Tag Archive | research

Writing the Regency Novel

I’m giving a workshop at the RWA National Conference this July (just got the times and it’s Friday at 4:30 – 5:30, so early enough to enjoy dinner Friday). And part of what I’ll cover is why set your fiction in the Regency era?

For all that it covers an amazingly short time span (1811 to 1820) the English Regency has a remarkable allure.  Mystery writers, including the great John Dixon Carr, have chosen this era for a setting, and the Napoleonic wars offer the setting for the popular Sharp series by Bernard Cornwell and the Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O’Brian’s. In Romance writing, the Regency is perhaps the most popular historical time period, and has launched many now best selling authors. But why should such a short time span–nine years really, although the Regency influence extends over perhaps thirty years–prove so magnetic?

Answering that question could be the target of a scholarly book, but space is limited–and time fleeting–so perhaps the best course is to emulate the Regency in brevity, as well as in style, and carry things off with a high hand. Of all time periods, the allure of the Regency might well be that it was a time when style triumphed. The era sparkles with wit, gallantry and elegance in fashion, furnishings and frivolity. It was an era in which a man with no background–Beau Brummell–could become the leader of male society just because of his style and wit. At the same time, Turner was painting and shocking the world with his art, while Byron was writing and shocking society with his life. Charles Fox was being brilliant in politics, and shocking just about anyone who met him. And Sheridan was writing plays that still amuse with their wit.

It was a brilliant era. And an era of the extremes of rich and poor, and yet it was an era in which if you were good at something, you could gain fame and fortune. The prizefighter John Jackson (1769-1845) won fame with his fists, but went on make his real fortune by teaching boxing lessons to the cream of society. For a gentleman to say he got the chance to spare with Jackson was considered a social coup. The status given Jackson makes him perhaps a forerunner of the modern sports superstars. In fact, the Regency could be said to be a time when much of our modern sensibility of admiring skill–rather than inherited status–seemed to take hold.

A full answer to the appeal of the Regency era, however, must look at not just the actual time period itself, it must take into account the fiction and films which have so greatly shaped our impressions.

All this and some details of the history that you have to get right (and what can you fuss with or make up) will be covered in the workshop. But it’s worth noting that the Regency’s reflections to our era cannot be overlooked: change, uncertainty, but still the need for daily routine, and the relief of pleasure. The royal scandals filled newspapers with sympathy for the Princess of Wales, and this left the Prince unhappy about this. There were opportunities for those with vision, and at the same time great risk for those so unwise as to invest in the wrong future.  All of these qualities resonate with us. However, the Regency is blessedly in the past.  It is a world slipped into the past and therefore one with a safely known future.  Somehow these people who lived then found a way to happiness, to prosperity, to joy, to survival.  And what more comforting message can a reader find?

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

 

Private Carraiges of the English Regency

The Regency saw the pinnacle of the art of carriage driving. New technologies provided opportunities to build better carriages. In 1804, Obadiah Elliott of Lambeth invented the elliptic spring, lightening the weight and eliminating the need for perches. Samuel Hobson improved carriage shapes by lowering the wheels in 1820. At the same time, the engineer Jon Loudon McAdam introduced his process to pave roads to create a hard, smooth surface and double the speed at which carriages could travel.

During this time, carriage types flourished, and perhaps the most popular of carriages were the phaetons and curricles.

Phaeton by StubbsPhaetons first appeared around 1788. The young Prince of Wales popularized their use in the 1790’s. In Greek, the name means “shining”, and Phaeton was a mythical character who stole his father’s sun-chariot. The carriage was noted for being built very high over the body, with four wheels (large wheels in back and smaller wheels in the front). They sported two types of under-carriage. A high perch phaeton had a straight or sightly curved central beam that connected the two axles. The ‘superior’ crane-neck phaeton offered a heavier construction of iron with two beams and hoops which allowed the front wheels to turn. These “Highflyers”could be drawn by a pair, four or six horses. However, contemporary artists usually shown them as postillion-driver (with riders on the horse’s backs), if more than four horses were in harness.

Ladies as well as gentlemen drove phaetons, and the carriages were known as spider, park, and ladies phaetons. These were often drawn by ponies. Lady Archer, Lady Stormont, Mrs. Garden and even the Princess of Wales were noted whips. Among the gentlemen, Sir John Lade, Lord Rodney, Charles FinchRE and Lord Onslow set the pace.

CurricleThe curricle came into fashion in the 1800’s. This was a two-wheel vehicle, built to take a pair of horses. Again, the sponsorship of the Prince of Wales (now too fat to climb into his high perch), promoted their popularity. Horses were attached to the light-weight body by harness connected pole, with a steel bar that attached to pads on the horse’s back to support the pole. The curricle offered seats for two, with a groom’s (or tiger’s) seat behind (the tiger was not the big cat, but a slang name for a small groom who could easily jump down to hold or walk the horses).

