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.
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).
Letter Writing in the Regency
Letter-writing was a favorite Regency pastime — albeit a pricey one. The recipient bore the cost of delivery, which was calculated by the distance the courier had to travel. Long-winded epistles faced surcharges: the cost doubled for a second sheet of paper. People became quite crafty in using every bit of space a sheet of paper afforded. Some ladies were known to write horizontally, vertically and diagonally across the page. Envelopes didn’t exist, so letters were folded and sealed with a dab of melted wax.
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!
Plumes & Feathers
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
A Valentine’s Day Limerick
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?
The Risk of Rogues takes place partly on St. Valentine’s Day, which was celebrated even then. Before Christmas cards became a thing in the Regency, St. Valentine’s Day cards were exchanged with loved ones. These were usually handmade and decorated, although in 1815, companies started mass-producing Valentines. In the Victorian age, a class of cards called “mocking Valentines” (“vinegar valentines” in the U.S.) started to be produced. Essentially, they insulted the person who received them. Can you imagine getting one of those in the mail? Especially since, at this time, it was the receiving party who paid the postage. Talk about adding insult to injury! Anyway, you can see a variety of Valentines from the period on my Pinterest page.
Guy Fawkes Day
By now, you may have already read The Secret of Flirting, so you might be curious about my depiction of Guy Fawkes’ Day, especially if you’re English. Nowadays, it’s mostly an excuse to set off fireworks and light bonfires and to celebrate with family, but that wasn’t true in our period. This was right before the Reform Act of 1832, when a lot of class conflict existed. The Fifth of November, the anniversary of when the Gunpowder Plot was thwarted, became an excuse for rioting, day and night. Asking a penny for “the Guy” was also popular as boys went around with their effigies of Guy Fawkes and collected money for fireworks that night. I tried to incorporate as much of that in The Secret of Flirting as I could. You know me—I love a holiday!
I found some fascinating research on Guy Fawkes Day. Check out this article I pinned to The Secret of Flirting board on Pinterest to find out more about this drunken and sometimes destructive “holiday.”
New Year’s Day
According to William Hone’s period tome, The Every Day Book, New Year’s Day in London was primarily celebrated with small social gatherings and the wearing of new clothes (out of a superstition that not doing so was unlucky—which Mr. Hone disparages). He also says, “The only open demonstration of joy in the metropolis, is the ringing of merry peals from the belfries of the numerous steeples, late on the eve of the new year, and until after the chimes of the clock have sounded its last hour.” I think I’d prefer that to fireworks.
For Twelfth Night in Regency England, the custom of choosing a king and queen from whomever got the bean and pea in the twelfth-cake evolved into choosing characters out of a hat to pretend to be for the evening, a sort of masquerade. In some cases, they wore masks and the person was required to remain in character the entire night. Sounds like fun to me.
April Fool’s Day
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.
The Regency contained little in the way of Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve) celebrations. Although the holiday is essentially descended from Celtic celebrations of Samhain, the period marking the end of summer and beginning of harvest, it didn’t have much place in Regency England. But the bonfires associated with Samhain became part of the Guy Fawke’s Day revelry, which occurred on November 5th and was meant to celebrate the arrest of an insurgent in 1605 England. So there was still plenty of trickery going on around All Hallow’s Eve.
The hanging of greenery was the most common Christmas custom practiced by folks in the Regency. Dating back before our era was the custom of hanging a “kissing bough.” It could include not just mistletoe, but holly, ivy, rosemary, bay leaves, and laurel leaves. It was essentially a big ball of greens. And every time a gentleman kissed a lady (or a maid or a dowager or any female), he had to remove one of the mistletoe berries. Once the berries were gone, no more kissing was allowed. What great fun! If you’d like to see some actual kissing boughs, as well as prints of the kissing going on beneath them, be sure to check out my Pinterest page for What Happens Under the Mistletoe.
One thing that comes from England is fruit cake (our version of plum pudding), and there’s both goose and turkey in Scrooge’s story. Also, the Yule log and the hanging of holly, ivy, and mistletoe are English. You can thank those ancient Celtic druids for mistletoe—they loved it in their winter celebrations. No one is entirely sure whether the Yule Log originated in Anglo-Saxon times or much later, in the 17th century (the first English reference to it is dated from then), when someone brought the custom over from Europe. But it tended to be a regional phenomenon in our period. Those in North England called it the Yule Clog, and it was generally started from a piece of the previous year’s log that was kept all year to bring good luck and protection from evil to the household.
The Dickensian Christmas is pretty close to how a Regency Christmas was, since Dickens was born early in the Regency period. There are no trees or stockings in A Christmas Carol, just lots of food, dancing, Christmas carols, and party games as well as greenery. Much of what we think of as an English Christmas did not come into being until the Victorian age. Christmas trees come from Germany, and the Dutch brought Sinterklaus to America long before Santa ever showed up in London.
