Victoria here. Long-time followers of this blog (we love you!) might recall an early post on Horace Walpole and his invention of the word SERENDIPITY. Here it is again, if you are so inclined.
I have had occasion lately to study up on the London Season, as it is portrayed in accounts of the Georgian and Victorian eras, perhaps even before and after those several centuries. When I finally got around to reading recent issues of Britain: The Official Magazine of Visit Britain, and British Heritage, two of my favorite publications, I found articles on The London Season. Serendipity again!
Britain (click here for their website), in an article by Josephine Price, writes "...the aristocracy and members of the ruling classes tended to reside in London at the same time as the Royal Family. The summer season from April to July was peak time to be in London as it was before the start of shooting season...so a programme of social events was established in the 18th century to keep everyone entertained".
Lady Blades, Court Presentation Regalia, 1927; Lafayette Photo Studio
Today of course, the once-essential debutante balls and presentation to the monarch is no longer an official part of the Season, though debutante balls can still be found. Perhaps even more so as new residents try to revive old traditions.
2013 Debutante Ball at Royal Courts of Justice, Daily Mail
However, many old traditions are as lively as ever, many associated with sports, such as the races at Royal Ascot and Goodwood, Wimbledon Tennis, Gold Cup Polo, and yachting at Cowes. .
Royal ascot, 2013, Britain
Other popular cultural events take place during the Season, such as the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall. The article in British Heritage, by Sandra Lawrence, adds Opera at Glyndebourne, the Royal Academy Summer exhibition of paintings, the Chelsea Flower Show and the Hay-on-Wye Literature Festival, among other events.
Royal Albert Hall, Britain
As a fan of Georgette Heyer and other authors who plumb the depths of our knowledge of the Regency period, and as a writer who has penned a few Regencies of her own, I have followed the many discussions on various internet forums of the precise dates, activities, persons, and events that constitute the Season, with a capital S, in London in the spring and early summer, exact dates up for discussion, but mostly based on the meetings of Parliament.
Cruikshank: Highest Life in London: Tom and Jerry 'Sporting a Toe' among the Corinthians at Almacks in the West, from 'Life in London' by Pierce Egan, 1821
According to popular lore, the Season -- and for that matter, many of the other social activities of the gentry and aristocracy back in the day -- had to do with introducing young ladies and gentlemen to one another in the hopes of making effective matches -- or what is often called The Marriage Mart.
The most fortunate of the young ladies would be presented to the King and/or Queen at a Royal Drawing Room. Balls, Assemblies, Concerts, and many other events went on until the "first families" left the hot and smelly city to return to their country seats for harvest, the shooting seasons, fox hunting, and so forth until Christmas. And by Easter, it would begin all over once more.
Downton Abbey; Rose is Presented
How the world has changed. We might look on the old ways, perhaps as represented in Downton Abbey, as very appealing. However, they were reserved for only a special few. Today, most of the activities named are public and limited only by your ability to pay for your participation. But if magazine pictures of the fashionable hats and swanky dresses of the current day's participants is any measure of the feminine effort to charm, the Season still has some of the trappings of the Marriage Mart -- just a few!