Chair Back GigLess fortunate gentlemen had to be content with driving a gig, which remained in service from the 1780’s until the 1900’s. Originally, the gig was built high and given such names as the “suicide” gig, denoting popular opinion of the safety of such vehicles. However, since the groom’s seat sat three feet above that of the driver’s, the name might well be based on the opinion of those in service. Since carriages were built to custom order, there were many designs, and gentlemen often competed with each other for new innovations in their carriage designs.

By the 1800’s, the big and whiskey were in common use, however, Quality did not take to them until after 1815. Both were two-wheeled vehicles that could be drawn by one horse. The whiskey got its name from the fact that it was light and easy to go ‘whisking’ along.

Many noted whips designed their own carriages, hence the Stanhope gig made in 1815 to the design of the Hon. Fitzroy Stanhope. Carriages also bore the name of their builders. The Tilbury gig of 1820 was designed and made by Tilbury the coach-builder. Unlike other gigs it had no boot, and the rib-chair body was supported entirely on seven springs, making it a popular vehicle for use on rough roads.

Cocking Cart driven tandemAt the same time the suicide gig became popular, so did the cocking cart. This two-wheeled vehicle was often driven tandem, with one horse between the shafts and the lead horse attached only by harness, so you’d have one horse in front of the other. As one might infer from its name, the cocking cart offered a boot with slatted venetian blind panels on either side for carrying fighting cocks.

CabrioletIn 1815, Count d’Orsay (the king of fashion in London after Waterloo) sponsored the cabriolet. This was in addition to his curricle, for a rich gentleman could afford to keep multiple carriages and teams. The cabriolet was import from France, and appeared similar to the curricle but required only a single horse. Instead of providing a seat for the groom, it held a small platform on which the ‘tiger’ stood. This carriage, like the curricle, offered a hood to help protect the driver and the passenger from weather, but it still served better as a town carriage for fair weather.

Full enclosed town coaches had been is use since 1605. However, in the late 1700’s these began to evolve away from the massive vehicles that held four and which required up to six, heavy draft horses.

The sociable appeared in the 1780’s. This low-hung vehicle offered a box seat for a driver and held four passengers (two facing backwards). In bad weather, a hood could be raised over the back seat, and the front seat could be folded down.

By the 1800’s, the sociable had evolved into the sociable-landau and the landau. Both were usually drawn by a pair of horses, and driven with postillions or by a coachman if a box seat had been built onto the body. Hoods could be raised, front and back, so that the landau resembled a coach, or could be lowered in fine weather.

Landeu Luke Hopkinson of Holborn introduced the briska-landau, which offered seats that rose six inches then the top was put down. Canoe-landaus offered curved, shallow bodies and were sometimes called Sefton-landaus, after the Earl of Sefton. (The landau with postillions is often the carriage still used by English royalty for events where great visibility and ceremony is required, such as for weddings, reviewing the troops, or for arrivals at the Royal Ascot race meet.)

Another town coach, the barouche did not gain in popularity until it’s heavy body and low build had been modified. However, when Mr. Charles Buxton founded the Whip Club in 1808 (which became the Four-In-Hand Club the following spring), its members drove “…fifteen barouches and landaus with four horses to each….” to the first June meeting on a Monday in Park Lane. Because its members often drove barouches, the Whip Club sometimes came to be called the Barouche Club.

BaroucheThe barouche required large, ‘upstanding’ horses, with impressive action. It could be driven from the box or with postillion riders, and could accommodate a pair, four or six horses. Two passengers could be seated in the body, and a seat provided comfort for two grooms.

A private drag was the slang term for a gentleman’s private coach, and these were built for four-in-hand driving.

Drags of the Four in Hand Club by AikenCopying the Mail Coach, a drag offered seats inside the coach, and on the roof for the driver and for two grooms. Gentlemen drove their drags to race meetings (for grandstand viewing), to meets of the Four-in-Hand and other sporting events. A convenient tray in the boot could even be lowered to create a table for picnics.

By 1815, the heavy traveling coach had been replaced by the traveling chariot. Two or four horses could be used with this light body vehicle, and were driven by postillions or post-boys. Some offered seats at the back for servants, all offered upholstered seats in satin or petit-point.

Post Chaise "Yellow Bounder" These vehicles also served as the post-chaise carriages which could be hired on the road at posting houses. At a cost of 1s 6d (that’s one shilling and six pence) a mile for a pair of horses, and double that for four, a post-chaise was not an economical method of travel. They earned the slang name ‘Yellow Bounder’ for the almost inevitable yellow bodies.

Until the advent of the automobile, carriages continued to flourish in type and design.

In 1820, the cleche (a larger version of the barouche) came to England. In 1818, T.G. Adams introduced the briska or britzcha. The fourgon and plentum, the vis-a-vis came and went. Beauty in shape and color for carriage and horse became symbols of wealth and leisure.

