Tag Archive | regency

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?

Joan Vincent Guest Blogger – Honour’s Debt

Welcome guest blogger, Joan Vincent…

Joan VincentHi, I’m Joan Vincent. I live in Kansas which is a long way from Enlgand and the Regency period. And I have a minor in American History. Who knew I would read over 200 regency romances in a month one summer long ago and decide I would like to take my hand at writing one? Certainly surprised me, delightfully so.

Honour’s Debt is the first book in my Honour series. It started out far different than it is today. It began it as a sweet rather simple regency like all my previous books and then, in chapter five my villian was killed. That rather stunned me. I needed at least 50,000 more words and what’s a story without a villian?  My sister said “find a worse villian.” After ruminating on it a few days I sat down and just starting typing. (I do plot but I’ve found if I don’t let my characters do what they want the story just doesn’t go anywhere. I once thought I created the characters and I’m in charge but something else is at work too) To my amazement a very dastardly villian–a master French spy appeared. Along with him came a young emigré pursing him. When I told my sister I didn’t know who this young man was she suggested i use for a character from an earlier book. The story reshaped itself; it became an entirely different more complex story. And it flowed onto the pages. In a week I had sketches for six more books but that it for another time.

Honor's DebtI didn’t fall in love with my hero but I like and respect him very much. Truth be told I did fall in love with the young emigré. He was six when he first appeared in the first regency I ever wrote –not the first one published. It was very spooky when I learned one of the men who tried to kidnap him in that book was the French master spy in Debt. These two men are in every book in the series.

The hardest part of writing the book was a multitude of research. After years of researching for and writing regencies I am grounded in a lot of regency history. But I had never had a hero who was in the military–much less the cavalry–the 15th Light Dragoons. I chose the 15th after research revealed they were in Spain in 1808. Then the real work began. There was the question of Light Dragoons or Hussars–you can read reams of information and still wonder about that. Also what color was their uniform, and in particular the facings they wore–each regiment’s is different. Once I got the details I needed I knew the hero’s motivation was grounded in what happened in Spain. More research was necessary to find the location where the action would take place in England. The setting had to have smuggling which led me to a study of Martello towers. More investigation followed on cottages. I always sketch out my character’s homes and this story involved several.

I like to be as accurate as possible. Accuracy in detail grounds the story, but plot drives it. Major Quentin Bellaport, Viscount Broyal sets out to redeem a debt of honour but falling in love was not part of the plan. Intent on saving Maddie Vincoer from the maelstrom of a funeral, a wedding, and kidnappings, he can only pray she’ll forgive his deceit. Will she believe she is not a pawn to his Honour’s Debt?

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

Regency Coin — What Did it Cost?

Proper ConductIn Proper Conduct, the heroine spends a good deal of time worrying about money that is not there, particular after her father spends nearly 1,000 pounds on a horse.  Not an excessive sum to someone such as the Prince Regent, whose racing stud farm cost him 30,000 pounds a year.  But all these numbers seemed to need a bit perspective.

We also have to remember that back in the 1800’s England was not on a decimal system–you had to know your farthings, pennies, and shillings. And coins were far more common for use than any paper money. Banknotes–slips of paper that promised payment for a set amount–were initially issued by individual banks. In the late 1600’s the Bank of England was established and by the late 1700’s their notes were viewed as being as good as gold (or silver). But Scottish banks issue their own notes until the mid 1800’s, and other private banks o issue their own notes until the mid 1800’s, and the last English private banknote was issued in the early 1900’s.

Banknotes began to be standardized in the mid 1700’s, with ten and five pound notes appearing. These were all hand-lettered and signed–and 1821 banknotewere viewed by many with deep suspicion. A coin, after all, was to hold the value of itself within it’s metal. And for many, a bit of gold or silver in hand was better than any promise given in a bit of paper. Banknotes were much easier to forge than any coin–another good reason for anyone to prefer payment in solid coin.

So we look to coinage as the most common form of currency.

