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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Traditional Victorian Christmas Dishes by Jenna Jaxon

One of my favorite Christmas movies is the 1970 musical Scrooge with Albert Finney. The production values of the film are wonderful—as you watch it you truly feel transported into the Victorian London of Charles Dickens. In one sequence Bob Cratchit is heading home, buying Christmas presents, food and drink for the family’s Christmas celebration the following Christmas Day. 

That journey has always fascinated me and made me think about how and what the Victorians ate at Christmas. Depending on class and location, Christmas food traditions varied quite a bit, although there is also a lot of agreement on what should be eaten
for the holiday feast, generally the most meal extravagant of the year. The centerpiece was usually either a standing rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding in the households of the North, while the roasted goose with sage and onion stuffing graced the tables of the South.


Another tradition was to serve a rum punch, apparently a favorite Christmastide ritual for Charles Dickens. The making of the punch was quite a production, and Dickens would explain each step to his guests as they watched the punch being concocted. The drink is made in a large fire-proof punch bowl, where you combine lemon peel and sugar, dark rum and cognac, stir well, then take a spoonful of the mixture and light it on fire and return to the punch bowl to set it alight. Dickens would then lift out fiery lemon peels for the guests to admire. Afterwards, the flames are extinguished by a metal tray placed over the punch bowl. Nutmeg was then grated over the punch and ladled out to the guests. 

And last but not least was the Christmas or Plum pudding. Traditionally, this pudding was begun on the Sunday before the beginning of Advent, called Stir-up Sunday. If the household was to have good luck, the Christmas pudding must be begun on this day and left to ripen until Christmas Day. God’s blessing would only be bestowed on those who started their puddings on this day. For good fortune, the entire household should help with stirring the pudding with a wooden spoon and only clockwise and only East to West to honor the journey of the three kings. Once all the ingredients are assembled—raisins, currants, sultanas, dates, citrus peel, almonds, spices, cake crumb or breadcrumbs, brown sugar, butter, brandy or tum, and stout—the pudding is boiled or steamed for six hours, then removed from the pudding basin and wrapped with foil and a pudding cloth. It is then aged for about two months. On Christmas Day it is boiled for another four hours, then unmolded onto a platter. A ladle of brandy is heated then poured over the pudding and set alight for a dazzling desert.
There are many other traditional foods the Victorians ate at Christmas, but I thought these three would give a good idea of how the Victorian chose to celebrate the Season with fabulous food. 

I sincerely hope everyone has a warm and wonderful holiday season with your own special traditions and food. 


Burns-Booth, Karen. “Stir-Up Sunday, Traditions and My Traditional Victorian Christmas Pudding             Recipe.” Lavender and Lovage: Food and Travel from Home and Abroad, November 24, 2012.

Graham, Colleen. “English Christmas Punch.” The Spruce Eats Newsletter. May 13, 2021. 

Wondrich, David. “Holiday Punch—Plus a Cozy Fire.” Esquire, December 11, 2012.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Traditional Regency Christmas

by Donna Hatch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet Regency Christmas

Christmas Secrets

A stolen Christmas kiss leaves them bewildered and breathless.

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

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

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



Wednesday, November 3, 2021

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

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

Friday, October 15, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Regency Swoon by Jenna Jaxon

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

Friday, August 13, 2021

Regency Introductions, how to meet new people


by Donna Hatch

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

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

Assembly Rooms in Bath

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

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

Basic Rules for Introductions in the Regency:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it Wasn’t Done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to The Social Historian, Victorian Etiquette,

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

How to Perform an Introduction

Manners and Rules of Good Society (1888) states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One look into her eyes changes him forever.

And their story begins…


The Pocket Book of Etiquette by Arthur Freeling

The Social Historian, Victorian Etiquette

London by Gaslight

Regency introductions - a Regency History guide by Rachel Knowles

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Regency Parlor Games: Charades by Jenna Jaxon

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

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

The first one to guess the charade won.

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

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

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


My first, whatever be its hue,

Will please, if full of spirit;

My second critics love to do,

And stupid authors merit.


