MPs following fashion… or not

As the previous post about stuffed breeches in the Elizabethan House of Commons suggests, Parliament could be a place to show off, sartorially, as in many other ways. As described in the 1604-29 section of the History of Parliament (which will be released on History of Parliament Online at the end of the year) a little later, in 1626, Basil Dixwell, a bachelor with an income reportedly of £2,500 a year was noted to ‘be the bravest man in the House of Commons’ on account of his ‘quotidian new suits of apparel’; and at the investiture of Prince Henry as Prince of Wales in June 1610, John Noyes, MP for Calne, observed that some of his fellow Members ‘did wear apparel worth an hundred pounds a man’, making him ‘feel like a crow in the midst of a great many golden feathered doves’. There are a number of other examples: Sir Edmund Isham, MP for Northamptonshire from 1737 to 1772, was particularly careful about his dress; Robert Sawyer, MP for Wilton for over forty years in the eighteenth century, was nicknamed ‘amoretto’, fancied himself as a man of fashion, and  was satirized by Lord Chesterfield for his attempts at gallantry and wit during visits to Bath. Henry de Ros, an MP in 1816-18 was  ‘for several years the glass of fashion in the circles of ton’ (i.e., among the most fashionable), though he was proved to be a bit of a cad after he was caught in flagrante delicto with Harriet, daughter of William Spencer and disowned the child she was expecting, claiming that the lady was ‘as common as the street’ and had invited him to her father’s house on the strength of a casual encounter. George Campbell, Marquis of Lorne, who sat in the Commons in 1790-96, declined an invitation to court celebrations for the Prince of Wales’s birthday in July 1791 because he was one of the ‘cropped fashionables’ who had cropped their hair short and wore no powder, which was ‘not the etiquette yet’.

But counter-examples are a bit more common: Alexander Pendarves, MP from the 1690s to 1720s, was ‘excessively fat, of a brown complexion, negligent in his dress, and took a vast quantity of snuff, which gave him a dirty look; his eyes were black, small, lively and sensible; he had an honest countenance, but altogether a person rather disgusting than engaging. He was good-natured and friendly, but so strong a party man that he made himself many enemies’; Sir John Hoskyns, MP for Herefordshire in 1685, and president and secretary of the Royal Society, was described as ‘One of the most hard-favoured men of his time … his visage was not more awkward than his dress, so that, going, as his use was, on foot with his staff and an old hat over his eyes, he might be taken rather for a sorry quack than, as he was, a bright virtuoso’; and Matthew Robinson Morris, MP for Canterbury in 1747-61 was evidently equally eccentric in his dress, as in much else.


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