My favorite part about doing research is stumbling over real stories of people. We tend to have misconceptions about the past: Everyone married only once and died young is a popular one. The last part in particular isn’t true, because the data used to determine life expectancy factors in all the many children who died of illnesses that we now vaccinate for—polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, etc. Here’s a case in point. The Duke of Leinster and his wife, one of the famous Lennox sisters, Emily, had 19 children. Of them, only 10 survived to adulthood. One died on the day of her birth although I couldn’t discover if she was stillborn. The last child was actually Emily’s illegitimate son by William Ogilvie, the tutor to her eldest son, although her duke husband claimed him. After her husband’s death, she married Ogilvie and had 3 more children, only two of whom survived to adulthood. She lived to the ripe old age of 82 and he died at 91. He was 18 years younger than she, but they lived happily together for 40 years. She must have been one amazing woman, and he must have been an amazing man. The woman bore 22 children in all. How incredible is that?
My Royal Brotherhood series is about three illegitimate sons of the Prince of Wales, whose term as Regent is what gave the period the name of “Regency.” Two of the three sons are actually considered legitimate by the laws of the time, so those two are able to have titles. English law dictated that if a child was born into a marriage, the father was legally the husband, no matter what he might say about it. And of course there was no way to tell in that period that the child was of a different father. Also, having a child by the Prince of Wales wasn’t exactly frowned upon, especially if the husband looked the other way. In fact, I loosely based Marcus, Viscount Draker and the hero of the second book, on George Lamb—fourth son of the first Viscount Melbourne—who was widely rumored to be Prinny’s son. It didn’t seem to have hurt him—George married a duke’s daughter!
Those of you who’ve read The Bachelor might have noticed that I talked about the odd attire required for those ladies presented at court and their escorts. Well, I didn’t make that up. Queen Charlotte did insist on powdered wigs for gentlemen and hoop skirts, ostrich feathers, and lots of jewelry for ladies. You can see several examples of those odd fashions here.
Young ladies had to wear white, but married ladies (like Beatrice) could wear colored gowns. Add a train to the gown, and you can only imagine how hard it was to walk in those fashions! Fortunately, ladies only had to wear them for their presentation at court. Then they could change into something more flattering.
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!
On Sabrina’s Dames and Dukes, I’ve been answering readers’ most pressing questions, and one that comes up time and again is about hygiene: How did women shave their legs and underarms? The answer is simple—they didn’t. Until the early twentieth century, having body hair was considered perfectly acceptable in Western cultures. Then sleeveless dresses with higher hemlines came along, and the fashion industry used that to preach that hairless equaled more beautiful . . . mostly so they could sell razors. We’re so used to shaving body hair now that we can’t imagine a woman having her underarm and leg hair intact, but in the Regency, no one thought twice about it! If you want to chat about fun Regency tidbits, join us on Sabrina’s Dames and Dukes.
Boys in the Regency did not dress the way we dress children now. They wore little “frocks” like girls until they were of a certain age (I’ve seen anywhere from 3 to 6 designated). Then they were “breeched” or put into breeches for the first time. In the Regency, this meant they were buttoned into a skeleton suit. And no, it’s not the Halloween costume—these were more like our modern day rompers, but with a coat-like top and trouser-like bottoms that buttoned together.
My heroine in The Risk of Rogues really loves big, elaborate hats. But I’ll tell you a little secret. She wasn’t that out of the norm for the times. In the 1830’s, the hats were outrageous! Some of these concoctions were three times the size of the wearers’ heads. Just go look at my Pinterest page for the novella if you don’t believe me. They’re replete with towering feathers, blossoming turbans that stick out like giant mushrooms atop their heads, and strange mixes of large hat brims atop tiaras with feathers sticking out all over. I think it just depended on who you were and how far you wanted to go. Honestly, Lady Anne would probably have been right in sync with some of society’s fashionistas!
An apothecary box features prominently in A Talent for Temptation. Think of it as the Regency version of a home medicine chest. In addition to some of the things you might find there—like pain relievers, antacids, and tongue depressors—you’d find scales for measuring out powders, jars of potions that often included opium or alcohol (or even lead or mercury), and a lot of odd medical implements . . . whatever a doctor or housewife might have needed then. We saw one firsthand when we visited The Georgian House in Edinburgh, but my picture was so blurry, I’m not going to use it. Instead, here’s a link to an article with a great picture that details some “medicines” in the box, which also included an enema syringe (ugh) and a mortar and pestle.
Many country houses had conservatories, but they could be as different as the families who lived there. The one pictured has lots of plants and plenty of space for socializing. Some had only a few plants; some were like inside forests. It was a way of nurturing exotic plants year-round, since essentially conservatories were greenhouses attached (sometimes) to the main houses. We’d probably call them sunrooms now. If you’d like to see a large detached one, check out the pics on my Pinterest page for the one at Syon House. I’ve been there! It was built right around the period of my book.
A prominent part of Hart’s story next July is his heroine’s love of hats and the feathers that adorn them. Lady Anne, who had a bit part in The Study of Seduction and wore outrageous hats, is his heroine, and he even gives her a peacock feather. Feathers were an important part of fashion in that period. Any young lady presented at court for her society debut was required to wear one or more towering plumes. Because of the expense, wearing a large ostrich plume showed that you were wealthy. But feathers could be found anywhere and incorporated into the design of hats, capes, reticules, etc. There were even professional feather-sellers called plumassiers, who ply their trade even today. So if you’re a lover of feathers, like me, you would be right at home in the Regency.