Eccentrics of the Regency Period Series: Charles Stanhope, Lord Petersham

Charles Stanhope, Viscount Petersham

Charles Stanhope, Viscount Petersham

Eccentricity was not social suicide during the Regency, as long as Society’s pundits had given their approval. Occasionally, eccentricity was considered quite fashionable. During the Regency, Lord Petersham was as popular as Beau Brummell, but we know little of him because little has written of him other than the occasional paragraph in a period journal. He was described by Princess Lieven as the “maddest of all the mad Englishmen.”

Charles Stanhope, 4th Earl of Harrington (8 April 1780 – 3 March 1851) was an English peer and man of fashion. He was Viscount Petersham until he assumed the position as the Earl in 1829. At age 15, Petersham entered the Coldstream Guards in 1793, and later became Captain of the 10th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons in 1799. In 1803, he was made a major in the Queen’s Rangers, and a Lieutenant Colonel in the 3rd West India Regiment in 1807. He was made Lord of the Bedchamber to King George III until 1820, and continued in that role from 1820 to 1829 for King George IV.

from the Victoria and Albert Museum

from the Victoria and Albert Museum

Petersham never appeared in public before 6 P.M. The Prince Regent emulated Petersham’s affected manners, especially the viscount’s “fashion,” his tea drinking, and his addiction to snuff. Petersham owned 365 snuff boxes, one for each day of the year.

from the Victoria and Albert Museum

Said to resemble Henry VI, Petersham purposely grew a small pointed beard to emphasize the similarity. He designed many of his clothes. It was the Petersham who introduced “Cossack” trousers to Society. These trousers had nipped-in waists and ankles, with balloon legs in the middle, and made of garish striped material. He gave his name to the Harrington hat and the Petersham overcoat. Petersham was a man of many moods and whims. For example, he once decided he preferred a particular shade of brown above all other colors. This affection reportedly started as a tribute to a widow named Mary Browne, but the color brown became his trademark long after his love affair with the lady had ended. He was famous for the brown color of his coach, his harness, his coachman’s top hat and spurs, his clothing, and his servants’ livery. He even ordered a brown sild embroidered coat to wear at Court.

Petersham was equally known for his obsession with expensive trivia. From The Eclectic Magazinewe find this description of Petersham’s apartments: “The room into which we are ushered was more like a shop than a gentleman’s sitting-room. All around the walls were shelves, upon which were placed the canisters containing congou, pekoe, souchong, bohea, gunpowder, Russian, and many other teas, all the best of their kind; on the other side of the room were beautiful jars, with names in gilt letters, of innumerable kinds of snuff, and the necessary apparatus for moistening and mixing. Other shelves and many tables were covered with a great number of magnificent snuff boxes; for Lord Petersham had perhaps the finest collection in England, and was supposed to have a fresh box for every day of the year. I heard him, on the occasion of a delightful old light-blue Sévres box he was using being admired, say in his lisping way, ‘Yes, it is a nice summer box, but it would not do for winter wear.'”

Unlike his contemporary Beau Brummell, Petersham enjoyed the company of women. Lady Frances Webster’s husband attempted to horsewhip Petersham on the street in retribution for the viscount’s affair with his wife.

Maria Foote

Maria Foote

At age 50, he acceded to the Stanhope family title. He finally married in 1831 to Maria Foote, the Covent Garden actress and ex-courtesan, who was 17 years his junior. Their affair had met with the 3rd Earl’s disapproval and had been the gossip of London and Derbyshire. The 4th Earl of Harrington commissioned William Barron to landscape the park at Elvaston Castle, his father’s Gothic’s confection by James Wyatt. Lewis Cottingham redecorated Wyatt’s original entrance hall. Renamed the Hall of the Fair Star, it was dedicated to the chivalrous pursuit of love. The new Countess was in her element in this make-believe world of chivalry. They lived quite happily in their “love nest” and were said to host some of Society’s “jolliest” parties.

About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in British history, Jane Austen, legends and myths, Living in the Regency, real life tales, Regency era and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Eccentrics of the Regency Period Series: Charles Stanhope, Lord Petersham

  1. Gerri Bowen says:

    A happy ending! Do you know who succeeded him, Regina?

  2. Gerri Bowen says:

    Thank you, Regina.

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