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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

“Let the Punishment Fit the Crime”: Crime and Punishment for Peers in Regency England

Last month it was robber gangs, this month it’s more crime and punishment. But I was doing research on punishments for peers for my just finished WIP, and what I found was rather fascinating.

With the exceptions of treason and murder, peers could not be prosecuted for crimes. John Palmer, in his 1830 work entitled, “The Practice in the House of Lords, on appeals, writs of error and claims of peerage,” affirms that, with some exceptions, that peers and their widows and peeresses in their own right, are “protected from Arrest, in all Civil Suits, either in the first instance or after judgement…Nor are they liable to be attached for non-payment of money, though they are not exempt from attachment for not obeying the processes of the Court.” Apparently there was a process that allowed for someone to sue a peer for their debts, but it had to be done at the King’s Bench or before the King’s Justices in Westminister. The caveat was, the peer in question had to be present in the court. And although you could, theoretically, get a court summons to compel the peer to appear, practically it just wouldn’t happen.

After 1547 if peers or peeresses were convicted of a misdemeanor crime, such as non-payment of a debt, they could claim “privilege of peerage,” if they had no prior convictions and escape punishment. This privilege was invoked five times, and finally abolished in 1841.

Peers could, however, be prosecuted and convicted of the crimes of treason and murder. The most famous murder trial of a peer may have been that of Laurence Shirley, 4th Earl Ferrers, tried and convicted of murder of his land-steward during an argument. Ferrers went to the gallows at Tyburn on May 5, 1760, the last peer to die so.

Other punishments, even more severe, could be meted out to peers. If a noble was found guilty of treason or murder, he would be served with a bill of attainder, an act of legislature that declared the peer guilty of his crime and affixing him with the verdict of “corruption of blood,” a metaphorical stain on the peer, whereby he would lose not only his life, but his property and titles, for it stripped him of the right to pass them on to his family or heirs. They instead reverted to the crown, rendering the titles extinct.

The peerage may have had its privileges, however, no one was completely free from the long arm of the law.

“Earl Ferrers.” Capital Punishments, U.K. n.d.
Lee, Emery. “A Peer’s Privilege.” Georgian Junkie, November 28, 2010.
Milan, Courtney. “Crime and Punishment.”

Friday, March 9, 2018

Poet William Wordsworth

by Donna Hatch

William Wordsworth was a poet whose life spanned the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian Eras. He and his beloved wife, Mary, and three children lived in Rydal Mount during much of his years as a poet. The Lake District where he made his home inspired many of his poems.

I was fortunate enough to visit Rydal Mount during a trip to England in June of 2017. Thought Wordsworth never owned this home, he rented it for many years. The home itself is lovely and beautifully furnished, but it was the gardens that really captured my attention. The Wordsworths loved gardening and created a lush, vibrant retreat in their four acre property, which William designed. He also designed the gardens for many of his friends and neighbors.

One garden is named "Dora's Field" which they gave to their only daughter. After her death at the early age of 43, William and Mary planted daffodils in the field to commemorate her life. The offspring of those bulbs survive today. In the spring, Dora's Field is filled with golden, cheerful daffodils.  Unfortunately, daffodils have a short blooming season and they were done by the time I visited.

One of my mother's favorite poems, which she taught me when I was child, is one of his.
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, By William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Making it Work: Women & Personal Care in the 1940s

by guest blogger, Renee Clark

In the late 1940s, one would imagine women had access to many of the conveniences for personal care that we have today, right? One glance at the popular rolled hairstyles that women did at home, without the use of a maid, makes one assume things had come a long way since the Regency and Victorian periods.

That’s what I thought too, until I sat down to fact check for my historical novel, Beneath the Bellemont Sky, which takes place on a Wyoming farm in 1946-47. Radios were common in nearly every household by then and we were on the cusp of many people owning a TV. Hairspray seems like a given, right?

It wasn’t. The technology we’ve come to associate with aerosol sprays we use now was perfected for the use of insecticides during World War II, and using it on the sticky solutions that set hair styles didn’t become widespread until the 1950s. When the main character of Beneath the Bellemont Sky, Vera, fixes her hair for a fall festival, she has to rely on curlers and good luck for keeping her hair in place. Being thrust into the work place during World War II and beauty supply shortages, women’s hairstyles during the 1940s were utilitarian, and as the decade wore on, soft, brushed out curls became the go-to styles.

