The Real Maria

Dame Julie Andrews (b. 1935) is famous for her portrayal of Maria von Trapp in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical film The Sound of Music (1965). The musical is based on The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, written by the real Maria von Trapp in 1945. Maria Augusta von Trapp was the stepmother of the Trapp Family Singers, who inspired the singing children in the famous show.

Maria was born on 26th January 1905 while her parents, Augusta and Karl Kutschera, were travelling on a train from the Austrian Tyrol to Vienna. Sadly, Augusta died from pneumonia when Maria was only two-years-old, and the young child was sent to live with her father’s cousin. She rarely saw her father because he spent much of his time travelling. After Karl died when Maria was nine, her foster mother’s son became her legal guardian.

Uncle Franz, Maria’s guardian, unknowingly suffered from mental illness and treated Maria poorly. He often punished her for things she did not do, which affected how Maria behaved at school. She stopped trying to be good because she figured she would only get in trouble anyway. Maria finally escaped from Uncle Franz by running away at the age of 15 to stay with a friend. She had plans to become a tutor, but no one would hire her because she looked too young. Eventually, she got a job umpiring tennis, a game she had never played.

Eventually, Maria earned a scholarship to study at the State Teachers College for Progressive Education in Vienna. She graduated in 1923 at the age of 18. The following year, Maria became a postulant at Nonnberg Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Salzburg. Maria intended to become a nun; meanwhile, she worked in the Abbey school.

Those familiar with the storyline of The Sound of Music know Maria did not become a nun. Instead, in 1926, the Abbey sent her to teach one of the seven children of a widowed naval commander. Georg von Trapp (1880-1947) had recently lost his wife, Agathe, to scarlet fever. One of his daughters, Maria Franziska (1914-2014), also caught the illness, leaving her too weak to walk to school. In the musical, Maria was employed to teach all the children. In reality, Von Trapp only needed her to teach Maria Franziska. 

After teaching Maria Franziska, Von Trapp decided to have all his children homeschooled. Maria was responsible for the education of all seven children: Rupert (1911-92), Agathe (1913-2010), Maria Franziska, Werner (1915-2010), Hedwig (1917-1972), Johanna (1919-1994) and Martina (1921-1951). In the musical, They were renamed Friedrich, Liesl, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta and Gretl respectively. The producers also made Liesl the eldest rather than Friedrich.

Georg von Trapp was an Austro-Hungarian naval officer. He served as a submarine commander during the First World War, earning him several medals. Von Trapp inherited the title Ritter from his father, which is the rough equivalent of a Baronet in English nobility. As a father, Georg was not the detached, cold-blooded man who disapproved of music, as portrayed in The Sound of Music. His children described him as a gentle, warmhearted parent; it was Maria who had a temper and would erupt in angry outbursts.

Maria loved the seven children in her charge, which did not go unnoticed by Von Trapp, who asked Maria to marry him. Frightened, Maria fled back to Nonnberg Abbey to seek advice from the mother abbess. Maria did not love Georg and wanted to become a nun, but the mother abbess persuaded her that it was God’s will that she marry. Reluctantly, Maria returned to the family and married Von Trapp on 26th November 1927.

“I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn’t love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way, I really married the children. I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after.” – Maria von Trapp in her biography (1953)

The musical implies that the Von Trapp family fled Austria shortly after the wedding, but this was not the case. Before the outbreak of World War Two, Maria gave birth to three children, Rosemarie (b. 1929-2022), Eleonore (1931-2021) and Johannes (b. 1939), although the family had emigrated to the United States before Johannes’ birth.

In 1935, the Von Trapp family were still feeling the impact of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and faced financial ruin. To survive, Georg von Trapp discharged most of his servants and rented out rooms in the house. One boarder was the Roman Catholic priest Father Franz Wasner (1905-92), who discovered the family enjoyed singing. Wasner encouraged them to sing together to entertain guests, thus starting their career as the Trapp Family Singers. In The Sound of Music, Wasner was replaced by the fictional Max Detweiler.

In August 1936, the German soprano Lotte Lehmann rented a nearby villa in Salzburg. Overhearing the Von Trapp children practising their singing, she told Georg and Maria they had “gold in their throats” and should perform at the Salzburg Festival. Initially, Georg insisted he did not want his family performing in public, but Lehmann soon persuaded him to participate.

Shortly after their performance, the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg (1897-1977) heard the family singing on the radio and invited them to perform in Vienna. Following this, they became a touring act, singing in locations all over Austria. Unfortunately, this became difficult after the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in March 1938.

Whilst the children were not targeted directly, they received second-hand hostility when their Jewish school friends were attacked. The Nazis encouraged all children to report on their parents if they said anything against the Nazi party or Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). Maria and Georg feared saying something out of turn, particularly because they did not agree with the Nazi regime and refused to fly the Nazi flag in their windows.

When performing in Munich in the summer of 1938, the Von Trapps came face to face with Hitler. Soon after, Georg was draughted into the German Navy, and the family decided to escape by travelling to Italy. Georg was born in Zadar, which became part of Italy in 1920, making him an Italian citizen. In the musical, the storyline claims the family climbed over the mountains into Switzerland. Not only is this impossible from Salzburg, which borders Germany, the family actually went by train.

From Italy, the Von Trapps travelled to England from where they sailed to the United States. By the time they reached American soil, Heinrich Himmler (1900-45), the leader of the Schutzstaffel (SS), had taken over their abandoned home as his headquarters.

The Von Trapps began singing in public as soon as they were settled in the United States. After a performance at the Town Hall in New York City on 10th December 1938, The New York Times wrote, “There was something unusually lovable and appealing about the modest, serious singers of this little family aggregation as they formed a close semicircle about their self-effacing director for their initial offering, the handsome Mme. von Trapp in simple black, and the youthful sisters garbed in black and white Austrian folk costumes enlivened with red ribbons. It was only natural to expect work of exceeding refinement from them, and one was not disappointed in this.”

Frederick Christian Schang (1893-1990), an American talent agent, officially established the family as the Trapp Family Singers and Americanised their repertoire. With all ten children singing, the group were ready to start performing all over the world once World War Two ended. They also founded the Trapp Family Austrian Relief fund, which provided food and clothing to help Austrian people who had lost everything in the war. At their concerts, Georg pleaded, “The country that gave to the world Haydn, Schubert, Mozart, and Silent Night will perish if we do not help them. Everybody knows about the situation the greater European countries are in. But few people can imagine what is happening in Austria, whose citizens are about to lose courage and hope.”

When not performing, the family ran a music camp at their home in Stowe, Vermont. All members of the family became US citizens during the 1940s, except for Georg, who passed away from lung cancer in 1947.

The Trapp Family Singers continued performing together until 1953 when they agreed to go their separate ways. Maria and two of the children became missionaries in Papua New Guinea, although Maria returned to Vermont in 1965.

For the rest of her life, Maria managed the Trapp Family Lodge, which she expanded into a 27-room ski lodge. Sadly, the building was destroyed by fire in 1980, resulting in the death of one guest. In 1983, Maria opened a larger Austrian-style lodge, which contained 97 bedrooms. It is still open to the public today and is owned by Sam von Trapp, Maria’s grandson.

On 28th March 1987, Maria von Trapp passed away from heart failure three days after undergoing an operation. She is buried in the grounds of the Trapp Family Lodge, alongside her husband. Maria’s memory lives on through her autobiography, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, which was adapted into The Sound of Music during the 1950s. Maria and her daughter, Rosemarie, made a cameo appearance in the 1965 film version, along with Barbara, the daughter of Werner. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot them walking past an archway during the song I Have Confidence.

Maria did not mind the slight changes to the storyline in The Sound of Music, but she did not approve of the portrayal of her husband. The children all had mixed reactions and could not recognise their father in the stage and film version. Johannes von Trapp complained, “The Sound of Music simplifies everything. I think perhaps reality is at the same time less glamorous but more interesting than the myth.”

In 1973, Maria appeared on The Julie Andrews Hour, where she sang Rodger and Hammerstein’s Edelweiss with Julie Andrews. It was not a song the family sang as the Trapp Family Singers, but it will forever be associated with the family and Austria due to the musical.

During her lifetime, Maria von Trapp won many awards, beginning with the Benemerenti Medal in recognition of the benefits of the Trapp Family Austrian Relief for needy Austrians in 1949. The medal was awarded by Pope Pius XII, who later made Maria a Dame of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in 1952. At the end of the 1950s, Maria received the Decoration of Honour in Gold for Services to the Republic of Austria, and was given the Siena Medal in 1962 for being “an outstanding woman”, recognising her “endurance and great accomplishment.”

When the Trapp Family Singers went their separate ways, the eldest, Rupert, married and kept out of the limelight. Hedwig moved to Hawaii to teach singing, handicrafts and cooking. Agathe chose to start a kindergarten with her friend Mary Louise Kane, plus worked on paintings and illustrations for cookbooks of family recipes. One of her paintings hangs in the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Johanna also enjoyed painting. She married Ernst Florian Winter (1923-2014), the first director of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna after World War II.

Maria Franziska and Rosemarie went to Papua New Guinea to become missionaries, whilst the remaining sisters, Martina and Eleonore, focused on starting their own families. Sadly, Martina gave birth to a stillborn daughter in 1951 and died from complications soon after. Werner left his singing days behind to become a dairy farmer, leaving Johannes to take over the family lodge following his mother’s death.

