Happy Birthday, Regency Style

Kristi here. Yesterday I had the blessing of being invited to the most epic children’s birthday party I have ever scene. I also celebrated my own birthday yesterday, eating an overindulgence of cake and ice cream.

In the Regency era, birthdays were a very different thing. Unless you were considered a very important personage, such as royalty, your birthday passed with minimum fuss, if at all.

Queen Charotte's BallRoyal birthday parties were often elaborate celebrations. They were often used as excuses for other political or social purposes. Queen Charlotte’s birthday celebrations were held annually in January or February, signalling a start to the Season. They were also an opportunity for people to be officially presented at court.

The Queen’s birthday, however, was actually in May, closer to the end of the Season than the beginning.

The Prince Regent held a grand fete at Carlton House that was officially to honor the King’s birthday. In reality it was a celebration of his rise to power as the Regent.

Wealthy families would sometimes mark and celebrate birthdays, particular milestone birthdays and those of the heir. Possibly no celebration was as large for these families as the one held on the occasion of the first son’s birth. Large parties and dances would be held to celebrate the heir’s birth.

As you traveled down the social ladder, birthdays became less and less recognized. Perhaps you got a small gift or the honor of eating with your parents instead of in the nursery. If you were very poor, a small piece of candy might be the only thing to mark the occasion.

As time moved into the Victorian era, birthday celebrations slowly shifted into the annual events we know today.

What is your favorite birthday memory?

Flashback Friday ~ Organized Sports During the Regency

We’re pulling out some of our favorite posts from our first few months of blogging. Many of our loyal readers hadn’t found us yet when these were posted, so we’re giving them a new life. 

As football season begins in America, the thrill of sports teams and competitions takes over a good bit of society. Today we pull an article from March of 2012 that looks at the organized sports men and women of the Regency would have gotten excited about. 

Flashback Friday ~ Originally published March 5, 2012.

Ah, Spring. When a young American man’s fancy turns to brackets and basketballs and he is likely to put more consideration into picking which college to root for than he did selecting which college to attend. There’s a reason it’s called March Madness.

 

Kristi here, and the fascination with sports is not a new one. The Regency era saw a culture on the cusp of the organized sporting events. While many games remained unofficial skirmishes, there were several championship challenges emerging by the beginning of the Victorian era. And of course, all of them got gambled on.

 Royal Ascot – Horse Racing

In 1711, Queen Anne acquired land near Ascot in which to hold horse races. The first race had a purse of 100 guineas. By 1813, races at Ascot were such a part of the fabric of England that Parliament stepped in, passing an act to ensure the racing grounds remained a public racecourse.

 

Prinny, the future King George IV, made Ascot one of the most fashionable social occasions of the year. After ascending to the throne, he had a new stand built for the exclusive use of guests of the royal family. The Royal Enclosure still exists today and admittance to it is very difficult to obtain.

The Royal Ascot was, and still is, a four day event. It was the only racing event held at the racecourse during the 19th century. England’s elite would gather to watch horses above the age of six barrel through the course in pursuit of the Gold Cup.

The grandeur of the original races continues today in the strict dress code requiring formal day dresses and those infamous hats for the attending ladies. Men must still wear the morning suits and top hats as a nod to the Regency era.

During the early 1800s, fashion was always important to the upper class and the Royal Ascot was certainly no exception. The importance of dressing right for the races even lent its name to the traditional wide morning tie, now known as an Ascot Tie.

The Royal Ascot takes place in June, one of the last hurrahs of Spring Season.

 Players Vs Gentlemen – Cricket

This amateur against professional game of cricket actually skipped over the true Regency. It began in 1806, disappeared for a while, and then re-established as a yearly tradition in 1819. It remained in place until 1962 where is phased out again only to be revived in recent years, with matches in 2010 and 2011.

At the time of conception the Gentlemen, or amateurs, were largely aristocratic men who had played during their school years. The Players were professionals, paid to play by various county cricket clubs.

