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Friday, December 3, 2021

Traditional Regency Christmas

by Donna Hatch

There's nothing quite like the glimmer of a Christmas tree, brightly wrapped packages, and a yule log burning in the fire to invoke wonder and excitement. But you may be surprised to know that many Christmas traditions are quite new--at least in England. Many English Christmas customs we think are ancient actually sprang up as early as the Victorian Era.

Regency Christmas traditions varied widely from region to region and even family to family. Generally, the upper classes of Regency England didn't treat Christmas as a special day beyond a church service and the exchange of small, mostly hand-made gifts within the family. Ordinary household items such as pen wipers and fire spills seem to have been common gifts, as well. The middle classes made a bigger event out of Christmas than their so-called "betters." Lucky them!

The reason why Christmas became so understated is largely due to Thomas Cromwell, who served as Chief Minister during the reign of King Henry VIII. Cromwell and his cronies virtually stamped out Christmas celebrations due to their origins—pagan licentious superstitions which often resulted in drunken brawls and even vandalism. Although I seldom approve of the destruction of any holiday, I can’t really blame him for his disapproval of that sort of misbehavior.

Fortunately, the Restoration revived Old Christmas into a new, toned-down version of its former bawdy revelry to one of quiet worship and time together with family. During the Regency, more and more celebratory customs cropped up. I suspect many families had practiced some of those customs all along secretly. Yorkshire is an area that seemed to hold on the most tightly to the Old Christmas traditions and enjoyed them openly when it became acceptable.

While researching English Christmas customs, I found journal entries and letters describing family events at the Big House, many of which I incorporated into my newest novel, Christmas Secrets. I exercised my creative license to have the local tradition include a ball at the Great House, gathering greenery including a mistletoe "kissing ball," the Yule Log, and singing carols, along with other fun aspects of the season on Christmas Eve.

Largely thanks to Queen Victoria's husband bringing his German traditions with him to England, which spread to the United States, Victorian Christmas customs grew into the ‘traditional’ Christmas we all know and love, complete with carolers, a wider variety of gifts and recipients, Yule logs, Christmas puddings, cards, Christmas trees, many of the carols we sing today.

Travel in winter in England during the Regency was extremely hazardous, therefore it was rarely done. By in large, Christmas house parties had to wait until railroads made winter journeys more feasible, which happened after 1840. Of course, I and every other author I have read largely ignore this, although in some of my Christmas stories, I mention people not wishing to travel far due to the weather.

An odd custom that does date back centuries is telling scary ghost stories. This age-old tradition dates so far back that I couldn’t find its true origin. Aside from the traditional Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, I’m happy that telling ghost stories is no longer part of most family Christmas customs. Can you imagine getting a child to bed who is both excited about Santa’s presents and frightened of ghosts? Now that is scary!

In the mood for a little holiday romance? Check out my Christmas novel, Christmas Secrets, which features a ghost, and kiss, and a happily-ever-after.

Sweet Regency Christmas

Christmas Secrets

A stolen Christmas kiss leaves them bewildered and breathless.

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

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

Christmas Secrets is available in both paperback and ebook on Amazon. Better yet, it's FREE on Kindle Unlimited!



Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Bound for Eternity: The Custom of Scottish Handfasting by Jenna Jaxon