SOURCES:

The Elegant Carriage, 1979, Marylian Watney

Horse & Carriage, 1990, J.N.P. Watson

The History of Coaches, 1877, George A. Thrupp

The Coachmakers, 1977, Harold Nockolds

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.

The Regency Horse World

Hunter. Carriage horse. Race horse. Town hack. Horses were part of everyday life in Regency England. And the horse world of a few hundred years ago was quite different than its modern counterpart.

RACING

 

By the start of the 1800’s one of the biggest innovations in horses had already occurred—the Thoroughbred had arrived. Three founding stallions—the Darley Arabian “Manak,” the Godolphin Barb, and the Byerley Turk—had been brought to England in the early 1700’s. When the light, fast and sturdy Arabians were bred with the larger, cold-blooded English mares, the cross produced a horse with size, speed and stamina. It produced the Thoroughbred.

At the same time that the Thoroughbred was being established as a breed, horse racing was also becoming a regulated sport. In 1711, Queen Anne had established regular race meetings at her park at Ascot. Gentlemen organized races for themselves, often “matching” particular horses against each other, and by 1727 a Racing Almanac began to be printed.

Flat and jumping races were also held for women only. Mrs. Bateman wrote in 1723, “Last week, Mrs. Aslibie arranged a flat race for women, and nine of that sex, mounted astride and dressed in short pants, jackets and jockey caps participated. They were striking to see, and there was a great crowd to watch them. The race was a very lively one; but I hold it indecent entertainment.” Some women—such as the infamous Letty Lade, who apparently swore like a coachman—rode and drove to please themselves, but they were the exception in the Regency world.

Around 1750, the gentlemen who regularly met at the Red Lion Inn at Newmarket started the Jockey Club. And in May of 1779, the first Derby was held. By 1791, the Jockey Club had issued the “General Stud Book”, and by the early 1800’s Jockey Club stewards attended every racing meet.

Assize-week was the time for races, for that was when the gentry came into the chief town of the shire for trials and selling harvest. Meet sprang up, and still run, at Newmarket in April and October, York in May, Epsom, Ascot in June, Goodwood, Doncaster, Warick, Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Cheltenham, Bath, Worcester, and Newcastle.

Racing, however, was a sport for the rich. Before the Prince Regent quit the racing scene in 1807, his racing stud farm came to cost him 30,000 pounds a year.

FOX HUNTING

For the less wealth, horses still served as sport, primarily for fox hunting. While Thoroughbreds might be seen in the field, one might also see farmers upon their heavier draft horses, such as the Suffolk Punch. Children might well be mounted upon the small but handy Welsh Cob or Welsh pony. And Irish Hunters, with their thick bones and size have always been prized for horses who can go all day and then some.

While fox hunting traces its roots back to the mid-1600’s, the sport did not take its present form of jumping and long runs until after the Enclosure Acts of the 1700’s. By the 1780’s, fox hunting had become the most popular of sports, replacing the more ancient sport of stag hunting.

November to March was, and remains, fox hunting season, starting after the fall of the leaf, when the fields lie fallow, and ending after the last frost, just before the first planting.

Hunt territories varied widely. The fifth Earl of Berkely hunted an area from Berkley Castle to Berkley Square, stretching 120 miles.

By 1810, there were 24 subscription packs—a packs that one could pay to hunt with, as opposed to requiring an invitation from the Master. This would double, so that by the mid-1800’s hunting had become more a matter of ‘subscribing’ in exchange for the right to hunt with the pack.

The golden age for hunting in Leichesterchire is considered to be 1810 to 1830. During this time, there were as many as 300 hunters stabled in Melton Mowbray—with some gentlemen keeping up to 12 hunters. A gentleman could hunt six days a week with the Quorn, the Cottesmore, the Belvoir, and the Pytchley.

Ladies were also found in the field. Mrs. Tuner Farley hunted for 50 years. Lady Salisbury was master of the Hatfield Hunt from 1775 to 1819. She hunted old and blind, in her sky blue habit, with a groom leading her horse and yelling at her to, “Jump, damn you, my lady.” And from 1788 to 1840, Lord Darlington hunted his own hounds four days a week in Yorkshire and Durham, with his three daughters and his second wife, all in their scarlet habits.

However, between late 1700’s to about mid 1800’s, when the jumping pommel was invented for the side saddle, ladies were more likely to be advised to “ride to the meet and home again to work up an appetite.”

While fox hunting was viewed as a sport for everyone, the reality was that it cost money to keep a pack of hounds and hunt them. However, anyone could take a horse and follow, if the master allowed it, and some followed the hunt in their carriages.

CARRIAGES

For most families, a carriage was a necessity, and specific breeds of horses were used in harness. The ideal hunter had a long, low stride. But a carriage horse needed high-stepping action, which looks lovely in harness, but which is not always the most comfortable ride.

Carriage breeds of the era included the Yorkshire Trotter, the Norfolk Trotter, the Hackney Horse, the Hackney Pony, and the Cleveland Bay, which is still one of the most desired of carriage horses. Ponies were often used for smaller vehicles, and for ladies. Prints of the era often show ladies driving a matched team of cream ponies–which looks a lovely sight.