Whilst they no longer sang publically, many of the Von Trapps were heard singing in their houses, often while completing chores. They passed their love of music to their children and grandchildren, and several of the latter formed The von Trapps, a small singing group that toured the United States between 2001 and 2016. The group, comprised of Sofia, Melanie, Amanda, and August, started their singing career by performing in a stage version of The Sound of Music in 1997. As a group, they released five studio albums and won the Special Award for Outstanding Young Family Singing Group at the 27th annual Young Artist Awards in 2006.

The Von Trapp family will always be remembered through the musical, The Sound of Music, particularly the film version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. The film won five Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, and continues to rate in the top 100 of the American Film Institute’s musicals and movies. Whilst the musical will remain a firm favourite for many years to come, it is important to remember the real family who experienced the annexation of Austria and left their homeland in search of safety abroad.


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Stand Still and Look Stupid

“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” So said Hedy Lamarr in reference to her career as a Hollywood actress, yet she was far from stupid. As well as acting, Lamarr helped develop a radio guidance system for torpedoes, which inspired future Bluetooth and GPS technologies. Yet, Lamarr’s lengthy career in the film industry continues to overshadow her intelligence and scientific achievements.

Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born on 9th November 1914 in Vienna, which was then in Austria-Hungary. She was the only child of Jewish parents Gertrud “Trude” Kiesler (1894-1977) and Emil Kiesler (1880-1935), although her mother had converted to Catholicism and raised Lamarr as such.

At age 12, Lamarr entered and won a beauty contest in Vienna and developed a fascination with film and theatre. So, she began attending acting classes. Yet, at the same time, Lamarr attended a private school, where she studied piano, ballet, language and natural sciences. During her spare time, Lamarr accompanied her father on walks and listened to his explanations about the workings of different technologies.

Desperate to start an acting career, Lamarr forged her mother’s signature on an application to work as a script girl for Sascha-Film, the largest Austrian film production company of the silent film era. The role involved overseeing the continuity of the film, which included ensuring clothes, props, scenery, and so forth appeared at the right moments. Yet, Lamarr longed to act and was no doubt thrilled to star as an extra in the 1930 film Money on the Street.

The film brought her to the attention of the Austrian producer Max Reinhardt (1873-1943), who cast her in a play called The Weaker Sex. Enamoured with her performance at the Theater in der Josefstadt, Reinhardt persuaded Lamarr to travel with him to Berlin. Whilst she readily agreed, on arrival she was snatched up by the Russian theatre producer Alexis Granowsky (1890-1937), who cast her in The Trunks of Mr. O.F. (1931). Following this, Lamarr played the lead role in the German comedy film No Money Needed (1932).

In 1933, the Czech film producer Gustav Machatý (1901-63) cast Lamarr in the lead role of Ecstasy, an erotic romantic drama. Lamarr, billed as Heddie Kiesler, played  Eva Jermann, the neglected young wife of an ignorant older man. Fed up of being ignored, Eva files for divorce and falls in love with a younger man, which makes her ex-husband jealous.

The film portrayed sexual intercourse, although never showing more than the actors’ faces. There were also brief nude scenes, which gave Ecstasy and Lamarr a notorious reputation. Despite giving Lamarr international recognition, the film was considered overly sexual in the United States and Germany, where it was subsequently banned.

Dismayed with the infamous reputation brought on by Ecstasy, Lamarr retreated from cinematography and focused on the theatre. Lamarr played the lead roles in several plays, often receiving roses from her admirers. Fans tried to sneak backstage to meet her after each performance, including the alleged third-richest man in Austria, Friedrich Mandl (1900-77). Initially, Lamarr sent Mandl away, but his determination to speak to her, plus his charm and personality, won her over.

Lamarr’s parents disapproved of her relationship with Mandl. He often attended parties with Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, despite their opposing political beliefs. Yet, Lamarr ignored her parents’ warnings and married Mandl in Vienna on 10th August 1933. At 18, Lamarr was much younger than the 33-year-old previously married Mandl. Initially, living with Mandl in his castle-like home, Schloss Schwarzenau, probably felt like a fairytale, but after he disapproved of her role in Ecstasy and prevented her from further acting, the illusion soon wore off.

Feeling like a prisoner, Lamarr only left Schloss Schwarzenau to accompany her husband to business meetings, where he met with scientists involved with military technology. Whilst she felt disheartened about her marriage, the meetings enhanced her knowledge and scientific talent. Unfortunately, not even these meetings made her situation bearable, so Lamarr fled to the United Kingdom in 1937. Writing about her relationship with Mandl thirty years later, Lamarr said, “I knew very soon that I could never be an actress while I was his wife. … He was the absolute monarch in his marriage. … I was like a doll. I was like a thing, some object of art which had to be guarded—and imprisoned—having no mind, no life of its own.”

Shortly after arriving in London, Louis B. Mayer (1884-1957), the co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM), approached Lamarr, offering her $125 a week to work with him in Hollywood. She refused the proposal but decided to travel to the United States anyway. Travelling on the same liner as Mayer, she impressed him enough to raise his offer to $500, which she accepted. Following his advice, she changed her acting name to Hedy Lamarr to distance herself from the reputation she garnered as Heddie Kiesler. The surname was suggested by Mayer’s wife, a fan of the late silent-film actress Barbara La Marr (1896-1926).

After promoting Lamarr as the “world’s most beautiful woman,” Mayer loaned her to the film producer Walter Wanger (1894-1968), who wanted to make an English version of the French film, Pépé le Moko (1937). Titled Algiers (1938), Lamarr played Gaby, a beautiful woman who attracts the attention of a thief called Pepe le Moko. Lamarr’s beauty “took one’s breath away,” and Algiers inspired the 1942 film Casablanca, written with Lamarr in mind. When Mayer refused to release Lamarr from her contract, the lead role went to Ingrid Bergman (1915-82).

Following the success of Lamarr’s first American film, she was frequently typecast as “the archetypal glamorous seductress of exotic origin”. She portrayed such roles in Lady of the Tropics (1939) and I Take This Woman (1940), as well as Boom Town (1940) and Comrade X (1940) alongside “The King of Hollywood” Clark Gable (1901-60). Lamarr also starred with James Stewart (1908-97) in Come Live with Me (1941) and Ziegfeld Girl (1941), the latter also featuring Judy Garland (1922-69).

In 1939, Lamarr married the American author and screenwriter Eugene Willford “Gene” Markey (1895-1980). Rather than having children of their own, Lamarr and Markey adopted James Lamarr Markey (1939). At least, that is what they told the world. Many years later, James discovered he was Lamarr’s biological son with the actor John Loder (1898-1988), who Lamarr married in 1943 after divorcing Markey in 1941.

During the war years, Lamarr continued acting, starring in films such as White Cargo (1942), The Heavenly Body (1944) and The Conspirators (1944). In 1945, she made her final film under her contract with MGM, Her Highness and the Bellboy, in which she played a princess who fell in love with a New Yorker.

During her Hollywood years, Lamarr often felt homesick, although she helped her mother escape to the United States following the Anschluss in 1938. Lamarr also did not understand why so many Americans adored her and found the notion of signing autographs peculiar. In her spare time, Lamarr developed concepts for inventions, for example, a tablet that would dissolve in water to create a carbonated drink. She even advised aviation tycoon Howard Hughes (1905-76) to make his aeroplanes more streamlined.

When the Americans entered the Second World War, Lamarr desired to help and attempted to join the National Inventors Council. The NIC repeatedly refused her application and suggested she sell war bonds instead. Whilst she agreed to attend war bond rallies, Lamarr’s desire to invent something to aid the war did not abate. After learning that radio-controlled torpedoes could be jammed and set off course, Lamarr devised on paper a frequency-hopping signal that could not be tracked or jammed. Lamarr asked a friend and pianist, George Antheil (1900-59), to help her make the device. Lamarr told him that she “did not feel very comfortable, sitting there in Hollywood and making lots of money when the world was in such a state”, so Antheil agreed to help.

By synchronizing a small player-piano mechanism with radio signals, Antheil made Lamarr’s invention a reality, and she was granted a patent under US Patent 2,292,387 on 11th August 1942. Lamarr used her married name, Hedy Kiesler Markey, to keep her passion for science separate from her Hollywood career. Unfortunately, Lamarr’s device was too technologically advanced for the US Navy to implement. They also refused to consider inventions by non-military personnel.

Disheartened by the rejection, Lamarr returned to acting and married John Loder in 1943. As well as their son James, who Loder adopted (perhaps he did not know he was the biological father), they had two children, Denise (1945) and Anthony (1947).

Whilst Lamarr left MGM in 1945, she did not stop acting. Lamarr briefly formed a production company with the producer Jack Chertok (1906-95) and made the thriller The Strange Woman (1946), in which she also starred. The film went over budget and only made minor profits, as did their second thriller, Dishonored Lady (1947). An attempt at a comedy, Let’s Live a Little (1948), also failed to make much profit.

After the third flop, Lamarr gave up her attempts to produce a successful film and returned to acting for other companies. By this time, she had also divorced John Loder. Following these unhappy years, Lamarr finally enjoyed her biggest success when she started as Delilah in Paramount Pictures’ Samson and Delilah (1949). Based on the Biblical story about a strongman whose secret lies in his uncut hair from the Book of Judges, it was the third highest-grossing film ever at the time of its release.

