The concept of my series may seem farfetched: a woman marrying (and burying) three dukes in rapid succession (really, two dukes and a duke’s second son who becomes the duke) and having an assortment of children by them. But real-life debutante Elizabeth Gunning proved that it really was possible to marry well more than once. After taking society by storm as an actress, Elizabeth wowed London’s gentlemen with her beauty and talent. As a result, she ended up married to the Duke of Hamilton and bore him three children. After he died, she was briefly engaged to the Duke of Bridgwater before the engagement fell through. Then she married the Marquess of Lorne, who later inherited his father’s title of Duke of Argyll, and bore him five children. Eventually George III made her Baroness Hamilton of Hameldon in her own right. That’s quite a string of marital (and otherwise) successes for an actress!
As I researched dances for Grey to teach Beatrice, I had trouble finding one with set figures for a specific piece of music. Although “Jenny’s Market” from Project Duchess was created specifically for the Emma BBC series, all of the figures can be found in a variety of English country dances, so I went with that one. Plus, it looked sexier than a lot of the others. Hey, just because I wanted a dance that was true to the period doesn’t mean I had to sacrifice intimacy to get it!
It’s a bit early to talk about the holidays, but since my Christmas story is coming out any day now (and decorations are already showing up in places), I figure y’all will forgive me. Most people are unaware that many of our most popular Christmas carols don’t date back very far. “Silent Night” was first composed in 1818 and didn’t make it to other countries until decades later. “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” and “Away in a Manger” are mid-Victorian. All of our secular carols are from the 20th century and on. So instead of putting a carol in my Christmas story, I put phrases from an assortment of carols from all periods into the mouths of my unwitting characters. There are nine of them. Have fun finding them!
While chocolate as we know it didn’t really exist in the Regency, there was a confectioner named Guglielmo Jarrin who created eggs out of rock sugar. He also had a recipe for created transparent hollow eggs of sugar that could then be filled with yellow cream so they resembled real eggs ala Cadbury Crème Eggs. I wish I could have seen these. They sound so cool! But there’s no way I could make them, even if I could find the lead moulds for them. If you want to try, however, you can check out The Italian Confectioner, available in its entirety online at Google Books.
Do you know where we get the term “Regency” for the period? (If you do, you can hum “God Save the Queen” while I explain.) It covers the time when the Prince of Wales, George Augustus Frederick (aka Prinny), stepped in as Regent for his father, King George III (aka the King George Americans fought against because of his taxation policies aka Mad King George), because he was, well, unable to run the country. So technically the Regency Period began in 1811 and ended in 1820, 200 years ago this month, when George III died and George IV became king. But for purposes of looking at periods in terms of their culture, fashions, ideas, etc., many people consider the Regency period to stretch from either 1783 or 1795 to 1830 or 1837 (when Victoria came to the throne). That’s why there’s such a wide range of dates in our books!
So, if you’re a fan of the Regency period, you’ve probably heard about the London Frost Fair of 1814, when the Thames froze for four days, and people set up fairground booths on the ice. They even led an elephant across! But you may not know why it happened. It was partly due to the Little Ice Age, which engulfed many parts of the world from around 1600 to 1850. Since seven possible causes have been postulated for why that happened, we won’t get into that. The upshot is that the Thames was wider and slower then, so the decrease in temperatures resulted in a number of frost fairs being held during those centuries. London Bridge also had more pilings that dammed up the river with ice in winter.
After 1814, the Thames never saw another Frost Fair. London Bridge was rebuilt with less pilings. The river was embanked, which helped it flow more freely. And the weather grew warmer. Don’t you wish you could have experienced a Frost Fair on the Thames? I do!
Potatoes have long been a staple of both English and Irish cooking. Still, I was surprised to find a Victorian-era recipe for “Fried Potatoes (French fashion)” which is what I would consider potato chips. Check out Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (online at http://www.mrsbeeton.com). She talks about thin slices of potato fried in oil—if that’s not potato chips (or crisps, in British English), I don’t know what is. Mrs. Beeton was a Victorian lady who gathered household tips and recipes into the aforementioned book, which was published by her husband. I’d like to try the “Potato Snow” recipe. It sounds interesting (and far better than the real snow everyone has been experiencing).
According to William Hone’s period tome, The Every Day Book, New Year’s Day in London was primarily celebrated with small social gatherings and the wearing of new clothes (out of a superstition that not doing so was unlucky—which Mr. Hone disparages). He also says, “The only open demonstration of joy in the metropolis, is the ringing of merry peals from the belfries of the numerous steeples, late on the eve of the new year, and until after the chimes of the clock have sounded its last hour.” I think I’d prefer that to fireworks.
Time for the Season! Or rather, past time or not yet time. The Season began earlier, in February or March, but the part we most often hear about—the young ladies’ debuts—came to depend on when Easter was, since that was what dictated the Parliament midsession break. All the best social events came after Easter. But for a young woman like the heroine of Project Duchess, the Season was a daunting prospect no matter when it occurred. A debutante had to have a respectable female sponsor (and if, like my heroine, she didn’t have a mother, that might be hard to find). The debutante had to wear these awful huge gowns that were only used for debuts. And there were many etiquette rules. For example, the gowns had to have trains, but after meeting the Queen, the hapless young lady had to back out of the room. Try doing that with a train!
Thanksgiving is coming and to me that always means good food! Specifically pie. I love pie, both the savory kind and the sweet kind, but I rarely eat it because of all the carbs. Except on Thanksgiving and Christmas, that is. My English/Irish blood (as opposed to my Cajun blood) must be showing because the English/Irish like pie, too. They eat more savory ones than we do, but you can still find sweet pie recipes in the Regency. At Christmas, it would have been mincemeat pie primarily. It’s not the favorite of Cass from Seduction on a Snowy Night, if you’ll recall, but I like it. I remember my half-Irish grandmother in St. Louis making it every year. Here’s a nice history of mincemeat pie and a period recipe. And if you’re interested in other historic foods (although mostly from the early Georgian and the Victorian periods), you can’t go wrong with Historic Food.