Tag Archive | England

Every Book Has Two Stories

TheCardrosRubyThere are two stories for every book–the story in the pages, and the story behind the pages. For The Cardros Ruby, it’s story is a long one, but I’ll shorten it up.

Back in the day I’d written a story–this one–and it was good enough to final in RWA’s Golden Heart for Best Regency. That delighted me, and I went to Hawaii (and I doubt RWA will ever have a conference there again, since most of us really wanted to be on the beach and not in conference rooms). The book didn’t win, but a good friend (made at the conference), won and went on to sell–this book didn’t sell.

Now there are always many reasons why a book might not sell, even a very good book. Back then the choices were traditional Regency publishing with strict word counts of under 70K, and Historical Regency romance, but those were going hot, and have since even gone hotter. This book didn’t fit either marketing category–it’s a long traditional Regency (with a bit of a mystery in it, but not enough to make it a mystery). So it was a book without a marketing category–that used to be death for any book.  It was doomed to a shoebox life.

These days, thank heavens, it’s a different world. So…an edit later, a read through by others, and a cover, and it’s now finally out in the world.

The Cardros Ruby is–I hope–a bit of a throwback to the days when novels could be novels–when a romance could have some action, some history, some mystery, and just be a great read. Hopefully, it’s all that.

A Man with a Dark Past…

After leaving home years ago amid scandal, Captain Desford Cardros has returned home to mend his wounds, and settle an old score with his brother. But he is drawn to a beautiful woman whose brother is the target of mysterious accidents. Now Cardros must choose between repayment for past wrongs, or a love that could be his salvation.

A Lady Whose Future is Uncertain…

Helena Seaford is ready to do anything to protect her only brother, even trust a scoundrel. But will she hold to her an upbringing that intends her to be a lord’s wife, or will passion lead her into scandal?

 A Deadly Secret to Hide…

As a killing frost holds everyone prisoner in the Yorkshire country, a fragile alliance will be tested by old secrets and lies. Ultimately, the truth may be found in the story of what did happen to the Cardros Ruby five years ago?

EXCERPT

Cardros had a dislike for being of use. Army life had taught him that always meant doing something stupid and generally dangerous. Over the years, he had learned to salute and say, “Yes, sir,” and do as he thought best given the circumstances. He had not, however, learned to master his dammed curiosity. It tugged on him now, pulled like a cat with yarn to unravel. He knew he would do better to ignore it. “My dear girl, my reputation precedes me, as your aunt has said, so you must know I’m no gentleman.”

Her eyebrow quirked high again, and her mouth twitched as if she might have something to say, but she bit back the words. She had a light dusting of freckles across her nose—very unfashionable—and they no longer stood out on too-pale skin. She stared at him for a moment, her gaze direct, leaving him uneasy, feeling as if she could see through to his thoughts, to the old hurts that he took care to hide from the world. But that was only a fancy, for she pokered up again with proper manners.

“I presume too much on your time. Of course, despite aiding Havelock, you have no real interest in our troubles.”

He let out a breath. If she had pressed, he would have resisted, but this sudden capitulation—this retreat—left him with the ingrained desire to pursue. A withdrawal needed to be followed. However, he kept his tone flippant—he wanted his options left open.

“Will it help if I say I do find my interest in you growing by the minute? Probably not such a good thing for you, but shall we take that drink and see what develops?”

Crossing the room to the decanters, his stride stiff and shortened, he wondered what she thought of his limp. Damaged goods, no doubt. Less than a full man. She said nothing, however, of his injury and asked instead, “Did you happen to see my brother’s accident?”

“I didn’t, but I should think his horse slipped in the mud. Now, you owe me an answer—why on earth did my mother drag you here? I assume she must be in residence and did so, for I can’t imagine why else you’d be visiting. It’s a dull place in the best of weather.”

