It is true to say that the London Season revolves round the Royal Courts. So much turns upon that large gilt card which has the power to take its recipient into Buckingham Palace for that moment which all debutantes dream about. Learning to curtsy has been a preoccupation for months. Dressmakers, photographers, cosmeticists... all play their part in preparing these girls in white for those few seconds when pale and very young they feel that they are alone with the Queen in the Throne Room. Of the Palace itself only a fragmentary impression is gained of ornate chandeliers, rich carpets, masses of flowers and people, with the Lord Chamberlain in the role of an omnipresent controller, for was he not commanded to issue the invitation, whilst none other than his voice summoned each debutante into the Royal presence, again under his eagle scrutiny. Being presented at Court can be an ordeal as well as a memorable experience.
It is impossible to give an exact date when the London Season began. It was a slow growth that came into being in the reign of Charles I. as an escapist release from boredom. Life on a country estate was monotonous. The young gentlewoman had no option other than to stay at home and assist with housewifery. Daughters had to observe the wishes of mamma. This extract taken from a letter shows how the more docile reacted to this discipline: "... So scrupulous was I of giving any occasion to speak of me as I know they did of others, that, though I loved well to see plays and to walk in the Spring Garden sometimes (before it grew scandalous by the abuse of some) yet I cannot remember three times that ever I went with any man besides my brothers.... And I was the first that prepared and practised three or four of us going together without any man, and everyone paying for themselves.... And this I did first upon hearing some gentlemen telling what ladies they had waited on at the plays, and how much it had cost them; upon which I resolved none should say the same of me."
But not all women were so subdued. Many refused to be buried alive in the country and insisted on being taken by their husbands to London where they could parade in all their finery. By degrees an aristocratic community began to take root in the West End. After rural boredom, the would-be pleasure-seekers found plenty of scope for frivolity. The choice must have been bewildering. The wealthy could attend a play; watch a cock-fight; take a barge up-stream to Chelsea, or a hackney-coach from the Maypole in the Strand; sup, dice and court in some outlying village; play pailk maille or bowls; attend fashionable water parties or masques, whilst card games were endless. Officialdom frowned on the waste of time and money. Those who indulged were sent home, whilst penalties were imposed by the Star Chamber on all who flaunted the ruling.
With the Restoration of Charles II. in 1660, reaction against Puritanical repression became marked. The King had spent his exile at the Court of Louis XIV., where the most lavish fashions followed one another in rapid succession. It was inevitable that he was conscious of not only restoring the Stuart dynasty, but also infusing something of the Continental colour and gaiety into the English Court and general way of life. The rich flocked back to London from the country. Town houses began to appear in the meadows near Piccadilly and Leicester Square. It became fashionable to live as close as possible to the Court.