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Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth

The spinster sister of the immortal poet William Wordsworth was present at the creation of his and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 1799 Lyrical Ballads, which gave birth to the Romantic movement in English literature. She was also present throughout her famous brother's adult life. The two, among the five Wordsworth siblings orphaned and separated at an early age, would rejoin when Dorothy Wordsworth was 24 and William 25, and they would live under the same roof until William's death 55 years later.
Theirs was an extraordinarily loving relationship, and Dorothy's prose is credited with influencing her brother's poetry by the keen observations on nature she recorded in the journals William encouraged her to keep. An example from Dorothy's journal:
One leaf on the top of a tree—the sole remaining leaf—danced round and round like a rag blowing in the wind.

From her brother's poem Cristabel:

The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
That dances as often as dance it can,
Hanging so light and hanging so high,
On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.

The first of her journals, The Alfoxden Journal 1798, takes up less than ten percent of The Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, edited by Helen Darbishire for Oxford University Press in 1958. Of more importance are The Grasmere Journals 1800-1803 because they record Dorothy Wordsworth's observations of the Lake District which her brother and Coleridge made famous.  Dorothy and William moved to Dove Cottage in Grasmere the last month of the eighteenth century. Two years later William married Mary Huthcinsons who, along with her orphaned siblings, had been close to the Wordsworth orphans for many years. There is no jealousy on Dorothy's part toward the woman with whom she would share the brother she had lived alone with for the previous seven years.

Perhaps that is because as Mary busied herself with mothering the five children she bore William, Dorothy remained William's companion on their legendary walks throughout the Lake District.
These journals, which are copyrighted by the Dove Cottage Trust, give those of us reading them two centuries later a feel for the minutia of their everyday life: the ringing of distant sheep bells, haystacks in the fields, baking day. Surprisingly, to Dorothy, plodding through the frost of a cold January day was pleasant, but summer heat could send her to bed for days.

For the author of  English-set historicals, these journals are an invaluable source for descriptions of the English countryside—its plants, birds, and other creatures—in every season of the year. This little volume is a keeper.--Cheryl Bolen's newest release is Ex-Spinster by Christmas, a House of Haverstock novella.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas Wassail

20161202_141654by Donna Hatch

Remember the holiday tune "Here we come a-wassailing?"
Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand'ring so fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you, And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a happy New Year.  And God bless you a happy New Year.

Ever wonder what "a-wassailing" means?
it means to sing for some wassail. I guess it's kinda like singing for your supper, only the carolers go from place to place hoping for a nip of the traditional hot beverage.

One of my winter and holiday favorites is Wassail, also know as spiced hot apple cider. It's one of those things it's hard to get wrong. All the recipes I've tried are yummy and satisfying. Some include citrus such as lemon and orange. Traditionally, it contains alcohol such as wine or rum or even ale, but I don't drink alcohol so I make it without.  No matter how you make it, wassail is a comfort for cold winter nights as well as a solution for a sweet craving. A few years ago, a friend shared with me her trick: apricot juice. It adds a richness and complexity other recipes don't have.

wassailHere it is:
1 large jug of apple cider
1 can of apricot juice
3 cinnamon sticks
4 nutmeg cloves
a dash of nutmeg
a dash of allspice
Optional: orange or lemon slices

All of these can be adjusted according to taste so you may want to experiment.

Simmer for at least an hour but you can simmer all day. It does get stronger and stronger so after several hours, you may want to tone it down with a bit more apple cider. It makes the house smell heavenly!
mistletoe-magic2In my Christmas novella, Mistletoe Magic, the heroine adores the wassail her friend’s mother makes and will go to great lengths to get the well as take advantage of the mistletoe at the annual Christmas ball.

