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Friday, March 15, 2019

by regular blogger, Donna Hatch

A fun aspect of reading and writing historical novels is the clothing. Who wouldn't want to dress up in a silk gown and dance or promenade, even if it's only vicariously? It's become one of my life's missions to seek out and sigh over any historical clothing while visiting museums. What started with a thirst for historical accuracy has morphed into a nerdy passion. This latest find is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This exhibit is circa 1815 to 1820--perfect for the Regency Era.
The gentleman's ensemble would be appropriate for all informal daytime occasions. Any gentleman would look sophisticated and dashing in this cutaway tailcoat, waistcoat (which most people pronounce waist-coat but I'm told the truly posh pronounce it wes-kit), and expertly tied cravat. The bottom portion of his ensemble is not shown but a pair of knee breeches and tall boots would have been the most likely finishing touches.

The lady's ensemble is called walking dress or promenade dress. The garment itself is a lovely pelisse meant to protect the gown from the dirt of the streets as well as make a fashion statement. Notice the lovely detail on the bodice, sleeves and above the hemline. I love that dusty rose color!
The lady wearing this pelisse would have probably worn half boots which were sturdy enough for walking, cut short at the top for ease of movement, and still fashionable. Nankeen, a type of cotton, was a popular fabric to use for the upper portion of ladies walking books.

The couple wearing these clothes would have turned heads while walking or going for a carriage ride in Hyde Park.  

Friday, March 8, 2019

During the Regency, going to the park wasn't just for children; gentlemen and ladies of fashion frequented the parks in London to ride, walk, and make a fashion a statement. Regency ladies and gentlemen often chose Hyde Park as a favorite place to ride on horseback to get some fresh air and exercise. However, it was most popular as a place to drive in open carriages to show off clothing, or the latest rig, or horses. It was THE place to see and be seen.

Hyde Park section of "Improved map of London for 1833, from Actual Survey. Engraved by W. Schmollinger, 27 Goswell Terrace"[/caption]
According to one source, the "fashionable hour" was, in fact, three hours; from four thirty to seven thirty in the evening, though most ladies didn't appear until about half past five. By seven thirty, it was time to return to one's townhouse or lodgings and change into evening dress for dinner.

The Ton, or members of the 2,000 aristocratic families at the height of English society, as well as a few social climbers trying to fit in, promenaded at Hyde Park, peacocking and flirting with others drawn to the park to take part in the social rituals.

A brick wall enclosed Hyde Park in 1660 at the order of James Hamilton, the Keeper of the Park under Charles II. The avenue fashionable for disporting oneself in Georgian Times was Rotten Row. The name Rotten Row is believed to be a corruption of La Route du Roi, or King's Road, which was its original name. Another likely possibility as to the name comes from the materials of the road made of a mix of gravel and crushed tree bark to create a firm, yet pliable surface. Some definitions of "rotten" are "friable," "soft" or "yielding" which describes the surface ideal for horses' feet and legs. Think of the tracks which runners use, firm yet slightly springy--perfect for running without causing undue strain on athletes' bones, muscles, and tendons.
Recently, I heard another possible explanation for the name: Rotten Row led to Eton College, and since French was commonly spoken among the aristocracy then, they called it Rue d'Eton - easily corrupted into Rotten. That doesn't explain how Row came into use, however.

Regardless of its origin, on Rotten Row a Regency lady or gentleman could flirt, greet friends, and show off beautiful driving clothes and equipage or mount. Gentlemen wearing the ankle length drab coat and yellow striped blue waistcoat of the Four-in-Hand club were sprinkled in the passing cavalcade.
Carriages bearing the painted and gilded family crests of the Ton and the living ornament of a Dalmatian coach dog and liveried servants glide by in spotless splendor. The pair of footmen riding at the back of the coaches are as well matched as the teams of horses in their coloring and six-foot or better height. Among the carriages are those of courtesans bearing faux crests meant to remind them of the crests of their titled lovers.

C. J. Apperley writes of the fashionable hour in Hyde Park, "on any fine afternoon in the height of the London season…he will see a thousand well-appointed equipages pass before him…Everything he sees is peculiar, the silent roll and easy motion of the London-built carriage, the style of the coachmen - it is hard to determine which shine brightest, the lace on their clothes, their own round faces, or flaxen wigs - the pipe-clayed reins - pipe-clayed lest they should spoil the clean white gloves…not forgetting the "spotted coach-dog, which has been washed for the occasion…such a blaze of splendor…is now to be seen nowhere but in London."

