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A Fine (Georgian) Showmance...and its very embarrassing end

November 7, 2019

 

Every so often in the UK, with it being a monarchy, there comes the madness of a royal wedding and the increasingly insane media circus around it.  Think Meghan Markle, Kate Middleton and Diana Spencer, and you get the idea.  However, this is nothing new.  

 

Back in 1791, the bridegroom was Frederick, Duke of York - second and favourite son of King George III.  The bride was Princess Frederica Charlotte, daughter of the King of Prussia.  The media in Britain, longing for one of the King's (generally pretty ghastly) sons to get married, exploded into wedding-frenzy overdrive.

 

Unfortunately, when Frederica Charlotte arrived, the press found that drooling all over her beauty was going to be...less than convincing.  Not that she was ugly.  She actually sounds rather attractive from the reports, but a fantasy romantic princess, she was not. 

 

 

On the short side, definitely plump, and with a face described as "animated" and "interesting", Frederica Charlotte was a clever woman who adored animals, but this was not enough for the media.  They needed their fantasy beauty...but how to get it?

 

And then someone noted how tiny her feet were.

 

Background is needed here.  In Georgian Britain, sexual fetishes were often very different from today; significantly here, one was far more likely to see a woman's breasts than her feet.  Georgian gowns could be so low-cut they showed the nipple, but a lady's dress would reach the floor.  As a result, foot fetishes were far more common than they are today, along with young men panting for a flash of ankle or better yet, knee!  Women's feet were a major erogenous zone at the time, with small feet particularly prized.

 

The press had their angle and they went for it in the most ridiculous terms.  Cartoons of the time showed every other lady failing to fit the new Duchess' shoe a la Cinderella.  Drawings to scale of her feet from side and front were published.  Articles raved about the daintiness of her foot, heavily implying that the Duke of York was madly in love with her as a result.  In reality it was a political match, and Frederica Charlotte wasn't remotely in love with her not-staggeringly-hot-either husband:

 

But so the story went: stunning beauty, endless foot love, royal romance.  Until one day the cartoonist James Gillray decided to make fun of the nonsense in his most famous drawing: Fashionable Contrasts.  In this, Gillray drew two pairs of shod feet, which sounds perfectly acceptable until you actually see the image:

 

Also, the legend made it worse.  The Duchess' little Shoe yielding to the Magnitude of the Duke's Foot.  Back then "foot" could also be slang for "penis".  Ahem.  You get his point.  So did Georgian Britain.  Fashionable Contrasts killed the showmance on the spot.

 

Sadly, there was nothing underneath the froth when it went.  Within three years it became clear that the couple would have no children.  In 1794 they separated, with Frederica Charlotte living quietly at Oatlands in Surrey until she died in 1827, tiny feet and all.  Indeed, the only hint of affection came after her death, when her husband was described as being "sincerely grieved" and "anxious" that her last wishes were carried out.

 

Even in 1791, the showmance couldn't last.

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