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Friday, December 28, 2012

Discoveries in Diaries and Letters

Through reading diaries of those who lived in Georgian England one can glean any number of interesting things, things Georgians easily understood but which have passed almost into obscurity after two centuries of disuse.

For example, did you know that black wax was used to seal letters bearing news of one's death? I learned this in a letter in which the writer apologized thusly, "I have sealed my letter with black wax for too good a reason, so don't be alarmed. I have no red."

Illustration by Debra Wenlock
There's another factoid: letters were normally sealed with red wax. (This was verified by images on the internet.)

In the same book of letters, an aristocratic child wrote, "My mama writes in the carriage. She has a little table in it." Of course, I had to steal that to use in one of my books!

That same child, in another letter, references the real wood fires they only had at their country home. That casual comment alerted me to the fact they did not have wood fires at their town house in London. Of course, they used coal in the city! Had I erred in an earlier book? I certainly know better now than to have wood fires in London.

Some of the more interesting of those little-known occurrences of two centuries ago revolve around travel. Englishmen traveling in Italy during the summer slept in the daytime and traveled in their coaches only at night because the heat in the carriages could be too oppressive.

Perhaps the most interesting travel tidbit is how the wealthy Englishmen crossed the mountains. Their entire carriages had to be disassembled and carried over the passes by crews hired for this purpose. Crews also carried the aristocratic passengers along these treacherous areas by sedan-type chairs. Once the passes were cleared, the carriages were reassembled.
I'm currently reading the Grand Tour journal written by England's once-wealthiest commoner, William Beckford, and will share its enlightening facts in the next blog.

Cheryl Bolen is the launch romance author for Montlake's Amazon serial, Falling for Frederick, which begins Jan. 8.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Trees

When we think of a historical Christmas, most of us picture a Charles Dickens Christmas complete with a goose or turkey and a Christmas tree, but the English haven’t always had Christmas trees.

Early on, they decorated yew trees with small gifts or candy. But this tradition was not wide-spread until about the 1840's.

Queen Victoria 's husband, Prince Albert, decorated the first Christmas tree in Windsor Castle about 1841, according to some sources. Albert was from Germany, a place where they’d long used Christmas trees. He decorated a tree using candles, candies, and paper chains. The custom, although not entirely new, spread across England, and before long all of the English had Christmas trees just like the queen's. And shortly thereafter, so did the Americans.

Over time, people started to use more elaborate decorations on their trees, including gingerbread men, marzipan candies, hard candies, cookies, fruit, cotton-batting Santas, paper fans, tin soldiers, whistles, wind-up toys, pine cones, dried fruits, nuts, berries, and trinkets of all kinds. They often hung cornucopias filled with sweets, fruit, nuts and popcorn on their trees. Small homemade gifts such as tiny hand-stitched dolls or children's mittens were also popular. Beautiful angels were the tree toppers of choice, and some families set up a Nativity scene under the tree using moss for grass and mirrors for ponds.
By around 1860, people started buying German ornaments including glass icicles and hand-blown glass globes called "kugels" which evolved into our modern-day Christmas balls. Here is a picture to the right of a kugel.  Isn't it gorgeous?

They also decorated with embossed silver and gold cardboard ornaments in many shapes called "Dresdens."  I tried to find a picture, but I can't always tell if a picture is copyrighted or not unless there's a clear copyright symbol or a watermaark, but there are some beautiful pictures of Dresdens here.

Decorating a Victorian-looking tree today would be pretty simple without investing a great deal of money. Here are a few things you could do to get that old-fashioned, Victorian effect. 

1. String popcorn and cranberries to make a garland. My children love to help do this and I do this every year on our family room tree filled with ornaments we've made over the year.
2. Shape small paper doilies into cornucopias and fill with candy.
3. Recycle old Christmas cards. Cut out shapes you like and attach them to the tree with ribbons to make your own customDresdens.
4. Make or buy small cookies to hang on the tree. You can decorate them with glitter or paint. I hear hairspray helps preserve t hem.
5. Spray nuts in the shell with gold or silver paint and glue a ribbon or cord to them so they'll hang on the tree.
6. Victorians used real candles, but I don’t recommend lighting real candles. Instead, buy strings of electric lights in the shape of candles -- some of them even flicker.
7. Fill the tree with small toys.
8. Add cherubs and lace fans, other Victorian favorites.
9. Hang decorative tassels.
10. Shape wide velvet ribbon into pretty bows.

 Do you have any favorite old family customs you do for Christmas?


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Regency Mistletoe

A Regency Christmas story wouldn't be complete without the hero and heroine celebrating their love with a kiss under the mistletoe. Long a symbol of fertility, mistletoe, with its glossy green leaves and white berries, has become a Christmas symbol of love and marriage.

Mistletoe is an evergreen, a spot of life in the brown, dormant landscape of a northern winter. At this low point of the year, Regency people decorated their houses with mistletoe, along with other seasonal greens such as Christmas rose (Hellebore), evergreen boughs, holly, ivy, hawthorn, laurel, rosemary, and bay, as a reminder that spring would return.

In England, mistletoe, which is a parasite, grows most often on apple trees, but also on blackthorn, hawthorn, lime, poplar, rowan and willow. Although its range extends from Devon to Yorkshire, the plant grows mainly to the south and west, and is particularly abundant around London.