Setting up the perfect hairstyle wasn’t the only thing that took much more thought than we give it today. While writing the second section of the book, I assumed that it would be just slightly more complicated than it is in modern times for Eleanore, one of Vera’s friends, to find out that she was pregnant. After all, the forties weren’t that long ago! A few hours of research later, I realized it was much more complicated than even a trip to the doctor. Did you know that the at-home pregnancy tests we use today weren’t even developed until the 1970s? In the book, Eleanore has to rely on knowing her body as she suspects her condition. At that time, one of the only known ways to test if a woman was pregnant was to inject a sample of her hormones into a mouse and wait for a few days to see if it went into “heat.” The tests were long and expensive, and not something Eleanore would likely have access to or even choose to do.

We tend to think of the Roaring Twenties as the decade that “freed” women. Gone were the corsets and restrictive clothing—so it’s a bit surprising to look back and see that advances in personal care like hairspray and home pregnancy tests are fairly modern inventions!

You can find out more about Raneé S. Clark and her new book, Beneath the Bellemont Sky at

Find her on social media:"


“A Thin Blue Line: The History of the Pregnancy Test Kit,” National Institutes of Health, Office of History,

Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History by Victoria Sherrow, pages 183-184

Friday, February 9, 2018

Jane Austen's writing table, copyright Donna Hatch
by Donna Hatch

In a time before phones, email, text messages, and social media, Regency ladies and gentlemen had only one way of keeping in touch with friends and family too far distant to see frequently; they wrote letters. The upper classes took their writing very seriously, and often wrote long, detailed letters to family and friends. Many also wrote religiously in their journals. And, of course, poets and authors needed reliable writing instruments.

Necessary writing tools included a quill pen, an inkstand or inkwell filled with ink, a pen knife, and sand or blotters. Often these implements were stored together in a little box inside a desk.

Looking at the process through the lens of our modern eye, it is easy to overlook the pen knife. Yet it is as essential as the pen and ink for anyone who wanted to write. Quill pens, which were usually goose quills (but could also be from peacock, swan, or even crow feathers) always needed sharpening, trimming, and shaping, just as today's pencils need sharpening. They could also be used to sharpen the pencil, which had only been in use since the 1700's, as opposed to the quill pen that people had been using for two centuries.

Cutting a quill pen took a great deal of skill. The nib had to be carefully shaped in order for the hollow core to hold the correct amount of ink, and then be released smoothly as the writer pressed on it. I found detailed instructions about how to sharpen a quill here

Many quills were kept together in a little box. I suspect if one planned to do a lot of writing, one sharpened the quills all at once, then in the course of their writing, simply set aside a flattened or misshapen quill and picked up another  from the box without losing the rhythm of writing. 

In Pride and Prejudice, the proud yet fawning Caroline Bingley offered to mend Mr. Darcy's pen, adding that she mended pens "remarkably well."

Quills and inkwell (Photo credit: studentofrhythm)
Pen knives could be ornate, made of expensive materials such as agate or ivory or mother-of-pearl. They were often gilded or encrusted with precious metals and even jewels. These were purchased from a jeweler. Plainer styles which came from the stationers had wooden handles and were merely sanded and polished, without adornment. 

For hundreds of years, pen knives had a blade that was fixed in the handle. During the 1700's pen knives could be folded, like today's pocket knife.

In Jane Austen's Mansfield park, Fanny Price's two younger sisters fight over a silver pen knife which had been a gift from the godmother of a dead sister. The sister had handed the knife to Susan before she died.

Pen knives had other uses. Many new few books were uncut at top and front. They had to be sliced open so one could read the book. A sharp knife was needed to keep the pages from tearing. I suspect the wealthy had a knife specifically used for this purpose, and did not double up using the precious pen knife, but the average person probably had to made do with an all-purpose knife.

Pen knives were as important to a Regency household as pencil sharpeners are to an elementary student today. 

Jane Austen's Chawton House Museum, copyright Donna Hatch
Above is a photo I took while visiting the home of Jane Austen in Chawton, now a museum. I can so easily imagine picturing her here writing her novels and her letters, can't you?

Here is a photo of the house where she lived so happily with her mother and beloved sister, Cassandra, and did so much writing.