My first a blessing sent to earth,

Of plants and flowers to aid the birth;

My second surely was design’d

To hurl destruction on mankind:

My whole a pledge from pardoning heaven,

Of wrath appeas’d and crimes forgiven.

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


(1) Eye-lash

(2) Rainbow

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Erotic Art of Thomas Rowlandson by Jenna Jaxon

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

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Dress Act of 1746 by Jenna Jaxon

Thanks to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, many readers of romance know about the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and how the Scottish
Highland clans were slaughtered on Culloden moor. This horrible defeat was only the beginning of the oppression suffered by the surviving clan members. As a subjugated people, the Scots were put under the yoke of British domination in many ways—taking their lands, burning, pillaging, taking their arms, and eventually taking away their most traditional form of dress. Issued on August 1, 1747, the Dress Act of 1746 states that “No Man or Boy, within that part of Great Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty's Forces, shall, on any pretence whatsoever wear or put on the Clothes commonly called Highland Clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder Belts, or any part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no Tartan, or party-coloured Plaid or Stuff shall be used for Great Coats, or for Upper Coats;”
This Act, in one swoop, forbade the Highlanders from wearing not tartan plaid per se, but the garments that were usually made in tartan fabrics. This law was aimed specifically at the Highlanders, but it also affected Lowlanders, many of whom had fought on the British side in the Rising and who also wore tartans and kilts. The only men who it excluded were those serving in the British Army. The penalty for disobeying this law was severe: “and if any such Person shall presume after the first day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid Garments, or any part of them, every such Person so offending, being convicted thereof by the Oath of One or more credible Witness or Witnesses before any Court of Justiciary or any one or more Justices of the Peace for the Shire or Stewartry, or Judge Ordinary of the Place where such Offence shall be committed, shall suffer imprisonment, without Bail, during the space of Six Months, and no longer, and that being convicted for a second Offence before a Court of Justiciary, or at the Circuits, shall be liable to be transported to any of His Majesty's Plantations beyond the Seas, there to remain for the space of Seven Years."
As a result, many Highlanders and Lowlanders joined the Army in order to be able to be exempt from the Act. There are, however, cases in which men were charged with wearing the kilt and tartan plaid and faced stiff consequences. In 1748 one young man in full Highlander dress drowned as he swam across a loch near Stathglass to avoid capture. A servant of Laird MacLean of Duart was arrested and imprisoned for six months for wearing Highland dress. Finally, in 1782 the Dress Act was repealed, but it had done its job. The Highland dress had become strange to the Highlanders and therefore was not worn as it had once been, a symbol of Scottish autonomy.
The Dress Act and its consequences figure prominently in my current WIP Almost a Countess. The heroine helps a Scotsman who has been arrested for wearing a kilt. After that, things get rather complicated. You can read the first chapter, on Amazon as A Solitary Ride here.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Unmentionables: A Brief History of Underwear by Jenna Jaxon

Underwear, garments worn underneath outer garments, has been in existence for thousands of years. The first form was the simple loincloth that covered men’s genitals, in evidence 7,000 years ago. In fact, more than this simple undergarment was deemed unnecessary by most people until the Middle Ages.
By the Medieval period, men’s clothing had changed and men acquired several new undergarments. Braies were a loose fitting pant-like garment that men stepped into, then tied at the waist and around the calves. Wealthier men wore chausses, worn only on the legs and again tied at the waist. These were eventually replaced by hose that in the Renaissance were adorned with a codpiece, a pouch covering the genitals that was also meant to accentuate that area. What we would deem women’s underwear does not come on the scene until the Renaissance. Previously women would have worn a chemise,
a shirt-like garment made of linen worn next to the skin that could be laundered easier than the costly silk and velvet outer garments. At this time women also acquired stays, a garment of linen stiffened with buckram, whalebone, reeds or canes that flattened their breasts.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, stays changed to be more lightly boned and were called corsets. In the Regency period they were more relaxed, less constricting. By the Victorian era, when a wasp waist was the cornerstone of beauty, they became extremely constrictive. Corsets remained the major women’s undergarment until the 20th century when the liberty bodice gave them more freedom. In the 19th century, women also acquired pantalettes or pantaloons, crotchless underwear designed to hide the legs and provide
warmth under the huge bell-shaped gowns of the period. The modern brassiere was invented in 1913 by Mary Phelps Jacob and caught on during World War I when metal for boning corsets was in short supply.
Men and women’s underwear changed constantly during the 20th century as the garments became increasingly more comfortable due to new fabrics. Modern underwear came about largely in the 1930s. Men’s briefs and boxer shorts, women’s girdle and bra all became popular in the 30s. By the 1960s and 70s underwear was touted for its sex appeal rather than its durability. Current popular items include the G-string and thong for women and boxer briefs for men.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

