A few real historical figures make cameo appearances in How to Train Your Viscount, including Thomas Hope, the famous author and interior designer. Thomas Hope threw the best parties in Regency England and inspired some of the juiciest gossip, so let’s spill a little tea!
- As depicted in the book, Thomas Hope came from an extremely wealthy banking family. Just how rich was he? Well, the Hope Diamond was purchased by (and named after) his little brother, Henry Philip Hope, who received the exact same inheritance as Thomas. So he was rich enough to casually buy the Hope Diamond! Thomas’s fortune upon his death in 1831 (even after a lifetime of lavish spending that would have bankrupted just about anyone) was estimated to be 200,000 pounds.
Photo of the Hope Diamond courtesy of the Smithsonian.
- Thomas Hope was famous for his collections of antiquities and for his interior designs. He is said to be the first person to use the term “interior decoration” in English (it had previously been used in French) and published the book Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, which features many of the rooms and pieces of furniture he designed for his Duchess Street mansion. A few years ago, the Victoria & Albert Museum did recreations of some of the rooms he designed (some of the very same rooms Caro and Henry sneak through in the book.) This blog has some nice photos from the exhibit that show the V&A’s recreations in full color.
The Aurora Room, as depicted in Household Furniture and Interior Decoration. This is the room Caro enters at the opening of the book, where she is startled to see a naked man across the gallery.
Image of the Aurora Room from Household Furniture courtesy of Internet Archive.
And the famous Egyptian Room! It’s hard to see, but the little rectangle in the middle of the room just behind the chaise longue is a glass case containing the miniature mummy Caro saw.
- He had a reputation for being vain, condescending, and socially clueless. He thought he had the perfect sense of taste, and if he disapproved of your design, he would not hesitate to say so. In 1804, he so disliked the design for Downing College, Cambridge that he actually went out and published a pamphlet criticizing the architect, James Wyatt. He then expressed surprise that the Royal Academy (of which Wyatt was president) excluded him from its next dinner in April 1804.
- How unpersonable was he? Well, in spite of his outlandish fortune, it was widely rumored that three women (including Susan Beckford and a Miss Dashwood) refused his offer of marriage before Louisa Beresford finally accepted his suit in 1806 (and it was whispered that Louisa turned him down the first time he asked!) But it seems that their marriage was a happy one.
- He was frenemies with Lord Byron. Byron was known for deriding Thomas Hope behind his back (although this didn’t stop him from attending his parties- see below). But in 1819, a novel called Anastasius was published anonymously. Anastasius
isn’t much remembered today, but back then it was a huge sensation, and rumors immediately began circulating that Byron was the author, largely due to the novel’s setting in the Ottoman Empire where Byron had famously traveled. Byron admired Anastasius greatly, writing, “I would have given the two poems which brought me the most glory,” if he could have been its author in truth. You can imagine Byron’s horror when it was revealed that Thomas Hope (who had also traveled extensively in the Ottoman Empire) was its author.
- Near the end of How to Train Your Viscount, Caro and Henry attend a party at Thomas Hope’s Duchess Street Mansion. This scene was based on the real party Thomas Hope threw on May 7th, 1802, to debut his newly remodeled rooms. The Times reported:
“One of the most splendid Routs that has taken place this season was given by Mr. THOMAS HOPE at his house in Mansfield Street on Friday night last which was attended by nearly one thousand persons of the first rank and fashion in the country. Sixteen rooms were opened to receive the visitors, which were decorated with great taste… His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was among the guests.”
Thomas Hope’s parties continued to attract similar crowds, with the Prince of Wales a frequent guest. The crush was such that people would often stand outside for two hours trying to get in before giving up and going home.
- Some scholars have opined that Byron’s attendance at Thomas Hope’s parties suggests that they were actually friends. But Thomas Hope once remarked that he didn’t know half the people who attended his parties “even by sight” (which is unsurprising, as 1000 guests was a pretty typical turnout.) So personally, I don’t read too much into the fact that Byron attended his parties. EVERYBODY attended Thomas Hope’s parties, because even if they secretly despised the host, he threw the best parties of the day.
And that’s the tea! I hope you enjoyed this glimpse back in time at one of the most fascinating figures of the Regency, Thomas Hope!
All images not otherwise credited are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.