London was the center of the Regency universe, and the London Season was the center of the marriage market. The season began with the opening of Parliament, usually in March. Hunting season was done and it was time for a different kind of hunt: the hunt for suitable marriage partners for the daughters and sons of the nobility and gentry.
Some families came as early as Christmas to prepare for the opening of Parliament. This allowed the females of the family plenty of preparation time and enabled the young ladies to acquire a bit of town bronze. Much shopping, dress fittings, and “seeding the ground” for those all-important invitations kept them in a flurry of busy anticipation for the season.
Her first season was a dramatic turning point in a young girl’s life. At around age eighteen, everything changed overnight and she was no longer a green girl. She was now allowed to dress and wear her hair in adult fashion. She began her season taking part in the ritual of being presented to the queen wearing some quite strange mandated apparel which included a feathered headdress and hoopskirts. This was known as her come out. An average debutante might attend 50 balls, 60 parties, 30 dinners, and 25 breakfasts over the course of a season.
Women visited with their friends, patronized the fashionable shops and showed off their finery at lavish balls, the theater and the opera. Gentlemen, when not busy at their clubs, courted the ladies and pursued manly sports.
A typical day during the Season might begin with a ride in Hyde Park, then breakfast. Shopping and paying calls on close friends came next for the ladies, followed by lunch. The men went off to their clubs or to Parliament, while the ladies went out to pay even more calls. Dinner was at six or seven, followed by soirees or the opera, with balls or dances, going on until three in the morning. Popular dances included the cotillion, and the waltz. The height of the season began after Easter, signaling the beginning of a dizzying, three-month round of social events.
This expensive frivolity had the serious goal of marriage behind it. If a girl did not take, and get leg-shackled to an eligible parti by, at the latest, her second or third season, she was considered a failure. The season ended officially on August 12, when Parliament adjourned, after which everyone retreated to their country estates.
You have noticed some bold words above. What are your favorite bits of Regency slang?