Monday, 31 October 2011

The Jersey Lily

This is the third in a series of adventures I've been sent on, by and for The King's Ginger. I'm following the life, loves and hobbies of King Edward VII, spinning you all an entertaining yarn or two, and, since this is of course primarily a fashion blog, showing lots of pictures of me in frocks. This month I'm talking about the ladies in his life, well; one in particular... Mrs Langtry.




Lillie Langtry was one of the most celebrated society beauties of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. She thoroughly fascinates me, since, looking at pictures of her today, my modern eye doesn't rate her looks especially highly. But since contemporary reports always mention her sparkling wit and intelligent conversation, I feel that she may have been one of those women who, while definitely of above average looks, is so bewitching and magnetic in person that she caused all who met her to fall under her spell. That or she was actually a witch. Who knows!

Born Emilie Le Breton in Jersey in 1853, Lillie was an intelligent and well-educated young woman. Many suitors were captivated by her violet eyes, but Lillie wouldn't even consider marrying a local, having ideas far above her station. A sensible girl, even then! She married Edward Langtry at the tender age of twenty, for the solvent Langtry had himself a yacht, and together they sailed off to the mainland; and thence to London. Lillie had finally escaped the confines of Jersey! It wasn't long before she made an impact on London Society, but, like so much in life, it was sheer (and rather rotten) luck that brought her to the attention of the elite.

Her young brother Reggie was killed in a riding accident and, while attending a memorial gathering held by Viscount Ranelagh at his home in Lownes Square, Lillie's rather unfashionable, simple black gown and her outspoken views marked her out as something very special indeed. Sketched that very night by society artist Frank Miles, then painted by one of my very favourite Pre-Raphaelite artists, Millais; Lillie's image was soon everywhere, outselling pictures of all the starlets of the time. And with her new-found fame came countless invitations to glittering balls, elegant soirées and sporting events came pouring in. Her rise to celebrity was nothing short of meteoric. It wasn't long before the Crown Prince insisted on an introduction.



Prince Bertie was very fond of the ladies. Very fond indeed. And in those days, of course, taking a mistress was not only accepted, it was expected! And when he heard about Mrs Langtry and saw her picture, he arranged a dinner, ensuring she was seated next to him. And the rest is saucy history. He made her his mistress to the exclusion of all others, and given the Prince's reputation as the Hugh Hefner of his day, this was a testament to her irresistible charms. Only a year after they met, The Red House was built.

You see, Lillie was a canny sort. A business woman to the core, she eschewed gifts of gowns and fripperies, preferring the long-lasting benefits of owning property. Having a private lovenest was evidently something that also appealed greatly to Edward, and so the house that is now Langtry Manor Hotel was built in 1877.

When I discovered this information, I couldn't resist going along and finding out more about the lady of the manor.



I thought it only right to wear something a little slinkier than my usual attire, so on went one of my prized Able Grable dresses, accessorised with a bottle of KGL. The staff were so warm and welcoming, which is always welcome after a long journey. And, as fortune would have it, the King's Room was unoccupied, and I was allowed to have a look around!

 

The furniture is magnificent, completely befitting of a king. From the elegantly carved chairs, to the plump sofa and the huge, four poster bed. Four posters and I don't get on, as I am incapable of not hitting my knee on them usually (last time, so hard I swear I actually reversed time a few seconds). But I managed to avoid it this time!

I just made myself at home, basically.


The hotel is also home to a small but fascinating Lillie museum, with dozens of photos, prints, playbills, pieces of memorabilia, and even one of her dresses, a magnificent cream silk number. Lillie was the very first ever woman to do a celebrity product endorsement, for Pears Soap! I hope one day I get famous enough to advertise Matey bubbles.


After her affair with Edward ended in 1879 (after, as urban legend had it, she made fun of him at a dinner party, and they fell out), financial problems led her to a hugely successful career as an actress. Edward obviously continued to care for her, as he was known to support her plays and comment positively on her work. Whether she was actually good at acting and not just a beautiful piece of wood, I have no idea. But I was fascinated to see pictures of Lillie in costume and the posters from her shows.

The house is indelibly stamped with Lillie's personality. Not only did she design it, but she had mottoes inscribed all over it:  Dulce Domum (Home Sweet Home) on the back and Stet Fortuna Domus (may fortune attend those who dwell here) outside the King's Room. The stained glass windows in the dining room are exquisite, and the little details within, such as the King's Peephole, where he could spy on the dining room guests to see if he wanted to come down and see them, are marvellous.



But while this learning history malarky is interesting, it doesn't half make you peckish. There was only one thing for it... to eat. I made a bee-line for the bar, and found my gingery friend in pride of place. I'm afraid to say I went for something a little weaker though...