Unlike professional athletes of today, the professionals weren’t hired to play each other but rather to play the gentlemen that were members of the cricket clubs. Rather like a tennis pro or golf pro at a modern day country club.

The game lasted for three days and usually took place at Lord’s. Not including the most recent matches, the Players had 125 wins to the Gentlemen’s 68. Today the Players are professional athletes from England’s competitive cricket circuit and the Gentlemen tend to be pulled from the University cricket teams.

 Intercollegiate Sports – The Boat Race

Colleges had always prized physical skill in addition to mental learning, but it wasn’t until the early Victorian era that they began to officially meet each other on the playing field. Prior to this point, most collegiate athletic competitions were between houses within the college.

Cricket and Rowing competitions between Oxford and Cambridge both started in the 1820s.

The Boat Race, as it is still referred to today, began in 1829 and has had a tumultuous history ever since. It would be another twenty-five years before the race settled into being an annual event, but the spirit and drive that propels people from different schools to meet on the field, or river in this case, of athletic competition was alive and well during the Regency. Currently Cambridge is on top, with 80 wins to Oxford’s 76. This year’s race will be held in April.

What sports competitions do you get excited over? What was the last major sporting event you went to see?

Market Towns: The Mall of the Regency

Kristi here. Imagine for a moment that you are a resident in a small town in Regency England. You have a small garden, perhaps a farm. Maybe you are in trade and live in town. No matter where you live, one thing is sure: At some point you are going to want or need something and you’ll have to buy it from someone else.

Where would you go if you needed a few more chickens or a bushel of apples? The market, of course.

If you lived in a large town, such as London, there were several markets to choose from, open all week long. But, if you lived farther out, you had to travel to a market town.

New charter (1553) replacing the original charter (1196) and allowing the town of Stratford on Avon to hold weekly markets.  Click picture for more details.
New charter (1553) replacing the original charter (1196) and allowing the town of Stratford on Avon to hold weekly markets. Click picture for more details.

Market towns had existed in England for centuries. There were, in fact, strict rules as to which towns could hold a market and which couldn’t. Towns had to apply for a royal charter if they wanted to hold a weekly market. If a market town already existed within a day’s walk (there and back) the town could not hold a market.

Chichester Market Cross
The Market Cross in Chichester (Wikimedia Commons)

Many towns had a market cross in the middle of the designated area. The actual meaning of the crosses is unknown and theories are as varied as the cross designs. Possibly the religious landmark was to curry God’s favor on the proceedings. It could also have stood as a reminder to the vendor and the buyer to deal fairly with one another. Still another option is that it hearkened back to the original, informal markets that grew up on the grounds around the churches.

Whatever the reason, some of these market crosses became very elaborate, more along the lines of pavilions or buildings than mere religious icons on a tall pillar. Some towns even constructed their roads with the markets in mind. One example is Stow on the Wold in Gloucester whose narrow side streets were designed to make managing herds of sheep easier.

Since many people lived spread out across rural England, market days (typically Saturdays) were their only opportunity to acquire what they needed, unless they could go directly to someone local to barter or buy. Farmers and craftsman would bring their wares to town and set up stalls along the extra wide main streets.

Norwich market
Norwich Market, 1799 (Wikimedia Commons)

As leisure travel increased in the Georgian era, some market towns, such as Norwich, became fashionable shopping destinations. Permanent stores grew up around the market places, but transitional and temporary stalls were still used for the weekly market.

Today, many of these towns still hold a weekly market, though you’ll more likely find purses and technology accessories than a chicken and a sheaf of wheat.

 

The Living Legacy of Jane Austen and a Chance to Win

As an author, you never know when a certain book or series will connect with readers in a way that spreads like wildfire. Most authors dream of that breakout book that manages to reach the masses. Few even dare consider the thought that they might leave a legacy behind that would span centuries.

Jane Austen
Jane Austen

Jane Austen is such an author. With only a handful of completed novels which, at the time, were contemporary romances, Austen wouldn’t be an obvious choice to be impacting the world two hundred years after her most popular novel was published. Yet her works continue to inspire and captivate to this day.

