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History of the Season
The season was defined by the movements of the royal family, who were in residence in the capital from April to July and from October until Christmas. During these months, the aristocracy and members of the ruling classes made it their custom to reside in London.
By 1780, the custom of returning to the capital at the end of the hunting season was well-established, and George III held a May ball, which was launched to raise money for a new maternity hospital, named after his wife Queen Charlotte. It became an annual event, and the fulcrum of the social season.
By this time the social season had become firmly anchored in the marriage market for the upper echelons of society. Well-bred girls were launched into society at the age of 17 or 18 with a formal introduction to the monarch and a debut at the high-profile ball, followed by a whirlwind six months of parties, dances and special events. Gradually these events - which ranged from balls and concerts to sporting events and horseracing - became milestones in the British social calendar, a socially circumscribed ritual that changed very little until the middle of the 20th century.
By the end of the World War II, society was becoming more egalitarian, and the strict social parameters that the Season defined were being eroded. For a time Queen Elizabeth, who had ended formal Court presentations, continued the practice of debutante introductions at royal garden parties. But in 1957, she terminated the archaic practice of Court presentations altogether.
Despite this, the debutante season survived because of the persistence of the former social editor of the Tatler, the late Peter Townend, whose famous little black book was filled with the names and addresses of 'suitable' girls. These debutantes were invited to a range of parties, which continued to act as a social focus for the upper classes.
However, with Peter Townend's death, and the demise of society gossip Jennifer (Betty Kenward) who kept the world appraised of debs' doings in the Society pages of Harpers & Queen, the formal framework of the Season has dissolved.
What is left, however, is a series of high profile events that traditionally form the backbone of the English social scene in the spring and early summer.