Time for the Season! Or rather, past time or not yet time. The Season began earlier, in February or March, but the part we most often hear about—the young ladies’ debuts—came to depend on when Easter was, since that was what dictated the Parliament midsession break. All the best social events came after Easter. But for a young woman like the heroine of Project Duchess, the Season was a daunting prospect no matter when it occurred. A debutante had to have a respectable female sponsor (and if, like my heroine, she didn’t have a mother, that might be hard to find). The debutante had to wear these awful huge gowns that were only used for debuts. And there were many etiquette rules. For example, the gowns had to have trains, but after meeting the Queen, the hapless young lady had to back out of the room. Try doing that with a train!
Thanksgiving is coming and to me that always means good food! Specifically pie. I love pie, both the savory kind and the sweet kind, but I rarely eat it because of all the carbs. Except on Thanksgiving and Christmas, that is. My English/Irish blood (as opposed to my Cajun blood) must be showing because the English/Irish like pie, too. They eat more savory ones than we do, but you can still find sweet pie recipes in the Regency. At Christmas, it would have been mincemeat pie primarily. It’s not the favorite of Cass from Seduction on a Snowy Night, if you’ll recall, but I like it. I remember my half-Irish grandmother in St. Louis making it every year. Here’s a nice history of mincemeat pie and a period recipe. And if you’re interested in other historic foods (although mostly from the early Georgian and the Victorian periods), you can’t go wrong with Historic Food.
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.
On Sabrina’s Dames and Dukes, I’ve been answering readers’ most pressing questions, and one that comes up time and again is about hygiene: How did women shave their legs and underarms? The answer is simple—they didn’t. Until the early twentieth century, having body hair was considered perfectly acceptable in Western cultures. Then sleeveless dresses with higher hemlines came along, and the fashion industry used that to preach that hairless equaled more beautiful . . . mostly so they could sell razors. We’re so used to shaving body hair now that we can’t imagine a woman having her underarm and leg hair intact, but in the Regency, no one thought twice about it! If you want to chat about fun Regency tidbits, join us on Sabrina’s Dames and Dukes.
Boys in the Regency did not dress the way we dress children now. They wore little “frocks” like girls until they were of a certain age (I’ve seen anywhere from 3 to 6 designated). Then they were “breeched” or put into breeches for the first time. In the Regency, this meant they were buttoned into a skeleton suit. And no, it’s not the Halloween costume—these were more like our modern day rompers, but with a coat-like top and trouser-like bottoms that buttoned together.
In both The Secret of Flirting and The Risk of Rogues I mention that Hart sold his commission. In case you don’t know what that means, during the Georgian, Regency, and partway through the Victorian periods, the British army (but not the British navy, apparently) used a system by which gentleman could buy a commissioned officer rank, beginning at cornet or ensign, and then purchase commissions to rise in rank (up to the rank of colonel). These commissions weren’t cheap, by any means (go to this page about officer’s commissions to see the costs). A commission as a cornet cost 450 pounds in 1837, which is equivalent to 38,000 pounds now ($50,473.88). And you can well imagine how much it cost to become a major. So Hart, a younger son of a rich marquess, could easily go up the ranks to captain. That’s why you always hear about younger sons of rich men going into the military. Once they decided to retire, they could sell their commissions for the total amount of money they spent and have a nice nest egg. That’s what Hart did. It’s more complicated than I’m making it sound (some regiments, like the Royal Artillery, used merit for advancement, and there were other restrictions), but this is the system in a nutshell. Now you know why some of those officers were so young (and incompetent).
May Day has been celebrated throughout the United Kingdom for centuries, although the festivities had started dying out a bit during the Regency. Still, Jane Austen mentions the neighborhood maypole blowing down in a storm, and the Hampshire Chronicle speaks at length about the celebrations in 1815, which involved couples dancing in or on a flower-laden bower (I couldn’t picture this from the description). See this blog for more about these citations. Other parts of May Day included crowning a May Queen, and the more obscure practice of leaving small May baskets of treats for people.
Recently, I was surprised to discover that Oktoberfest goes back to before the Regency. I had no idea. In fact, the first celebration was in Munich, Bavaria (now considered part of Germany) in 1810 (when Thorn’s book is set and a year before the official Regency period begins). It began as a celebration of the marriage of the Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The wine and beer flowed, and there were performances by choirs and children in costume. But the main event was a grand race of thirty horses. Those elements have been part of it ever since, along with other typical festival events, and it’s been canceled only twenty-four times out of the 209 years it’s been held (for example, it was cancelled in 1813 because of the Napoleonic wars, and in 1854 due to a cholera epidemic). So you would be perfectly at home if you celebrated Oktoberfest in your Regency costume!
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!