In the Regency, we have as the main coins denominations:

  • Farthing – four farthing made a penny
  • Penny or Pence – twelve pennies (or twelvepence) made a shilling
  • Shilling – five shillings made a crown
  • Crown
  • Pound – twenty shillings made a pound
  • Guinea – twenty-one shillings made a guinea

In ledgers, a pound is often written with the pound mark–£. Shilling is written as an “s” or a slash mark, as in 6/ is six shillings. And a penny is written up as “d” for denarius, a Roman silver coin that had the same value as the English penny. So 4d is four pence.

Coinage in use in the Regency included:

  • Gold for one, two, five and half-guinea coins
  • Silver for one, two, three, four, and six penny (or pence), shilling, and crown coins
  • Copper for half-pence and farthing coins

Two-penny coins were called tuppence. And there were all sorts of slang names for coins including a quid (pound), a bob (shilling), and a goldfinch (guinea).

Due to a shortage of copper and silver coins in the late 1700’s, firms began to use tokens to pay wages.  There was also a growth in payments by foreign coins at this time.

The annual expenses of a great house could run between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds a year including housekeeping, repairs, stables, parklands, gardens, home farm costs, servants, and taxes.

Mrs. Whitney’s  Boarding School for Young Ladies at Buckingham cost twelve guineas a year, and one guinea extra if tea and sugar were required to be served.

In Bath, one paid two guineas were paid for subscription balls, five shillings for concert tickets, and ten shillings sixpence for a subscription to the booksellers.

With an income of 400 pounds a year, one could employ two maids, one groom and keep one horse in London.  On 700 hundred a year, one could have one manservant, three maids and two horses.  With an income of 1,000 pounds a year, one could have three female servants, a coachman, a footman, two carriages and a pair of horses in London.

There were three to four hundred families whose income was over 10,000 pounds a year, due to vast land holdings (hence, these were called “The four hundred” — it was a small world at the top).

During the London season, the lease on house in the West End could cost as much as 1,000 pounds.

Anyone with a debt of twenty pounds or more could be sent to debtor’s prison.  However, a member of Parliament could not be imprisoned while Parliament was sitting.

The capital to secure an estate was approximately thirty times the desired income–so, if you want to make 1,000 pounds a year, you need 30,000 to secure the amount of good land that could produce such an income.

The Earl of Egremont saw a rise in income due to land rentals from 12,976 pounds in 1791 to 34,000 pounds in 1824.

In Somerset (where Proper Conduct is set) 30 acres for let went for 35 pounds per annum, with the tenant paying all taxes except land tax.

In 1801, a 100-acre estate in Sussex sold for 3,500 pounds.

In 1804, due to the silver shortage, the Bank of England issued light-weight token silver coins for one shilling, three shilling and six pence coins.

From 1811 to 1812, an estimated 250,000 people lived comfortably on more than seven hundred pounds a year each.  A half million shopkeepers made a hundred and fifty pounds a year each, two million artisans lived on the edge of poverty at 55 pounds per annum, and one and one half million laborers earned only 30 pounds a year each.

In 1813, a cow fetched about 15 pounds at the market, while a ewe went for 55 to 72 shillings.

In 1816, a new British one pound coin made of gold, the sovereign, began to be produced.

In 1820, 1,100 years after the first English silver pennies were minted, the last British silver pennies were minted.

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

Regency Corinthians, Dandies, Rakes and Young Blades

In Regency romances these days, it seems as if every gentleman back then was a rake. But there were actually several sets to which a gentleman might  belong.

Almost all Regency gentlemen gambled, drank, played hard, hunted, went shooting and generally indulged in excess, carnal and otherwise, following a tone set very much by the Regent.  The Prince turned 49 in 1811 when he became Regent of England, putting him past the age where either “young” or “blade” could be aptly applied to him, but there were other men gentle by birth—though not necessarily by manner—who looked to belong to certain distinct fashionable sets which excelled in specific areas.

Lord Byron

Lord Byron in Turkish Dress

It can be difficult to tell the difference between these different set, and quite often a gentleman had overlapping interests.  There were rakes who were good enough sportsmen to be called “Corinthians,” and Corinthians who also belonged to the dandy set by virtue of the care they took with their dress.