Note: The Colonial Williamsburg blog has lots of fun history behind this traditional drink.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Mummer’s Play by guest author Jenna Jaxon plus an excerpt

by Guest Author Jenna Jaxon
The Mummer’s Play
Displaying mummers.jpgThe Mummer’s Play
The Middle Ages were a time of religious conviction in all facets of daily life. This included the theatre of the period, that was, at least in the early days, unhappy with theatrical performances. Once the Church discovered the teaching ability of theatre, however, they began to use dramatic performances to educate a mostly illiterate populace.
By the Late Medieval period, however, entertainers had strayed from the strictly religious performances, and troupes of entertainers, mummers as they were often called, traveled throughout Europe giving performances in town squares and noble households. These plays were often taken not only from Bible stories, but from legends and tales of heroes. One particular set of plays they undertook were called “guises” because the actors were disguised in often outlandish costumes. One play in particular, “St. George and the Dragon,” was immensely popular. (That is why I included it in Seduction at the Christmas Court.)
The costumes, as I noted above, could be very strange and fantastical. Men dressed as women and in some case animals. St. George traditionally wore “silver armor, helmet, sword and shield with St. George and the Dragon” on it. His adversary, the Turkish Knight, dressed in “red trousers, blue loose jacket, turban, sword, and a shield with crescent.” And the Doctor, the Prince of Quacks, is styled in a “black swallow-tail coat and knee breeches, white waistcoat, perruque [wig], long nose.”
The texts of the plays were mostly rhymes and could include songs and dances.

Displaying mummers.jpg
Here comes I, the Turkish knight
Just come from Turkey-land to fight
I’ll fight thee, St. George-St. George, though man of courage bold,
If thy blood be too hot, I’ll quickly fetch it cold.

Wo ho! my little fellow, thou talkest very bold,
Just like the little Turks, as I have been told;
Therefore, thou Turkish knight,    {Threatening him}
Pull out thy sword, and fight;
Pull out thy purse and pay;
I’ll have satisfaction ere thou goest away.

The major actors/entertainers were the hero (St. George, Robin Hood, or in Scotland Galoshin) and a quack doctor who miraculously brings the slain villains back to life by means of a magic potion. The plays were performed exclusively by men, who played the female roles as well. These entertainers needed to additional skills in entertaining, such as acrobatics, juggling, singing, and mimicry.
Christmas time was a great time for merriment, and the mummer’s play was a fun way to pass the long winter’s evening in rhyme, song, dance, and merriment.

Christmas tidings of comfort, joy, and temptation
Alyse and Geoffrey, Lord and Lady Longford, have journeyed to the glittering Christmas Court of King Edward III in the year 1349 to wait upon the king and take part in some Yuletide merriment. However, when Geoffrey is suddenly called into the king’s service again, Alyse must remain at court, attending the queen and persuading her rebellious sister to accept an unwanted betrothal. When rumors of Geoffrey’s death arise, Alyse fends off an old suitor who wants to renew their friendship. But how long will he take “No” for an answer?
Here is an excerpt from Jenna's book:
“This entertainment will be tedious. I would much rather retire for a good night’s bedding right now,” he whispered, the puff of his breath tickling her ear and sending prickles of excitement down her neck.
She laced their fingers together. “’Twill be finished ‘ere long, my love. Then you can wield your weapon with a vigor yon knights cannot.”
He laughed and drank deeply. “Aye, sweet Alyse. My skill with both weapons outshines any other knight.”
“As you will not want me to be judge of that, I think, I will demur to your claim, although I will test your skills again with the one blade ‘ere the night is done.”
At Geoffrey’s bark of laughter—so loud it turned heads on the dais their way—Alyse settled back to watch the mummers, her cheeks burning, but a pleasant anticipation building within as well.
The mummer playing St. George took the center spot in the Great Hall and began a sing-song rhyme that soon had the court laughing at its nonsense. A stream of knights—played in turn by the other mummers—approached, made their rhyming challenge, and were quickly slain by St. George, whose wielding of his sword became swifter and swifter. He slayed the knights in such short order that by the time he faced the final knight, he did no more than look at the Turkish knight than the man fell down, his toes jingling softly as he landed on the soft rushes covering the floor.
A burst of laughter and applause followed that performance as the quack Doctor shuffled forward, his “magic potion” in a large bottle, gripped in his hand.
Thoroughly engrossed, Alyse laughed and clapped her hands. She held her breath and leaned forward as the Doctor poured the potion down the throats of the slain knights, spoke his own rhyme over them, and one by one, they began to twitch and dance, the rush-strewn floor seeming to come alive as they did. The room resounded with merriment as all seven knights revived.
Loud applause burst out from the courtiers, many of whom threw gold and silver coins onto the floor. Geoffrey tossed a gold florin to the Turkish knight. “For my lady’s pleasure,” he called.
The man nimbly caught the coin and made a deep bow. “Thank you, my lord.”
With a lecherous grin, Geoffrey grasped Alyse’s arm and urged her to rise. “And now allow me to attend to my lady’s pleasure as well.”

