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Friday, August 10, 2018

Regency Mourning Practices

by Donna Hatch

Mourning customs in the Regency Era were less rigid than in the Victorian Era. Excessively strict mourning rules we often encounter in historical novels came into practice after Queen Victoria’s beloved husband died -- she wouldn’t give up her black mourning clothes and turned mourning into a firmly followed rule of propriety. Her subjects used her example to springboard their own mourning customs. Keep in mind that these are not LAWS for mourning. Any display of mourning was done at a family's or person’s discretion. However, there were social norms, that, if not followed, might raise some eyebrows.

In the excellent book, The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, Trumbach gives the following data for mourning periods:
12 months for a husband or wife
6 months for parents or parents in-law
3 months for a sister or brother, uncle or aunt
6 weeks for a sister-in-law or uncle or aunt (no explanation for the duplication here so perhaps it had to do with the closeness or lack of same
3 weeks - uncle or aunt, aunt who remarried, first cousin
2 weeks - first cousin (and whether they were close or not?)
1 week - first and second cousin, and husband or stepmother’s sister.

Trumbach says there was usually a designated female who kept up the family tree and ordained the degree of mourning required for the dearly (or not so dearly) departed.

Bombazine and crepe were typical fabrics used for clothing of deep mourning. Crepe was a lightweight black silk, while bombazine was a medium-weight silk and wool blend. Over time, shinier fabrics emerged for appropriate evening wear while in mourning. The less wealthy simply took apart their clothes, dyed them black, then re-sewed them.

Mourning--or lack hereof--could also be used as an opportunity to get back at someone you disliked by cutting down on the time or style of one’s mourning.

Customarily, the widow would be in black for the first six months, and then in half mourning for the next six months. White, grey, and even lavender were suitable for half mourning. Again these are ideals, and not everyone observed them. Ackermann’s had a half mourning dress in a 1819 issue that was all white. Lavender is not mentioned in this issue, but it was commonly accepted as an appropriate half-mourning costume. On one blog I visited, I saw mention that there were some fashions circa 1811 of someone wearing scarlet for mourning, but "scarlet," is not only red in color; was also used to describe any brightly-dyed, plain-woven woolen fabric.

I found this: "February 1811 For the Promenade, cloaks in Scarlet merino or grey cloth, black velvet pelisses, lined with grey sarsenet, wrapped plain in tippets; Spanish hats in velvet, or cottage bonnets in black, grey, or scarlet cloth." I can only assume in this instance, the term means the way it was dyed, rather than the color red. 

In March 1811, La Belle Assemblee Ladies Magazine said that scarlet mantels were worn during mourning, and generally succeeded by short pelisses of purple velvet. Ladies Monthly Museum didn't have any mention of scarlet. I find it hard to believe any bright color, scarlet or otherwise, was an acceptable mourning color but who knows?

A bride would never wear mourning colors to her own wedding. A new bride was not supposed to be in mourning at all; though if her parents had recently died she might wear black or more sober clothes for a period, especially as brides were not supposed to go out socializing for a month after their wedding. Also, keep in mind that communication and travel were both slow, so the family may choose not to tell a bride on her honeymoon out of a desire not to ruin her wedded bliss, and because it was unlikely she could arrive home in a timely manner. Also remember, mourning during the Regency was an individual and family-dictated observance.

Julia Johnstone (before she was ruined and became a courtesan) had her court presentation and her debut in society not long after her father died, so clearly the world didn’t simply stop for people who were in mourning. However, while in full mourning, the family of the deceased typically avoided formal entertainment such as balls and large dinner parties. They were expected to limit social obligations to necessities and church for a period of 4 to 6 weeks.

Upon his mother’s death in 1818, the Prince of Wales announced that he intended “to wear the longest mourning that ever son did for a mother...” and he actually limited the official mourning period for the people of England to six weeks. I'm sure his mother would have been moved. Ahem.

In mourning, men wore black armbands, black gloves, and some wore black cravats. Some wore all black while in mourning. There is no mention of half mourning attire for men, however there was mention of men wearing a white band or ribband (ribbon) on their hats to mourn a young girl in the family.

In The Workwoman's Guide by A Lady (pub. 1840, long before Q. Victoria went into mourning) it says military men wore black armbands below the elbow, not above, and that affluent families put their servants in mourning etc.

When notifying relatives of death, the announcement came trimmed in black. I have also heard of the family mailing black gloves along with the announcement of death.

