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The presentation at Court

Our recent blogs have covered some of the social rituals closely associated with afternoon tea during the reign of Queen Victoria. This blog introduces the really biggie – “The London Season” with its highlight, presentation at Court.

Presentation at Court, 1930; Telegraph picture

Presentation at Court, 1930; Telegraph picture

For the young lady of the Victorian era, formal entrance into Society was by way of sedate dancing … and a courtsy to Queen Victoria.  After presentation, the ‘débutantes’ would party non-stop; this was The London Season, which began in early summer, consisted of elegant afternoon tea partiespolo matches, races at Royal Ascot, and balls held in great houses. The London Season concluded in time for the grouse season, the second week in August.

Who was admitted into society, you might ask? Daughters of the aristocracy were shoo-ins. Daughters of men of substance – country squires,  army and navy officers, notable physicians and barristers. Daughters of wealthy merchants and manufacturers came on the scene at the end of Victoria’s reign.

Elegant tea party; photo Alan Mirabelli

Elegant tea party; photo Alan Mirabelli

The presentation at court signalled to society – especially to well-to-do bachelors – that the young ladies would make a splendid match (The London Season was Victorian code for marriage market).

The last débutantes were presented at Court in 1958. Queen Elizabeth II abolished the ceremony in part to modernize the monarchy. In 2008, on the 50th anniversary of its termination, the Telegraph carried a first person account of a presentation at Court.

“The presentation at Court itself was also becoming open to abuse, as well-born ladies charged large fees to bring out girls whose credentials were not always the highest  The most notorious of these was Lady St John of Bletso, a Lady Bracknell figure who would launch several debutantes at once. By 1958 the exclusivity of the Season was eroded. In the immortal words of Princess Margaret, ‘We had to put a stop to it. Every tart in London was getting in’ “.

In many cases this event gave way to débutantes balls around the world, with the attendant corporate sponsorships, ticket sales and a heft fee for the young lady for her debut, with all proceeds going charity.