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Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Frost Fair of 1814 by Jenna Jaxon

Winter days during the Regency were particularly cold as The Little Ice Age was in full swing during the early 19th century. In early February of 1814 the Thames River in London froze over completely and to a depth of more than eighteen inches, prompting what would be the final Frost Fair in London.
The first Frost Fair occurred in 1608, although the river had frozen over many times before that. This initial fair consisted of out-of-work watermen who erected temporary sheds out of blankets or canvas and sold hot drinks to passersby. However, the last time the Thames froze solid, the Frost Fair that occurred on its ice-bound waters was a huge carnival that lasted from February 1-4 and spread from London Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge. To open the fair and prove the ice was frozen solid, an elephant walked across the river.
Like any fair or carnival there were many varied attractions. There were, of course, vendors with food and drink to sell. One popular type of stall cooked mutton or beef right on the ice and charged not only for the meat after it was cooked, but also for the privilege of watching it cook. Purveyors of nuts and fruits carried their wares around the fair rather than have a stationary stall. All manner of drinks were also sold: tea, coffee, hot chocolate, mulled wine, beer, and spirits.
Souvenirs of all sorts were sold to commemorate the Frost Fair. Printers were moved onto the ice and printed customized souvenirs for customers. Also popular were any manner of items—from cutlery to cups to plates—were labeled with the information that they were purchased at the Frost Fair. One of the most unusual souvenirs was a piece of gingerbread, still extant, bought at this fair in 1814.
When one had eaten their fill and bought their souvenirs, there were any other manner of entertainment at the Frost Fair. Animal races, bear and bull baitings, donkey rides were part of the celebration. Games of football, skittles, and archery took place as well as ice skating. Rides were another part of the entertainment. Swings were erected and as well as a whirling chair ride. Acts such as jugglers, sword and fire swallowers, and stilt-walkers enhanced the carnival-like atmosphere. Another very popular entertainment was puppet shows. This stunning display of winter revelry came to an abrupt end when, on February 4th, the cold snap broke, the temperature moderated, and the ice turned back into rushing water. As soon as the ice began to crack and creak, most vendors pulled up stakes and hurried to the safety of the banks of the river, although a few left it too late and ended up with their stalls floating down the river.
An extraordinary gathering that was destined, by the end of the Little Ice Age in the 19th century and global warming in the 20th and 21st centuries, to be the final Frost Fair.

Friday, December 4, 2020

by Regency Romance Author, Donna Hatch


Few symbols of Christmas are more admired than the Christmas tree, and nowadays, most countries that celebrate this holiday have their own version of Christmas trees. Before that, evergreens were a commonly hung adornment in homes, not just at Christmas but all winter.  

Dating back hundreds of years, people in many countries hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows, hoping to ward off witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and even illness. According to legend, it wasn’t until about 722 in Germany, that whole trees arrived on the scene. In the Middle Ages, the Germans and Scandinavians brought evergreen trees to the door or sometimes even inside their homes to display their hope that spring would soon come. It also symbolized eternal life.

One popular story about the origin of the evergreen being a Christmas tree tells of Saint Boniface who encountered a group of pagans about to sacrifice a child at the base of an oak tree. Appalled, and rightly so, Saint Boniface stopped the sacrifice and even cut down the tree to prevent future sacrifices. Later, a Fir tree grew at the base of that oak stump. St. Boniface took that as a sign and spread the word that the evergreen was a holy tree because its branches pointed to heaven as a sign that it belonged to the Christ child, and that the fir was a symbol of His promise of eternal life.

Another legend attributes Martin Luther the credit for the origin of the Christmas tree. In the 1500’s on Christmas tree, Mr. Luther took a walk through a snowy forest. The sight of the moonlight shimmering in on the snow-covered woods that starry night touched him so much that he cut down a small fir tree and brought it home for his family. They decorated the tree with small lit candles in honor of the birth of the Christ child.

According to All About Jesus Christ, The Origin of the Christmas Tree:  

Research into customs of various cultures shows that greenery was often brought into homes at the time of the winter solstice. It symbolized life in the midst of death in many cultures. The Romans were known to deck their homes with evergreens during Kalends of January 15. Living trees were also brought into homes during the old Germany feast of Yule, which originally was a two month feast beginning in November. The Yule tree was planted in a tub and brought into the home. But there is no evidence that the Christmas tree is a direct descendent of the Yule tree. Evidence does point to the Paradise tree, however. This story goes back to the 11th century religious plays. One of the most popular was the Paradise Play. The play depicted the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin, and their banishment from Paradise. The only prop on the stage was the Paradise tree, a fir tree adorned with apples. The play would end with the promise of the coming Savior and His Incarnation. The people had grown so accustomed to the Paradise tree, that they began putting their own Paradise tree up in their homes on December 24.

