Tag Archives: Just Georgian Things

Fanny Burney: The Keeper of the Robes

Fanny Burney, who is best known as the author of novels Evelina and Cecilia, held the position of ‘Keeper of the Robes’ in the court of King George III and Queen Charlotte between 1786 and 1790. As Keeper of the Robes, Burney aided in dressing the Queen in a mostly ceremonial role, twice a day. Her role enabled her to form relationships with members of the royal family and household.

Fanny Burney was involved in court life at the time of the menus examined in this project and her extensive collections of journals and letters offer insight into her life and health at court and others who became affected by King George III’s illness. More information about members of the royal household present at the time of the menus can be found here, in one of our previous blogs.

To ‘a certain Miss Nobody’


Frances Burney as cited in hester davenport, faithful handmaid

Burney wrote her first diary at age sixteen and always wrote as if for an audience.[1] Initially, she wrote to an imaginary friend but by the time she was twenty, Burney’s diary became letters that she exchanged between her sister, Susan and other family friends. In her time at court, Fanny continued to write journals for Susan despite having been advised to not share details of her role in the royal household to the outside world.

‘The King is not well; he has not been quite well some time, yet nothing I hope alarming…’


FRANCES BURNEY AS CITED IN HESTER DAVENPORT, FAITHFUL HANDMAID

In October 1788, Burney wrote of the King’s illness which delayed the courts return to Windsor from Kew. The court were delayed for a week and Burney describes the melancholy and the difficulties of the time where anxiety was high. As King George III’s illness progresses, Burney shows the impact it had on the household and how his behavioural changes were perceived by members of his court. She also kept records of conversations that she had with other members of the royal household such as Colonel Goldsworthy and Colonel Digby that portrayed the anxieties of those close to the King.

‘Nobody stirred; not a voice was heard; not a step, not a motion. I could do nothing but watch, without knowing for what: there seemed a strangeness in the house most extraordinary.’


FRANCES BURNEY AS CITED IN HESTER DAVENPORT, FAITHFUL HANDMAID

During the period of illness, Burney’s relationship with Queen Charlotte is highlighted showing the companionship between the women and the increased pressures of Burney’s role as King George’s illness continued. On November 5th 1788, Burney was called to serve the Queen at one in the morning, after the royal family had dined. During the meal, it had been reported that the King had a violent outburst at one of his sons. She described the Queen as appearing ‘pale, ghastly pale’.

‘Deeply affected, I hastened up to her, but, in trying to speak, burst into an irresistible torrent of tears…She looked like death – colourless and wan; but nature is infectious; the tears gushed from her own eyes, and a perfect agony of weeping ensued…when it subsided, and she wiped her eyes, she said ‘I thank you, Miss Burney – you have made me cry – it is a great relief to me – I had not been able to cry before, all this night long’.’


FRANCES BURNEY AS CITED IN HESTER DAVENPORT, FAITHFUL HANDMAID

It was decided in November, 1788 that the King would move from Windsor to Kew to ensure privacy. On 5th December 1788, Dr. Willis was introduced to Colonel Digby and as seen by the inclusion of his servant in the menus, he was still present in the court in December, 1789. The King began a steady recovery in February 1789 and 23 April 1789 was celebrated as a day of thanksgiving for his recovery. As part of the celebration, Fanny Burney was awarded a medal for her service.

Royal Archives, LS9-226_0007,
14 December 1789.

Burney left the Queen’s service in July 1791. She continued to write letters and journals after she became trapped in Paris while visiting with her husband and son when the Napoleonic Wars restarted in 1802. She even wrote a detailed letter to her sister, Esther, about her mastectomy without anaesthetic in 1812 which you can read courtesy of the British Library.

Diaries and letters provide an alternate source which help to contextualise the menus in court life. The letters written by Burney give individuals of the court personality and character that make them feel more tangible. Burney also provides a valuable insight into the health and feelings of those surrounding King George III during his bouts of illness.


[1] Hester Davenport, Faithful Handmaid: Fanny Burney at the court of King George III (Stroud, 2000).

Dr Willis: The Cure to the King’s Madness or his Personal Torturer?