Today, Jenna is giving away a copy of one of her backlist Christmas books. Winner may choose which one to receive.
Jenna Jaxon is a multi-published author of historical in all time periods because passion is timeless.  She has been reading and writing historical romance since she was a teenager.  A romantic herself, she has always loved a dark side to the genre, a twist, suspense, a surprise.  She tries to incorporate all of these elements into her own stories. She’s a theatre director when she’s not writing and lives in Virginia with her family, including two very vocal cats.
Jenna is a PAN member of Romance Writers of America as well as Vice-President of Chesapeake Romance Writers, her local chapter of RWA. She has three series currently available: The House of Pleasure, set in Georgian England, Handful of Hearts, set in Regency England, and Time Enough to Love, set in medieval England and France.
She currently writes to support her chocolate habit.
Find Jenna Jaxon online:

Friday, November 18, 2016

5 Fun Facts About Coming Out in Regency England

by Donna Hatch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 4, 2016

The King's Theatre of Regency England

250px-opera_house_haymarket_editedby Donna Hatch

Today a prominent theater in London is the the Haymarket Opera house, also known as the Queen's theater which has shown critically-acclaimed, Broadway-style productions such as Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. This theatre has a long history from the time of Queen Anne. It has gone by many names: the Queen's, the King's, Her Majesty's, His Majesty's, and even simply, The Opera House. 
In 1789, this theatre suffered near-total destruction due to a fire believed to be set by a disgruntled ex-employee. It again suffered that same tragedy in 1867. Each time, it was rebuilt. In 1890's it was demolished and rebuilt to include "modern" features. Today, it is still decorated with a definite flair for the Edwardian Era.

The theatre's financial success has undergone the same turbulence as its structure. Initially, the Opera realized only modest success in London, and it faced closures on and off throughout its existence. It wasn't until Handel performed that such entertainment became popular. Between 1785 and 1830, if featured works by sixteen different composers.

Operas and ballets were performed in this theatre, and soon going to the theatre became a fashionable pastime for the rich and poor alike, with seating to accommodate every income level. Those wealthy enough to purchase seats in the boxes were spared having the sit with those of the lower classes, which, of course, members of the beau monde would have found intolerable. Over time, going to the theatre to see and be seen became more important than watching the production and there are numerous reports of the audience noise level being so loud that one could hardly hear the music or singing.
haymarket-fig45Not every Opera house had an orchestra pit, but this was did as of a remodeling  1782. In addition to adding the pit, stage was reduced in depth to add length to an auditorium planned on the conventional lines of an Italian opera house, with a large pit and five shallow tiers of horseshoe form.

According to British History Online:
George Saunders, in his Treatise on Theatres (1790), describes the building at this stage of its existence. 'The form was then made an oblong rounded off at the end opposite the stage. The length was, from the stage-front [apron] to the opposite boxes, about 58 feet, and 23 feet more to the scene; the breadth between the boxes 43 feet; and the height 44 feet from the centre of the pit to the ceiling. There were three ranges of boxes, 34 in each range, besides 18 in a line with the gallery; in all 116, allowing the space of two for entrances into the pit. Each box was from 5 to 6 feet wide, from 7 to 7 feet 6 inches high, and 6 feet deep.'
haymarket-fig46'...a chain of foyers extended across the north end. The carriage entrance was in the Haymarket, where patrons passed through a vestibule into an apse-ended hall containing the grand staircase. The short middle flight descended to the pit and the two side flights ascended to the second-tier level, where the horseshoe corridor serving the principal boxes was approached by way of two linked foyers, an octagon and a rotunda, the last centred on the main axis of the auditorium. West of the rotunda was an oblong hall containing the staircase from the chairs' entrance in Market Lane. All the box corridors were served by two staircases, rising in semi-circular wells formed in the north-east and north-west spandrels. The 'portrait' plan shows secondary staircases of spiral form at the proscenium end of the corridors, but these, if built, would have been demolished in 1796 when the auditorium was lengthened. Novosielski's original arrangement of the auditorium is shown in an engraved 'Plan of the Boxes of the New King's Theatre—September 1790'. (fn. 206) There were five closely spaced tiers of horseshoe form, the first three each divided into 37 boxes. The fourth tier contained the gallery with 13 boxes on each side. The central part of the fifth tier was omitted to give headroom for the gallery, and each arm contained 13 boxes. In all, there were 163 boxes in the tiers, and 8 pit-boxes on each side of the capacious pit.'

