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Power and Politics of the Edwardian Age


louise-duchess-of-devonshire Society in the 1900s was a far more complicated affair than at any other time in history. Neither good birth nor a title were no longer indicative of being accepted in society, just as wealth did not mean one could buy their way into good graces. Combine this with the numerous cliques divided by politics, sports, personal interests and even where one resided, and you have the baffling, tumultuous mass called “society”. Even the raffish cluster of the King’s friends known as the “Marlborough House Set” could find doors shut to them if they failed to meet a certain criteria for that particular circle.

However, England was and had always been, a land ruled by politics and the political hostesses held sway over the general populace of society. At the top were the Duchesses of Devonshire and Sutherland, and the Marchioness of Londonderry. The most powerful, Louisa Devonshire, was known as the “Double Duchess” for the coup of marrying first the Duke of Manchester and then, after a clandestine relationship of over thirty years, the Duke of Devonshire (himself known to friends as “Harty-Tarty”). Her position so assailable, being the daughter of a German count and having known the King for over fifty years, it was said she offered in greeting three fingers for her inner circle, two fingers for influential guests, and one finger for the rabble.

marchioness-of-londonderry A prominent Conservative Party hostess, political careers were regularly made and broken in Devonshire House along Piccadilly. Millicent Sutherland had the distinction of being the half-sister of the Countess of Warwick, erstwhile mistress of the King, and many memoirs describe her, standing in her diamond tiara at the top of the staircase in Stafford House to receive guests. The Duke’s politics made her one of the leading Liberal hostesses. The Marchioness of Londonderry was a Conservative from Ireland whose hatred of Lloyd George disrupted the alliance of the Liberals and Conservatives early in Edward’s reign. Other political hostesses included the Duchess of Buccleuch of Montague House, and Lady Tweedmouth, who also ruled over the Liberals.

Margot AsquithIn conjunction with those powerful ladies we have The Souls. This uber-intellectual group had been christened in the ’80s by Lord Charles Beresford during a dinner in which he declared, “You all sit talking about each other’s souls, I shall call you ‘The Souls’.” The name stuck, marking such illustrious members as Lord Curzon, Margot Asquith, and Arthur Balfour a force to be reckoned with in society. A tightly-knit group, each member played a significant part in the British Government: Balfour as Prime Minister from 1902-1905, Margot’s husband H.H. Asquith from 1908-1916, and Lord Curzon reaching the highest position in the land as Viceroy of India from 1899-1905. Though each member indulged in light love affairs, a surprising member was Harry Cust, a playboy with such a roving eye, many children with his bright blue eyes turned up in society in the passing years (Lady Diana Cooper, nee Manners, the leader of The Coterie–The Souls’ 2nd generation–one of them).

lord_curzon Such was their influence, their opinion of the King–not intellectually inclined–was an open secret. Quite clannish after twenty years together, they were wary of outsiders and those not considered up to par, and as a result, Lord Curzon, in his bid for Premiership, willingly dropped his torrid affair with novelist Elinor Glyn when their disapproval of her was made known. But political entree still did not make one part of society. As the Conservatives and the House of Lords lost power gradually over the next fifteen years, outspoken Liberals and Labour Party members who clawed their way up from the lower and middle classes (Lloyd George and Keir Hardie amongst others) were decidedly frowned upon–and rightly so these “upstarts” thought, for they were the new breed of politicians for the 20th century, the sort who placed emphasis on the people rather than the ruling class.

Cocktail Hour


cocktail1What do you think of when I say the words Manhattan, Gin Sling, or even a Daiquiri? Perhaps Carrie and Samantha on Sex And The City? James Bond? Sunbathing on the beach? The thought of our proper Edwardian gentlemen and ladies swilling cocktails at a soirée doesn’t even come to mind, but surprisingly, most of the traditional cocktails we drink today had their roots in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

According to David Wondrich, the earliest known mention of the word “cocktail” is from “The Farmer’s Cabinet”, April 28, 1803, p [2]:

11. Drank a glass of cocktail — excellent for the head … Call’d at the Doct’s. found Burnham — he looked very wise — drank another glass of cocktail.