Earlier in the year, I transcribed a number of King George III’s menus from February 1789. In each instance, the title of ‘Dr Willis’s servant’ appeared, prompting me to investigate who this Dr Willis was. With this motivation too, I decided to explore Willis’s life and the treatment he conducted on the king, viewing this in the context of late eighteenth-century medicine. This idea of medicine was largely based on older religious and humoral ideas, shortly before the medical revolutions of the nineteenth-century, and as such appears alien compared to more modern treatment. In exploring Dr Willis, his rise as a physician and his appearance in George’s household will be explored, while his treatment of the king will be evaluated regarding contemporary medical ideas. In this too, the damage done to the king by Dr Willis will be recognised, but only insofar as his actions were in-line with the period’s medical practices.


Born to the minister of Lincoln Cathedral in 1718, Francis Willis was raised to be a religious man. He graduated Oxford University with an MA in 1741 and, having returned to study medicine, gained a medical MD in 1759. Between these years, Willis had married and had turned their home into a mental asylum, and would later go on to help found the Lincoln General Hospital in the 1760s. In 1788, aged seventy, Willis was summoned to court to aid the king, under Lady Harcourt’s recommendation, and began his work in December. Willis was well liked by many at court, such as Fanny Burney, for his manner and wit, but was seen as a quack by other royal physicians. By 17 February 1789, the king was seen to have been cured, and Willis’s job was done. He remained in court for a month after, to keep an eye on the king, and would return to Lincolnshire with a sizeable pension. In later life, Willis would help treat the queen of Portugal for her madness, no doubt aided by his reputation for aiding mad monarchs. Having retired from aiding the royal court in 1801, sending his son to help when the king would relapse, Willis would continue to practice medicine until his death in 1807, aged 89.

Dr Willis is noted here in George’s menu from January 1789 during their stay at Kew

In his service to the royals, Dr Willis was seen as a man of experience for his previous medical work in Lincolnshire, and aided the king as such. In this, the contemporary methods Willis used to treat the king were paired with other methods of psychological aid, meaning that the two parted on good terms despite Willis’s treatment. Though this is surprising considering the treatment George received. The King was tortured and abused in the name of ‘curing’ his madness and, while shocking by modern standards, this treatment was common in treating those deemed ‘mad’. Though simply stating that Willis’s methods were torturous is not enough to understand what the king underwent. In looking into the medical ‘aid’ Willis conducted, compared to medical knowledge in the period, an insight into what George endured is clear.

 

 

A portrait of Dr Willis by John Russel from the same year as the menu above

While by no means malicious, Willis’s treatment of the king was definitely harmful to his overall condition, though it was not uncommon for the period. For treatment, the king would regularly be bound in a chair and gagged, while suffering a wealth of mental and emotional abuse in the form of Willis’s ‘lectures’. In other instances, the king’s legs would be blistered to draw out bad humours, and would even be confined to a straightjacket if he were to remove the bandages from the wounds. George would also even be beaten by one of Willis’s assistants, perhaps even the one mentioned in the royal menus! Though compared to other cases of dealing with madness in the period, the king’s treatment was not out of the ordinary.


In madhouses, where the majority of the mentally ill were treated, conditions were as bleak as what the king endured, with cases such as William Belcher’s offering a harrowing example of treatment for the ‘mad’. As such, George received the same treatment, with Willis even stating that he would draw no distinction in treatment between the king or any other patient. In this then, while the king’s treatment may have been torturous, they were not uncommon in the context or done maliciously, as proven by the positive relationship between George and Willis. Despite this though, the treatment was not wholly effective, perhaps even delaying the king’s recovery from illness and damaging him overall. Furthermore, Willis’s treatment had no long-term effectiveness, with the king’s madness returning the next century and being permanent as of 1810.

“bound and tortured in a straight-waistcoat, fettered, crammed with physic with a bullock’s horn, and knocked down, and declared a lunatic by a Jury that never saw me…”

Belcher’s description of his treatment, Andrew Scull, Madness in Civilisation (London, 2015) p. 139


From this therefore, it is clear to modern audiences that Willis’s treatment was indeed harmful to the king by modern standards, though in his own context Willis acted as one would have with the knowledge they had. Indeed, Brooke’s analogy of Willis being no more cruel than a contemporary dentist removing teeth without anaesthetic speaks volumes about ideas of medicine, and of Willis in the eighteenth century.