Oh, afternoon tea. The best of all the things. The best time of the day, the best drink and the best meal known to man. The tea at Langtry Manor is a fraction of the cost of teas in the smart London Hotels, but it is absolutely heavenly. Home made sandwiches, freshly baked cakes and warm scones, plus fresh smoothie shots and the richest little tarts I've ever tried. I think Lillie would have approved.



But after all that delicious grub, and all that history detective-ing, I was feeling rather stuffed and sleepy. Good thing that ginger is good for the old digestion, eh? There was only one thing left to do, have a lie-down on the King's Bed for forty winks before home!


Langtry Manor is a wonderful place to visit, if you ever find yourself in darkest Dorset. Not only is it fabulous in itself, but owner Tara even runs a rather splendid scheme, The Dorset Local Business Women Awards; something else of which Lillie would also highly approve, I've no doubt.

Until next time, hope you're all having a spooky Halloween... check back tomorrow to see my rather un-terrifying costume effort.

Fleur xx
DiaryofaVintageGirl.com

27 comments:

  1. Awesome post! I enjoyed it very much and am highly envious of your four-postered japery! Oh, to sleep in the king's bed! xx

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  2. I love your styling! You look lovely :)

    -Arielle
    www.humblepievintage.com

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  3. smashing, I love Lillie, I saw the old TV series with Francesca Annis and it was fab!!

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  4. Absolutely fascinating! The hubby had better start saving his pennies. I just went to have a look at the website and noticed their next murder mystery is in between my birthday and our first anniversary!

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  5. Amazing post! I love those last two photos!! :)

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  6. ooh, may I suggest a trip to Burgh Island? Purely for research purposes of course!

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  7. You told us about the dress but where did you get those fabulous shoes?! I am in LOVE!

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  8. All the photos are fantastic, but the ones of you at the dressing table are particularly stunning. Thank you for sharing your adventures.

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  9. How fascinating. There's a small pub in Norwich called The Lillie Langtree and I always wondered about who she was as I walked past (err or into it!). What a remarkable story!

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  10. Fabulous, I love it. She most certainly was the toast of her day. Ellen Terry's house is to die for too.
    Lovely photos. The ghost of old Bertie was probably oggling you from behind the curtains!

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  11. I love Dorset! Bridport has a really nice little group of vintage shops.

    As for Lillie's beauty, standards changed greatly over the years. Diana Cooper was supposed to have been 'the most beautiful woman in England' in the teens and I don't get it at all, and the flapper ideal was a round face and tiny chin. I wonder what will be considered beautiful in 50 years' time?

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  12. Fascinating! I am pleased someone is delving into and bringing me snippets of historical shannigans that I am really interested in - but am too caught up in WW1 stuff to pay any attention to it. I gave a squeak when I saw the Pears Soap connection - I have an original advert in the bathroom. I wondered what "Lillie" was being referred to - and now I know! The Beard will be most intrigued (having a bit of Bertie interest)

    Thanks for sharing

    *MUST.BY.KG.FOR.THE.BEARD*

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  13. How fascinating, I really want to visit the hotel now. She sounds like an incredible woman xx

    ps fabbo dress

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  14. great post thanks for sharing. i really adore your dress and shoes!

    http://wardrobexperience.blogspot.com

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  15. Really enjoyed learning about Lillie, and Langtry Manor appears to be an absolutely lovely place to stay.

    And, like Jennifer B., I am completely enamored of your shoes! Would you be so kind as to share the details? Many thanks in advance.

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  16. You are absolutely gorgeous, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ( sigh)
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

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  17. I love stories of these amazing women who stunned everyone they met with their wit! I guess a woman who could really speak for herself wasn't that common in an era were women were supposed to be quiet and demure. As seen on the picture of Mrs Langtry she was obviously a tight-lacer too. What a waist! She wanted to look her best...You look very good too I must add - as always! That dress is lovely, and that house seems to be the right backdrop to people like us, who dress in vintage. I'd love to visit that place some day! :) xx

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  18. Hi,

    Your shoes are super cute.Where are they from? Love you blog,by the way.Fun to see what people on the other side of the pond are up to in the way of vintage doings.

    yours,
    Heidi in L.A.

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  19. Lots of people asking about my shoes - I got them from Office!

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  20. Great post - highly informative!

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  21. Your shoes are amazing! I am a vintage collector here in the US and you are making desperately want to shop in the UK! Bravo darling!

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  22. Amazing look! You look really gorgeous!

    http://floswonderland.com/

    Flo xxx

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  23. Looks like a wonderful place and you just look so elegant and stylish!!!

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  24. The costume fashion jewelry complements well with the dress. She so beautiful, indeed.

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