If you’re wondering how a man can inherit a dukedom from his distant cousin, take a look at the Duke of Somerset’s family tree (you’ll have to click “show”). The dukes of Somerset bounced all around that tree. The 8th duke was the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of the duke whose title was previously inherited by his distant cousin, the 7th duke. I think. My eyes started glazing over when I tried to figure out what cousin that would make them. Lots of removes. Look up primogeniture and you will understand why only certain males in the tree could inherit the dukedom. It’s fascinating stuff, but so complicated it makes me reluctant to tackle my own family tree, which isn’t nearly as illustrious. I’m pretty sure King Henry VIII is not one of my ancestors!
Geoffrey from A Duke for Diana is partly inspired by an actual duke who was responsible for countless canals in England: the Duke of Bridgewater (I kid you not—that was his name). He was dubbed the “Canal Duke” because he had so many of them built or expanded. Interestingly, he never married. He was engaged to the Dowager Duchess of Hamilton (the former Elizabeth Gunning, noted society beauty), but broke it off. The Dowager Duchess went on to become the wife of a marquess who became the Duke of Argyll (so she was married to two dukes and engaged to one), and she also gave birth to four dukes (only two dukedoms, though). Thus, SHE is the inspiration for Lydia, the mother of the three dukes in the Duke Dynasty series. Hey, I take my inspiration where I find it!
A Duke for Diana’s Elegant Occasions isn’t as farfetched as you might think. Although it was frowned upon for aristocratic women to be “in trade,” certain types of business ventures were tolerated in such ladies. A well-known one was hiring oneself out to “sponsor” a young lady for her debut. Normally, a woman’s mother or other close relative presented her at the Queen’s drawing room for the first time. But what if the young lady is an orphan and all her female relations are dead or not interested? Then she could actually hire a respectable lady of rank to present her. I just chose to . . . expand the practice a bit. Of course, there were the usual impoverished ladies who became governesses or companions, but there were also ladies who supported themselves by designing for Wedgwood (Lady Templeton, Lady Diana Beauclerk), along with novelists (lots of those), artists (a surprising number of those), and even a sculptor or two. I stumble across them so often that I keep a list!
Today I’m going to talk about pencils, because the quill gets all the attention for Regency writing implements. But seriously, I had to do so much research to figure out why people lick the tips of pencils before they start writing (because I wanted my heroine to do it, naturally), that I figured I would fob some of my knowledge off on you. The answer to that question is complicated, but the fluid does make certain kinds of pencils write better. Anyway, you may already know that the writing part of pencils isn’t made of lead, but of graphite. The pencils in the Regency were probably from graphite sawn from a large deposit discovered in Cumbria, England, in the 1500’s. Pencils in England continued to be made from that deposit until the 1860’s. The pencils in Germany, however, were made from a mix of graphite powder and clay developed by a German at the end of the 1700’s. Fun fact: during the Napoleonic Wars, the French couldn’t get pencils from England or from Germany (both were their enemies), so a French officer in Napoleon’s army independently invented his own graphite powder and clay mixture to enable the French to have pencils. Who knew that pencils were so important?
In honor of Halloween, I thought I’d talk about something rather grisly: embalming. Although it wasn’t popular in the Regency, the rich did tend to do it, especially since it enabled them to have open caskets for public funerals. So Olivia has a legitimate concern when she worries that if Grey’s father was embalmed, she might not be able to tell if he was poisoned. Every undertaker had different embalming methods at this time. How do I know? Because I stumbled across a very interesting source—Civil War era undertakers who shared their “recipes” for embalming fluid in The Era formulary: 5000 Formulas for Druggists! Most of the embalming ones contain arsenic in the form of arsenious acid. Eventually, formaldehyde replaced arsenic in embalming fluid, but that happened after the Civil War. You can find the entire formulary here.
Guns during the Regency were sometimes things of beauty, like the one I describe in The Bachelor that Thorn offers to Joshua as payment for his being bodyguard to Gwyn. If you want to see what it looked like, I based it on an actual set of dueling pistols, a picture of which is on Pinterest here and here. I also have an image of Joshua’s seven-shot flintlock pepperbox pistol, made by Henry Nock of London around 1800, which looks big enough to use as a club after you run out of loaded barrels. Of course, it would take you a while to run through them all since the barrels had to be turned by hand! My Pinterest page for the book also features a number of blades in canes, pistol canes . . . everything you need to be a bodyguard.
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!
Several English Christian names were invented by authors. Shakespeare gave us Miranda, Jessica, Imogen, and Perdita. The poet Sir Philip Sydney gave us Pamela, and Jonathan Swift gave us Vanessa and Stella. Araminta was coined by William Congreve or Sir John Vanbrugh, who both managed to use it. From the period right before the Regency comes Fanny Burney’s Orville (trust me, I won’t be using that one anytime soon). The poet James MacPherson invented Fiona . . . and a whole series of ancient Scottish poems that were later discovered to be not so ancient (oops!). From the Regency period, we get Sir Walter Scott’s Cedric. Now that’s one I might use.
Names like Minerva and Regina were popular in the Regency because of the fascination with everything classical—Greek architecture, Roman history, antiquities of all kinds. That’s why those early Regency gowns were so toga-like—they were influenced by the costumes that the English saw on Greek and Roman figures. The vertical lines, simple designs, and emphasis on white was a tribute to their love of classical sculpture.
One of my favorite parts about writing What the Duke Desires was all the research I got to do into the life of Eugène François Vidocq, who appears as a character in the novel. What a fascinating fellow! Widely regarded as father of the private detective agency, he was a brilliant man who completely changed how crimes were investigated. He really did invent tamper-proof paper for banks as well as using ballistics for the first time to solve a crime. You can check out more pics of him on my Pinterest page.