The Hanoverian kings, who were from a duchy of what became present-day Germany, adopted the use of Christmas trees -- the tabletop variety -- with real lit candles. While the candles were lit, a footman or a member of the family stood by with a water pot to prevent the risk of causing a fire.

Christmas trees came to England with the German Prince, Albert, when he married Queen Victoria in 1840, and brought his German Christmas traditions with him. In 1848, an engraving of the Royal Family celebrating Christmas at Windsor was published in the newspaper which showed Victoria and Albert standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Since the English adored Queen Victoria, the general populace adopted the custom of a Christmas tree with ornaments.

German immigrants brought the Christmas tree to America as early as 1747. Pennsylvania had the first record of one being on display in the 1830s. The average American in New England, however, rejected Christmas trees, viewing them as pagan symbols. Puritans viewed Christmas as sacred and shunned anything they considered frivolous. However, with an influx of German and Irish immigrants, the Puritans lost their power, further fueled by the illustrated version of the newspaper that had a sketch of the royals with their tree. After all, what was done at court immediately became fashionable—not only in England but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society.  This combination eventually undermined the Puritan legacy. Never to do anything small, the Americans soon graduated from small table-top trees such as the Europeans used, to the floor-to-ceiling trees we know today.

As a Regency author, I seldom use Christmas trees in my stories unless I establish a family tradition with German roots for my fictional characters. But there are lots of other English fun traditions I discovered, after much careful research, that were honored, and that I include in my writing. Many of those traditions, including Yule Logs, Mistletoe or kissing balls, and other fun Christmas traditions went into my full-length novel, Christmas Secrets, available in print and ebook, and free on Kindle Unlimited. You can purchase your own copy, or give it as a gift, here:

A stolen Christmas kiss leaves them bewildered and breathless.

A charming rogue-turned-vicar, Will wants to prove that he left his rakish days behind him, but an accidental kiss changes all his plans. His secret could bring them together...or divide them forever.

Holly has two Christmas wishes this year; finally earn her mother's approval by gaining the notice of a handsome earl, and learn the identity of the stranger who gave her a heart-shattering kiss...even if that stranger is the resident Christmas ghost.

Grab your copy on here!

Don't have time to read a full-length novel during the holiday season? Check out these novellas, short enough to enjoy and romantic afternoon escape, and long enough to have a swoony happily ever after.

"A Winter's Knight"

"A Christmas Reunion"

"Mistletoe Magic"


Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Celebrating a Regency Christmas by Jenna Jaxon

One of the problems of writing a Christmas story set in the Regency period is the fact that during about the early years of the nineteenth century, Christmas was celebrated almost not at all. Between 1811 and 1820 people seemed to not wish to commemorate the season very much at all. However, if one digs really deeply, you can find a few distinctive traditions that were observed during this most wonderful time of year.
The season itself was very different from our own, which now begins the day after Thanksgiving in the United States and is in full swing by December 1. In the Regency Christmastide began on Christmas Eve. This was the traditional day for going out into the woods (or to a shop in the city) to gather greenery to decorate the house with. Holly, rosemary, bay, laurel, and mistletoe were the traditional fresh greens brought in and either hung up (as in mistletoe) or draped around windows or mantlepieces. Mistletoe, then as now, was hung up all over the house waiting for couples to meet and kiss underneath it. The tradition was for each kiss, one of the white balls was plucked from the mistletoe ball. When no balls remained, that particular bough was finished. The Christmas tree, sadly, did not come into being until the Victorian age. One practice that most sources agree on was that it was a time for families to gather together with neighbors and friends. There
are many references to a big dinner on Christmas day that one either held in one’s home or was invited to dine with another family. The dinner was filled with rich meats like roast beef, venison, goose, pheasant, and swan or peacock. Bread based stuffing and vegetables such as potatoes, squash, and carrots rounded out the meal. The Christmas pie (mincemeat) and Christmas pudding were staples of the dinner as well. Charity was another tradition during the season. Those more fortunate were sure to celebrate it by sharing with those less fortunate. Gifts of food and drink and money were given to the poor. Wassailers and mummers paraded through towns performing songs or skits in exchange for foodstuffs and money. The day could also end with parlor games such as charades, blindman’s bluff, any number of card games, and the infamous Snapdragon. For this last, raisins were soaked in brandy, then the dish was lit on fire and everyone had to grab a raisin and eat it without getting burned. Obviously, you do NOT want to try this at home!
The celebration continued through Epiphany or Twelfth Night, on which day all the greenery had to be taken out and burned to avoid bad luck throughout the year.
While writing six Regency Christmas tales, I’ve incorporated quite a few of these traditions including bringing in the greenery, parlor games, Christmas dinner, and of course, kissing under the mistletoe. My current release, It Happened Under the Mistletoe and other Yuletide Tales, contains five Christmas novellas in which mistletoe is prominently featured. The anthology is available on Amazon and Smashwords for just .99, a Christmas gift from me to you. Here’s wishing everyone a very happy holiday season! Sources: Beverley, Jo. Christmas Traditions in the Regency. Hoppe, Michelle J. The Regency Christmas Feast, 1999. Rowland, Jane. Regency Christmas Games. Austen Authors, December 12, 2018.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