Lamarr was chosen to play Delilah from a large selection of actresses, which included Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Maureen O’Hara, Lucille Ball and Vivien Leigh. Burt Lancaster was the first choice to play Samson, but due to injury, he declined. Instead, Victor Mature (1913-99) was given the role. The film remained true to the Biblical story, except for making Delilah the younger sister of Samson’s wife, played by Angela Lansbury (b. 1925). At the 23rd Academy Awards in 1951, Samson and Delilah won for Best Color Art Direction and Best Color Costume Design.

In 1950, Lamarr returned to MGM and starred in A Lady Without Passport (1950), which unfortunately flopped. After this, Lamarr starred in two Paramount films, Copper Canyon (1950) and My Favorite Spy (1951), but neither achieved the same accolades as Samson and Delilah.

After marrying “swing-king” Ernst Heinrich “Teddy” Stauffer in 1951, a marriage that only lasted a year, Lamarr’s career went into decline. After her fifth marriage in 1953, this time to a Texas oilman called W. Howard Lee, she travelled to Italy to star in Loves of Three Queens, in which she played multiple roles. On returning to the US, Lamarr starred as Joan of Arc in The Story of Mankind (1957) and the lead in The Female Animal (1958). In 1960, Lamarr was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but in 1966, while filming Picture Mommy Dead, she collapsed from nervous exhaustion and was replaced by Zsa Zsa Gabor (1917-2016). Lamarr never acted again.

In 1960, Lamarr divorced her fifth husband, and three years later, married her divorce lawyer, Lewis J. Boies. Sadly, Lamarr’s sixth marriage only lasted two years, after which she remained single for the rest of her life.

In an attempt to remain popular in the Hollywood industry, Lamarr agreed to let Leo Guild and Cy Rice ghostwrite her autobiography Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman. Unfortunately, she did not read what they had written before it went to publication and only realised afterwards that the book was “fictional, false, vulgar, scandalous, libellous and obscene.” When questioned about the autobiography on the Merv Griffin Show, Lamarr responded, “That’s not my book.”

Whilst the 1960s resulted in the end of Hedy Lamarr’s acting career, her 1942 invention was finally used by the US Navy. After updating the design, Navy ships were equipped with the device in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Unfortunately, Lamarr did not receive recognition for the invention until 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation honoured Lamarr and Antheil with a special Pioneer Award. Lamarr also became the first woman to receive the Invention Convention’s BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award.

From the 1970s onwards, Lamarr lived a secluded lifestyle. She turned down opportunities to appear in television commercials and stage shows due to disinterest and failing eyesight. In 1981, Lamarr moved to Miami Beach, Florida, where she rarely left the house. Instead, she spent six to seven hours on the phone with friends and family rather than seeing them in person.

On 19th January 2000, Hedy Lamarr passed away from heart disease at the age of 89. Following her final wishes, her son Anthony flew to Vienna to scatter her ashes in the Vienna Woods. Lamarr’s life as an actress was celebrated during her lifetime, but her contribution to science and technology remained largely unknown. Using her original invention, scientists have made significant developments, leading to many devices used in the 21st century, such as GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

In recognition of her contribution to science, the Austrian Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI) named the quantum telescope on the roof of the University of Vienna after Lamarr in 2013. The following year, Lamarr was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for her development of frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology. The same year, the Vienna Central Cemetery erected a monument in her memory.

On 9th November 2015, on what would have been Hedy Lamarr’s 101st birthday, Google honoured her with a “Google Doodle” on their homepage (although not in the United Kingdom). Designed by Jennifer Hom, the animated video illustration tells Lamarr’s story, emphasising both her acting and scientific careers. Using film posters from the 1940s, Hom drew the glamorous movie star but emphasised Lamarr was more interested in helping the Allied war effort during World War II than in the roles she was being offered on screen.

In 2019, Lamarr received her most recent posthumous honour when her name was given to an asteroid. The 32730 Lamarr was first spotted in 1951 by German astronomer Karl Wilhelm Reinmuth (1892-1979). It remained unnamed until 2019.

Whilst there was no doubt Hedy Lamarr was a talented, beautiful actress, gender stereotypes prevented her from achieving her full potential as a scientist and inventor. She is not credited with the invention of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but her initial ideas helped many people develop the technologies relied upon today. It is impossible to imagine what Lamarr could have created if given the chance, and the posthumous awards and recognition barely make up for the lack of opportunity women had in the early 20th century.


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Twinings of London

In 1662, the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705) married Charles II (1630-85), bringing with her a tea-drinking habit that changed the course of British history. After serving the beverage to members of the English Royal court, tea became a fashionable drink amongst the aristocracy. For a while, only the rich and privileged drank tea, but in the 18th century, one particular family introduced the drink to the nation. Three hundred years later, the same company, Twinings, continues to supply Britain with teas of several varieties, making it one of the oldest companies in the country. The company also holds the record for the world’s oldest continually-used logo.

The Twining family moved to London from Gloucestershire in 1684. They originally worked as millers in the countryside, but a recession forced them to try their luck in the city. Nine-year-old Thomas Twining (1675-1741) moved with his parents, expecting to follow in their footsteps. He took up an apprenticeship as a weaver and worked hard to become a Freeman of the City of London in 1701. Aged 26, Thomas Twining turned his back on weaving and joined the East India Company under Thomas D’Aeth (1678-1745), who introduced him to the early shipments of tea from Asia.

After working in the tea trade for a few years, Twining saw the money-making potentials of the leaves and drink, so decided to set out on his own. In 1706, Twining purchased Tom’s Coffee House from Thomas D’Aeth, which stood at No. 216 Strand, London. Coffee houses were a popular location for men of all classes throughout the city. One notable frequenter was the artist William Hogarth (1697-1764), who painted a portrait of Twining in lieu of payment. Coffee shops did not only sell coffee, but they also provided customers with alcoholic beverages, such as gin and ale. Twining saw a place in the market for tea and quickly grew a reputation for having the finest blends in the capital.

As tea grew in popularity, the British government placed high taxes on the product. Only the rich could afford to drink tea, and it quickly became a status symbol. Customers began requesting dry tea leaves to take home to share with their wives and friends since women were not allowed in coffee houses. In 1707, 100g of Twinings Gunpowder Green Tea cost £160 in today’s money. To put this into perspective, in 2022, Twinings sell 100g of the same blend for around £7.

In 1717, Thomas Twining purchased the three adjacent buildings and expanded his coffee house into a shop called the Golden Lyon. Three hundred years later, the shop still exists. By 1722, Twining had enough money to buy Dial House in Twickenham, which remained the family home until 1889. The tea business provided a significant income and appealed to royalty as well as upper-class tea drinkers. By 1734, the coffee shop sold tea almost exclusively.

When Thomas Twining passed away in 1741, his son Daniel (d.1762) inherited the business and family home. At the time, Daniel was married to Ann March, but she passed away two years later. In 1745, Daniel married his second wife, Mary Little (1726-1804), who became a mother to Daniel’s son Thomas and produced three more sons, Daniel, Richard, and John. Daniel Twining expanded the business, attracting attention across the Atlantic. The Governor of Boston in the United States became a regular customer, so Twining began to export tea to America.

In 1753, Twining took on his nephew, Nathaniel Carter, as his business partner. They worked together for almost ten years before Twining’s death in 1762. His children were far too young to take on the Golden Lyon, by then known as Twining’s (with an apostrophe), and Carter no longer wanted to look after the shop and exports. Despite women’s lower status in society, Mary Twining took over the running of the business, increasing the number of exports.

Mary intended to run the tea business until her eldest son came of age. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1765 after receiving a blow to the head from a cricket ball. Her second son, Richard (1749-1824), left Eton College at 14 to help run the company. Trade was difficult due to increasing taxes, the American Revolution and the Boston Tea Party protest, but Mary and Richard managed to keep Twining’s afloat. Mary refused to purchase any tea smuggled in from France or Holland, which were cheaper but typically diluted and of poorer quality. Before her death in 1804, Mary officially made Richard head of the family business.

By the time Richard Twining took over as head of Twining’s, he had extensive knowledge of the tea trade. As well as running the business, Richard had expert negotiating skills and joined in political debates about trading. In 1784, the London Tea Dealers elected Twining as chairman, meaning Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806) came to him for advice on tea taxes. Twining convinced Pitt that lower taxes on tea would increase sales and reduce smuggling. Following Twining’s advice, Pitt signed the Commutation Act of 1784, reducing the tax on tea from 119% to 12.5%.

In 1787, Twining commissioned a logo for his tea business, settling on a simple typeface and opting to remove the apostrophe from the name. The logo first appeared above the entrance to the shop on the Strand, along with figurines of a golden lion and two Chinese men. The lion, which is lying down (lion couchant), is a sign of respect towards Thomas Twining, the founder of the business. The two Chinese men represent the tea trade. To begin with, only China produced and traded tea with the western world. The logo is used on all Twinings‘ products today, and the figurines still sit above the entranceway in London.

Richard Twining frequently travelled around Europe, leaving his brother John in charge of the business. He wrote several letters about his trips to his half-brother Thomas, which were published after his death by his grandson in 1887, who titled the books Selections from Papers of the Twining Family. Richard Twining also wrote three papers about the tea trade and Twinings, and in 1793, the East India Company elected him as a director. He continued working until his resignation in 1816 due to poor health.