I found the images of pen knives that you may wish to view here, and here.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Year Without A Summer by Jenna Jaxon

Inspired in part by the frigid temperatures a lot of the country is experiencing right now, I thought I’d tell you how in 1816, parts of North America and Europe, especially England, experienced one of the coldest years on record. The weather was so consistently cold 1816 became known as the Year Without A Summer.

It started the year before, in April 1815, on the other side of the world. Mount Tambora, in Indonesia, exploded in the largest volcanic eruption
ever known. Over the course of two weeks, the volcano spewed millions of tons of ash, dust, and sulfur dioxide, killing the inhabitants nearest the blast. In addition, the material and gasses shot into the atmosphere and blanketed the Earth in a “volcanic winter” thoroughly enough to change the world’s climate by 3 degrees for a short period of time. This eruption was worse than the eruptions of either Krakatoa or Mount Vesuvius.

People on the other side of the world had no idea of Tambora’s eruption, however, by early 1816, the particles and gasses had drifted far enough to blanket a section of Northern America and England. They began to notice that instead of the days getting warmer, they were staying cold and odd phenomenon, such as tornadoes and earthquakes, were occurring near London. In June snow was reported on the summit of Mount Helvellyn in the Lake District, and July and August were reportedly colder and rainier than usual.

These cooler than usual temperatures led to failed crops, famine, and wide-spread disease. More food had to be imported and those who could not afford the rise in prices starved. People with constitutions weakened by hunger were ripe targets for disease. A major cholera outbreak in England has been blamed on the cold temperatures.

Other interesting events have also been attributed to the cold summer of 1816. With the lack of food for people came a loss of food for horses, such as oats, as well. To compensate for the lack of horses no longer kept, the invention of an early prototype of a bicycle came about. The summer of 1816 also may have had a hand in causing Mary Shelley to write her classic novel, Frankenstein. She and a group of friends fled the dreary conditions in England, only to end up holed up in a Swiss chateau by the cold and rain. They decided to all write ghost stories and the rest is, as they say, history.

I came upon the notion of a “year without a summer” when I was researching To Woo A Wicked Widow, the first book my upcoming series, The Widows’ Club. The series begins in June 1816, one year after the Battle of Waterloo had widowed so many women. In June 1816 these women, the heroines of my series, were just coming out of their mourning period, so I was researching the year, and when one character holds a house party in the country, I had to check on the weather for that time of year as well. To my surprise, I had to change the timeline of the novel slightly to accommodate the later ripening and poorer quality of crops that year as a Harvest Festival figures prominently in my story.

After about three years the particles of dust and ash settled back to ground and the sulfur dioxide dissipated, resulting in the rather speedy return to the normal climate of England.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


I was lucky enough to spend almost a year in Yorkshire back in my younger days, and I blame Disney for that. Due to having seen The Horsemasters at a young age (I think I was nine), I wanted to go to
England to a riding school. The Yorkshire Riding School outside Harrogate gave me my BHSAI (that's British Horse Society Assistant Instructor) certificate, and then I went on to live with a family, training a couple of hunters (horses for fox hunting, not folks with shotguns) and a carriage horse. But I think part of my fondness for Yorkshire also goes back to a grandmother who came from Sheffield.

Yorkshire became the setting for my first Regency romance--A Compromising Situation--both due to my familiarity with the region and it's romantic setting. There are the moors in the north, wild and harsh lands used in Wuthering Heights (and did you know that wuthering is a variant of whithering and comes from the Old Norse for strong wind--there's a strong Viking influence in Yorkshire). There are the vales with their green fields and stone walls and dottings of sheep. There are ruins everywhere, some of them dating back to well before the Normans even arrived, others the result of Henry VIII's dissolution of the abbeys. Yorkshire is the land of Robbin Hood--yes, I know, legend puts him in Nottingham, but Yorkshire historians say he was really a Barnsdale man from the area  between South and West Yorkshire near Doncaster. Yorkshire has always loved its rebels.

The area has seen its share of battles, both with Vikings for control of the land, and later when the north chose not to submit to William I and the Normans, and then on through the War of the Roses and even more uprisings. Castles rose and fell--do did great houses.

In the 1800s, Yorkshire was at the center of the Industrial Revolution, with manufacturing springing up in Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. And, of course, revolution brought trouble in the Luddites who objected to the loss of income and jobs as machines replaced workers. 

