The English custom of the elite in society passing months in London rather than their country homes began somewhere in the 17th century and continued to dominate the culture until well after WWI. Roughly coinciding with the sitting of Parliament, the official Season launched in earnest after Easter and ran until August when Parliament adjourned. The purpose was originally a time for the aristocracy and landed gentry to gather in Town to discuss politics and workings of State, but quickly evolved into a period of socialization and entertainment.
Events such as The Derby and the Royal Ascot horse races were essential to attend. Strolling or riding along the promenade Rotten Row in Hyde Park was on every agenda during the cooler afternoon. Balls and private parties occurred nightly at dozens of places and invitations were coveted. Salons sprung up, those intimate gatherings hosted by certain glittering members of the ton where the elite mingled with artists and scientists in lively discussions. If not at one of those, then it was a concert or opera or stage play. The point was to see and be seen! Not a day or night was wasted, especially if you were young and/or unmarried.
And that, my friends, was the real reason for The Season. Each social engagement was designed to advance a family’s prestige and how better to do that than through marriage? Class structure ruled and no one forgot the importance of connections. While dancing and dining, impressions were made that had generational effects so that even if without children anywhere near marriageable age, a family was thinking ahead. Business affairs handled by gentlemen over brandy and cigars at White’s and Boodle’s were at least partially about ascending the social ladder while hopefully increasing one’s wealth. Ladies’ gossip while shopping and sipping tea displayed one’s refinement, character, and knowledge of the world. Picking a partner was typically not as much about romance and love as it was about which family offered a son or daughter with the highest standards.
Ask yourself – If I were a debutante of the ton and it was the first decade of the 19th century, how would my summer proceed?
Before you could attend any of the numerous society events scheduled you would be presented, by appointment, to the reigning monarch, in this case His Royal Highness the Prince Regent. Male or female, being presented to the Court of St. James was an elaborate affair with every movement, word, and garment strictly dictated. Heaven forbid you messed up in the tiniest way or your future as a member of the elite, and most importantly in the marriage market, could be destroyed or severely impacted!
Naturally there would be fun with a plethora of soirees, operas and plays, museum exhibits, sporting events, horse races, and at the top of the list, dances. For the latter, Almack’s Assembly was the crème de la crème. Acceptance into Almack’s was all-important. Being denied admission by the Lady Patronesses who controlled every aspect of social life for the unmarried, down to setting the fashion styles and rules of conduct, truly was the death knell for an appropriate marriage.
The weeks from April to July or August were an exhausting but exhilarating whirl of activity. On a typical day luncheon would be taken with guests followed by the entire afternoon spend “calling” for brief 10-30 minute visits to as many friends as possible. Shopping, tours to museums or daytime sporting events filled other hours. From 4pm to 7pm it was the “fashionable hour” – that period to flirt, greet friends, and show off one’s wardrobe and equipage at Hyde Park’s Rotten Row. Then it was home to dress for dinner, that lasting up to 3 hours. Afterwards, it was the opera or perhaps a ball. Maybe both! Do not expect to lay your head down until 2 or 3am, and then get up and do it all again.Ah! To be young! Not sure about you, but our modern way of lazy summer fun by the pool sounds better to me. Until I think of a handsome man in tight breeches with courtly manners asking me to dance. Hmmm……