The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, the Duke of Wellington, the Duchess of Northumberland, Sir Martyn Beckett, Lady Macmillan, Lady Bowman, and Ruth Sebag Montefiore join other aristocratic figures as they remember the London Season of 1939, on the eve of the Second World War. They reveal how the upper classes’ diaries were packed with invitations to luncheon parties, dances and social occasions such as Ascot, Henley, the Chelsea Flower Show, and most notably the Presentation Court at Buckingham Palace (where they were presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth), as young women desperately sought suitable husbands. While Europe was steeling itself in the face of fascist aggression, the upper-class marriage market was in full swing, and here the participants talk vividly about the parties, ballgowns and broken hearts, unaware that they were enjoying the last London Season.
We got to see a rare glimpse into the Presentation Court in the Ballroom of Buckingham Palace (the painting below is a study of a now lost painting by Sir John Lavery for a similar Court in 1931), at which the Debutantes were presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (wearing Queen Victoria’s Oriental Circlet Tiara). The Duchess of Kent (in her Pearl Bandeau), Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone (wearing her Diamond Palmette Tiara), and the Duchess of Northumberland (in the Foliate Tiara) can also be spotted.
We also got to see the Duchess of Kent (wearing her splendid Diamond Girandole Earrings) presiding over the annual Queen Charlotte’s Ball, where the debutantes curtsied to the cake. While the Court Presentations may have been abolished in 1958, the Queen Charlotte’s Ball remains a central component of the current Debutante Season.