Some of the myths surrounding mistletoe originated with the Druids, who deemed the plant a sexual symbol--the juice from the white berries resembles semen--and, by extension, an aphrodisiac. As part of their winter solstice ceremonies, they cut mistletoe from oak trees, providing a link to the later holiday of Christmas.

The origin of kissing under the mistletoe may derive from the Norse legend of the death of the sun god, Balder, killed by a sprig of mistletoe hurled by his enemy Loki. When Balder's mother, Frigga, the goddess of love, cried over her son, her tears resurrected him. In gratitude, she kissed everyone who came under the mistletoe.

A lesser known legend declares mistletoe the plant of peace. Enemies meeting under the mistletoe had to embrace and declare a truce until the next day. This goodwill and embrace may also be the source of the kiss under the mistletoe.

Regency people used mistletoe in the form of a kissing bough--a simple arrangement of mistletoe decorated with ribbons and hung over a doorway or entrance. The gentleman would kiss his lady and then pluck a white berry and present it to her, perhaps as a symbol of the child he could give her. When all the berries were gone, that sprig of mistletoe could no longer be used to steal kisses, although many people disregarded the berries' absence.

My Regency Christmas novella, Mistletoe Everywhere, incorporates the myth of enemies--in this case, the estranged hero and heroine--declaring a truce under the mistletoe. Short blurb: A man who sees mistletoe everywhere is mad--or in love.

More info at my website,

Available at The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, All Romance Ebooks and other places where ebooks are sold.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Thank you all,

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Western Author, Marsha Ward

Donna:  Today our special guest author is Western Author, Marsha Ward who writes gritty westerns mixed with adventure and a little romance. Marsha Ward is an award-winning writer, editor, and poet, whose published work includes four novels in The Owen Family Saga: The Man from Shenandoah, Ride to Raton, Trail of Storms, and Spinster’s Folly; and over 900 articles, columns, poems and short stories. She also is a workshop presenter and writing teacher, and is scheduled to give two classes at the ANWA Writers Conference in February, 2013.

Tell me about you as a person, Marsha. What are some of your favorite things?

Marsha: I'm a widow with four living adult children, six grandchildren, and a large extended family. I live in a rural environment in Arizona, where I can hear a creek flowing nearby and enjoy the seclusion afforded by many trees in the neighborhood. Like most writers, I'm a reserved, almost hermit-like person, and feel uncomfortable in crowds. However, I also love to travel, so tell me about a road trip, and I'm so there! In fact, I've put about 8,000 miles on my car this year between various writing conferences and a research trip to the Eastern United States.

My favorite things include the above-mentioned travel, learning new skills, helping other writers, and ice cream in all its varieties.

Donna:  We share a lot of the same favorite things! Tell me, what's the craziest, bravest, or stupidest thing you've ever done?

Marsha: Maybe the craziest thing I've ever done is hike along and wade through a river in Venezuela in an attempt to see monkeys. I can't recall if we actually got to see them, but I do remember the extremely sore muscles I got out of the trip.

Donna:  Yup, I'd consider wading through a rivers in Venezuela pretty crazy. So, what are you working on now? (besides marketing your new book :-)

Marsha: I'm doing research for my fifth book, Gone for a Soldier, which takes place during the American Civil War. I'm also working on several Secret Projects.

Donna:  Ohhh, secret, huh? That's fun.  What is your newest book about?

Marsha:  Spinster's Folly follows frontier teen Marie Owen's journey into a very scary situation, due to her anxiety over not having found a husband by her advanced age of eighteen. In post-Civil War years in rural Colorado, there weren't many choices available. Marie falls into the clutches of a sweet-talking, opportunistic man whose plans don't
mesh with the dreams of any young woman of good upbringing, let alone Marie's. The story includes action enough for male readers, romance enough for women, and adventure enough to raise the pulse rates of both genders.

Donna: It sounds wonderful! How can we find it?

Marsha: Purchase Spinster's Folly
as a print book at:
Smashwords (all ebook formats)
Autographs for all ebook formats are available at:

Donna: I love your books, Marsha, and I can’t wait to read the newest one, Spinster's Folly. Thank you so much for being here with me today!

Marsha’s website is at She blogs at "Writer in the Pines" and "The Characters in Marsha's Head" Find her on Facebook at

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, December 3, 2012

Mistletoe Kisses

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is as ancient as it is fun. No one seems to know the true origin of kissing under the mistletoe, but most sources seem to trace it back to old Scandinavia. It probably stems from pagan rituals, as do most Christmas traditions, even Christmas itself.

Druids believed mistletoe possessed magical powers of healing—even against poison—and helped improve fertility. Other herbology claims mistletoe is both an aphrodisiac and an abortive plant, which might be why some of the earliest customs involved more than an innocent kiss.

In the Celitc language, mistletoe means literally, “all-healer.” Modern medicine cannot prove this, so it probably comes from superstition based on the phenomenon that even in the dead of winter, mistletoe stays green and healthy because it is feeding off the trees serving as its host. Druids performed a sacred sacrificial ritual underneath the mistletoe for the benefit of sick or infertile land and animals.

But getting back to the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. Its earliest uses are linked to its symbolism of peace. Supposedly warring parties would lay down their weapons and declare a truce while in the presence of mistletoe. Quarreling couples would kiss and make up underneath a sprig of mistletoe. This probably led later to the tradition to simply kissing anyone “caught” standing underneath the mistletoe, which later led to interesting--and not always innocent--situations. Until recently, the young man would traditionally pluck off one of the white berries after kissing a girl. When all the berries were plucked, the kissing, at least while under the mistletoe, also ceased. Reportedly, maids in a boarding house would wait under the mistletoe, get kissed, and then the men were expected to pay a shilling.