18th Century Medicine: Trepanation

Although medicine and surgical procedures throughout history have been fascinating to me, I recently needed to do research for my current WIP on trepanation, or the surgical art of cutting a hole in a patient’s head.
Trepanation is, in fact, the surgical operation in which a hole or holes are cut into the skull either to relieve pressure from what we would call a subdural hematoma, or it would be used to relieve pressure caused by a depressed skull fracture. Another major reason for using trepanation as a therapeutic treatment was to allow the blood to flow out before it became bad. It was used to help release bad humors, and to relieve headaches. The procedure itself goes back to ancient cultures: Greek, Roman, Chinese, Incan. Indeed, evidence of trepanned skulls dates back to the Paleolithic period. It is unknown if the operation was primarily performed as therapeutic treatment or religious ritual. What is known that even in the prehistoric operations, some patients survived and survived for years.
By the 18th century, trepanning was done regularly. A doctor’s kit included a case for his trepanning tools. Methods for trepanation included cutting or scraping the skull with obsidian knives or flints in the earliest days, or a curved metal knife. A second method included scraping the skull with a piece of glass. The third consisted of cutting a circular groove and the resulting disc of bone was lifted out. A fourth method used the trephine, a circular saw that was hollow with a toothed lower edge that cut a smooth circle and allowed a disc to be removed. In a final method, a series of small holes were drilled in a circle, then a saw used to cut the pieces separating the holes and the piece of skull lifted free. Most trepanations were performed at home and by the 18th century likely had some form of anesthesia (such as laudanum or opium, or
in some cases whisky) was administered prior to the procedure. There was a high mortality rate, due to rampant infection, but some patients did indeed survive.
The heroine in my upcoming romance novel, A Countess of Convenience, must undergo a trepanation (not described in the book) in order to relieve intercranial pressure that had left her in a comatose state for months. She survives, but her condition has some medical liabilities she must overcome throughout the book. If you’d like to take a look, there’s an excerpt in my digital chapter book, A Return to Life free on Smashwords (.99 on Amazon) and A Countess of Convenience is on pre-order on Amazon.

Friday, February 12, 2021

 by Donna Hatch

As a romance author and hopeless romantic, I cannot possibly ignore Valentine’s Day. I admit, until I started researching the topic, I really didn't know the real history behind Valentine’s day except it was to honor a Christian named Valentine who was martyred for marrying people in secret. Which really didn't make sense to me. Was he martyred because he was Christian? Or because he was marrying people? To my surprise, I found the answer to be a bit of both. Maybe. Although no one really sure who, exactly the famous Valentine actually was. He may have actually been more than one person. Much is couched in myth and speculation. However, here's some fun history, sprinkled liberally with legend.

This much appears to be factual: In Rome 270 C.E. Emperor Claudius II put out an edict saying no man could marry. Ever.


Talk about a stupid law! No marriage? At all? And sex outside of marriage was considered to "prostitution" which was also illegal. Talk about a bunch of lonely, unhappy people. And how were children to be brought into the world? Did he think it was okay for his entire country to become extinct in a single generation? Clearly, this brainless emperor didn’t think that one through.

