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Of Corsets & Templars

London, early April 1847

“Who’s there?” Kat sat up in bed and peered into her dressing room, spying the glow of a lamp.

“It’s Isabel,” the maid answered softly. “Did I wake you, my lady?”

“No…” Kat shifted and winced from a twinge in her hip. “Is it late?”

“There’s still two hours before your lessons start.”

“I should have breakfast. Are you laying out my toilette?”

“Yes, and I’ve instructions to help you dress.”

“Why today?”

“Not just today, my lady, every day from now on. And whenever you change, and when you retire for the evening.”

“How will you find time?”

“I’m not doing any other duties from now on. His lordship has decided I’m to be your maid, and that’s all.”

“Oh.” Father decided that? Mrs. Crozier probably wants a way to keep another set of eyes on me. Isabel mustn’t see my bruises. “I have a chemise and stockings. Please put out a house dress for me?”

Kat had felt like a ghost in her own home for a couple days, and wandered from room to room avoiding everyone whenever possible. At least Cinders and Ebony were allowed back within the manor, so the former took his usual position in the front hall and the latter followed Kat in her misery. She wept with shame, wondering how many times she may have thoughtlessly created difficult tasks for the servants and if they resented or, perhaps, even hated her? She longed for friendly company, from somebody. Her governess, Miss Nestor, was too puritanical and proper. If only Mrs. Farewell hadn’t gone to London, then there would have been a confidante, for comfort and to answer questions. Several times Kat stepped carefully along the halls, listening for her father’s voice, thinking about telling him of the beating, but on each occasion reconsidered, feeling ashamed, and worried about disappointing and embarrassing him further.

Of course she still continued her studies and attended meals, but did so in silence, and used Miss Primrose’s visit as an excuse to stay indoors and not go riding, resting her painful hips. The aches resulted in an even more careful sitting procedure, perching delicately, which won some unknowing praise. Miss Primrose complimented the elegant posture Kat was displaying, but also remarked on her melancholy, Earl Beaufort voicing concern in turn. Kat apologized, and blamed the weather (which had turned cold with fleeting showers), then a headache, and then an upset stomach. She maintained a blank expression, and did her best to ignore the ache of her bruises. After two days Kat felt better, and Isabel appearing in her room wasn’t entirely unwelcome. Twenty years old, very blonde, with large chestnut eyes, rosy cheeks, and standing about five feet tall, the maid cheerily tackled every task.

“I’m going up to London with you, too,” Isabel said as she fastened Kat’s bodice together. “I’m excited.”

I’m not. Kat knew they were leaving for the city in a few days, Easter and the start of the London social season approaching and coinciding with the first weekend of April that year.

“I’ve never been beyond Bristol before,” Isabel went on. “I rode there and back when the railway opened. What’s your Town house like?”

“It’s… palatial. Grand and old. You can see Hyde Park and Grosvenor Square from our front steps. Most of the servants lodge in little rooms in the garrets.” Kat thought a moment while slipping on her peignoir, then sat at her toilet table and picked up a brush. “It will be good to see Nanny.”

“I wonder how Mrs. Farewell has been getting on.” Isabel took the brush and went to work on Kat’s hair. “Maybe she’ll take me shopping. I have a few pounds saved.”

“I cannot imagine Nanny being much of a shopper. Perhaps we could go. We’ll walk to Bond Street and have some outfits made for you.”

“I could never afford such clothes!”

“My father will pay. We have accounts at several dressmakers and milliners, tailors and boot makers. If you’re going to be a lady’s maid, you need a nice wardrobe. Maybe not for here, but when we travel. Look at how Miss Primrose’s maid turns herself out.”

“Well… you best talk to his lordship first. But thank you, my lady, thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Would you call me Kat?”

“I was told, all the staff were, we have to say my lady, now that you’re grown up.”

“I’m thirteen years old.”

“And quite a lady,” Isabel said firmly. “That’s grown up. I’ve been a maid since twelve. Mr. Rudman went a soldier at nine.”

“A trumpeter.” Kat nodded, always in awe and jealous of Rudman’s adventures. If only I could join the cavalry. I would be the swiftest despatch rider ever! “All right. I’m doing my best to act adult.”

“We all see that, my lady.” Isabel tied Kat’s braids back with a ribbon. “Everyone in the servants’ hall says so. You’ve changed a lot in just a couple months.”

