Let’s talk about the macabre: was Byron truly so original

Dressing up in macabre costumes and seeking to frighten others for pleasure has been

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Lord Byron

considered as entertainment for centuries. The Victorians loved their gothic reconstructions and the Tudors loved the intrigue of hiding behind masks and dressing up so they could pretend to be someone else. Then the infamous Lord Byron set up his group of wild friends at his ancient, mostly fallen down, Newstead Abbey. There they drank their toasts from the crown of a monk’s skull while playing blind man’s buff with his pet bear. Byron also loved to dress in false monks’ robes and to lead his friends in ceremonies. There is also the picture of him in his Turkish costume which again professes how much he liked to lead fashion and act a part.

Byron liked to be one of the ringleaders in shocking others with his macabre behaviour. For instance setting Shelley, his young mistress and her sister to writing ghost stories on a dark stormy night abroad;  the tale that became Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But was Byron really as original as he would have had his friends think? Or was he flattering another man, a man, by his actions, I would guess he revered for achieving shocking acclaim years before Byron.

IMG_1004You may have heard of the Hellfire Club, set up by Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord le Despencer. The Hellfire Club was established long before Byron’s birth. To the left is Dashwood, dressed as both a monk and in eastern attire.

 

But the similarity in Byron’s behaviour extends not only to his choice of costumes but also his choice of macabre games and there setting.

Sir Francis also loved a mock ceremony and while Byron had inherited his abbey, Sir Francis had rented one solely to host his ceremonies. You can read more about Medmenham Abbey on the board in the picture below.

When the Hellfire Club met the men wore their monks’ robes the women wore masks to cover their identity and they went by pseudonyms.

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Byron’s last supper in England, that he ate in the company his closest friends (those who knew his most shocking secrets and overlooked them), is often spoken of. Yet Sir Francis took his ceremonies much further towards the shocking by naming his clubs superiors as twelve men, the apostles. These twelve men wore different robes to those who were deemed inferior. Sir Francis saw himself as the group’s antichrist and toasted the devil.

Sir Francis began clearing out the tunnels of the former mine in 1748 to create his network of caves. He dug down into a hill beneath his family church and set up his inner temple, where only his apostles might go, 100 meters, exactly beneath, the church. He rented Medmenham Abbey in 1750 probably about the time the caves were also finished and the clubs pattern of macabre ceremonies began.

The Hellfire Club’s gatherings in the caves began in the banqueting hall, where after a dinner, served by Dashwood’s servants, they entertained themselves in the niches about the room. Then the twelve superiors separated themselves from the crowd and walked on through more symbolic tunnels, over an underground stream (the river Styx) to the inner temple where no one knows what they got up to because none of them told the tale.

 

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The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama

The Tainted Love of a Captain #8 – The last episode in the Marlow Intrigues series

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The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all 

The Illicit Love of a Courtesan #2 

The Passionate Love of a Rake #3

The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4

The Dangerous Love of a Rogue #5

The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel #5.5

The Persuasive Love of a Libertine #5.75  now included in Jealous Love, (or free if you can persuade Amazon to price match with Kobo ebooks) 😉

The Secret Love of a Gentleman #6 

The Reckless Love of an Heir #7

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Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional historical and contemporary stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

Sarsenet pelisse (1815) worn by Annabella Milbanke – Lady Byron

One of my favourite places to study historic dress is at the Fashion Museum in Bathwhich is in the Assembly Rooms there. Scenes from the film, The Duchess, were filmed in the Assembly Rooms and currently on display are some of the costumes from this film. I go a few times a year to look at the different displays as they keep a lot of stock in storage and place various different elements on show at different times.  When I went last week there was a gem on display – a sarsenet pelisse  from 1815.  A pelisse is a style of coat women wore over dresses in the 1800s.

I was interested in the garment, but what interested me even more is that the museum knew exactly who wore the pelisse. It was worn by Annabella Milbanke, who married the Romantic poet Lord Byron. I have mentioned Lord Byron in one of my earlier blogs; he was a strong figure in the history, life and scandal of the Regency era. What is still more inspirational is that this particular garment was spoken of in a letter from a friend of Byron’s. I have also said previously how fascinating I find letters and written records of this period, as they give you a real sense of what people did – what could occur – of how people spoke to one another – thought – and lived their lives.

John Cam Hobhouse, Byron’s friend, who travelled to the North East with the poet for the wedding said that the bride’s muslin wedding gown was “very plain indeed”; but, for the honeymoon, she changed into a travelling dress of slate-coloured satin trimmed with white fur: this is the silk sarsenet pelisse on display in the museum and shown in the picture above. Although it is not fur-lined, it is believed it may have been worn with a separate fur tippet or collar.

Below are some pictures of the Assembly Rooms and another example of a pelisse

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

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