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Monday, February 25, 2013

Guest Jane Ashford: Marriage Laws in Regency England

Linda Banche here. My guest today is Jane Ashford and her Regency historical, Once Again a Bride. Marriage figures prominently in the book, and here she tells us about what the heroine had to contend with in her marriage.

Leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win the copy of Once Again a Bride which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Jane 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 Joye! Congratulations, Joye, and thanks to all for coming over.
Welcome Jane!

Jane Ashford:

Marriage Laws in Regency England

Today, many of us take a host of legal rights for granted. We just assume that married women can own property, administer bank accounts, sign binding contracts. If they want to take someone to court to fight an injustice, they can. If they want to file for divorce, difficult at that may be emotionally, there’s no legal impediment. It’s a no brainer.

The situation was quite different in Regency England. Married women then had next to no legal rights. As soon as she married, a woman's existence was incorporated into that of her husband, giving her the status of a feme covert (English spelling of a medieval Anglo-Norman phrase meaning "covered woman"). She became, essentially, a non-person in the eyes of the law. As the legal authority Blackstone put it, “the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended.” Her husband gained control of all her property and income, including any future earnings she might make. She couldn’t get an education without her husband’s permission, and he could even prevent her from seeing their children. It was hardly a compensation that she couldn’t be sued (except in conjunction with her husband) and that any debts she ran up were his obligations. (As recently as 1972, two U.S. states allowed a wife to plead “obeying her husband's orders” as a defense in criminal court.)

Of course individual cases varied greatly in those past times. There were kind, liberal husbands, and wives who had great influence over their mates’ decisions. Many families tried to safeguard their daughters' property rights and futures by creating written bonds or settlements, a prenup of sorts. But in the absence of such a document, if a husband wanted to tyrannize, there was nothing stopping him.

This is what happened to the heroine of my recent historical Once Again a Bride. Charlotte Rutherford Wylde was married off by her father to keep her safe. Aware of his failing mental faculties and general health, he wanted to ensure her future. But his judgment was more affected by his illness than he realized, and he picked a disasterous husband in Henry Wylde. Charlotte, loving her father and wanting to believe he’s still the strong, wise figure who has taken such care of her all her life, accepts his choice.

And so, at the age of nineteen, she’s married, and trapped. The aged Henry Wylde has no interest in Charlotte herself. He only wants her money, and he gets it all. Dowry, inheritance when her father dies soon after the wedding, everything. It’s his to spend, and he has no obligation even to tell Charlotte how he’s doing that (wasting it all on bogus antiquities). Charlotte has no recourse. She can’t even complain. Henry is acting completely within the law.

When Henry is killed in the dark London streets, Charlotte discovers that she’s practically penniless. So even though she regains some legal rights as a feme sole, she has no resources. But through determination and an ardent desire to recapture the light and joy of life, she finally earns her HEA ending.

She couldn’t be more alone…
Widowhood has freed Charlotte Wylde from a demoralizing and miserable marriage. But when her husband’s intriguing nephew and heir arrives to take over the estate, Charlotte discovers she’s unsafe in her own home… Alec Wylde was shocked by his uncle’s untimely death, and even more shocked to encounter his uncle’s beautiful young widow. Now clouds of suspicion are gathering, and charges of murder hover over Charlotte’s head.

He could be her only hope…or her next victim…

Jane Ashford discovered Georgette Heyer in junior high school and was captivated by the glittering world and witty language of Regency England. That delight led her to study English literature and travel widely in Britain and Europe. Jane’s historical and contemporary romances have been published all over the world, and she has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews. Eighteen of her Regency romances will be published by Sourcebooks in the near future! Born in Ohio, Jane currently lives in Boston. For more information, please visit and her Facebook Page.

To Purchase Once Again a Bride:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

February: The Month of Love

by Shannon Donnelly

Valentine’s Day was a saint’s day long before it became associated with greeting cards and chocolates—and romance. But even with the romantic connection it has today, not that many romances use a Valentine’s setting.

Silver Links, one of my Regency Novellas, is placed right around Valentine’s—partly because the editor asked for the connection, but also because it worked very well into the plot (the heroine tries to arrange a romantic Valentine’s event for her husband, to help patch a rocky bit, but of course it all goes wrong). Maybe that’s why Valentine’s isn’t used much in romances—a romance is all about the rocky bits of a relationship, instead of the perfect day we all hope to have on Feb 14.

Traditionally in England, spring began on St Valentine's Day (February 14th), the day on which birds chose their mates. Given England’s usual weather that seems optimistic thinking to try and put spring so early, but perhaps it was the hint of warmth coming that encouraged both people and birds to look ahead. In parts of Sussex, Valentine’s Day was even called 'the Birds' Wedding Day'.

For the Celtic year, winter ended February 1 with the celebration of Imbolc or Oimelc. This was the time when ewes begin to lamb, and life began to return. For the ancient Celts, this was the celebration for Brigid (also Brigit, Brighid or Bride), the Light-Bringer, one of the main Celtic goddesses. She was strong enough to survive and be transformed by early Catholics into Saint Bridget, who was celebrated, along with the Virgin Mary, on February 2, Candlemas Day. (Yes, the days are getting longer again and that’s always a reason to celebrate.)