At one point, the "kissing bunch" became a Christmas decoration in England early American homes. The kissing bunch was constructed of two hoops tied into a round frame, then decorated with ribbons, holly, apples, oranges and other bright fruits. In the center of the frame rested figures of the infant Christ, Mary, and Joseph. A sprig of mistletoe hung below this.

In my Regency Christmas novella, A Winter's Knight, which is included in A Timeless Romance Anthology, Winter Collectiona mistletoe kiss leads to heart-rending choice.  A Winter’s Knight begins when Clarissa Fairchild’s coach breaks down in front of forbidding Wyckburg Castle, a place where generations of earls have murdered their young brides. An adventurer at heart, Clarissa is as horrified as she is fascinated. When she meets widower Christopher de Champs, Earl of Wyckburg, she's torn between fleeing for her life or uncovering the handsome earl's terrible secret which may land her in the middle of a deadly curse.

In my Christmas Regency novella, Mistletoe Magic,  there are lots of plots that center around a magical mistletoe kiss, but the end result is not what anyone expected!

So the next time you need a good kissing, stand under a bunch of mistletoe in the vicinity of a person you’d like to kiss, (bring your own mistletoe if necessary) and expect a kiss. Throat-clearing may help. But remember, no berry plucking or shilling paying necessary!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A SIMILAR TASTE IN BOOKS, My Latest Regency comedy

I love books, I love libraries and I love Regencies. I've combined all three in my first self-published book,  A Similar Taste in Books, a sweet regency romance novelette.

I wrote A Similar Taste in Books as a standalone to see what all the self-publishing fuss was about. But thanks to an author friend who suggested I continue the story, I've decided to make it the first book in the series Love and the Library. There will be three more novelettes (which I have yet to write) detailing the romantic journeys of the Book 1 hero's three friends as each finds his lady at the library.

I almost used Love and the Library as the title of the first book. Good thing I didn't.

A Similar Taste in Books, Book 1 of Love and the Library

Pride and Prejudice has always brought lovers together, even in the Regency.

Justin has a deep, dark secret—he likes that most despised form of literature, the novel. His favorite novel is Pride and Prejudice, and, especially, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Intelligent, lively, fiercely loyal Miss Elizabeth. How he would love to meet a lady like her.

Clara’s favorite novel is Pride and Prejudice and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Intelligent, steadfast and willing to admit when he is wrong. Can such a splendid man exist? And can she find him?

One day in the library, they both check out copies of their favorite book. When Justin bumps into Clara, the magic of their similar taste in books just might make their wishes come true.

A sweet, traditional Regency romance. 


With a curt nod to the officious clerk, Justin gathered up his package and stepped back. He collided with the person next in the queue. “I beg your par—” 

Before him stood the loveliest lady he had ever seen. She was short and willowy, her dark pink muslin walking dress emphasizing every slender curve. Deep brown curls peeped from the sides of a gauzy matching pink bonnet to frame an oval face. Her skin was creamy, her nose straight and proud.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet! The lady of his dreams! His jaw sagged.

“No harm done, sir.” The vision lifted a shapely dark eyebrow. “If I may reach the clerk?” Merry chocolate-colored eyes twinkled up at him and sweet rosy lips dimpled in an amused arch of a grin. A whiff of lilac perfume, delicate as the lady, wafted toward him.

He snapped his mouth shut with an audible click. “Oh, sorry.” Damn him for gaping like the veriest fool. Hugging his package to his chest, he stumbled away from the young lady and the plainly dressed woman, most likely her maid, who stood beside her. The maid flashed a grin as if she knew every one of his admiring thoughts.

He bumped into the table by the counter, and pain lanced through his elbow. Cradling his bundle with one arm while rubbing his throbbing forearm, he pretended to study the list of new books on the table, but kept his gaze fixed on the young lady. She was exactly as he had imagined Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

Who was she? And how could he make her acquaintance?
Ebook available at 

Amazon Kindle US
Amazon Kindle UK
Barnes and Noble
Sony Reader Store

Two five star reviews, here and here.
Thank you all,

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guest Christy English: Shakespeare Updated to Regency England

Linda Banche here. My guest today is Christy English and her How to Tame a Willful Wife, an updating of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew to Regency England. Here she tells us about her heroine's take on the strictures placed on Regency women, and the connections between Shakespeare's England and the Regency.

Leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win the copy of How to Tame a Willful Wife which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Christy 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 is catslady! Congratulations, catslady, and thanks to all who came over.

Christy English:
1. What was proper behavior for women in Regency England, and how doesn't Caroline fit?

Women in Regency England were tied to the men in their lives by chains of adamant. Though widows could and did inherit money on the deaths of their husbands, they were also given guardians to oversee their finances and their lives, as well as the lives of their children.

Caroline Montague, the heroine of my novel, HOW TO TAME A WILLFUL WIFE, is aware of the limits placed on her existence. She just prefers to ignore them.

While she agrees to marry as her father bids her, her acquiescence to an arranged marriage does not change how she chooses to live her life. Raised by her father’s veterans as much as her own parents, Caroline has spent the years of her girlhood learning to fence, to ride astride her war horse, Hercules, to shoot with a bow and to defend herself by throwing knives. Not one of these occupations, save archery, was acceptable for women during the Regency, and her husband begins the long, slow process of taming her, i.e. bringing her back into the fold of what is proper for a lady, and for a countess in the year 1816.