Before inheriting Twinings, Richard Twining married Mary Aldred in 1771 and had six sons and four daughters. His eldest son, Richard (1772-1857), joined the business in 1794 and took over from Richard Twining Senior following his death on 23rd April 1824. During the 1830s, Richard Junior developed bespoke blends for his customers, and in 1837, Queen Victoria (1819-1901) granted Twinings its first Royal Warrant for tea. Since then, Twinings has supplied British monarchs and their royal households with tea.

Richard Twining was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 5th June 1834. The society provided “substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science, and medical science.” Twining also followed in his father’s footsteps in the role of director of the East India Company, demonstrating his in-depth knowledge of the tea trade.

Richard Twining was married to Elizabeth Mary Smythies, with whom he had nine children. The eldest boy, also called Richard, was trained to continue the family’s famous business, yet two of the daughters made names for themselves, too. Louisa Twining (1820-1912) devoted herself to helping the poor. She initially aspired to be an art historian, writing books such as Symbols and Emblems of Mediaeval Christian Art (1852) and Types and Figures of the Bible (1854), but in her 30s, she changed her focus to alleviating poverty in Britain.

As children, the Twinings had a nurse who came from one of the poorest districts in London. With these conditions in mind, Louisa helped establish a home for workhouse girls and set up the Workhouse Visiting Society. With Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), Louisa formed the Workhouse Infirmary Nursing Association, helping to train poor women as nurses. Louisa also joined the Association for the Improvement of the Infirmaries of London Workhouses, chaired by Charles Dickens (1812-70). The Poor Law Inspector, Uvedale Corbett, said Louisa was “the most practical woman I have ever known amongst the many who have taken an interest in the subject.”

Louisa’s older sister, Elizabeth (1805-99), also contributed to the treatment of the poor. She established “mothers’ meetings” and published Readings for Mothers’ Meetings and Ten Years in a Ragged School. Elizabeth also worked as a botanical illustrator under her father’s patronage. Her observations of flowers and plants at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew feature in the two-volume Illustrations of the Natural Order of Plants published in 1849 and 1855.

Following her father’s death, Elizabeth remained at Dial House until her death on Christmas day in 1899. In her will, she left the house to the people of Twickenham for use as the vicarage.

Twinings continued to flourish under successive members of the family. In 1910, the much sought after tea company opened its first shop in France and continued making different blends. In 1933, they marketed their famous English Breakfast tea, which blended a combination of Assam, Ceylon, and Kenyan leaves.

Despite the rationing of tea during the Second World War, Twinings continued to flourish. To keep up morale in British troops, Twinings supplied tea parcels for Red Cross prisoners-of-war, the Women’s Voluntary Service, and YMCA wartime canteens. As a whole, Britain purchased more tea than weapons during the war. The Royal Air Force dropped 75,000 tea bombs into the occupied Netherlands, which contained packets of tea and uplifting messages from the British.

In 1956, Twinings began selling their tea in teabags for the first time. Teabags were not a new invention, but the war years and lack of materials prevented Twinings from jumping on the bandwagon earlier. The first teabag was accidentally invented by New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan, who wanted to send samples of tea to customers in small silken bags. Sullivan intended the recipients to cut open the bag and pour out the tea leaves, but many people assumed the bag was some sort of infuser and put the entire bag into the teapot.

In response to his customers’ reaction to his sample bags of tea, Sullivan developed the first purpose-made tea bags, using gauze rather than silk. The invention was quickly accepted by America, but it took a while for the British to come on board. Eventually, Twinings’ rivals, Tetley, introduced teabags to Britain. Britain was slow to adapt and, by the 1960s, only 3% of tea was sold in teabags. Yet by 2007, this had risen to 96%.

In 1964, the British food processing and retailing company Associated British Foods plc (ABF) acquired Twinings. ABF oversees several private and branded British labels, including Ryvita, Silver Spoon, Kingsmill and Jordans cereal. In the past, customers visited the Twinings store on the Strand to purchase tea, but with the growth of supermarkets and convenience shops, Twinings products became widely available.

In 1972, Twinings were the first company to win the Queen’s Award for Export. Established in 1965, the award recognises the outstanding achievement of UK businesses and allows them to use the award’s emblem on marketing materials, such as packaging and adverts.

Fast forward to the 21st century, Twinings continue to thrive as one of Britain’s popular tea brands. In 2007, the company celebrated its 300th birthday, just three years after releasing their world-famous Everyday TeaTwinings describe their Everyday Tea as “well-rounded” and “invigorating”. It contains a blend of tea from Yunnan (China), Assam (India) and Africa.

In 2010, green tea grew in popularity, so Twinings relaunched the green tea range, adding flavours such as Mango & Lychee and Orange & Lotus Flower. They also relaunched their Earl Grey tea, inviting the 6th Earl Grey, Richard Grey (1939-2013), to add his signature to the packaging. Twinings first produced Earl Grey tea in 1831 by blending bergamot oil into their tea leaves. They named the product after the British Prime Minister, Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764-1845), although the reasons for this remain apocryphal.

Following the success of their green and Earl Grey ranges, Twinings relaunched their Infusions range in 2012. This brought twenty new flavours of tea onto the market, including strawberry & raspberry, lemon & ginger, blackcurrant & blueberry, buttermint, liquorice and cranberry. Infusions are caffeine- and sugar-free and can be drunk hot or cold, making them popular all year round.

In 2013, Twinings expanded the 216 Strand shop to include a tea tasting bar so that customers could try it before they buy. This led to the launch of Twinings’ luxury Signature Range, which is personally created by members of the team. Andrew Whittingham, for instance, took inspiration from spice markets in Zanzibar to create “an unusual blend of Rwandan black tea and Rooibos”. Michael Wright, on the other hand, was inspired by “the lowlands of Assam with the humid rainy season, the highlands of Darjeeling, and the gardens of Ceylon” to produce the “Perfect Afternoon Loose Leaf Tea”. For the upcoming Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II, Stephen Twinings produced a luxury tea based on the original blends the company sold in its early years. Twinings is also the only person allowed to deal with royal customers.

To celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday in 2016, the Royal Warrant Holders requested a commemorative blend of tea in a limited edition illustrated tin. The design incorporates symbols to represent the Queen’s status as Head of State and Church, her love of horse racing, and the style of hat she often wears in public. Unfortunately, the tea is no longer available to purchase.

The year 2017 marked the 300th anniversary of the Golden Lyon shop in the Strand. To mark the occasion, Twinings released yet another new range of tea. Known as SuperBlends, the teas aim to promote health and wellbeing and are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Each blend aims to benefit at least one aspect of the customer’s wellbeing, for example, metabolism, digestion, sleep, immunity, energy, relaxation and the heart.

Most of Twinings’ fruity flavoured teas are drinkable hot or cold, but until 2018, all teas required brewing in hot water before being drunk or cooled. Seeing a gap in the market, Twinings launched their Cold In’fuse range, which used cold water instead of hot. Dehydration is becoming a problem in Britain, with only 1 in 10 adults drinking an adequate amount of water. Many people claim they struggle to remain hydrated because they do not like water. Twinings’ Cold In’fuse essentially infuses the water with their much-loved flavours of herbal and fruit teas, allowing consumers to enjoy a healthy drink without needing to put the kettle on. Two years later, Twinings launched a Wellness version of their Cold In’fuse containing added vitamins and minerals.

Today, 216 Strand London provides wellbeing information and support, as well as Twinings’ extensive range of tea. With tasting experiences and masterclasses, Twinings aims to move with the times and supply teas to suit its customer’s needs. Of course, the more traditional teas remain some of Twinings’ best-selling products.

As of 2019, Twinings is Britain’s best-selling tea brand, with PG Tips and Yorkshire following in second and third place. Twinings may charge more for their tea than other companies, but only they supply such an extensive range. From humble beginnings to Queen’s favourite, Twinings has a history of success and has made Britain a stereotypical tea-drinking nation.


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Belvoir Castle

Situated on a hill in the north corner of Leicestershire, with views over the counties of Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, is Belvoir Castle, the stately home of David Manners, 11th Duke of Rutland (born 1959). Four castles have stood on the site since the Norman Conquest in 1066, and the surviving structure is a grade I listed building from the 19th century. Whilst the castle remains the home of the Manners family, several rooms are open to the public.

The castle gets its name from the Vale of Belvoir, which derives from the Norman-French for “beautiful view”. When the French-speaking invaders named the area, the Anglo-Saxons could not pronounce the word in their accent, preferring to call it “Beaver”. This pronunciation remains in use today, often confusing the tourists.

The first castle on the site was built before the completion of the Domesday Book in 1086, which records Robert de Todeni as the owner of the land. Todeni was a nobleman and the founder of the now-destroyed Benedictine Belvoir Priory. On his death, the motte-and-bailey castle was given to William d’Aubigny (d. 1236), who rebelled against King John (1166-1216) and became one of the twenty-five barons to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. On his death, he left Belvoir Castle to his daughter, Isabel, who married Robert de Ros (d. 1285). Although the castle did not belong to royalty, De Ros received a licence to crenellate the building.

On the death of Isabel, her eldest son William Ros, 1st Baron Ros of Helmsley (1255-1216) inherited the Belvoir estate. William was also one of the thirteen claimants to the Scottish throne when the seven-year-old Queen Margaret passed away in 1290. William’s great grandmother was the illegitimate child of William I of Scotland (1142-1214). The ownership of the Belvoir estate continued down the male line until 1508 when Edmund Ros, 10th Baron Ros of Helmsley (1455-1508), died without a male heir. It then became the property of the eldest daughter, Eleanor Ros, who bequeathed it to her son, George Manners, 11th Baron Ros (1470-1513).