He poured brandy for himself, almost poured her wine, but thought better of it, so a splash of brandy to steady her nerves as well. He brought the glasses back, put them on a side table where the sharp aroma wove into the room along with the comfort of wood smoke. He settled himself on the couch next to her, and thought she looked to be carrying on an internal debate.

She sat with her hands tightly intertwined, her eyes downcast, and a frown tugging her brows flat on her forehead.

He almost reached out to smooth the lines forming, but he wasn’t quite certain of his ground yet. Always best to scout the area before choosing to engage in a skirmish. Stretching out his bad leg, he took up his brandy and sipped. Ah, good to see Ian hadn’t drunk the cellars dry of the good French cognac. The golden liquid warmed his insides like a Guy Fawkes bonfire. He couldn’t let such drink go to waste.

Picking up the second glass, he nudged her arm with it. She glanced at it as if he was offering poison.

“You may trust me on one thing—this will help,” he said.

She took the glass with a challenge in her eyes, and tossed it back as if it were water. “My grandmother raised my brother and I, and she’s Scottish. We know how to drink.”

“Well, in that case…” he rose, refilled both glasses and came back. Clinking glasses with her, he offered a toast, “To mending old wounds, and making new ones.”

 

 

Writing Workshops

I’m just starting up the Writing the Regency Workshop online for Outreach International Romance Writers, which works well since I just gave a talk on this at RWA National Conference, too. This had me thinking about what is it that folks need to get right, and I also asked the RWA Beau Monde Chapter about what they thought. Here’s the short form answer:

1 – Basic History. Even if you’re doing alternate history, you need to know some of the basics because this informs the characters–people live within the context of their world, and it helps to know what events formed their parents and grandparents and their family.

2 – —Titles & Class System.  Gossford Park is great to help us Yanks get an idea of a nuanced class system–Americans are used to rich/poor and something in between and that’s about it. Getting this right can be tricky since titles evolved over more than a thousand years, but it’s important–nothing can throw a reader out of a story faster than a title that makes no sense.
—3 – British Sensibilities.  BBC America is a big help here, so is being an anglophile.  This one is another tricky spot since you can end up with characters who don’t seem as if they’ve ever been near England.
—4. Legal Stuff.  If your story premise has anything to do with inheritance or marriage laws, it’s time to break out the research books and make sure the basic premise works. If that doesn’t work the whole story can fall apart on you.
5. —Society’s Attitudes. The 1800’s are similar to our world, but it’s also a different era–and while your characters may rebel against this, they should know what they’re up against. Folks back then knew about a woman’s place, and a man’s place, and that there were no teenagers, just adults and children. All of this can affect your characters.

6. Social/Personal Constraints. Honor mattered, so did duty–and while some folks might shrug those off, others did not and it said a lot about a character who did not take these to heart. This is also the stuff that makes for great conflict so it’s wonderful meat for a writer.

Now, of course, there’s lots more to know–but those are the big ones. We’ll get into the rest in the workshop.

Gretna Green and the Runaway Regency Bride

Eloping

A forbidden young love.  A frantic carriage chase across England.  A hasty wedding ‘over the anvil’ at Gretna Green.  Such a scene is a staple of many a Regency romance.  In fact, it’s with such a mad drive to the border that I chose to end my second Regency, A Dangerous Compromise.

But why might a young couple have to elope to Scotland to marry?

A chance of geography and an act of Parliament led Gretna Green to become famous as a haven for young lovers who could not win their parent’s consent.

In 1753, Lord Chancellor Hardwicke’s Act for the Prevention of Clandestine Marriages passed.  The law took effect on the twenty-fifth of March in 1754.

The act had been passed, after a good deal of debate and struggle, to regularize marriages and to protect wealthy families from having their underage offspring preyed upon.  Prior to this, London had become infamous for it’s “Fleet marriages” where disreputable ministers would perform a wedding within the Rules of the Fleet Prison.  Clergymen who had been imprisoned for debt could live in the Rules, an area just outside the prison, meant to provide them a sanctuary.  Since they were already here for being in debt they could not be fined for performing irregular marriages, and so were effectively beyond the law of the time.

