and The Cad

Twitter vs Super-Injunctions as celebrity naming goes viral

Twitter vs Super-Injunctions as celebrity naming goes viral

However, the debate about freedom of the press has been superseded in this new era internet technology. We are no longer reliant on the Gentlemen of the Press for news stories, because social media provides a platform for just about anyone to air their views, whether it’s the truth or not. As a result the struggle for ‘privacy’ will continue to intensify, not just for celebrities, but in all walks of life.

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Catherine and the legacy of Wanstead House

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In 1810, Catherine Tylney Long was the ‘richest commoner in the British Dominions’. The 21-year-old heiress was highly unusual because landed estates ordinarily passed along the male line. How did such enormous wealth accumulate and why did it end up in the hands of – A WOMAN?

To answer this question we must look and Catherine’s ancestors – Who were they? What did they contribute? What were their aspirations?

1. JOSIAH CHILD (1631-99)

richsrd tylney

Catherine’s great-great-grandfather, was a remarkable businessman who rose from obscurity to become one of the richest men in Britain.

Wealth  – Josiah Child started out as a brewer, but soon secured a contract to supply beer and other services to the navy. By 1659, he was provisioning East India Company ships, and reinvesting heavily into the company until he became the controlling shareholder. As Governor of the East India Company, Sir Josiah acquired fabulous wealth, monopolizing trade between Britain and the Far East.

Power – Gritty determination spilled into Sir Josiah’s private life. He used his fortune to pursue social advancement through powerful family connections. He provided huge dowries to ensure that his children married into the highest echelons of society. This paid dividends – his grandson was Henry Somerset, 2nd Duke of Beaufort, and his granddaughter Elizabeth became the Duchess of Bedford.

oldwansteadhouse

Old Wanstead House c.1708

Ancestral home – Sir Josiah wanted to leave his mark by establishing a family seat that would proclaim his incredible success. In 1673, he paid £11,500 for the manor of Wanstead, in Essex, a scenic estate comprising of rolling hills, forests and lakes, with the River Roding flowing through it. In his final years, he devoted his time to remodelling his gardens, planting avenues of trees and creating ornamental lakes.

knyff and kip

Knyff and Kip’s bird’s eye view of Wanstead c.1710 shows the spectacular landscaping, demonstrating why Wanstead Park became renowned as the ‘English Versailles’.

 

2. RICHARD CHILD (1680-1750), 1ST EARL TYLNEY

ViscountCastlemainHogarth

When Richard Child inherited his father’s fortune in 1704, he not only embraced Sir Josiah’s vision for Wanstead, but raised his aspirations to a new level.

Wealth – Richard shrewdly added value to the family coffers by marrying advantageously. He married a wealthy heiress and acquired the vast Tylney estates in Hampshire from his wife’s family.

Power – Richard gained titles that elevated the family status. In 1718, he was made Viscount Castlemain. On being raised to the peerage in 1731, he adopted his wife’s surname and became 1st Earl Tylney.

Hogarth Assembly at Wanstead House

Hogarth’s Assembly at Wanstead c.1729

Ancestral home – Richard chose to invest his money on a home that would rival royal palaces. Wanstead House was the first private residence in Britain to be constructed in Palladian design, appealing to a change in taste to more understated classical architecture. The Assembly at Wanstead House, by William Hogarth, captures the splendour of the staterooms: the sumptuous furnishings, ornate gilding and richly painted ceiling frescos.

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Wanstead House – Britain’s first Palladian mansion

3. JOHN CHILD (1712-1784), 2ND EARL TYLNEY

at naples

Wealth – Rather than striving for more, John Child enjoyed his wealth, spending for the joy of it and indulging his passion for art, music and theatre. He is thought to be a character in this 1760s painting of the English connoisseurs at Florence.

Power – The 2nd Earl Tylney was homosexual; when he inherited Wanstead in 1750, he had no desire to marry for the sake of appearances or to produce heirs. In an age when homosexual liaisons were a capital offence he was vulnerable. Eventually, he was compelled to flee to Italy after being found in bed with a male servant (or two as the rumour goes).

