Presentation at Court

Debutantes

The metamorphosis called Coming Out was supposed to be effected when you were presented at Court, where the wand was officially waved over your head.

FIRST let us consider who are entitled to this honor, since there are regulations on the point which it is both unwise and ill-bred to overlook.

It is almost useless to refer to the nobility, their wives and daughters, who are of course eligible for presentation, as are all persons of title of good character in society.

The wives and daughters of the clergy, of military and naval officers, of physicians and barristers, can be presented; are the aristocratic professions; but the wives and daughters of general practitioners and of solicitors are not entitled to a presentation. The wives and daughters of merchants, or of men in business (excepting bankers) are not entitled to presentation. Nevertheless though many ladies of this class were refused presentation early in this reign, it is certain that many have since been presented, whether by accident, or by a system of making the Queen more accessible, does not appear.

No divorcee, nor lady married, after having lived with her husband or with any one else before her marriage, can be received, although probably many upon whose conduct some stain less notorious are presented. The late Queen Adelaide felt the insult very severely, when the devant cook-maid, of no good repute but a countess by marriage, was brought into the presence-chamber. Queen Adelaide, it is said, could with difficulty restrain tears of vexation. The countess's name was called out in vain. The Queen turned on one side, and suffered her to pass on unheeded, the King simply bowing to her ladyship as she passed on. At the same time, the Dowager-Countess of Essex, once a public singer, but highly respectable, has always been received with marked respect.

In seeking for a lady to present another lady at Court (the first step), the higher the rank and the more unexceptionable the character the better. In asking this, it must be remembered that it is a favor of great delicacy to require from any one except a relation. It is necessary also for the lady who presents to be at the drawing-room on the day when the presentation takes place. If a lady of rank cannot be found, the wife of a county member, or of a man high in office, or of a military man of standing, or of a barrister's wife whose husband is of high standing, can be resorted to. Generally speaking, ladies in the Queen s household, unless of high position, do not like to present other ladies, not relations. Any lady who has been presented at Court may present in her turn.

These arrangements having been been made, and a suitable dress prepared, the next step is to consult the regulations specified and published by the Lord Chamberlain. They are as follows:

Regulations

THE QUEEN S LEVEES OR DRAWING-ROOMS.

To be observed with regard to the Queen's Levees at St. James s Palace.

The Noblemen and Gentlemen, who propose to attend Her Majesty's Levees, at St. James's Palace, are requested to bring with them two large cards, with their names clearly written thereon, one to be left with the Queen's Page in attendance in the corridor, and the other to be delivered to the Lord Chamberlain, who will announce the name to the Queen. Any Nobleman or Gentleman who proposes to be presented to the Queen must leave at the Lord Chamberlain's Office, before twelve o'clock, two clear days before the Levee, a card with his name written thereon, and with the name of the Nobleman or Gentleman by whom he is to be presented. In order to carry out the existing regulation that no presentation can be made at a Levee excepting by a person actually attending that Levee, it is also necessary that a letter from the Nobleman or Gentleman who is to make the presentation, stating it to be his intention to be present, should accompany the presentation card above referred to, which will be submitted to the Queen for Her Majesty's approbation. It is Her Majesty s command, that no presentations shall be made at the Levees, except in accordance with the above regulations.

It is particularly requested, that in every case the names be very distinctly written upon the cards to be delivered to the Lord Chamberlain, in order that there may be no difficulty in announcing them to the Queen.

The state apartments will not be open for the reception of the company coming to Court until half-past one o clock.

These regulations apply equally to ladies and gentlemen. Directions at what gate to enter, and where the carriages are to set down, are always printed in the news papers.

It is desirable to be early, in order to avoid crowd, which, of late years, has rendered attendance at the drawing-room a great effort, even to the strongest. On getting out of the carriage, everything in the shape of a cloak, or scarf, even of lace, must be left behind; the train is folded carefully over the left arm, and the wearer enters the long gallery at St. James's, where she waits until her turn comes for presentation : she then proceeds to the Presence-Chamber, which is entered by two doors; she goes in by that indicated to her, and on finding her self in the Presence-Chamber, lets down her train, which is instantly spread out by the Lords-in-waiting with their wands, so that the lady walks easily forward to the Queen. The card on which the lady's name is inscribed is then handed to another Lord-in-waiting, who reads the name aloud to the Queen. When she arrives just before 1 Majesty, she should curtsey very low, so low as almost, but not quite, to kneel to the Queen, who, if the presented be a peeress, or a peer s daughter, kisses her forehead; if merely a commoner, holds out her hand be kissed by the lady presented, who, having done ries and making another curtesy to Prince Albert, and also severally to any members of the Royal Family present, and then passes on, keeping her face towards Queen, and backing out to the door appointed for those who go out of the Presence-Chamber.