Austen’s legacy can be seen in everything from research books to pop culture to national heritage.

Earlier this year, it was announced that Jane would grace the ten pound note, an extraordinary feat for an author, not to mention a woman. A 12-foot statue of Mr. Darcy was installed in the Serpentine, depicting the iconic “wet shirt” scene from the 1995 BBC adaptation.

There was even a UK Government injunction against the exportation of one of Jane’s rings, sold at auction to US singer Kelly Clarkson last year. In an effort to keep Austen artifacts in the country, they are trying to raise enough money to purchase the ring back from Clarkson.

Jane Austen Knits
A book of knitting pattern inspired by Jane Austen.

But it is not just Austen memorabilia that captivates people today. There are Jane Austen Societies all over the world. People continue to gather for discussion and immersion into Austen’s world. This obsession people have with Jane Austen and particularly Pride and Prejudice, can be seen in the new movie Austenland as well as the 2008 miniseries Lost in Austen (which also commemorates the memorable wet shirt scene in a moment I found so hilarious and unexpected I actually fell off the couch laughing).

People love Jane Austen and what she represents. The world created by her stories sparked the imagination of authors such as Georgette Heyer, who we looked at Monday, as well as, directly or indirectly, a slew of Regency-era authors today.

Even research books bear witness to Austen’s influence. One of my frequently accessed research books in entitled All Things Austen. Since her books were contemporary to the time period, many look to her novels to see how life might have happened and what things may or may not have occurred.

Many writers have used Austen as inspiration. Friday we look at the multitude of spin-offs and sequels written by fans of Jane Austen’s stories. People so caught up in the world she built that they couldn’t bear for those characters to end there.

Do you see impacts of Jane Austen today? What’s your favorite “Austen sighting”?

The love of Regency romance lives on today. Comment on any post this week for a chance to win a book by one of Regency Reflections’ amazing published authors. The winner will be emailed the list of available books to choose from. The winner will be announced Monday, August 26th. Winner’s mailing address must be within the United States to win. 

 

The Grand Estate Tour ~ Visiting Regency Homes

In the last few decades of the 18th century, roads improved greatly. Turnpikes were created and the increased speed of the mail coaches gave rise to a new industry: tourism.

Chatsworth House
Chatsworth House

As evidenced in multiple Austen novels, people in the Regency era were as enthralled with the grand houses and estates as we are today. The biggest difference is that then the homes were still occupied, with the majority of rooms still being used by the family.

One must wonder who first had the courage to knock on the door and pay a housekeeper to take them on a tour of someone else’s house. There is little doubt that payment of some form was involved. Servants were used to garnering tips from invited house guests. How much more would they expect from an uninvited stranger?

Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace

Journals and letters from the time period do bring into question how often people were actually admitted into various houses, but the practice of requesting a tour is brought up enough to assume there was a certain level of success. Some houses were visited so frequently that they actually designated certain days for public tours.

Some of these houses are still open to the public today. Many have maintained their styling and furniture from the 19th century, giving you a fair idea of what they would have looked like during the Regency period.

Cliveden
Cliveden
Main Hallway at Chatsworth House
Main Hallway at Chatsworth House

Once such house is Chatsworth. Immensely popular as a tourist attraction during the Regency, the house is maintained for visitors today. Many think Jane Austen’s Pemberly was modeled after Chatsworth. Indeed it was even used for filming the Pemberly scenes in the 2005 film.

Wilton House
Wilton House

Other popular homes that are still open for visits today include Blenheim Palace, Cliveden (which you can actually spend the night at for a hefty sum), Stowe, and Wilton House. For some houses, guidebooks were printed – often by the owner themselves. These books could be purchases in the village and brought along with you when you toured the house.

Have you toured any of the grand Regency estates in England? Which was your favorite?