Many other English traditions and superstitions came to be associated Valentine’s day, and some of these were in place in the early 1800’s, the time of the English Regency :
  • The first man an unmarried woman saw would be her future husband (can you imagine what this would do to try and arrange your schedule to make this work out as you wished?).
  • If the names of all a girl's suitors were written on paper and wrapped in clay and the clay put into water, the piece that rose to the surface first would contain the name of her husband-to-be.  (And it seems to me you could rig this with the right type of clay.)
  • If a woman saw a robin flying overhead, she would marry a sailor. If she saw a sparrow, she would marry a poor man and be very happy. If she saw a goldfinch, she would marry a rich man. (No mention, however, of if she’d be happy with the rich man.)
  • In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their Valentine would be. They would wear these names on their sleeves for one week (which just sounds an awful fuss to me).
  • In Wales, wooden love spoons were carved and given as gifts. (These spoons are beautiful—and still sold in Wales.)
February is also the time of Shrove Tuesday (the last day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday). Traditionally, Shrove Tuesday was the day to indulge, so pancakes were a traditional food (the butter, fat and eggs might all be things to give up for the forty days of Lent). So, after romance comes indulgence, and then you must give up some things. Hmmm—that sounds about right for any romance, so perhaps February is the month of love.

Do you have any special Valentine’s traditions? (Personally, I love those candy hearts with message—so very non-historical, but they have deep roots in my childhood.)

Shannon Donnelly Bio
Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the "Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer" contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA's Golden Heart, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: "simply superb"..."wonderfully uplifting"....and "beautifully written."

Her Regency romances can be found as ebooks on all formats, and with Cool Gus Publishing, and include a series of four novellas.

She also has out the Mackenzie Solomon, Demon/Warders Urban Fantasy series, Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning Tire, and the Urban Fantasy, Edge Walkers. Her work has been on the top seller list of and includes Paths of Desire, a Historical Regency romance.
She is the author of several young adult horror stories, and computer games. She lives in New Mexico with two horses, two donkeys, two dogs, and only one love of her life. Shannon can be found online at,, and twitter/sdwriter.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Regency Chocolate

I am a total chocolate fan. Well, perhaps I should say, I have a sweet tooth that demands something creamy and decadent. I'm not really a chocolate connoisseur, and I prefer milk chocolate to dark, which apparently proves I'm don't have a sophisticated pallet. Whatever. If it's sweet and creamy and sinful, I love it.

Which made me wonder; what was candy, and more specifically, chocolate, like in Regency England? 

As it turns out, they had quite a variety of chocolate, actually. These were not like a box of Russell Stover or Godiva chocolates, but according to "In Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789," culinary historian Barbara Ketcham Wheaton cites a cookbook from 1750, there WERE chocolate candies. "There are also some chocolate candies: the still familiar diablotins -- flat disks of bitter chocolate, thickly sprinkled with nonpareils, chocolate "olives" (which we call chocolate truffles), and a conserve of chocolate, which turns out to be very like fudge...dipped chocolates... were not invented until the nineteenth century."

The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll was a popular shop that served chocolate but the chocolate they served was a hot beverage that people drink like coffee.  Some people prefer black coffee; others like theirs fairly sweet with cream. From my research, it appears that most people drank chocolate black. It always amazes me that anyone would like coffee without sweetener, but apparently a lot of people liked their chocolate the same way. Maybe the caffeine in chocolate gave a rush people craved just as they do from coffee. Due to the cost of cocoa beans, chocolate was a drink mostly enjoyed by the wealthy until about 1730 when the price of cocoa beans dropped.

The Spanish started adding cane sugar, vanilla and spices to cocoa beverage. Since plain chocolate is pretty bitter, this practice quickly caught on across Europe. People probably experimented on their own, but the problem with a lot of old recipes is that most of them had ingredients but lacked measurements which makes it difficult to replicate, obviously. Since honey is so old, they probably sweetened chocolate with that first, but I'm sure they used sugar, too. It just wasn't refined like it is today. In fact, it came brown and lumpy more like our modern day brown sugar or raw sugar.

I'd like to research this further, because I'm sure the French, who were noted as amazing chefs even from the medieval times, had a lot to do with perfecting the art of chocolate. If I find anything of note, I'll share it in a future blog post.

Chocolate is indeed an art. I'm told by those who make candy that there are 3 keys to making chocolate: refined sugar, cocoa butter, and temperature. If you get it too cool, it fails. If you get it too warm, it fails. The temperature of your own fingers and body affected rolling, molding and shaping. I discovered this when I took up cake decorating.  There is a great deal of trial and error today and I'm sure it was even more so back in those days.

So the next time you enjoy fine chocolate, spare a thought for the science, and art, that goes into its creation. And send some my way :-)

My sources:
And comments from my awesome writer friends from The Beau Monde.