In my book, Heart Strings, I take a deeper look at the lives of those who performed in the King's Theatre through the eyes of my hero and heroine who are musicians in the orchestra.
Here is the backcover blurb from my newest novel, Heart Strings:

heartstrings2_fullGently bred young ladies don't run away from home to find employment, but when forced to choose between marrying a brutish oaf or becoming another man’s mistress, Susanna makes an unconventional decision. Following her passion for music, she flees to London with dreams of securing a position as a harpist. Becoming entangled with a handsome violinist who calls himself Kit, but who seems more an aristocrat than an ordinary musician, may be even more problematic than sleeping in the streets. Kit's attention is captured by Susanna’s breath-taking talent, admirable grace, and winsome smiles…until a lawman exposes the new harpist both a runaway bride and a thief. Now Kit must not only choose between his better judgement and his heart, but must also embrace the life to which he swore he’d never return.
Available on Amazon.

Theatre Historian, Margaret Evans Porter

Regency Romances, the Truth Behind the Craze

by Donna Hatch

When I tell people what I write, their response is usually one of two things; “Regency? Oh, I love Regency!” Or they say, “What is Regency?”

To those who ask that second question, Regency is a specific time period in England. It officially began when King George III, who had frequent periods of madness, was finally declared mad in 1811. His son, the Prince of Wales, was named Regent in his father’s stead, although most historians agree the queen really ran the country. The Prince, sometimes referred to as “Prinny” was Regent until King George III died in 1820. Several months later, the prince was crowned King George IV followed by a sumptuous party.

The expanded Regency era is often thought of as the time of Jane Austen and the Napoleonic War, lasting until Queen Victoria ascended the throne. Some historians believe the growing influence of the non-Anglican churches had more to do with the changing values that became the Victorian ideals than the queen herself. Victoria also had a very serious, possibly even prudish husband who probably affected society's beliefs on morality.

Clothing fashions underwent a dramatic change during the Regency. The influence of the charismatic Beau Brummel took men out of bright colors, satins and ruffles that make one think of a peacock, and put them into more subdued colors and styles that evolved into the modern day tuxedo. People lost the powdered wigs and began bathing on a regular basis. The wealthy even had indoor plumbing. Josephine Bonaparte, who was influential in France, created the simpler women’s fashions of flowing, empire-style gowns reminiscent of Greek gowns, which were quickly adopted by the English. Although why they followed a country with whom they were at war is beyond me. Perhaps they were grateful to rid themselves of corsets, panniers, and laughable headdresses.

While images of hedonistic pleasures often come to mind, the Regency era was also steeped in manners, honor, and duty. They also zealously guarded a lady's virtue and reputation. If a girl was discovered to have been alone with a man, she was instantly considered ruined. The family expected the man to marry her, thus saving her from such a terrible fate. No one considered a ruined girl a good match. People shuddered at the thought of addressing a person to whom they had not yet been properly introduced. It was always best to be introduced by someone who knew them both. And ladies who walked up to a gentleman and addressed him was considered ill-mannered.

The Regency era was also a time of great change. The Industrial revolution was making commoners wealthier than some aristocrats, education became more readily available to the average person, and new churches preached morality to the lower classes. The nobility feared a repeat of the French Revolution because of the riots and the American revolution and, more recently, the War of 1812.

I love Regencies because I love the way they spoke so eloquently. Reading Jane Austen is almost like ready poetry. Each word was carefully chosen for its beautiful wording, imagery and cadence. There was no mauling the language by the upper classes. They also had a great deal of wit. Indeed, wit was prized and they excelled in using the understatement.