By the 1740’s, it is estimated that around a hundred minister had set up in business to marrying anyone who had the money for it.  They could even provide a groom if a pregnant woman needed legitimate status for her child.  The bride and groom exchange vows, coins exchange hands, and the couple was married.

These Fleet weddings had been the bane of many a rich family.  Stories circulated of underage heiresses who had been tricked, or kidnapped and forced, into such marriages by unscrupulous men.  And fathers complained of sons who had married unsuitable brides.  Two dukes even saw their sons married in such secret ceremonies.

In 1754, the informal wedding was swept away.  The new act required that the groom and bride must each be 21 years of age, or have the consent of their parents or guardians.  The wedding had to take place during daylight hours in a parish church ceremony within the Church of England.  For “three several Sundays” prior to the wedding, the banns had to be posted–meaning that the curate would ask “after the accustomed manner” if anyone knew any reason why these two could not marry.  If the couple lived in separate parishes, banns had to be called in each.  Finally, a license had to be obtained and the marriage had to be recorded in the parish church.

To avoid these conditions, a Special License could be bought, so that bans did not have to be posted and the marriage ceremony could take place anywhere.  But such a license had to be obtained from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s offices, and the names of those to be married had to be written on the license.  With these constraints, it did not help young couples who were trying to wed against the wishes of their families.

By requiring parental consent, the act gave parents the right to invalidate any marriage they considered undesirable.  A clergyman who preformed an illegal marriage could be transported for up to fourteen years.  English legislators expressed relief at having done away with foolish notions of romantic love in favor of more practical statutes governing the institution.

However, because Scotland and Ireland were separate countries, the act applied to only those marriages contracted in England.  It also did not apply to Quakers and Jews, who wed outside the Church of England (and who also stood outside the power and wealth structure that the act sought to protect).

Ireland had already enacted laws with heavy penalties to do away with clandestine marriages.  However, in Scotland, a couple had only to be 16 years of age and had only to declare their intentions to be husband and wife in the presence of two witnesses, and their word was law.  So Scotland became the place to flee to for a quickie wedding.

On the west of Scotland, at the most southerly point of the English border, the main road between Carlisle and Glasgow passed through the small village of Gretna Green.  A half-mile from Gretna, the road crossed the Sark river which marked the border itself.  The closest village on the English side, before you reached Carlisle, was Longtown.

Near the Solway Firth, the Greta Green of Regency era is described in Gretna Green Memoirs as, “…a small village with a few clay houses, the parish kirk, the minister’s house, and a large inn…from it you have a fine view of the Solway, port Carlisle and the Cumberland hills, among which is the lofty Skiddaw; you also see Bowness, the place where the famous Roman wall ends.”

Within Gretna, at the Headlesscross, is the junction of five coaching roads, and here lay the Blacksmith’s Shop.

Marriage over the AnvilIn coaching days, a blacksmith’s shop was an obvious stop for any carriage.  And it became a prime spot for many eloping couples to stop and wed before parental pursuit caught up with them.  An elopement to Gretna soon became known as a ‘wedding over the anvil,’ and the ‘blacksmith priests’ were the ones to ask for to perform the ceremony.

In fact, however, many couples wed at the inn, or at other Scottish villages, and any man could set himself up as an ‘anvil priest.’  It could be a lucrative trade, for a fee had to be paid, along with a handsome tip, which could be upwards of fifty guineas.  According to Romances of Gretna Green, “…the man who took up the trade of ‘priest’ had to reckon on the disapprobation of the local Church authorities…” but that was the only requirement for the job.

Between 1780 to 1790, a second village took shape about a half a mile from Gretna.  Springfield was built on land leased from Sir Patrick Maxwell.  Small, with one-street, it was a weaving town, but David Lang (or Laing) soon set up as an anvil priest to marry couples at the Queen’s Head Inn.

But Gretna had another anvil priest and, as the first in the wedding trade, he kept most of the fame and business.