An Unlikely Sport for Gentlemen: Boxing in the Regency Era by Jenna Jaxon

When thinking of gentleman-like sports of the Regency era, one may immediately think of shooting, hunting, riding, racing as being cultured and likely to be attended by the well-dressed and well-mannered men of the Regency. However, one not so refined sport that took the period by storm was, surprisingly, boxing.
Boxing as sport in England had begun in the 17th century, a bare-knuckle free-for-all termed prizefighting. The first champion of this form of the sport was James Figg in1719, a time when the term “boxing” first began to be used. As may be expected, these fight had no rules to them and included pummeling, punching, headbutting, eye-gouging, and choke-holds. From this sort of melee in 1743 a few rules emerged, such as no hitting below the belt and a count of thirty to determine when a fight was over. One of the most successful boxers of the Regency was “Gentleman” John Jackson, son of a builder turned prizefighter. He fought in three fights, losing only one, then retired to create a boxing academy, teaching gentlemen to fight in his rooms at 13 Bond
Street, London. He created rules for his fighters, including the outlawing of kicking and hair holding, making the sport more gentleman-like. He also helped make the bouts safer, although bouts could go on for 50 rounds and were usually fought bare handed. In 1814 Jackson opened the Pugilistic Club, an organization that took subscriptions for fights and sponsored fights several times a year. He worked to keep the sport honest. Many gentlemen of the nobility took lessons from Jackson, although his clientele tended to bet on fights rather than participate in them. Still, boxing gave gentlemen of the ton the opportunity for strenuous exercise, a way to defend themselves without a weapon, and a reputation for being manly. In my upcoming Christmas novella, It Happened Under the Mistletoe, two gentlemen use this method to settle their grievous differences. It Happened Under the Mistletoe will be releasing in mid-November! Look for a cover reveal later this week!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Tradition of the Stirrup Cup by Jenna Jaxon

I don’t know when I first heard of stirrup cups, but while writing my WIP recently, I added the tradition into a scene where riders were about to ride off in search of someone. I had them handed a stirrup cup and, because I had to research it thoroughly, ended up finding out quite a lot about this ancient custom. Although the tradition of the stirrup cup became most popular in the 18th and 19th centuries and is most often associated with fox
hunting, the handing of a drink to a person about to make a journey dates back well into medieval times. Apparently the action is found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, so it was certainly an established practice by the mid-14th century.
A stirrup cup is a small cup, originally without a base, handed to a traveler or hunter when they were just about to leave for a journey or a hunt, when their boots were literally in the stirrups. They would drink the small libation, usually port or sherry (and in the Victorian period could be something called Cherry Heering, a combination of cherry liqueur and brandy from Denmark), before leaving for home or sport. The Scots were well known for bestowing a parting drink called the dochan dorious, the “drink of the door.”
The cups themselves were small, holding only about two ounces of spirits making it easy to drink quickly. They were traditionally made of silver or pewter, although you can also find them made of
ceramics. Traditionally, the cups are made in the shape of foxes or hounds, but you can also find deer and horses heads. Some are crafted so that the animal becomes the legs of the cup allowing it to be placed on a tray. Others are meant to be handed to the rider, who drinks, then hands it back to the servant. Of course, today we would not think of giving a friend, “one for the road,” so with the exception of fox hunting, the stirrup cup may be relegated to historical romance novels. Still, it would be a stirring scene, with the hunters milling around, being handed up a shiny silver up, downing the drink and feeling the glow as it burns down into your stomach, a bracing beginning before heading out for a cold day of hunting. Tally-ho! Sources: “A Drink on Your Way Out: The History of Stirrup Cups.” Manhattan Art& Antiques Center Blog, 2020. French, Derek. “The Stirrup Cup Tradition.” Covertside, n.d. “The History of the Stirrup Cup.” Horse Canada, January 22, 2013. Thompson, Shea Davidson. “The History of Stirrup Cups and Where You Can Purchase Your Own.” The Bourbon Magazine, August 5, 2020.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Eighteenth Century Fashion Statements: The Macaroni by Jenna Jaxon