As the story continues, the romance between Anthony and Caroline blossoms, and they learn, in fits and starts, how to live together as equals. Any sense of equality between an earl and his wife would have been considered ludicrous in the Regency period, but fortunately, I am writing for the modern world, where we are all still striving for the ideal of equality.

2. Why did you update Shakespeare to Regency England? What are the connections between the two eras?

Shakespeare’s work lives and breathes in any age, and many of the themes explored in The Taming of the Shrew, such as power within marriage and who wields it, were as relevant during the Regency period as during the Renaissance.

On paper during both time periods, the man held the power in any relationship. But the human factor must be brought into account, the fact that all men did not wield their legal authority like a sledge hammer, but instead worked to find ways in which they and their wives could live together in harmony, if not equality.

Unlike Katherine and Petrucchio in Shakespeare’s play, Anthony and Caroline find ways of living and working together that do not include starving her into submission. Though Shrew is a comedy and meant to be taken as such, Petrucchio does keep his wife from sleeping and eating for days at a time in order to make her obey him, indeed, to force her to conclude that whatever he says is true, including whether the sun is the moon, simply because he says it is.

Anthony and Caroline never fall into this level of conflict. Though Anthony strives to make Caroline obey him, he never resorts to the measures Petrucchio adopts in Shrew. Though a husband had complete authority over his wife in both Renaissance England and Regency England, the world had become a bit more enlightened along the lines of gender by 1816. There was certainly more social pressure, if not legal pressure, to treat a woman as a human being. As we move from Shakespearean England into the Regency, we see that socially, things are getting better for women, though it will take another hundred years and more before the legalities catch up.


How To Tame A Willful Wife:

1. Forbid her from riding astride
2. Hide her dueling sword
3. Burn all her breeches and buy her silk drawers
4. Frisk her for hidden daggers
5. Don't get distracted while frisking her for hidden daggers...

Anthony Carrington, Earl of Ravensbrook, expects a biddable bride. A man of fiery passion tempted by the rigors of war into steely self-control, he demands obedience from his troops and his future wife. Regardless of how fetching she looks in breeches.

Promised to the Earl of Plump Pockets by her impoverished father, Caroline Montague is no simpering miss. She rides a war stallion named Hercules, fights with a blade, and can best most men with both bow and rifle. She finds Anthony autocratic, domineering, and...ridiculously handsome.

It's a duel of wit and wills in this charming retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. But the question is...who's taming whom?

After years of acting in Shakespeare’s plays, Christy English is excited to bring the Bard to Regency England in How to Tame a Willful Wife , a re-telling of The Taming of the Shrew. Connect with her at and

Photo of lady embroidering from the movie Emma

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gloves Through History

Gloves are one of the most versatile articles of clothing. Not only do they serve a specific purpose, they are wonderful fashion accessory.

Glove makers made gloves out of almost anything; sheepskin or deerskin, silk, linen, and often decorated them with precious metals, jewels, and fine embroidery. Gloves were worn to help protect the hands as well as keep them warm. Many people wore them when handling tools or working with leather. Warriors and knights wore gauntlets which is a very heavy duty glove. Falconers, as a matter of survival, wore gloves or gauntlets very early to protect their hands from the sharp claws of their beautiful hunting birds. Sometimes they decorated their gauntlets to match the hood they used to covered their bird's eyes. 
The earliest gloves probably were created to keep people's hands warm. Though  there are earlier mentions of gloves, once instance was documented in 1st century AD by Pliny the Younger. He wrote of a scribe who wore them in the winter, probably to keep his hands warm enough to write in a cold and drafty castle. Though nothing in my research suggested women wore glove as early as men, I can't believe women didn't need them for warmth just as men did, maybe more so.

Gloves were found in Egyptian Pyramids in the tomb of King Tutankhamen, a.k.a. "King Tut" circa 1400 B.C. These were made of linen. Apparently, pharaohs wore gloves as a symbol of wealth and power, while women wore them as a beauty treatment--they rubbed oil on their hands and them put on silk gloves over them to protect them and let the oil soak into the skin.  I do a similar thing with socks on my feet

In England, women’s gloves became a fashion accessory during the thirteenth century, most often made of linen and silk. A guild of glove makers in 13th century Paris made them of skin or fur. They didn't become truly fashionable until the 16th century. Queen Elizabeth wore jeweled and embroidered gloves, and she reportedly slipped them off frequently to show off her beautiful hands.

During the Regency Era, men and women wore different gloves for different occasions. They wore them during the day at home, sometimes with holes in the fingers, so they could read, do needlepoint, and write. Usually those were knitted or crocheted. They always wore them when they left their homes to go for walks or call on friends. They had special riding gloves to protect their hands from the reins. And they wore them when attending balls, the opera and dinners with friends. It was considered bad form for a gentleman to touch a lady without his gloves on--far too intimate, you know. About the only time they didn't wear gloves was while eating.

I wear gloves for warmth and for driving, but the only other time I wear gloves is when I'm in Regency costume. It is nice to have on gloves when dancing, because if the man with whom I'm dancing has sweaty hands, I don't know it :-)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Welcome Autumn

September 22, 2012 was officially the first day of Autumn, or "Fall" as we Americans call it.