Joseph Paisley had began marrying eloping couples in Gretna in 1753 when the Hardwicke Act had passed but had not yet taken effect.  It is said he continued to wed couples until his death (which Robert Elliot reports as 1811, but other sources give 1814).  Paisley had been a smuggler, and reports paint him as, “grossly ignorant and insufferably coarse…an overgrown mass of fat weighing at least twenty-five stone….who drank a good deal more than was necessary to his thirst.”  He had been a fisherman, and it is reported that he kept “…a store for the sale of groceries and odds and ends…,” but his main trade was in weddings.  He is also said to have drunk a Scotch pint (or three English pints) of brandy a day.  He must have reeked like a distillery.

Paisley, however, had a comely granddaughter, Ann Graham.  In 1810, Robert Elliot courted Ann, and they wed a year later, and Elliot stepped into what had become the family business of wedding lovers who came to Gretna or Springfield.

Robert Elliot began marrying couples in 1811.  The son of a Northumberland farmer, Elliot had worked at various trades–most of them involving coaching work.  When he went to work for a Mr. Wilson, keeping his coach-horses at Springfield, he met Joseph Paisley.

Elliot quite liked his grandfather-in-law, and says of him, “He was an upright, well-disposed man, beloved by all his neighbors, and esteemed by all who had his acquaintance.”  But he also reports, “Over a mixed glass of mountain dew, or good smuggled cognac, would our village patriarch relate…the most remarkable events he remembered.”  So perhaps Elliot found nothing amiss with a man downing a Scotch pint of brandy a day.

Elliot continued to perform weddings until 1839.  In 1842 he published his memoirs, which sold in private subscription of one guinea each, and this is all we have of the records of who he might have married.  The story goes that Paisley and Elliot’s records were stored on a bed canopy, and were lost when Elliot’s daughter set fire to the bed, killing herself and destroying the records.

All tolled, Elliot laid claim to having married almost 4,000 couples, from 1811 to 1839.

Some famous couples who eloped to Gretna include John Fane, the tenth Earl of Westmoreland, who ran off with Sarah Anne Child.  As the daughter of Robert Child, of the famous Child’s Bank, Sarah Anne stood to inherit a fortune.  But when the earl went seeking Mr. Child’s consent, the banker is said to have replied, “Your blood, my lord, is good, but money is better.”

And so the earl talked Sarah into running away with him.

They were chased to the Scottish border by an irate Mr. Child and barely made it across to be wed.

Child never forgave them.  He changed his will so that his wealth passed to Sarah Anne’s second son, or to her eldest daughter, so that no Earl of Westmoreland would inherit.

But, as in a good romance, Sarah and Westmoreland were happy enough, had six children, and the eldest daughter, Sarah Sophia, inherited Child’s riches.

Interestingly, Sarah’s granddaughter, Lady Adela Villiers (Sarah Sophia’s daughter), also eloped to Gretna, to avoid her mother’s matchmaking and wed her beloved Captain Charles Parke Ibbetson.  Runaway marriages seem to have run in the family.

The trip to Gretna from London could not have been pleasant, even in a well-sprung coach that would absorb most of the ruts and swaying.  It was some 300 miles or so from London to Gretna.  The trip would be longer if a couple, in fear of pursuit, chose to stay to side roads in an attempt to throw anyone following off the scent.

To travel fast, the horses would need to be changed every 10 or 20 miles, meaning at least 16 stops along the way.  And the cost of it!  A post chaise and four might cost as much as 3 shillings a mile.  Plus there’s the hire of fresh horses, tips to encourage fast changes, food and drink to be bought, plus a room and the wedding in Gretna.  And there is the return trip home to be paid for as well.  A man might spend from £50 to £100 for his elopement if he were in a great hurry.  But such expense would seem as nothing if the bride came with a fortune attached.

