Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Queen's Royal, a cosmetic mystery

Theophila Palmer Reading Clarissa by Joshua Reynolds, 1771
I have encountered a little mystery. At the very last page of Charles Lillie’s The British perfumer we find the following recipe, which completely stumps me. I have absolutely no idea what it is supposed to be used for. Lillie wrote his manuscript in the 1740’s though it wasn’t published until 1822. The publisher has kindly provided notes of enlightenment on several recipes, but not on this one.

The recipe
Take one ounce of brown ochre,
One ounce of vermillion,
One ounce of rose-pink,
One ounce of ivory-black,
Three ounces of essence of bergamot,
One and a half ounce of essence of lemon,
Half an ounce of oil of lavender.
Half an ounce of oil of carraways, A quarter of an ounce of oil of ambergris,
Half an ounce of oil of cloves,
A quarter of an ounce of oil of rosemary,
and Half an ounce of oil of cinnamon.
These are to be well mixed together; but care must previously be taken to reduce the first-mentioned ingredients into very fine powder.

My thoughts
The recipe is in two parts. In the first several, finely milled, pigments are mixed in brown, red, pink and black. The first three would make a reddish brown; the addition of black will make the colour darker and duller. Pigments were expensive so there must be a reason for them to be in there. They must be meant to give something colour.

The second part is purely scent. Bergamot and lemon essence with oils of lavender, caraway, ambergris, clove, rosemary and cinnamon. That’s a lot of scent and several of the oil is very strongly scented like cinnamon and clove. So this is clearly meant to smell. Mixing pigments and scent together would either give a scented pigment or a paste. It is a bit hard to say until you have tried as it depends on the ratio between powder and liquid. I lean on a paste, but I’m not sure. And what was it used for? I have a few ideas, but they are just theories.

A scented powder to make into sachets? I don’t think so. Too much valuable pigment to hide away. Had it was meant for that purpose, the scent would have been mixed with starch.

A rouge? I don’t think so either. With ¼ black pigment the shade would most likely to be too dark and unbecoming. Also, cinnamon and clove oils can sting and redden skin upon application and would be uncomfortable to have on your face.

Can in be a tinted perfume meant for hair powder? Might be, but in that case it needs to be mixed with hair powder. Now I know that 18th century recipes aren’t always constant, but the other scented powders in this book are placed together and they also have clear instruction of the ratio between scented powder and hair powder.

For tinting eyebrows? That doesn’t seem too unlikely, but why not say so? The colour could work for hair and to scent your eyebrows aren’t that far-flung, actually- I have encountered that notion elsewhere, though never in an 18th century context.

Then I got a suggestion from a friend, and, well, it doesn’t seem too unlikely. That would explain why it is tucked away at the last page and that it lacks any kind of direction. Could this be meant to rub into the hair of your nether region? It would tint it and scent it, and might that be something that would be considered attractive? I balked at the thought of cinnamon oil on those parts but I have been informed that today you can buy oils, often containing just cinnamon that are actually meant to be used down there for added stimulation. So can this be a more risqué cosmetics for ladies (and gentlemen) who dared? What do you think? Or perhaps you have an excellent idea of what this was really used for that I haven’t thought about. I would love to hear what you think!


  1. I so wish the recipe to be a happy-sexy-fun-time recipe!

    1. It do seem quite likely, though more research is definitly needed! :)

  2. I have a tinted, oil-based eyebrow serum (to create fullness that my sparse brows otherwise lack) that sounds similar. However, the "private bits" powder theory is a great guess...and quite original! I never would have thought of it. Humans are always trying to come up with new ways to be sexually attractive. I do not know what personal grooming habits (body hair control) were like in 18th century Europe, but I do know they they perfumed nearly every other part of their bodies, so why not down there? It would certainly bring a little "spice" to the relationship!

    1. I have been given the suggestion that this could be a recipe for nipple rouge, which I think it might be, though more research are definitly needed. I have read about it from the 17th century to the Regency. I have a friend who has volunteered to be a test bunny so I think I need to make a smaple bacth and try out the various things it could have been used as.

      as far as I know people did not shave off their body hair in the 18th century, but I have not looked into that matter, so I'm not sure. :)

  3. Hmm..I still think it COULD be for the actual lips, the stinging and reddening would plump the lips like modern lip plumpers do (they sting too). Maybe the dull dark shade and redding lips combine a more pleasing tint for the lips together? If that makes any sense....

    1. I think it's too dark- it becomes a pretty brown shade, which looks very unnatural on your mouth. And with all these pigments, but without any other bonding ingridient than the essences, which evaporate very quickly, it's too gritty to use on the lips. I use it to colour my eyebrows, which may very well not be its intended ue, but works great. :)

      Here is the finished product:


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