A Dandy in Sheep’s Clothing – Wool in the Regency

Kristi here. Let’s take a moment and play a word association game. I’ll give you a word and you describe the first mental image that word brings forth. Ready?

Wool.

For me, I think of nubby socks and thick sweaters. I think bulky and occasionally itchy. Some of you may be envisioning the white fluffy stuff still clinging to Dolly’s hide. But unless you know a lot more about wool’s potential than I did, you probably didn’t envision anything like this coat from Italy circa 1800.

(All photos in this article are from Wikimedia Commons.)

WoolCoat_1800Italy

Yes. That coat is made of wool!

Wool is an extremely versatile fabric. There are well over two dozen types of wool fabric according to fabric.net. Wool can be turned into anything from felt to tweed to broadcloth to jersey.

The way we usually envision wool: Yarn used for knits and bulky weaves.

While normally wool is associated with thick, warm sweaters and heavy outer coats, lighter weaves of wool are actually great in warmer weather as well. I had the opportunity to handle some woolen fabrics similar to those used in the Regency time period. The fine patterns and delicate weaves astonished me.

Wool is for so much more than knitting an afghan or a pair of boot socks.

So the next time you read that your favorite aristocratic heroine donned a wool dress or the dashing hero shrugged into his wool jacket, don’t think of the rough wool their servants wore. Regency men and women didn’t have to give up any elegance or frippery to enjoy the many benefits of wool.

It isn’t a surprise that they used a lot of wool given the abundance of sheep grazing the English countryside.

What is surprising is that something that starts out like this (Recently Shorn Wool):

Royal_Winter_Fair_Wool2 copy

 

Can turn into all of these different things:

Fine blend wool fabric

Wool YarnWool Embroidery Thread

And then be used to make all of this:

Wool carpet from 1640

Man's_tailcoat_1825-1830 copy Robe_a_la_Française_with_wool_embroidery_LACMA_M.90

Woolen Tailcoat, circa 1825        Linen Dress With Wool Embroidery

A Suitable Match Epilogue and Prize Package Winner!

Thank you for joining us as we celebrate our first year. We had a lot of fun writing A Suitable Match and we hope you enjoyed reading it.

The winner of our fabulous prize package is…

Anne Payne

Congratulations, Anne! We’ll be sending you an email to get your mailing address. We hope you enjoy all your goodies!

Did your favorite man lose the poll? Don’t despair. For those of you who loved Twiford and Ross, we wanted to let you know what happened to them. 

London, England
July 1818

Twiford smiled as he read the letter from his good friend, Chard. It was short, a mere four lines scrawled across the paper to say that Chard had caught up with Cressida at the George and Pelican and they were getting married.

It had nearly killed Chard to wait until after the deadline to pursue Cressida. After burying his uncle, he’d shown up on Twiford’s doorstep, begging his old friend to keep him away from his love until the money was no longer an issue. It had been no easy request. Twiford nearly had to lock Chard in a room to keep him here, but the renewal of their old friendship had been worth two days of playing jailer.

As he refolded the note, running his fingers along the edges to sharpen the creases, Twiford examined his heart for the pain he had though this news would bring.

Much to his relief, there was none. He was truly free of the specter that was his affection for Cressida Blackstone.

When had it faded? Three months ago, pleading his case in a rocking chaise on the road to London, he vowed his love was a bright, burning fire that had withstood three years absence and the devastation of a close friend. Could love that strong die so quickly? Or had he been in error that he loved her at all?

He tossed the letter on the desk and strode from the room. Before the letter arrived, he’d asked to have his curricle readied and brought round. It should be out front by now.

As he shrugged into his greatcoat and donned his hat, it occurred to him that the situation was not as cut and dried as he was trying to make it. His love had been very real, but over the last three months he had gotten to know Cressida – the real Cressida – and discovered that the woman he loved, or thought he loved, wasn’t real. She had changed as much as he had with the passing of years. Over time he’d built her up, given her characteristics and ideologies that weren’t truly a part of her.

The real Cressida was a fine woman and he was glad to consider her a friend. But he didn’t love her. Though he had felt crushed when she rejected him three months earlier, he now felt freed by her honesty and strength. He was glad to know her, but glad not to be bound to her.

The sun glinted off the trim on his curricle as the jangle of harness filled his ears. He settled into the seat with anticipation swirling in his belly. Part of him had wondered, worried, that he still held feelings for Cressida. When Chard’s letter brought nothing but happiness, Twiford knew his heart was free.