Handfasting as a means of joining a man and a woman in marriage has been known in the Celtic world since ancient times. It is believed to be part of the heritage Scotland owes to the Danish culture, where “the Danes [had] the option of ‘hand-vesten’ to show their commitment. Then a woman who lived publicly with a man and prepared his meals for three years became his lawful spouse.” Originally the handfasting ceremony was performed almost as a stop-gap measure, allowing the couple to live as man and wife for a year and a day as they waited for an official member of the clergy to arrive and bless the union in a regular marriage ceremony. Lacking a clergyman, the couple could swear their intention to marry, have their hands bound (preferably before witnesses), and they would be considered married.
The tradition of handfasting was a medieval form of marriage in use until the mid- 1700s, when it fell out of favor. Until then, the Roman Catholic Church, and somewhat later the Scottish Protestant Church, allowed that if a couple said the words, “I take you to be my wedded wife,” (present tense) or “I will take you to be my wedded wife,” (future tense). The couple’s right hands were bound with a strip of cloth, signifying that they were bound for eternity. If this ceremony was followed by sexual intercourse, the couple was considered married both in the eyes of the Church and the State. There need be no witnesses and no clergy present, although witnesses were encouraged. Interestingly enough, during the Regency period in Scotland, handfasting was actually still a legal means of marriage. Although the church changed its laws to ban the ritual, the civil law allowing handfasting as legal remained on the books until 1939 when the marriage laws were reformed by the Marriage Act (Scotland) of 1939. After that, handfasting was no longer recognized as a legal form of marriage. In my soon to be released romance novel, The Widow Wore Plaid, which is set in Scotland, I had to research the legalities and technicalities of a
handfast marriage, as my hero and heroine consider the merits of it while under duress. The Widow Wore Plaid is currently on pre-order on Amazon and other e-book retailers. Argyll-Bute Council. “Handfasting Ceremony.” 2018. The Scotsman. “The Origins of Handfasting at Scottish Weddings—When Scots ‘married’ for a year and a day.” Feb. 14, 2019.

Friday, October 15, 2021

 Early in my writing career, the best piece of writing advice I ever got—right behind “be persistent”—was “write what you love.” So I did.  I wrote everything because I loved everything, but eventually settled on historical romance.

I’ve always loved historical fiction. As a child, I devoured Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, the Little House books, The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. Later I discovered Jane Eyre, the Jane Austen novels, and other historical classics. But again, I craved more romance. Fortunately for me, historical fiction was a hot market. The hard part was finding a book clean enough for me because I don’t like to read hot sex scenes. Once I discovered traditional Regency romances, which were generally very clean, sweet romances, I was in heaven. It was not to last, however.

Historical fiction's popularity waned, and for about a decade, sales across the board plummeted.  Perhaps readers tired of hot, sexy romance novels referred to as “bodice rippers” and "clean and wholesome" romance novels had not yet become a category. Instead, they were termed Traditional Regencies, which enjoyed success for a while, but they, too, fell out of popularity. The worst blow came when I learned two major traditional Regency romance publishers closed their doors. The news broke my heart, not only because I loved reading them, but because I’d written a sweet, traditional Regency romance novel that I’d been hoping they’d publish. For a long time, people called historical romance—and Regency romance in particular—a “dead” market. Sob!

Reading_A_Book by painter Ernst RudolphGood news! Historical Romance novels, specifically Regency Romance novels, have regained popularity. Sales are skyrocketing for all historical romance, both on the hotter side and those sweeter, more traditional romances such as what we expect from Jane Austen era novels or Georgette Heyer. Personally, I love a clean romance, and if it’s a clean historical romance—even better!

As a historical author, I had to wonder; why the return of the historical romance?

I think there are many reasons. One is with all the recent movies based on famous books such as all the Jane Austen's, North and South with the dreamy Richard Armitage, and many other historical novel adaptations, especially Jane Austen adaptations, a whole new generation of fans have been converted to historical stories--historical romances in particular.

Another reason I believe historical romance novels have regained popularity is because most people read either to relax or escape (and escaping is part of relaxing, don’t you think?).  We crave a true escape from the modern world with all our troubles that only a journey into new world can provide. Maybe it’s the fantasy element of vicariously living the life of the very rich, wearing beautiful gowns, having handsome heroes vie for our favor or even dueling over our honor.

In Regency England, manners were very formal. There was a protocol to everything from how many sets a lady could dance with a gentleman in one evening (two), to what to wear while walking (a walking gown).

I love the way people in Regency England spoke so eloquently. They also prized wit and they excelled in using the understatement. As a historical author, I try to bring that out in every historical novel I write.

Regency men were civilized and treated women with courtesy. When a lady entered the room, gentlemen stood, doffed their hats, curtailed their language, offered an arm, bowed, and a hundred other little things I wish men still did today. But they were also very athletic; they hunted, raced, fenced, boxed, rode horses. They were manly. Strong. Noble. Resolute. Honorable. And that is why I love them!

I hope that historical romance is a here-to-stay market.

What do you love best about historical novels or historical romance? 