The trip would also be tedious.  Horses can average 8 to 10 miles an hour, with the occasional ‘springing them’ for short bursts that might net you 14 to 16 miles an hour for perhaps a quarter hour.  With this in mind, the trip might take as little as 25 hours, with very good horses and frequent changes.  But there were the potential delays of a horse going lame, a wheel falling off, muddy roads, snow, or other bad weather conditions to slow the pace.

To give a more exact time estimate, the Royal Mail left London for Carlisle at 7:30 PM and arrived at 10:00 PM on the second night.  That’s two full days on the road.  But a private coach could make better times–it would be lighter and therefore faster.

After such an ordeal, if a couple arrived still inclined to wed–instead of kill each other from exhaustion and too much of each other’s company–that would seem to bode well for a long and happy marriage.

To wed in Gretna, a couple had only to find one of the anvil priests.  He would call on his neighbors to have the necessary two witnesses.  The ceremony was brief and went like this, according to Elliot’s Gretna Green Memoirs:

“The parties are first asked their names and places of abode; they are then asked to stand up, and enquired of if they are both single persons; if the answer be in the affirmative, the ceremony proceeds.

“Each is next asked:– ‘Did you come here of your own free will and accord?’ Upon receiving an affirmative answer the priest commences filling in the printed form of the certificate.

“The man is then asked ‘Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife, forsaking all others, kept to her as long as you both shall live?’  He answers, ‘I will.’  The woman is asked the same question, which being answered the same, the woman then produces a ring which she gives to the man, who hands it to the priest; the priest then returns it to the man, and orders him to put it on the forth finger of the woman’s left hand and repeat these words, with this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, with all my worldly goods I thee endow in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen.  They then take hold of each other’s right hands, and the woman says, ‘what God joins together let no man put asunder.’  Then the priest says “forasmuch as this man and this woman have consented to go together by giving and receiving a ring, I, therefore, declare them to be man and wife before God and these witnesses in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen.”

In 1856, and with railways coming into being, a bill finally passed to make a Gretna wedding ceremony illegal, and that effectively ended the days of a runaway marriage.

Since then, wedding laws have relaxed somewhat and Gretna Green is again a popular spot for weddings, but for romantic rather than legal reasons.  Gretna’s Blacksmith Shop now houses a museum, with a collection of 19th century coaches, including the State Landau used during King William IV’s reign, and a stage coach that ran between the Lake District and Scotland.

While legislation has done away with the need for couples to flee to Greta Green, the village thrives by playing on its association with star-crossed young lovers and desperate romantic rides through the night for a happily ever after.  And what more could any romantic wish for?

Sources:

The Gretna Green Web site at http://www.gretnagreen.com

The Family, Sex and Marriage: In England 1500 – 1900 by Lawrence Stone

Road to Divorce by Lawrence Stone

Romances of Gretna Green and its Runaway Marriage by Lochinvar

Gretna Green Memoirs by Robert Elliott

Great Britain Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635 – 1839, Alan W. Robertson

 

Traveling in the Past – Cary’s New Itinerary

Cary's New ItineraryWhen writing about characters who live in the Regency, we often need t o get into those character’s heads. We need to see how they lived. We need first-hand experience. I’ve been known to read by candlelight–truly an eye-straining experience–brandish a sword, and even try a pen and ink to see what it’s really like (that’s pen as in a sharpened quill, and boy does it make you take time when you write).

But there are some books that offer a first-hand experience. And one of my favorites is Cary’s New Itinerary.

At the end of the eighteenth century, John Cary was commissioned by the Postmaster-General to survey all the principal roads in England. He did this by walking these roads, pushing a wheel connected to a counter, which kept a tally of the number of rotations and then produced an accurate mileage.

Between 1787 and 1831, Cary put his knowledge to use and published, among other books, the New English Atlas, The Travellers’ Companion, the Universal Atlas of 1808, and Cary’s New Itinerary. The maps and surveys have some of the most accurate and valuable data about the structure of the Regency world. They also provide an insight into how people traveled in the Regency.