Bibliography:

Brooke, John, King George III (Tiptree, 1972)
Burney, Frances, The Diary and Letters of Madame D’Arblay, Vol. 2 (London, 1891)
Clarke, John, The Life and Times of George III (London, 1972)
Hibbert, Christopher, George III: A Personal History (London, 1998)
Porter, Roy, “Willis, Francis” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2012)
Scull, Andrew, Madness in Civilisation (London, 2015)
Smith, Leonard, Peters, Timothy, “Introduction to ’Details on the Establishment of Doctor Willis, for the Cure of Lunatics’ (1796)” in History of Psychiatry, Vol 28 (3), (September, 2017)

LS9-226_0060, January 31, 1789

Retrospective diagnosis: the borderline of science and the humanities

In the present day, diagnoses for aches, pains, conditions and illnesses are part of our individual medical history. Symptoms are understood, in the majority of cases, as signs that lead to answers. However, can we apply our understandings of medicine today on the perceived symptoms experienced by those in the past?

Retrospective diagnosis is a highly debatable topic which questions ethics, religion, scientific methodology and the responsibilities of historians. This post will focus on arguments surrounding the validity of a diagnosis for historical figures and consider whether a diagnosis matters in the pursuit of history. This is important to the project as King George III has retrospectively diagnosed based on evidence from his household such as doctor’s notes, diary entries, letters and even newspaper articles where suggestions for improving the King’s diet were made.

Problems with retrospective diagnosis

One of the issues identified with retrospective diagnosis is the absence of a practitioner-patient relationship which allows for the first-hand observation and interpretation of symptoms. Reports of a patient come from sources such as letters, diaries or records whose authors may fail to recognise symptoms that would aid in contemporary diagnosis. Symptoms that are recognised may also be described using different terminology that could vary in meaning. Diseases, viruses in particular, change over time so their symptoms may not remain consistent.

‘Historians have no qualms about revealing any reality, good or bad or ugly, of a historical figure’

Osamu Muramoto

Verifying a diagnosis of a historical figure is problematic as most diseases do not affect the bones. In cases where tissue is available, as with Chopin whose heart was preserved, there are other obstructions to scientific method, with arguments surrounding the preservation of peace for the deceased and respect for the people affected by the historical figure in question. Muramoto highlights that some diagnoses may be damaging or redeeming to a historical figure’s reputation. This may have a negative effect on their followers or attempt to excuse or explain away their actions.

However…

In the present day, the degree of certainty of a medical diagnosis where practitioner-patient relationship is established is not 100%. Research on the retrospective diagnosis of a historical figures is made public allowing for peer review to aid in the verification and validity of the findings.

A diagnosis can highlight the influence and impact that the disease may have had on their work or behaviours and offer new explanations. As well as adding to the historiography of an individual historical figure, it can provide a history of the disease or condition itself and can be used to create an idea of what the disease was like to live with in their period.

‘The Madness of King George’

The treatment of King George III’s illness will be discussed in a following blog of this project. Retrospective diagnosis for King George III has been based off records that were produced by his physicians. While the physicians of King George III had a practitioner-patient relationship, Joanna Edge has argued that symptoms have been chosen selectively by contemporary practitioners to suit a diagnosis.

King George III and others act as ‘windows of opportunity’ to learn more about social perceptions and medical practices of the past, so are contemporary diagnoses damaging to the interpretation of sources?

Or, by using retrospective diagnosis as a competitive theory, is it possible to use sources in innovative ways that create a broader historiography which can be verified through peer review?

Where do you stand on retrospective diagnosis? Is it a help or a hindrance? Please share your thoughts below!


Further reading:

Edge, Joanne, ‘Diagnosing the past’, Wellcome Collection (2018), https://wellcomecollection.org/articles/W5D4eR4AACIArLL8, Wellcome Collection, https://wellcomecollection.org.

Karenberg, A., ‘Retrospective Diagnosis: Use and Abuse in Medical Historiography’, Prague Medical Report, 110:2 (2009), pp. 140-145.

Muramoto, Osamu, ‘Retrospective diagnosis of a famous historical figure’, Philosophy, Ethics and Humanities in Medicine, 9:10 (2014).

Pruszewicz, Marek, ‘The mystery of Chopin’s death’, BBC News (22 December 2014), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29915863, BBC, https://www.bbc.co.uk.

Royal Kitchens at Kew

By George III’s reign the main residence at Kew was the Dutch house, and the kitchens needed to supply food to all those present in the household at the time; typically, the King himself, his wife Charlotte, and the Princesses. Among these numbers were also the staff themselves, meaning the kitchens needed to handle a huge amount of food at a time. The kitchens were constructed separately to the Dutch house, and where originally built to serve the culinary needs of the White House. The kitchens were not consistently open until 1788, when the royal family began to stay in the household for increased lengths of time.