That’s true of stockings as well, which is why I showed them as an anomaly in ’Twas the Night After Christmas (set in 1826). After Lady Devonmont reads the American poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (aka “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”), she decides it would be great fun to make stockings. But the custom of hanging them was practiced in America long before it started being practiced in England, because it was brought there by Dutch and German immigrants. The first reference I can find to it in England is in 1854. Eventually it became a big part of a Victorian Christmas.
In researching The Art of Sinning, I discovered quite a few American artists who ended up touring or settling in England. The most famous one, of course, is Benjamin West, one of the founders of the Royal Academy of Arts. Already established as a portrait painter in Pennsylvania, he went to England initially for a visit and ended up residing there for the rest of his life. Alvan Fisher, an American landscapist, toured England around the time of my story. Samuel Morse (yes, the co-developer of Morse code) was also a painter and member of The Royal Academy, who studied in England under West. In fact, several American artists of the period studied there—Robert Fulton, Charles Wilson Peale, and Washington Allston, among others. So Jeremy was part of a long-standing tradition with American artists.
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!
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.
Yvette’s hobby of collecting slang is a bit out there, but it’s feasible. Regency women loved wordplay. If you read or saw the adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, you may remember Emma and Harriet collecting riddles and charades (word-puzzles) for a book. And slang dictionaries were more common than one would think. Captain Grose really did produce A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, and Pierce Egan really did have a book called Boxiana, with references to boxing slang. What’s more, one of the earliest female lexicographers I could find, Anna Brownlow Murphy, wrote a children’s dictionary that was published in 1814 and widely used in the Regency. It appeared in multiple editions. So why not a female lexicographer who collects slang?
Jane Austen Fans
Jane Austen had some lofty fans in her day, once word got around who she was. Prinny actually put her between a rock and hard place by having his librarian, J.S. Clarke, suggest that she dedicate her next book (Emma) to the Prince of Wales. Why was that so difficult? Because she couldn’t stand Prinny! Unfortunately, ignoring a royal dictate was unwise, so she did as he wished. But she put her foot down when Clarke then suggested that she write a historical romance about the ancestors of Prinny’s son-in-law. She explained that historical romance was not her cup of tea. Thank goodness, because I much prefer her stories of love in English villages.
But I’m happy I don’t have to revise books the way she did in the Regency. Authors did have pencils, erasers, paper, ink, and quill pens, but I hated revising when I had to retype things (before the advent of personal computers—yes, I was alive then), so imagine what it would be like to have to rewrite everything whenever you wanted to make a major revision. Handwriting was a crucial skill for clerks—there were even books on how to improve your business handwriting. All I can say is, thank heaven for computers.
Many female writers in the 19th century took pseudonyms or wrote anonymously, because it was considered bad form for a lady or gentlewoman to write books. That’s why Jane Austen’s books were published anonymously as “By a Lady” or “By the Author of Pride and Prejudice,” etc. Charlotte, Anne, and Emily Bronte wrote as Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell. Lady Caroline Lamb wrote Glenarvon about London society (and Lord Byron, her former lover) anonymously. Mary Ann Evans wrote as George Eliot. But there were several women who did use their own names: Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, and Elizabeth Inchbald. It depended on how radical they were and what their place was in society.
By the Regency, children’s books were starting to be more than educational or religious. This is when the first fairy tales appear in book form (Grimm’s Fairy Tales were first published in 1812 in Germany) and you start getting entertaining works like the ones I quote in Dance of Seduction. Of course, “entertaining” didn’t quite have the same meaning it does now. After all, even though the poem “Cock Robin” that Gabe reads in To Wed a Wild Lord is subtitled, “a pretty painted toy for either girl or boy: suited for all ages,” it’s about how Robin Redbreast dies and everyone mourns him.
Book covers were boring in the Regency; i.e., there weren’t any images on them. But there were lots of images in them. George Cruikshank did a thriving business in black and white etchings for books, notably the novels of Charles Dickens and Laurence Sterne. As you might imagine, color illustrations were prohibitive. In fact, books were pretty expensive, too, which is why private circulating libraries flourished, and why all those rich dukes and earls were the only ones with big libraries. To own a book was a mark of wealth. Thank goodness books are now much more readily available for everyone.
Masquerade balls were every bit as popular in the Regency as our romances lead us to believe. Just take a look at R. Ackermann’s Repository of Fashions for 1829. He includes several different costumes for “masquerade or fancy ball dress,” most of which are demure historical costumes for various centuries and one for a lavishly gowned “Sultana” (but sadly, no scantily clad houris). Although there are no masks in his pictures, there are plenty of mentions of masks in other period literature, so clearly they were sometimes worn. That’s a good thing, because it makes for great fun to have a hero unmask a heroine in our books.
The “season” in London generally began officially after Easter, although some people were already in town for when Parliament opened in January. Imagine starting your day somewhere between mid-morning and noon, then going to pay calls, then riding on Rotten Row, then home to change and off to dinner somewhere, then perhaps to the theater, and then to a ball around ten p.m., where you danced until 3 a.m. or so. While that is exactly the kind of schedule I’m used to at conference, I can’t imagine doing it every day for a couple of months.
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.