The movie An Ideal Husband shows a scene of a Victorian drive in Hyde Park, and many of my heroes and heroines go driving or riding in Hyde Park.

The last time I was in England (February 2019), I spent a few hours in this lovely park. Though I didn't see any carriages, this park serves as a quiet haven from the bustling city where people of all ages stroll, dogs run and play, and children scamper. It may not be as fashionable as it once was, but it still plays a vital role in the city.

Bellamy, Joyce, Hyde Park for Horsemanship. London: J.A. Allen, 1975
And the many careful researchers and fellow history geeks at the Beau Monde chapter of RWA.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Childbirth During Medieval Times

Childbirth during the Medieval period was viewed with great joy and great anxiety. Medical treatment was crude and usually ineffective, so it was probably for the best that childbirth was considered a woman’s domain and not a medical proceeding. Even so, the statistics show that one in three women died during their child-bearing years, most often from childbirth or postpartum complications of it.
Women in labor were attended by a midwife and her assistants, mid-wives in training, because the skill of midwifery was learned by experience only. As midwives were called on to baptize babies in case of impending death, a woman had to have the recommendation of her parish priest in order to begin her training.

In noble households a special lying-in chamber would be prepared months ahead of time. The best bed linens would be used and the floor would be strewn with fresh rushes mixed with sweet herbs. Once the labor began, the door of the chamber was shut and the windows blocked to keep light out. After the birth, mother and child remained in the lying-in chamber for a month.

In addition to the midwife and attendants, the laboring woman would have up to six female relatives or friends with her for comfort and encouragement. Remember, girls during this period were married at 12 or 14, so often the laboring mother was a child herself by our standards. With no type of anesthesia to ease the pains, save oil rubbed on the belly by the midwife, the presence of other women who had gone through the ordeal and lived to tell the tale were probably welcomed by the mother-to-be.

Women in labor often used a birthing chair with a horseshoe-shaped seat, allowing the midwife easy access to her and taking advantage of the slight help gravity provided. According to Melissa Snell, “Birth was usually expected within 20 contractions; if it took longer, everyone in the household might try to help it along by opening cupboards and drawers, unlocking chests, untying knots, or even shooting an arrow into the air. All of these acts were symbolic of opening the womb.” Often charms, such as the gemstone jasper, credited with child-birthing powers, or a cranes’ foot were used to assist in difficult births.

After a successful birth, the umbilical cord would be tied and cut at four fingers’ length.

The child would be washed in warm water, or milk or wine if the house was affluent. Its gums would be rubbed with honey to give the babe an appetite and it would be wrapped in swaddling cloths to make its limbs grow straight. These cloths were changed every three hours.

Despite the pain and suffering of childbirth, it was a natural and expected occurrence. Women, then as well as now, looked forward to the blessed event with both fear and anticipation, hoping for a job well and swiftly done.

“The Medieval Child: Part 2, Entry Into the Medieval World,” by Melissa Snell
“The Midwife at Work,” by Lupita Diaz

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Medieval Love Tokens by Jenna Jaxon

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, and with me having just celebrated the new covers on my medieval series of novellas, I thought it only apropos for me to do an article on medieval tokens of love. If you thought the medieval courtiers weren’t particularly romantic, think again!
Throughout the Middle Ages people in love exchanged gifts to celebrate their feelings, just as we do today. Some tokens have continued down to our time, while others might seem rather odd to our modern sensibilities.

One love token that is still being given today is jewelry, especially rings. Rings would be given certainly as part of betrothal or wedding celebrations, but could be given on less formal occasions to express affection. Rings could be made of gold or silver and set with precious stones or they could be made of simpler materials, such as bone or glass. Many times these tokens were inscribed with some sentiment from one lover to another.

Another piece of jewelry often exchanged between lovers that isn’t all that unfamiliar to our modern eyes is the brooch. A beautiful, yet
practical gift, the brooch showed off the wealth of the giver (and the depth of their regard as well), while it assisted the receiver in pinning a cloak together or fastening a garment.

An interesting custom for people of less wealthy means was the giving of miniature items that they could not afford. These token would probably have looked like modern day charms and might have included everything they would have seen wealthy couples exchange, such as purses, shoes, chaplets, or jewelry boxes.