Following Queen Charlotte’s death in 1818 the kitchens were left unused and abandoned until 2012. [1] Before we delve into the kitchen staff and resources, we should first establish what the kitchens were comprised of. It included a large main area with four rooms leading from it specifically suited for the holding and preparation of different foods or for certain tasks. One of the four rooms was the bread house for the production and baking of bread, another was a cold room for the storing of meats and fish. It was extremely important to keep fish fresh as they were an example of a more luxurious and expensive food. It has been estimated that fish such as Turbots could individually cost approximately £1 10 shillings, which would cost over £60 in modern terms. [2] The other two rooms were sculleries for the storage of silverware and the cleaning of utensils and other cooking equipment. [1] Outside of the kitchen area there was also an ice house for the storage of food needing preserving for longer periods of time. The structure is located under earth, allowing for a natural method of cooling perishable food.

The Ice House. Picture taken by Jasmine Moran at Kew Gardens 03/05/19

The kitchen also had additional upstairs space which contained offices, one being that occupied by the Clerk of the Kitchen William Gorton. There was also another storage space for the more exorbitant dry products, named the dry larder for which he held the key. [1] There was also an exterior to the kitchens, which held the kitchen gardens. This is where most of the vegetables were sourced for the royal menu.

William Gorton’s listed menus. Picture taken by Jasmine Moran at Kew Gardens 03/05/19
Kitchen Garden. Picture taken by Jasmine Moran at Kew Gardens 03/05/19

Despite the fact there were rarely visitors or feasts during the King’s periods of confinement, there was still a significant number of staff working to ensure the kitchen functions ran smoothly. Surprisingly, considering the emphasis on a woman’s place in the domestic environment, there were no women employed in Kew kitchens. Instead there were 23 men and boys working, which was the norm in a Georgian kitchen. [1] This was half the usual number of staff held in a palace kitchens. The lack of staff was because of the small size of the Dutch house, and the lack of feasts held. [3] I was also interested to learn that all the staff in the kitchens had to swear their loyalty to the monarch.

When considering the other staff, there were various different roles in a Georgian kitchen, some of which were surprising to me. For example, there were Scourers who were tasked with cleaning the dishes. While this is not surprising in itself, there was also a master Scourer who also had his own assistant. Evidently the cleanliness of the dishes was of the upmost importance and needed to be supervised intensely. In the second scullery three men had the job of ensuring the silverware was spotless. There were three porters, two for coal and one general porter. Another interesting feature is the presence of a Turnbroach who was responsible for rotating the spits on which meats were cooked. [4]

Another crucial member of the kitchen was William Gorton, as the Clerk of the Kitchen he was responsible for all aspects of its organisation, with the help of his assistant Samuel Wharton, another Clerk of the kitchen. He was the author of the menus which were written every evening for the following day. Although he was in charge of budgeting and food expenditure he was restricted by the Board of the Green Cloth. [2] This was essentially responsible for the administration of the royal palaces, including food. [6] Another essential member of staff, and one which Gorton communicated with regularly concerning the construction of each menu was the Master cook William Wybrown, who originally started working in the kitchens as a child.

Interestingly, Wybrown was featured in a rather dramatic poem which detailed the occasion a louse was found on the George III’s plate, depicting him questioning the pages and cooks demanding who the louse belonged to and how it got there. Evidently it was considered a catastrophic mistake which was ridiculed extensively. Wybrown is given a less than flattering description in the poem;

“the great Cook-Major comes! his eyes – Fierce as the redd’ning flame that roasts and fries; His cheeks like Bladders, with high passion glowing, or like a fat Dutch Trumpeter’s when blowing.”


Pindar, Peter, The Lousiad: an heroi-comic poem. Canto I, (London, 1786), P. 20. [7]

It is interesting to note how seemingly small occurrences could influence the reputation of a household’s kitchen, making it a public mockery.

It is clear the kitchens were a bustling hub of the palace and was essential to the well-being of the entire household. Although in the case of Kew palace the kitchen staff was fairly limited in comparison to other royal palaces, it still had the same functioning as any other royal palace and served it well for the years in which the royals resided there.


References

[1] University of Reading, A History of Royal Food and Feasting, <https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/royal-food/0/steps/17090> [date assessed 28 April 2019].

[2] Historical Royal Palaces, Factsheet Royal Kitchens at Kew, <https://hrpprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/hrp-prod-container/11112/factsheet-royal-kitchens-at-kew-final_2.pdf>  [date assessed 29 April 2019], pp. 1-2.