Published in 1815, the fifth edition of Cary’s  goes on to explain that it is, “an Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads, both direct and cross throughout, England and Whales, with many of the Principal Roads in Scotland, from an actual admeasurement by John Cary, made by command of his Majesty’s Postmaster General.

There’s more detail provided at the front of the book in an “advertisement” that’s more of a preface.

The information alone on roads and distances, with fold-out maps provided, has helped me sort out the practical problems that face any Regency writer–such as, how far is it really between London and Bath?  And what roads might one take?  However, Cary’s offers much more.

Cary’s divides into neat, organized sections. The man was obviously methodical. The first section lists the direct roads to London– as in all roads lead to this metropolis. The next section gives a list of principal places–i.e., larger towns, that occur along the cross-roads.  A cross-road is a road that crosses one of the direct roads into London.  At this point, you begin to see how London-centric this world really was. As someone living outside of London, it would be your goal to get to a major town, and then you could get to London. Cary, living in London, wrote his book for outward-bound Londoners, and that is how the book is organized.

The next section is as important to a Regency writer as it would have been to someone traveling in the Regency–it is a list of coach and mail departures. This includes the name of the London inn from which the coaches departed, the towns each coach passed through, the mileage, the departure time, and the arrival time. It’s an utter godsend if you have to get your heroine to Bath at a certain hour on the coach. I can also picture Regency Londoners pouring over this information, planning short trips to the seaside, or to watering towns.

The next section lists all direct roads, as measured from key departure points in London, but this is not just a dry list of mileage. Descriptive notes are tucked into various columns to describe houses of note and distinctive sights.  For example, if you’re going to Wells from London, then, “Between Bugley and Whitbourn, at about 2 m(iles) on l(eft) Longleat, Marquis of Bath; the house is a Picture of Grandure, and the Park and Pleasure Grounds are very beautiful.”  This was an era in which slower travel meant taking the time to look at surroundings.

The next section provides a similar treatment for cross-roads, and not to be overlooked, Packet Boat sailing days are listed for England’s various sea ports, just in case an intrepid traveler whishes to travel abroad.

Finally, Cary’s provides an index to Country Seats, or as Cary’s notes, “In this Index the Name of every resident Possessor of a Seat is given, as well as the Name of the Seat itself, wherever it has a distinctive Appellation.”  This is actually a list from the 1811 returns to Parliament, as noted in the book. In the Regency, this actually would have been a much used feature, for it would allow a traveler to look up and visit various great houses and country seats. It was a time, after all, when visitors expected the great houses to always be open for show, and to be gracious in their hospitality.

Overall, Cary’s is not a book that will give you insight into the politics of the Regency, nor into the social structure of that world. However, between its worn covers lays the description of the Regency world that can put you back into that era, just as if you were traveling the roads of England in times long past.

Pistols and Duels

Part of the allure of the English Regency is that it’s an era for swords, horses, and flintlocks. Everything to buckle the perfect swash. Dueling–and a lady’s muff pistol–became part of my novel, Barely Proper.  The dueling information came from research, but the lady’s muff pistol, complete with safety latch to prevent accidental shots, came courtesy of my uncle, Eric Ericson, who collects flintlocks.

Part of the allure of the English Regency is that it’s an era for swords, horses, and flintlocks. Everything to buckle the perfect swash. Dueling–and a lady’s muff pistol–became part of Barely Proper.  The dueling information came from research, but the lady’s muff pistol, complete with safety latch to prevent accidental shots, came courtesy of my uncle, Eric Ericson, who collects flintlocks.

Barely ProperActually, by the mid 1800’s, the duel had become extinct in England. Queen Victoria, and the British government, had taken steps to end duels in the army–it was, after all, difficult enough to lose officers to battle, let alone, losing them to each other’s bullets. However, in Regency England, gentlemen could settle any disagreement with pistols, and might well be acquitted by a jury of any murder charge.