Long ago, when the air cooled and the leaves turned gorgeous shades of gold, red and burgundy, people did more than don sweaters and switch their clothing to darker colors.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the first day of autumn or fall is officially the day when the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving southward on September 22nd or 23rd.  This day is called the Autumnal Equinox which is Latin for  "equal night" when the days and nights are almost exactly twelve hours long.

Anciently, the Autumn Equinox or Harvest Home was called "Mabon," pronounced 'MAY-bon', after a Welsh god called Mabon ap Modron which literally means 'son of mother'.

The full moon nearest to the Autumn Equinox is called the Harvest Moon. Historically, farmers harvested their crops by then and had a harvest celebration.

One Mabon Celtic ritual was dressing the last sheaf of corn harvested in fine clothes, or weaving it into a wicker-like man or woman. Apparently, they believed the sun was trapped in the corn and needed to be set free. So they  burned it and spread the ashes  on their fields.

Mabon is also known as the Feast of Avalon, derived from the meaning of Avalon being, 'the land of the apples'.  It also traditional at Mabon to honor the dead by placing apples on burial cairns as a symbolism of rebirth. It was also a way for the living to anticipate being reunited with their loved ones who had passed on.

Many people often associate autumn with melancholy, and facing the end of the liveliness of summer and the beginning of the bleakness of winter. Grey skies cause many people to retreat, both physically and mentally. Autumn is the time of year when the celebrated English poet, John Keats, wrote his most acclaimed poem, "To Autumn" which has a distinctly melancholy beauty.

The ancient Celtics used this time to reflect on the past year as well as celebrate nature's bounty by  having a feast and a celebration. I imagine those were the roots for the Thanksgiving feast we Americans we celebrate.
Since Autumn or fall is when the torrid heat finally cools where I live in southwestern Arizona in the U.S., I welcome the seasonal change with open arms. Although we don't get the gorgeous color autumn is famous for having, I gaze wistfully and pictures of places that do.

Is there any fun personal or family tradition you do during autumn? 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Why I Read Historical Fiction

In a recent survey, 80% of people who called themselves avid readers listed historical novels as one of their top 3 favorite types of books to read. I wasn’t really surprised, since historical fiction, especially historical romance fiction, is my favorite genre. But it got me thinking; why the broad appeal?

First, historical novels provide a fantastic escape. When life gets stressful, the first thing I want to do is pick up a book. When I read a historical novel, I am transported to another place and time, to a setting so completely different from my reality, that it feels like a vacation without the hassle and expense of travel. Immersing myself into someone else’s life and seeing them triumph over all gives me a lift that lasts long after I close the book. Total escapism can and does happen with modern-day novels, but the less the book contains about present-day issues, the better an escape it provides. Plus, historical fiction lends itself to lovelier, more lyrical writing that modern day or futuristic novels often lack.

Second, historical novels appeal to the closet history buff. Most authors pride themselves on careful research—myself included—so we put a great deal of effort into getting our facts straight. I know an attorney who loves learning about the Napoleonic Wars and has an entire wall in his library devoted to books—both fiction and nonfiction—about that particular war. I have other friends who adore Jane Austen era novels, so they devour any books set in the Jane Austen Era or the Regency Era. As a Regency romance author, I continue to extensively research English history, particularly the early 1800’s, so I can create a virtual trip through time. Having my facts straight is not just a pretty backdrop for my stories; the manners and mores of society helped shape people who lived in that time, both those who embraced customs of the time, and those who challenged them.

Third, historical novels help teach others about a particular time in history.  


Monday, August 27, 2012

Hyde Park, THE Place to See and Be Seen

Hyde Park was THE place to see and be seen during Regency England. Regency ladies and gentlemen chose Hyde Park as favorite place to drive in open carriages or ride on horseback to show off clothing, or the latest rig, or horses.

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, and social climbers trying to fit in, promenaded at Hyde Park, peacocking and flirting with others drawn 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, a corruption of La Route du Roi. On Rotten Row one could be seen, 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.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Giveaway: THE TROUBLE WITH MAGIC by Patricia Rice

Linda Banche here. If you haven't read a Patricia Rice book, now's your chance to win a copy of The Trouble with Magic, the second book of Ms. Rice's paranormal romance Magic series set in Georgian England. The Magic series is the story of the Malcolm sisters, all of whom have magic, and the non-magic Ives brothers.

Sourcebooks has offered a copy of The Trouble with Magic to one of the people who comment on this blog (US and Canada addresses only). And this time, I’m the one who will select the winner. So, leave your comments with your email address in the comment section.

And the winner is phastings! Congratulations, phastings, and thanks to all who came over.

Do you like paranormal in your historicals? I usually don't. The paranormal tends to overwhelm the history, and the book becomes a  paranormal historical rather than an historical paranormal. But some authors, like Ms. Rice, manage to keep the history foremost. I've read the first book in her Magic series, Merely Magic. My review is here.

My first Patricia Rice paranomal was Mystic Guardian, the first book in her paranormal Mystic Isle series, set in France during the French Revolution. The French Revolution isn't my cup of tea, so I took out the library copy. I read the first five pages and then ran out and bought the book and everything else of hers I could find. And then I waited in suspense until the other two Mystic Isles books came out. I have my copy of The Trouble with Magic on my TBR pile.

What are your thoughts about paranormal in historicals?

The Trouble With Magic: August 2012, Casablanca Classics

Is Her Magic a Gift or a Curse...?

All the Malcolms have some magic, but Lady Felicity's ability to read people's emotions simply by touching them or their possessions overwhelms her. She's reached a marriageable age, but how can she ever wed when she can see so clearly a man's guilty secrets?