Owning and maintaining a horse could be expensive, but there were more affordable options.

John Tilbury of Mount Street in London offered a horse for rent at 12 guineas a month. For 40 guineas, one could hire two hunters and a servant.

Carriages were more expensive than horses, for they had to be custom built. Families with modest incomes would often purchase a carriage second hand, from an advertisement in The London Times. Those who could afford it would have a carriage built to their own specifications.

In Jane Austin’s Northanger Abbey, Mr. Thorpe enthuses over his new carriage, boasting: ‘Curricle-hung, you see; seat, trunk, sword-case, splashing-board, lamps, silver moulding, all you see complete; the iron work as good as new or better’ — and all for fifty guineas.

Chandros Leigh, a distant cousin of Jane Austen, obtained an estimate for a fashionable laundau in 1829. The price of the basic carriage was 250 pounds, which included: ‘plate glass and mahogany shutters to the lights, and plated or brass bead to the leather, lined with best second cloth, cloth squabs, and worsted lace….’ The ‘extras’ ordered including footman’s cushions, morocco sleeping cushions, steps, silk spring curtains, his crest on the door, embossed door handles and full plated lamps. These brought the cost to 417 pounds, 11 shillings and 6 pence, but he was given 60 pounds in exchange for his old carriage.

Carriages for country and for town were generally quite different in build, for they served different purposes. And since carriages were custom built, almost every carriage could be a unique design. Common types of carriages, however, included:

The Phaeton – a four-wheeled, owner-driven vehicle fitted with forward facing seats, usually an open carriage.

The Gig – a two-wheeled vehicles (Whiskey), built to hold two, usually an open carriage.

The Curricle - the “gig” of the quality, built to hold two, which could be two or four-wheels, and which sometimes had a top that could fold down.

A Town Coach – a closed coach that could be drawn by one horse or a pair.

Landau – a four-wheeled vehicle that held four, which was drawn by a pair and built with a removable or folding top.

Barouche – a four-wheeled vehicle drawn by a pair, or by four or even six horses, with an option for a driver, or for post boys to ride and control the horses. Sometimes built with a fold-down top.

(For images, visit -Georgian Times.)

A ‘Drag’ was a slang term for a gentleman’s private coach. It was built much like a mail coach, and often used for race meetings or other outdoor events as it height and roof seats created its own grandstand.

In 1805, smaller Hackney coaches came into use and in 1823 the first Hackney cabs came to London. It was not until 1830’s, however, that the famous Handsome Cabs appeared in London.

Both carriage and road constructions were being developed during the Regency and were not without problems.

Sylas Neville’s diary recorded a 1771 journey on the London to Newcastle stage. It took him two days, traveling day and night, to cover the 197 miles from Stilton to Newcastle.

By the 1780’s, private carriages could cover the distance from Bath to London in 16 to 18 hours. But the Royal Mail coaches were much slower until John Palmer produced a mail coach that left the Rummer Tavern in Bath on August 2, 1784 at four PM, and arrived at the Swan with Two Necks in London by eight AM the next morning. The stage had traveled 119 miles in less than 16 hours!

Up to 1820, most coach horses were changed every ten to eleven miles. Thereafter, to get better speeds, they opted for even less distances, changing about every six miles. But as Mr. Darcy says in Pride and Prejudice, “fifty miles of good road was ‘little more than half a day’s journey.’

With so many road problems, those who wished for speed would often ride.

RIDING: SIDE SADDLE AND ASTRIDE

Riders of the 1800’s leaned back and rode with long stirrups that kept their seat in the saddle. Even jockeys rode sitting down square on a horse’s back. And English ‘tack’ or equipment is quite different from its ‘western’ counterpart.

An English saddle has a pommel up front, not a saddle horn. The back of the saddle is the cantle. The saddle is held in place with a girth–not a cinch–and uses stirrup leathers and stirrup irons.

Riders generally carry a hunting whip, which is designed with a crook on the end to open gates, and whip points on the opposite end that can be changed and used to control the hounds. This whip is not actually used to whip the horse.

A lady often used a whip to give a light tap to the horse on the ‘off’ or right side as a command, since her legs hang down on the ‘near’ or left side.

Prior to 1835, a side saddle had only one or two pommels. One turned up to support the right leg, and some had a second pommel which turned down over the left leg. The ‘jumping’ pommel did not exist in Regency times.

A lady’s riding habit had to be cut so that it draped down over the horse’s side, coving ankle and boot in a lovely flow. This drape required that a loop be attached to the hem, so that, when dismounted, a lady could gather up the extra length of skirt. The fabric for a habit was usually a heavy cotton, twill or wool. And due to its cut, a habit can provides any woman with a long stride as much freedom as breeches.

Riding habit styles often copied military fashion, with close cut coats, cravats, and military shakos. Ladies always wore gloves, both to preserve their hands, and to improve their grip upon the reins.

