Hi everyone! I’m so delighted Amanda invited me to stop by and visit with the Riskies today. I’m celebrating the release of my latest Regency-set historical romance, To Tempt a Rake, since it’s always a Cause of Joy to finally see a story hit the shelves. However, with all the dreary winter weather up where I am, I confess it’s been hard to feel in a real party mood. Looking like the Michelin Tire Man in sheepskin boots and layers of thick fleece sweatpants and tops does not make a girl feel very glamorous.
But knowing the fashionistas here, I figured this was a perfect place to add a little sparkle to the grey days by talking Regency glitter and bling, Vienna style!
Part of my story is set at the Congress of Vienna, the grand Peace Conference that convened in the fall of 1814 to reorder Europe, now that Napoleon was safely (ha!) exiled to the isle of Elba. Royalty from all over the continent were invited to the city on the Danube, and together with the leading statesmen of the day, they set themselves the task of hammering out solutions for a vast range of political and social questions. All very laudable, of course. But with such a scintillating array of celebrities gathered in one place, the work quickly turned into play. As David King notes in his book Vienna 1814, the movers and shakers had come to make love as well as peace!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that rich, powerful men attract beautiful, scheming women–and Vienna in 1814 was no exception. Some of the notable females included the Duchess of Sagan, the “Cleopatra of Courland,” who was carrying on a passionate affair with Prince Metternich, the Austrian head of the conference…but then she needed a favor from the skirt-chasing Russian tsar…only to become enamored of a handsome cavalry officer–you get the picture. One needs a scorecard to keep track of who was sleeping with whom. Her rival in holding the most influence with men at the conference was Princess Bagration, the Russian “Naked Angel of the North,” who wore only white muslin (well dampened) to cling to her svelte form.
So trust me, Vienna turned into the party town of the time. Masked balls, medieval jousts, outdoor balls danced under a blaze of fireworks, sumptuous sleigh rides, complete with a traveling orchestra–the daily entertainments were dazzling in the extreme. And of course, a lady has to dress for the occasion, right?
Here are a few of my favorite fashion tidbits:
–At the Emperor of Austria’s Welcoming Ball, one of the “decorations” was having the Duchess of Sagan and 23 of her friends come dressed as the Four Elements: Six ladies dressed as Water, wearing blue and green dresses festooned with pearls, coral, and seashells. Six wore bright red dresses and carried torches to represent Fire. Six wore thin, nearly transparent gauzy dresses and wore wings to be Air. And lastly, representing Earth, the duchess and her group wore brown velvet dresses and headdresses made out of golden baskets filled with jeweled fruit!
–At the Carousel, the recreation of a medieval joust, there were 24 Queens of Love appointed to cheer for their champions. Each queen wore an elaborate velvet dress with lace trim, and vied to have the most elaborate display of jewels adorning it. Princess Esterhazy’s gown was reputedly worth 6 millions francs, and one of the other ladies proclaimed, “We shall wear every pearl and diamond to be found in Hungary, Bohemia, and Austria!” Indeed one Prussian officer was moved to exclaim that 3 military campaigns could have been fought with the riches on display that night. (In keeping with the “bling” spirit of the evening, Lady Castlereagh wore her husband’s Order of the Garter as a tiara)
As you can imagine, this real-life history made a colorful backdrop for my fiction. I had a ball weaving some of the details and people mentioned here into Kate and Marco’s adventure–for me, research of what helps make a story come alive.
So, have you any favorite parties from history? And speaking of gala parties and fashion, the Oscars are coming up–who will have the most fabulous dress? (Amanda and Megan will have the skinny on this!) Please chime in! I’ll be giving away a signed copy of To Tempt a Rake to someone who leave a comment here…