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Friday, November 4, 2016

Regency Romances, the Truth Behind the Craze

by Donna Hatch

When I tell people what I write, their response is usually one of two things; “Regency? Oh, I love Regency!” Or they say, “What is Regency?”

To those who ask that second question, Regency is a specific time period in England. It officially began when King George III, who had frequent periods of madness, was finally declared mad in 1811. His son, the Prince of Wales, was named Regent in his father’s stead, although most historians agree the queen really ran the country. The Prince, sometimes referred to as “Prinny” was Regent until King George III died in 1820. Several months later, the prince was crowned King George IV followed by a sumptuous party.

The expanded Regency era is often thought of as the time of Jane Austen and the Napoleonic War, lasting until Queen Victoria ascended the throne. Some historians believe the growing influence of the non-Anglican churches had more to do with the changing values that became the Victorian ideals than the queen herself. Victoria also had a very serious, possibly even prudish husband who probably affected society's beliefs on morality.

Clothing fashions underwent a dramatic change during the Regency. The influence of the charismatic Beau Brummel took men out of bright colors, satins and ruffles that make one think of a peacock, and put them into more subdued colors and styles that evolved into the modern day tuxedo. People lost the powdered wigs and began bathing on a regular basis. The wealthy even had indoor plumbing. Josephine Bonaparte, who was influential in France, created the simpler women’s fashions of flowing, empire-style gowns reminiscent of Greek gowns, which were quickly adopted by the English. Although why they followed a country with whom they were at war is beyond me. Perhaps they were grateful to rid themselves of corsets, panniers, and laughable headdresses.

While images of hedonistic pleasures often come to mind, the Regency era was also steeped in manners, honor, and duty. They also zealously guarded a lady's virtue and reputation. If a girl was discovered to have been alone with a man, she was instantly considered ruined. The family expected the man to marry her, thus saving her from such a terrible fate. No one considered a ruined girl a good match. People shuddered at the thought of addressing a person to whom they had not yet been properly introduced. It was always best to be introduced by someone who knew them both. And ladies who walked up to a gentleman and addressed him was considered ill-mannered.

The Regency era was also a time of great change. The Industrial revolution was making commoners wealthier than some aristocrats, education became more readily available to the average person, and new churches preached morality to the lower classes. The nobility feared a repeat of the French Revolution because of the riots and the American revolution and, more recently, the War of 1812.

I love Regencies because I love the way they spoke so eloquently. Reading Jane Austen is almost like ready poetry. Each word was carefully chosen for its beautiful wording, imagery and cadence. There was no mauling the language by the upper classes. They also had a great deal of wit. Indeed, wit was prized and they excelled in using the understatement.

Women had more freedom than in the Victorian era. Women, particularly widows, had money, power and fun unlike the Victorian era which turned widows into black-clad hermits expected to mourn all their lives. Men did not keep their wives under their thumb. In fact, they each had their own interests, hobbies, and friends.

Regency men were educated and were taught to dance, read and recite poetry from a young age. They were athletic; they hunted, raced, fenced, rode horses. They were manly. Strong. Noble. Resolute. Honorable. And that is why I love them.

In my newest book, Courting the Countess, I explore all the rules and freedom which shapes a lady's life and choices, especially what happens when one's reputation is called into question.

When charming rake Tristan Barrett sweeps Lady Elizabeth off her feet, stealing both her heart and a kiss in a secluded garden, her brother challenges Tristan to a duel. The only way to save her brother and Tristan from harm—not to mention preserve her reputation—is to get married. But her father, the Duke of Pemberton, refuses to allow his daughter to marry anyone but a titled lord. The duke demands that Elizabeth marry Tristan’s older brother, Richard, the Earl of Averston. Now Elizabeth must give up Tristan to marry a man who despises her, a man who loves another, a man she’ll never love.

Richard fears Elizabeth is as untrustworthy as his mother, who ran off with another man. However, to protect his brother from a duel and their family name from further scandal, he agrees to the wedding, certain his new bride will betray him. Yet when Elizabeth turns his house upside down and worms her way into his reluctant heart, Richard suspects he can’t live without his new countess. Will she stay with him or is it too little, too late?

Courting the Countess is available now at all book retailers, including Amazon

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