One print from the early 1800 shows a lady strapped into her saddle, but the danger from this would be that if the horse fell the rider would almost certainly be crushed or dragged.

Modern views make it seem as if riding side saddle must be awkward and uncomfortable. In fact, it is neither.

The important factor in riding side saddle is the horse. A comfortable stride and good manners are essential. This does not have to be a placid horse, but should not be a horse with a rough or bumpy stride.

The side saddle requires the rider to sit with a straight back and with hips and shoulders absolutely even. Slightly more weight should be carried on the right hip to compensate for the weight of both legs on the left. Any tilting to one side, leaning or twisting eventually results in a horse with a sore back.

Side saddles have a broad, flat and comfortably padded seat. The right leg goes over a padded leather branch which turns up (the top pommel). The left leg is in a stirrup that is short enough to bring it firmly up against a second pommel which turns down. If the horse plays up at all, the rider must clamp both legs together, gripping these pommels.

On a comfortable horse, riding side saddle soon begins to feel a bit like riding a padded rocking chair. It’s far less tiring than riding astride for the only effort is to sit straight and still.

While it is possible to rise to the trot in a “posting” motion, some claim that this is the real cause of giving a side saddle horse a sore back as it requires too much weight be put in the left stirrup.

Betty Skelton, author of Side Saddle Riding, found that….”As a teenager in the 1920’s, side saddle riding was second nature to me. I found it comfortable and I did not fall off as often as I had done from a cross saddle.” In teaching side saddle, Ms. Skelton has found that a beginner rider can often be comfortably cantering during her first lesson, which is far more progress than most can manage when riding astride.

It is possible for a lady to mound dismount on her own when riding side saddle.

To mount, she holds the reins and whip in the left hand and stands facing the horse, or even slightly towards the horse’s head. Taking the stirrup iron in her right hand to hold it steady, she places her left foot in the iron. With her foot in the iron, she can reach up to grip the saddle. As she hops up, her weight goes to the left foot in the iron and she leverages her weight up.

Instead of swinging her leg over the horse, she pulls her right leg up in front of her and seats herself sideways in the saddle. She then can settle herself with the right leg over the top pommel, the left under the left pommel and in the stirrup.

To dismount, a lady unhooks her right leg, takes her left foot out of the stirrup and simply slides off.

For a gentleman’s saddle, mounting also requires the reins and whip to be held in the left hand. A rider traditionally mounts from the left. The rider stands at the horse’s shoulder, facing the horse’s hind quarters.

With the right hand, the rider turns the stirrup iron sideways. The left foot goes into the stirrup, and the rider may grasp the cantle or back of the saddle with the right hand. He then pushes himself off the ground with the right foot, transfers his weight to the left, stirrup foot, and swings the right leg over the horse’s back to land lightly in the seat.

To dismount, the gentleman kicks his feet out of both stirrups and swings off to the left, the right leg coming over the horse’s back.

By natural inclination, a horse will move out of the way of any rider attempting to leap onto its back with a vault from the rear or a jump from a high point. However, horse may be trained to put up with this behavior.

A groom who leads a horse out for a gentleman or lady will stay and hold the horse’s head. If the gentleman is portly, the groom may also hold the stirrup on the opposite side from the rider to keep the saddle from ending up under the horse’s belly.

In giving a “leg up” to a lady, a groom would not dare to be so bold as to take a lady by the waist, as a rather forward gentleman might. Instead, the groom makes a stirrup from his hands. He then holds his hands low enough to allow the lady to easily step into them with her left foot. Then the groom boosts her lightly into the saddle.

When a groom is unavailable, a mounting block can help, and is particularly recommended to help keep a side saddle even on the horse’s back. This can be a block about two feet in height, or a fallen tree or river bank can serve the same purpose.

In general, horses prefer one horse, one rider. Being creatures of habit, carriage horses also prefer to be driven, not ridden, unless they have been trained for both.

However, with a man’s saddle, it is quite easy to manage two on a horse. The disadvantage is that the lady usually ends up sitting on the pommel, and galloping in this position can be painful on the posterior. For fast flight, it would be best to have the lady sit behind the gentleman and have him hold on to him.

FASHIONS

With all riding and driving, specific fashions evolved in the Regency to denote affiliations.

Each Hunt had its own hunting “colors,” which included a color of coat collar as well as a button insignia. The most fashionable gentlemen in the field might also wear white boot tops to their riding boots. Ladies, too, would wear hunt colors.

The exact origin of the bright red hunting coat—which is actually called a hunting pink—is a little vague, but one theory holds that it was army officers hunting in their scarlet regimentals that started that fashion. Another holds that the tailor Mr. Pink started the fashion, and that the coats took their name from him.

Driving clubs, such as the Four Horse Club or the Four-in-Hand Club, also had specific styles of dress that denoted membership. This included a blue coat with insignia buttons, a yellow and blue stripped waistcoat, a white muslin cravat spotted with black, and white corduroy breeches.

