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Friday, August 30, 2013

Education & courtship of Mary Lucy

The memoir of Mary Elizabeth Lucy, the mistress of Charlecote Park, a fine old Elizabethan house now in the care of the National Trust, gives the modern-day reader a glimpse into the education and courting of a Welch heiress during the Regency period.

The daughter of Sir John and Lady Margaret Williams of Biddlewyddan, Mary Elizabeth was born in 1803, and in her eighties set down her remembrances for her grandchildren.

 Her childhood centered around piety and strict discipline. When she was very young, her grandmother taught her prayers, and after her grandmamma died, her pious mother undertook her religious instruction.
The children—there were eight in all—were taken care of by a nurse in their early years. "Whenever we were naughty," Mary Elizabeth writes, "she used to say a witch would come and take us through the window."

The nurse wasn't all frights. She slept in the nursery with the children, and it delighted them to climb in her four-post bed once she vacated it in the mornings, and they would draw the curtains and have a game of romps, where they would knock each other down with pillows. Their old nurse was devoted to the children throughout her life.

Throughout her children, Mary Elizabeth would read Scripture to the illiterate nurse who doted upon her.

Long, rough schooldays

When Mary Elizabeth's younger brother went off to school, a governess was brought in for the girls. Lessons began at six each morning in summer and seven in winter. If she was late, she had to forfeit a penny. At eight, they broke for breakfast which consisted of a bowl of bread and milk.

Her governess was very strict. If Mary Elizabeth missed even a single word in a page of history memorization or in a poem, she would be locked in the schoolroom closet where the exercise books—and the governess's loaf of bread—were kept. This terrified Mary Elizabeth because mice, attracted to the bread, made their home within the dark closet.

The children had a half-holiday on Saturday and a whole one on their birthdays. Though children's birthday parties were unheard of, on their birthday they were allowed to dine with their parents, and their old nurse would be allowed to come and take desert with them—dressed in her silk gown and lace cap.

The birthday of the firstborn son was an occasion to be celebrated with a dance for all the neighbors to attend.

There was a "schoolroom boy," a servant whose chief duty was to clean the shoes of the children of the house. The lad was eager to learn to read, and Mary Elizabeth would meet him in her play time, armed with her spelling book and a slate. She said it took the patience of Job to teach him because he was "so stupid," he could not remember the alphabet.

From her governess, Mary Elizabeth learned French and Italian as well as needlework.

Every morning Mary Elizabeth would read psalms to her mother, and each evening she read the evening psalms to her governess, who encouraged Mary Elizabeth to give a third of her pocket money to the poor. She also encouraged the children to give up what they liked best for Lent.

Her grandmother had read the children an old-fashioned book, Cobwebs to Catch Flies, and her brother would tell her tales of the Arabian Nights.

As she grew older, she became passionate about the study of music and drawing. Everyone in the family played musical instruments, and Mary Elizabeth played several, including the organ and the harp.
                                                             Coming out

At the annual ball to celebrate her eldest brother's birthday when she was sixteen, dancing began at nine o'clock and continued until four in the morning. "The waltz was not yet known outside London Society," she wrote. "We danced only country dances, quadrilles and reels." The end of the ball was signaled by the Sir Roger de Coverly.

In her teens she started studying with a new governess who had her read Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott and the French works by Racine, Corneille, and Moliere, and in Italian, Tasso and Petrach.

Her first introduction to society away from her North Wales neighborhood occurred when she and her three sisters went to Lancashire for the Preston Guild, a fortnight celebration that occurs once every 21 years. Balls were held every night, and there was a Mayor's Reception where everyone wore court dress.

It was here she met and fell in love with Wilson Patten, who also fell in love with her for Mary Elizabeth outshone all her sisters.  When the underage Patten went home to beg permission to marry her, his father sent him abroad and wrote Mary Elizabeth's father a letter to tell her to forget his son.
  The gatehouse to Warwickshire's Charlecote Park Photo by Dr. John Bolen

A year later George Lucy, the 34-yer-old owner of Charlecote Park, which included land that had been in the Lucy family for 600 years, came to Mary Elizabeth's home in Wales at the invitation of one of her brothers. In London, one of her sisters had greatly admired him, and it was thought he was coming to Wales to see her.

However, once he saw Mary Elizabeth, no other Williams daughter would do. He soon asked her father's permission to marry Mary Elizabeth.

When her father told her, she fell to her knees and begged him not to have her marry George Lucy. Such a ploy had worked before when another of her sister's callers had asked Sir John for his Mary Elizabeth's hand.

The difference this time: the wealthy George Lucy came from one of the oldest families in Britain, and his ancestral home, Charlecote Park, was one of the finest old homes in the kingdom. Sir John wasn't about to let his daughter forgo an opportunity like that.

