Friday, August 8, 2014

Regency Food & Seasons

I recently taught a workshop for the RWA's Beau Monde chapter on Regency Food & Seasons. I was delighted to be awarded for Excellence in Teaching for the workshop. And so here is a bit of information from that workshop.

When talking about the Regency seasons, which includes holidays and seasonal food, we need to keep in mind a couple of things.

The first is that calendars have changed over the ages. We had the Julian Calendar in use from 45 BC on through the 1500's. By the 1500's this calendar was showing problems in not tracking days accurately. From the mid 1500's through 1752, multiple calendars were in place, and different New Years days were around—this is still a headache for historians.

In 1750, an Act of Parliament established the Georgian Calendar which went into effect in 1752. Days were lost and changed around and it took some time for some folks to adopt the new dates.

All of this matters because it affected what celebrations were held—meaning the very important feast days.

A good article on all this can be found here:

Now, by the Regency, the Georgian Calendar was well into effect. However, do keep in mind that this calendar change happened within living memory of those Georgians—it was only two generations in the past.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the world of the early 1800’s was a highly localized world: this is the era before mass production and well before mass information. This means that local traditions were deeply entrenched—folks in Devon would have a different set of traditions than folks in Yorkshire. Meaning different foods, recipes, and seasonal events.

The unifying force in all tradition, however, was the Church.

This started as “The” Church—the Catholic Church. The Church, in turn, adopted many of the holidays that were part of local pagan celebrations. This was a great conversion tool—it’s often hard to get someone to give up their feast days, so it was often easier to add in a Saint’s Day or set up a feast that could be a sanctioned Church holy day instead of trying to get the locals to give up their fun by disapproval. (Decking the halls with holy is an ancient Celtic tradition that made its way into the Church sanctioned Christmas tradition.)

Celtic and Nordic traditions also influenced Saxon ways and foods (as in pickled fish), which in turn influenced Norman ways. In general, you’ll find more Nordic/Viking influence along coasts of England and along major river ways—places where Viking raids were a regular occurrence. The Welsh, Scottish, and Irish held onto their Celtic influences, so their lands would be places where old Celtic traditions and foods were stronger.

After Henry VIII, the Church of England split from “Popeish” ways. The C of E did not toss out the holy days, but the idea of High Mass was dropped along with other trappings, and religious reform brought in yet a new influence. It also brought in new foods since a number of these Protestants held with plain fare. But traditions—the old ways—are still celebrated: as in the Celtic Holiday of Samhain (pronounced sa-win) became All Saints (or All Hallows, and All Hallows Eve became Halloween)—and with that came the feasts that went with those seasons.

A couple of good calendar of C of E saint’s days and movable feast days are:

(For some, it might be easier to look at the C of E calendar as the seasons set up for church celebrations:

Another good source of information is any Book of Days. For example, the Norwich Book of Days gives holidays and important dates and traditions for Norwich:

As we go through the workshop, we’ll talk more about other resources, but it’s good to remember that you’ll want to decide on your fictional character’s history; what are their local roots (if they have any), do they have a predisposition for adopting new foods coming into England? Or do they hold with traditional fare?

Always remember this is about research to build characters, and every person is more than an individual—a character has the influence of family, society, upbringing, and all the trappings of their world.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Regency Lady's Companion

by Donna Hatch

Lady's companions play an indispensable role in the proper English lady’s life in Regency England. They act as the guardian of a young lady and her reputation, which can be so easily sullied by even the appearance of untoward behavior. Even the simple act of walking around without a proper chaperon could call into question a lady’s reputation. A mother or father, of course, are preferred guardians. But if a parent is unavailable, a companion is the perfect solution.

A lady’s companion is an overlooked and under-appreciated member of the household. She can be a relative, or a poor relation, perhaps a widowed or maiden aunt who is relying upon the kindness of her family. She must be older than the lady—younger companions simple wouldn’t do for a gently bred young lady.  I have heard of younger companions for old spinsters who are no longer considered marriage material, but young companions are probably more for companionship and help, than truly to guard the reputation of an older lady.