He apparently did have a reason for it, however short-sighted. He felt that marriage made men "soft" and therefore unreliable soldiers. Men wouldn’t want to leave his wife and child AND die for his country, and because Emperor Claudius needed a massive army to maintain his vast empire. So, he outlawed marriage. Clearly, he wasn't worried about becoming unpopular with his crazy law nor having a country peopled with soldiers for his posterity.

Into this confusing chaos steps Valentine, the Bishop of Interamna, who invited all young lovers to come secretly marry and, in turn, converted quite a few people to Christianity. This man was intelligent – much smarter than the Emperor because while getting his way of converting people to Christianity, he also saw to the needs of disgruntled lovers. Aw, isn’t that sweet?

Or it might have been a ploy to convert heathens. Either way, the Emperor inevitably found out and had Valentine arrested.

The odd thing is, Valentine may not have been condemned for going against the Emperor's edict. Some accounts suggest it was because he refused to renounce Christianity and convert to Roman ways AND even attempted to convert the Emperor to Christianity. Talk about pluck! According to legend, while Valentine was awaiting execution, he befriended a girl who was the blind daughter of the jailer. While in jail, Valentine restored her eyesight through his faith. Some people believe he fell in love with her. Then he supposedly wrote her a farewell letter on the day that he was stoned (or beaten, according to some sources) and then beheaded. Another account reports he simply died in prison, probably of typhus, or gaol (jail) fever. At any rate, Valentine reportedly signed his love letter, "FROM YOUR VALENTINE."

morning_st_valentineWe have been using his name, and even that phrase, ever since.

Also, there appears to have been anywhere from three to seven men who bore that name and were martyred, or died while in service to the church. Apparently one helped a number of Christians escape prison where they were being beaten and tortured. This Valentine was caught and executed. Another Valentine was a missionary in Africa, but little is known about him. Or, it’s possible, they were all the same men, but accounts of his death have been muddied. However, we do know that Valentinus, or Valentine, was a very common Roman name.

Though the marrying Valentine was executed on February 24, (according to some sources, anyway) 270, the Christian church chose to honor him and all the Valentines – who all supposedly died on or near February 14 – on February 14th because they wanted to replace a Roman rite of passage to the God of Lupercus. Part of the festival included men running around and slapping young women with a strap dipped in blood with the idea it was supposed to make them fertile. Another practice in that festival involved putting the names of virgins in a box (I wonder if they were willing or unwilling?) and drawn by not so virginal men (ARE there any virginal men?) in a lottery. Whichever girl was drawn was then assigned to "pleasure" the lucky man until the next lottery, which was a year later. (poor girl!!!) Sounds like a premise for a book, doesn’t it?

Anyway, the church was appalled by this pagan holiday (I don't blame them) so they chose to substitute it with a close second. Well, okay, maybe by the men’s standards it wasn’t such a close substitute. But Valentine’s Day appealed to the love aspect of the ritual instead of sex. I’m sorta surprised the men went for it, men being what they are. But I guess pleasing his wife, or the girl whom he hopes will be his wife someday, in the hopes he’ll get lucky (ahem) was the best substitute a good Christian man could hope for.

So, happy Valentine's day! And be grateful we aren't Roman!!!

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

No Occupation for a Lady: The Plight of Ladies Without Means in the 18th Century By Jenna Jaxon