“I haven’t truly changed.”

“It seems you have. And your schooling is… the matters you labour on… it’s beyond all of us.”

“You can read and write, can’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Then it’s just a matter of study.”

“Ho ho! It’s more than that. Now, a little rose scent and you’re ready for breakfast.”

“Rose-water?”

“Yes. Everyday, so you smell sweet. And after breakfast some lip salve.”

“Why?”

“To protect your lips from the weather. Those are my instructions. Where’s your perfume box?”

***

From that morning on, Isabel became an almost constant presence in Kat’s life and the companionship was appreciated. True, the maid served as a sort of keeper, and probably reported to Mrs. Crozier, but Kat felt Isabel would soon be a friend, and perhaps an ally in her small deviations from the decorum matron’s strict regimen.

Miss Primrose’s visit continued through to the start of April, then they travelled together by railway, first class from Taunton through to Paddington Station. The luxurious new carriage Earl Beaufort had just purchased made the journey by road with extra grooms and footmen, and a great deal of baggage. Kat remarked upon how little of her wardrobe was packed, only one chest of her newest outfits. Mrs. Crozier informed her that additional clothes would be purchased during their stay in London.

A London street scene, St. Martin's Le Grand by James Pollard, circa 1840.

A London street scene, St. Martin’s Le Grand, by James Pollard, circa 1840.

Upon reaching the city, Miss Primrose went to her family house and the Beauforts with entourage (Rudman, Mrs. Crozier, Miss Nestor, and Isabel) proceeded to their Mayfair residence. When they entered the front hall, Kat tossed her bonnet on a sideboard and immediately descended to the kitchen. She found Mrs. Farewell in the laundry room and folded into her arms, crouching over to weep onto the woman’s strong rounded shoulders.

“Easy child,” Mrs. Farewell cooed. “What’s all this?”

“Oh, Nanny, I’m so happy to see you,” Kat gasped.

“Me too. And you look well.”

“Thank you, I–

“Let me take your cape, my lady,” Isabel said.

“Indeed,” Mrs. Crozier barked.

Kat eased up and glanced over her shoulder. Her maid stepped close with hands outstretched, the decorum matron stood close behind, grasping her walking stick. Kat composed herself and let Isabel take her cape.

“Nanny, this is Mrs. Crozier, my society tutor.”

“Nanny?” Mrs. Crozier said with disapproval accenting the appellation.

“Mrs. Farewell,” Kat amended dutifully.

“You introduce the individual of lower rank to the higher,” Mrs. Crozier stated coldly. “Of this you are aware.”

“Mrs. Crozier, allow me to present Mrs. Farewell, my nanny, and now housekeeper here.”

“Mrs. Farewell.” Mrs. Crozier allowed a slight tip of her head. “How do you do.”

“Hello,” Mrs. Farewell replied blandly.

“Lady Kat ought not to be within the servants’ domain,” Mrs. Crozier said firmly. “I trust you to enforce this protocol and aid in her training.”

“Off your high horse,” Mrs. Farewell said with a chuckle. “The entire house is this servant’s domain.” She took Kat’s elbow. “All right, child, you shouldn’t be down here. Let’s go to your room and get you settled.”

***

Kat didn’t tell Mrs. Farewell about the harsh treatment she’d been suffering. Deep inside she felt the punishments were warranted, and none of it would be as horrible as being sent away to school. No, all seemed fine, and the best way forward entailed learning everything Mrs. Crozier had to impart as quickly as possible. Earl Beaufort expected Kat to be a stellar student, and she once again resigned herself to the task. However, it pleased Kat greatly to be have her old nanny’s company, even if only until the Royal Meeting at Ascot in June, after which she would return to Quantock Hall.

Within two days of arriving in London, Mrs. Crozier took Kat to a see Mrs. Goodrich, corset maker, on Oxford Street, Isabel attending in tow, and two footman with the carriage. Until Kat possessed the proper underwear, there seemed little reason to purchase any further new dresses or outfits.

“Lady Kat must not have any sharp angles in her silhouette,” Mrs. Crozier instructed. “A gently curved urn is the desired aspect, nothing akin to an insect.”

“Very good, very refined,” Mrs. Goodrich said while taking measurements with an assistant, a pattern maker standing by. “May I say, my lady has exquisite structure and bearing. It is a pleasure to serve you, my lady, and the dressmakers will be thrilled to have your custom – once you’re adequately corseted.”