Unfortunately, the castle suffered during the War of the Roses between 1455 and 1485. The Ros family, who supported the Lancastrians, lost a great deal of their estate when the Yorkists took the throne of England. The family fought to retain the castle, but the new landowner, Lord Hastings, attacked the building, stripping lead from the roof and destroying much of the stonework. When George Manners inherited the castle, it was in ruins.

George Manners left the castle in its derelict state, but his son, Thomas Manners (1497-1543), constructed a new castle. The medieval design incorporated some of the original building, plus stones from Croxton Abbey and Belvoir Priory following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The building was completed in 1555, and Manners made it his main residence.

In 1525, Henry VIII (1491-1547) appointed Thomas Manners a Knight of the Garter and made him the Earl of Rutland. Manners’ grandmother was Anne of York (1439-76), the elder sister of Edward VI (1442-83). Anne’s niece, Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), was the mother of Henry VIII, so Manners was distantly related to the king. Due to this family connection, Manners became a great favourite of the king and was appointed the lord chamberlain of Anne of Cleves (1515-57). The extra money earned working for Henry VIII went towards the building of Belvoir Castle.

Upon Thomas Manners’ death, his son Henry (1526-63) took possession of the castle and became the 2nd Earl of Rutland. Subsequently, the building and title were passed to his eldest son, Edward (1549-87). When Edward died without a male heir, his brother John (1559-88) became the 4th Earl of Rutland. John’s eldest son, Roger (1576-1612), 5th Earl of Rutland, was proposed as a candidate for the authorship of William Shakespeare‘s work during a debate about Shakespeare’s authenticity.

When Roger died childless, his brother Francis (1576-1632) became the next earl and entertained James I (1566-1632) at Belvoir Castle in 1612. Francis also died without an heir, so the next brother, George (1580-1641), inherited the peerage. When George also failed to produce a son, his second cousin, John Manners (1604-1679), became the 8th Earl of Rutland. The Manners family supported Charles I (1600-49) during the English Civil War. Three years after the king’s execution, Parliament ordered the demolition of Belvoir Castle as a punishment.

Following the restoration of the monarchy, the 8th Earl instructed the English architect John Webb (1611-72) to design a classical mansion to replace the old castle. Costing £11,730 (£2.06 million today), the building was completed in 1668, by which time the 9th Earl, also called John (1638-1711), had inherited the estate. Following the Glorious Revolution, which resulted in the deposition of James II (1633-1701), Manners entertained Princess Anne (1665-1714), the future Queen of England, at Belvoir Castle. When Anne succeeded the throne, she created Manners the Duke of Rutland and Marquess of Granby.

The ownership of Belvoir Castle continued to pass down the male line. John Manners, 2nd Duke of Rutland (1676-1721), stood as a member of parliament until the death of his father. His heir, also called John (1696-1779), made several improvements to the castle and developed a large art collection, which he later sold for unknown reasons. As well as art, the 3rd Duke held great interest in music and served as one of the directors of the Royal Academy of Music. He also supported the creation of London’s Foundling Hospital.

The 3rd Duke outlived his son, so the dukedom went to his grandson, Charles (1754-1787), who was also interested in art. Charles Manners collected objets d’art to decorate Belvoir Castle, almost bankrupting the family. When he died aged 33, the castle was abandoned until his son, John Henry Manners, 5th Duke of Rutland (1778-1857), came of age.

The 5th Duke’s wife, Lady Elizabeth (1780-1825), who had a passion for design and architecture, refurbished the derelict building. She supervised landscaping works on the estate and employed James Wyatt (1746-1813), a neoclassical and neo-Gothic architect, to renovate the house. Wyatt was known for his improvements to Windsor Castle, some of which he replicated at Belvoir Castle. Due to these similarities, Belvoir is often used as a Windsor Castle substitute in film and television dramas.

In 1816, when the expensive project was near completion, a fire destroyed the majority of the castle. It resulted in an estimated £120,000 (£9.39 million today) of damages, which included furnishings, objets d’art and paintings by Titian (1488-1576), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), and Joshua Reynolds (1723-92). After raising a further £120,000 (£11.6 million today), building work began again. Today, one of the staterooms, the Elizabeth Saloon, is named after the wife of the 5th Duke.

Visitors to Belvoir Castle following its completion included Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford (1783-1857), a friend of Queen Victoria (1819-1901). The Duchess is famed for creating the British “afternoon tea”. According to letters existing from the 1840s, Belvoir Castle served dinner between the hours of 7 and 8 pm. Whilst they included a light luncheon at midday, which was a fairly new invention at the time, the Duchess claimed guests were feeling faint by the time they dined in the evening. She discovered having a midafternoon meal of tea (usually Darjeeling) and cakes or sandwiches provided the perfect balance. The Duchess often invited her friends to join her for afternoon tea, and the tradition quickly spread across the country.

John and Elizabeth’s eldest son, Charles (1815-88), inherited the estate and dukedom after his father’s death, but he never married. When Charles passed away in 1888, his brother John (1818-1906) became the 7th Duke of Rutland. John was made a Knight of the Garter in 1891, as was his son and heir, Henry Manners, 8th Duke of Rutland (1852-1925), in 1918. The 9th Duke of Rutland, John (1886-1940), fought in the First World War but passed away from pneumonia at the start of the Second. His son, Charles (1919-1999), who was serving in the Grenadier Guards at the time, became the 10th Duke. Charles was the father of the current Duke of Rutland, David Charles Robert Manners.

Visitors to Belvoir Castle enjoy self-guided tours around some of the most notable rooms of the house. The entrance hall, also known as the guardroom, is an example of the Gothic Revival style combined with Victorian modernisations. On the walls hang weapons, such as Brown Bess muskets of the Leicestershire Militia and circles of 18th-century swords embossed with the profile of the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852). Many of these weapons were collected by the 5th Duke of Rutland. In a letter to his agent, he wrote, “Where is the harm of old armour in a hall intended to look as if it belonged to days of yore?”

More of the 5th Duke’s antiquities are displayed on the staircase leading from the entrance hall to the landing. A canon from the First Sikh War (1845-46) is flanked by two sets of armour dating from the 16th century. On the landing above, aptly named the Carriage Landing, rests the 7th Duke’s Victorian invalid carriage, in which he was pushed around the castle during his 80s.

Upstairs, the Ballroom is lined with paintings of past Dukes of Rutland and their families. The room is also known as the Grand Corridor. Its use as a ballroom went out of fashion after the Regency Period. The 8th Duke used the 120-foot long space for informal family concerts, as recorded in Duchess Violet’s diary: “We have sung a lot in the ballroom and Marjorie and her voice will always be remembered by its walls.” Marjorie was the eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess.

One of the most picturesque rooms in the castle is the aforementioned Elizabeth Saloon, named after the 5th Duke’s wife. The style reflects the Louis Quatorze fashion of early 19th-century France, which the Duchess admired during a trip to the continent. Unfortunately, Elizabeth passed away from appendicitis before the room’s completion. As well as naming the room in her honour, the room’s decorator Matthew Cotes Wyatt (1777-1862) sculpted a marble statue of Elizabeth, placed in front of a floor-to-ceiling mirror, making it appear as though she is walking into the room. In respect of the Duchess, the decoration of the Elizabeth Saloon remains as she intended, despite the numerous family parties that have traipsed through the room. It is where Winston Churchill (1875-1965) sat and wept after hearing about the abdication of Edward VIII (1894-1972), and more recently, it was a filming location for Young Victoria (2009).

Adjacent to the Elizabeth Saloon is the State Dining Room. The decor and architecture were inspired by the 5th Duke and Duchess’ visit to Rome. The ceiling replicates the coffered version in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the first churches built in honour of the Virgin Mary. The room is furnished with a long, mahogany table, sideboard and chairs, with enough room to seat 16 guests.

On either side of the Dining Room fireplace, hang two full-length portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds. One depicts Lieutenant-General John Manners, Marquess of Granby (1721-1770), the eldest son of the 4th Duke of Rutland who predeceased his father. The Marquess served in the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) as the commander of the British troops, for which he was rewarded with the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Forces. Due to his popularity with the troops, many pubs and inns across Britain are named after the Marquess. This painting originally hung at Windsor Castle, but the Prince Regent gifted it to Belvoir after the fire destroyed their copy of the portrait. The other painting in the Dining Room depicts Charles Manners, the 4th Duke of Rutland.

The majority of the artwork belonging to the Manners family is located in the Picture Gallery, including a family portrait of the present Duke by the Russian artist Vasili Smirnov (b. 1975). Other notable paintings include a full-length portrait of Henry VIII, purchased for the 4th Duke in 1787, Turk, A Dog by George Stubbs (1724-1806), depicting the 4th Duke’s dog, and The Last Supper by Pieter Coecke van Aelst (1502-50).

Also located in the Picture Gallery is a four-poster bed made for Katherine, Countess of Rutland, in 1696. It is one of the few items of furniture that survived the fire of 1816. The King’s Rooms, containing a bedroom and sitting area, also survived the worst of the fire. The rooms were used by visiting members of the Royal Family, including the Prince Regent and Queen Victoria. Allegedly, when the fire broke out, someone bricked up the doorway to prevent the flames from spreading into the newly decorated room.