Only He Can Tell the Difference...

Ewen Ives, itinerant rake and adventurous inventor, knows better than to underestimate the mischief of the Malcolms. But sparks fly when he encounters Felicity, and Ewen can't seem to refuse her plea for assistance...


“Rice's enchanting book is truly spellbinding.” —Booklist

“You can always count on Patricia Rice for an entertaining story with just the right mix of romance, humor, and emotion.” —The Romantic Reader

“Patricia Rice's historicals are deliciously fresh, sexy fun. Never has the battle of the sexes been more charming!” —Mary Jo Putney, New York Times bestselling author

With five million books in print and New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists under her belt, Patricia Rice’s emotionally-charged contemporary and historical romances have won RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice and Career Achievement Awards and have been honored as Romance Writers of America RITA finalists in the historical, Regency and contemporary categories. A former CPA, Patricia Rice is a native of Kentucky and New York, a past resident of North Carolina, and currently resides in St. Louis, Missouri. For more information on Patricia’s current releases, please visit

Now where are those comments?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Arranged Marriages, a time--honored tradition we're happy to be without

The idea that we'd let our parents or guardians arranged our marriages leaves the modern day man and woman laughing--or possibly cringing. Yet this was a common place custom throughout history in nearly every country of the world.  I'm sure a few of those marriages ended up as love matches, others grew into merely a mutual amiability born of a determination to make the most of a difficult situation. Others were supremely miserable.

Such arrangements are a favorite for the romance reader and author alike, inspiring countless historical romance novels about love springing from an arranged marriage. Such was the case for my very first published Regency Romance novel, The Stranger She Married.
Which begs the question; why were arranged marriages so common?
I can't speak for other countries, but in England, the institution of marriage appears to be more a union of rank and property rather than of love. Though many popular ballads and plays of the era praised true love, in reality, practicability ruled more heavily than affairs of the heart. During the Regency era, all women, even ladies of the gentry and aristocracy, possessed very little independence. They were, in essence, property of their parents until they married, at which time they became property of their husbands. Therefore, parents cautiously settled their daughters in what they deemed were 'good matches.' They valued security over love because in a time when divorce was almost unheard of--and viewed as scandalous--marriage was a lifetime commitment, for better or worse. Parents searched for a men who would keep their daughter fed and cared for. They could only hoped that love, or at the very least, regard, would bloom later.

The Victorian era introduced the idea of romantic love and marriage among the upper classes (Think of Queen Victoria; hers was a love match).

Prior to that, while it did happen and people dreamed of it, and it happened in all of Austen's novels, it really wasn't what everyone expected.  Love sometimes happened with the wrong person which ruined families financially. Men understood that marriage was a duty.  Love itself, if it came, was a bonus.  In fact, most men had mistresses because marriage wasn't usually a romantic relationship--it was more of a business relationship.

The mistress often became an aristocratic man's ideal of 'lust and love.'  Heaven forbid a man fall into love with another man's mistress.  Such a sin often meant death to that man because it was an intimate relationship, one where men chose a woman to pleasure him, as opposed to duty being his deciding factor.  It wasn't just about the sex with these mistresses, it was finding a woman who was everything his wife wasn't.  Yeah. It makes me shudder, too. But that's how it was, according to many sources including THE FAMILY, SEX, AND MARRIAGE in ENGLAND 1500-1800 by Lawrence Stone.

One such example was the 1774 marriage between the 17-year-old daughter of the Earl of Spencer, Georgiana, and the Duke of Devonshire, a 26-year-old man of supreme wealth, power, and influence.  On the surface, the union must have appeared an excellent match. The Duke desired a young wife of high rank to provide him with heirs. Georgiana's status would be elevated to the coveted status of duchess. According to reports, the young couple met a few times, all well chaperoned, before they were wedded. Reportedly, Georgiana tried to love her untouchable husband, but he returned to the arms of his mistress. Their infamously unhappy marriage proved that money and status could not guarantee love or  happiness.

In the true story inspired Hollywood's 2008 film The Duchess, the wedding gown costume worn by actress Keira Knightly was stunning. There's a picture of it here. Gorgeous, isn't it?

Amanda Vickery's book A GENTLEMAN'S DAUGHTER argues that many people married for affection. I hope she's right. Regardless, arranged marriages were common, especially among the gentry and aristocracy in England, often with the couple only having met a few times, or not at all, prior to the wedding.
An arranged marriage born of necessity is the premise of my first published Regency historical romance novel, The Stranger She Married, book one of The Rogue Hearts Series, available in digital and print.  Their marriage, thought fraught with danger, turns out to become a great love story.

After all, I'm all about the happily ever after :-)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Discover Georgette Heyer

Linda Banche here. What are your Georgette Heyer moments? What’s your fondest memory of her books? And if you haven’t read her, why not? To help you out, Sourcebooks has offered a three book set (one romance, one historical fiction and one mystery) of Georgette Heyer’s works to one of the people who comment on this blog (US and Canada addresses only). And this time, I’m the one who will select the winner. So, leave your Heyer moments with your email address in the comment section.

And the winner is Laura Hartness! Congratulations, Laura, and thanks to all for coming over. Laura, I haven't heard from you yet. Please send me an email at If I do not hear from you by August 26, I will reward the books to an alternate.

Now for my Heyer moments.

If you know Regency romance, you know Georgette Heyer.