House and Grounds at Stowe
House and Grounds at Stowe

Sources:

All pictures from Wikimedia Commons
All Things Austen: An Encyclopedia of Austen’s World – Travel article
A fine house richly furnished: pemberley and the visiting of country houses. (Conference Papers).
Various homes’ visitation pages, linked within the article.

What to do with all that grass ~ Lawn Games in Regency England

Kristi here. The vast lawns of many English country estates lent themselves well to a variety of games. This is a very good thing, as I’m sure many a guest was thankful for the room to move in the outdoors during a crowded country house party.

Battledore and Shuttlecock

One such game that was popular during Regency England was Battledore and Shuttlecock. A combination of modern day badminton and hacky-sack, two or more players would attempt to keep the feathered shuttlecock in the air by hitting it with small rackets, called battledores.

Three young girls play Battledore and Shuttlecock
Three young girls play Battledore and Shuttlecock, via Wikimedia Commons

As near as anyone can tell, this game originated in Greece around 1BC. Although it appears to have initially spread east from there so he likely never played it, the fact that people played this game while Jesus walked the earth is a little mind-boggling.

The game remained largely unchanged until the mid-1800s when the English added a net to the game and it became badminton.

It isn’t surprising, really, that such a simple game remained popular for so long, when you consider people’s natural tendency to play “keep it up” with just about anything. The hack-sack craze in the 1990s, a beach ball in a stadium full of people, or a balloon in the midst of more than one toddler. We love to see how long we can defy gravity.

Bowls

Similar to modern day Bocce, Bowls, or lawn bowling, is not nearly as old at Battledore and Shuttlecock, but it was certainly not new to the Regency game player. Definitively traced back to the 13th century, Bowls was played with a series of balls, specially formed with a bias so they would roll on a curve.

men playing bowls 1945
This picture of men playing bowls in 1945 will give you an idea of how the game looked. Picture via wikimedia commons

In simple terms, Bowls is played by seeing who can get their ball the closest to the “jack” a smaller white ball thrown out at the beginning of the game as a target. This game could be played alone or in teams, making it ideal for either a leisurely family afternoon or a house party event.

The game became so popular, that Henry VIII feared the practice of archery – then a crucial element of battle –  would suffer. He made it illegal for all but the wealthy to partake of the game, leaving those who made bows, arrows, and arrowheads plenty of time to work on their craft. Even the well-to-do were limited, with the rule that they could only play on their own lands and must pay a fee of 100 pounds to maintain their own bowling green.

This ban was lifted shortly after the Regency ended and today it remains one of the main lawn games played in English-cultured nations around the world.

Did you play lawn games growing up? What is your favorite? What

Flirtations, Fitness, and Fun: The Benefits of Walking in Regency England

Kristi here. Have you ever visited a big, historic estate? I love to see the old houses, castles, and palaces and have been privileged enough to visit several in my life. Two things I’ve learned you should always bring with you: a camera and good walking shoes.

Before the age of the car, people walked everywhere. Horses were expensive to maintain and even if you had them, they weren’t always a practical option for exercise or travel.

Stile
Stiles were built into countryside fences to keep walkers from having to stop and open gates. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Walking was essential for the working class. They had no other option unless they were traveling a distance long enough to make buying a ticket on the post or renting a hack worthwhile. This made living near work a requirement and visiting family a luxury.

For the upper class walking was a way to kill time and exercise. Walking was especially encouraged for young ladies in 1811’s The Mirror of Graces a long, vigorous walk every morning was recommended. Elite families ate very rich, fattening foods and often participated in dormant activities such as reading, needlepoint, and drawing room visits.

Blickling Hall Grounds
Blickling Hall in England. Photo by georgaph.org.uk.

This inclination for walking led to the extensive glorious grounds surrounding most grand homes. In the late 1700s and early 1800s the most famous of grounds designers charged exorbitant rates, traveling around England and transforming acres of land to suit their owners.

