It is widely held in modern romantic novels that for the young heroine, to do well in her aim to find the perfect husband, she had to receive approval from the Lady Patronesses of Almack’s. The Weekly Entertainer and West of England Miscellany for 29th March 1824 (pp188-191) reports how exclusive Almack’s was. In fact “The nights of meetings fall every Wednesday during the season. This is selection with a vengeance; the very quintessence of aristocracy. Three-fourths even of the nobility knock in vain for admission”. The Duke of Wellington was turned away because he was not appropriately attired.
Yet there is evidence that established ladies of Society could face signs of disfavour for the smallest of errors and oversights. The historian Sir Walter Besant wrote that “The Riff-Raff might go to Court but they could not get to Almack’s” whilst Captain Gronow said that with their “smiles or frowns” they could consign “men and women to happiness or despair”.taken from The Lady’s Monthly Museum, or Polite Repository of Amusement and Instruction: being an assemblage of whatever can tend to please the fancy, interest the mind or exalt the character of the British fair. By a society of ladies (Dec 1809) pp281-282
One such example is the Duchess of Rutland:
“Fanny and Harriet have been with me at that grand exclusive paradise of fashion, Almack’s. Observe that the present Duchess of Rutland who had been a few months away from town, and had offended the lady patronesses by not visiting them, could not at her utmost need get a ticket from any one of them, and was kept out to her amazing mortification. This may give you some idea of the importance attached to admission to Almack’s. Kind Mrs. Hope got tickets for us from Lady Gwydyr and Lady Cowper; the patronesses can only give tickets to those whom they personally know; on that plea they avoided the Duchess of Rutland’s application: she had not visited them, — “they really did not know her Grace;” and Lady Cowper swallowed a camel for me, because she did not really know me; I had met her, but had never been introduced to her till I saw her at Almack’s. Fanny and Harriet were beautifully dressed: their heads by Lady Lansdowne’s hair-dresser, Trichot: Mrs. Hope lent Harriet a wreath of her own French roses. Fanny was said by many to be, if not the prettiest, the most elegant looking young woman in the room, and certainly “elegance, birth, and fortune were there assembled,” as the newspapers would truly say”
Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Fanny Beaufort Edgeworth, March, 1822
(Edgeworth, Maria, 1767-1849, Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Fanny Beaufort Edgeworth, March, 1822, in The Life and Letters of Maria Edgeworth, vol. 2. Hare, Augustus John Cuthbert, ed.. London, England: Edward Arnold, 1894, pp. 353).
It is quite possible that the reason for the Duchess’ absence from London was because her daughter Lady Elizabeth Manners was married to Andrew Robert Drummond Esq (Drummond was commission Captain of the Cadland Troop of Cavalry in 1831, was Sheriff of the County of Southampton in 1838 and a partner of the banking firm Drummond & Co) by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The ceremony took place at the Rutland’s country seat of Belvoir Castle.
The question, therefore, is was the Duchess of Rutland refused vouchers for attendance at Almack’s, in 1822, because she failed to greet the Patronesses when she returned to London or, perhaps, was it because they did were not invited to her daughter’s wedding?!