When a medieval lady wished to bestow a favor on her knight of choice before a joust, she would give him a token that would mark him as her chosen courtier. Items that were easily detached, such as sleeves or a scarf, or fluttery, such as a handkerchief or ribbon would signal that he was her particular champion.

And a final token that would be considered somewhat different today is a casket, or box, usually carved in an intricate fashion, perhaps with scenes of lovers imprinted all about it. These boxes could hold jewelry, other trinkets, or something more personal, like a lock of a loved one’s hair.

So this Valentine’s Day, don’t say it with flowers, say it with a casket or a sleeve, something a medieval lady or knight would cherish forever.

Friday, February 1, 2019

A Texas Woman

Watching The World Go By

The Wedding Photograph of James Lafayette Lary and Sallie Britton
(Check out that mustache! It was all the rage at the time this photograph was taken. Kissing would've been weird.)

It's interesting to think of how many Westerns I've read over the years, set in the 1880's and 1890's, that I never give much thought to what the characters would've seen if they lived to a healthy old age. Then I think back to actual family members who lived during that time period. For instance, the woman I am named after, Sallie Britton Lary. She's that pretty lady on the right. Aren't old pictures wonderful? You can see where the photographer went in and traced a few details to make the photograph look "better." 

I often wonder if I could write a story based on this woman's life. She was born in 1873, in the golden age of cowboys and train robberies. She married when she was in her twenties - and how many novels take place in the 1890's? Absolutely perfect. 

During this woman's childhood, her family picked up and moved from one side of Texas to another. They traveled by wagon train, and Sallie's family was at the back and fell behind. Which turned out to be a good thing, as the front of the train was attacked by Native Americans. 

Sallie lived to be 93 years old. That means she lived in an era of Native American wars all the way through watching on television as the first man went to the moon. She saw cattle lands turn to cities, buggies into cars, and planes. The miracle of television never ceased to hold wonder for her. 

Next time you read a novel based in the late 1800's, consider those characters and how the changing world would've impacted them. From horses to convertibles, from gramophones to the silver screen, and two World Wars. 

I hope you don't mind me sharing a piece of family history. Truthfully, my stories can be inspired by what little I know of these people who came before me. 


Sally Britton is the author of several Regency romance novels. Her work can be found at 

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Martha Stewart of the Victorians

Mrs. Beeton, Homemaker Extraordinaire

Image from Wikipedia Commons

The modern homemakers and home managers among us all recognize the name Martha Stewart. You've probably read a recipe by The Pioneer Woman or the Six Sisters. And if you haven't been on Pinterest at least once, I'd be pretty shocked.

Mrs. Isabella Mary Beeton was the woman who fulfilled pretty much all the above roles for the Victorian woman. Her book, Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, was in just about every home. People in England still know who she is, as her book became something of an icon. And what a book it was! Original copies still appear, occasionally, on auction and they bring in thousands of dollars/British pounds. 

This is the SPINE of the book. It's huge. 
Mrs. Beeton got her start as an authority on household matters at just 21 years old. She wrote articles about domestic duties, recipes, and other household matters. The articles were published in The English Woman's Domestic Magazine. When her tips and tricks were combined in a single volume, there were 2,751 entries to guide her contemporaries through everything from what to feed infants to the proper heat of a stable or coach house. This woman covered everything. And she did it fast. Mrs. Beeton died at the age of 28, from an infection arising after childbirth. 

What kind of advice did she give the people of her time? Recipes, how to legally will your belongings to others, health remedies, and instructions on how to properly open a ball. While a lot of her work is irrelevant to people in modern times, it's still fascinating to read, especially when we picture our favorite literary heroines consulting this huge book in order to prepare a menu to impress their beloved, or find a cure for an illness in their home. 

Here are a few excerpts for your amusement: 

CURE FOR THE TOOTHACHE.--Take a piece of sheet zinc, about the
size of a sixpence, and a piece of silver, say a shilling; place them
together, and hold the defective tooth between them or contiguous to
them; in a few minutes the pain will be gone, as if by magic. The zinc
and silver, acting as a galvanic battery, will produce on the nerves of
the tooth sufficient electricity to establish a current, and
consequently to relieve the pain. Or smoke a pipe of tobacco and

A recipe for something called "Snowballs."

APPLE SNOWBALLS. INGREDIENTS.--2 teacupfuls of rice, apples, moist sugar, cloves. Mode.--Boil the rice in milk until three-parts done; then strain it
off, and pare and core the apples without dividing them. Put a small
quantity of sugar and a clove into each apple, put the rice round them,
and tie each ball separately in a cloth. Boil until the apples are
tender; then take them up, remove the cloths, and serve. Time.--1/2 hour to boil the rice separately; 1/2 to 1 hour with the
apple. Seasonable from August to March.