Fashion trends have been ongoing since the beginning of time and one of the more interesting ones in the 18th century was the Macaroni.
Young men of the aristocracy or wealthy families in 18th and 19th centuries, very often took a Grand Tour of Europe. One of the major countries they visited was Italy where they made the acquaintance of Italian fashion and cuisine. They brought these proclivities back to England with them and the fashion excesses of the “macaronis” as they were dubbed for this Italian connection, became an extreme fashion statement.
The style of the macaroni favored short, tight jackets and trousers in bright colors, jewelry or ornamentation, care of the complexion and often use of paint or cosmetics, and the use of a towering wig with side curls and a tiny hat.
They were ridiculed by many during the time and caricaturists had a field day with them, but others applauded them for pursuing a personal identity in an age when such sensibilities were just beginning to emerge. They instituted several Macaroni clubs, which did champion the arts such as music, painting, sculpture, and theatre by offering medals and prizes to artists, although eventually they devolved to simply pursuing the sartorial splendors of the time.
Because of their extravagant dress that often came across as effeminate, the macaroni style soon came to be associated with a homosexual lifestyle, to the point the macaronis almost became synonymous with what was labeled “the vice.” This ostentatious style flourished from around 1760 until the turn of the century when it died out in favor of the more conservative and masculine dress for men. In my newly released historical romance, Only Pleasure Will Do, a minor character is a macaroni, of whom one character tells his dancing partner, “He does stand out in a crowd. I fear you won’t be able to lose him even if you try.”
Only Pleasure Will Do is currently available on Amazon and Smashwords. Sources used: “Macaroni and Sexuality in the 18th Century” in Brewminate. Ribeiro, Aileen. “Meet the Macaronis.” History Today, July 31, 2019.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

English Afternoon Tea

Photo by Chelsea Audibert on Unsplash
By Regency Romance Author Donna Hatch

Nothing is more quintessentially British like afternoon tea. While most of us may think of afternoon tea as an upper lass tradition dating back hundreds of years, I discovered something else entirely; it's relatively new. In fact, High Tea as we know it has only been around for about a hundred and fifty years.

First, we must travel back to the sixteen hundreds, when King Charles II’s Portuguese bride, Catherine, brought a cask of it along with her dowry. She unwittingly started a new fashion--afternoon tea. However, tea came largely from the Orient, so it was expensive. Therefore, only the rich could afford tea until larger amounts began to be imported, resulting in lowered prices. Still, tea in the afternoon didn't become common until the 1700's. Thomas Garraway introduced tea in his London coffee house claiming tea had medicinal qualities with this advertisement:: “This excellent beverage, recommended by all Chinese doctors, and which the Chinese call ‘Tcha’, other nations ‘Tay’ or ‘Tee’, is on sale at Sultaness Mead close to the Royal Exchange in London.” (Le Palais des Thes)

By the Regency Era, the custom had long-since caught on and the upper class had afternoon tea about four o’clock, which was before the fashionable time to promenade in Hyde Park if one resided in London. Afternoon tea included, of course, tea served hot. In addition to tea, one might find any of these tasty treats: small finger sandwiches (thin and crust-less, thank you), biscuits (which the Americans call cookies), seedcake, macarons, and small cakes sometimes called fairy cakes with butter icing which were about the size of mini cupcakes. Regency tea did traditionally include petite fours but with macarons available, that would suit me just fine. There has been much discussion among Regency enthusiasts as to whether scones with jam and clotted cream (also known as Devonshire cream) were served during the Regency or if that became more common during the Victorian era when High Tea became such a grand affair. Without a time machine, one may never know.

Food with tea probably evolved because the upper classes ate dinner at the fashionable time of about eight o’clock at night, and since many had not yet adopted the custom of luncheon or nuncheon, they probably needed that small meal in the middle of the day. Personally, I like a small meal in the afternoon even though I do eat lunch. I would have made a great hobbit with the custom of eating "elevensies" and lunch and afternoon tea, etc. But I digress.

“High Tea” developed during the Victorian era. Some accounts say that high tea, served later in the day at about five or six o’clock, originated with the lower classes but I don’t understand how they could come home from work for high tea and then return to work for a few hours and then go home again for dinner. *shrug* Plus, tea was expensive so not many of the lower classes could afford it.

