Monday 8 August 2022

What is the Grand tour?

By Cassandra Samuels

With the exciting news that the next Bridgerton series (3) on Netflix will focus on Penelope and Colin I thought I would talk about The Grand Tour. In the first series, Colin goes off to do his grand tour where Pen writes to him faithfully while he is away. Although the "Tour" was not specific to the Regency period it was important to the men of the upper classes to gain maturity and experience through travel.

The Grand Tour was a time for privileged young men to travel abroad and gain an education that could not be found in books or the hallowed halls of Cambridge and Oxford.


 Emil Brack - "Planning the Grand Tour" by Marcus, GK

The tour was usually undertaken by young men and their tutor. They would travel to such places as France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Greece and sometimes, if one was particularly keen, even as far as Africa and Egypt. Although some women were known to also travel broadly during this time they would not have had the same freedoms as men.

A young charge and his tutor
(or Bear-leader)

The whole idea of the tour was for young men to have the opportunity to travel and learn about the different cultures, languages and history of the places he visited. This would give him extra polish and a certain sophistication that was necessary to form character before taking on the daunting task of the family responsibilities - such as running an estate. It would also give them an edge over others in society who could not afford a Grand Tour.
CC - The Parthenon

This jaunt abroad could last anywhere from two to four years and cost his family a fortune. This was not generally seen so much as a burden but as the finishing touches of a young man’s necessary education.

Gentlemen would return laden down with art collected on their journeys. Often the paintings would be portraits of themselves in front of historic landmarks to record their time away. They would also send back keepsakes such as rugs, furniture and antiquities. 

William Beckford's 1780-1781 Grand Tour through Europe shown in red

Although the Grand Tour was made more difficult during the Napoleonic Wars, as soon as it was safe to travel again, young men flocked back to the continent and beyond in search of education and adventure. However, with the invention of the railway, travel became easier and more affordable for people of lesser means, and so the elite exclusivity of the Grand Tour was all but lost.

"Canaletto - View the Arch of Constantine with the Coliseum [1742-45]" by Gandalf's Gallery is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0  
This may all sound delightful but there were many dangers to be encountered when travelling abroad. A young man was likely to have his money stolen (if not his life), become infected by some kind of sexually transmitted disease, fevers and other nasty ailments and sometimes even kidnapped for ransom. However, this did not seem to stop many young men from taking the treacherous journey across the sea (which was a risk on its own) in search of enlightenment. 

Instead of taking bags of blunt with them, most would travel with letters of credit, which they would present at the major cities – a little like travellers cheques so that they only carried around the coins necessary to pay for food and lodgings. They also often carried letters of introduction as well, so that they could integrate into the local aristocracy.

Courtesy of wikimedia commons

Later in the Victorian period, travel abroad was more often taken by families and young women with an artistic bent or an adventurous spirit. They were encouraged to spend time in Italy and France admiring art and culture in all its forms. (See the movie, Room with a view for an example of this sort of travel.)

Of course, the world seems so much smaller now than it was then. With the advancements in air travel and the infinite resources of the Internet, you can travel and learn about other cultures from the comfort of your armchair, but it can never quite replace the thrill of seeing those sites in person.

If you could have done a grand tour during your early adult years where would you have gone first?

Love to Love having my daughter relocate back home with us.

Love to Laugh at the TV show HaveYou Been Paying Attention

            Love to Learn about History in all its forms - I just wished we learned from it as well.