Bring back some good or bad memories


September 29, 2023

Amazing Vintage Photos of Guests in Their Costumes for the 1897 Devonshire House Ball

The Devonshire House Ball in 1897 was a fancy dress ball, aka a costume party. The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire had hosted a similarly lavish ball in the 1870s, and it was immensely popular with the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra). In honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, they decided to replicate the event. They held the ball at their London house, Devonshire House, in Picadilly. While multiple balls were held every night during the London season, this was the ball.

The Duke of Devonshire was a Member of Parliament and a Liberal cabinet member and was an original member of the Marlborough Set. (The Marlborough Set was the group of friends and aristocrats who were closely connected with the Waleses, named for the Prince’s Marlborough House. The group enjoyed a lavish party, where money was no object- at least not for Edward…)

Like any good costume party, the ball needed a theme. The Devonshires chose the theme of “allegorical or historical dress from before 1815”, which led to centuries and centuries of possibilities. Understandably, many of the attendees chose to attend as various historic royals, including Catherine the Great and Emperor Charles V.

Reports at the time incorrectly speculated that over 3,000 invitations were sent out ahead of the ball. However, there were between 700 and 800 attendees. The British Royal Family attended in full force. The Prince and Princess of Wales attended of course, as well as The Duke and Duchess of York (the future King George V and Queen Mary), The Duke and Duchess of Connaught, and The Duke and Duchess of Fife. 

Europe was well-represented, as well. The future King Haakon VII of Norway attended, along with his wife Maud (daughter of the Prince and Princess of Wales), Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra of Russia, Prince Alfred of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert), and The Duke and Duchess of Teck. From India, Prince Victor Duleep Singh attended, also. 

Lady Alexandra Acheson strikes a pose in a hunting costume of the Louis XV period, when the French aristocracy also enjoyed dressing up.

Count Omar Hadik as his own ancestor Field Marshall Count Hadik, easily the least embarrassing male costume.

The Countess of Gosford as an 18th century version of Minerva, goddess of wisdom.

Lady Meysey Thompson as Elizabeth Queen of Bohemia the aunt of Charles II and wife of the Elector Frederick V, who has become a significant figure in esoteric history.

Lady Katharine Scott as Mary Queen of Scots, with the look of a martyred saint in a religious painting.

Lady Alice Montagu as Laure de Sade, an ancestor of the Marquis de Sade, and possibly the Laure who inspired the poet Petrarch in the 14th century.

The Countess of Mar as Beatrice Portinari the woman who inspired Dante.

Lady Southampton.

Instead of playing a muse Viscountess Milton opted for a creator, Marie Antoinette’s court painter Madame Le Brun.

Lady Gerard, describing herself as the Moon Goddess Astarte.

Lady Lurgan, surprisingly nonthreatening as Alecto, one of the Furies (“the implacable or unceasing anger”).

Mrs Ronalds as Euterpe the Muse of music – her costume has many clues to her identity.

On the musical front Wagner was still very popular in the 1890s so it is not surprising that there was a Brunhilde (Mrs Leslie).

Turning from northern European mythology to British legend and literature, here is a King Arthur out of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King played by Lord Rodney.

The ethereal beauty of Mrs J Graham Menzies in the role of Titania, Queen of the Fairies.

Miss Goelet.

The Duchess of Portland as the Duchess of Savoy.

The Duchess of Connaught as Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV.

Sir Edgar Vincent as a character from a painting by Franz Hals.

Lady Vincent came as a character from a Dutch painting.

The Ladies Churchill as Watteau shepherdesses.

Lady Margaret Villiers, either by coincidence or design is dressed as Monsieur’s wife Madame, Duchess d’Orleans (and sister of Charles II).

Mr Henry Holden is portraying Will Somers, the first Queen Elizabeth‘s court jester.

The Duchess of Devonshire dressed as Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra.

Lady Randolph Churchill (Sir Winston Churchill’s mother) as the Empress Theodora, wife of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.

Lady Alexandra Colebrooke as Roxana, wife of Alexander the Great.

The Hon Mrs Algernon Bourke as Salammbo the princess of Carthage in Flaubert’s novel.

Princess Henry of Pless as Cleopatra.

Mrs Wolverton as Britannia.

Mrs Elizabeth James as the Archduchess Anne of Austria.

The Countess of Kilmorey Ellen Constance nee Baldock as Comtesse du Barri, the mistress of Louis XV.

The Emperor Napoleon and Josephine as played by Sir Charles and Lady Hartopp.

Lord Charles Montagu as Charles I, with Lady Chelsea as an Italian flower girl.

Mrs von Andre as Desdemona.

Valkyrie played by Mrs Reginald Talbot.

Lady Sophie Scott.

Mrs Baillie as Mrs James Baillie from a Gainsborough portrait.

The Countess of Dalkeith playing Helen.

Two sisters, the Ladies Margaret and Victoria Innes – Ker as two unrelated ladies out of miniatures by Cosway.

Mrs Maguire as Dido, Queen of Carthage anachronistically accompanied not by a man dressed as Aeneas but by a Major Wynne-Finch, whose role is not recorded.

Lady de Trafford as Semiramis Queen of Assyria.

Mr and Mrs Hall Walker as the magician Merlin and Vivian the Lady of the Lake who enchants him in some versions of the story.


Post a Comment



Browse by Decades

Popular Posts


09 10