The heroine in my upcoming book, Who Wants to Marry a Duke, is a chemist. I based her on an actual female chemist from the period, the Scottish Mrs. Fulhame. Most people have never heard of her and we know little about her beyond the book she wrote detailing her experiments. Yet she published that critical work on her findings about catalysis long before any male chemist was credited with it, and she was lauded by a number of prominent chemists at the time, both in America and England. She even acknowledged that she expected some criticism from men over her work: “But censure is perhaps inevitable: for some are so ignorant, that they grow sullen and silent, and are chilled with horror at the sight of anything that nears the semblance of learning, in whatever shape it may appear; and should be the spectre appear in the shape of a woman, the pangs which they suffer are truly dismal.” Kudos to Mrs. Fulhame! We may not know the exact date of her birth, but she left her work behind to advance scientific discovery anyway. For that we can only be grateful. Go here to read more about her.
Those of you who’ve read The Bachelor might have noticed that I talked about the odd attire required for those ladies presented at court and their escorts. Well, I didn’t make that up. Queen Charlotte did insist on powdered wigs for gentlemen and hoop skirts, ostrich feathers, and lots of jewelry for ladies. You can see several examples of those odd fashions here.
Young ladies had to wear white, but married ladies (like Beatrice) could wear colored gowns. Add a train to the gown, and you can only imagine how hard it was to walk in those fashions! Fortunately, ladies only had to wear them for their presentation at court. Then they could change into something more flattering.
The concept of my series may seem farfetched: a woman marrying (and burying) three dukes in rapid succession (really, two dukes and a duke’s second son who becomes the duke) and having an assortment of children by them. But real-life debutante Elizabeth Gunning proved that it really was possible to marry well more than once. After taking society by storm as an actress, Elizabeth wowed London’s gentlemen with her beauty and talent. As a result, she ended up married to the Duke of Hamilton and bore him three children. After he died, she was briefly engaged to the Duke of Bridgwater before the engagement fell through. Then she married the Marquess of Lorne, who later inherited his father’s title of Duke of Argyll, and bore him five children. Eventually George III made her Baroness Hamilton of Hameldon in her own right. That’s quite a string of marital (and otherwise) successes for an actress!
As I researched dances for Grey to teach Beatrice, I had trouble finding one with set figures for a specific piece of music. Although “Jenny’s Market” from Project Duchess was created specifically for the Emma BBC series, all of the figures can be found in a variety of English country dances, so I went with that one. Plus, it looked sexier than a lot of the others. Hey, just because I wanted a dance that was true to the period doesn’t mean I had to sacrifice intimacy to get it!
Regency Valentines were much the same as ours, except that they were home-made, because commercially produced cards weren’t yet available. Well, that’s sort of true. The decorations could be your own, but as usual, not everyone could come up with a good verse for their Valentine. So you could get books to tell you what to write. My favorite is Hymen’s Rhapsodies, or Lover’s Themes. A collection of original Valentine Verses Written expressly for this Work, for Gentlemen to Address Ladies in Sonnets, Superior to Any Other. Phew! That’s a long title. But at least you knew what you were getting when you bought it. There was even a book that gave you verses for various trades! And the author of the book, the title page of which is pictured below? It’s “Love.” Yes, Love itself wrote the book. Anyway, if you’d like to see some Regency-era valentines, you can visit my Pinterest page for them. You might also be interested in my guide to making your own Regency valentines. Have fun! For more Regency tidbits, click here.
While chocolate as we know it didn’t really exist in the Regency, there was a confectioner named Guglielmo Jarrin who created eggs out of rock sugar. He also had a recipe for created transparent hollow eggs of sugar that could then be filled with yellow cream so they resembled real eggs ala Cadbury Crème Eggs. I wish I could have seen these. They sound so cool! But there’s no way I could make them, even if I could find the lead moulds for them. If you want to try, however, you can check out The Italian Confectioner, available in its entirety online at Google Books.
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!
So, if you’re a fan of the Regency period, you’ve probably heard about the London Frost Fair of 1814, when the Thames froze for four days, and people set up fairground booths on the ice. They even led an elephant across! But you may not know why it happened. It was partly due to the Little Ice Age, which engulfed many parts of the world from around 1600 to 1850. Since seven possible causes have been postulated for why that happened, we won’t get into that. The upshot is that the Thames was wider and slower then, so the decrease in temperatures resulted in a number of frost fairs being held during those centuries. London Bridge also had more pilings that dammed up the river with ice in winter.
After 1814, the Thames never saw another Frost Fair. London Bridge was rebuilt with less pilings. The river was embanked, which helped it flow more freely. And the weather grew warmer. Don’t you wish you could have experienced a Frost Fair on the Thames? I do!
Potatoes have long been a staple of both English and Irish cooking. Still, I was surprised to find a Victorian-era recipe for “Fried Potatoes (French fashion)” which is what I would consider potato chips. Check out Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (online at http://www.mrsbeeton.com). She talks about thin slices of potato fried in oil—if that’s not potato chips (or crisps, in British English), I don’t know what is. Mrs. Beeton was a Victorian lady who gathered household tips and recipes into the aforementioned book, which was published by her husband. I’d like to try the “Potato Snow” recipe. It sounds interesting (and far better than the real snow everyone has been experiencing).
You may not be aware, but it was considered unseemly for a Regency gentleman to write letters to a young lady or vice-versa. Communication was supposed to go through the parents. That didn’t stop ladies from checking the mail while Papa was preoccupied, of course, so papas were particularly careful on Valentine’s Day, which was when gentlemen (and rogues) sent valentines. Thus it was with some enjoyment that I read an old blog by Two Nerdy History Girls (authors Loretta Chase and Susan Holloway Scott) about a father who intercepted a couple of “obscene” Valentines before they could horrify his daughters. I found the original letter to the editor concerning this event and was greatly amused. Today the equivalent would be dirty pics in Messenger. In my day it was obscene phone calls. Apparently, in the regency, “depraved” valentines contained what were probably the equivalent of bawdy limericks. But I still wish I knew exactly what was in those valentines, don’t you?