A hatchment or a mourning wreath would be suspended over the front door of a deceased person's house for 6 to 12 months, after which it was moved to inside the parish church. The last recorded use of a hatchment I found was hung in a London street in 1928.

Widows were not supposed to dance or to go to the more frivolous and silly plays while wearing mourning. They were also not supposed to marry until a year had passed (to see if she were expecting the child of her former husband) to end any doubt about the identity of child’s father if she were found to be increasing. However, many did remarry prior to the year mark. This could cause a brief scandal but these were always forgotten after a time.

Widowers did not have the same reason for waiting a year to remarry, and if they had small children, widowers were forgiven and even expected to remarry soon.

There were no hard and fast rules about these things. It all depended on how the movers of society reacted. Men were criticized much less for such breach of propriety than women. What a surprise!

The length of public and court mourning was set out in a fixed manner. The Lord Chamberlain notified the Gazette as to what it would be. If anyone were invited to court during this time, they were also sent instructions as to what to wear.

I couldn’t find the official mourning proclamation for Princess Charlotte, but I did find this for the father of Queen Victoria, the Duke of Kent, who died in 1820:

Lord Chamberlain's Office, Jan. 25.
Orders for the Court's going into mourning, on Sunday next, the 30th instant, for his late royal highness the duke of Kent and Strathern, fourth son of his majesty, viz. The ladies to wear black azins, plain muslin or long lawn, crape hoods, chamois shoes and gloves, and crape fans. Undress.—Dark Norwich crape. The gentlemen to wear black cloth, without buttons on the sleeves or pockets, plain muslin or long lawn cravats and weepers, chamois shoes and gloves, crape hatbands, and black swords and buckles. Undress.—Dark gray frocks.

Herald's College, Jan. 25.
The deputy earl Marshal's order for a general mourning for his late royal highness the duke of Kent. In pursuance of the commands of his royal highness the Prince Regent, acting in the name and on the behalf of his majesty. These are to give public notice, that it is expected that upon the present melancholy occasion of the of his late royal highness Edward Duke of Kent and Strathern, fourth son of his majesty, all persons do put themselves into decent mourning, the said mourning to begin on Sunday next, the 30th instant. HENRY HOWARD - MOLYNEUX-HOWARD, Deputy Earl-Marshal.

Horse-Guards, Jan, 25. It is not required that the officers of the army should wear any other mourning on the present melancholy occasion than a black crape round their left arms with their uniforms. By command of his royal highness the commander-in-chief.
HARRY CALVERT, Adjutant-General.

Admiralty-Office, Jan. 25. His royal highness the Prince Regent does not require that the officers of his majesty's fleet or marines should wear any other mourning on the present melancholy occasion of the of his late royal highness the duke of Kent and Strathern, than a black crape round their arms with their uniforms. J. W. CHOKER

For more information on mourning clothing, I highly recommend The Jane Austen Centre.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Pinkerton Agents - America 1800's

What does it take to be a Pinkerton Agent in the late 1800’s?  These agents need to be brave, strong, tender, and true. They were relentless, incorruptible, driven, persistent, dedicated, and trusted. They were responsible for catching many outlaws like Jesse James, the James-Younger Gang, the Dalton Brothers, Butch Cassidy & The Wild Bunch, to name a few. They were the ones who started detective agencies in the USA.

Kate Warne was the first female agent that Allan Pinkerton hired. In 1856, there was no such thing as a woman detective.  Allan Pinkerton almost didn’t hire her, but she argued her point, stating that women could be “most useful in worming out secrets in many places which would be impossible for a male detective.”  (quote from Wikipedia) Kate reasoned that women would be able to make friends with wives, daughters, girlfriends of suspected criminals and get information better than a man could.

This is NOT Kate Warne. Just another Pinkerton Agent.

Learning about Kate Warne has opened several plot ideas about women detectives in 1800's America, and my mind is spinning with excitement. If you’ve read some of my books, you’ll know how I love a good suspense / mystery. 