He snapped the reins to send his curricle rolling down the street. Now that he knew without a doubt his heart was entirely his own, he knew exactly who he wanted to give it away to.

An overturned flower wagon caused him to pull to a stop. The mess was nearly cleaned up, so he decided to wait. Casting his eyes heavenward, he marveled at how life at come together in a few short months. “Thank you, Lord, for having a better plan than my own.”

The flower seller bemoaned the loss of his merchandise, drawing Twiford’s attention to the last of the flowers strewn across the road. He could probably buy the entire wagonload for a mere pittance. They may be too bruised and broken to sell as bouquets, but they would be quite lovely carpeting the front steps of a London townhome. Calling to the seller, he decided to put his fledgling idea into motion.

There was a young lady a few streets over that loved flowers, sunshine, and curricle rides. As Twiford moved on, a now beaming flower seller following, he prayed the young lady also loved him.

 ***

Ross Ainsworth walked into the solicitor’s office, unsure of what the man would tell him. He wasn’t even sure what he wanted to hear. Had Cressy managed to get married? He’d been by Lady Dove’s house a few days ago and nearly tripped over all the gentlemen vying for her attention. Maybe she’d married one out of desperation. Or maybe she’d traded in on her friendship with Twiford and decided to marry him after all. She certainly hadn’t come knocking on his door.

He wouldn’t blame her either way. Ross knew what it was to be destitute. To wonder where the next meal would come from, if he’d be able to afford shelter for the next week, let alone the next month. Lack of money made people do much stupider things than marry someone they didn’t love. He ran a finger along his scar. Sometimes it made you ruin your life.

Whatever news the solicitor had, it wouldn’t affect Ross overmuch. He and Cressy were family. Marriage wouldn’t change that. The money would be nice, the property even nicer, but he was well enough off now to not be in dire need of either.

“Thank you for coming, Mr. Ainsworth. It appears that Miss Blackstone did not meet the requirements of the will. The jewels, property, and money now belong to you.”

Ross shook his head and smiled. Well done, Cressy. He’d prayed she would hold out for love. One thing Ross had learned when he abandoned family and country was that life without love was dismal. The road back and been long and hard, and he was no longer the carefree youth that had thumbed his nose at his grandmother’s concerns. He wished she had been able to see the man he had become.

Business at the solicitor wrapped up quickly and he left a richer man than he’d walked in. What was he going to do now? The truth was he could do anything. He had property and money. He could be a gentleman of leisure. Maybe toss his lot in with the other third tier bachelors in London and try to find himself a wife. With no title and a questionable past he wasn’t as desirable a catch as Twiford or Chard, but he had money and good looks. For some, that would be enough.

But the Season was winding down and the balls and routs held little appeal. He’d suffered the social scene for three months to be near Cressida in case she had a change of heart. He’d been hurt when she didn’t choose him, but God knew what was best. After visiting a few young ladies in Town, he knew that he would be finding his wife elsewhere.

The fact was he was tired of London. He returned to his rooms and began packing. There was somewhere for him to go now. A place he could call home. Being a country gentleman seemed a nice change of pace.

He made the trip in two days, hearing about Chard’s dramatic proposal to Cressida when he stopped to spend the night at The George and Pelican. Settling in was easier than he anticipated, the familiarity of childhood returning to make him feel at home.

Several neighboring gentlemen called to acquaint themselves with the new owner. Some he’d known as a child, but most were new to him. The quieter life away from London suited him immensely. He’d seen too much of the world to be satisfied with the glossy facade of the capitol, though nearby Bath wasn’t much better. The small area where he now lived, though, seemed real, honest. It was a place a man could raise a family to love the Lord and country.

He was walking down the street a few days after returning home, not really looking where he was going, thinking about what God might have in store for him now. His musings were cut short as he accidentally bumped into a group of women leaving the milliner’s shop.

“I beg your pardon!” Ross stooped to collect the fallen packages. When he stood again, he found himself looking into the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. They were framed by twin sets of golden ringlets and sprinkling of freckles. There was a seriousness in her eyes that was at odds with the impish smile on her lips.

For the first time in a long while, Ross wanted to buck the strictures of polite society. He wanted to meet this girl, find out how someone could be happy and sad at the same time. But they hadn’t been introduced, and he knew none of the other women in the party.

“Mother,” the girl called, while still looking Ross in the eye. “Are my new gloves damaged? I want to wear them to the dance at the Assembly Rooms tonight.”

Ross raised his eyebrows and fought to keep the grin from his lips.

The young woman’s lips twitched, as if she too were fighting to urge to grin. “Perhaps that young gentleman Father met will be there. A Mr. Ainsworth I believe he said.” She tilted her head in inquiry.