Women had more freedom than in the Victorian era. Women, particularly widows, had money, power and fun unlike the Victorian era which turned widows into black-clad hermits expected to mourn all their lives. Men did not keep their wives under their thumb. In fact, they each had their own interests, hobbies, and friends.

Regency men were educated and were taught to dance, read and recite poetry from a young age. They were athletic; they hunted, raced, fenced, rode horses. They were manly. Strong. Noble. Resolute. Honorable. And that is why I love them.

In my newest book, Courting the Countess, I explore all the rules and freedom which shapes a lady's life and choices, especially what happens when one's reputation is called into question.

When charming rake Tristan Barrett sweeps Lady Elizabeth off her feet, stealing both her heart and a kiss in a secluded garden, her brother challenges Tristan to a duel. The only way to save her brother and Tristan from harm—not to mention preserve her reputation—is to get married. But her father, the Duke of Pemberton, refuses to allow his daughter to marry anyone but a titled lord. The duke demands that Elizabeth marry Tristan’s older brother, Richard, the Earl of Averston. Now Elizabeth must give up Tristan to marry a man who despises her, a man who loves another, a man she’ll never love.

Richard fears Elizabeth is as untrustworthy as his mother, who ran off with another man. However, to protect his brother from a duel and their family name from further scandal, he agrees to the wedding, certain his new bride will betray him. Yet when Elizabeth turns his house upside down and worms her way into his reluctant heart, Richard suspects he can’t live without his new countess. Will she stay with him or is it too little, too late?

Courting the Countess is available now at all book retailers, including Amazon

Friday, October 28, 2016

Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III

©Cheryl Bolen

In the century and half since the last princess died, no one has ever before had the fortitude to chronicle the lives of the six daughters of George III (1738-1820) and his wife Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818). Until Flora Fraser.

Fraser is the author of the 2006 book, Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III.

One of England’s premier biographers of the late Georgian era, Fraser (Beloved Emma) first became acquainted with the princesses when doing archival research for her biography (Unruly Queen) of their sister-in-law, the Prince Regent’s wife, Princess Caroline.

"Given other circumstances, the letters of these six royal sisters might have been filled only with Court gossip, pomp and fashion," Fraser writes. "Instead their correspondence makes harrowing reading, revealing the humility with which they met pain and horror, the tenacity with which they pursued their individual dreams, and the stratagems they devised to endure years of submission and indignity."

The circumstances which catapulted their lives onto a sorrowful trajectory, of course, were the intermittent bouts of the king’s insanity which commenced a nine-year regency after he was declared incompetent to rule.

His first occurrence of the illness was in 1788; it was another 23 years before the regency became official. Sadly, it was during those years the princesses came of age, only to be denied the opportunities for gaiety and marriage. The king’s illness turned a concerned mother into a domineering tyrant who deprived the princesses of any hopes for happiness.

During those years, the princesses were forced to forgo personal pleasures or aspirations for matrimony for fear it would incite another relapse in the father who was so excessively fond of his daughters.

To a one, all the princesses wished to marry, to have their own homes, to have children. Most of them would be denied these simple pleasures.

The king himself said in 1805 — when the Princess Royal was 39 and the youngest princess, Amelia, 22 — "I cannot deny that I have never wished to see any of them marry: I am happy in their company, and do not in the least want a separation."

When he spoke those words, "Royal," as the eldest sister was always called, was the only sister to have married. Her father had refused many offers for her hand, a fact that embittered her. She finally succeeded in marrying a widow, the Hereditary Prince of Wuttemberg, when she was thirty.

She was thrilled to escape "The Nunnery," a title the princesses themselves dubbed their residences at Kew Palace and Windsor Castle. She never regretted the decision to marry. While she never bore a live child, she was an indulgent mother and grandmother to her step-children and may have been the happiest of the sisters.

None of the sisters would ever become a mother, though the fourth princess, Sophia (1777-1848), gave birth secretly to an illegitimate child sired by her father’s equerry, who was more than thirty years older than she. She never married.

Amelia died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-seven, which many think contributed to her father’s final fall into hopeless insanity. Even on her deathbed, her family would not allow Amelia to marry the young officer she had been in love with for eight years.

