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Monday, October 31, 2011

Regency Death and Burial

Since it's Halloween, I decided to get a little macabre and delve into the area of death and burial practices in Regency England. Though I'm an author of Regency Romance novels, I do a great deal of research in order to keep my books feeling as authentic as possible, not just as a pretty backdrop to my stories, but because their customs shaped the people, and therefore, my characters.

In England during the Regency Era, there were no funeral parlors or funeral homes. When a person died, the body remained at home. Sometimes an undertaker came prepare the body and sometimes a family member or a servant such as a valet usually did it. Most often, though, women were expected to perform that duty. (Odd that, since women weren't generally allowed to attend the funeral lest their delicate constitutions be too strained.) Anyway, whomever had this unpleasant task washed the hair and body also dressed the body. They often used props to arrange the body's position, such as under the chin to keep the mouth closed.

Bodies were usually laid out on a table for mourners to come pay their respects. The bodies were encased in a shroud, even in the coffin, which was usually made of wool or cambric unless the family were willing to pay for silk. A law was passed in the 18th century that shrouds had to be wool, unless people paid for the privilege of having something else. This act was passed to protect the wool trade. I could comment on that, but I won't. :-)

They didn't embalm in those days. Though America began embalming as early as the Civil War, (well after the Regency Era) that practice didn't take off in England for many years. To help with preservation, bodies were sometimes laid on ice. As you can imagine, that created problems with melting ice and disposing of the water. Usually, burials happened within a week since bodily decay happened quickly and depended on many factors beyond just climate. Obese bodies decay faster than thin ones. Alcoholics, contrary to popular belief, do not get "pickled" but instead decay faster. This is the same for those who suffered from long-term disease.

Queen Victoria and her beloved Prince Albert
Prince Albert died on December 14, 1861--a chilly time of year, to be sure--and was not actually buried for nearly two weeks. The stench was so bad that the nearby guards had to be changed every two hours, despite the profusion of lilies around his coffin. Albert was relatively thin, but had been suffering from typhoid fever for probably two years.

The rich were buried in family tombs or inside churches. The middle class were buried in the ground in coffins. The very poor were thrown into common graves. I also read that poor people sometimes rented a coffin to get the body to the graveyard and then tipped it until the body slid out and into the grave. The leased coffin was then returned to the coffin maker. That conjures up all kinds of images, doesn't it?

They didn't use "caskets," they used "coffins," which had a widened area for the shoulders like what we think of for Dracula's coffin. Coffins were fresh-cut from pine after a person's death, so that the strong pine smell could help with body odors. Hmmm, maybe they should have strewn pine chips or cedar chips around Prince Albert's body in addition to the lilies :-)

A person who committed the heinous crime of suicide, also know as self-murder, was buried vertically at a cross roads, supposedly to keep the spirit from knowing which way to travel. Why, vertically, I don't know.

If you want more information, I recommend "The Victorian Undertaker" by Trevor May, a thin volume that you can read in about an hour. Although it discusses the Victorian Era, there isn't much about death and burial had changed from the Regency Era.

This concludes your trip into the macabre.

Oh, and Happy Halloween.  Mwahahaha.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guest Mary Lydon Simonsen: Mr. Darcy Grows Fur!

Linda Banche here. My guest today is Mary Lydon Simonsen and Mr. Dacry's Bite, her paranormal take on Pride and Prejudice. Here she tells us why she made Mr. Darcy a werewolf instead of a vampire.

Leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win the copy of Mr. Darcy's Bite which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Mary will select the winner. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winner within a week of selection, I will award the book to an alternate. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

And the winner Mary selected is Calisa Rhose! Congratulations, Calisa, and thanks to all who came over.

Welcome back, Mary!

Mary Lydon Simonsen:

Hello Linda! It’s so good to be back at Historical Hussies!

You have asked me to write about why I chose to transform Mr. Darcy into a werewolf in my novel, Mr. Darcy’s Bite. Actually, it all started as a lark. I had been reading a werewolf story on a Jane Austen fan fiction site. With Halloween 2009 approaching, I decided to write a short story called “Mr. Darcy on the Eve of All Saints’ Day.” It received such a positive response that I kept writing. Before I knew it, I had a full-length novel, and Sourcebooks wanted it for my fourth novel with them.

