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Friday, November 29, 2013

Lord Nelson's Pitiable Wife

Every Regency history buff knows about Lord Horatio Nelson's love for Emma Hamilton, and many of us have felt sympathy for poor Sir William Hamilton, the most openly cuckolded man in England. But few have spared a thought for Nelson's pathetic wife, the former Frances "Fanny" Nesbit.

Fanny Nesbit
Nelson met Fanny when he was 26 and in commanded of the Boreas while it spent time in the West Indies.  Just a few months older than Nelson, Fanny had been widowed three years previously when her son, Josiah, was only two years old. Upon her husband's death, she returned to the Indies to live with her uncle, a planter who was the largest land owner on the island of Nevis.

Nelson was good with the lad, and a romance with the mother blossomed. On the outside, the plain, slender woman appeared the perfect wife for a man who had grown up in a country parsonage with a curate father, like the senior Nelson, who sired five sons and three daughters. Fanny certainly was the complete antithesis to Emma Hamilton, a former courtesan.

Lord Nelson
The romance between Nelson and Fanny began, on his part certainly, as somewhat of a love match. Prince William of the Royal Navy would write, "Poor Nelson is head over ears in love." When Nelson and Fanny had to be apart, he wrote affectionately to her with phrases like this: "At first I bore absence tolerably, but now it is almost insupportable." Not exactly bursting with the passion that would later scorch the pages of his letters to Emma, but affectionate nevertheless.

They married on March 22, 1787, and set sail for England. Five peaceful years at his father's parsonage (which Edmund Nelson turned over to the newlyweds) followed before he was called back to active duty after the French Revolution. One wonders if the marriage may have been different had Fanny been able to conceive her husband's children.

Horatio and Fanny Nelson would be apart a great deal over the next six years – and indeed the remainder of their marriage – though all that he was and all that he felt (mostly about his career) he would impart to his wife in letters – even after he lost his right arm.

Emma Hamilton
Then in the summer of 1798 their lives would dramatically change when he demonstrated his superiority in naval battle strategy and gained fame across Europe as the Hero of the Battle of the Nile. Not only did he earn a peerage, but during his subsequent posting in Naples (while Fanny was glorying in the accompanying fame back in England) the beautiful wife of the elderly English ambassador at Naples threw herself at Nelson's feet – or, more appropriately, in his bed.

Nelson and his "Beloved Emma" would remain passionately in love until a musket ball killed him at Trafalgar in October 1805.

While Lord Nelson never had any compunction about later shunning his own wife at every turn, strangely, he never wished to estrange Sir William; therefore, Nelson, Lady Hamilton, and her husband would thereafter live together in a bizarre triangle – even while Emma attempted to conceal her pregnancy with Nelson's child (whom he later adopted – and adored).

Nelson did not return to England until a year and half after the Battle of the Nile, and he would return accompanied by the Hamiltons. He would tolerate Fanny's company only for a few weeks before he formerly separated from her. For her part, Fanny had attempted in every way to do all that was pleasing to her hero husband.

Though Nelson's last thoughts and last concerns were about Emma, Fanny came out the winner. Of sorts. Emma was denied the pension Nelson begged that she receive and died in poverty. Fanny would forever be Lady Nelson and receive a generous pension from a grateful nation. Sadly, both women died heartbroken.-- Cheryl Bolen, whose next Brides of Bath novel, Love in the Library, can be preordered now at all sites.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Regency Holiday Season

On November 5 bonfires burned in mockery of Guy Fawkes and memory of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament. The Feast of St. Martin, or Martinmas, fell on November 11, and St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, had his day on November 30. St. Andrew's day also marked the beginning of Advent to celebrate the four weeks before Christmas. In November, the landed gentry still dined on wild foul as well as domestic poultry—which was now getting a bit old and aged (meaning tough and needing sauces to make the meat palatable). They also had beef, venison and pork with their meals. Fish could still be caught and served, and winter vegetables graced the dining room, including: carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, leeks, cabbage, celery and lettuces. With November, walnuts and chestnuts came into season.

More celebrations lead to Christmas Eve when the Lord of Misrule danced and the Mummers traveled to perform their pantomimes. Then came Christmas Day, and Boxing Day on December 26, which was St. Stephen's Day.  Boxing Day did not get its name from gift boxes, for the exchange of gifts was a German custom still new to Regency England. Instead, Boxing Day got its name from the older tradition of it being a day in which pleadings could be placed in a box for a judge to privately review. In December, besides beef and mutton to eat, pork and venison were served. Goose was cooked for more than just the Christmas meal, and there would be turkey, pigeons, chicken, snipes, woodcock, larks, guinea-foul, widgeons and grouse to eat. Cod, turbot, soul, sturgeon and eels joined the list of fish in season. Forced asparagus added a delicacy to the usual winter vegetables. Stored apples, pears and preserved summer fruit appeared on the better, richer tables. Mince pies made from mincemeat, which has no meat in it, were another traditional fare, with the tradition being that everyone in the household should stir, for luck, the mix of dried fruit and spices before it was baked.