Ancestral home – Wanstead House lay empty for almost two decades while the 2nd Earl lived abroad. As a connoisseur of art, he devoted much of his time to collecting artwork and treasures for Wanstead House. The highlight of his collection was three ancient bronze statues recovered from the ruins of Herculaneum.

4. SIR JAMES TYLNEY LONG (1736-1794) – (Catherine’s father)

james tylney long

Sir James Tylney-Long memorial, at Draycot Cerne

Wealth – Catherine’s father inherited the Tylney property including Wanstead House from his uncle John. By now Sir James was aged forty eight, and already extremely wealthy as he owned the Long family estates in Wiltshire. With the two legacies combined, his accumulated fortune was enormous – approximately 25,000 acres of land spread over six counties, several stately homes plus stocks and bonds.

Power – Catherine’s father was an unassuming country squire renowned throughout Wiltshire for his charitable endeavours. He was a pioneering forward-thinking man with strong ties to the Shaftesbury family. As MP for the county, he used his power and influence to do good, setting up schools and providing welfare for the poor and infirm.

Draycot House

Draycot House, Wiltshire

Ancestral home – Sir James was perfectly content with life in Wiltshire, and reluctant to leave his ancestral home at Draycot. Although he had no desire to live at Wanstead House, he felt it his duty to produce heirs to the Tylney estate. He married in 1785, at the relatively mature age of forty nine, and four children were born in quick succession – the eldest was Catherine. Crucially, Sir James opted to name his own daughters as heirs, ahead of distant male relatives. So it came to pass that when Catherine’s only brother died in 1805, she was suddenly thrust into the limelight as ‘the richest heiress in the kingdom’.

These were Catherine’s ancestors – four remarkable men who each brought something to the table. But which one was the most historically important?

  1. Josiah Child – whose meteoric rise enabled everything that was to follow at Wanstead
  2. Richard, Earl Tylney – who had the vision to commission a relatively unknown architect to build Wanstead House. Colen Campbell’s scheme provided the perfect model for gracious modern living, and it sparked a Palladian revival in Britain.
  3. John, 2nd Earl Tylney – for his exquiste taste and gathering of an amazing array of priceless art and furnishings fit to adorn Wanstead House
  4. Sir James Tylney Long – who almost doubled the size of the Tylney estate, and crucially had the foresight to overlook rules of primogeniture, which opened the door to Catherine gaining the inheritance.

 

wanstead house jan 2015

Wanstead House – sparked a Palladian revival

Personally I would argue that Richard, 1st Earl Tylney, was the most important of these men. He was a man of great taste, a patron on the arts who promoted and supported influential artists such as William Kent, Hogarth, Nollekins and Casali. It is a shame that his contribution to British culture has been overlooked, as he played a key role in the Palladian revival, which revolutionised Georgian architecture – changing the landscape of 18th century Britain. The many elegant squares and sweeping terraces that adorn our country today owe much to his innovation.

queen square

Conclusion

On inheriting Wanstead House, the pressures on Catherine must have been immense. Each one of her predecessors had added value in some way, enabling her inheritance to snowball into something rare and remarkable. The hopes and dreams of her ancestors now rested firmly on her shoulders. What was expected of Catherine? I would like to think their advice might have been:

  • Gritty Josiah – Add value through powerful marriage connections and produce lots of heirs
  • Shrewd Richard – Marry well, produce heirs, display your wealth and taste
  • Flamboyant John – Enjoy your wealth and follow your heart
  • Benevolent James – Be charitable and pioneering

Whether she could live up to their hopes and expectations only time would tell!

I hope you have enjoyed this post which sheds light on the enormous responsibilities befalling 16-year-old Catherine the moment she became heiress to Wanstead House and its fabulous treasures.

The decisions Catherine made from this point onwards will be fully recounted in my forthcoming book The Angel and the Cad, (published by Pan Macmillan in June 2015). I aim to show that Catherine was every bit as worthy and influential as her ancestors, leaving behind an important legacy of her own.

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