You also asked why a werewolf and not a vampire? Despite the enormous success of the Twilight series, I did not choose to make Mr. Darcy a vampire because that would have required dealing with a lot of blood, and I am a bit squeamish in that department. Because I eat very little meat, and what I do eat cannot remotely resemble the animal it came from, I should have had the same problem with werewolves. But I left the situations where Mr. Darcy is out in the wild hunting for his food to the imagination of my readers. If you are looking for scenes of the werewolf Mr. Darcy tearing apart a deer, you won’t find it in Mr. Darcy’s Bite. However, he does smack his lips after a satisfying hunt and a particularly tasty kill.

Mr. Darcy was not born a werewolf. Rather, he became one as a result of a bite he received in the Black Forest when he was 14. Because of his dual nature, he always thought he would marry a she wolf. You know, keep things simple. But that was before he met Elizabeth Bennet. Stalking and bringing down a buck is a piece of cake compared to telling the woman he loves that he grows fur, fangs, and a bushy tail once in every moon cycle.

At first Lizzy is horrified. Although she wishes Mr. Darcy well, she wants no part of his world. But after seeing him in his altered statement and noting how much his sister and cousin, Anne de Bourgh, love him and how much his servants respect him, she softens and eventually realizes that her love for the master of Pemberley is so great that she must share his life no matter what. Besides, what’s a little fur between two people in love?

You also asked if being a werewolf “confers power and privilege?” Yes and no. Because he is the alpha member of his small pack, he does have power, and he is supremely confident in both his manifestations. However, if his lupine nature were to be discovered, he would be killed. As a result, there is no privilege associated with his being a werewolf. Everything the Darcys do must take into consideration the danger of being exposed.

I loved writing this story because I love wolves. This goes back to the time when I was a kid reading Jack London’s stories. I was fortunate to have watched a wolf in Yellowstone Park doing his/her best to kill field mice in a meadow. I don’t know if he/she was young, but the mice were winning this day. Even so, there was something primal in watching an animal hunt.

I would love to know what your readers think about Mr. Darcy as a werewolf. Personally, I’ll take him anyway I can get him.

Thanks again. This was fun.

Mr. Darcy has a secret...

Darcy is acting rather oddly. After months of courting Elizabeth Bennet, no offer of marriage is forthcoming and Elizabeth is first impatient, then increasingly frightened. For there is no denying that the full moon seems to be affecting his behavior, and Elizabeth’s love is going to be tested in ways she never dreamed...

Darcy has more than family pride to protect: others of his kind are being hunted all over England and a member of Darcy’s pack is facing a crisis in Scotland. It will take all of Elizabeth’s faith, courage, and ingenuity to overcome her prejudice and join Darcy in a Regency world she never knew existed.

Praise for The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy:

“Simonsen spins off another superior Jane Austen homage.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Engrossing and delightful…Simonsen takes quite an intriguing approach.”

“A fast-reading, engaging style…brings a new and enjoyable immediacy to Jane Austen’s most popular novel.”
—Linda Banche Romance Author

“Creative, well-paced, and definitely diverting.”

About the Author
Mary Simonsen
Mary Lydon Simonsen’s first book, Searching for Pemberley, was acclaimed by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Romantic Times. She is well loved and widely followed on all the Jane Austen fanfic sites, with tens of thousands of hits and hundreds of reviews whenever she posts. She lives in Peoria, Arizona.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Guest Abigail Reynolds: Honor, Duty and Marriage in the Regency

Linda Banche here. Today I welcome Abigail Reynolds and her latest Pemberley Variation, Mr. Darcy's Undoing, in which Elizabeth accepts another marriage offer before Darcy can renew his attentions.

Leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win the copy of Mr. Darcy's Undoing which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Abigail will select the winner. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winner within a week of selection, I will award the book to an alternate. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

And the winner Abigail selected is Christine Bails! Congratulations, Christine, and thanks to all who came over.

Welcome, Abigail!

