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.
Most people assume that ice didn’t exist in summers during the Regency, but the wealthy did have access to it. Ice houses were big, deep wells where ice harvested from nearby frozen lakes (or sometimes ordered and brought in from the Arctic) was kept through the year. A well-built ice house could keep ice for as long as 18 months, which is pretty amazing. That’s how the famous Gunther’s in London managed to provide ice cream throughout the summers.
There’s a scene in The Bachelor where Joshua, Gwyn, and Gwyn’s mother Lydia eat ice cream at Gunter’s. The wealthy did actually eat ice cream in summer during our period, using ice either shipped in from Norway or cut and placed in their own ice houses. Gunter’s was only the most famous purveyor of ices and ice creams. But the flavors were unusual by our standards. Muscadine ice was a lemon water or white currant ice scented with elderflowers. Flowers were popular flavors—lavender, bergamot, jasmine, and orange flower, for example—but there were also burnt filbert, rye bread, parmesan cheese, and tea flavors! One of these days I’m going to try my hand at some Regency ice cream. But I’ll skip the rye bread flavor!
The English in our period were quite fond of seafood. My period cookbooks have recipes for such things as smoked fish soup, mackerel pie, fried anchovies, collared eel, and even boiled crayfish (yes, they have crayfish in England). You don’t find recipes for periwinkles and whelks because they were common food for the common people. But they’re mentioned in the famous cookbook by Mrs. Beeton (1861), where she has a table of how much seafood of every type was sold that year in London. Apparently, Londoners ate 4 million whelks (compared to half a million crabs and a million lobsters) and an astonishing 304 million periwinkles!
Turtle soup was common on menus in England going back to before the Regency. It had to always be included as a dish for the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London, and was so popular (and so expensive) that the English even developed Mock Turtle Soup for those who couldn’t afford turtle meat. Mock turtle soup was traditionally made with a calf’s head, so if the idea of eating turtle makes you gag, you might like the mock version even less. Personally, having eaten plenty of it in New Orleans, I enjoy the real thing.
We tend to think of comics as modern, but the very first comics were humorous or satirical prints done by well-known artists like William Hogarth, James Gillray, and the Cruikshank brothers. The one I’ve included is of George IV (who was Prinny during our period). The caricaturists satirized him shamelessly, especially once he grew in girth. They were the first political cartoonists, but they didn’t limit themselves to political issues. Some of them just liked to poke fun at the rich and aristocratic. If you have time, check out their works online. Some of them were quite racy and amusing!