Her sister, Princess Augusta (1768-1840), also fell in love with a military man, Gen. Sir Brent Spencer. When she was 43 she wrote a letter to the regent that begged to be allowed to marry the man who had shared her "mutual affection" for twelve years. Request refused, she died a spinster.

Princess Mary had more luck. She demanded the regent allow her to wed her cousin, the Duke of Gloucester, whose father was her father’s brother. The regent reluctantly agreed. At age forty, she finally married. While it is doubtful she was in love with her husband, she relished the first liberty she had ever tasted.

The sister who had most wanted to marry and had dreamed of bearing a child, Princess Elizabeth, finally was granted one of her wishes. At age forty-eight and well past child-bearing years, she married the Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg and had a happy marriage for eleven years.

Fraser’s research is meticulous, right down to the names of the royal wet nurses and the salary paid to them. Almost all of the research is original, delving into letters in collections, archives, and libraries across the globe, a feat that had to have taken several years.

For the casual reader, there are a few problems. First, it is difficult to chronicle six lives at once chronologically. We get a snippet of one sister, but the narrative thread drops while there is an awkward transition to another sister because of chronological constraints. Therefore, the book makes for dry reading and lacks dramatic structure.

For the historian, this work is a gem.—Cheryl Bolen’s Christmas novella, ExSpinster by Christmas, releases on Nov. 15.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Five Fun Facts About Regency England

by Donna Hatch

I share these with you partly to set the record straight about some common misconceptions, and partly just to celebrate the unique and remarkable era we know and love as the Regency.

chocolate_typesChocolate — Chocolate was a bitter, hot drink like coffee, not the decadent dessert we know today. It was considered very decadent and only the finest chefs knew how to prepare it. Therefore, only the very rich drank it.

regency-ballAnkles — It was not scandalous for ladies to show their ankles. In fact, several drawings and engravings of the era show ladies with skirts barely reaching their ankles. Since their dancing slippers were similar to today’s ballerina flats, the ankles were clearly visible. As shoe styles changed from slippers into boots of the Victorian Era, it also became a sign of modesty to keep one’s ankles covered.  Hence, showing ankles was scandalous during the Victorian Era, but not the Regency Era.

Unmentionables — Ladies did not wear anything under their gowns except a shift or a chemise, stays which are similar to a corset but less restrictive, and stockings. Layers of petticoats would have messed up the slender silhouette of the Regency gowns. During very cold weather, ladies may have worn petticoats to stay warm however, it was not a common practice. And no, ladies did not wear pantaloons or pantalets either–those appeared during the next era along with all the layers of petticoats.

Annulments — Marriages in Regency England could not be annulled by non-consummation. Period.

Stale Bread — Due to the Napoleonic War and subsequent blockages, wheat was hard to come by. This meant that bread, a main staple in the Englishman’s diet, became scarce. In an attempt to prevent a massive shortage, Parliament passed the Stale Bread Act. This outlawed the sale and/or consumption of fresh bread, and only allow stale bread, or bread baked more than 24 hours ago, to be sold. Apparently stale bread filled bellies faster than fresh bread. Penalties for offense were severe, but as you can imagine, it was very hard to enforce. The government repealed it about a year later but the shortage persisted until after the war ended.

I hope you like some of the fun facts I shared with you today. My goal is always to provide carefully researched novels, rich in detail, with swoon-worthy heroes falling in love with heroines who are their match. My latest book, Courting the Countess, is about two such people.

When charming rake Tristan Barrett sweeps Lady Elizabeth off her feet, stealing both her heart and a kiss in a secluded garden, her brother challenges Tristan to a duel. The only way to save her brother and Tristan from harm—not to mention preserve her reputation—is to get married. But her father, the Duke of Pemberton, refuses to allow his daughter to marry anyone but a titled lord. The duke demands that Elizabeth marry Tristan’s older brother, Richard, the Earl of Averston. Now Elizabeth must give up Tristan to marry a man who despises her, a man who loves another, a man she’ll never love.

Richard fears Elizabeth is as untrustworthy as his mother, who ran off with another man. However, to protect his brother from a duel and their family name from further scandal, he agrees to the wedding, certain his new bride will betray him. Yet when Elizabeth turns his house upside down and worms her way into his reluctant heart, Richard suspects he can’t live without his new countess. Will she stay with him or is it too little, too late?

