Masquerade Celebrations: Victorian Style

Were 19th century masked balls similar to the revelry of Mardi Gras? You be the judge.

masqueradeAt the Masquerade by Charles Hermans (1839-1924)

From 1842 to 1851, Queen Victoria hosted three masked or costumed balls, which inspired Society to continue the tradition of wearing costumes. Wealthy Victorians attended bal masques and posed for “fancy-portraits” dressed as popular or historical figures.

In Twice Round the Clock: Or, the Hours of the Day and Night in London (1862), George Augusta Sala described masquerades as “very expensive.” A gentleman might spend as much as £10 for tickets, costumes or evening dress, supper, wine, champagne, bouquet, and assorted refreshments for his companion and himself. That amount would be the equivalent of $868 in U.S. currency today.

Newspapers reported the antics occurring at masquerades. In 1864 The Times detailed the trial of Mr. Caldwell, proprietor of the Assembly Rooms on Dean Street. He was fined for holding two simultaneous masked balls, one for respectable persons and the other not. Police observed about thirty known prostitutes at the latter. The Marquess de Lusignan became a topic of gossip when the electric apparatus hidden in his “Rigoletto” costume hump malfunctioned at a masquerade in 1885. After shaking hands and shocking other guests, the wires leading to his feet and hands tangled causing him to jerk wildly and collapse to the floor from the electric jolt. Despite rampant reports of orgies and other degenerate behaviors, one New York sociologist declared that masked balls were “dull affairs.” After most guests left around midnight, the only people who remained were management, catering staff, and drunks being removed by policemen.


Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion by Helen Rappaport

National Portrait Gallery post “Victorian Masquerade”

Twice Round the Clock: Or, the Hours of the Day and Night in London by George Augusta Sala

The Times, London, 31 December 1864 excerpt at the Dictionary of Victorian London

Edinburgh Evening News Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland 30 April 1885

New York Times Feb. 27, 1885


Children’s Birthday Celebrations: Victorian Style

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