They not be related at all.  They may simple be a member of the gentry, usually educated and have good manners. Since there were paid companions, they could have been ladies whose family has fallen upon hard times which has forced them to find employment. Because there were few acceptable employment options for a member of the gentry or aristocracy, becoming a teacher, a governess, or if they were older, a paid companion were their most likely occupations.

A maid or other lower born servant is never a proper companion. They can be too easily bullied or bribed to disappear and thus no be a reliable guardian for a young lady’s virtue.

So the next time you read in a Regency romance novel about a companion, spare them a kind thought for their vital role to the fragile reputation of their young charges.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How Much I Know About the Regency

More than I used to. :)

I will never know everything, but part of the fun is finding out new things.

About six years ago, when I got it into my head the idea to write a regency, I looked for library books on the subject. One of the books I found was What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool.

I was in alt. Here was a list of lots of the things I read about in regencies, but had no idea what they were. Pounds and pence, Parliament sessions, Whitsunday and Michaelmas, quarter days and consols, pelisses, footmen and scullery maids. I was also totally confused. How would I ever remember all this stuff?

I recently reread the book. And, lo and behold, much of the information has become second nature. I guess I've learned a lot in the past few years.

Some will scoff at the book. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew covers both the Regency and the Victorian eras, so not everything is valid for the Regency. And the information is general. But the book is a good overview and has an extensive bibliography and a great glossary.

I will always make errors, and I hope my readers will be forgiving because I try to get things right.

Thank you all,
Linda Banche
Welcome to My World of Historical Hilarity!

The picture is Carlton House, the Prince Regent's home during the Regency, from Wikipedia.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Childbirth in Regency England

by Donna Hatch

In Regency England, childbirth was one of the most dangerous threats to a woman’s health and life. Most sources I read claimed that up to 20% of all women died either in childbirth, or immediately following birth, most often due to infection. Many accounts place the infant mortality rate at about the same level. That’s a sobering reality.

After giving birth six times to six healthy babies, I have a deep appreciation for the medical practices of modern-day America. There were complications during two of my deliveries which might have threatened the life of my child and myself but for the intervention of knowledgeable doctors and nurses, as well as technology to provide early warning signs of problems. Unfortunately, our historical counterparts were not so lucky. In fact, in many of the cases I read, including the tragic and fatal “lying in” of Princess Charlotte, the lucky ones were those who gave birth without the interference of doctors, midwives, and accoucheurs.

Based on today’s standards, medical treatment was barbaric, and obstetrics was no exception. Common prenatal care included purges, bleedings, starvation diets, and induced vomiting in misguided attempt to keep the baby from getting too large for the mother to deliver. Such practices were surely factors in the death of Princess Charlotte hours after she delivered a stillborn son in 1817. Charlotte was the only legitimate child of Prince George “Prinny” who later became King George IV.  Princess Charlotte’s death and her stillborn child rocked the country and caused such public outrage that the medical community took a good hard look at common practices and make some key changes. But it took time to create any real improvements.

One such common practice for prenatal care that eventually changed included “lying-in” where the expectant mother remained in bed for a period of time ranging from a few weeks to a few months before giving birth, even if the birth seemed normal with no early labor signs. Though Princess Charlotte was told to get some exercise by walking, this did not appear to be the normal practice. 

Once the mother was in labor, the birthing or lying-in rooms were heated and completely shut up to prevent the flow of air. Fear of drafts causing the mother to catch cold created the practice of building up the fire, putting blankets over all the windows and doors, and covering every crevice. Not only would have that been uncomfortable and not allowed for adequate oxygen but it would have been a breeding ground for bacteria so it likely caused the very problem they were trying to prevent.

Many accounts report the mother lying in bed directly on her back, while only a few cite having the mother lie on her side. Apparently, the upper classes were more likely to lie in beds more than the poor who are generally depicted sitting in birthing chairs. This may have been due to the desire to keep the lady more modestly covered but certainly would have made it difficult to push effectively.

