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“Auld Lang Syne”

You probably know that “Auld Lang Syne” was written by Scottish poet Robert Burns, but you may not know that he was taking some of it from an older folk song. He’s the one who retooled it into its current version and popularized it in Scotland, and then, once he had it published, in England. Regency revelers sang his poem on New Year’s Eve just as we do, although it may not have been sung to the same tune. Still, it’s amazing how far back the sentiments go. One precursor to his poem that uses similar verses was published in 1711!

Plumes & Feathers

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.

Spies & Spycraft

The truth about spying in the Regency is we know little about it. I’ve seen raging debates on author websites in which authors both proclaimed it didn’t really exist and proclaimed the opposite (see the debate here). I would imagine that the point of having spies is not to have them be noticed. Ahem. Anyway, aside from the book mentioned in the comments of the debate, there is also The Man Who Broke Napoleon’s Codes about Sir George Scovell, who was knighted for breaking the French codes. Colquhoun Grant very famously sent intelligence to Wellington as he sneaked around Paris, having escaped his captors. There is some possibility that Mary Nesbitt, too, was a spy. As a courtesan and artist’s model who later became a merchant banker’s wife, she was supposedly sent to France during the Revolution to move in diplomatic circles and report back to English prime minister William Pitt. So, yes, there’s some evidence of spies. Enough for me to use in a book, anyway!

Home Medicine

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.

Timepieces

Believe it or not, I didn’t invent the erotic automaton watch in The Pleasures of Passion. They were popular throughout the late Regency and Victorian periods. Some even had two faces—the one that showed on the front with a sedate animated scene and the hidden one that was more erotic. This one, for example, has a much naughtier inside panel, but you could just enjoy the outside panel where the boat rocks, the servant rows the boat, and the gentleman plays the mandolin. Very clever. Can’t you just imagine certain young men carrying these sorts of watches, if only to provoke their relations?

Conservatories

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.

Gaming Hells

I did some writing while in Vegas, which was a surreal experience because Warren’s book involves gambling, and it definitely enhanced the writing experience to be in a city so dedicated to that. Most Regency bucks gambled primarily in private clubs (like St. George’s) or gaming hells. My book concerns the latter, since I wanted to have a sort of tavern/gaming hell combo where tavern maids served the men. I had to scour the internet for period descriptions and images of hells, which is how I was reminded of Crockford’s, a club run by a former fishmonger. Originally he worked in a gaming hell, and I found an excellent article at the Smithsonian magazine about it. It’s clear from the article that gaming hells were designed to cheat the customers at every turn. I guess we know why they were called hells! As usual, the house always wins, one way or the other.

Card Games

Regency folks loved card games, and many of those were either precursors to games we play now or are actually still being played. Whist, for example, became our present-day Bridge. Patience is our modern Solitaire, and Vingt-un (which is what the Brits called it; only the French called it Vingt-et-un) is actually our Blackjack. And Piquet (Warren and Delia’s game of choice) is still being played as it was centuries ago. In fact, the term carte blanche came directly from Piquet. It’s a very complicated game, so I haven’t attempted to master it, but you can find tutorials on the internet if that interests you.

Cyprians

I admit it. I invented the widow’s auction that is the basis for my reissued novella, The Widow’s Auction. To my knowledge, no such auction ever occurred in a gentlemen’s club. But other similarly scandalous events took place. Like the Cyprian’s Ball held in the Argyll Rooms annually during the period. There’s even a famous print from the period depicting it.

A Cyprian was a courtesan, and the ball enabled women who couldn’t attend balls and society events normally to have their own where they could scope out potential protectors and vice-versa. So my auction is a bit of a variation on that, with masked respectable widows auctioning off their favors to gentlemen for one night. After all, why should courtesans have all the fun?

Illegitimate Children

Regency and Georgian men and women could be quite randy. The Duke of Queensbury had an illegitimate daughter, Mary, by an Italian marchesa (the equivalent of an English marchioness) and easily convinced an earl to marry his darling daughter. The founder of the Smithsonian Museum started life as the illegitimate son of the first Duke of Northumberland and a wealthy Bath widow. He was born abroad (discreetly) in Paris, and eventually brought back to England to be educated. William IV, Prinny’s youngest brother, had ten illegitimate children with an actress, all of whom were given titles or married off to lords. The higher in rank you were, the more your indiscretions were overlooked or swept under the table. But lower-ranking women could have a rough time. Many was the story of a fallen woman on the stage or in the brothels who’d been a gentlewoman before she was seduced. Which is why my club members are trying to keep the rogues at bay!