“Thank you,” Kat murmured, rather embarrassed, standing in her undergarments, feeling altogether awkward and inadequate with such an inconsequential bosom. “How long does it take to craft a corset?”

“I have seamstresses who work day and night, my lady,” Mrs. Goodrich declared proudly. “We ask that you return for a fitting in two days. Then, if all is correct, one day later the first item will be done. Be assured, I’ll keep your pattern and confirm your measurements before continuing, and only under your direction. We may take longer on additional purchases unless requested otherwise, and a premium must be paid.”

“You needn’t trouble my lady with the details of cost,” Mrs. Crozier said sharply.

“Oh! No! Absolutely not! Forgive me, my lady.”

“Lady Kat expects the finest of materials,” Mrs. Crozier added.

“Of course! Of course! Only the strongest cambric, the best linen, the highest quality Chinese silk. Silk thread, silk laces. And the lightest most elastic whalebone. You shan’t be disappointed, my lady.”

“Thank you,” Kat murmured again. I hope they will be comfortable.

“May I suggest…” Mrs. Goodrich said while bustling to another part of the fitting room and returning with several garments, “some bosom friends for my lady? We produce these in flannel, linen, silk, cashmere… whatever you wish, in many colours. I should think satin would meet your standards. Perhaps velvet and cashmere for cold weather?”

Kat took one of the items and considered it carefully. Such soft material she would like to wear next to her skin. She owned warm flannel under vests, made to cover her entire torso. The garments offered by Mrs. Goodrich were cropped short, only wrapping the upper body and bosom. In fact, one layer of material and lining at the back, several at the front. The strategy of such construction wasn’t lost on Kat. “Mrs. Crozier?” she asked, expecting some advice.

“They would be fine,” the tutor replied, “under much of your existing wardrobe, and will be worn with a corset for future fittings when appropriate.”

“Two in satin, and two in velvet and cashmere, please,” Kat decided.

“Colour?”

“A pale lavender bloom?”

“Very good.”

Once Kat had dressed they climbed into the carriage and headed for a boot makers. Mrs. Crozier leaned forward and slapped Kat, jerking her head with such force she saw stars. Isabel cowered in the corner.

“You do not look down and mutter!” Mrs. Crozier growled. “To think, such behaviour in front of a shopkeeper and assistants! You know to hold your head up and speak clearly. It was one of your first lessons.”

Kat blinked, her vision out of focus. “I’m sorry, I–”

“Do not apologise to me! Admit your error and propose a remedy.”

Kat stiffened, slowly took a handkerchief from her pocket, dabbed her eyes, took a deep breath, then glared at her tutor. “I shall not lower my head or murmur again,” she said clearly, but still saw points of light fluttering in her periphery. Blinking rapidly, anger roiling in her breast, Kat felt hot tears rolling down her cheeks. “And you shall not strike me again without a warning. I accept my punishment…” Her voice faltered. She struggled to carry on. “I understand… but some sign, to prepare myself, is only fair.”

Isabel shifted from the corner and put an arm around Kat’s shoulders. The tenderness of her maid’s embrace shattered Kat’s steely demeanour. She hid her face in Isabel’s coat and wept. Everything seemed to go wrong for the last couple months.

Will I ever have the strength to be an accomplished lady? Couldn’t this training have started when I turned fifteen? I would be stronger then, I think. It doesn’t matter, I have to go on. Father would be so disappointed in me if I went crying to him for help. And I cannot go to Nanny, that wouldn’t be right. At least Isabel saw this, and has some pity. Why is Mrs. Crozier so cruel? She’s brilliant, and can teach me so much, but… she hates me. Why does she hate me?

Mrs. Crozier thumped the ceiling of the carriage with her walking stick, bringing them to a halt, then climbed out and spoke with the driver. Kat couldn’t hear what was said. Once the tutor slipped back inside, the carriage turned left and trundled along. The boot maker’s should have been close by. They travelled for about twenty minutes, maintaining an icy silence, Kat too depressed to bother peering out either window.

“We’ve arrived,” Mrs. Crozier announced when they drew to a stop and a footman opened the door.

Kat felt afraid to ask. She stepped out and recognised Temple Church, the harmony of the organ and singing resonating from within.