For centuries women of the upper classes have lived precariously on the wealth of their families or their husband’s families. Lower and middle class women, especially in the 18th century, were allowed a variety of occupations, including “spinners, tailoresses, milliners, and washerwomen.” Other possible occupations were domestic service, midwives, and milkmaids. They have also been recorded as working as apothecaries, barbers, blacksmiths, seamstresses, and printers. Many of these were family-run businesses and the women of the family would learn the family trade and work there until they married, at which point they would take care of their own family and children or go into their husband’s family business. Not so for women of the upper classes. The occupation most young ladies of the aristocracy were trained for was marriage. It was the duty of each young woman to marry and afterwards take care of her husband’s house, bear and raise his children, and take over his duties with his estate should he be called away from it for any amount of time. This was the primary job opportunity for ladies, and should they not make a marriage, their life became extremely perilous.
A daughter who, after three Seasons found herself still unmarried, was deemed a spinster or “on the shelf” and usually was relegated to remaining in her father’s house to take care of her parents, or any of her brothers and sisters with families who needed assistance. At the death of her father, she might stay on in her brother’s household, helping as best she could, but could be sent away if she did not get along with her brother’s wife. One of the few other permissible occupations for ladies was as a companion to a respectable member of the family or another family
of good reputation. This could be a good position for any lady left alone (through widowhood or simple fate) must have a companion with her at all times to preserve her reputation. If the companion and her employer suited one another, then the companion position could be a godsend. However, if the employer was difficult, it might not be a permanent solution. The third occupation that was respectable for ladies was that of governess. Every house with daughters employed a governess once they attained the age of six or so. The family wanted a woman of good family and reputation who could instruct their children not only in their studies, but in their deportment. Of course, governesses were hired for a finite period of time, until the girls were ready to go out into society. They would then go on to another family, hopefully with a good reference.
If a lady could not secure any of these positions she would have to find some other means of making ends meet. Occupations such as domestic servant or shopkeeper were not considered “genteel,” thus rendering her no longer part of the upper class.
In my romance Only A Mistress Will Do, the heroine, Violet Carlton, is one such woman whose circumstances have brought her terribly low. She has been unable to marry and has not been able to secure a position as either a companion or a governess. She has been brought so low, in fact, that in order for her to live, she must seek employment at a brothel and sell her body at the House of Pleasure. A circumstance that, unfortunately, happens both then and now.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Frost Fair of 1814 by Jenna Jaxon

Winter days during the Regency were particularly cold as The Little Ice Age was in full swing during the early 19th century. In early February of 1814 the Thames River in London froze over completely and to a depth of more than eighteen inches, prompting what would be the final Frost Fair in London.
The first Frost Fair occurred in 1608, although the river had frozen over many times before that. This initial fair consisted of out-of-work watermen who erected temporary sheds out of blankets or canvas and sold hot drinks to passersby. However, the last time the Thames froze solid, the Frost Fair that occurred on its ice-bound waters was a huge carnival that lasted from February 1-4 and spread from London Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge. To open the fair and prove the ice was frozen solid, an elephant walked across the river.
Like any fair or carnival there were many varied attractions. There were, of course, vendors with food and drink to sell. One popular type of stall cooked mutton or beef right on the ice and charged not only for the meat after it was cooked, but also for the privilege of watching it cook. Purveyors of nuts and fruits carried their wares around the fair rather than have a stationary stall. All manner of drinks were also sold: tea, coffee, hot chocolate, mulled wine, beer, and spirits.
Souvenirs of all sorts were sold to commemorate the Frost Fair. Printers were moved onto the ice and printed customized souvenirs for customers. Also popular were any manner of items—from cutlery to cups to plates—were labeled with the information that they were purchased at the Frost Fair. One of the most unusual souvenirs was a piece of gingerbread, still extant, bought at this fair in 1814.
When one had eaten their fill and bought their souvenirs, there were any other manner of entertainment at the Frost Fair. Animal races, bear and bull baitings, donkey rides were part of the celebration. Games of football, skittles, and archery took place as well as ice skating. Rides were another part of the entertainment. Swings were erected and as well as a whirling chair ride. Acts such as jugglers, sword and fire swallowers, and stilt-walkers enhanced the carnival-like atmosphere. Another very popular entertainment was puppet shows. This stunning display of winter revelry came to an abrupt end when, on February 4th, the cold snap broke, the temperature moderated, and the ice turned back into rushing water. As soon as the ice began to crack and creak, most vendors pulled up stakes and hurried to the safety of the banks of the river, although a few left it too late and ended up with their stalls floating down the river.
An extraordinary gathering that was destined, by the end of the Little Ice Age in the 19th century and global warming in the 20th and 21st centuries, to be the final Frost Fair.