Courting the Countess is available now on all online retailers including Amazon and The Wild Rose Press in both ebook and paperback. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Affaires of Honor and Regency Dueling

by Donna Hatch

In England, dueling was part of a long-standing code of honor, far beyond mere tradition. Gentlemen took their dueling very seriously; they would rather die than be dishonored. Does your heart go pitter patter just at the sound of that? I admit, at time, mine does. How many man that honorable do you know? Okay, maybe we'd call it misplaced pride, or an overdeveloped sense of vengeance, but hey, that was a different world with a different set of rules. And yeah, I'm glad they don't do it these days.

By the Regency Era, dueling was outlawed. However, duels still happened more frequently than many people knew. The problem was, because courts were made up of peers, they were reluctant to charge another peer with murder as a result of a duel. There is a case where one nobleman was charged with murder and tried, but used the defense that his behavior was gentlemanly and honorable, meaning that he acted within the proper code of conduct. He was acquitted by his peers.

If they were socially equal, or at least similar, the gentleman who was offended would tell the man who’d wronged him that he should choose his “second,” a close friend or family member who would look out for his best interests. If he was really incensed, he might slap him with his glove, but that was considered extreme and beneath gentlemanly behavior, as it was the ultimate insult and probably resulted in a fight then and there.

The procedure for issuing a challenge was very specific. A gentleman never challenged a social inferior. For instance, a gentleman of significance with ties to the aristocracy or nobility would never challenge a commoner, such as a blacksmith or a farmer. Also, if there was a significant age difference, the duel would not be extended.

After the verbal challenge – or perhaps warning would be a better word – was issued, depending on the severity of the offense, the other might have a choice; he could either apologize, or he could accept. Sometimes, the apology would not be accepted, often if there were a third person who’d been wronged such as a lady's honor. (Okay, call me crazy but that almost makes me want to swoon.)

The next day, supposedly after heads had cooled, the wronged man who wished to duel would send his “second” with a written letter challenging the duel. The other may chose to apologize or accept the challenge. If accepted, he would choose swords or pistols and name the time and the place. In my humble opinion, swords was a more more gentlemanly way to duel. If they used pistols, they only used one shot which seems too much like cold-blooded murder. I'm sure they didn't always shoot to kill, but there was some unwritten rule about the shot purposely going wide and that being bad form. *shrug*

When the allotted day arrived, they met, probably in a remote place where they wouldn’t be caught by the law, and the seconds inspected the weapons to be used. A final opportunity for an apology could be given. If not, the seconds decided if the duel should be fought to (a) first blood, or (b) until one can no longer stand, or (c) to the death. Once that was decided, the opponents dueled and the seconds watched to insure that nothing dishonorable happened.
If during a duel fought by swords, one of the duelers becomes too injured to continue, occasionally the second would step in and duel. Sometimes, the seconds were hot-headed or very angry (loyal?) and ended up dueling each other as well. To my knowledge, this never happened is the duel were fought with pistols.

As horrible as it sounds to our modern selves, these gentlemen took their honor very seriously, and considered death preferable to living with the label of a coward, a label that would follow them and their families for years.
And, maybe it’s me, but there a certain romance about a gentleman brave enough and protective enough to be willing to risk death defending my honor from another man who’d besmirched it.

A duel largely part of what leads to all the trouble for my hero in my Regency Romance novel, "Courting the Countess" and causes events he wishes desperately he could change, especially when the duel goes awry and causes pain to an entire family.
I'm sure glad my husband isn't likely to try dueling...

When charming rake Tristan Barrett sweeps Lady Elizabeth off her feet, stealing both her heart and a kiss in a secluded garden, her brother challenges Tristan to a duel. The only way to save her brother and Tristan from harm—not to mention preserve her reputation—is to get married. But her father, the Duke of Pemberton, refuses to allow his daughter to marry anyone but a titled lord. The duke demands that Elizabeth marry Tristan’s older brother, Richard, the Earl of Averston. Now Elizabeth must give up Tristan to marry a man who despises her, a man who loves another, a man she’ll never love.