If the mother seemed to be having trouble pushing out a baby, some doctors and midwives during the Regency used forceps. However, forceps were a new invention and few doctors in England accepted their use. Some believe that if forceps had been used for Princess Charlotte, as was originally determined but never carried out, her baby might have lived.

Cesarean sections had been in practice for many years, but generally only if the mother had died and the doctor believed the baby could be saved. This may have been partially due to the fact that people claimed that were was no anesthesia available. However, laudanum and opium were in use many years before for chronic pain and the surgery so I don’t know why it couldn't have been used during a Cesarean for a live mother. Maybe it didn’t matter, because the mother would likely develop infection and die. It makes me wonder how any one survived surgery of any kind considering their lack of knowledge about cleanliness. I have not discovered how successful a C-section was in those days to the baby but I suppose with nothing to lose once the mother died, the doctors were willing to try to save the infant.

If a woman were lucky enough to have survived birth, the next few weeks could still prove fatal. A new mother’s diet for was often limited to warm tea and/or wine for the first several days. A lack of solid food could cause a dysfunctional intestinal system, a condition aggravated by the mother remaining lying in bed for days and sometimes weeks. 

Infection was one of the most common reasons for a woman dying after childbirth. Medical personnel seemed tragically unaware of the need for washing their hands and instruments. The practice of washing hands and instruments, and providing clean linens did not become common until about the 1840’s which lowered the mortality rate from 20% to about 6%.

Childbirth in Regency England was risky enough that two out of ten women and babies failed to survive it, which means most women would have known someone who died during or immediately following birth. Some have speculated one of the reasons Jane Austen never married was due to the potential disaster for mother and child. Three of Jane’s sisters-in-law died in childbirth, according to JOAN AUSTEN-LEIGH in her article My Aunt, Jane Austen. With such a grim family statistic, I might have thought twice about marrying and having children, too.

Once again, researching Regency England serves the dual purpose of providing the information I need for a book I’m writing, as well as making me really, really glad I live in a western nation in today’s world. But I still wish I could visit Regency England :-)


Friday, June 27, 2014

London's Burlington House

© Cheryl Bolen
Burlington House, located on London's busy Piccadilly near the Piccadilly Circus, is now seen by thousands who view exhibits there of the Royal Academy.

But the former aristocratic home is significantly altered from what it was when Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, engaged Scottish architect Colin Campbell to redesign it in 1718 when the earl was 26. Indeed, the earl's home significantly altered the previous home there, built in 1667 by the 1st Earl of Burlington. The 1st earl engaged William Kent to design the baroque interiors, some of which remain today.
Campbell's Burlington House, seen from Picadilly, 1700's
During the 1st earl's lifetime, Burlington House was a hub for artists, including Handel, who reportedly lived there for three years, Swift, and Pope.

The 3rd earl succeeded at age 10. (See my previous blogs on the 3rd Earl of Burlington in "Chiswick House: Quintessentially Georgian" and "The Grand Tour"

Campbell was heavily influenced by Italian Andrea Palladio—whom the earl also came to emulate when he designed his Chiswick House as a Thames-side villa.

Burlington House was one of a handful of London residences that were constructed on large plots of land with outbuildings. (I've previously blogged on Devonshire House and Albany, both located on Piccadilly near Burlington Houston, and both of which were on large plots set back from the street.) The main house is some distance away from the Victorian archway into the forecourt in front of the house.
The main house today (note the third story added in Victorian times), now the Royal Academy

Campbell's Palladian main house remains today, but a third story was added in Victorian times. Also added in Victorian times was the building, centered by a huge open arch, which lines the sidewalk on Piccadilly. This building houses the various "learned societies" which occupy the site and is not open to the public.

The earl's estate passed to his grandson, the Duke of Devonshire, who never resided there. In 1815, the 6th Duke of Devonshire sold Burlington House to his uncle Lord George Cavendish, and Lord George built the adjacent Burlington Arcade (see my previous blog).

