Search This Blog

Friday, November 18, 2016

5 Fun Facts About Coming Out in Regency England

by Donna Hatch

To quote the famous first line of Pride and Prejudice: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

It was also a universal fact that a young lady of good breeding must be in want of a husband. Coming "out" during the Regency, was crucial to a gently bred young lady's future, since she basically had no future unless she married. Without being "out" she could not attend dinner parties or balls or any other society function. Basically, until she was out, she was considered a child. Here are some fun facts about this vital process.

1. The young lady's parents decided when she could come out—there was no set age. The very snooty Lady Catherine De Bourgh from Price and Prejudice exclaimed over the Bennett family’s five girls out at the same time. This suggests that the ages of the girls were not surprising, but rather that so many from one family were out at the same time. In Mansfield Park, people were surprised to learn that Fanny Price was not yet out, who, if memory serves, was seventeen (or nearly so) at the time. The age for coming out seems to have ranged from fifteen to eighteen.

2. Trips to London for the Season were not imperative to being out or finding a husband. Many young ladies married well to someone from their home or neighboring towns. However, a trip to London for the Season provided an exciting opportunity to meet any number of eligible bachelors, including sons of peers, and indulge in all the delights only London could offer.

3. Young ladies entering society were not called “debutantes.” During the Regency, that term applied to actresses debuting on stage. Sometime during the Victorian Era (which came after the Regency Era) the term gradually began to apply to young ladies coming out. About that time, parents started the tradition of throwing debutante balls. During the Regency, one may or may not have a ball for a young lady new to society.

4. Not every young lady took her bows to the queen. It wasn't necessary to curtsy to the Queen prior to entering society and coming out. In fact, unless the lady was a daughter of a peer who wanted to appear in court, or the newly married wife of a peer, bowing to the queen would have been totally unnecessary. Also, Queen Charlotte didn't hold drawing rooms (where young ladies could be presented to her) on a regular basis between1811 and 1818 to due her health.
5. Young ladies were required to have a chaperone with them at all times outside of their home or while entertaining a male visitor. Maids were not chaperones—they were too easily bribed or bullied. Male relatives were not generally considered chaperones, but they might do in a pinch, depending on the circumstances. The only truly appropriate chaperone was a matron or spinster of good character and family, and who spoke with a genteel accent, generally of the upper classes. Mothers or aunts were preferred chaperones. One might also hired companion, a respectable woman who’d probably fallen on hard times enough to need to earn wages, similar in class and situation as to those who became a governess.

As a mother of daughters, I’m kind of in favor of the idea of a chaperone. 


Unknown said...

Thank you for this post. One of my current WIPs involves a ward of a duke coming out and so this was relevant to me. I also noted on someone's post that a man (my duke) could not sponsor his ward, but his sister could. The Regency Era is one I love so it is good to know my novel will be historically correct. No matter how many books we write, I find that I do not know enough!

Anonymous said...

If young ladies couldn't be alone with me without chaperones, then how do Jane Austen's heroines end up with alone time with their heroes? They're often walking or driving together. It's my understanding that this rule wasn't that strict until the Victorian period and that during the Georgian period (which the Regency is) that rules were more relaxed.

Anonymous said...

Jane Austen's ladies were in a lower social league. They were not presented at court and besides, they were poor. They did not have money for a chaperone and in the country it was not expected. However, the girls usually went out in pairs and therefore opportunities to be alone with a man were rare. In some cases, when the mother hoped for an engagement, the couple would be left alone. Girls were still meant to be 'pure' and so when Lydia Bennet runs away with a man (and is obviously no longer a virgin), it could ruin the whole family, unless she marries and hides her marital activities.