Fashion of the week - Daydresses, 1838

This fashion plate appeared in the French magazine La mode in 1838 - founded in 1829 by Henri de Giardin (and not to be confused with all the other magazines named "La mode this" or "that". The setting is outside - but it is in this case a thin line between what would be called a day dress and what to label as a walking dress. It is also worth remembering that even though an ideal woman would have had both (and several of them too), in reality this seldom happened. A dress had to function as both, with another for Sunday church services. It is also worth noting this did not just apply to really poor people, clothes were expensive and rarely mass-produced at this time which kept prices high.

These dresses are very typical of the 1830's - the early Victorian silhouette with a really thin waist (of course achieved by a corset), a wide skirt and equally wide sleeves (though later on in the century they would get even wider), giving a plump hour-glass-figure to the wearer. This was even more evident in fashion plates than in reality with the shoulders being drawn as extremely slanting making the women look like fragile dolls.

The fabric of these dresses were in all probability cotton, which was easy to use and not too expensive - dyed in light, blue colours. The dresses in the 1830's were generally of some light colour, sometimes with a print - then often stripes or flowers. And then there was lace. Lace was really popular, but a luxury just for those who really had some money.

The accessories are the usual for a portrait like this: bonnets (because every lady had to have something to put on their head if they ventured outside - and bonnets were much more common than hats at this time), gloves and a parasol. You can also note some really pointy shoes, which seems to work the same way those impossibly thin waists did in these fashion prints - they were very popular to draw, but in reality it never did look that extreme.


Saint of the week - Monica of Carthage

Born: About 331, in Tagaste (now in Algeria)
Died: 387 in Ostia (Italy) - the exact date is not known
Patron of: Long-suffering wives and mothers, lapsed Catholics, and alcoholics.
Feast day: August 27

This is the saint most known as a mother, being the mother of the famous bishop and theologian Augustine of Hippo. In many ways she lived a typical life of the a woman of the Roman empire, even though she was born and bred, and spent most of her life, in Northern Africa. She was of Berber descent and raised a Christian - which still did not stop her parents from marrying her off to a pagan, Patricius, who held an official position in Tagaste as curialis. The couple had four children, Augustine being the eldest, and Monica's married life was far from simple - worrying about her son who cared for more worldly things than the state of his soul, having to deal with a mother-in-law who cared little for Monica, and a husband prone to drinking, adultery and violence. But Monica was a good Christian girl, she did not put up a fight but remained sweet and gentle and in time overcame the opposition of her mother-in-law and even turned her husband into a good Christian.

She had more trouble with Augustine. He wanted an academic career, he cared little for Christianity, and liked his wine and his women. When he was 29 he got an academic post in Rome - but Monica did not want him to go, fearing for what it might do to him. He sneaked away, anyway, and all she could do was to follow him. Which was exactly what she did. She followed him to Rome and then to Milan where she met his mentor Ambrose, a Christian bishop, who in the end was the one to baptise Augustine and give some peace to his mother. A few months after this Monica left her son, returning home - but she only made it to Ostia, the port town of Rome, where she died peacefully.


Woman of the week - Aethelflaed

Name: Aethelflaed (alternative spellings: Ethelfleda, Aelfled)
Born: Early 870's (?)
Died: 918
Married to: Aethelred
Children: Aelfwynn
Occupation: Ruler of Mercia

Aethelflaed was born as the eldest daughter of king Alfred the Great of Wessex. Her mother was Ealhswith, and she had four siblings. She comes into history with the biography over her father, written by Asser, a text from about 890 - and at that time she had already married Aethelred, ealdorman (earl) of Mercia. He was not a de facto king, nor was she a queen, because there was a line of Mercian kings who held the right to the throne - but in anything but the name Aethelred did rule as if he had been one himself.

The couple had just one child, Aelfwynn, born shortly after the marriage. According to one biographer, William of Malmesbury, the birth was so complicated that Aethelflaed then chose to remain celibate. It is, of course, impossible to know if this is actually true, but there was no more children in any case.

At this time the land was having much problem with Danish Vikings, and a lot of effort went into defending land, people and property against these attacks. This was something Aethelflaed put much of her heart into, not leaving it all to her husband - she would be the ruler of Mercia after his death in 911, but she had in fact been taking care of things (in his name) before this. It is not known from what he died, exactly, but he was severely indisposed some time before his actual dying and it was Aethelflaed, his wife, who had to take care of all matters. This she did very well, and she worked together with her brother, Edward the Elder, king of the West Saxons, in doing so. After her husband's death she was given the title "Lady of the Mercians". She ruled until her death in 918 in Tamworth. She was buried in what is now St Oswald's priory in Gloucester - back then it was St Peter's church.

On a sidenote - her daughter, and only child, who was about 20 at the death of her mother, became the ruler after her mother. But she was soon overturned by her uncle Edward, and taken away from Mercia to Wessex three weeks before Christmas - according to the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. It is likely she was sent to a convent after this to be a nun, but no more is known about her, not even when she died - she just faded out of history when she had left the political stage.

No portrait of this lady has survived.