Lord “Beau” Petersham was one such man.  Born in 1780, Charles Stanhope, Viscount Petersham, later became the Earl of Harrington in 1829.  He was said to resemble Henry IV, and he emphasized this by growing a small, pointed beard. He designed his own clothes and made famous the Petersham overcoat and the Harrington hat. He was also noted for his brown coach, clothing, and servant’s livery—a color said to have been chosen for his devotion to a widow named Brown.  However, in 1831 he married a Covent Garden actress named Maria Foote who was seventeen-years his junior. His was also noted for his snuff and tea mixes, and Gronow said of his sitting-room that, “…all round the walls were shelves, upon which were placed tea-canisters, containing Congou, Pekoe, Souchong, Bohea, Gunpowder, Russian, and many other teas, all the best o the kind; on the other side of the room were beautiful jars, with names in gilt letters, o finnumerable kinds of snuff….”

Petersham owned a snuff boxes for each day of the year and according to Priestley in The Prince of Pleasure, took care to “…choose one that suited the weather, not risking a cold by using a light snuffbox in an East wind.”

Lords Alvanley and Sefton were other examples of dandies who also had sporting interests.

William Arderne, Baron Alvanley, was famous for his wit, his dinner parities, his dress and his eccentricities.  He insisted that an apricot tart be on the sideboard, no matter the time of year, after he was served a cold one that he liked. He also put out his candle by throwing it across the room—with his valet wisely remained alert in case it should start a fire and have to be put out. A hard rider to hounds, Alvanley was one of the best liked men of his set.

Lord Sefton, William Philip Molyneux, was a cousin to Petersham. Society wits dubbed him “Lord Dashalong” for his driving style, and his matched bays were quite famous.  He rode in steeplechases and was so fond of coursing greyhounds against each other as a sport that he devoted part of his estate to raising rabbits for the chase.

Even with examples of gentlemen who had diverse interests, there are still distinctions that can be made between these various sets.  Byron is quoted as having said, “I like the Dandies, they were always very civil to me.”  This shows that while the distinctions between these sets were fine, they existed.

George Brummell

George Brummell (1815)

To see this illustrated, one can look at the most famous of dandies, George Bryan “Beau” Brummell who led the dandy set for a number of years.  As Captain Gronow states, “All the world watched Brummell to imitate him, and order their clothes of the tradesman who dressed that sublime dandy.”  He also reports that, “The dandy’s dress consisted of a blue coat with brass buttons, leather breeches, and top boots; and it was the fashion to wear a deep, stiff white cravat, which prevented you from seeing your boots while standing.”

In Life in Regency and Early Victorian Times, Chancellor marks the world of the dandies as “…that portion of St. James’s, bounded by Piccadilly and Pall Mall, St. James’s Street and Waterloo Place, was the ne plus ultra of fashionable life…”  Obviously with a mention of Waterloo Place, this puts this area a touch later than the Regency, but St. James’s did mark the center of the fashionable gentleman’s world.

Brummell was on terms with the Prince Regent, and his closest friends included the Dukes of Rutland, Dorset, and Argyll, Lords Sefton, Alvanley, and Plymouth.  As Gronow states, “In the zenith of his popularity he might be seen at the bay window of White’s Club, surrounded by the lions of the day, laying down the law, and occasionally indulging in those witty remarks for which he was famous.”

Wit was as much a hallmark of the dandy as were his clothes—indeed, everything about the dandy had to bespeak style, including his dress, his manners, and his furniture.  Understated elegance was what Brummell strove for and he is quoted as saying, “If John Bull turns round to look after you, you are not well dressed; but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable.”

As a gentleman, Brummell rode to hounds, following that sporting fashion.  But it is reported that he never rode past the first field for he did not want to stain his white boot tops with mud, and so retired to the nearest inn.  This is what sets him as a true dandy, caring more for his appearance than anything.  A true Corinthian would have distained such a poor showing, for, in general, Corinthians sought to excel in the sporting world.

