This week I want to share something which surprised me about Frances Bankes’s Ball, which I talked about last week and the week before, and seeing as the surprise is about children, and Christmas is a time to make a fuss of children, I thought it fitting to share this the Sunday before Christmas.
Well, I would have thought that at a party on the 19th December 1791 the children would have been tucked away in their beds in the attic rooms, out of sight and out of mind. But apparently no, not all Georgian parents wanted their children hidden away while they entertained. Some parents treated their children as part of the family exactly as we might today.
It is known, through Frances Bankes’s letters that she followed literary guidance of the time for parents, such as the philosopher John Locke’s, ‘Thoughts Concerning Education’ which was a popular book in lending libraries. She did not go so far as to breastfeed, which was encouraged as being natural, but did frequently keep her children with her in the main reception rooms during the day, employing a nanny, Mrs Hill, to keep them in order when there were visitors. She also took the children on outings to the seaside on Brownsea Island, and to visit their Grandmother in London.
When the children were older Frances and her husband even rented a property, not in the fashionable quarters of London, but near Westminster, where her boys went to school, so they might not have to board but could come home in the evenings and sleep in the family home. What a committed loving family, I did not expect to hear about such a family in the 18th Century.
So it is no wonder then that Frances let her ‘Five Brats’ come down to the ball, and not only to pay a short visit but to enjoy the entertainment for a long while.
The children had tea at four o’clock, in their upstairs sitting room, and then they were made to sleep for two hours before they dressed up in time for when the guests arrived at eight. Mrs Hill was told to keep them upstairs until their proud Mama rang to call them down and show them off.
They were initially lined up in the ballroom in a row (Sound of Music style).
Frances declared in a letter to her mother-in-law, ‘it was a very pretty sight and they all enjoyed it more than I should have imagined.’
Maria the baby was returned to bed after half-an-hour, as she was scared by so many people. Two of the boys, who were five and six, stayed up for a long while but tired before midnight and were then taken up to bed when Mrs Hill, the nanny/nurse, retired to bed.
But Frances’s daughter, three-year-old Anne, protested that she still had energy and did not wish to retire until the other ladies did, so both Anne and her brother George remained downstairs for even longer until they tired too and Frances herself took them up to bed.
Well, can you imagine four young children at a ball with 130-140 people, I know my own daughter has spent parties gathering Christmas confetti from every table, and collecting all the balloons, or running in circles on the dance floor, brim-full with the charged-up energy of over excitement, until it all has finally caught up with her and then she’s crashed out. Funny I had never imagined such behaviour at a Georgian Christmas ball in the 1700s, my eyes are now opened and my imagination tweaked.
Oh but let me share one more gem recorded from the catalogue of Frances Bankes’s motherly duties in her letters. When her second son, William – who grew up to be a great friend of Lord Byron’s (I’ll share his grown-up stories sometime, he was scandalous too) – was at school in London, one day he was not at all well, so Frances went to collect him from the school. She noted that the room had no chair in it but the one William occupied, (it was considered healthy by the school, to keep children in meagre surroundings). But when she came into the room, William’s friend who’d commandeered an upturned coal-scuttle as a seat, stood and offered it to Frances to sit on… She was charmed. So am I…
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
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