Just recently, I have joined with 11 other authors who have formed a group about Pinkerton Agents. The series is called, “The Pinkerton Matchmaker”. The stories in this series will be released starting in October 2018.  So far I have two stories in this series: An Agent for Cecily, and An Agent for Evelyn. The authors who are part of this series are awesome writers and fun to work with.  If you love reading a good historical suspense / mystery romance, you'll need to join our reader's group on Facebook - 

Author’s Bio
 Marie Higgins is a best-selling author of Christian and sweet romance novels; from refined bad-boy heroes who make your heart melt to the feisty heroines who somehow manage to love them regardless of their faults. She has 51 heartwarming on-the-edge-of-your-seat stories and has broadened her readership by writing mystery/suspense, humor, time-travel, paranormal, along with her love for historical romances. Her readers have dubbed her "Queen of Tease", because of all her twists and unexpected endings.
Visit her website to discover more about her –

·        Wikipedia / Kate Warne -

·        The History of Pinkerton -

Friday, August 3, 2018

When Your Town Needed a Library

The idea struck me, not long ago, to write a story about a town that wanted to build a library. I wanted to set my tale in the early 1900’s, preferably in Texas, and so I started to research. What did a town do to build a library? What did it cost? How did they afford it? And after only a little digging, I discovered the history of public libraries in the United States.

Andrew Carnegie, National Archives

If you’re like me, when you hear the name Carnegie you mostly think of Carnegie Hall, a historic theater in New York where you can attend shows by rockstars or grand orchestras. Maybe you’ll actually think of Andrew Carnegie, one of the wealthiest businessmen of the 19th century. After researching the history of the public library system, I now think of Carnegie Libraries.

Say what you will about the wealthy tycoons of centuries past, but a great debt is owed to Andrew Carnegie for the emphasis and importance he put on libraries.

As a young working man, Carnegie knew the importance of books. During his days as a journalist, he entered the home of a Mr. Stokes. In this man’s home, Carnegie read the words,

“He that cannot reason is a fool,He that will not a bigot,He that dare not a slave.”

At that moment, Carnegie said he promised to himself, “Some day, some day, I’ll have a library and these words shall grace the mantel as here.”

He actually contributed a lot of his own success to having access to a private library.

“The treasures of the world which books contain were opened to me at the right moment. The fundamental advantage of a library is that it gives nothing for nothing. Youths must acquire knowledge themselves.” - Andrew Carnegie.

The original Dunfermline, Scotland, Carnegie Library. Beautiful.

This man, when he became a person of power, took to philanthropic work in regards to cultivating a love for the arts and academics. He opened his first library in his hometown, Dunfermline, Scotland. Then his foundation opened 2,508 more.

That’s right. There were 2,509 Carnegie libraries in the world. Only 1,689 were built in the United States of America, where I live. But there were libraries in the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, South African, Serbia, New Zealand, Belgium, France, Mauritius, Malaysia, and Fiji.

Carnegie didn’t believe in giving something for nothing. He wrote, “ endowed institution is liable to become the prey of a clique. The public ceases to take interest in it, or, rather, never acquires interest in it.”

Carnegie came up with a formula for the building and endowment of libraries. If a small town in the middle of nowhere wanted help building a public library, they could apply to the Carnegie foundation and they were sent back what amounts to forms and paper interviews with a list of questions and requirements. The town was required to show a need for a library and that they would be able to maintain it after it was built. They also had to come up with some of the funds, though there wasn’t a fixed amount. Perfect for my story.

Did you know that in the old days of libraries, if a patron wanted a book they would have to ask a librarian to get it for them? People weren’t allowed to browse the stacks and find whatever they wanted. Part of the reason you can wander library shelves freely today is because Andrew Carnegie, ever the business man, instituted a new method in his libraries - an open-shelf, self-service policy. It started in Pittsburgh and was so successful he pretty much required it for the rest of them.

Carnegie libraries were also unique in that several of the larger ones had room specifically for children’s books.

Tucson, Arizona Carnegie Library
Now a Children's Museum

So when I started digging in to small town libraries, I discovered that just about every library built prior to 1930 was a Carnegie Library. Many of them are still in use today. Some as libraries, but others as museums, community buildings, elementary schools, and the like. The closest Carnegie Library to me is in Tucson, Arizona. It’s now in use as a children’s museum. :-)


I’m still working on my Western American books. But I have several Regency-Era romances available on Amazon. The Regency period is my first love, when it comes to historical novels, but the growth of small towns in the United States is fast becoming a favorite place for me to play.

Links for Further Reading: 
Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie, by Andrew Carnegie

Monday, July 30, 2018

Truly the best and worst in fashion

By Jen Johnson
Truly the best and worst in fashion
1793 France

Writing a romance that happened in the middle of the French Revolution both in France and in England was exciting and challenging at the same time. The intrigue of the time, the danger, the influence across the water in England, even the politics of it all was fascinating. And I especially enjoyed turning it into a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. So much to love.

Up to this point, my research and my books have all been set in the Regency time period. And much of 1793 has a similar tone and feel to it.