I read my first Georgette Heyer book when I was in high school. The book was Powder and Patch. I didn’t understand anything the author described: men wearing silk stockings and shoes with high red heels, and white powder and patches on their faces. Did they really? But I persisted, and I liked the book. I also read The Nonesuch, and I started, but never finished, The Tollgate.

Fast forward to the present. The next time I read Georgette Heyer was last year. I loved The Quiet Gentleman. The hero’s blond, and I love blond heroes, but he’s also what Ms. Heyer called her Mark 2 hero, what we would call Type B. (I hate alpha males.) The Quiet Gentleman also contains a mystery, and I like a romance that contains something else besides the love story. My review of The Quiet Gentleman is here.

I also read Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle, which I didn’t like as much because the hero is a Mark 1, or Type A. But it’s still a fun story. My review of Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle is here.

I also read Bath Tangle, which also is great fun, but again, I didn’t like the Mark 1 hero. My review of Bath Tangle is here.

I also read The Talisman Ring, which I enjoyed both because of the Mark 2 hero, the no-nonsense heroine and the embedded mystery.

Georgette Heyer also wrote mysteries and historical fiction. I’ve read her mystery They Found Him Dead. I like mysteries set in the 1930’s and this one is wonderful for those of you who share my enthusiasm for this type of story. Here’s my review of They Found Him Dead.

If you would like some information of Georgette Heyer's life, here’s my review of The Private World of Georgette Heyer by Joan Aiken Hodge.

Those are my Georgette Heyer moments. What are yours? Again, leave your comment and email address for a chance to win a grab bag of three Georgette Heyer books. And even if you don’t win, Sourcebooks offers some great deals on her books this month:

All Available Georgette Heyer eBooks on sale for $2.99 from Tuesday August 14th – Monday August 20th!

Get 30% off any Heyer print book during the whole month of August at the Sourcebooks store by using the coupon code HEYER at checkout!

Also, check out our Georgette Heyer Facebook page where we will be having discussions, parties and giveaways!

Now, where are those comments?

Thank you all,

Sunday, June 24, 2012

History of Ladies' Swimwear

During the 18th century, public bathing in England and France became an accepted leisure activity, as beaches gradually were seen as places of recreation and not just therapeutic treatments for the rich who could afford seaside resorts. Thus, the need for women’s swimwear began.
The first ladies swimwear was probably nothing but a smock. Practicality and modesty governed the design, even though women and men bathed in different areas of the beach. Still, so as not to run the risk of exposing a bare leg, women sewed weights in the lower part of their garments to keep the fabric from floating to the surface.
In the 19th century, even in the U.S., swimming became a popular recreational pastime. When those two railroad tycoons, Henry Plant and Henry Flagler, built railroads in Florida, the beaches became more accessible to the general public, and swimwear became an item in every woman’s wardrobe.
A blouse, bloomers, and black stockings were acceptable beach wear. By the turn of the century, loose, one-piece suits became fashionable, following the lead of the Austrian swimmer, Annette Kellerman, who was arrested in the U.S. for wearing one, deemed immodest and daring. A few years later, though, these same suits came to be accepted.
In the 1950s, the one-piece, snugly fitted “glamour-girl” suits could be seen on beaches throughout the U.S., followed shortly by two-piece suits, which eventually evolved into bikinis, and later, thongs.
The evolution in women’s swimwear was slow in coming, mainly due to our Puritan roots, but there’s precious little we can remove from here on without wearing our birthday suits. Since that was the “earliest” suit, we have almost come full circle.

Water Clocks

Waterclocks, like sundials, may have been used as long ago as 4000 B.C. Through the centuries, water clocks became more sophisticated, with gears and revolutionary mechanisms. Water clocks would finally be replaced in the 18th century with pendulum clocks.
The oldest water clock documentation is on the tomb of a 16th century Egyptian court official, Amenemhet. He is portrayed as the inventor, though it is possible he only made improvements on an earlier model.
The earliest clocks were stone vessels with sloping sides that allowed water to drip at a nearly constant rate from a hole near the bottom. Marks inside the bowl measure the passing of time as the water level lowered in the vessel.
Clocks were used by priests, to time the correct “hour” for rites and sacrifices. The clocks were also possibly used during the day, especially by the wealthy.
The image is of two waterclocks from the Ancient Agora Museum in Athens. The top vessel is an original from the 5th c. B.C. The lower vessel is a reconstruction of a clay original.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Noblesse Oblige or Regency Duty

Duty was the watchword in the Georgian and Regency eras. Everyone had his or her place, and every place had its duties. Even noble families were not exempt. A nobleman’s duty was to his line, his country and his church. His sons fulfilled these obligations.

The duty of the first son, the heir, was to his family. His obligation was to protect and increase the estate and to marry and produce a legitimate male successor who would inherit everything. All those Regencies that have the heir buying an army commission and going off to war are anachronisms. The social pressure for the heir to join the armed forces has existed for only about the past one hundred years. Two hundred years ago and earlier, the first son’s obligation to continue the line made him too valuable to waste on a battlefield where life was cheap. His duty was to survive and procreate.

The second son fulfilled the family’s duty to the country. He joined the army, usually as an officer by buying a commission. While some second sons bought places in the militia where there was little chance of dying, others lost their lives on various battlefields. I always wondered why a nobleman would go to great lengths to assure an heir and a spare, and then earmark the spare for such a perilous occupation. Regency England was already a dangerous place. In a world with poor sanitation, no antibiotics, few painkillers, and no understanding of germs, an infected cut could kill you. Why court death in war?