No amount of tears could dissuade him.

Many years later she wrote: "I had been brought up to obey my parents in everything and, though I dearly loved Papa, I had always rather feared him. I felt I dared not disobey him."

After her quick meeting with "Mr. Lucy" who officially proposed to her, Mary Elizabeth flew upstairs to her mother and wept.

"My sweet Mary," he mother said, "love will come when you know all of Mr. Lucy's good qualities."

Being so pious, Mary Elizabeth prayed that she would become of good wife.

Several weeks later they wed at the cathedral near her home, and when she rose from her knees after the ceremony, she fainted away.

Despite the rocky beginning, the marriage was a happy one that produced eight children. In a very short time her mother's prophecy had come true. Mary Elilzabeth fell deeply in love with her husband.
               Cheryl Bolen at Charlecote, Summer 2013

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cries of Old London

Cries of Old London

Today, we associate cities with the sounds of engines, radios, sirens, and the general hum of modern automation. Advertising blares at us with song and noise. It’s easy, therefore, to think that a hundred or two hundred years ago, cities were far more quiet places. In fact, they were still noisy.

London of the Regency era (early 1800’s) had almost as much congestion—but instead of automation’s hum, the sound of carriage wheels, harness, and horses gave the city its bustle. London residents also had the cries of merchants to disturb the day (and sometimes the night, too).

While we are far more accustomed to going to stores today, in the 1800’s it was common for goods to come to the customers. Vendors would ply their trade along well populated (and well off) streets, where their goods would more easily sell.

Joseph Addison, wrote in The Spectator, December 1711, "There is nothing which more astonishes a foreigner, and frights a country squire, than the Cries of London."

“Oranges, Sweet China Oranges” is a cry that dates back to 1793, while the cry of, “Strawberries, Scarlet Strawberries” dates to 1795. Also from the late 1700’s were the cries for “New Mackerel” (as if anyone would want old mackerel), “Turnips & Carrots Ho!” and, “Old chairs to mend.” But London’s cries dated back far before then, to the 1500’s and would linger into the 1900’s.

It was not just London that had its street vendors—any large city acquired hawkers who would sell, “Gingerbread, Hot Spice Gingerbread” as well as roasted nuts of all kinds, including chestnuts. Just about anything that could be provided in a service (mending pans or china, sharpening knives and scissors, repairing furniture, or sweeping chimneys) or carried (with portable foods such as bread, milk, butter, fruits, and vegetables) would be sold door-to-door. Even such perishable stuffs such as oysters might be carted around the streets to cooks and housekeepers, and the calls might well lure them into a quick purchase.

Over 150 cries have been recorded, and they’ve gone on to be used both in song, and used as the basis for prints, pottery, engravings, and paintings.

Francis Wheatley produced a series of illustrations in 1796, highlighting the various vendors in hand-colored prints, which were sold individually and later collected into print editions. Musically, Richard Dering composed Cries of London, which is still performed and can be purchased today, and other composers have also used the cries in various forms.

It is to be hoped that the cries of London were once as harmonious as modern singers can present them, but it is far more likely that the voices were rough and probably hoarse from use, and possibly shrill when women had to call out their wares. Vendors also would try to customize their calls, some would include prices, and some would include rhymes to make their calls all the more memorable.


Shannon Donnelly’s Regency romances are now available as from Cool Gus Publishing, as well as on Kindle, Nook, from Kobo and other ebook retailers. Her latest book Regency romance, The Cardros Ruby, is now on sale with a special price of .99.

Her 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 work has been on the top seller list of and includes Paths of Desire, a Historical Regency romance, of which Romantic Historical Lovers notes: “a story where in an actress meets an adventurer wouldn’t normally be at the top of my TBR pile; but I’ve read and enjoyed other books by this author and so I thought I’d give this one a go. I’m glad I did. I was hooked and pulled right into the world of the story from the very beginning…Highly recommended.”

She has also published young adult horror stories, is the author of several computer games, and now lives in New Mexico with two horses, two donkeys, two dogs, and the one love of her life. Shannon can be found online at,, and twitter/sdwriter.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Happy Birthday, Georgette Heyer

Today is Georgette Heyer's birthday! Since she would be 111 years old today, I guess this makes it her (according to Tolkien) eleventieth birthday.

Georgette Heyer is hailed by scores of fans as being the quintessential Regency Romance novelist. Most people credit her for creating not on the genre called Historical Romance, but its subgenre, Regency Romance. Heyer reportedly had a  brother who was chronically ill, so to amuse him, she wrote a series of stories. Inspired by Jane Austen, Heyer wrote stories that took place in England during the Regency Era.