Regency folks loved card games, and many of those were either precursors to games we play now or are actually still being played. Whist, for example, became our present-day Bridge. Patience is our modern Solitaire, and Vingt-un (which is what the Brits called it; only the French called it Vingt-et-un) is actually our Blackjack. And Piquet (Warren and Delia’s game of choice) is still being played as it was centuries ago. In fact, the term carte blanche came directly from Piquet. It’s a very complicated game, so I haven’t attempted to master it, but you can find tutorials on the internet if that interests you.
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!
Peep show boxes, otherwise known as Raree Shows, were a Regency form of entertainment typically meant for children. So I cheated a bit in Married to the Viscount by creating naughty ones. Or did I? I figured that since erotic material and images have been around since humans began recording such things, surely someone had created a naughty one. But in general, they were meant as amusements for people at fairs and such. A showman would use patter to describe the scenes as the viewers of all ages watched a progression of images go past on the “screen,” usually a painted backdrop that was moved or otherwise manipulated. I came up with the idea for including peep show boxes in my book when I saw two examples at a New York Public Library exhibit while I was on vacation. Yes, I am always looking out for stuff to use in my fiction.
The Regency folks loved to party, too. And play party games. There was Bullet Pudding, which was essentially the same as Bobbing for Apples, except that players bobbed in a bowl of flour for a bullet. Yes, a real bullet. Those crazy kids! The fun was in seeing people end up covered in flour. And let’s not forget Blind Man’s Buff, in one version of which the blindfolded person tried to guess the identity of another by “feeling” their face. THAT one almost sounds scandalous!
They also played snapdragon, a crazy game where partygoers fished raisins out of a bowl of burning brandy. It actually dates back to Shakespeare’s time. It’s not as dangerous as it sounds, though. They used shallow bowls to make it easy to snatch the raisins and although the low blue flame seemed to put off lots of heat, the fire wasn’t deep and the brandy wasn’t that hot (I know because I’ve tried it). Our ancestors found it so entertaining that they even had a song to go with it.
Most people who are Regency era lovers know about the usual gentlemen’s clubs—White’s and Brooks. But there were far more than that, including some odd ones. Gentlemen’s clubs were for more than just gaming. Plenty of men also liked to hang out with other gentlemen who enjoyed similar interests. For example, the Beefsteak Club and Watier’s were founded for men who enjoyed a really good meal away from home. There was the Oriental Club for those who had traveled or resided in Asia. The Royal Society brimmed with scientists, philosophers, physicians, and other intellectual types. The Yacht Club served men who were interested in salt-water yachting. So St. George’s, a club for men concerned about protecting their women, isn’t too farfetched, I should think.
“Auld Lang Syne”
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!
A love of boxing was pretty standard for young lords in the Regency. Since it was illegal to have pugilist matches, organizers had to resort to a great deal of subterfuge to arrange “mills,” as the events were called then, so he would have found that an enticing profession, since he’d been disinherited. A hundred years earlier, there were even matches for ladies, who fought bare-breasted. Though it sounds like the Georgian equivalent of the wet T-shirt contest, women boxers had supporters like any of the men and fought in major arenas. A woman named Elizabeth Wilkinson-Stokes even became quite famous for her abilities.
Racing and Riding
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.
As you might imagine, everyone had horses in the Regency, especially the rich. And there was a whole group of people who wanted to race Thoroughbreds for fame and fortune (as Gabe wants to do). There were also people like Virginia Waverly and her grandfather, who ran stud farms to provide racing enthusiasts with new Thoroughbreds. It’s not much different from today—you could pay someone like the Waverly’s to have your mare “covered” by a famous race horse, and voila, you were on your way to success!
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.
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?
I admit it. I invented the widow’s auction that is the basis for my reissued novella, The Widow’s Auction. To my knowledge, no such auction ever occurred in a gentlemen’s club. But other similarly scandalous events took place. Like the Cyprian’s Ball held in the Argyll Rooms annually during the period. There’s even a famous print from the period depicting it.
A Cyprian was a courtesan, and the ball enabled women who couldn’t attend balls and society events normally to have their own where they could scope out potential protectors and vice-versa. So my auction is a bit of a variation on that, with masked respectable widows auctioning off their favors to gentlemen for one night. After all, why should courtesans have all the fun?
Regency and Georgian men and women could be quite randy. The Duke of Queensbury had an illegitimate daughter, Mary, by an Italian marchesa (the equivalent of an English marchioness) and easily convinced an earl to marry his darling daughter. The founder of the Smithsonian Museum started life as the illegitimate son of the first Duke of Northumberland and a wealthy Bath widow. He was born abroad (discreetly) in Paris, and eventually brought back to England to be educated. William IV, Prinny’s youngest brother, had ten illegitimate children with an actress, all of whom were given titles or married off to lords. The higher in rank you were, the more your indiscretions were overlooked or swept under the table. But lower-ranking women could have a rough time. Many was the story of a fallen woman on the stage or in the brothels who’d been a gentlewoman before she was seduced. Which is why my club members are trying to keep the rogues at bay!
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.
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.
Eugène François Vidocq
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.
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.
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.
Soldiers & Spies
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).
Spies & Spycraft
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!