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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.

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