There was no photography in the Regency, so the only way you could capture your family’s images for all eternity was to have their portraits painted or their busts made. I was particularly moved by the bust of a young man commissioned by his family after his tragic death in his teens. They had no image of him to work from, so the artist did a likeness based on his siblings’ features and the descriptions of the family. Can you imagine having to endure your grief for a loved one without even being able to look at a picture of him? It really brought home to me how we take photographs for granted.
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.
Even before the Regency, house renovation was becoming quite the thing. Horace Walpole took a nondescript cottage and redid it from the ground up to make it into the Gothic Revival villa Strawberry Hill. Some time after him, the first Duke of Northumberland renovated Syon House, but couldn’t finish because he ran out of money. You’d never be able to tell to look at it (yes, I’ve visited it; it’s lovely).
After the war ended, Regency ladies particularly enjoyed visiting Paris to check out the latest fashions. It was so common that daily trips were made by steam packet boats and diligences, a sort of omnibus coach where those willing to pay could travel more comfortably in the coach looking out a window than their less fortunate fellow passengers who were outside in the weather. Now we know where the idea of going first class comes from.
We are not the first generation to go touring other places for entertainment. The Lakes were a popular vacation destination for Regency travelers, but so was the Peak District, which lies mostly in Derbyshire. You may remember that when Lizzie expects to go to the Lakes for her vacation with the Gardiners in Pride and Prejudice, they have to go to the Peak District instead, which is how they end up seeing Pemberley (the stand-in for Pemberley’s outside scenes in the 2005 movie adaptation is the famous great house Chatsworth, which is also in the Peak District). Buxton, Derbyshire, was a spa town much like Bath, and there were caverns and other mountain beauties to explore in the district. One of these days I hope to visit it myself.
Women have been collecting pictures and gluing them into books since long before photos were invented. The practice began in England in the 16th century with “commonplace books,” which weren’t collections of pictures so much as recipes, formulas, bits of history. Later, with the advent of mass-produced prints, women would paste images or other memorabilia into “friendship albums” (I’ve got a pic of a page from one up on Pinterest). In fact, the word “scrapbook” came into usage in print in 1825, smack dab in the middle of when the Hellions series takes place. I even have one in my book Never Seduce a Scoundrel.
Although people were still writing and painting pictures about falconry (which primarily used hawks), it had just about died out as a pastime during the Regency because of the prevalence of guns in hunting (guns don’t have to be fed and trained, I suppose). By our period there was supposedly only one falconer left in all of England. But falconry was taken up by those crass Americans, and it was also still common in certain countries on the Continent. The English just preferred their rifles.
Annie Oakley wasn’t the earliest female markswoman. Long before she came along, there was Alice Ferree, a gunmaker’s wife in Pennsylvania, who tested all her husband’s rifles and was apparently a crack shot. And I suspect there were plenty of others we just don’t know about. The Regency was an interesting time for shooters, though. The cartridge had just been invented, so guns were in transition from flintlock to percussion. Though it took a while for percussion guns to catch on, after that there was no more muzzle-loading.
Speaking of Annie Oakley (who lived in the Victorian age, not the Regency), most people don’t know that the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show toured Europe four times between 1887 and 1892. It was even part of the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and was wildly successful, with 300 performances and ticket sales of two and half million (according to Wikipedia). Annie Oakley actually inspired me to write Celia Sharpe.
Rotten Row, where Jeremy Keane first meets Tristan in How the Scoundrel Seduces, was the favorite place for members of high society to ride, to see and be seen. I’d heard about it for years, so I was surprised when I visited Hyde Park a few years ago to find it nothing more than a dirt track stretching down the south end. It now serves as a place where horseback riders can exercise their mounts, but apparently isn’t used much even for that. According to the plaque on the site, it’s “the first lamp-lit road in the Kingdom,” which isn’t surprising, considering its connection to royalty. And speaking of royalty, that’s why it’s called “Rotten Row.” It’s a corruption of the French words for King’s Road—Rue de Roi.
Carriage racing was also a popular pastime in Regency England. Think of it as being sort of like drag racing today—young men vying for who could drive the fastest rig. There were even a few famous female “whips” (as they called people who were mad about carriage racing): Lady Leticia Lade, Lady Archer, and Lady Stewart. With all the private races and the wagering that led to more and more dangerous ones, it’s a wonder any of them lived to a ripe old age.