Every since Tess Tickle saw a photograph of one of Prince Albert's grand balls, she has been fascinated by them. The formality, the decoration and the sheer fecundity of them has brought her much enjoyment over the years. Now she has written a book on the subject.
Prince Albert loved holding balls. His favourite place to hold his balls was at Balmoral Castle. From the top of the grand staircase, he would stand in his kilt admiring the view of the guests. His guests would in turn be dumbfounded by the spectacle of his impressive balls. One regular visitor Lady Nadds wrote, "Never have I seen such large balls as those held by Prince Albert. They are always a delight, and ladies have been known to swoon at them."
It was not always so. When he first met Queen Victoria he tried to woo her with his balls. She was not enthusiastic, as she recounted in her journal, "Who is this moustachio'ed German, who attempts to court me with his pathetic half-empty balls? They will need to increase in size significantly if he is to succeed."
But succeed he did. Prince Albert practised holding his balls for years, until they were known throughout the world for their size, fullness and regularity. He did not just hold his own balls, he often held those of fellow aristocrats. When the Prince of Luxembourg visited him in 1874, he was stunned by "the swiftness and eagerness with which Albert held balls for me. I am happy for him to hold my balls at any time."
His balls were well organised and smooth, but things did not always go so well. In 1879, Albert held balls simultaneously for himself and the Admiral Sir George Wellesley in the two grand halls of Blenheim Palace. One of the balls was too full of seamen, and Albert was concerned there could be problems. The usually tasteful ball exploded in a frenzy of salty outpourings, and seamen began to pour into the grounds outside. The other ball soon began to let loose too. Amid the chaos, one attendee observed, "Never have I seen a pair of balls empty in such a short space of time. I fear there must have been a terrible mess for the staff to clean up afterwards."
In later years, the Queen would clamp down on Albert's balls, which caused him great distress. "Why do I need my Queen's permission to hold my own balls?" he would often be heard wailing. The Queen herself refused to consider holding her own balls, and it is likely she never had any.
Tess Tickle's book, "Splendid Victorian Balls", is out in all good bookshops now.