Did you know that during Victorian times, when fans were a much more frequently used accessory than they are today, the way they were positioned and used to accentuate gestures actually conveyed emotions and represented hidden meanings?
It’s a fascinating and kind of romantic thing really – in fact, the language of fans has been called the language of love. No fashionable lady’s attire in the 18th century would have been complete without her fan. And woe betide any woman who did not follow the rules of fan etiquette, for the right position was essential to attract or disengage a suitor!
Here are some common fan positions and their meanings …
The fan placed near the heart: “You have won my love.”
A closed fan touched to the right eye: “When may I be allowed to see you?”
Letting the fan rest on the right cheek: “Yes.”
Letting the fan rest on the left cheek: “No.”
Covering the left ear with an open fan: “Do not betray our secret.”
Half-opened fan pressed to the lips: “You may kiss me.”
Quickly and impetuously closing the fan: “I’m jealous.”
Drawing the fan through the hand: “I hate you!”
Holding the fan open, covering the mouth: “I am single.”
Fanning slowly: “I am married.”
Fanning quickly. “I am engaged.”
Hitting any object: “I’m impatient.”
I’m not really sure what emotion this lady is trying to portray with her fan though? It just looks to me like she had a rough night!!
So that, my friends, is a little bit of an insight into the secret language of the fans. I think it would have been a much easier way to convey to somebody you’re not interested – as opposed to the dreaded face-to-face admission. Almost like sending someone a “it’s not you, it’s me” text right?! *
Fan held over the heart …
* All images and information was sourced from various parts of the internet. There was no one available from the 18th century to vouch for their accuracy!
Shhhh … I have a confession to make … I’m a history geek – now you know!
As is the usual manner of my obsessions though, rather than being broad-minded about it, I focus on one narrow historical period – that period being the colourful reign of the Tudor King Henry the VIIIth.
I mean look at the man – so sumptuous and rather delicious wasn’t he? Well I guess not … but in his day, he was certainly the guy with all the power, the money, the jewels and of course, the ladies!
They say when you’re in love, you lose your head … well then, you can only but imagine the feeling of dread those poor women felt when King Henry’s eye lingered on them with a flicker of lust … losing your head was a very real prospect indeed!
But back to the history lesson – I’m going to deliver it in two parts; in part one we’ll look at what it meant to be a Groom of the Stool. In part two, we’ll look at the six wives of King Henry the VIIIth and I’ll give you a rundown on their fate in layman’s terms. Don’t stop reading now – I promise you – it’s kinda interesting, and a little bit ooowweeeeee as well!
It’s a prestigious job, that Groom of the Stool …
Yes, I know – you’re all gunning to know about who was around when King Henry the VIIIth did a poo – and luckily I’m here to help. Let’s start out our lesson by defining “the stool.” Also known as the “close stool” the royal stool was pretty much a seat with a place underneath it to collect poo – nowadays we just call it a toilet.
Being King Henry meant you didn’t have to deal with wiping your own bottom or disposing of your own poo – you simply appointed a Groom of the Close Stool to do that; and surprisingly it was a very prestigious job. Why you ask? Because the physical proximity to the King that was necessary to perform your “role” meant that naturally you became quite a close confidante of the King (who by the way, often suffered constipation, so was on that stool for long periods of time – you’re welcome!) and became privy to many, potentially financially beneficial, secrets. Although the Groom of the Stool would never give away these secrets (wink, wink) they led to him becoming very feared, very respected and therefore very powerful at court. Eventually, over a very long period of time, the role developed into one of administration of the royal finances. So essentially, an accountant – make of that what you will.
King Henry the VIIIth’s Grooms of the Stool included Sir William Compton, Sir Henry Norris and Sir Anthony Denny – all very powerful men as you would know if you were interested in Tudor history like moi.
So .. there you have it; who did what with the royal poo and how they made a career of it!
So next up in our history lesson then is part two – the wives and what happened to them. Read on …
Wife # 1 – Catherine of Aragon
Originally married to Henry’s brother, who inconveniently died. Henry sensed his opportunity, married her when he was young then went on and did whatever he liked for the remainder of their marriage. Then when he fell in love with Anne Boleyn, he experienced a convenient moral crisis about marrying his brother’s wife, and not only divorced her, but sent her away where she lived in all-but-poverty far from the court. Nice.
Wife # 2 – Anne Boleyn A bewitching and intelligent women, Anne Boleyn was pursued relentlessly by Henry. She finally got the ring on her finger, but couldn’t deliver the goods when it came to live male heirs. Henry tired of her and accused her of adultery and incest with her brother. End result – he ordered both their heads to be lopped off. So not a good result for those two sadly.
Wife # 3 – Jane Seymour Really little more than a pawn in the family’s political machinations, she did come up trumps in delivering that elusive male heir. Unfortunately for Jane, she died two weeks later so didn’t get to luxuriate in the glory of being the only truly successful royal womb!
At this half-way juncture, I thought I’d share this rather attractive version of King Henry the VIIIth, as seen in “The Tudors.”
OK .. tear your eyes away – we’re back into the “wife situation.”
Wife # 4 – Anne of Cleves Anne was one of the lucky ones really. There was that unfortunate incident where she spat at Henry, but in fairness to her, it had been a long day, he was dressed in costume and she’d never met him before. It didn’t set her up for a strong performance though and unfortunately for her (well, fortunately in the end) he “didn’t find her attractive” so she never had to consummate the marriage. End result, an annulment and the enviable title of “King’s Sister.” What’s more, she got to live in Anne Boleyn’s old castle. So a risky situation worked out well for our Anne.
Wife # 5 – Kathryn Howard Very beautiful, but a little young (19 to his 49) and a little silly. Silly enough to have “liaisons” with men other than the King, and even sillier, to have said “liaisons” found out. End result: same as her cousin Anne Boleyn – lack of a head.
Wife # 6 – Katherine Parr He liked the Katherines huh! Anyway … last but not least in the lineup is Katherine Parr – the only wife to remain married to, and to outlive the grumpy old bugger! Katherine was planning a marriage to Thomas Seymour when Henry decided he wanted her for himself. Luckily for Katherine, Henry had the good grace to die four years into their marriage, leaving her free to return to the Thomas situation. So all in all, this lady really was the winner in the end.
So there you have it readers – a history lesson unlike the ones you learned (or didn’t learn, as the case may be) in school!
Thank you for reading and please feel free to share, share, share away!