Abigail Reynolds:

The Regency period presents novelists with all sorts of lovely plot complications in terms of society rules, trying to strike a balance between keeping our heroines respectable and having them fall in love. My latest Pride & Prejudice variation, Mr. Darcy’s Undoing, hangs on a variant of that dilemma. Mr. Darcy wants to marry Elizabeth Bennet, but while she returns his sentiments quite passionately, she has a broken engagement in her past, and this makes her an unsuitable bride for Mr. Darcy.

Unlike modern times when engagements are easily made and broken, Regency engagements were considered legally binding, and the wedding was just the church’s blessing on the legal contract of the engagement. While either party could cry off the engagement, there could be substantial repercussions to their reputations and, in the case of gentlemen, to their pocketbooks.

While keeping young women chaste was of crucial importance prior to engagement, the rules relaxed substantially afterwards. As long as an engaged couple was discreet, they could do pretty much whatever they liked, as can be witnessed by the number of healthy babies born five months after the wedding day. While that might engender a little talk, it wasn’t considered a serious matter as long as the couple had been publicly engaged. Unfortunately, this meant that a woman with a broken engagement was considered to be ruined, since her former betrothed could have made free with her charms to one extent or another. A man with a broken engagement would likely be considered unkind and something of a rake, but a woman with a broken engagement would deal with permanent repercussions and was unlikely ever to make a good marriage.

Jilted women did have one recourse apart from finding a man to defend their honor. A male relative could sue the man in question for breach of promise since the engagement was legally binding. Sometimes this would cause the gentleman to honor his commitment, though one has to wonder about how happy such a marriage would be. Unfortunately, the judgement against such a man was usually be a fine, rarely over 250 pounds, so a gentleman of means could choose to pay rather than honor his word, and 250 pounds wouldn’t go far to support a lady.

In Mr. Darcy’s Undoing, the situation is reversed, with Elizabeth choosing to end her earlier engagement after realizing that her heart lay elsewhere. Today this would open up the way for her to make a new marriage; then it turned her into a fallen woman, unsuitable to marry a gentleman. Elizabeth says as much to Mr. Darcy:

“Mr. Darcy, the rules for a woman in making a marriage are much like those at a dance. A woman may not choose her partner; she has only the right of refusal, and even that comes at a price. If she refuses to dance with a gentleman who has invited her, she must then refuse to dance with anyone else who asks, or be thought ill-bred and improper. When I chose to break my engagement, I did so with a very clear knowledge of the price I would pay. I knew it would mean I would be a scandal, that I would never marry, never have children of my own. It was not a decision I entered into lightly.”

There isn’t an easy way to solve problems like this. In my book, the HEA ending is reached by Darcy choosing to accept the loss in his social status that comes from marrying Elizabeth. Since he cared very little about his position in the ton, this was not a major sacrifice for him, though it would eventually have some impact upon their children.

A passionate new Pride and Prejudice variation explores the unthinkable—Elizabeth accepts the proposal of a childhood friend before she meets Darcy again. When their paths cross, the devastated Mr. Darcy must decide how far he'll go to win the woman he loves. How can a man who prides himself on his honor ask the woman he loves to do something scandalous? And how can Elizabeth accept a loveless marriage when Mr. Darcy holds the key to her heart? As they confront family opposition and the ill-will of scandal-mongers, will Elizabeth prove to be Mr. Darcy's undoing?

About the Author
Abigail Reynolds is a physician and a lifelong Jane Austen enthusiast. She began writing the Pride and Prejudice Variations series in 2001, and encouragement from fellow Austen fans convinced her to continue asking "What if...?" She lives with her husband and two teenage children in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit her website at

Friday, October 21, 2011

Guest Gabrielle Kimm: Duke and Duchess in Sixteenth Century Tuscany

Linda Banche here. My guest today is Gabrielle Kimm, author of the historical novel, His Last Duchess. Set amid the lushness of a ducal court in sixteenth-century Tuscany and Ferrara, His Last Duchess is the story of the real people behind the characters in Robert Browning's poem. Here she tells us about the two main characters in her book, Lucrezia and Alfonso.

Leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win the copy of His Last Duchess which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Gabrielle will select the winner. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winner within a week of selection, I will award the book to an alternate. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

And the winner Gabrielle selected is catslady! Congratulations, catslady, and thanks to all who came over.

Welcome Gabrielle! We're happy to have you.

Gabrielle Kimm:

Thank you so much for inviting me on to your blog!

You’ve asked me about the real Lucrezia and Alfonso. A fascinating pair. Now, my novel was always meant to be the back-story to Robert Browning’s poem, rather than a detailed historical account of real events; as I point out in my Author Note at the back of the book, I’ve created a work of fiction rather than a history book, so where I’ve felt the need to tweak either historical events or geographical locations, I’ve done so with impunity! But my story is nonetheless grounded in historical reality and my research was painstaking.

Here are some of the things I discovered about Alfonso and Lucrezia:

Alfonso was the son of Ercole d’Este and Renée of France and the grandson of the notorious Lucrezia Borgia. I think if must have been a fairly dysfunctional family - apart from anything else, poor Renée was eventually banished from the Este court on charges of blasphemy. (As I understand things, she – a Calvinist - stood in support of one of her servants who had been accused of blasphemy while in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the Catholic chapel at the Castello Estense. Both she and the servant were banished).

Alfonso married three times – to Lucrezia de’ Medici, to Barbara of Austria and to Barbara’s niece, Margherita Gonzaga. He had no children, either legitimate or otherwise, and he ended up being the last duke of Ferrara – the lands and title passed nominally to his cousin Cesare on Alfonso’s death, but they were subsequently incorporated into the Papal States, and the duchy thus lost almost all its might.

One surprising fact: Alfonso was a very gifted tennis player (this is something I deliberately omitted in my novel – it seemed far too physical and healthy an interest for my emotionally complex duke!). The game he played was ‘real’ tennis (something more akin to modern squash than Lawn Tennis) and Alfonso at one time had four courts at the Castello, and was a fearsome opponent, by all accounts.

Just as previous members of the house of Este had been before him, Alfonso was a devoted and knowledgeable patron of the arts – something Robert Browning picks up on in his poem, and thus I do in my novel – and he supported many artists and musicians (though some accounts will have it that this was not always out of his own pocket … apparently the taxpayer footed a fair number of the bills!)

Poor little Lucrezia is a much more shadowy figure. Daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici and Eleanora of Toledo, she was married to Alfonso d’Este at fourteen in 1559 (I upped her age to sixteen in my book) and less than three years later, she was dead. Opinion is divided as to the cause of her death – some sources cite natural causes, probably tuberculosis or typhoid, but most suspect foul play, and many (including Robert Browning, of course) point the finger at Alfonso himself. Lucrezia achieved little in her short life, and in reality, for most of the two years of their marriage, Alfonso was absent from the court. This, for obvious narrative reasons, was one fact with which I took authorial liberties!

I hope these are the sorts of facts you were after. As I said at the start though, my novel has always been intended to be an extension of Browning’s creation, rather than historical fact.

I’ve loved fleshing out these shadowy historical figures, and giving them a new lease of life.

The chilling story of Lucrezia de Medici, duchess to Alfonso d'Este, His Last Duchess paints a portrait of a lonely young girl and her marriage to an inscrutable duke. Lucrezia longs for love, Alfonso desperately needs an heir, and in a true story of lust and dark decadence, the dramatic fireworks the marriage kindles threaten to destroy the duke's entire inheritance–and Lucrezia's future. His Last Duchess gorgeously brings to life the passions and people of sixteenth-century Tuscany and Ferrara.

About the Author
Gabrielle Kimm is a graduate of the creative writing master's program at the University of Chichester. She is writing her second novel, The Courtesan's Lover, which features one of the characters of His Last Duchess as the heroine.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pedestrian Hobby Horse

The Pedestrian Hobby-Horse was the first commercially successful two-wheeled, steerable, human-propelled machine during the Regency. Originally patented by a German Baron, Karl von Drais, in 1817, the Dandy Horse was first produced in France. It enjoyed instant popularity among fashionable members of the middle class.

