Category Archives: history

Regency evening gowns: delicious detail at bosom and ankle

White evening gown, 1800, Bath costume museum

Bath Costume Museum

Regency evening gown, replica, Bath costume museum

Bath Costume Museum

Detail does matter. The Regency lady going to dinner, or going to a ball, wanted every detail of her appearance to be perfect. Especially if her aim was to attract a potential husband. (She might, of course, have been a married lady looking for a little diversion with a new lover.)

Did the gentlemen in question notice these details? Possibly they did, because most of the details on these gorgeous gowns were around two areas of the female body that drew the masculine eye — the low-cut neckline exposing much of the lady’s bosom, and the naughty ankle, glimpsed as the lady walked or danced. Continue reading

Regency Gowns: Who Would be a Seamstress?

white gowns worn by Bennet sisters in BBC 1995 Pride & Prejudice

BBC’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice

Regency gowns are familiar to anyone who has ever watched a Jane Austen adaptation on TV or film. We expect to see ladies floating around in high-waisted dresses, probably made of fine white muslin. We expect to see large quantities of bosom on display. But from our modern perspective of mass-produced clothing and home sewing machines, we rarely think about how these supposedly simple Regency garments were made.

By female hand and eye. Every last cut and stitch.

Continue reading

dedicated to the one I love

Dedicating to the One You Love – or Are You?

 

Trumpets dedicating

Dedicating a book to someone is powerful. It’s an announcement with trumpets.

We’ve all read the thanks that go on for several pages. They embrace everyone from the author’s family, agent and editor, to anyone who gave them help with research or did the typing.

Justified? Probably. Sincere? Mostly. But a dedication? No. Continue reading

Female servants: overworked and underpaid?

female servant in Regency costume

A Regency housemaid

Most female servants had a pretty tough life over the centuries. They worked long hours at backbreaking menial tasks, they weren’t paid very much and they had little or no time off.

What’s more, they were often at the mercy of predatory men — employers or other servants. And if they fell pregnant as a result? It was their own fault, their own wickedness — of course! — and they would often end up in the gutter. Continue reading

Footmen: the Curse of Manly Calves in Silk Stockings

Male servants conveyed the right image

In the Georgian and Regency periods, higher social standing was demonstrated by having more and more male servants, like footmen. If they wore livery, so much the better. If they had little to do, employers did not care  Ostentation was all.

one of footmenIn 1777, Lord North (often called “the Prime Minister who lost America”) proposed to tax male servants at a guinea a man to help pay for the American wars. He reckoned that some 100,000 menservants were kept for purposes of “luxury and ostentation”. (The tax was increased in 1785 and not completely repealed until 1889. You can read more about it in an extensive article on The Regency Redingote.)

The cost of keeping bewigged footmen increased again in 1795 when the tax on powdered hair began to be enforced, at a guinea a head. Opponents of the then Prime Minister, William Pitt, stopped using powder themselves. They began to apply the term “guinea-pigs” to those gentlemen who still powdered their hair, and so paid the guinea in tax. Continue reading

Servants on the Page: the Downton Conundrum


Downton Abbey
 — and Upstairs, Downstairs before that — can be a bit of a curse for writers. Why? Because both show us servants, below stairs, who are human and empathetic. Because they show us relationships between upstairs and downstairs that seem respectful on both sides, even cosy. And because they aren’t always true to history.

Don’t believe me? Then let’s turn to Mrs Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) for advice:

A servant is not to be seated … in his master’s or mistress’s presence; nor to offer any opinion, unless asked for it; nor even to say “good night,” or “good morning,” except in reply to that salutation.  Continue reading

Celebrating the Remarkable, Against the Odds

remarkable Claire Lorrimer

This week I went to a celebration of the extraordinary life of Patricia Denise Clark, whom I knew as distinguished romantic novelist, Claire Lorrimer. It would have been her 96th birthday. It was unforgettable — a truly remarkable occasion. Continue reading

Special Licence Marriage — Heyer’s Research Failing?

a special licence marriage?

Signing the Register Edward Blair Leighton

Marriage by special licence plays a very important role in historical romance. Georgette Heyer used it often. And today’s writers of historical romance use it too. Why? Because with banns or a common licence, the couple had to marry in a public church or chapel between the hours of 8 and noon.

Goblin Court typical English village

 

 

Those restrictions would have put paid to many a fictional marriage, like the one in Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow.

The heroine’s wedding takes place in the middle of the night.
And in a local PUB! Continue reading

Love Match Weddings

Love match weddings ? Signing the Register

Signing the Register Edward Blair Leighton

Love match weddings, achieved after much conflict and tribulation, have been a staple of popular novels ever since Pamela. These days it is a given in western society that young people make their own marital choices — in theory, every  wedding should be a love match.Cover of Lawrence Stone's Uncertain Unions & Broken Lives

So it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always so, especially among the gentry and aristocracy about whom Joanna and our guest bloggers Anne Gracie, Louise Allen and Nicola Cornick write so delightfully. The grim evidence of bullying, family interests and the protection of property at all costs, is set out in historian Lawrence Stone’s masterly account of courtship, marriage and divorce in England before the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act, which reformed the law on divorce.

Yet those Georgian and Regency writers do have some historical justification for their True Love and Happy Ever After stories. And that’s all we readers need, right? It wasn’t all bad. Sometimes love triumphed in real life. Continue reading