Since she lived a hundred years later than Austen, Heyer had the disadvantage of having to research the manners and mores of the time. However, according to rumor, her grandmother who lived with her family was raised during the late Regency and became Heyer's model for her Regency speech and customs.

Some critics find Heyer's novels filled with too much detail, others consider her detail to be her greatest asset, with her wit coming in as a close second. She wrote not only Regencies, but other historical novels including one about William the Conqueror hailed as one of the most historically accurate writings about the long ago King of England. She also wrote contemporary novels and thrillers.

I admit I haven't read all of her books, but I plan to. Of those I have read, here are my favorites:
Cotillion, The Corinthian, A Civil Contract, Venetia, and Beauvallet.

This question of who our favorite Heyers books are came up in my Regency historical research group, and here were our group answers as to the number of people who rated their top 5 favorites:

10 -- Venetia
9 -- The Grand Sophy
9 -- Devil’s Cub
8 -- Cotillion
7 -- The Unknown Ajax
7 -- Sylvester
6 -- Frederica
6 -- Arabella
4 -- The Nonesuch
4 -- Faro’s Daughter
3 -- These Old Shades
3 -- The Talisman Ring
3 -- The Reluctant Widow
3 -- Masqueraders
2 -- The Toll Gate
2 -- The Quiet Gentleman
2 -- The Convenient Marriage
2 -- Spanish Bride
2 -- Regency Buck
2 -- Black Sheep
1 -- The Corinthian
1 -- Lady of Quality
1 -- False Colours
1 -- Civil Contract
1 -- An Infamous Army
1 -- Why Shoot a Butler?

So, to celebrate, the anniversary of Georgette Heyer's birth, name your five favorite Heyer books.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Regency Ballrooms

I recently stumbled onto a little-known fact that it was a custom among the very best houses of the ton to have elaborate pictures on the floors of their ballrooms (or drawing rooms converted to ballrooms) made out of chalk. Yes, chalk. This appears to have been done only by the wealthiest of hostesses, and probably most commonly done for special occasions.

Regency author and researcher, Kathryn Kane, in her article entitled The now vanished ephemeral art: chalking the regency ballroom floor states that chalking ballroom floors was done at only the highest levels of society, and was in fashion between the years of 1808 to 1821. This is also supported by The Rules of the Assembly:   Dancing at Bath and Other Spas in the Eighteenth Century, for the  Jane Austen Society of North America, for JASNA, Allison Thompson. It is from these two articles upon which my post is based.

Ballroom floors were made of polished wooden floorboards, such as shown in the picture above, but not too polished or the dancers would slip. Most of the time, the drawing room floors were covered with large carpets. But for a ball, they removed the furniture, and rolled up and removed the carpets. Most of the big houses didn't have exclusively designated rooms for ballrooms--that was a bit of a nouveau architectural design. Instead, they had state apartments with an enfilade of smaller, connecting rooms which could be opened or closed off, depending on the needs of the event.

The most common wood used for the floors was pine. Some of them were made of oak, however, oak wasn't really suitable because it's open-grained. Mahogany was too expensive. Wood created a wonderful backdrop for the elaborate chalk drawings that graced the floors of any elegant ball from about the early nineteenth century.

According Kathryn Kane, the earliest reason for chalking the floor was probably practical--for the safety of the dancers. The soles of most dancing slippers, or dancing pumps, during the Regency Era were of plain, smooth leather which could easily slip on a smooth floor. And considering how lively some of the dances were, slipping was a real concern. Many dancers rubbed the soles of their shoes with chalk before dancing so give their shoes better traction. I can't find a source as to when exactly the first host or hostess had the clever idea to chalk the entire floor for the ease and safety of their guests. But eventually, the trend grew to hire artists to draw elaborate designs in chalk all over the ballroom floor.

Naturally, the chalk art would be ruined as the dancers slid and danced over it. Some people liked to arrive early so they could view the chalk art before it was marred and I am sure some hostess waited until several guests arrived before she threw open the drawing room doors to show off the artwork spotlighted by a crystal chandelier. I am equally certain most guests were delighted with the elegant or fanciful designs created for the occasion.

Another advantage for chalk drawings was to disguise an old or worn floor. The drawings could be designed to hide a myriad of flaws on the floor which would be illuminated by a ballroom brightly lit by candles or gas lights--a requirement for any successful ball. The drawings might be concentrated in the center of a pristine floor, or spread all over entire floor to hide any embarrassing flaws. 

