Today’s Royal Wedding of Kate and William epitomises respectability and good manners, but surely there will be some drunken revelry going on behind the scenes somewhere? There will if this story of a Constantia dynasty wedding in 1800, with debauched behaviour and drunken driving is anything to go by, because the more things change, the more things stay the same!
The much anticipated Groot Constantia wedding of Hendrick Cloete’s daughter in 1800, was described at the time as, “one of the most licentious meetings, where decencys and delicacys (sic) are lost in the want of principles and morals.” The observations are courtesy of Lady Ann Barnard, who has provided us with in-depth, often humorous accounts of Cape society at that time. Enamoured with the splendour of Groote Constantia, she also noted that the house was lit with candles made from poorly rendered mutton fat, creating a rather dark and smelly ambiance.
Lady Ann commented on the pleasing appearance of the bride, who had good eyes and a frank look, even a handsome mouth, until she opened it to reveal the two front teeth missing. She wrote, “what is lost in one quantity is amply gained in another, with plenty of fat and a fine large choler.” The Dutch of the time, it seems, loved their wives to be ‘dick and vrows’ (fat and thick – Lady Anne’s translation).
When Old Cloete – Master of the House – asked Lady Ann to dance, she recorded that she would “as soon frisk it with Table Mountain, since he was far above 6 feet tall and rather broad in proportion.” Dinner was finally announced at 1am and feasting went on for hours. The banquet consisted of jellied game and hams, turkey, and chickens, cakes and sweetmeats, washed down of course, with copious quantities of wine. It didn’t take long before the Judge’s wife was hopelessly tipsy and as the revelling started to get out of hand, Lady Anne crept behind a window curtain to continue her observations.
Long before the party faded at around six in the morning, Lady Anne Barnard and her escort departed in his curricle pulled by a pair of horses. He took great exception when she expressed concern for her safety due to his level of intoxication and poor driving. He was drunk in charge of a horse-drawn carriage!
The festivities were expected to continue over several days, and when Lady Anne was invited back to Groot Constantia for dinner that same night, she politely declined, but in reality refused to return to such a “debauched party”.