Except for the fashion. Let’s talk French Fashion. London often sought for new designs, fabrics and fashions from across the channel. Even during the times of the French Revolution, the British were still mimicking Marie Antoinette. Not many new styles came forward during the reign of terror but much of the dear queen remained to tide them over. She was extravagant in every way, pushing the limits and seeking attention. She set the trend quite clearly in France and in England as well. The British had only men in their own country to mimic, and while Prinny had his set and Beau Brummel made his mark, the women in England were left to seek for ideas in their neighbor, France.

Of particular interest were the women’s and men’s hairstyles. The closest thing I can think of in modern day for women would be the beehives from the 1960s, sometimes towering above a woman’s forehead the same size as her actual head. Besides those, I can think of nothing that holds France’s equivalent. The styles were built up upon the woman’s head in many layers. My particular favorite is the bowtie. After using all manner of objects as a foundation on the lady’s head, to give the hairstyle some height, the hair itself would be smoothed and then be wrapped and tied in one large bow.

The men seemed in many ways to require less effort for their hair. A low ponytail or a wig would do the trick for most of them. Though it did require wig powder and the constant care of the wig.

The dresses were also beautiful of course, but in manner of apparel, the men’s jackets were of equal splendor. They wore bright colors and the embroidery on them was exquisite. The men also had a fetish for sleeves, their drape especially, and they desired a multilayered, crisp cravat. Their breeches were multicolored. Their shoes were pointed and at times boasted an ornament at the tip. They carried spy glasses for no apparent reason other than to adorn themselves. They powdered their wigs, naturally, but often their faces as well, adorning themselves with pomade or other paints to improve their costume.

The bumps, rumps, rolls of the dresses are fascinating to consider. Especially when you remember that real people actually wore them. The skirts grew wider and larger, many petticoats and hoops holding them up and out until greater width was necessary. They started with two side rolls in their skirts, that gave them wide bumps at each hip of their dresses. Their waists were cinched as tight as they could endure and their chest overflowed out the top of their gowns. The side bumps made walking beside a man difficult and so often the lady’s hand was stretched as far as she could reach in order to grasp onto the fingers of another. The other option of course would be the twisting of her body so that she scooted along in a diagonal fashion so as to be closer to the man at her side. One could never complain of the presentation however. These costumes left the women with tiny waists, large breasts and the ability to seemingly hover above the ground, gliding wherever they went.

The side bumps evolved into one rather large rump that balled out the back of the gown. This accessory made sitting difficult. And as their waists were still cinched so tight, their breathing became shallow, sitting was difficult no matter what they were wearing.

Much of the French fashion of the time seemed to seethe with excess: Extravagant, showy, ridiculous attempts to draw attention. It is no wonder Charles Dickens aptly defined the time as the best of times and the worst. Because while the wealthy went to great lengths to appear obscenely wealthy, the poor were languishing in the filth on the streets with barely a bite of bread to eat. Their clothing was mostly muted colors of tan. The workers clothes were sensible, often torn, mended if they were diligent or had the time and energy. The servants of great homes wore the colors and livery of their estates.

From there, the fascination with France ebbed somewhat and the sensible Georgian and Regency attire emerged.

Because the Pimpernel is a character of many disguises, dressing her was just plain fun. Combining that with the outrageous styles of the day, the story lent itself to hours of research and fun description.

Jen writes regular posts at

She is an award winning author, including the gold in Foreward Indies Romance category and the creator of Regency House Party. She just published her second book, a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel where she features many of these fashions described above. You can find it for sale here. An award winning author, including the GOLD in Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards, Jen Geigle Johnson discovered her passion for England while kayaking on the Thames near London as a young teenager. 
She once greeted an ancient turtle under the water by grabbing her fin. She knows all about the sound a water-ski makes on glassy water and how to fall down steep moguls with grace. During a study break date in college, she sat on top of a jeep's roll bars up in the mountains and fell in love.  
Now, she loves to share bits of history that might otherwise be forgotten. Whether in Regency England, the French Revolution, or Colonial America, her romance novels are much like life is supposed to be: full of adventure. She is a member of the RWA, the SCBWI, and LDStorymakers. She is also the chair of the Lonestar.Ink writing conference.
Twitter--@authorjen Instagram--@authorlyjen

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

How to To a Wedding in Ancient Israel

The setting for my first novel, Light of the Candle, and its sequel, Waiting for the Light, is 6th century BC Jerusalem. It was a lot of fun to research the marriage customs of that time.

