All young ladies of quality had to be presented to the queen. After presentation, they were assured that all doors of good society were open to them without restriction and that they would be invited to a boggling whirlwind of events, develop their own “circle” of friends, automatically attract suitors, and enemies!
Only ladies from certain areas of society could be presented. Aristocrats, barristers’ daughters, doctors’ daughters, and bankers’ daughters were usually the types to be presented. It did not matter if the lady was married or not. Daughters of regular businessmen were not allowed for the most part, unless someone highly placed at court plead for the favor.
Under no circumstances were any women who were divorced to be presented to Her Majesty. Women who had lived with a man before marriage, had a child out of wedlock, or with sullied reputations in any way were never presented. The gates of society were shut to them in perpetuity.
Presentation dress conformed to an unbreakable code. You did NOT add your own touches or vary from the proper habit. Not. There would be a minimum of three large ostrich feathers adorning her hair, lapets (looped bits of lace and ribbon like bows) falling down her back pinned at the back of her head and a tulle veil, a long dress of the finest silk richly embroidered in like colored enhancements and was to be made from rich “stuff” in white or a very light pastel color, a 10 foot long train, and the dress must always be low cut. No wrap or cloak could be worn with the outfit, and once the young lady was out of her carriage she had to remain without a wrap no matter how cold it got.
Presentation dresses were elaborate and gorgeous things which were only worn once and then put away to become part of the glorious history of these social angels. Funny to say, when Queen Charlotte (wife of George III) received ladies presented to her, the court dress was a highly unattractive or even clownish dress with a very high waist billowing out into a stiff hemisphere bolstered by hoops. They were referred to as “tea cozy” for that is how they looked. Mercifully, dress became a la mode after Charlotte ceased to receive the young debutantes.
The ladies usually had to wait for hours to be presented to the queen. Once into the presentation room they advanced to the throne, made a very long very low curtsy and stayed on fully bended knee much longer than 2 seconds, they rose and either were allowed to kiss her hand or (if they were aristocrats or royal) they were kissed on the forehead by the queen. Powerful people were in attendance and watched every move like a hawk.
The most perilous part of the ritual was the exit. You were not allowed to turn your back on the queen, you had to back out, in fancy shoes with a 10 foot long train, keeping your ultra erect posture, looking serene, not tripping, not faltering in the slightest. You had to glide out of the room as if on a silken string. Quite a few girls found themselves the recipients of disdain for failing to exit in the required manner. It did not matter if it was your fault that you tripped, there was no forgiveness for imperfection during your presentation.
If you could manage to execute this superhuman feat, you were assured that you were indeed to be embraced by all and sundry in true society. What happened after that? I will tell you about it next time.
Note: Being presented to the queen persisted until 1958 when Elizabeth II abolished the custom. The image I chose for this essay is not at all suitable attire for a presentation, black gloves and a fan were not carried, and the necessary headgear is missing.