Shakespeare has his Prince Hal proclaim in Henry IV, “They take it already upon their salvation, that though I be but prince of Wales, yet I am king of courtesy; and tell me flatly I am no proud Jack, like Falstaff, but a Corinthian, a lad of mettle…”

A lad of mettle was what the Regency Corinthian sought to prove himself.

Bartleby’s defines a Corinthian as “A gentleman sportsman who rides his own horses on the turf, or sails his own yacht. A member of the pugilistic club, Bond Street, London” which references the Pugilistic Club formed in 1814 as the meeting-place of the aristocratic sporting element, often called “The Fancy.”

The Corinthian was, above all, a sporting man.  He drove his own horses, boxed, ride to hounds, shot and strove to be among the elite of this group would undertook these expensive as well as athletic endeavors.

Military men, too, might aspire to sporting excellence. Wellington was said to have a “bad seat” on a horse, but he certainly loved to hunt.  His officers could keep packs of hounds, and while foxes might be scarce in Spain and Portugal, there were rabbits enough to hunt. Winter was also the time when the army had to wait out the winter before a spring campaign, and as Harry Smith wrote in his autobiography, “At this period of the year (February, March) the coursing in this part of Spain is capital, and by help of my celebrated dog Moro and two other excellent ones, I supplied the officers’ mess of every Company with hares for soup.” Smith kept greyhounds to chase the hares, a sport far older than fox hunting, and his life is superbly fictionalized in Georgette Heyer’s The Spanish Bride.

There were more than a few Corinthians who also excelled at excessive dissipation, and who could be called rake, or “rake-hell,” or “rake shame.” It took more than a little womanizing for a Regency gentleman to earn the status of rake.  Prostitutes were so numerous that guidebooks were put out to describe the women, their specialties, and what they might not do.  Most gentlemen kept a mistress, and even titled married women considered discreet affairs the norm. But a gentleman who went beyond conventions, who preyed upon young women, or even children, or who undertook perversions, was deemed unacceptable. These rakes ignored convention and morality.  Two such examples of this are Lord Barrymore and the Duke of Queensberry.

Born in 1768, Richard Barry became the Earl of Barrymore in 1773.  He took to living to please himself, and earned the nickname “Hellgate.” His brother, Henry Barry, became “Cripplegate” for his crippled foot, and his other brother, the Honorable Reverend Augustus Barry, was called “Newgate” because that was the one gaol he had kept clear of.  His sister, who became Lady Milfort, was called “Billingsgate” for the foul language she used.

Barrymore rode his own horses in races, then went deeply into debt building his racing stables and gambling on his horses. It is said that he was a whip equal in skill to any professional coachman.  He also organized boxing matches, bet on them, and was accounted a good boxer himself.  In 1792 he married Miss Goulding, niece of the notorious Sir John Lady and Letty Lade—a woman who had been the mistress of the highwayman known as “Sixteen String Jack.” Sir John was not a respectable person, but he was a noted whip, and had driven a coach and four round the tiny horse sale yard at Tattersalls—a remarkable feat.  Instead of marrying to settle down, Barrymore had to make a scandal of even this.  He received permission from Sir John to marry Lade’s niece, but Barrymore decided to elope with his bride anyway, setting Society to talking about such disgraceful behavior.

While Lord Barrymore lived up to the image of a dissolute and dashing young blade, the Duke of Queensberry, known as “Old Q” for the initial he had painted on his carriage instead of his crest, was more the classic old rake. He also was a noted race-horse owner, gambler and driver, traits of a true Corinthian.

William Douglas had become the Earl of March in 1731, and then inherited the dukedom of Queensberry in 1786 when his cousin died.  Fabulously wealthy, he never married.  He adored young Italian opera singers, and was said to have been a member of the notorious “Hellfire Club.”  Like a true rake, he neglected his estates of Drumlanrig, Dumfries, and Galloway, and lived for his own pleasure.