And visiting friends:

IN PAYING VISITS OF FRIENDSHIP, it will not be so necessary to be
guided by etiquette as in paying visits of ceremony; and if a lady be
pressed by her friend to remove her shawl and bonnet, it can be done if
it will not interfere with her subsequent arrangements. It is, however,
requisite to call at suitable times, and to avoid staying too long, if
your friend is engaged. The courtesies of society should ever be
maintained, even in the domestic circle, and amongst the nearest
friends. During these visits, the manners should be easy and cheerful,
and the subjects of conversation such as may be readily terminated.
Serious discussions or arguments are to be altogether avoided, and there
is much danger and impropriety in expressing opinions of those persons
and characters with whom, perhaps, there is but a slight acquaintance.
It is not advisable, at any time, to take favourite dogs into
another lady's drawing-room, for many persons have an absolute
dislike to such animals; and besides this, there is always a
chance of a breakage of some article occurring, through their
leaping and bounding here and there, sometimes very much to the
fear and annoyance of the hostess. Her children, also, unless
they are particularly well-trained and orderly, and she is on
exceedingly friendly terms with the hostess, should not
accompany a lady in making morning calls. Where a lady, however,
pays her visits in a carriage, the children can be taken in the
vehicle, and remain in it until the visit is over.

So, no dogs in a friend's house and leave your children in the carriage! Reading through some of these entries gave me cause to giggle, cringe, and be very grateful for modern medicine and menus. It's fascinating to see how those before us lived and where they looked for advice before we could Google or ask Alexa or Siri.

If you'd like to learn more about Mrs. Beeton, or read her book for yourself, there are some links below to help you out. :-)

Further Reading: 
Project Gutenburg's Entry: The Book of Household Management by Mrs. Beeton

Sally Britton's Sweet Historical Romances, based in the Regency era, can all be found on her author page on 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Infidelity and Bastardy during the Regency by Jenna Jaxon

Although our modern sensibilities toward infidelity in marriage have been colored, here in America especially, by our Puritan roots, during the Regency period in England infidelity and bastardy were much more accepted than people today would like to believe.

Even though by the early 1800s love matches were becoming more popular with the aristocracy’s sons and daughters, there were many more couples from the late Georgian period who had been parties to arranged marriages. These matches, usually arranged by the couple’s parents, had been considered the ordinary course of matrimonial events from time immemorial. Marriages at that time were made to gain or retain property, increase wealth or position, or develop family dynasties. Couples may not have met more than two or three times (some not at all) before the wedding, and although it was hoped they might develop some affection for one another and come to “rub along” well together, that eventuality would have been considered a bonus to the marriage, not a necessity of it.

As a result, husbands and wives often found the love and affection missing from their marriages in the arms of other men and women. Husbands quite often took mistresses or participated in affairs that equally often produced illegitimate children who were barred from inheriting the father’s title or estates unless a specific bequest was made to them in his will. It was also up to the father’s sense of honor as to whether he would provide for mother and children.

Wives of the nobility, after producing the required “heir and a spare,” also strayed from their marriage vows and took lovers for whom they felt
a passion. With contraception being unreliable or hard to obtain during the Regency, wives could and did become pregnant with their lovers’ children. These children were presumed to be legitimate issue and could inherit titles and estates automatically upon the death of the husband. “The presumption in favor of legitimacy meant that the status of a child born to a married woman could not be impeached without unequivocal proof that the husband was not the father. It had to be shown with irresistible evidence that the husband was impotent, that the husband was divorced from the wife (separation was insufficient), or that the husband was absent from England, or at least did not have access to his wife, when the child was conceived.”

Of course, the ton did not turn a completely blind eye to these illicit affairs, although it did not sit in as harsh judgement on these couples as would the Victorians in the coming decades. Once love matches became the leading method of arranging marriages, the need for physical intimacy outside of marriage was assumed to be greatly reduced, so that infidelity became a much greater social abhorrence than in the Regency.

In my recently released romance, What a Widow Wants, the act of infidelity and the consequences of it imbrue the hero and heroine with the possibility of scandal and ruin. What a Widow Wants is available at Amazon.

*Images (other than my cover) are from Hogarth's series Marriage a la Mode.