An innovative London coachmaker named Denis Johnson picked up the idea and created a new and improved patent in his workshop in Long Acre. His design featured an elegantly curved wooden frame, allowing the use of larger wooden wheels. Several parts were made of metal, which allowed the vehicle to be lighter than the continental version.

Johnson created hundreds of “hobby horses” and, to prove his skills as a marketer, even established a riding schools in the Strand and Soho where prospective clients could try out his new machine. Johnson then introduced a dropped-frame version for ladies to accommodate their long skirts. It was an instant success. Fashionable young men of the day known as dandies led the craze, and during the spring and summer of 1819, the hobby-horse was all the rage in fashionable London society.

The velocipede came with an adjustable saddle for steering. Atiller mechanism controlled the front wheel. A dashboard behind the front wheel helped with steering and pushing. Intrepid riders propelled the wooden 'hobby-horse' velocipede by pushing their feet on the ground. Going uphill was probably a challenge but one could coast downhill. There were no brakes; one simply dragged his or her feet on the ground to stop. I have no doubt there were a number of accidents, as a result.

The pedestrian hobby horse had many names; velocipede, hobby-horse, dandy-horse, accelerator, swift walker, and a number of other names.

For about six months, the hobby horse enjoyed a high profile in London. Once the novelty had worn off, the craze died out. Johnson's son undertook a tour of England in the spring of 1819 to exhibit and publicize the item but by then, the velocipede’s glory days were over. No doubt the London Surgeons who issued a health warning against the continued use of the hobby horse added to its demise.

Few English or French cycling literature the hobby-horse use after 1820, but apparently in central Europe hobby horses were made and sold into the 1830s.

The hobby horse enjoyed a bright, short burst of fame. However, it did lead to the invention of the bicycle in the 1860s. Based on Johnson's design, the machine was resurrected and improved; rotary cranks and pedals were attached to the front-wheel hub of a velocipede. I could find no data on when the brakes were added but that would have been a major selling point for me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Regency Halloween

Halloween as we know it today was not really a holiday during the Regency. On October 31, the Celts celebrated Samhain, a harvest festival which contained some elements of a festival of the dead. The Christian religion attempted to neutralize the pagan Samhain by combining it with Christian holy days. November 1 was All Saints' Day, or All Hallows Day, so October 31 became All Hallows' Eve.

By the Regency, All Hallows' Eve was mainly a rural festival, rarely noticed in the cities. Elements of Samhain remained in the customs of guising, lighting bonfires, and carving jack o' lanterns.

On Samhain, the barriers between the real world and the supernatural world thinned, allowing the dead, as well as evil spirits, to walk the earth. People left their doors open to welcome the ghosts of their ancestors inside, while at the same time keeping the evil ones out. An associate custom was guising, in which people dressed as ghouls. By blending in with the demons, they avoided them.

Bonfires were also popular on all Hallows' Eve. The fires lit the way to the afterworld of relatives who had died during the past year. They also scared the specters and goblins away.

Carving jack o' lanterns was another custom. Believing the "head" of a vegetable its most potent part, the Celts carved vegetables into heads with faces to scare away supernatural beings. By Regency times, these lighted vegetables were called jack o' lanterns from the seventeenth century Irish legend of Shifty, or Stingy, Jack. Shifty Jack, so evil neither Heaven or Hell would take him, was doomed forever to wander the earth while carrying a lantern.

The lantern was usually carved from a turnip or mangelwurzel, as pumpkins were largely unknown in Britain at the time.

Since turnips and mangelwurzels are dense, not hollow like pumpkins, carving such a jack o' lantern was quite a feat.

The beginnings of many of today's Halloween practices existed in the Regency. If you enjoy Regency and Halloween, you might like Pumpkinnapper, my Regency Halloween comedy.

Pumpkin thieves, a youthful love rekindled, and a jealous goose. Oh my!

Buy link here.

Happy Halloween!

Thank you all,


P.S. The top picture is Snap-Apple Night, painted by Irish artist Daniel Maclise in 1833, of a Halloween party he attended in Blarney, Ireland. From Wikipedia.