In this transient scene, habitual elegance and dignity of carriage, presence of mind, coupled with the respectful demeanor proper on such occasions, are requisite, and nervousness and diffidence are as much out of place as a bold and careless deportment.

Drawing Room

 

The extensive rules and etiquette surrounding this grand event were mind-boggling. The young lady's actual presentation took only a moment, yet the preparation for her brief appearance took several weeks. Prior to her long-anticipated "presentation day", she would endure fittings for gowns, gathering of the necessary accessories such as her slippers, her fan, feathers, jewelry, and more....but, equally as important, was her deportment training. This included learning to walk gracefully with seemliness in the presence of the Queen. She may spend hours practicing to glide across the room, using a tablecloth as a simulated train in order to get the feel for sweeping her dress appropriately as she walked, without getting tangled in yards of fabric. The young debutante would also practice kissing the Queen's hand, but the curtsy was all-important! Often a young lady attended classes to learn to curtsy in the proper manner. The curtsy she performed at Court was not an ordinary curtsy. This was a full court curtsy; one where she would need to bend her knee until it nearly touched the floor--but not quite. Then she would hold this position for an ample amount of time while making a low bow, and rise again, without losing her balance, falling over, or tripping on her gown and its extensive train.

Finally, the young lady repeatedly practiced her exit because she would be required to back out of the room, as it was considered the height of impropriety and was against all rules of etiquette to ever turn her back on a royal personage.

As stated above, ladies who had been divorced were forbidden from being presented at Court, but Queen Victoria eventually felt that this was a severe penalty in the event that the woman was not to blame for the divorce. Therefore, in 1889, the Queen decreed that women who had been previously debarred from Court due to divorce were to thereafter be allowed to apply for admission, and that each case would be decided upon based on its own merit.


Drawing Room

Rigidly defined rules also determined what a young lady could and must wear, and these formal regulations were rigorously enforced. For presentations, one was required to wear a gown with a train, and a tulle headdress with a veil that was long enough to float over the train. The style of the dress itself varied with the Monarchy, no matter what the popular fashion of the time was. For example, during the reign of King George III and Queen Charlotte, the court dress style was hoop-skirted and elaborate, even though fashion styles at that time called for simple dresses with high waists. During the reign of King George IV, hoop skirts were expelled and court-dress style became a variation of whatever was popular for formal evening wear during the period.

#

Queen Victoria hated small feathers, so orders were issued that Her Majesty wanted to see the feathers as the young lady approached. Later in Queen Victoria's reign, as well as in the court of Edward VII, the mandated headdress was three feathers arranged in a Prince of Wales plume--that is, the center feather was higher than the two on each side of it--and it was worn slightly on the left side of the head. Tiaras were worn by married women, and it was extremely difficult to keep the feathers in place, especially during the curtsy.

A lady about to be presented at Court must appear, if a spinster with two, and if married with three, feathers disposed on her head so that they are visible from the front, and with two long lappets of tulle or lace (two yards in length) flowing from the back of the hair. She must wear a low bodice and short sleeves, and a train coming either from the waist or the shoulders, not less then three yards in length. The gloves must be white, and never tinted with a colour, except in cases of mourning, when black or lavender are allowed.

For young ladies and women to be presented who were in mourning, it was acceptable for their dresses and veils to be black. No matter how cold the weather was on this special day, absolutely no cloaks, shawls, capes, or wraps of any kind were permitted to be worn. Those items remained in the lady's carriage.

For a young woman of this time, it was not an un-common practice for women to have their debutante gown modified into a wedding dress. These gowns were often made with two different bodices, one being for the presentation and the other one for her wedding. The dresses of this time were almost always short-sleeved and had to have a low neckline. However a doctor's certificate could be presented at the time stating that low cut was injurious to the young woman's health.

It took weeks of preparation for the event, but this short ceremony allowed the young lady full-membership into fashionable Society and the "Marriage Market", along with its collective privileges. She was now permitted to attend court functions, balls and parties of which she would have otherwise not been included. As well, she could now negotiate an acceptable marriage in high society. Formal presentation to the Queen was an honor bestowed exclusively upon young ladies at the highest level of society, but anyone who had been presented at Court was welcomed anywhere!

The Habits of Good Society, a handbook of etiquette for ladies and gentleman....Published in 1859, James Hogg (London) -- Presentation At Court CHAPTER XVI

Copyright © Angel.S 1997