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Regency Swoon by Jenna Jaxon

One trope or event found very often in period romances is “the swoon.” It is true ladies did faint with some frequency in the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian periods. In some cases tightly laced clothing is the culprit for these fainting fits, but there were other reasons for it as well. The tightly laced corsets and heavy fabrics of the Georgian and Victorian periods almost assured that ladies would faint from the
sheer lack of oxygen at some point in her day. Regency ladies, however, enjoyed lighter fabrics and a very short demi-corset or stays that gave them closer to a natural experience as far as clothing was concerned. Still, Regency ladies still fainted regularly for a variety of reasons. The actual medical condition associated with fainting is called Vasovagel syncope. It’s the nervous system’s reaction to great stress or some kind of emotional trigger. What happens is the heart rate slows, there’s a sudden drop in blood pressure, depriving the brain of oxygen and therefore triggering “the swoon.”
An attack of nerves or “the vapours” might be enough to make a lady swoon. Some ladies, wishing to be thought very delicate or sensitive (a popular quality during the Regency) would faint or pretend to faint to give the appearance of delicacy. This show of weakness was a prized quality by gentlemen, brought up to believe that women were the weaker sex and therefore could not bear such vulgarities as foul language, explicit talk (especially about sex or anything having to do with bodily functions), or even bad manners. In fact, so many ladies felt the need to swoon that a popular piece of furniture during the period was the fainting couch. Every lady was forearmed against the possibility of an attack of the vapours with a small vial of smelling salts called a vinaigrette.
These were small glass bottles or boxes, often with silver filigree coverings, that held sal volatile, one of several concoctions designed to jolt the fainter back to consciousness. Smelling salts could contain a mixture of ammonium carbonate and alcohol, or spirit of hartshorn (water and ammonia). By the Regency, a strong distilled vinegar with added essential oils like lavender, was the preferred potion used. The vinaigrette was held beneath the victim’s nose and the inhalation of the spirits would snap them back to consciousness. In my recent release, Almost a Countess, my heroine, Dora Harper, uses her vinaigrette several times to revivie the hero, Lord Aberfoyle when he is injured. But the table turns when he also wields the smelling salts to revive her from their first kiss! You can find Almost a Countess on Amazon. Sources: Hewitt, D. G. “The 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Etiquette to Become a Lady in Regency England.” History Collection, May 13, 2018. Karsten, Susan. “Fainting in the Regency.” Vanessa Riley’s Regency Reflections, October 3, 2013. Penrose, Andrea. “Why Do Regency Heroines Swoon?” Word Wenches, February 4, 2021.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Regency Introductions, how to meet new people


by Donna Hatch

In our informal modern society, it’s socially acceptable to introduce ourselves to a stranger without needing a third person to get involved. Meeting someone new might start with a clever (or corny) pick up line or be as simple as saying, “Hi, my name is____.” We can be confident that the other person will tell us his or her name. And thus an acquaintance, or more, begins.

During the Regency, an introduction was much more than just discovering someone’s name. If you’ve seen Austen or other historical adaptations on television or film or read them in books, you’re probably familiar with the concept of an introduction. When a lady catches a gentleman’s eye, he would ask a common acquaintance to introduce him to the heroine. If they were at a ball or a soiree, he would likely ask the hostess for the introduction. He would never simply present himself to her. The same goes for meeting anyone with whom one did not already have an association.

Assembly Rooms in Bath

In a formal social setting such as a ball, the introductions would be performed by a hostess, a patroness at Almack’s, or the Master of Ceremonies at an assembly room.

If one allowed someone to present another person to him or her, one was accepting the relationship because an introduction was a sort of recommendation. If a hostess presented a gentleman to a lady, the hostess was, in essence, recommending him to the lady based on his character, rank, status, etc. Only after the introduction had been made could the relationship begin.

Basic Rules for Introductions in the Regency:

  • A gentleman is introduced to a lady, regardless of rank
  • A younger person is introduced to an older person, regardless of rank
  • If they are of the same gender and similar age, the lower-ranking person is introduced to the higher-ranking person
  • Everyone is introduced to royalty
  • One never introduces oneself to another person--one must be introduced by a mutual acquaintance

The lady or the higher-ranked person may decline the introduction. So, at a ball, a lady--or her chaperon--could refuse an introduction to someone whose acquaintance was considered undesirable. In all honesty, I have yet to encounter a written instance when someone rejects a request for a presentation, but it does leave a great deal for the imagination, doesn’t it? It could be so deliciously awkward! But keep in mind, such an act would probably snub the third party who asked to make to introduction.

