Saturday, 26 March 2011

Elizabeth Armistead 1750 - 1842

“You are all to me. You can always make me happy in circumstances apparently unpleasant and miserable… Indeed my dearest angel, the whole happiness of my life depends on you.” Charles James Fox wrote to Elizabeth Armistead.
            Born Elizabeth Bridget Cane, it’s unknown if Elizabeth ever married or if she adopted the name Armistead from an early protector as was the frequent custom of the day. Her lovers already having included Dukes, Earls and the Prince of Wales himself, and at the age of 33 she had secured a substantial independent income through two handsome annuities, it isn’t known why or how Elizabeth embarked on her career as a courtesan. And there are many different accounts of how this may have come about. Some believe that she was found by Mrs Goudby, the celebrated Lady Abbess that run an expensive and magnificently elegant “Nunnery” in Marlborough Street which only catered to the very wealthy men of London. Or even by her neighbour Mrs Windsor’s house, where the Prince of Wales and Fox were known to be patrons.
In letters written to Elizabeth Fox states “I could change my name and live with you in the remotest part of Europe in poverty and obscurity. I could bear that very well, but to be parted I cannot bear.” She had stillness, a luminosity that was the perfect contrast to Fox’s hectic energy. With fresh good looks and wonderful rich dark hair; beautiful, but not described as stunningly so, Elizabeth possessed all the important attributes, such as an elegant figure and great ability in the arts of seduction. She was more importantly a good and sympathetic listener. Always bringing out the best of those around her, the secret to her success was her ability to make a man believe himself the centre of the universe. She had intelligence, and was clear headed in her attitude towards money. Through her annuities she was a householder in her own right, owning two houses in London and one in St Anne’s Hill. It was in 1783 that she fell in love with Charles James Fox. Even in his earliest letters Fox always treats Elizabeth as an intellectual equal, and with absolute confidence and trust. It was an unusual relationship for the highly popular courtesan. She was a woman of means, while he had lost all his money at the gaming tables. But this was a love connection and not a business one.
At a point when Elizabeth found herself in dept. she took the unlikely decision to stay with Fox, although he could not provide for her, and sold her houses in London – giving up her public life to live in St Anne’s Hill. They settled into a quiet life together. Visited by their powerful friends, they always welcomed visitors, especially children as they had none of their own. They lived in domestic happiness with Fox considering himself a married man with Elizabeth his wife, even though they were still unmarried after many years. Their friends considered them the same, although as a mistress Elizabeth was excluded from much of fox’s social life. After a friend, the banker Coutts, started to make advances to Fox regarding marrying his daughter, the usually serene Elizabeth could no longer keep her feelings to herself, and Fox realised that she had long been the wife of his heart, and it was time to make her his legal wife. But Elizabeth had douts, and tried more than once to talk Fox out of the marriage for his own sake. She knew that as a former courtesan she would never be accepted into society as his wife. But Fox loved her wholeheartedly and insisted. They even kept the marriage a secret on Elizabeth’s insistence for several years. When finally announced the women of society had the chance to decide for themselves.
Most found it impossible not to like her. And most were shocked that they had kept it secret for so long. Returning to public life Fox became ill and finally died in Sept 1806 with his ‘beloved Liz’ beside him. She lived for a further 36 years at St Anne’s Hill where they had always been so happy. Dyeing peacefully just three days short of her 92nd birthday, she was never without family and friends visiting her during her later years. Her last wish was that she be buried in Westminster with her dear husband, which sadly was not to happen. The sons and grandsons of her former patrons were among the principal mourners at her funeral.
Source - Courtesans – Katie Hickman

Elizabeth Armistead has clothing that is all hand sewn, and is as correct to the period as I could make it. I’ve made her as she would have been between the years 1793-97, when she would have been in her early 40’s, when I think she was just about to give up her public life and settle into peaceful domestic life with Fox at St Anne’s Hill. She would have always been at the height of fashion; along with the other great courtesans leading the way with the newest styles. Even though you can’t see it, she wears a long sleeveless shift that reaches to her ankles, and no bloomers! They weren’t worn at this period, and didn’t start coming in until the gowns became very transparent and light. I have given her a little pair of lacy knickers as I can’t stand the thought of people looking up her skirts and seeing she has none on. And for some reason, everyone looks up a doll’s skirts, I’ve no idea why. She wears a set of short stays, and a high waisted petticoat that’s held under her bust by straps that go over her shoulders that has a pale pink ribbon trim. Elizabeth’s gown is made of a very fine cotton voile fabric, made in two layers to give her an under and overdress.

The sleeves are ¾ length with a puffy top, and her sash is again of pale pink satin ribbon tied just under her bust and left trailing down the back of her skirts. The under-dress has a lace trimmed hem, and the overdress has a very deep lace decorated hem made by cutting and individually applying lace pieces to give the look of white-work embroidery. The skirts of this period would have been fuller than in the later Jane Austen period, with most of the bulk at the back of the dress, and a slightly higher back than the front. Elizabeth’s Pelisse (coat) is made of a dusky pink silky dupion fabric and made in the same shape as her gown using the Spencer design as a guide. And her Poke bonnet has been handmade to fit, with satin ribbon and lace flower trim.
It is important to me to create a correct costume that provides the right shape and support as well as the right feel. And Elizabeth’s clothing, although it appears simple, is full of details to make it as authentic as possible.

She has rich brown hair, with lavender eyes. And she carries a small silk and lawn reticule trimmed with lace and beading. She’s a lovely doll to hold, with a nice weight and size.

Her pellise and bonnet are both removable. And the train of her gown hooks up in the back, as it would have been to stop it dragging on the ground outside and getting dirty.

Hand sculpted from paperclay, with jointed arms at the shoulder and elbow, and legs at the hip and knee.
Elizabeth Armistead would make a perfect gift for all those like me that like unusual but sweet odd little dolls.

This doll stands at 49cm tall, weighs approx. 280g.


  1. WOW!!! you are a goddess!! ah.may.zing.

  2. She is gorgeous! I love the big clothes you have been putting on your dolls :)

  3. Thanks Shauna!
    Wouldn't it be nice to wear proper pretty dresses :) No idea how we'd get anything done though.

  4. She is fabulous - you are so talented at the clothes bit too :O)

  5. Thanks Abi, I'm trying my best :) Always trying to improve.

  6. WOw SHe is wonderful. i never knew about Elizabeth Armistead. what a cool story. beautiful sewing and fabric choices. patti

  7. sorry Elizabeth Ive been trying to get this program-blogger to upload my phtograph of me but it just keep going around and around instead of loading. I dont know why. patti