Ross nodded slightly and gave way to the smile he’d been holding back.

The young woman’s mother huffed over and linked arms with her daughter. “You would know more about your gloves than I do, considering the package is in your own hands.” She cast a dark glance a Ross, before shaking her head and giving him a small smile. “And I daresay your father, who went to visit that young man this morning, will be happy to introduce you should he show up at the Assembly Rooms just around the corner with the white brick front.”

Ross nodded at the mother. He watched them walk away before turning and making his own way home, a bit more spring in his step. Yes, indeed, he thought he would like living life in the country.

Thanks for joining us. Did you enjoy A Suitable Match? We’d love to hear your thoughts and invite you to stick around as we go back to our regular blog schedule with history, book highlights, and more fun discussions. Leave us a comment letting us know what you’d like to see this year on Regency Reflections. 

Curing the Cough and Soothing the Sniffles

Kristi here. If your home is anything like mine, there have been plenty of sniffs and snuffles passing through this winter. The headaches, congestion, and overall achiness can range everywhere from the annoyance of the common cold to the seriousness of pneumonia.

Today, we know the difference between the flu and a cold, bronchitis and a sinus infection,  and a tension migraine and a sinus headache. Or at least, our doctor knows the difference and can help us with the right concoction of pills and vitamins to get us through the discomfort.

The suffering Regency inhabitant was not so fortunate.

Treatment Page from Cookbook
Beginning of the treatment section of a cookbook

The scientific study of medicine was just coming into existence as the Regency rolled around. Knowledge of germs and nutrition and the importance of cleanliness were mere inklings of ideas in the heads of the most advanced medical minds of the time. And these men (for they were almost exclusively men) were often scoffed at for their new ideas and practices.

Because medicine was still working to organize and legitimize itself, healthcare fell on the shoulders of the people, or more specifically the women. Cookbooks of the day would contain recipes for home remedies that could be mixed or cooked to aid the ailing.Mothers would also pass down time-honored practices for various diseases, leaving people at the time with a mix of rudimentary science, folk remedy, and medieval traditions. Physicians were so rare and costly that one had to be very rich or near death to call upon one.

So how did they handle the fevers and the sniffles?

Woman sick in bed reading
Michael Ancher, via Wikimedia Commons

Without decongestants and pain relievers, they were forced to take to their beds for however long it took the body to overcome the bacteria or virus. Because many congestion related disorders were thought to be brought on by cold or damp conditions, sick rooms were often kept warm and dry, with little to no air circulation.

The old axiom “Feed a cold, starve a fever” was also prescribed to, with some ailing patients being restricted to diets of bread and water in the hopes of purging the bodies of the disease.

Some households would have knowledge of herbs and be able to ease the pain with concoctions of willow bark tea while others preferred to drink themselves into oblivion until the worst of the illness had passed.

Other interesting treatments of the time included inducing copious amounts of sweating, stuffing orange rinds up the nose, and colonic irrigation, or cleansing of the bowels.

The second half of the 1800s showed the beginnings of the cold remedies that resemble what we see today. While medicines involving heroin and chloroform have been eradicated, the Vicks Vapour Rub introduced in 1890 is still pretty much the same.

Want to learn more about the history of medicine in England? Check out the online museum from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. You can link directly to the paper on the common cold here.

Be sure to come back Wednesday, when Jillian Kent will be here at Regency Reflections sharing about her latest book, Mystery of the Heart, which incorporates the quickly changing field of medicine during the Regency time period. Stop by and enter to win a copy of her book.

Other sources used for this article include All Things Austen: An Encyclopedia of Austen’s World, The House-keeper’s Pocketbook, and Compleat Family CookLiveStrong.com, and DukeHealth.org.

Get to Know Our Own Laurie Alice Eakes (And win that gift basket!)

If you’ve been reading Regency Reflections for a while then you already know a lot about Laurie Alice Eakes. Today I’m chatting with Laurie Alice to learn a little bit more about what she thinks about Regency England and her new book, Flight of Fancy.

Be sure to check out the trivia question at the end of the post for another chance to win that amazing gift basket!

Laurie Alice EakesIf you were to travel back in time to Regency England, what do you think would be your favorite part?

Hmm. About a dozen flitted through my mind here, from hot chocolate brought to my bedroom before I got up in the morning, to gentlemen being gentlemen, which sounds sexist to our contemporary views, and still seems appealing.

What would you miss the most?

Cleanliness. No question about that. We gloss over it in our books, and, in truth, things weren’t terribly clean back then, not by our standards.