In honour of the Prince Regent’s visit, the 131-foot gallery adjoining the King’s Rooms was named the Regent’s Gallery. As well as regency furniture and decor, the room features the Louis XV Gobelin tapestries, bought by the 5th Duke in 1814. The tapestries tell the story of Don Quixote, a fictional character invented by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). At the top of each tapestry is the image of a peacock. The symbol is coincidently the crest of the Dukes of Rutland.

Within Belvoir Castle is a chapel that survives from the third castle on the site. On the left of the alter is a sculpture of the elder brother of the 9th Duke, who died aged nine. Three Mortlake tapestries adorn the walls depicting episodes from the New Testament based on paintings by Raphael (1483-1520).

Visitors can also explore “below stairs” where the servants used to work. The kitchen was large enough for 35 members of staff to work simultaneously to provide meals and refreshments to the family and their guests. The cook and kitchen maids usually slept in bedrooms near the kitchens and ate in the Servants’ Hall. The more senior members of the household staff ate in the Stewards’ Dining Room, which is now used as a restaurant.

Three sections of the cellar were reserved for beer barrels, which the dukes purchased from the Brewhouse in Belvoir Village. Some barrels were kept for special occasions, such as the “Robert de Todeni” barrel, which could hold 1,300 gallons.

Earlier in the castle’s history, the Manners family consulted the landscape architect Capability Brown (1716-83) about the layout of the estate, which encompasses almost 15,000 acres (61 km2). Brown proposed a subterraneous passageway to transport produce and servants into the castle since they could not use the grand entrance. Known as the Dooms for its dungeon-like atmosphere, the tunnel also transported coal on rail tracks from the family’s mines in Derbyshire.

Capability Brown’s designs for the castle gardens never came to fruition during his lifetime, but the current Duchess oversaw a project to bring some of Brown’s lost plans to life. Yet, the restoration project also kept some of the additions added by the wife of the 8th Duke of Rutland.

Designed by Harold Peto (1854-1933) for Duchess Violet, the Rose Garden reflects the Italian Renaissance era and features a marble column from Bologna in Italy. Dotted around the garden are a series of statues representing the seasons created by the Danish sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber (1630-1700). These were commissioned by the 1st Duke of Rutland in 1680. There is also a statue of Juno, a Roman goddess and wife of Jupiter, whose insignia is a peacock, the same as the Manners family crest.

Today, only a corner of the castle is used by the Manners family. The rest is open to the public at various times throughout the year. The castle is also a popular location for film and television and was used most recently as a stand-in for Windsor Castle in the second series of the British television series The Crown (2017). Belvoir Castle has also featured in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1980), The Da Vinci Code (2006) as Castel Gandolfo, Young Sherlock Holmes (2008) and The Haunting (1991).

For opening times and special events, please visit the website: https://www.belvoircastle.com/


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Hogarth’s World

Until 22nd March 2022, Tate Britain is exploring the work of William Hogarth and his European contemporaries during the changing times of the 18th century. Hogarth frequently crops up in the history of British art, and a recent exhibition at the Sir John Soane’s Museum focused on Hogarth’s narrative series, including A Rake’s Progress, Marriage A-la-Mode, Four Times of Day and The Happy Marriage. (See my blog about this exhibition) Whilst Tate Britain included these paintings in the extensive display, they also introduced many of Hogarth’s lesser-known paintings.

Recognised for his satirical, scandalous images of London life, William Hogarth (1679-1764) often attempted to show humour in his paintings. The scenes depict the everyday experiences of the audience in 18th-century society. The social changes ultimately led to today’s moral standards, yet many of the themes Hogarth and his contemporaries painted are now considered racist, sexist and xenophobic stereotypes.

In 1750, Hogarth painted The March of the Guards to Finchley for George II (1683-1760), but the king felt insulted at the supposed mockery of his best troops. The painting depicts a fictional scene in Tottenham Court Road as the soldiers march to Finchley to defend London from the Second Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. The uprisings, which began in the late 17th century, aimed to return the Stuart Dynasty to the throne of England after the deposition of James II (1633-1701) during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Rather than producing a respectful image of the march, Hogarth exaggerated their lack of training and discipline.

Hogarth also satirised the public and their interaction with the troops. A milkmaid is caught in a passionate embrace with one soldier while another woman tries to attract the attention of a drummer. One man urinates against a wall, and nearby a soldier collapses in a drunken stupor. Some troops rob the civilians, whose attention is on an impromptu boxing match between two soldiers.

As well as mocking the English army, Hogarth poked fun at the French soldiers in The Gates of Calais or O, the Roast Beef of Old England (1748). Hogarth painted this scene after returning from Calais, where he had served as an English spy. In the centre, a man carries a joint of British beef to the Lion d’Argent inn, while a group of malnourished French soldiers and a fat friar eye it hungrily. The state of the French troops suggests they fared badly during the war and the large friar indicates the Church focused inwardly rather than helping those in need.

As well as city life, Hogarth painted scenes inside homes and buildings, including a self-portrait showing him at work. The Artist Painting the Comic Muse (1757) depicts Hogarth painting the Muse of Comedy on a canvas. Critics suggest the painting represents Hogarth’s motto “my picture was my stage and men and women my actors.” X-ray analysis reveals Hogarth originally included a small dog relieving himself on a pile of old master paintings, indicating Hogarth thought his work better than his predecessors.

The self-portrait, whilst sparse in terms of decoration, provides an insight into the style of furniture during the 18th century. Hogarth sits on an upholstered chair from the American colonies. Its cabriole legs and vase-shaped splats make the chair appear more suited to a dining room or living room than an artist’s studio. Hogarth’s decision to include the furniture may indicate he made a good living and did not face poverty like many other artists.

In contrast to the suggestion of wealth in Hogarth’s self-portrait is his fictional painting of The Distressed Poet (1736). Whilst the redware teapot on the mantlepiece suggests the family once experienced money, the dishevelled attic room, full of mismatched furniture, indicates a fall in status. Whilst the poet scratches his head in search of inspiration, a milkmaid demands money from his wife for her services, which the couple cannot afford to pay. Meanwhile, a dog steals the last of the family’s food from a plate near the doorway.

Art historians suggest Hogarth took inspiration from Alexander Pope’s (1688-1744) series of narrative poems called The Dunciad (1728-43). The satirical work celebrates the goddess Dulness, and her mission is to convert the world to stupidity. Pope mocks the downfall of several people and societies, including the Hanoverian Whigs and George II. “Still Dunce the second rules like Dunce the first.” Underneath the daring mockery, the poem contains a moral warning that those experiencing wealth and power are not immune to failure.

During the 1760s, London was the most populous city in Europe, with approximately 740,000 inhabitants. As a centre of global trade, it attracted people from all over the country, continent and further abroad. Unfortunately, a large proportion of the city’s wealth came from the slave trade and society’s attitudes towards other ethnicities resulted in the unfair treatment of hundreds of thousands of people. Paris, with a population of 600,000, was poorer than London but had the same attitudes towards other cultures, often appropriating their fashions but refusing to treat people fairly.

Hogarth’s painting of Southwark Fair, originally titled Humours of the Fair, illustrates a fair held in Southwark, London, 1732. The busy scene shows a tradeswoman selling crockery underneath a stage that is starting to collapse. Oblivious to the imminent destruction, she is playing dice while acrobats perform balancing acts on tightropes between buildings and costumed actors mingle with the crowd. Fairs such as these were popular in Hogarth’s time, particularly amongst the lower classes of society. They provided an opportunity for traders to sell their wares and the poor to experience theatre and musical performances without paying extortionate fees.

The painting of Southwark Fair is not geographically accurate but captures the typical amusements and crowds associated with the fair that ran in London since King Edward IV (1442-83) made it official in 1462. For two weeks, the fair featured rope fliers; physical marvels, such as Maximilian Müller, the eight-foot German giant; and magicians, such as Isaac Fawkes (1675-1732). Hogarth’s painting also includes James Figg (1684-1734), a notable boxer and fencer.

The people at the fair are predominantly white, except for a black boy dressed in red and playing the trumpet in the foreground. The boy probably belongs to the drummer woman because it is unlikely he lived freely with his parents. Whilst there is nothing unusual in this considering the social norms of the time, Hogarth mocks the child by painting a dog dressed as a gentleman and walking on its hind legs behind the trumpet player. This racist juxtaposition suggests owners treated their black slaves like dogs or even gave more care and attention to their animals. Since Hogarth frequently mocked people in his artwork, he may not necessarily condone their behaviour. Instead, he pointed out the immoral behaviour of society, leaving it up to the viewer to find it either funny or shocking.

The Age of Enlightenment occurred during the 17th and 18th centuries, benefitting only white upper and middle-class men who endeavoured to learn more about the world. European superiority deepened as a result, with men believing that because they knew more, they were better than people of other nationalities. The Hervey Conversation Piece (1738-40) demonstrates the calibre of men involved in enlightening activities.

John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey of Ickworth (1696-1743), an English courtier and political writer, stands in the centre of the painting gesturing to an architectural plan held up by Henry Fox (1705-74), 1st Baron Holland and Surveyor-General of the King’s Works. It is not certain what the plans show, but Fox later built the original Kingsgate Castle near Broadstairs, Kent, in 1760. His brother, Stephen Fox (1704-76), who lived with Hervey, potentially as a lover, sits at a table behind which a clergyman peers through a telescope. The clergyman, perhaps Reverend Dr Conyers Middleton (1683-1750), stands precariously on a chair that Stephen’s walking stick is causing to topple over. This symbolises the tensions between science and the Church and their arguments about the truth.