While there were differing opinions when it came to trees and expanses of lawn, one thing all designers incorporated were gravel pathways. These pathways wound their way through shrubs and trees, around statues and the occasional water feature. Gravel paths were essential as they wouldn’t turn muddy after a rain, thereby ruining the hems of the expensive, fashionable gowns.

Painting of couple walking arm in arm away from church.
“A Wet Sunday Morning” by Edmund Blair Leighton Photo: Wikimedia Commons

England is no stranger to wet, rainy days. Those long galleries that often ran along one side of the large houses served a greater purpose than an open area to display artwork. When outside strolls were out of the question, people – women especially – would make laps in the gallery to stay active.

Another great benefit to walking was the social acceptance of a man and woman walking together. Proper etiquette required the male stay with his female companion for the duration of the walk. It was also expected that he would lend her an arm if she got tired. One can only wonder how many ladies “got tired” when walking with a man they were particularly interested in.

Do you enjoy walking? Where is the prettiest place you’ve ever strolled?

 

How Regency Ladies Bought Jane Austen

Kristi here. At Regency Reflections we celebrate books containing inspirational stories set in Regency England and this year we have a lot to celebrate. This month alone, two of our own authors saw their debut novels hit the shelves. (Yea, Sarah and Vanessa!)

BooksTablet
Image courtesy of Maggie Smith, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today, we have a variety of options when purchasing our reading material. We can get the book electronically, printed and bound with a stunning cover, or even read to us via audiobook in some cases. We can make our purchases online or in a physical bookstore.

Aside from the very obvious lack of internet purchasing and electronic book readers, people wishing to purchase books in Regency England faced other obstacles on the road to filling their personal libraries.

For one thing, books were considerably more expensive in the 19th century. An ordinary servant would have to pay half a month’s salary to purchase even the cheapest of novels. No wonder a full and robust library was such a clear sign of wealth!

Let’s assume that you did have the money to fill your shelves with volumes of written words. How would you purchase them?

Lackington Allen Co Bookstore, 1809 Ackermann print
Lackington Allen Co Bookstore, 1809 Ackermann print

Bookstores were becoming quite prevalent by the time the Regency rolled around. Though considerably smaller than your local Barnes and Noble, the were considered large stores at the time. Many served as printers and circulating libraries as well – more on that in a bit. Books could also be purchased on subscription, if you wished to support a particular author or project.

One very large difference in the book buying experience of today and that of two hundred years ago is the cover. Can you imagine getting to choose what the cover of your book looked like? Do you want the picture of the couple or one of a meadow? Maybe you don’t want a picture at all, just the title and author in large letters. It’s pretty hard to fathom.

Back then you weren’t choosing a picture, but choosing the material. And it was more than just hardback or paperback kind of choices. Books were sold unbound and uncut. People would then take the book to a bookbinder. The wealthy had them bound in leather, which varied considerably in quality and types, while the more frugal had theirs sewn into stiff cardboard with a flexible connecting piece. The outside edges were then cut with a sharp knife and the book was ready to read.

If you couldn’t afford to purchase a book you might could afford a subscription to a circulating library. This was a combination of a current day library and coffee shop. The size of the libraries varied greatly. At the turn of the century (1801) the largest could be found in Liverpool with more than 8000 books available. For the same cost as purchasing 2-3 books a year, a person had access to an entire library.

The sheer expense of being an avid reader made being well read a sign of gentility and wealth. It also explains why so many stories were printed as serials in newspapers and magazines to make them more accessible to more people.

Have you had a unique experience buying a book or going to the library? Share it in the comments!

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When Did You Fall In Love With Reading?

Most authors have a love affair with reading. The written word, compelling story, and fictional characters are the constant companions that light the fire to create our own stories and characters on paper.

So this month we asked our authors when they knew they loved reading. Was it a particular book? A series? A person?

BookStack

Susan Karsten

I have loved reading since early childhood. One of the strengths of my family of origin was reading. So I was blessed in that way. One of main family activities was trips to the library where we’d all go our separate way. The James J. Hill Library in St. Paul, MN has a splendid children’s room – lots of marble, built-in puppet theatre. Visit it if you’re ever in that city. I can picture myself in one corner with small Beatrix Potter books at age 6 or so.