[3] University of Reading, A History of Royal Food and Feasting, <https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/royal-food/0/steps/17089> [date assessed 28 April 2019].

[4] University of Reading, A History of Royal Food and Feasting, <https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/royal-food/0/steps/17091> [date assessed 26 April 2019].

[5] University of Reading, A History of Royal Food and Feasting, <https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/royal-food/0/steps/17091> [date assessed 26 April 2019].

[6] The National Archives, Records of the Lord Steward, the Board of Green Cloth and other officers of the Royal Household, <https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C202> [date assessed 30 April 2019].

[7] Pindar, Peter, The Lousiad: an heroi-comic poem. Canto I, (London, 1786), p. 1. Bibliographic number: T041275 (estc), <https://data.historicaltexts.jisc.ac.uk/view?pubId=ecco-0835100700&terms=The%20Lousiad%20an%20heroi-comic%20poem&pageId=ecco-0835100700-220> [date assessed 20 April 2019].

Kew Palace: History and the Grounds

This post will provide context to the grounds and history of Kew palace, where the menus which are included in our series of posts were written and served. This residence changed fairly dramatically over its history, hosting some influential and royal guests. Frederick Prince of Wales was one occupant who shaped the grounds and houses on the property greatly, including the Royal kitchens (which will be discussed in the next post). George III, the main figure in this project, saw it as a family refuge, slightly removed from the bustle of London. In his later reign while mentally unstable, which will be discussed in later posts, he was confined there. The area of Kew Gardens and Richmond were also key to the menus, especially for the sourcing of foods through farming and hunting.

Kew itself is situated in Richmond, London, extremely close to Richmond park, the site of another, larger royal palace. The original grounds were far different to what stands today. Originally the land contained a larger palace which was used as the primary royal residence, built and remodelled for Frederick Prince of Wales. This was located opposite the Dutch house, which is now the largest and only palace on the grounds; the site of which has been commemorated with a sundial. [1]

The Dutch House at Kew Gardens, taken by Jasmine Moran at Kew Palace 03/05/19

The Dutch house was built in 1631 for silk merchant Samuel Fortrey, however, from the early 1700s it was utilized by Fredrick Prince of Wales and his wife Princess Caroline as a short-term retreat. It was likely they would have occupied the White House. From contemporary sketches we can understand what the original house must have looked like; below is a sketch of the palace from a text detailing the appearance of Kew. [2]

The White House at Kew, 1763 [2]

As the image depicts it was a more fitting royal establishment than the house which stands today, nevertheless, George and his family happily spent many times at the Dutch house. With its beautiful exterior and huge size its shocking that it would become derelict.

Sadly, the White House fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1802 for the preparation of a new “castellated Palace”. [3] Work began in the early 1800s, however George grew tired of its development by 1806 due to his developing eye issues. Although £100,000 had been spent and a significant amount had been constructed the project was abandoned. It stood for 20 or so more years before it was destroyed by George IV. [3]

The grounds had gone through many tumultuous years, and by the end of Georges’ reign the Dutch house was the only one standing (apart from Queen Charlottes’ cottage). It was also a house which saw much emotional hardship, particularly periods such as the confinement of George III during his bouts of insanity and then the death of Queen Charlotte in 1818. Although most of the original palace no longer stands, the red brick Dutch house (the current Kew palace), Queen Charlotte’s cottage retreat, and the kitchens remain.

The kitchens, which were constructed separately to the rest of the accommodation were large and well-suited for the royal inhabitants. They were created to be functional for a significantly larger property, being the White house, and contained many of the most important implements to a Georgian kitchen. The kitchens were the site for the preparation of the Royal menus and their creation, with some foods being sourced on Kew Garden grounds, or in the Richmond area, which was the site of another palace. This will be examined more closely in the next post.


References:

[1] Rachel Knowles, The White House – a Regency History guide, <https://www.regencyhistory.net/2014_02_01_archive.html> [date assessed 25 April 2019].

[2] A Description of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew, in Surrey, (Brentford, 1763), p. 15. Bibliographic number: T117923 (estc), <https://data.historicaltexts.jisc.ac.uk/view?pubId=ecco-0085801500&terms=A%20Description%20of%20the%20Gardens%20and%20Buildings%20at%20Kew> [date assessed 15 April 2019].

[3] Richmond Libraries’ Local Studies Collection, Local History Notes, <https://www.richmond.gov.uk/media/6315/local_history_kew_palaces.pdf> [date assessed 28 April 2019], p. 3.