The designs were as varied as the hostesses. According to 
The Rules of the Assembly:   Dancing at Bath and Other Spas in the Eighteenth Century, for JASNA, Allison Thompson writes in her article for the Austen Society of North America
One feature of the ballroom at the highest levels of society for a short period between approximately 1808 and 1821 was that for the most special of events the ballroom floors were decorated for ornament and for safety with fanciful chalked devices such as arabesques, nymphs, and symbolic or allegoric images.  Thus, at the annual hunt ball in Warwick in 1813, the floor of the ballroom sported a colored-chalk full-length figure of Guy, Earl of Warwick, “in complete armor,” as well as another gentleman “in the uniform of a Member of the hunt, taking a flying leap over a barred fence” (“Sporting Intelligence” 243-44).  The chalked images took a long time to draw, and were an ephemeral beauty of the ballroom, quickly blurred by the dancing feet, as mentioned in a poem by Thomas Moore, published in 1813:

Thou know’st the time, thou man of lore!
It takes to chalk a ball-room floor—
Thou know’st the time too, well-a-day!
It takes to dance that chalk away.  (Brown 39) 

Chalk drawings were customized, and could be of anything. To quote Kathryn KaneFloral designs were very popular for chalk designs, often larger images of the same varieties of flowers which had been used to decorate the ballroom. Arabesques were also fashionable, and in fact, it was a series of complex arabesque patterns which were chalked on the ballroom floor at Carlton House on the night of the grand fête. Mythological and fanciful motifs might also be seen, such as nymphs, mermaids, centaurs, satyrs, sea gods and/or classical heroes. Heavenly bodies, such as the sun, the moon, stars, planets, comets and shooting stars were also popular motifs. For those who had the right to bear them, their coat of arms might be chalked on the ballroom floor. At one ball during the Regency, the guest of a gentleman who had had his coat of arms chalked on the ballroom floor that evening is reported to have quipped that his host was dancing on his arms as well as his legs. Floral patterns were most common for engagement or wedding balls, though if either the bride or the groom had a coat of arms, that might be chalked on the floor, often in the center, surrounded by flowers. If the bride and groom both came from families with coats of arms, the coat of arms of the bride might be quartered with those of her new husband in the design which was chalked on the floor for their celebratory ball. The dance floor was frequently chalked for masquerades, oftentimes with figures in keeping with the theme of the masquerade. There are suggestions that the more risqué masquerades had equally risqué drawings chalked on their floors for the titillation of the dancers.

When a ball was given to celebrate a special event, the designs chalked on the ballroom floor might be in keeping with the theme of the ball... In November of 1818, the British Ministry in London held a ball for the American delegation. One of the delegates, Harrison Gray Otis, wrote to his wife about the ball. He estimated there were at least 250 people in attendance and there were two rooms set aside for dancing. In keeping the political nature of the ball, the floor of each room had a unique chalked design. In one room, a great white circle was chalked in the center of the room, in which was placed the armorial shield of Great Britain, encircled by the motto of the Order of the Garter, the Prince Regent’s crest and other symbols. In the second room, the floor also had a large white chalked circle, but this one contained the arms of the United States and was encircled by a set of symbols uniquely American. On 25 November 1823, The Royal Suspension Chain Pier in Brighton was officially opened. That evening, Captain Samuel Brown, the man who had designed the pier, and his wife, Mary, gave a ball at their home on the Marine Parade in celebration. The guests were delighted to find, when the ballroom doors were thrown open, that a magnificently realistic drawing of the Chain Pier had been executed in chalk on the ballroom floor created by local artist and landscape painter, Edward Fox. The chalk drawings also might reflect the occasion, such as a birthday party, or any special celebration.

The practice of chalk art wasn't limited to England, however; America also adopted the practice. A Mr. Weisiger, who had a very large ballroom had his floor chalked in honor of General Lafayette. And John Quincy Adams and his wife gave a ball in honor of General Andrew Jackson, who was Adams’ rival in the upcoming presidential election. 

While colored chalk was sometimes used, the colored chalked messed up the hems of ladies dresses as they danced across the floor. Longer dresses, in particular, would have gathered up the chalk as the dancer moved over the chalk-drawn floor. Since white was such a fashionable color for ladies gowns during the nineteenth century, having a chalk-colored hem on a white gown would have been unsightly.  

Since, to my knowledge, Jane Austen never mentions chalk drawings on ballroom floors, it must not have been a terribly wide-spread practice among the gentry, probably limited to the very rich. Nor are any chalk drawings showing up in any of the cartoons or engravings of the era; either the cartoonists and illustrators chose not to replicate them, or they chalk drawings weren't common enough among any but the most exclusive circles to be included.

Unfortunately, just like the Regency Era itself, chalk drawings are a long-gone practice. But they can be resurrected in the pages of a Regency Romance novel, such as my re-released book one of the Rogue Heart series, The Stranger She Married, coming soon. I'm sure other historical novels set in early America or England feature the charming practice as chalk drawings on the ballroom floor, either as a mere mention of the description, or featured prominently in the book. If you discover any pictures of such drawings, please let me know. I'd love to see them!