Professor Jerry Thomas wrote the first bartender’s guide, How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon Vivant’s Companion, in 1862 which included listings of recipes for Punches, Sours, Slings, Cobblers, Shrubs, Toddies, Flips, and a variety of other types of mixed drinks were 10 recipes for drinks referred to as “Cocktails”.

The recipe for a gin sling is found in Mrs. Beeton’s cookbook, which shows the acceptability of gin in middle-class households by the mid-Victorian era:


1 wineglassful of gin,
2 slices of lemon,
3 lumps of sugar,
ice (or iced-water)

The Manhattan as we know today (and as evidenced by its name) was conceived in New York City for a party held in honor of Samuel J. Tilden in the early 1870s. Though some experts claim the Manhattan predates this event, most concede that the mixture of American Whiskey, Italian Vermouth and Angostura bitters served was made famous as the Manhattan because of the illustrious guests.

As for the Daiquiri, this cocktail was invented in circa 1900s Cuba, though as seen in this passage, its creator is disputed:

Rum Flip or Daiquiri

Three wine-glasses of rum, one wine-glass of sugar, one wine-glass of lime juice, one egg. Shake well in cocktail shaker and serve in place of cocktail. This amount will serve six persons.

The same recipe without the egg is known in Cuba as “Daiquiri.” Daiquiri was so named by a prominent young American woman in 1899, when she visited the town of Daiquiri. which is a very short way from Santiago.

The Economy Administration Cook Book by Mrs. Susie Root Rhodes (1913)

Though forms of mixed drinks had been consumed by the aristocracy since the 1630s, by the turn of the century, many of the smartest London hotels and restaurants—no doubt due to the number of wealthy Americans flocking the European capitals with money to burn—opened “American-style” bars where cocktails could be ordered and enjoyed during dinner and, towards the 1910s, dancing.

Other, more interestingly-named cocktails served at Edwardian parties and American-style bars include the Flash of Lightening:

A wine glass of brandy; half a teaspoon of gingerette; tablespoon of raspberry syrup. Shake well with ice, and strain.

the Bosom Caresser:

One egg;half a sherry glass of strawberry syrup; one glass of brandy. Shake up well, and strain.

and the Blue Blazer, a drink which required much theatrics, as the recipe entailed:
blue blazer cocktail

One wine glass of Scotch whiskey; one wine glass of boiling water. Put the whiskey and boiling water in one mug, ignite the liquid, and while blazing mix both ingredients by pouring them four or five times from one mug to the other. If well done, this will have the appearance of a continued stream of fire. Sweeten with one teaspoon of powdered white sugar, and serve in a small tumbler, with a piece of lemon.

American & Other Drinks by Leo Engel (1878)

Freud and the Edwardians


freuds-office An I have for a future WIP is a bit of a psychological thriller and a bit of a gothic romance. Thus far I thinkit’s part of a trilogy dealing with psychiatry in the Edwardian era, but it’s so fascinating to realize that what we think of as “modern” had its roots in the late Victorian era and the Edwardian era.

Freud’s revolutionary tome The Interpretation of Dreams was released in German in 1899 and was finally released in English in 1913. In this book Freud introduced the Ego and his theory of the unconscious in regards to dream interpretation. He also discusses what would become known as the Oedipus Complex.

The proper Edwardian would never even think to read these books, much less the controversial series of books written by Dr. Havelock Ellis, a British doctor and sexual psychologist. Ellis co-wrote the first book on homosexuality entitled Sexual Inversion in 1897, which was quickly followed by such titles as Analysis of the Sexual Impulse, Love and Pain, The Sexual Impulse in Women (1903), and Sexual Selection in Man (1905).

Oddly enough, despite the disapproval of the talk of sex in a public forum, as well as the extreme sheltering of young women from anything that could corrupt their innocence (and this included works of fiction! Balzac, Flaubert and de Maupassant were kept away from girls, and heaven help the child who got their hands on Elinor Glyn’s Three Weeks!), the aristocratic-class was much more frank about their bodily functions than the middle-class.

Despite the burgeoning field of psychiatry, outside of intellectuals, the topic held no interest for the common man–or woman–raised to never view themselves as an “individual” independent of the movement of others.

The hero of my WIP is deeply interested in psychiatry and the intellect–an interest that proves to be his downfall when it comes to my extremely tortured heroine. *G*

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