While Georgian, the Hellfire Club is worth a brief mention in that gossip made it a standard (abet a low one) for scandalous debauchery.  It was not actually called the Hellfire Club by its members.  Started in 1746 by Sir Francis Dashwood, its name, like its members and its activities, were kept secret.  It was called either The Friars of St Francis of Wycombe, The Monks of Medmenham, The Order of Knights of West Wycombe, or The Order of the Knights of St Francis.  Stories held that members included the Earl of Sandwich, the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Hogarth, the Earl of Bute, the Marquis of Granby, and even the Prince of Wales, and that they indulged in everything from orgies to Satan worship.  What they really did is unknown, but it is very likely that they held orgies with prostitutes and probably performed invented Pagan ceremonies that were relatively harmless.

By the Regency, Dashwood and his club had been replaced by other clubs—some every bit as scandalous.

There were numerous gentlemen’s clubs in Regency London, and a gentleman’s clubs also denoted his status within each set.  Some clubs were founded for the purpose of eating, some for drinking, some for wit and society, some for debauchery, some for gambling, some for sports.  Many of them had whimsical rules, such as a club founded by Lord Barrymore which ruled that “if any member has more sense than another he be kicked out of the club.”

Most gentlemen belonged to several clubs. Waiter’s was considered the domain of the dandy, but closed in 1819 after becoming infamous as a place where too many gentlemen were ruined with deep play (which was also suspected of being rigged play).  White’s was considered the most exclusive, and was where Beau Brummell held court in the famous bow-window with Lord Alvanely, the Duke of Argyle, Lord Worcester, Lord Foley and Lord Sefton. Opposite White’s stood Brooks’s, a club that, through its patronage by Whig families, became known as the place for liberals.  Members included the radical and the artistic, such as Edmund Burke, Sir Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick, Horace Walpole, Edward Gibbon, Richard Sheridan, and the Prince of Wales.  Finally, a sporting minded gentleman might join Boodle’s with its focus on heavy gambling, or The Marylebone Cricket Club which played at Lord’s, or might aspire to the Bensington Driving Club, founded in 1807, or the more elite Four-Horse Club.

The Four-Horse club met in George Street, Hanover Square, and drove to Salt Hill to dine.  Members had be noted whips, drove four horses attached to a barouche carriage and had the right to wear the yellow-striped blue waistcoat and black spotted neckerchief insignia of the club.  Membership was so exclusive that the club counted only around thirty members or so, and included Lords Barrymore, Sefton, Worcester and Fitzhardinge, Sir John Lade, Sir Henry Peyton, Sir Bellingham Graham as well as other noted whips.

M. Simond, writing about his visit to England in 1810, might well have been writing of the Four-Horse club when he said, “I have just seen the originals of which Matthews gave us a faithful copy a few days ago in Hit or Miss—the very barouche club; the gentlemen-coachmen, with half-a-dozen great coats about them—immense capes—a large nosegay at the button-hole—high mounted on an elevated seat with squared elbows—a prodigious whip—beautiful horses, four in hand, drive in a file to Salthill, a place about twenty miles from London, and return, stopping on the way at the several public houses and gin shops where stage-coachmen are in the habit of stopping for a dram, and for parcels and passengers; the whole in strict imitation of their models and making use, as much as they can, of their energetic professional idiom.”

For boxing, there was Daffy’s Club, which The London Spy reported was held at Tom Belcher’s at the Castle Tavern in Holborn.  Boxing matches were also held at Fives Court in St. Martin’s Street.

Just as each set had its customary haunts and clubs, slang terms also defined a gentleman’s interests.  Some dandies, such as Sir Lumley “Skiffy” Skeffington spoke with a lisp.  (Many in the liberal Devonshire set also copied the Duchess of Devonshire’s lisp to denote their status as Whigs.)  With his lisp and his appearance as “a thin pallid little man with sharp features and rouged cheeks, and the atmosphere of a perfume shop,” Skeffington was almost the archetype of a dandy. He wore colored satin suits, penned plays and was said to spend eight hundred pounds a year on his clothes.  Actually, while Skeffington was a friend of Brummell’s and the Regent, he was actually too fashionable to meet Brummell’s standards for understated taste.

The Corinthian, in turn, adopted boxing terms or the slang of the coachman on the road.  It should be noted that are differences between London “thieves cant” often used by the young bucks about town, and the language of the Fancy.