There were four parts to securing a marriage:

Finding a marriage partner
Parents had the responsibility to find marriage partners for their children. If a girl’s father was dead, the eldest son was charged with the responsibility to find a bride for his sisters. This was one of the reasons that the eldest son was given a double portion of his father’s estate, to provide for his siblings. When a suitable partner was found, payments would be exchanged: the brideprice, given by the groom’s family to the bride’s, and the dowry, given to the groom’s family by the bride’s. These were not to enrich either family. They were insurance for the bride, so that she would be solvent if her husband died or divorced her.

The Betrothal
The betrothal ceremony was a simple one, packed with meaning. The groom made spoken promises to love and cherish his bride: “I will betroth thee unto me forever….in loving kindness and in mercies….” (Hosea 2). By law he was to provide her with all the necessities of life. In return, the bride did not need to say anything. To indicate her consent, all she had to do was reach out and take the cup of wine that the groom offered her. With these promises, the man and woman were then considered to be married, even though they would not live together for approximately one year.

While the groom was busy building a house for his bride, she also had many things to do to prepare for her wedding. The weaving loom was kept busy, making things a bride would need to set up a home: rugs, bed linens, towels, etc. She also would collect pots, utensils, and bowls. The most important task the bride had was to make her wedding gown out of linen cloth made from flax. She would embroider the neck and hem and sleeves with a design of her own: leaves and flowers. Sarai, my main character, chose pomegranates and daisies. Shortly before the year wait was over, the bride would go to a sacred ceremonial bath, called a mikveh.

The Ceremony
The actual wedding day was fixed by the groom’s father, when he determined that his son was prepared, he set the time for the groom to fetch his bride. The bride must have all in readiness, for she would not know the day. At midnight, the blowing of a ram’s horn announced the groom’s coming as he moved through the streets toward her house with the bridal cart, decorated with cloth and flowers. Those invited to the ceremony would follow behind, carrying lit candles. When the procession arrived at the father’s house, the groom would lift the veil to make certain that this was his chosen bride, lower it again, and the ceremony would begin. After the vows of love and promise, the crowd shouted with joy while the groom took his bride to the chamber he had prepared. Then the wedding guests would feast on sweet honey cakes, dates, grapes and pomegranates. The celebration would last sometimes for seven days!

About the Author:
Carol Pratt Bradley is a historical novelist with an MFA in Creative Writing from Brigham Young University. She has three novels from WiDo Publishing:

Light of the Candle 2015
Fire of the Word 2016
Waiting for the Light 2017

Available on Amazon and WiDo Publishing's website

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


by guest blogger Lisa Lowell
Thirty-odd years ago I found myself sitting in an Old Testament religious studies class, one whose professor loved the topic and could not understand why his pupils did not.  I dutifully read the required text, King James version of the Bible and a book titled Antiquities, by the Jewish historian Josephus.  It could be boring if you got bogged down in the politics and the lineage, but I did not.  I loved the stories.  I had been writing for several years at that time and had focused on fantasy writing.  However, some of the narratives in this class smacked of magic.  They included the tale of a Babylonian king killed by two of his sons while worshiping an idol, the explanation of how a dethroned Jewish king returned as a pauper to his native land after his people had been exiled, and most intriguing, the mysterious disappearance of the Ten Tribes of Israel.
Finding these stories sparked my love of Ancient Middle Eastern era historical fiction.  This was pre-internet so my sources were at the university library, Chronology of Mesopotamia and that wonderful professor.  I began to weave those three stories into one cohesive whole.  At first, I completely ignored the actual timeline and research in an effort to get a sensible plot melding those three tales.  After I had the plot complete, I went back to my source material and researched to make it seem real and not a fantasy.
The wonderful part about doing research on a time period no one but an archeologist understands is I can still pursue the fantasy elements.  I created a pharaoh out of three separate actual pharaohs.  I stretched the time between Hezekiah, Hosea, and Sennecherib, three historical kings from different lands, making them contemporaries rather than spreading them through a hundred-year span.  The elements that did not need stretching, like a trip down an underwater tunnel system, or the burial practices of the ancient Egyptians, are all the more effective because they are not fantasy. 
The culture of welcoming strangers, of purchasing wives to strengthen the empire, of superpowers like Egypt and Assyria constantly capturing each other's satellites, made for a stunning backdrop for the simple story of three strangers, thrown together and navigating the love they want to have, but cannot share.  Starting with three bible stories made it simple.  Adding the culture made it rich. Here is an image I used when I first tinkered with the story.

Lisa's web page is  and her FB page is