And in the stylish Regency, fashion extended to more than just clothing, for horses and carriages were ways to express ability, style and good Ton.

According to Captain Gronow in his Reminisces, Lord Barrymore drove, “…four splendid greys, unmatched in symmetry, action and power.” While Lord Petersham’s carriages, “…were entirely brown, with brown horses and harness.” Gronow accredits Petersham’s affectation as being due to his love for a widow named Mrs. Brown. Regardless, the color soon became his trademark signature.

Through it all, the horse endured as a symbol of style, as a sport, and as a source of pleasure and delight.

For further reading:

  • Horses and Horsemanship though The Ages, Luigi Gianoli
  • Royalty on Horseback, Judith Campbell
  • Side Saddle Riding, Betty Skelton

English Winter Fare

In the still largely agrarian world of the early 1800’s, autumn and winter became a time to relax after harvest. Gentry and yeoman alike could take advantage of old feasting customs that had long ago mingled with the Christian holidays.

In autumn, Parliament opened again and some of society returned to London. St. Michael’s and All Angel Day, or Michaelmas, at the end of September, marked the end of a quarter year. The Celtic calendar also wove itself into English holidays, with one of the main events on November 1 becoming All Saints Day or All Hallows and October 31 therefore set as All Hallows Eve. It should be noted that Saman (also Samana, Shamhain, and Samhain) a minor Celtic guardian of herds, and so important to a herding society, played a part in the celebrations, but modern lore has turned him into an ancient god of death and mixed up several Celtic customs along with imported Christian beliefs to give us Halloween.

October was a month when land owners ate pheasant, partridge, duck and grouse. Fish for meals included perch, halibut, carp, gudgeons, and shell fish. Poachers also looked to snared hares for their pot. Beans were still fresh, and the fruits of summer gave way to pears, apples, nuts and the last harvest of grapes.

On November 5 bonfires burned in mockery of Guy Fawkes and memory of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament. The Feast of St. Martin, or Martinmas, fell on November 11, and St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, had his day on November 30. St. Andrew’s day also marked the beginning of Advent to celebrate the four weeks before Christmas. In November, the landed gentry still dined on wild foul as well as domestic poultry—which was now getting a bit old and aged (meaning tough and needing sauces to make the meat palatable). They also had beef, venison and pork with their meals. Fish could still be caught and served, and winter vegetables graced the dining room, including: carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, leeks, cabbage, celery and lettuces. With November, walnuts and chestnuts came into season.

More celebrations lead to Christmas Eve when the Lord of Misrule danced and the Mummers traveled to perform their pantomimes. Then came Christmas Day, and Boxing Day on December 26, which was St. Stephen’s Day. Boxing Day did not get its name from gift boxes, for the exchange of gifts was a German custom still new to Regency England. Instead, Boxing Day got its name from the older tradition of it being a day in which pleadings could be placed in a box for a judge to privately review. In December, besides beef and mutton to eat, pork and venison were served. Goose was cooked for more than just the Christmas meal, and there would be turkey, pigeons, chicken, snipes, woodcock, larks, guinea-foul, widgeons and grouse to eat. Cod, turbot, soul, sturgeon and eels joined the list of fish in season. Forced asparagus added a delicacy to the usual winter vegetables. Stored apples, pears and preserved summer fruit appeared on the better, richer tables. Mince pies made from mincemeat, which has no meat in it, were another traditional fare, with the tradition being that everyone in the household should stir, for luck, the mix of dried fruit and spices before it was baked.

Households also celebrated not just according to the season, but also to the customs of the area. In the Regency, local customs in the countryside might well hold to the old ways.

Under the Kissing BoughFor one of my books, Under the Kissing Bough, I needed a Christmas wedding and customs that suited the countryside around London. In ancient days, a Christmas wedding would have been impossible for the English Church held a “closed season” on marriages from Advent in late November until St. Hilary’s Day in January. The Church of England gave up such a ban during Cromwell’s era, even though the Roman Catholic Church continued its enforcement. Oddly enough a custom I expected to be ancient—that of the bride having “something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in her shoe”—turned out to be a Victorian invention.

For Christmas customs, I relied on those that have carried down through the ages: the Yule log from Viking winter solstice celebrations (which gives us Yule Tide celebrations), the ancient Saxon decorations of holy and ivy, and the Celtic use of mistletoe on holy days, which transformed itself into a kissing bough. Carolers might well travel from house to house, offering song in exchange for a wassail bowl—a hot, spiced or mulled drink, another tradition left over from the Norse Vikings.

The holidays were a time of games as well, and the game of Snapdragon is a very old one. It’s played by placing raisins in a broad, shallow bowl, pouring brandy over them and setting the brandy on fire. Players then must show their courage by reaching through the spirit-flames to snatch up raisins. And the game even comes with its own song:

Here comes the flaming bowl,
Don’t he mean to take his toll,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
Take care you don’t take too much,
Be not greedy in your clutch,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!