The notion of a duel of honor first appeared in England in the early 1600’s. The duel between Sir George Wharton and Sir James Stewart was recorded in 1609.  Prior to that time, an Englishman could settle slights and quarrels by hiring a gang of assassins to avenge any slight. Through the 1700’s, duels tended to be fought with swords. This was due, in part, to technology.

Hand guns date back to the late 1300’s in Italy and appeared in England around 1375. These used gunpowder, a mixture of potassium nitrate, saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal.  It would take another half century, however, for a mechanical device to appear to actually fire a hand gun. The standard flintlock gun came then came about in the early 1600’s, and by 1690 flintlocks has become standard issue for the English army.

The flintlock had been developed in France as a more reliable improvement upon matchlocks and wheel locks. The principal was simple–a trigger released a lock that held a flint which would then strike a spark in the priming pan. This pan held a small amount of gunpowder. When ignited, it then would ignite the main gunpowder charge in the barrel, firing a lead ball.

In contrast, the older match lock had used a “matchcord,” a braided cord of hemp or flax soaked in a saltpeter and dried. The slow-burning matchcord would then be lit. Pulling the trigger caused the lit matchcord to be pressed onto the flashpan causing ignition. The wheel lock improved on the matchlock with a system that worked rather like a cigarette lighter. Pulling the trigger caused a rough-edged steel wheel to strike a piece of pyrite held in a metal arm called a dog head.

Misfires with matchlock and wheel locks had been common. And the effort to reload consumed time. While flintlocks still loaded the main gunpowder charge and ball from the front, the only addition work was to then pour a little gunpowder into the flash pan.

Around the 1750’s, the practice of carrying a small sword or dress sword also died out, and with the advances in gun making, pistols became the standard for duels. Dueling pistols developed into matched weapons with a nine or ten inch barrel. Most were smooth bore flintlocks.

However, pistols could be as individual as the maker, or the owner. Jean-Baptiste Gribeauval made a pistol for Napoleon Bonaparte around 1806 that had a twelve inch long barrel. And a set of dueling pistols made around 1815 by W. A Jones and given to Duke of Wellington by the East India Company boasted saw-handled butts, which made it easier to steady the pistols, as well as “figured half stocks, checkered grips, engraved silver and blued steel furnishings.”

By the mid-1700’s London was well-known for its excellent gunsmiths. George Washington patronized a London gunsmith named Hawkins (a family name in my lineage, as this was my grandmother’s maiden name). As with many of the pistols from this era it offers silver decoration.

Dueling PistolsIn the late 1700’s, and during the Regency, Joseph Manton became one of the best and most fashionable gunmakers. Manton’s shooting gallery on Davis Street was where a gentleman went to practice before he might use one of Manton’s pistols in a duel. And an apprentice of Manton’s left in 1814 to strike out on his own with a business in Oxford Street. James Purdey’s company is still renown for its shotguns. Part of Manton’s success came from his first patent, taken out in 1777.  Manton went on to open his shop in 1793 and was soon known for shotguns and pistols. His fame came from guns that “were light, trim, well balanced, fast handling, and impeccably fit and finished. Stocks were slender and of fine English walnut with a hand rubbed oil finish.”

In the early 1800’s, a new development came along when a Scotsman named Forsyth patented the percussion lock.  This did away with the flashpan and flint.  Instead, an explosive cap was used, so that when the cap was struck by the pistol’s hammer, the flames from the exploding fulminate of mercury in the cap move into the gun barrel and ignite the main charge of powder.

With the advent of the percussion cap, guns with revolving chambers became reliable weapons. The revolving principle for a gun had been around for as long as the invention itself. “…There were repeating matchlocks as early as 1550, some capable of firing as many as eight shots with multiple barrels, each fired by a separate flash pan and operated by a sliding trigger mechanism…Both French and Italian gun makers as early as 1650 had developed magazine-fed muskets.” The “pepperbox pistol” had between two to six barrels that revolved upon a central axis.