On the right, Hervey’s colleague Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough (1706-58), wears a red jacket and glances at the plans indicated by Hervey. Spencer is an ancestor of Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and Diana, Princess of Wales (1961-97). The other man is Whig politician Thomas Winnington (1696-1746), who sat in the House of Commons from 1726 to 1746. All six men had some influence in society, although Reverend Middleton often caused controversy and disputes.

Not all paintings of intellectual men depicted them in a favourable light. In Charity in the Cellar, Hogarth shows a group of men drinking from wine bottles in a dimly lit cellar. Their behaviour indicates they have drunk too much alcohol. Several empty bottles litter the floor, proving that upper and middle-class men are by no means saints. The painting may also allude to tax evasion because many wine merchants imported the drink to France via Italy to avoid paying excise tax. The statue of Charity, one of the Christian virtues, watches on as the men partake in activities that are far from charitable.

Alcohol has ruined many a man’s (and woman’s) life throughout history. To deter her husband from drinking, Susan Schutz commissioned Hogarth to paint a portrait of her husband, Francis Matthew Schutz, in bed following a heavy night’s drinking. The hungover man leans over the side of the bed, where he vomits into a chamberpot. As well as trying to curb his drinking habits, Susan may have intended the painting as a form of punishment. Records reveal Schutz had extramarital affairs and later stood trial for committing adultery with his brother’s wife.

During the second half of the 18th century, attitudes towards portrait paintings changed. Instead of rigid, stiff poses, sitters relaxed and artists captured individuals in informal settings. Hogarth’s portrait of The Cholmondeley Family (1732) is an example of the freedom this new method offered sitters. Commissioned by George Cholmondeley, Viscount Malpas (1724-64), as a memorial to his wife, Mary, who passed away from tuberculosis, the painting shows the couple sitting with their youngest child whilst the other children run around and climb on the furniture. The juxtaposition of the posing adults with the playfulness and innocence of the children reflects two different moods. Cholmondeley, who looks over at his wife, mourns her loss, but the children’s happiness shows that, despite losing their mother, they will survive and thrive under their father’s protection.

Ambitious high society portraits were also all the rage in Britain during the 18th century. Between 1732 and 1735, Hogarth painted The Conduitt Piece, which depicts a group of aristocratic children performing John Dryden’s (1631-1700) play The Indian Emperor, or The Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. The play tells the tale of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire by Hernán Cortés (1485-1547).

The painting is set in the home of John Conduitt (1688-1737), who took over from Sir Isaac Newton as Master of the Mint in 1727. Due to Conduitt’s prestigious position, he knew many people in parliament and the Royal Family. Some of the younger royals are depicted in the audience.

Although informal portraits grew in popularity, traditional ones did not go out of fashion. Mary Edwards of Kensington (1704-43), one of the richest women in England, commissioned Hogarth to paint her portrait to assert her independence. Edwards allegedly married but later denied any evidence of the ceremony. The painting reflects both Edwards’ financial status and her headstrong personality. Traditionally, only men portrayed these characteristics in portraits. Rather than a lap dog, Edwards’ hand rests on the head of a large hunting hound. In the background, a figurine of Elizabeth I (1533-1603) indicates that women can exert the same amount of power as men. Emphasising this further is a paper on the desk containing the proclamation of individual rights from Joseph Addison’s (1672-1719) play Cato (1712).

Most portrait painters from the 18th century would feel uncomfortable breaking with conformity to paint Mary Edwards in such a manner. Yet, Edwards and Hogarth were good friends, and she often purchased his work. Typically, only men were art patrons, but Edwards did not let this stop her from commissioning artworks, such as Southwark Fair.

Hogarth often painted portraits of people he knew, for instance, his sisters. He also produced an informal study of Heads of Six of Hogarth’s Servants. It is unlikely Hogarth displayed the painting in public, and Tate believes it may have hung in Hogarth’s studio. When visitors or potential sitters entered the studio, they could compare the portraits with the real people and assess Hogarth’s skill. The servants include a young boy, adult women and an older man, proving Hogarth could paint all age groups. Whilst paintings of servants were rare in the 18th century, depicting them in this manner is unique to Hogarth.

One of the final paintings in the exhibition is David Garrick and his wife Eva Marie Veigel (1757-64). Whilst it does not satirise the couple as Hogarth’s earlier works mocked Georgian society, David Garrick (1717-79) disliked the outcome and refused to take it. Garrick was an actor and playwright best known for his role as the king in Shakespeare’s Richard III. Hogarth depicted Garrick with a quill in one hand, as though contemplating what to write on the paper on the table before him. The intentions of his wife, Eva Marie Veigel (1724-1822), are less obvious, as she leans over as though to pluck the quill from Garrick’s hand.

Some suggest Veigel was Garrick’s muse and, rather than plucking the pen from his hand, Veigel is guiding his creativity. Others surmise Veigel was a prankster, preventing Garrick from working. Either way, Garrick disliked the painting. Evidence suggests Garrick and Veigel’s marriage was a happy one, albeit childless, so it is unlikely that Veigel deliberately prevented Garrick from writing. Veigel, nicknamed Violetti by Empress Maria Theresa (1717-80), was a dancer and understood the importance of her husband’s work. Veigel often performed in the royal courts of Europe, and many thought Veigel’s choice of husband beneath her. Perhaps Garrick did not want people to assume his success on and off the stage was due to his wife.

Looking at Hogarth’s work from the beginning to the end of his career provides a different impression than focusing on his popular paintings. The artworks demonstrate the changing ideas of society during the 18th century, particularly concerning race, class and gender. Whilst equality acts were still something in the distant future, changes in attitude were starting to get the ball rolling. Behind Hogarth’s satirical scenes is a documented history of English society that provide just as much insight, if not more, than written descriptions.

Hogarth and Europe is open to the public at Tate Britain, London, until 20th March 2022. Tickets cost £18 but Tate members can visit for free. Advanced booking is recommended.


My blogs are available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Late Constable

Until 13th February 2022, The Royal Academy of Arts is looking back at the work of one of their graduates, John Constable. Rather than look at all of his paintings, the Academy has chosen examples from the final twelve years of Constable’s life, illustrating his more radical and expressive side. Between 1825 and his death, Constable experimented with plein air painting, dramatic weather phenomena, enthusiastic brush strokes, and the possibilities of printmaking. Despite his connection with the Academy, the RA has never staged a major retrospective of Constable’s work until now.

John Constable was born at East Bergholt House in Suffolk on 11th June 1776 to Golding (1739-1816) and Ann (Watts) Constable (1748-1815). His older brother was intellectually disabled, so Constable’s parents expected John to work in the family corn business. Instead, Constable’s younger brother Abram took over the running of the mills, allowing Constable to wander the Suffolk and Essex countryside making amateur sketches. Constable later said the scenes “made me a painter, and I am grateful.”

After persuading his father to let him pursue a career as an artist, Constable entered the Royal Academy Schools as a probationer in 1799. After a year of studying the Old Masters and attending drawing classes, Constable officially became a Student at the Schools. After graduating, he turned down the position of drawing master at Sandhurst because he wanted to focus on producing art rather than teaching. Instead, Constable concentrated on his first submission to the Royal Academy’s Annual Exhibition of 1802 (now known as the Summer Exhibition).

In 1816, Constable married Maria Bicknell (1788-1828) at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London. Maria’s father, a solicitor to King George IV (1762-1830) and the Admiralty expressed his concern that Constable had no money to his name. Yet, before the marriage went ahead, both of Constable’s parents died, leaving him one-fifth of the family business.

Maria’s poor health was a persistent worry for Constable, but he continued with his painting and participated annually in the Royal Academy’s exhibitions. In 1819, he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy and exhibited his first “six-footer”. The term refers to six monumental landscapes depicting the River Stour, each painted on a six-foot canvas. Fellow painter Charles Robert Leslie (1794-1859) predicted the first of the six, The White Horse, would be “on many accounts the most important picture Constable ever painted.”

Every year, people admired, talked about, and eventually purchased one of the “six-footers”, including The Hay Wain (1821), which now resides at the National Gallery and remains one of Constable’s most famous paintings. The success continued until 1826 when Constable exhibited his final “six-footer”, The Leaping Horse. It was the only artwork in the series that failed to sell during Constable’s lifetime. 

The RA displayed The Leaping Horse next to a full-size sketch that Constable made in situ. Several small drawings also show the artist’s experimentation with elements of the landscape. In the sketch, a small tree stands in front of the horse and rider, but in the final painting, the tree is at the rear. The horse, which leaps over one of the barriers erected along the river path, was walking in Constable’s preparatory work. There is a visible mark where Constable removed one of the trees in the background. He did this after failing to sell the painting at the 1825 Annual Exhibition.

After failing to sell The Leaping Horse, Constable directed his attention away from the River Stour towards lanes, dells and panoramic vistas. Whilst no longer painting canals, Constable did not avoid water scenes. This is evident in his 1826 Annual Exhibition piece, The Cornfield. Constable preferred the name The Drinking Boy to describe this painting, which shows a young shepherd boy quenching his thirst in a pool of water. The boy’s dog waits patiently for his master while the sheep carry on up the path.