Naomi Rawlings

I’ve loved reading since I was a kid, but I did go through a spell when I stopped reading for fun. I was an English Education major in college, which gave me a lot of literary fiction to read and didn’t leave time for any fun reading. After college, I never really picked the reading habit from my younger years back up until I visited my grandma one summer. She had a Lori Wick novel sitting on her table. I picked it up, started reading, and was immediately sucked in. It was a giant Aha! moment for me. I suddenly remember how much I loved reading romance novels and other fun books. And I’ve been thoroughly addicted to romance novels ever since!

BookCornersLaurie Alice Eakes

I knew I loved reading as soon as I realized that those stories I  loved was the act of reading.

Kristy Cambron

Classic literature is a funny thing. I find that either you love it, or it’s an assigned chore in high school. And unfortunately, I’d always viewed it as the latter. But something clicked when I entered college and began doing research for Art History. I remember sitting on the edge of my armchair at home, trying to fit in any extra moments in the day to read just one more line of ‘Jane Eyre’. An as they say, I was gone… hook, line, and sinker. It’s not just the classics now – I always have a book in my hands. (Right now I am reading ‘The Heiress of Winterwood’, by Sarah E. Ladd.)

Kristi Ann Hunter

I don’t remember the name of the book but I remember that it was about a Native American boy and the cover was blue with a picture of the boy riding a galloping horse with a spear in his hand. What I remember about this book is that it was the first “real” book I checked out from my elementary school library. It had chapters and no pictures in it. When I finished it in less than a week and took it back, I realized I loved reading. From there I remember moving to the Boxcar Children series and the rest, as they say, is history.

What about you?

Are you a reader? When did you realize that you loved books?

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The Joke’s on Them ~ Caricatures in Regency England

Cruickshank's View of the Regent's Backside
A view of the Regent’s backside by George Cruikshank.

Kristi here. Today is April Fool’s Day in the US. An annoying day where you can’t trust anything you read, hear, say, see, or smell. Basically, your five normal senses are useless and you have to keep a tight grip on your sense of humor to survive. Particularly if you have a jokester in your house.

A sense of humor is a beautiful thing. Often we forget that humor isn’t a modern invention. Because of the long time spent posing for portraits, people always look somber and serious in their paintings. But people in the Regency liked to laugh as much as anyone else.

A Kick from Yarmouth to Wales
A cartoon from 1811 telling the tale of the Prince Regent receiving a sound thrashing for insulting Lord Yarmouth’s wife.

Caricatures, the precursor to today’s editorial cartoons, not only provided social commentary and news, but provided humor as well. Many of them featured prominent figures of the day with certain features exaggerated to provide entertainment as well as make a point.

Much like tabloids and entertainment magazines of today, these drawings were popular because they kept people informed of what was happening in the world in a fun way. Regency England had it’s own celebrities and the caricature artists were the era’s paparazzi.

Caricatures were such a key part of England during the era that the Royal Pavilion and Museums Foundation of Brighton spent nearly £60,000 to obtain 235 original prints. Studying caricatures can tell us a lot about the way culture worked, how various people were thought of, and the general feeling of the time.

IndiaCartoon
A Rowlandson cartoon about the control and status of India, a British holding at the time.

Some of the most famous caricature artists, such as Thomas Rowlandson, worked mostly for Robert Ackermann. Known today for his prints of changing fashions and furniture, the Repository actually featured many social caricatures. Ackermann also printed other periodicals that covered travel, literature, and London in general. Rowlandson was not only a caricaturist but a skilled artist as well. Hand colored prints of his etchings could be purchased as well.

If you decide to go looking for more caricatures online, do be careful. Like today, sex, scandal, and politics were popular topics and some of the caricature artists weren’t shy about using nudity or lewdness to make their points. Many caricaturists were quite vulgar.