Examples of such pistols that still exist include a double-barreled turn-over flintlock pistol, a six-shot flintlock had been made in France in the late 1700’s, a three-shot Venetian pepperbox dates back to the mid 1500’s, and Twigg of London had even made a 7-barrel flintlock pepperbox in 1790. A three- barrel design made by Lorenzo some time in the 1680’s exists that carries the Medici Arms upon it. However, the pepperbox pistol was notorious for the mechanism jamming. Or worse, all the charges in the barrels might be ignited at once time by a flint strike, resulting in the entire pistol discharging at once–or blowing up in your hand. The first accurate chambered weapons date from the latter part of the Regency, around 1810 to 1820. Multiple shot pistols, however, were not allowed in any duel.

The elegant matched sets of pistols manufactured for a gentleman might boast silver filigree or gold inlay. Their balance was paramount, for a pistol that could not be easily held up at arm’s length might mean an inaccurate aim and shot. Also, the “hair trigger” or a trigger that responded to the slightest touch could mean the difference in being the first to get off a shot.

In the early 1800’s duels might be fought for honor, as in the case of a duel fought in Hyde Park in March 1803 between two officers, and reported to have been held to avenge a sister’s dishonor. Or it might be an absurd affair, as in the duel fought in London on April 6 that same year. This second affair involved Lieutenant-Colonel Montgomery of the 9th Regiment of Foot and Captain Macnamara of the Royal Navy, and was reported to have started when the two men, both riding in the park and each followed by a Newfoundland dog, had their dogs start to fight. This led Montgomery to exclaim, “Whose dog is that? I will knock him down.”  That set off an argument that resulted in a meeting at seven that evening near Primrose Hill. Even the Duke of Wellington fought a duel.

Taking AimDuring the Peninsular War, Wellington had been known to frown on dueling among his officers.  However, in 1829, Wellington’s support of the Catholic Relief Bill angered the Earl of Winchilsea, who then made public a letter that disparaged the duke accusing him of having, “…insidious designs for the infringement of our liberties, and the introduction of Popery into every department of the state.”  Wellington pushed for reparations, and would be satisfied with nothing less than a meeting over pistols at Battersea Fields. “At the word ‘fire,’ the Duke raised his pistol, but hesitated a moment, as he saw that Lord Winchilsea had kept his pistol pointed to the ground.”  Wellington then fired at random, as did the earl. The press did not approve and reported, “…all this wickedness was to be perpetrated–merely because a noble lord, in a fit of anger, wrote a pettish letter…Truly it is no wonder that the multitude should break the law when we thus see the law-makers themselves, the great, the powerful, and the renowned, setting them at open defiance.”

Illegal as they were, duels were numerous, and were often not prosecuted unless proven fatal.

In the duel between Macnamara and Montgomery fought over their dogs, both were wounded, Montgomery fatally so. Macnamara recovered and was tried for murder, and his arguments for his motives being that of “proper feelings of a gentleman” carried enough weight that the jury returned a not-guilty verdict, even though the judge asked them to find Macnamara guilty of manslaughter.

Times and sentiment changed, however and in 1838 when a Mr. Eliot shot and killed a Mr. Mirfin in a duel, the jury returned a verdict of willful murder. The trial smacked of class prejudice, for in 1841 when Lord Cardigan was tried in the by his peers in the House of Lords for dueling, he was found not guilty.

By 1843, an Anti-Dueling Association had been formed and by 1844, Queen Victoria was discussing with Sir Robert Peel how to restrict duels in the army by “repealing an article of the Mutiny Act, which cashiered officers for not redeeming their honor by duel.” The Regency by then had long passed, and so had the era of pistols for two at dawn to settle affairs of honor, and so had the art of the elegant and deadly dueling pistol.

To read more on dueling pistols, try:

Antique Guns by Hank Bowman, Arco Publishing Co, Inc.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Firearms by Ian V. Hogg, New Burlington Books

Gunmakers of London 1350-1850 by Howard L. Blackmore, George Shumway Pub

The Duel: A History by Robert Baldick, Barnes & Nobel