But households also celebrated not just according to the season, but also to the customs of the area. In the Regency, local customs in the countryside might well hold to the old ways.

For one of my books, Under the Kissing Bough, I needed a Christmas wedding and customs that suited the countryside around London. In ancient days, a Christmas wedding would have been impossible for the English Church held a "closed season" on marriages from Advent in late November until St. Hilary's Day in January. The Church of England gave up such a ban during Cromwell's era, even though the Roman Catholic Church continued its enforcement. Oddly enough a custom I expected to be ancient—that of the bride having "something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in her shoe"—turned out to be a Victorian invention.

For Christmas customs, I relied on those that have carried down through the ages: the Yule log from Viking winter solstice celebrations (which gives us Yule Tide celebrations), the ancient Saxon decorations of holy and ivy, and the Celtic use of mistletoe on holy days, which transformed itself into a kissing bough. Carolers might well travel from house to house, offering song in exchange for a wassail bowl—a hot, spiced or mulled drink, another tradition left over from the Norse Vikings.

The holidays were a time of games as well, and the game of Snapdragon is a very old one. It's played by placing raisins in a broad, shallow bowl, pouring brandy over them and setting the brandy on fire. Players then must show their courage by reaching through the spirit-flames to snatch up raisins. And the game even comes with its own song:

Here comes the flaming bowl,

Don't he mean to take his toll,

Snip! Snap! Dragon!

Take care you don't take too much,

Be not greedy in your clutch,

Snip! Snap! Dragon!

Celebrations continued to mix tradition and religion when the Twelfth Night feast arrived on January 5, which combine the Roman Saturnalia with the Feast of the Epiphany, when the three wise men were said to have paid tribute to the Baby Jesus.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Regency Dances -- The Quadrille

If you've read Regency romance novels, you've probably noticed they often have ball. I, too, have written scenes taking place during balls. That's not because I lack imagination (just ask me what I think I hear when there's a bump in the night) but it's because dancing was such an intricate part of Regency life, at least for the upper classes. It was the most socially acceptable way to meet and court a potential spouse.

The dances were intricate and took quite a while to learn, which is why children were taught to dance as rigorously as they were taught to read. Dances were also done in "set" meaning sets of two, so if a lady accepted a dance from a gentleman, she was his partner for two dances.

There were many dances done during the Regency. The quadrille was a popular dance involving four couples dancing together and making intricate patterns together on the dance floor.

 Christina Guza, one of my colleagues on the Beau Monde, a Regency chapter of Romance Writers of America, found this wonderful video demonstrating the Quadrille.
As you can see, everyone needed to know exactly what to do and when to do it, or it threw off everyone else. It reminds me old fashioned square dancing, in a way, but much more complicated, and there's no "caller" to tell dancers what to do next.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Marriage and Marriage Licenses in Regency England

Ah, the ringing of wedding bells. It's a lovely, romantic sound. It always conjures in my mind true love and happily ever after.
The hope of a bright future awaiting the couple probably isn't much different now than it was centuries past. But the way people married has evolved over the years.

In Regency England, a couple could get married one of three ways: they could marry in a church after the reading of the banns, they could obtain a common license, or they could marry by special license. They could also elope and go to Scotland, but that’s a topic for different post.

A couple wishing to be wed in the traditional way had to have their ministers of their local parishes to read what was called "the banns" meaning he read their names for three Sundays in row, and also posted their names at each church for those three weeks. This was to provide anyone who knew of a good reason why they shouldn’t marry to declare it. Usually the reason someone objected was if one of them were already married, as was the case in the book Jane Eyre. If no one objected, then the couple could marry within the next three months. Marriages also had to take place between 8 a.m. and noon in one of their churches.

For those who wished to waive the reading of the banns, either because they wanted to marry sooner, or they wanted to marry in a church other than one of their home parishes, they could purchase a common marriage license. Some also probably did it as a status symbol as a way that they could afford the ten shillings that it cost to get a license. In order to marry by license, the couple had to get one from the archbishops of Canterbury and York and had to swear that there was no reason why they couldn’t marry. To obtain a marriage license, the coupleor usually just the bridegroomhad to swear that there was no reason why they could not marry. Marriages by common license required the couple to marry in a church or consecrated building.

A Special License was the third option. They were more difficult to obtain and they were also costly—to the tune of four to five pounds. They were also only issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury,and only to those of high rank. A special license gave the couple the option to marry any time or place they desired. Although they were encouraged to marry in churches, the marriage could be performed anywhere such as a home or garden. Few people were eligible to marry by special license. Only peers and their children, baronets, knights, members of Parliament, Privy Councillors and Westminster Court Judges had this option.

Since the father of Amesbury family in my Rogue Hearts Series is the Earl of Tarrington, all the sons had the option to marry by Special License at the family county seat, and, out of tradition, all of them did.