“This way, Isabel!” Kat took her maid’s hand and pulled her inside.

The chancel pews were filled to overflowing with people listening to the choir sing paeans. Kat showed Isabel the effigies of the Knights Templar and the carved heads decorating the arcading of the rotunda.

“When I was little,” Kat confided, “while my father listened to the music, I would spend ages trying to make all the faces. This area used to be separated by the organ and wooden screens back then.”

Carved heads from within the Round, Temple Church, London.

A few of the carved heads from within the Round, Temple Church, London. The old heads, of Caen stone, were replaced in the 1820s by copies and originals of Portland stone. Some of these were damaged by an aerial bombardment during WWII and restored post-war.

Isabel attempted a grotesque expression and they both guffawed.

“There’s been a lot of changes made in here since I was a child,” Kat said. “They moved the organ. New pews, new paint, new windows…”

“It’s beautiful.”

“Yes. And full of history. I wonder why Mrs. Crozier brought us here?”

“She’s standing over there behind those pews,” Isabel said with a nod in the direction. “We should join her.”

“I suppose so. Actually, she’s beside my favourite memorial – Baronet Witham’s.”

Kat led the way, pausing a few times to let Isabel appreciate the stained-glass windows, then pointed out the carved skull adorning the bottom of an elaborate wall plaque.

“How macabre,” Isabel whispered.

“Momento mori.” Kat shrugged. “Remember, you must die.”

“That’s not for a girl your age to think on.”

“No?” Kat rubbed the skull for good luck, a ritual started when she was four years old. “Let’s listen to the choir.”

Kat perched on one of the many simple fly chairs that were scattered about between the pews and pillars, and stared up at the decorative paint work on the ceiling and arches. When the choir finished, and the audience shuffled out, Mrs. Crozier introduced Kat to the organist, Mr. Hopkins, who gave them a brief explanation of the internal workings of the vast instrument. Then Mrs. Crozier guided Kat to the effigies and gave her a complete history of the crusades, the Knights Templar, their banking system, their dissolution, the royal families involved, the black death, and Wat Tyler’s Rebellion. It was the kind of lesson Kat wished she could learn everyday. Once again, she stood in awe of Mrs. Crozier’s knowledge, and ability to spout information and answer every question effortlessly. Even Isabel’s insignificant queries the tutor took time for, and encouraged Kat to aid in the explanations.

As they readied to leave, Kat reflecting upon the earlier slap as signifying very little and feeling much better, a lady in her early thirties with an elderly and young gentleman on each elbow, a maid, a governess, and three children entered.

“Those men are father and son, the Crosses, family acquaintances from Broomfield,” Kat whispered to Mrs. Crozier. “And that’s the Countess of Lovelace between them. I must give her the opportunity to say hello, if she so chooses.”

“You’ve been previously introduced to Lady Lovelace?”

“More than that, and I know Lord Lovelace, and I’m friends with their children. They summer on the coast not far from Quantock Hall.”

“Very good,” her tutor said with a sharp nod. “Do not attract attention, merely stand in view. I believe she already noticed you when they entered. Those men are known to Lord Beaufort?”

“Yes. And they know my brother, and me since I was a babe.”

“If they venture away from Lady Lovelace, you may acknowledge them, but if they remain in congress then the countess must open the conversation, and holds precedence throughout.”

“What if the children say hello?”

“Ah, you enter into unpredictable realms.” Mrs. Crozier glanced at the Lovelace party. “You are outranked by the eldest son, but not the daughter and younger boy.”

“The daughter because of my family’s precedence within the earldoms?”

“Correct. Be gracious should any of them approach. Do not even look at Lady Lovelace unless she joins you.”

“I understand.”

“Deport yourself well. We will abide here.”

Kat casually minced to near the centre of the rotunda, into the stained-glass dappled light, and waited for recognition.

Countess Lovelace tipped her head at Kat, then turned to her daughter. “Who’s that standing there?”

“Kat!” the girl exclaimed with a bright smile.

The children, a boy and a girl a few years younger than Kat and a boy of seven, surrounded her in joyous greetings. Kat crouched to hug the girl, who she thought of as a timid little creature, and somewhat neglected compared to her brothers for various reasons.

“It’s nice to see you, Annabella,” she said.

“Will you visit me this summer?” Annabella asked hopefully. “We could practise our languages.”