At any rate, High Tea is a more filling meal than afternoon tea. High tea usually comes with white and brown bread, meats such as roast pork, fish like salmon, scones, an assortment of sweets such as cake pie, trifle, lemon-cheese tarts, sponge cake, walnut cake, chocolate roll, pound cake, currant teacake, curd tart, a variety of cheeses, jellies, as well as butter or clotted cream. In addition, the term High Tea comes from how and where the guests are seated. According to Laura Boyl in her article "Tea Time" on the Jane Austen website: the different names are derived from the height of the tables where the meals were served. Low tea is served on a table, which in the United States would be called “coffee tables.” High tea is served on the dinner table.

Because the characters in my Regency romance novels all hail from the upper class, or end up there eventually, I will focus on Regency afternoon tea because that's what they do every day, unless they are fighting pirates or running for their lives or battling villains, of course.

Most sandwiches in the UK are traditionally made with a very thin white bread, generously buttered with potted paste. The potted paste could similar to deviled ham, but also could be a fish paste--salmon, for instance, very thinly spread. I guess they liked their pleasures small, thin, and bite-sized. 

Tea was (and still is, sometimes) served in a china or silver pot accompanied by slices of lemon or milk. They never put cream in their tea or it ruined the flavor. According to Regency researcher and author, Kathryn Kane, tea leaves used during the Regency were chopped much more coarsely than those used today. The large size required that the tea be steeped for a longer period, but it also made it easier to strain the used leaves from the tea after it had been steeped. There was a special implement included in many tea services used to clear the strainer at the base of the spout of the teapot or to strain the used leaves out of each cup before it was served. You can find more details at:

However, Regency author Grace Kone, who is British, told me that if it's done correctly, the tea leaves stay on the bottom, with just enough pouring out to make a scattering of leaves for fortune-telling. (It sounds very Harry Potter, doesn't it?) Grace said she has never in her life strained leaf tea. Other British friends such as author Janis Susan May Patterson use a tea ball, which is a small metal case into which she places the tea leaves. These are also known as 'tea eggs.' Other British friends pour their tea into their cups through a silver tea strainer.

Here is a recipe, courtesy Regency author, Miranda Neville, for cucumber sandwiches:

  • Very thinly sliced white bread (or whole wheat if you insist on being healthy but really, why bother?). I use Pepperidge Farm Very Thin
  • Good quality unsalted butter
  • English cucumbers (about† one and a half per loaf of bread)
  • Salt

1. Slice the cucumbers very thin. Put them in a colander mixed up with some salt, weigh them down with a plate, and leave them in the sink to drain for an hour or two.

2. Wash the salt off and pat dry with a dishtowel.

3. Butter the bread.

4. Put two layers of cucumber slices in each sandwich and press flat with your hand so it all sticks together, preferably without becoming totally squashed.

5. Cut off the crusts (very important). With a big sharp knife cut each sandwich into four – triangles, squares, or strips, your preference.

Me, again. After some trial and error, I decided I like cream cheese instead of butter, but that is a modern substitution.

Here is another tea party must (at least in my opinion)--macarons. From “The Royal Pavilion at Brighton a booklet A Choice Selection of Regency Recipes you can now make at Home” here is a recipe for macarons.

1 large egg 

2 oz ( 55 g) ground almonds
2 oz (55) g caster sugar
a few drops rose water (or whatever flavor you prefer)
1-2 drops almond essence
about 12 slivered almonds (optional)

Heat oven to 160C/325F/gas3

Line a baking sheet with baking parchment paper. Whisk the egg white until stiff. Using a large metal spoon, fold in ground almonds, sugar, rosewater (or your choice of flavoring), and almond essence.  Mix until blended into a smooth thick paste.

Using a teaspoon, put blobs of the mixture on the lined baking sheet, leaving space between them to allow for expansion during cooking. Flatten with the back of a spoon. If you like you can top each with a sliver of almond.  Bake for about 20 minutes until light golden brown. Transfer to wire rack and leave to cool. Makes about 12.

Trust me, these are delicious. I prefer to make them the modern way with a dab of buttercream frosting in the middle of two so they make a sandwich cookie, but they're tasty plain.

I’m not a traditional tea drinker because I don't use caffeine, so I deviate with herbal tea in my cup and I like to add a little honey. But you can use any preferred tea and any desired sweetener. The use of a pretty teacup and the fun finger foods is what it's all about.

Having Afternoon Tea is great fun. I think my next party will be a tea party. Recently, I discovered wearing a tea party hat adds to the atmosphere. Have you ever attended or hosted a tea party?