A nobleman also had a duty to the church, which the third son fulfilled by joining the clergy. A man did not necessarily have to be religious to become a clergyman. If this son’s family was rich and titled, his father likely controlled several livings, and he could give all of them to his son. (Note, the giving of multiple livings to one clergyman would be declared illegal later in the nineteenth century). The son could hire curates to do the actual work, and he could take the money from the livings and do as he chose. If the spare died in battle, the third son, with a relatively safe profession, was the spare spare, and could inherit. But only if there was a third son and the heir had no sons.

Of course, there were always exceptions. As an example of both the standard and the exception, we have Earl Spencer, ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales. He made his heir enter Parliament, sent his next two sons into the navy, and the fourth became a clergyman. Why the navy? Earl Spencer was Secretary of the Navy. None of the boys had any choice. The second son hated the navy, but the fourth son at least was bookish. The second son in Mansfield Park became a clergyman, and many younger sons entered politics, especially if their fathers had money and connections.

Any more sons were superfluous and were on their own. Their father may or may not have given them allowances. If not, they were likely on the lookout to marry heiresses. If they couldn’t snag one, or were modern and forward looking, they sought that dreaded of all things to a gentleman–work.

While the Regency was still a time of tradition, the era was also the time when our modern world began. Not every son played the game according to the rules. In my Regency comedy, An Inheritance for the Birds, the hero, Kit, is the second son of a baronet. He loves the land, and wants to work as a land steward. He worked with his father’s steward, and plans to take over when the older man retires. But at the old steward’s retirement, Kit’s father, a traditionalist, hires a new one and cuts off Kit’s allowance, thinking to force him to join the army. Instead, Kit’s older brother, who had wanted him as steward, finds him a job as a nobleman’s secretary. That job sounds fairly good until Kit finds out what he has to do. And then he receives the letter informing him about his chance to win his great-aunt’s estate. Maybe he can still fulfill his dream of caring for the land.

An Inheritance for the Birds,  Blurb and excerpt here.
Available at The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, All Romance Ebooks and other places where ebooks are sold.

Thank you all,

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dance Cards

The dance card, the programme du bal or Carnet de bal, is a little booklet, usually with a decorative cover, which lists dance titles, composers, and provides a place for a lady to write in the name of the gentleman she intends to have as a partner for each specific dance.

Opinions vary as to when dance cards came into popular in England. While I can’t find evidence that they were used in England during the Regency era, they appear to have been made in Birmingham, England as early as 1803. According to my research, Austrians used dance cards before they caught on in the rest of Europe. Later, dance cards probably spread as people returned home from the Congress of Vienna which was basically a big party disguised as a series of series of negotiations that officially ended the Napoleonic Wars (David King’s Vienna 1814 is a great source for The Congress). Dance cards gained popularity at balls and assemblies sometime during the 1830s, during Queen Victoria's reign.

Each dance card was is different. Many of the ones I've seen in private collections had elaborate covers made from precious metals and jewels like silver, ivory or mother of pearl, bone ivory, tortoise shell. This may be because the plainer ones weren't saved, but it's also possible, given the Victorian's penchant for anything ostentatious, that they were all ornate. The ones that have survived today also vary in both size and style.

A few are inscribed with the words "Bal" which is French for ball. The ones with images I could use look like fans, others I saw are booklets with ornate covers.

In the previous era, formal balls began with minuets, danced one couple at a time, in a rigidly prescribed order defined by the social rank of the dancers. The highest ranking couple led off the first dance. The man would withdraw, and the lady would dance with the next highest ranking gentleman. She would withdraw and then he danced the next minuet with the next highest ranking lady, and so on until everyone had a turn. Traditionally, they gave over the second half of the evening to country dances, done in a lengthwise formation. Even so, rank again became important in deciding who lead off the set. That person also chose which dance they all would do.

Anyway, at the time of the Vienna Conference, country dancing and formal minuets began losing popularity. Precedence and etiquette which dictated to whom one could dance had begun to fade, and the long country dances were replaced by shorter pair dances like the waltz, valse, polka, lancers and quadrille. Because of the new, less formal dancing and shorter dances, people could do more of them each evening. It probably became harder for young ladies to remember which young gentleman she'd promised a dance. Some sources mention ladies writing names on the underside of their fans to help them remember promised dances but I don't know how often or when that occurred. At one point, ladies reportedly used decorative notebooks to keep track of the name of each gentleman who'd asked for her to "stand up" with him. Many ladies already carried in their reticules small notebooks that opened like fans to jot down shopping lists and so forth. Naturally, they used them to record their evening's dance partners. Many preserved them as a souvenir of the evening.

Later in the century, dance cards became pre-printed booklets of paper which listed each dance the musicians would play, in order. They became progressively more decorative and elaborate as the century progressed. Ribbon or cord attached tiny pencils to the card or program by which ladies let the cards dangle from their wrist. Some were metal, others were made of shells or carved bone.

Fellow Regency author, Marissa Doyle, has a wonderful collection of dance cards in her private collection. You can view her post on Dance Cards, and admire her pictures, here on her blog, Nineteen Ten.

As far as I can tell, dance cards began to lose popularity sometime in the 1920s. Of course, now, no one reserves dances and few even know how to dance. Sigh. Too bad.

So anyway, if you've ever wondered why I never use dance cards in my Regency historical romance novels, now you know. They didn't appear to have existed in Regency England.