The lane depicted in The Cornfield is Fen Lane, which leads from Constable’s childhood home in East Bergholt towards Dedham in Essex. Constable frequently ran along the pathway on his way to and from school, passing through cornfields along the way. Constable grew up surrounded by similar scenes, which explains his preference for these idyllic landscapes and picturesque views.

When Constable’s wife started displaying symptoms of tuberculosis, he purchased lodgings in Brighton where he thought the sea air would help Maria’s condition. The family spent their summers in Brighton between 1824 and 1828, during which time Constable frequently studied and painted the sand, sea and sky. One painting from this period, Chain Pier, Brighton, was exhibited at the 1827 Annual Exhibition.

Erected in 1823, the Royal Suspension Chain Pier was the first major pier in Brighton. It was designed by Captain Samuel Brown of Netherbyres (1776-1852), intending to start boat trips to Dieppe in France. It is fortunate that Constable and other artists captured the pier on canvas because a storm demolished it in 1896.

When not in Brighton, the Constable family lived in Hampstead, London, from where Constable frequently returned to familiar places of his childhood. One such place was Dedham Vale, which Constable painted for the 1828 Annual Exhibition. Constable depicted the view from Gun Hill in Suffolk, which reveals Dedham church in the far distance. Many believe Constable based Dedham Vale on a painting by Claude Lorrain (1600-82) called Hagar and the Angel. The art collector George Beaumont showed Constable the painting before he joined the Royal Academy Schools. Since Beaumont (1753-1827) died a year before Constable painted Dedham Vale, its similarities to Lorrain’s work suggests it is a tribute to the late collector.

The success of Dedham Vale earned Constable the position of a full Royal Academician in 1829, something for which he had yearned for a decade. Unfortunately, Maria passed away in 1828 and did not get to see her husband achieve his goal. Greatly affected by her death, Constable chose to wear black for the rest of his life. In a letter to his brother, he wrote, “hourly do I feel the loss of my departed Angel—God only knows how my children will be brought up…the face of the World is totally changed to me.” As well as continuing with his artwork, Constable needed to care and provide for his seven children: John Charles, Maria Louisa, Charles Golding, Isabel, Emma, Alfred, and Lionel.

The turmoil and distress of Constable’s mind following his wife’s death are evident in his paintings from this period. For the 1829 Annual Exhibition, Constable painted Hadleigh Castle, a ruined fortification in Essex, overlooking the Thames Estuary. He first visited the castle in 1814, where he produced several sketches. From these drawings, he produced a six-foot oil painting of the castle, with stormy clouds in the background. Constable often studied and painted clouds in the early years of his marriage, but they were usually white and fluffy. The clouds in Hadleigh Castle are dark and foreboding, suggesting life without Maria was dark and gloomy.

Constable often referred back to his old sketches when preparing large paintings for the Annual Exhibitions. In 1817, Constable witnessed the opening of Waterloo Bridge in London, commemorating the second anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Over the following years, Constable produced many drawings and oil sketches of the bridge and the festivities on opening day.

For the 1832 Annual Exhibition, Constable produced a large oil painting showing the Prince Regent (George IV) boarding the Royal barge at Whitehall stairs, with Waterloo Bridge in the background. As a royalist, Constable wanted to capture the event and the Royal family’s involvement for posterity. In the sky, grey clouds form, either indicating the weather on the day of the event or reflecting Constable’s mental state following the death of his wife.

Many of Constable’s paintings contain bold touches of red to highlight figures or lead the viewer’s eye to the main focus of the artwork. It is unlikely that everyone Constable depicted in his landscapes wore red, but it helped bring the picture to life. When displaying paintings for the Annual Exhibition, some artists added final touches to their canvases. On the wall next to The Opening of Waterloo Bridge hung J.M.W Turner’s (1775-1851) seascape Helvoetsluys. When Turner noticed the red highlights in Constable’s painting, he added a blob of red paint in the centre of his work to draw everyone’s attention away from the neighbouring artwork.

During the early 1830s, Constable began teaching life drawing at the Royal Academy Schools. He also started experimenting with other media, such as watercolour and printmaking. Whilst the majority of Constable’s submissions to the Annual Exhibitions were oil paintings, he occasionally submitted watercolours. Constable discovered printmaking, particularly mezzotints, a powerful way of expressing light and shade. Using his wife’s inheritance money, Constable collaborated with David Lucas, a British mezzotinter, to create 40 prints of his landscapes. Trial and error meant several versions of each design were printed before settling on the final 40 to publish in a folio. Unfortunately, the project was not a financial success, and Constable never saw the money he spent again.

In 1834, illness prevented Constable from working on an oil painting for the Annual Exhibition, so the only piece he submitted was a watercolour called Old Sarum. The scene is based on Constable’s sketches of Old Sarum, a ruined and deserted site of the earliest settlement of Salisbury in Wiltshire. The old settlement is visible on a mound in the distance while grey clouds billow overhead. Constable added a strip of paper on the righthand side to include the hint of a rainbow. Old Sarum is one of the 40 landscapes Constable used in his English Landscape series of mezzotints.

Between 1833 and 1836, Constable delivered a series of lectures about the history of landscape painting. He wished to raise the status of landscapes, which were once considered superior to other art forms but no longer popular. Throughout his career, Constable painted scenes that interested him rather than what other artists and buyers preferred. Whilst this hindered his attempts to become a Royal Academician for many years, it has earned Constable recognition for revolutionising the genre of landscape painting. Since many of his paintings depict the area he lived and grew up in, Suffolk is now known as “Constable Country”.

For the 1835 Annual Exhibition, Constable briefly returned to his earlier style of painting. The Valley Farm, also known as Willy Lott’s House after the landowner, depicts a scene on the River Stour, not far from Constable’s childhood home. It is based on two of his previous paintings of the area, The Ferry (1814) and Willy Lot’s House from the Stour (1816-18). Constable reworked the landscape to make it more expressive than earlier versions and modified the house so that it appeared grander. Whilst Constable felt pleased with the result, critics disapproved of the artist’s adjustments and accused Constable of ruining the natural landscape. Nonetheless, Constable had a buyer before the opening of the Exhibition. The self-made businessman Robert Vernon (1774-1849) paid Constable £300, the largest sum Constable had received for a painting.

Despite returning to some of his earlier themes, Constable continued experimenting with watercolour, as seen in his painting of Stonehenge. The painting, which featured in the Royal Academy’s final Annual Exhibition at New Somerset House in 1836, combined a dramatic sky with a well-known British landmark. Since painting Hadleigh Castle and Old Sarum, Constable’s fascination with ruins grew. These decaying man-made structures succumbing to the elemental power of nature, metaphorically express Constable’s emotions following his wife’s deaths along with two close friends, Archdeacon John Fisher (1788-1832) and John Dunthorne (1798-1832).

Alongside Stonehenge, Constable displayed Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Due to poor health, this was the only oil painting Constable completed for the exhibition. It depicts the memorial to Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), the first President of the Royal Academy, that Sir George Beaumont built in the grounds of his home at Coleorton Hall in Leicestershire. Beaumont planned to erect several monuments to friends and people he admired but died before the project could get underway. In some ways, Constable’s painting is also in memory of Beaumont, who helped him become a professional artist.

Constable visited Coleorton in 1823, where he made pencil drawings of the monument. He only started working on the oil painting ten years later and just finished it in time for the 1836 Annual Exhibition. As well as the cenotaph, Constable included two busts in tribute to the Old Masters, Michelangelo and Raphael. In one of his last lectures, Constable praised Raphael’s artwork. He also called the Royal Academy the “cradle of British art” and received cheers from attending students.

In the early hours of 1st April 1837, Constable died from heart failure at the age of 60. He was buried beside his wife in the family tomb in the graveyard of St John-at-Hampstead Church. His children inherited all their father’s remaining sketches and unsold paintings, which they kept for the rest of their lives. The only artwork they relinquished was Arundel Mill and Castle, which Constable was working on at the time of his death. He had intended to submit it to the Royal Academy’s first Annual Exhibition in Trafalgar Square. Since it looked almost finished, Arundel Mill and Castle was displayed as Constable intended.

In 1888, Constable’s last surviving child, Isabel (1823-1888), gave the remains of her fathers work (95 oil paintings, 297 drawings and watercolours and three sketchbooks) to the South Kensington Museum (V&A). Since then, the artworks have been sold and distributed between several art galleries. The Late Constable exhibition marks the first time the Royal Academy has staged a major retrospective of Constable’s work, bringing together twelve years worth of paintings, drawings and prints. Not only does the exhibition demonstrate Constable’s artistic abilities, but it also reveals how grief and emotions play a part in creative output. Whilst the death of Constable’s wife was tragic, it changed the way Constable tackled his paintings, allowing his audience to see a more versatile side of the artist.

Constable painted the scenes he wanted to paint. The landscapes held meaning for Constable, and he did not concern himself with attempting to please the audience by conforming to modern tastes. Late Constable tells a story about an artist struggling with grief whilst striving to achieve the same accolades as his peers. The Royal Academy is finally giving Constable the recognition he deserved during his career through this retrospective exhibition.

Late Constable is open until 13th February 2022 in the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries at Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts. Tickets cost £19, but Friends of the RA may visit for free. All visitors must book tickets in advance.


My blogs are available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!