This last week, I’ve been comfort-reading, which means Georgette Heyer. And the influence of Beau Brummell crops up an awful lot.
James Purefoy as Beau Brummell
He is there, even in novels like Arabella that are set after his flight to France. Brummell might be gone from the scene, literally, but he’s still around, in spirit.
Wadded shoulders and wasp-waist for the dandy
Until that moment [Arabella] had thought Mr Epworth quite the best-dressed man present; indeed, she had been quite dazzled by the exquisite nature of his raiment, and the profusion of rings, pins, fobs, chains, and seals which he wore; but no sooner had she clapped eyes on Mr Beaumaris’s tall, manly figure than she realized that Mr Epworth’s wadded shoulders, wasp-waist, and startling waistcoat were perfectly ridiculous. Nothing could have been in greater contrast to the extravagance of his attire than Mr Beaumaris’s black coat and pantaloons, his plain white waistcoat, the single fob that hung to one side of it, the single pearl set chastely in the intricate folds of his necktie. Nothing he wore was designed to attract attention, but he made every other man in the room look either a trifle overdressed or a trifle shabby. (Arabella, Chapter 6)
“Nothing he wore was designed to attract attention…” That could have been a description of Brummell himself. After all, Brummell was the one who said: “To be truly elegant, one should not be noticed.” Continue reading →
Just before the start of the first lockdown — and doesn’t that seem a lifetime ago? — I spent an afternoon in the jewellery galleries at the Victoria & Albert Museum, in London. What struck me was how much of the fabulous bling on display was royal, or had royal connections. At the beginning of the 19th century, a lot of money went on bling. And the ladies of consequence were happy to flaunt it.
In 1806, Emperor Napoleon was intent on securing an alliance with the Prince-elector of Baden as part of the Confederation of the Rhine. To cement the alliance, Napoleon arranged a marriage between his adopted daughter, Stéphanie de Beauharnais, and the elector’s heir. Napoleon presented the bride with this beautiful set of emerald and diamond jewellery. Continue reading →
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.
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 →
Often when we think about weddings — or write them into our books — we imagine the full works with floaty white dress, olde worlde church bedecked with flowers, rosy-cheeked clergyman, uplifting organ music, smiling friends and family.
But it wasn’t always so.
Weddings: not IN church, but AT the church door
Strange though it seems, in medieval times, weddings didn’t take place inside a church. In fact, many weddings didn’t involve a priest at all. Even if a priest was there, his job was only to bless the couple. In 1215, the Church decreed that a contract of marriage was to be “in the approved manner at the church door“. The priest was to be at the church door too, but in order to oversee the wedding, not to do the marrying — that was done by the consent of the couple themselves.
The Catholic Church decreed in 1563 that marriage required mutual consent plus joining by a priest. Since the Reformation was in progress, however, that didn’t apply everywhere.
Closest marriage house to the border. Yes, it’s a pub! In Springfield near Gretna
In Scotland, even into the 20th century, a couple could marry by simply exchanging consent in front of witnesses. Think of all those romantic Gretna Green weddings. The runaway couple might have assumed that the strange Scotsman in the Marriage House was doing the marrying, but in fact they were doing it themselves, by declaration before witnesses. Continue reading →