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.
The press was as powerful a force in the Regency as it is now. Caricatures featuring “celebrities” like Prinny (George IV) and actresses and other luminaries were regularly displayed in shops, and gossip columns were rife with scandalmongers. Indeed, the Duke of Wellington was discussed in great detail and caricatured savagely after he fought a duel with the Earl of Winchilsea over politics, of all things, especially since Wellington deliberately fired wide and the earl fired in the air. Even the mighty Iron Duke couldn’t escape being pilloried in the press.
Most of the time, when you see a woman called the Countess of Whatever, it’s because she’s married to the Earl of Whatever. It’s called a “courtesy title.” Women gain courtesy titles by being married to men with titles (and children gain courtesy titles on behalf of their father . . . until the sons inherit the title). But once in a while, with Scottish or Irish titles or with titles going back centuries, the patent (the legal construct, if you will) for the title will allow for a woman to inherit. In those very rare cases, the Countess of Whatever inherits the title and estate from her father, the Earl of Whatever. She doesn’t have to marry anyone to get it. I love that.