April Fool’s Day (aka All Fools’ Day) goes back at least to the 17th century in England. In 1698, someone invited lots of people to go see a fictitious “washing of the white lions” at the Tower of London (where they used to keep the menagerie). It worked so well that some bright fellow in 1860 decided that the prank deserved a repeat and actually sent out invitations to the “washing of the white lions.” Several people showed up, only to find that there were no longer any lions at the Tower, much less any that needed washing.
Easter was a time for visiting family. Remember the long visit Darcy and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam make to Lady Catherine? It happens at Easter. While Easter celebrations didn’t yet include bunnies and chocolates, dyed hard-boiled eggs were part of them. Since eggs were generally given up for Lent, the excess hen eggs were saved by being boiled. They were even part of a traditional English Easter past-time called “egg rolling,” where people rolled their dyed, boiled eggs down hills to see who could roll theirs the farthest.
Although the word “jigsaw” didn’t exist before the jig saw was invented in the late Victorian age, such puzzles did exist, cut out with marquetry saws. They were called “dissected maps.” Apparently, puzzles go back to the 1700’s, when they were primarily maps cut along the borders of the countries/counties, etc. You can see an example of two on my Pinterest page. I even saw them mentioned in a period account as a popular gift for loved ones on Valentine’s Day!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.