Richard fears Elizabeth is as untrustworthy as his mother, who ran off with another man. However, to protect his brother from a duel and their family name from further scandal, he agrees to the wedding, certain his new bride will betray him. Yet when Elizabeth turns his house upside down and worms her way into his reluctant heart, Richard suspects he can’t live without his new countess. Will she stay with him or is it too little, too late?

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Friday, September 30, 2016

London Season in Regency England

by Historical Romance Author Donna Hatch

If you've ever read a Regency or Victorian Romance novel, or even any British historical novel set in the 18th or 19th century, you've probably come across the word "Season" (capitalized). Season does not refer to winter or spring but rather to the social whirl among the upper crust of British society during the spring. The Season originally began as a way for the families of men serving in Parliament to amuse themselves while staying in London, and so it remained for generations. Most families did not travel to and from their country estates to London during the autumn or winter months due to the difficulty of travel. However, after Easter, they seemed to be ready for society.

The dates which Parliament met varied from year to year. According to noted Regency researcher and author, Regina Scott, the dates parliament met were as follows: Parliament was in session during the following times:
  • 1 November 1810 to 24 July 1811
  • 7 January 1812 to 30 July 1812
  • General election: 5 October to 10 November 1812
  • 24 November 1812 to 22 July 1813
  • 4 November 1813 to 30 July 1814
  • 8 November 1814 to 12 July 1815
  • 1 Feb 1816 to 2 July 1816
  • 28 January 1817 to 12 July 1817
  • 27 January 1818 to 10 June 1818
  • General election: 15 June to 25 July 1818
  • 14 January 1819 to 13 July 1819, before the 16 August 1819 Peterloo Massacre
  • 23 November 1819 to 28 February 1820 (special session because of the massacre but ending early because of the death of George III)
  • General election: 6 March to 14 April 1820
  • 21 April to 23 November 1820 (including a special session beginning the third week of August for the trial of Queen Caroline).
Parliament always went into recess for Lent, which precedes Easter, a time when the members of Parliament, also referred to as MPs, retreated to their country homes. When they returned to London after Easter, they often brought their families, especially if they had sons and/or daughters of marriageable age to participate in what was often referred to as the "marriage mart."

The focus was not always to find a spouse. Some families simply came to renew acquaintances and amuse themselves after wintering in the country. Regardless, the ton descended on London en masse. Activities varied but popular amusements were dinner parties, balls, musicales, attending the theater or the opera, visiting museums, going riding in the park, visiting private zoos, and riding in hot air balloons, to name a few.

Almack's Assembly Rooms
There were also the coveted vouchers for weekly balls at Almack's Assembly Rooms where the Patronesses kept a tight rein over who would and would not be granted entrance based on family connections and behavior. Young ladies wishing to dance the scandalous waltz had to first receive permission from the Patronesses. According to Regency researcher and author Candice Hern, the Patronesses were, Lady Jersey, Lady Cowper, Countess Leiven, Mrs. Drummond-Burrell, Lady Castlereagh, Lady Sefton, and Princess Esterhazy.

The Season in London was also a crucial event for the working class. People arriving in London needed servants for their London homes because they typically transported very few of their servants from house to house. If a family did not own a house in London, they rented a townhouse. They also shopped. A lot. Ladies absolutely had to have fine gowns as well as shoes, hats, gloves, reticules—you name it. The wealthy also went to the theatre and opera, which meant more performers were needed. As you can imagine, the cost to attending a Season in London was staggering, but most considered it a worthwhile investment if their children got married to a good match.

In short, much of the prosperity of London depended on the Season and the beau monde who peopled it. Merchants and craftsmen earned a living, and the wealthy amused themselves and secured the future of their line. It seems to have worked pretty well for most.
The London Season plays a major role in my upcoming book, Heart Stringsbut not in the usual way.
When forced to choose between marrying a brutish oaf or becoming another man’s mistress, Susanna flees to London with dreams of becoming a professional harpist. Entangling herself with a handsome violinist who calls himself Kit may be more problematic than sleeping in the streets.
With peril lurking in the shadows, Susanna’s imminent danger not only forces Kit to choose between his better judgment and his heart, but he must also embrace the life to which he swore he would never return.
Heart Strings is available now for pre-order Kindle and paperback.