“I think so,” Kat replied. “Perhaps you may stay with us again, and we’ll go riding every day.”

“Could I, Mamma?”

“We’ll see, my poppet. When we’re safe at Ashley Combe I’ll ask your pappa, and he, I’m certain, will discuss the possibility with Lord Beaufort.”

“Thank you, Mamma.”

“Yes, all right, run along with your brothers while I speak with this young lady.”

The children started making faces at the carved heads; Kat envied them.

Lady Lovelace depicted in 1852 just before she died, a photo of Annabella taken in 1883 when she was Lady Anne the 15th Baroness Wentworth, and a sketch of Andrew Crosse as a young gentleman scientist.

Lady Lovelace depicted in 1852 just before she died, a photo of Annabella taken in 1883 when she was Lady Anne, the 15th Baroness Wentworth, and a sketch of Andrew Crosse as a young gentleman scientist. Anne and Kate remained lifelong friends, they travelled together throughout the Middle East, and shared a love of horses.

“How are you, Lady Lovelace?” Kat curtsied.

“I’m well.” She freed her arms from the gentlemen to give Kat a brief hug and kiss.

Mr. Crosse and his son bowed to Kat, and she noted the elder man was marked by the evidence of mourning; a black crêpe band covering his top hat, black piping upon his shirt collar and gloves. This wasn’t a surprise as she had attended Mrs. Crosse’s funeral in January of the previous year. Both father and son had been inconsolable then, Earl Beaufort offering condolences while Kat hovered on the edge of the burial party. She exchanged pleasantries with the men.

“You remind me of your mother, God rest her soul,” the older Mr. Crosse said. “Renowned for her beauty, and could sing the birds out of the trees. You’re taller, but… goodness, as lovely as a fairy.”

“Indeed, or a muse,” the younger Mr. Crosse chimed in. “Erato in the flesh.”

“I remember you accosting me one day whilst I walked by Triscombe Stone,” the older Mr. Crosse declared with a snigger and snort. “You were a charming little bandit, wearing a daisy-chain crown and wielding a wooden sword. Little no more, but altogether more charming!”

Kat’s face burned with the compliments, and the memory of not so distant childhood escapades.

“You must visit sometime at Fyne Court,” he went on. “It’s been rather gloomy of late. Actually, I haven’t been there since… you know, your brother spent many happy hours working with me on my voltaic piles, creating lightning. How is Lord Shervage?”

“Yes, how is your dear brother?” Countess Lovelace cut in, easing between Kat and the men, taking command of the conversation.

“He’s well, thank you. Married life agrees with him, my lady.”

“Has he made any progress with flyology?” She smirked. “He still has many of my old notes and drawings.”

“I think he’s left it alone since I crashed his giant kite in our cow pasture.” Kat let go a light high chortle. “I’ll never forget that day!”

“Nor shall I,” the countess said while laughing. “What a scare you gave us. We all thought you had perished!”

“I’d very much like to hear about it,” the older Mr. Crosse said, grinning at Kat, but a bit sadly, she thought.

“Another time, Andrew,” Countess Lovelace said dismissively, then took Kat’s arm and strolled away from the men. “He’s been in a dark cloud since his wife and brother died,” she whispered. “A new young bride would be just the thing to bring him through. His son seems to prefer married women.”

God’s wounds! Kat flinched at the countess’s candour. What exactly does that mean?

“I see by your skirt you’re not out,” Countess Lovelace went on. “I forget, how old are you now, Kat?”

“Thirteen, my lady.”

“Oh?! I thought at least sixteen, but… no, you’re only three years older than Byron. Your… what a difference a year has made. I shall invite Lord Beaufort to dine, and expect you in evening dress. You’ll sit with the adults, not the children.”

“Would that be proper?”

“Certainly.”

“My father wouldn’t approve.”

“I will persuade him,” Countess Lovelace said confidently. “I’m always in need of enchanting young ladies to fill out our dining table. Far too many male acquaintances, that’s my problem.”

“I’m not ready.”

“Nonsense… do you gamble?”

“My goodness, no! I’m thirteen!”

“Yes, yes. Hmm… maybe it’s for the best. Now, where is everyone? Isn’t the choir about to perform?”

“They finished almost an hour ago.”

“What? I’m quite sure Mr. Faraday told me four o’clock. That man gets everything wrong!”

 

 

 

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