Celebrations continued to mix tradition and religion when the Twelfth Night feast arrived on January 5, which combine the Roman Saturnalia with the Feast of the Epiphany, when the three wise men were said to have paid tribute to the Baby Jesus. Deep in winter, there was still plenty of game to eat. Beside those wild and tame birds available in December, lobster came into season in January, as did crayfish, flounder, plaice, smelts, whiting, prawns, oysters and crab. Broccoli made a welcome change from the other winter vegetables, as did cress, herbs, cucumbers, beets and spinach. Preserved fruits would be running low in all but houses with large orchards, and stored apples and pears would have to serve guests until the expensive force strawberries of February appeared.

For the Celtic year, winter ended February 1 with the celebration of Imbolc or Oimelc. This is the time when ewes begin to lamb and lactate for their offspring, and life begins to return. For the ancient Celts, this was the celebration for Brigid (also Brigit, Brighid or Bride), the Light-Bringer, one of the main Celtic goddesses. She was strong enough to survive and be transformed by early Catholics into Saint Bridget, who was celebrated, along with the Virgin Mary, on February 2, Candlemas Day.

Another ancient tradition, this one of law, was to ignore leap year days—February 29 did not exist. This became the day when the world could be out-of-order. Tradition held that St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait so long for proposals, and Patrick answered that women could propose on Leap Day. In Scotland, their tradition added on that any man who declined a proposal in a leap year must pay a fine, which could be anything from a fine silk dress to a kiss given to the disappointed female.

St. David’s Day the Welsh patron saint came on March 1, and tradition held that all good Welshmen should wear a leak—a vegetable readily available from winter fare. March also brought Lent, and in Shropshire and Herefordshire, Simnel Cakes made with saffron were made for the season.

With March 21, the spring officially arrived, but for most of England, it would still be some time before warm weather and spring flowers arrived, and even longer until the return of the lush abundance of summer fruit and foods.

Food Glorious Food

The wonderful thing about food is that it’s as much fun to read about it and write about it as to actually indulge–well, almost as much fun.  And the joy of writing a historical novel is the meals–breakfast, nuncheon, tea (but not High Tea unless you’ve a Victorian setting or a lower class who must make do with this for their dinner), dinner and supper were and still are the main eating occasions in England.

Meals often provide a social structure for life. However, as noted in The Jane Austen Cookbook, “In the late eighteenth century, at the time of Jane Austen’s birth, it was necessary to make the best possible use of the hours of daylight….candles, wood and coal were quite as expensive comparatively speaking as gas, oil and electricity and far more liable to be in short supply or to run out altogether during hard winters.”

What this meant was a different structure to meals.

To start the day, breakfast came around ten o’clock–well after most had risen and started their day.  The Regency morning then went on through the afternoon, with morning calls being paid.  In London, five o’clock was the fashionable ‘morning’ hour to parade.  And so serving a breakfast party might well occur sometime between one and five o’clock in the afternoon.

During morning calls, light refreshments might be taken.  Ladies might have a ‘nuncheon’ but the notion of lunch did not exist.  Also, the lush high tea now served at most swank London hotels actually originated as a working class dinner, and was perfected by the Edwardians into an art form, but was not a Regency meal.

Dinner in the Regency came at three or four o’clock in the country.  In London, the fashionable dined between five and eight, before going out for the evening.

This left room for a supper to be served–as either a supper-tray that might be brought into a country drawing room, or as a buffet that would be served at a ball.  Such a supper would be served around eleven.  Again, in London, this supper could be served as late as nearly dawn.

From the Georgian era to the Regency the method for serving dinner changed.  “…as soon as they walked into the dining-room they saw before them a table already covered with separate dishes of every kind of food…” states The Jane Austen Cookbook.  The idea was that with all courses laid on the table, those dining would choose which dishes to eat, taking from the dishes nearest.  It was polite to offer a dish around.  Food in History notes, “It was a custom that was more than troublesome; it also required a degree of self-assertion.  The shy or ignorant guest limited not only his own menu but also that of everyone else at the table.  Indeed, one young divinity student ruined his future prospects when, invited to dine by an archbishop who was due to examine him in the scriptures, he found before him a dish of ruffs and reeves, wild birds that (although he was too inexperienced to know it) were a rare delicacy.  Out of sheer modesty the clerical tyro confined himself exclusively to the dish before him….”

This style of serving dinner was known as service à la française.  During the Regency this was replaced by service à la russe in which the dishes were set on a sideboard and then handed around by servants.

Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye in The Jane Austen Cookbook provide this menu for a meal recorded in Mrs. Philip Lybbe Powys’ diary of some of the dishes she served, as hostess for her brother-in-law the Dean of Canterbury, for Prince William of Gloucester.  Fourteen sat down to a meal in August, 1798, that included:

Salmon
Trout
Soles

Fricandó of Veal
Raised Giblet Pie

Vegetable Pudding

Chickens
Ham

Muffin Pudding

Curry of Rabbits
Preserve of Olives

Soup
Haunch of Venison

Open Tart Syllabub
Raised Jelly

Three Sweetbreads, Larded

Maccaroni
Buttered Lobster

Peas
Potatoes

Basket of Pastry
Custards

Goose

Society meals were also being influenced at this time by the French chefs who had fled the revolution in their own country, and who had become a fashionable necessity in London.

Food in History gives this account of the dinner held by the Prince Regency at the Bright Pavilion, with his chef Carême in command on January 15, 1817:

“It began with four soups:

Le potage à la Monglas – creamy brown soup made with foie gras, truffles, mushrooms and Madeira

La garbure aux choux - country-style vegetable broth with shredded cabbage

Le potage d’orge perlé à la Cracy - a delicate pink puree of pearl barley and carrots

Le potage de poissons à la russe - ‘Russian-style’ fish soup, probably made from sturgeon

The soups were ‘removed’ with four fish dishes:

La matelote au vin de Bordeaux - a light stew of freshwater fish cooked in wine from Bordeaux

Les truites au blue à la provençal – lightly-cooked trout with a tomato and garlic sauce

Le turbot à l’anglaise aux homards, poached turbot with lobster sauce

La grosse anguille à la régence – a large fat eel, richly sauced, garnished with quenelles, truffles and cocks’ combs

The fish dishes were followed (the trout and turbot remaining on the table, the matelote and eels being taken away) by four grosses pieces or pieces de resistance:

Le jambon à la broche au Madére - spit-roasted ham with Maderia sauce

L’oie braiése aux racines glacées – braised goose with glazed root vegetables

Les poulards à la Perigueux - truffled roast chicken

Le rond de veau à la royale – round of veal, enrobed in a creamy sauce, finished with truffle purée and various garnishes

These grosses pieces (and the turbot and the trout) were flanked by no less than thirty-six entrée…”

Reay Tannahil, author of Food in History, gives a sampling of the various entrée, which includes macaroni and grated cheese, pheasant, rabbit, and other dishes, all with lush descriptions of rich sauces.  He adds that this was considered only the first course.

He also describes the set pieces brought in made of sugar icing and molded into such things as ‘The ruin of the Turkish mosque’, as well as the other entremets (between serving items) and the assiettes volantes, such as the five chocolate soufflé.

As stated earlier, while no one was expected to sample every dish on the table, the description makes it instantly understandable why the Prince Regent had run to fat.

The menus also reflect dishes familiar to any modern table–macaroni and cheese, trout with a tomato and garlic sauce, spit-roasted ham.

For a more simple family meal, Maria Rundell’s Domestic Cookery of 1814 gives this menu:

Crimp Cod

Salad
Gooseberry Pudding
Jerusalem Artichokes

Leg of Mutton

Crimp Cod is the simplest of recipes.  The directions are to take a cod and, “Boil, broil, or fry.”

For a salad, this is not what might be found in any modern American restaurant.  Instead, for Mrs. Rundell’s French Salad, “Chop three anchovies, a shalot, and some parsley, small; put into a bowl with two table-spoons-full of vinegar, one of oil, a little mustard, and salt.  When mixed well, add by degrees some cold roast or boiled meat in very thin slices; put in a few at a time; not exceeding two or three inches long.  Shake them in the seasoning, and then put more; cover the bowl close, and let the salad be prepared three hours before it is to be eaten.  Garnish with parsley and a few slices of the fat.”

Gooseberry pudding is a baked dish.  “Stew gooseberries in a jar over a hot hearth, or in a sauce pan of water till the will pulp.  Take a pint of the juice pressed through a coarse sieve, and beat it with three yolks and whites of eggs beaten and strained, one ounce and half of butter; sweeten it well, and put a crust around the dish.  A few crumbs of roll should be mixed with the above to give a little consistence, or four ounces of Naples biscuits.

(If you actually wish to try making this dish, you may want to start with gooseberry jelly, if you can find it.  For a ‘few crumbs of roll, think of this as something like a bath bun–a sweet roll.  Or for biscuit, think English cookie–something sweet to crumble into this.)

Jerusalem Artichokes offer another simple recipe in that they, “Must be taken up the moment they are done, or they will be too soft.  They may be boiled plain, or served with white fricassee sauce.”  Otherwise, prepare them as you would any artichoke, taking off a few outside leaves and cutting off the stalk (I also like to cut off the tips, but that’s optional).

For Leg of Mutton, Mrs. Rundell’s recommendation is, “If roasted, serve with onion or currant-jelly sauce; if boiled, with caper-sauce and vegetables.”  (Personally, I would swap in lamb for the mutton and opt for roasting it.  My grandmother who came from Yorkshire insisted on boiling all meat, and nearly made vegetarians out of all of her sons.)

And now I think I’ll go off and get something to eat.