In 1854, the property was sold for £140,000 to the British government, which eventually leased it to the Royal Academy for 999 years. It also was chosen to house five "learned societies."
Victorian addition to Burlington House, now the Royal Academy, fronts Piccadilly
The main house's John Medejski Fine Rooms, often open free to the public, were restored in 2004 to what they would have looked like when The Earls of Burlington lived there. I have had the good fortune of viewing these lovely rooms, which include some designed by Kent 300 years ago. For those planning a trip to London, I would suggest seeing The Royal Academy on the weekends, when more rooms are open.

Interiors, The John Madejski Fine Rooms at Burlington House (Royal Academy)
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Monday, June 23, 2014

Money in the Regency: What Did it Cost?

In 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.

In the Regency...
- Four farthing made a penny.  (A pence.)
- Twelve pennies (or twelvepence) made a shilling.
- Five shillings made a crown.
- Twenty shillings made a pound.
- Twenty-one shillings made a guinea.

Coinage in use in the Regency included:
- gold for one, two, five and half-guinea coins
- silver for one, two, three, four, 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), 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.

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 four hundred pounds a year, one could employ two maids, one groom and keep one horse in London.  On seven hundred a year, one could have one manservant, three maids and two horses.  For a thousand 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.

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.

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.

Friday, June 6, 2014


by Donna Hatch

My latest foray into the research geekdom took me slightly out of the Regency Era, but since I love all kinds of old things, I decided to indulge in this new direction and share with you my latest discovery: hatpins.

To quote Wikipedia: A hatpin is a decorative and functional pin for holding a hat to the head, usually by the hair. In Western Culture, a hatpin is almost solely a female item and is often worn in a pair.

The description made me smile since I can't imagine anyone using a pin to fasten their hat to their head! Obviously, it attached to their hair :-)

In as early as the 1400’s, proper, and, I might add, probably only fairly wealthy ladies, used pins to secure their wimples and veils onto their heads. By the early 1800’s, ladies used them to keep their hats in place. Hatpins ranged in length from six to twelve inches and were made from a variety of metals including brass, copper, sterling silver, gold, or gold or silver wash, and often had a decorated head. Naturally, they had to be made by hand, which made them hard to find. In England, demand caused importers to bring hatpins from France. Apparently Parliament became alarmed at the threat to the delicate balance between import and export, so they passed a law restricting the import of pins to January 1st and 2nd. Supposedly ladies saved their money all year to have enough to purchase. Some believe this is the source of the term "pin money." Other sources claim pin money came from the beginning of each tax she supposedly used to pay for her pins. However, I have always held fast to the popular Regency belief that ladies spent pin money to pay for pins used to fasten their gowns together, since buttons and hooks weren’t as common as modern people believe. Since the pins were made of metal, non-stainless steel, they eventually rusted and had to be replaced.
Regardless, hatpins remained a popular and necessary accessory into the 1920's. Eventually in America, laws restricted the length of hat pins since they could be used as a deadly weapon so women had to cut them down to the maximum length.

Eventually, hatpins became mass produced, making them more readily available to the poorer classes with
very simple heads. Of course, the wealthy always had fun hatpin heads made from materials such as, according to the American Hatpin Society:

Carnival glass, rhinestones, hand blown molded glass, micro mosaic, or hand painted or transferred porcelain like the Japanese Satsuma. There were also hatpins made with ivory, emeralds, stone, amber, tortoise shell, jet, celluloid and other plastics, mother of pearl, and coral.

Hatpins spanned many styles including Baroque, Etruscan Revival, Greek Revival, Egyptian Revival, Oriental influence, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau and even Art Deco, before waning around WW1 when metals became scarce and hats got smaller.

I was horrified to find in the picture to the right, a hatpin made in the shape of a swastika. However, the hatpins in this pincushion show a good variety of the many different styles of hatpins available. Today, hatpins are collectible items and there is an American Hatpin Society and The Hat Pin Society of Great Britain for modern enthusiasts.

Now that I know of their existence, I think I’ll have to write a scene in my next Regency historical romance novel where my heroine uses a hatpin to defend herself from a bad guy.