Though this is later in the century, Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette 1899 has great insight on this concept:

To introduce persons who are mutually unknown is to undertake a serious responsibility, and to certify to each the respectability of the other. Never undertake this responsibility without in the first place asking yourself whether the persons are likely to be agreeable to each other; nor, in the second place, without ascertaining whether it will be acceptable to both parties to become acquainted.

So, the third person should have given some thought as to whether this would be a mutually beneficial introduction. By accepting an introduction, the lady welcomes the relationship.

However, balls are a different animal. This same guide makes this statement:

At a ball, or evening party where there is dancing, the mistress of the house may introduce any gentleman to any lady without first asking the lady’s permission.

This is probably because it is assumed that the hostess gave serious thought to her guest list, so she can safely assume if she accepts them all, they all ought to accept each other.

Also, an introduction at a ball or assembly was not considered an introduction anywhere else but that particular event. If, however, the lady or the higher-ranking person first acknowledges the other in a different setting the next time they meet, then the first introduction can carry over as a non-event-specific introduction. I know, it seems odd and overly stuffy to us in these days, but the Regency era was a very different time.

Once the introduction is made, the lady would be expected to make herself available to dance with the gentleman--unless she was not dancing at all or already promised the dance to another.

When two gentlemen are being introduced, the person of the higher also has the option of accepting or rejecting. If he accepts, he’s basically accepting the other man’s association into his social circle.

How it Wasn’t Done

Presenting oneself to another is a major social faux pas, as we see from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813). When Mr. Collins proposed to introduce himself to Mr. Darcy, his superior in rank, Elizabeth is appropriately shocked, as evidence by her reaction:

“You are not going to introduce yourself to Mr Darcy!”

“Indeed I am. I shall entreat his pardon for not having done it earlier. I believe him to be Lady Catherine’s nephew. It will be in my power to assure him that her ladyship was quite well yesterday se’nnight.”

Elizabeth tried hard to dissuade him from such a scheme, assuring him that Mr Darcy would consider his addressing him without introduction as an impertinent freedom, rather than a compliment to his aunt; that it was not in the least necessary there should be any notice on either side; and that if it were, it must belong to Mr Darcy, the superior in consequence, to begin the acquaintance.

Mr. Collins, of course, dismisses her advice. His presumption in addressing the lofty Mr. Darcy received an appropriate response:

Mr Darcy was eyeing him with unrestrained wonder, and when at last Mr Collins allowed him time to speak, replied with an air of distant civility. Mr Collins, however, was not discouraged from speaking again, and Mr Darcy’s contempt seemed abundantly increasing with the length of his second speech, and at the end of it he only made him a slight bow, and moved another way.

This ill-mannered ruffian who was related to the Bennets no doubt added further proof that Elizabeth’s family was uncultured, contemptible, and therefore unworthy of Mr. Darcy’s notice.

According to The Social Historian, Victorian Etiquette,

No gentleman should ask a lady to dance unless he has previously met her acquaintance. An introduction can be arranged through the Master of Ceremonies or through the lady of the house or a member of her family. Should a lady be approached by a man to whom she has not been introduced, she should reply that she would accept his invitation with pleasure if he would first procure an introduction.

How to Perform an Introduction

Manners and Rules of Good Society (1888) states:

The correct formula in use when making introductions would be to say, ‘Mrs X – Lady Z,’ thus mentioning the name of the lady of lowest rank first, as she is the person introduced to the lady of highest rank. It would be unnecessary and vulgar to repeat the names of the two ladies in a reversed manner – thus, ‘Mrs X – Lady Z. Lady Z – Mrs X.’

This makes sense because if a gentleman asked to be introduced to a young lady, it stands to reason that he’d already have gone to the trouble to inquire as to her name, and possibly has asked enough about her to decide if he desires to make her acquaintance.