The rich history of Yorkshire is in its houses, ruins, and even its land. You literally cannot step foot anywhere without being someplace where the history is close by. From the winding streets of York, to the rugged coastlines, to the now quiet battlefields. Folks are still digging up Roman relics, or even earlier tools and barrows that date back much further.

And those who hale from Yorkshire are a hardy lot, used to the cold winters and a rather hard life. The dialect can be hard to follow, and a bit bloody-minded (the saying is that a Yorkshireman is a Scotsman with all the generosity squeezed out):
'Ear all, see all, say nowt;
Eyt all, sup all, pay nowt;
And if ivver tha does owt fer nowt –
Allus do it fer thissen.
The translation for those not used to the Yorkshire dialect is: 'Hear all, see all, say nothing; Eat all, drink all, pay nothing; And if ever you do anything for nothing – always do it for yourself.'

But where would we be without Yorkshire pudding, and Terry's of York and the other chocolate companies that grew up in this area, and Wensleydale cheese, a cheese as delightful to say as it is to eat. There is also Betty's, one of the best tea room's in England, in York, Harrogate and other locations, which has been a tea house since 1919.)

Yorkshire also gives us the coach horse, the Cleveland Bay (from the Vale of Cleveland), the Great North Road (you have to go through Yorkshire to elope to Scotland), and some of the most beautiful of England's Great Houses--Castle Howard, Harewood House, and Barley Hall. And Yorkshire lays claim to many ghosts and things that do more than bump in the night, ranging from monks to lost Roman legions. And Yorkshire is a land where the folk tales seem to be close to those who live here, and the old ways are still observed. Perhaps it's because so much of the language also dates back to ancient times, to the Vikings who settled here.

In the Regency, Harrogate was a place to go to 'take the waters.' It was both a social scene for those not wanting the expense or bustle of London (or even Bath), but who wished good company and a touch of a more elegant era, for Harrogate had reached its most popular time in the Georgian era. And that is perhaps the real attraction of Yorkshire--the blend of old and new, which existed in the Regency era and and still exists. It's a place where it is easy to transport yourself back in time.

For additional reading:

Friday, December 8, 2017

English Christmas Ghosts and Winter Tales

by Donna Hatch

An odd Christmas custom that dates back centuries is telling scary ghost stories. Have you noticed in the popular Christmas Song, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" the verse that says: "Tales of the glories and scary ghost stories of Christmases long, long ago" and wondered over it?

Telling ghost stories is an age-old tradition that many claim cropped up in the Victorian Era, including the traditional Christmas story, A Christmas Carol. However, this custom dates farther back than that.

Washington Irving penned a novel in 1819 called  The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. The hero in the story visits friends in an English country house during Christmas season in a section entitled Old Christmas. While visiting Bracebridge Hall, our hero basks in the hospitality of the squire and a traditional English Christmas, which includes telling scary "winter tales." Winter tales have long included tales of ghosts, witches, monsters, and other creatures of darkness.

In A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof the author, Roger Clarke, tells of a popular story claiming that shepherds saw ghostly civil war soldiers battling in the skies just before Christmas 1642.

Even earlier,  the Bard, William Shakespeare penned a collection of scary stories entitled Winter Tales." This romance weaves a tale of tangled identities and apparent death and revival. This suggests that telling weird or bizarre stories whilst gathered around a winter's evening fire was a wide-spread tradition long before the Bard's time.

A predecessor of Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe wrote a play entitled The Jew of Malta  in 1589 in which a character Barnabus states:

Now I remember those old women's words,
Who in my wealth would tell me winter's tales,
And speak of spirits and ghosts that glide by night

Since traditions such as this have roots in pagan practices dating back to medieval times, I assume winter tales including ghost stories have been a Christmas tradition since the days of cloak and dagger. But at the very least, the practice of telling ghost stories at Christmas has been in practice since the 1500s.

However, I’m happy that telling ghost stories, except for watching the movie or reading the book, A Christmas Carol, is no longer a major part of American Christmas customs. Can you imagine getting a child to bed who is both excited about presents and frightened of ghosts? Now that is scary!

Still, this practice of telling ghost stories is a plot point that works well for my Christmas novel, A Christmas Secret.

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

Christmas Secrets released November 9, 2017 and you can download it and read it instantly here
 on Kindle!