As examples, Pierce Egan’s Life in London; or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his elegant friend, Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis shows his heroes—Tom and Jerry—using the slang of the Fancy as Tom shows his country cousin Jerry about town.  Egan calls his hero “one of the fancy, but not a fancy man…”  And said of him that while he was as home waltzing at Almacks, he was not a dandy.

Egan also published Boxiana as a serial put out between 1811 and 1813, and he was a well known figure in the sporting world.  Captain Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue provides a reference to the thieves cant used by the London underworld, and which might be employed by a young gentleman going slumming in brothels or gaming hells.

In addition to imitating the lower classes of London, young gentlemen looked to imitate the professional coach driver who handled the mail and stage coaches.  They might done a “Benjamin” (the greatcoat worn by coachmen) while seeking to “handle the ribbons” (hold the reins), and “spring the team” (put a team into a canter); “feather it” (drive very close to obstacles), managing both the “leaders” and the “wheelers” (the front pair and rear pair of a four horse team) over a “stage” (the distance between one change of teams and the next—usually 10 to 20 miles).

For others, it was not the professional coachman but the professional boxer who became the hero to emulate.

Gentleman Jackson's

Boxing at Gentleman Jackson's

Fist fighting begun to replace sword or cudgel sports during George I’s reign.  Though it was illegal, betting made it enough of an attraction to draw nobility as well as common folks.  The first official champion of England was James Figg, who was also an expert swordsman and who later opened a School of Arms.

Later, Jack Broughton, who was champion of England from 1734 to 1750, invented the “mufflers” or boxing gloves that were used for practice only since all prize-fights were fought with bare fists.  Called “the father of British pugilism” Broughton drafted the rules that were used before and during the Regency.  (It was not until 1866 that the Queensberry Rules were developed by the 8th Marquis of Queensberry and John G. Chambers.)

Broughton’s rules outlawed hitting below the belt, striking an opponent who was down (which included being on his knees). Wrestling holds were allowed only above the waist.  Every fighter had a gentleman to act as umpire, with a third to referee disagreements. When a fighter was knocked down, he had 30 seconds to get up—or have help getting up—and then he had to be placed at the corner of a 3-foot square that was drawn in the center of the ring.

As was common for retiring champion boxers, when John Jackson retired after willing the champion title in 1795, he opened the Bond Street School of Arms at Number 13. Jackson won the championship in a hard-fought match with Daniel Mendoza, but it was his school which brought him fame.

Jackson, known as “The Gentleman,” was friends with fencing instructor Henry Angleo, who had a school next door and who urged his students to alternate with lessons from Jackson—which made sense for Jackson advocated footwork and the science of targeting a hit.

Everyone went to Jackson’s, even Lord Byron, the lame poet.  When tasked with keeping such low company Byron insisted that Jackson’s manners were “infinitely superior to those of the fellows of the college whom I meet at the high table.”  That no doubt contributed Jackson’s nickname and his success.

Other boxing champions of the Regency era included: Jack Bartholomew, champion from 1797 to 1800.  Jem Belcher who often wore a blue scarf marked with white spots and blue centers around his neck, which became known as the Belcher neckcloth, and soon sporting mad young bucks were wearing any scarf of garish color with spots.  “Hen” Pearce, “The Game Chicken,” who held the title from 1803 to 1806 when he retired.  John Gully who won the championship in 1807 and retired in 1808 to open a racing stable. And Tom Cribb became the champion in 1808, winning a famous bout against African-American Tom Molineaux on December 18, 1810. Cribb went on to hold the champion title until 1822.

As an interesting footnote, Tom’s less famous brother, George had about five fights, and lost all of them—some men simply were not cut out to be Corinthians, dandies, or rakes.

Fencing at Henry Angelo's

Fencing at Henry Angelo's

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, Warwick, 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 Berkeley hunted an area from Berkeley Castle to Berkeley 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-1800s hunting had become more a matter of ‘subscribing’ in exchange for the right to hunt with the pack.

The golden age for hunting in Leicestershire 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 1800s, 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 Hansom 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.