That being said, it is possible to introduce two people. Northanger Abbey (1817), gives an example of a two-way introduction:

The young ladies were introduced to each other, Miss Tilney expressing a proper sense of such goodness, Miss Morland with the real delicacy of a generous mind making light of the obligation.

Perhaps, then, it depends on the situation. If adults are introducing their children to each other in the hopes that a friendship, or more, might result, there would be a two-way introduction such as “Oliva, dear, please meet Miss Rose Jones, the youngest daughter of our newest neighbor, Mr. Jones. Miss Jones, this is my eldest daughter, Olivia.”

Imagine a handsome lord sees a lovely lady across a crowded ballroom. Intrigued, he asks his hostess who she is. Upon learning a little about her, and more determined than ever to make her acquaintance, he begs to be introduced to this vision who has piqued his interest.

The introduction would be something like, “Miss Palmer, I'm pleased to introduce Lord Amesbury.”

One look into her eyes changes him forever.

And their story begins…


The Pocket Book of Etiquette by Arthur Freeling

The Social Historian, Victorian Etiquette

London by Gaslight

Regency introductions - a Regency History guide by Rachel Knowles

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Regency Parlor Games: Charades by Jenna Jaxon

Although the first entertainment one usually thinks of when talking of the Regency period is usually a ball, musical evening, cards, or dance assembly, there were actually many other forms of amusement Regency men and women engaged in. When having an intimate night at home or at a house party with myriad guests, quite often parlor games were played with much gusto. These games included many that we are still familiar with, such as blind man’s bluff, twenty questions, hide and seek, snapdragon, and charades.

Charades was invented in 16th century France and became very popular in Britain by the time of the Regency. Unlike our contemporary version, during the Regency the game wasn’t carried out in silence with contestants acting out the words of the answer. Instead, a riddle was spoken that gave clues to the syllables of a word then a description of the whole. And the whole thing had to rhyme.

The first one to guess the charade won.

Charades was a popular game with Jane Austen, both to play with her family and guests and as an entertainment for her characters in several of her novels.

Some people created their own charades, but many were published in books and magazines so people could use them ready-made. Sometimes they were printed on ladies' fans, with the answer on the reverse side. Usually the charades are in three parts, the first denotes the first syllable, the second, the second syllable, and the third describes the whole word.

Below are a couple of charades printed in the book Riddles, Charades, and Conundrums, complied by John Winter Jones in 1822.


My first, whatever be its hue,

Will please, if full of spirit;

My second critics love to do,

And stupid authors merit.


My first a blessing sent to earth,

Of plants and flowers to aid the birth;

My second surely was design’d

To hurl destruction on mankind:

My whole a pledge from pardoning heaven,

Of wrath appeas’d and crimes forgiven.

In the Victorian period the game changed to include acting out the words without words (in Jane Eyre the company plays charades and acts out the word Bridewell in silence). And has continued on that way to the present day.


(1) Eye-lash

(2) Rainbow

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Erotic Art of Thomas Rowlandson by Jenna Jaxon

The turn of the 19th century was quite a bit wilder and an extremely bawdy period as we approach the Regency period. The 18th century had been time of great eroticism and overt sexuality. The book Fanny Hill had been published in 1732, one of the leading erotic novels of the day. Jack Harris (pen name of Samuel Derrick) published Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies (prostitutes) that was a best seller for years. And Thomas Rowlandson, a popular engraver and caricaturist in Georgian London, created a series of highly erotic engravings at the end of the century, reportedly for the Prince Regent. Rowlandson, an orphan raised by his aunt, studied art in Paris and began to exhibit his work in London in the mid-1770s. He etched and
printed several series his works, such as Dr. Syntax's Tour and The Microcosm of London for which he gained much fame. He illustrated prominent authors' works of the period such as Smollett, Goldsmith, Sterne, and Swift. He worked primarily in pen and ink, with a watercolor wash, the delicate nature of his work contrasting sharply with the coarseness of his subjects.
One of his most popular series depicted men and women in the most licentious poses imaginable. These were the ones done for the prince and that now are on display in the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. (These three prints are the only ones not too bawdy to print!) But I chose some that I think will give you a feel for Rowlandson's works. These prints were so popular the original engraved plates were worn completely out with the printing of them.