Ballooning is a large part of your new book, Flight of Fancy. Did you have the opportunity to go up in a balloon while you were researching it?

Unfortunately no, and I interviewed many people who have. It’s still something I intend to do.

What’s your favorite, unique Regency aspect of the novel, something you wouldn’t be able to include in a novel set in another place or time?

The Luddites are so uniquely Regency. They symbolize the stirrings of the consequences of mechanization and the burgeoning Industrial Revolution. The Luddite rebellion signifies how the world was beginning to change, one of the things about the Regency that endlessly holds my fascination. Although other riots occurred over other industrial innovations, the Luddite rebellion is unique, as men and women struggled against losing their way of life to a massive degree, to the extent soldiers had to be called in, and both rebels and soldiers died.

Flight Of FancyYou include a lot of historic events in your novels. Do you enjoy the research? How much time do you spend researching versus writing?

I’d say the time is equal. I knew little about ballooning or the Luddites before starting this book, so had to read a lot of books and original documents to get a true sense of both aspects.

Do you share any personality traits with your heroine in Flight of Fancy?

I’m not as nerdy—or as smart—as she is, and I can be a bit nerdy, esp. over history. And then there are the aspects of forgiveness, self-forgiveness that is, and inner healing with which she has to cope, that I related to sometimes so much it was painful to write.

What makes your hero different from other great gentlemen you’ve written before?

He has a few aspects that are different such as his closeness to his mother, and his own interests and skills with mechanical devices. I’ve also never written a story where the hero and heroine have had a long-standing relationship before the book begins, one that makes things worse between them than better.

What was your favorite aspect of writing Flight of Fancy?

Getting these two to grow up not only in maturity about relationships, but also in their relationship with the Lord. They were particularly aged walnuts with shells terribly difficult to crack, so I had to torture them both a great deal, break them so I could show them healing. Like a limb that was broken before and wrongly set, the Lord has to break some of us to get us to healing.

 

Now it’s your turn! Answer the following question in the comments for a chance to win a Flight of Fancy gift basket. See details here. And don’t forget to check out Monday’s post to learn more about balloons and two additional chances to win the basket.

Trivia Question #4:

In A Flight of Fancy, Cassandra Bainbridge is the oldest unmarried daughter of a baron. How should she be addressed?

A: Lady Cassandra
B: Lady Bainbridge
C: Miss Cassandra
D: Miss Bainbridge

 

This contest is now closed. Please see the final post for answers to the trivia questions. 

Deal Me In ~ Taking a Seat at a Regency Card Table

Kristi here.

No matter the job or social class, people have always found ways to entertain themselves and have fun. Some people have more time to pursue these endeavors than others, but everyone must find the time to enjoy themselves or suffer potential emotional burnout.

It was no different in 19th century England. One pastime that crossed all class and social lines was cards. Men and women, elite and servant, shopkeeper and soldier – all were known to deal in a hand from time to time.

Peasants playing cards on a barrel
Norbert van Bloemen , wikimedia commons

Most of the games involved an element of gambling, using poker chip-like markers to place and collect bets. These were called fish, though by this time they didn’t always look like fish. (You can see pictures and learn more about gaming fish here.)

Were you to sit down at a table with your favorite Regency heroine, the cards would be similar enough to modern decks that you would have little trouble figuring out what was in your hand. You would have to do a bit more counting though, as the corner indexes didn’t appear until later in the 19th century. During the Regency cards simply had the needed number of emblems, requiring frequent counting to ensure the card’s number.

Venetian deck of cards
Venetian playing cards (from Wikimedia commons).In the suit of Coins. English decks contained the four modern day suits.

You might even recognize one or two of the games being played at the Regency card table.

Vingt-et-un is still played in every casino around the country, though in America it is commonly referred to as Twenty-one or Blackjack.

Cribbage was well established by this time. Rules have shifted and adjusted over the years, but the game was largely the same, including the peg board.

Whist is a game found frequently in Regency-based novels. A precursor to today’s game of Bridge, Whist is played by two pairs of partners and was more of a gentleman’s game, though the ladies were known to play it as well.

Two well-heeled ladies play a game of cards
via Wikimedia Commons

Cards were such a ubiquitous enjoyment that parties and social gatherings were formed around the versatile game apparatus. When many people wished to play together, they played “round” games. These could, theoretically, be played by any number of people, so were excellent for parties and generally allowed for more camaraderie among the participants than the more serious and structured games, such as Whist.

Many of the “round” games seemed to derive from the French game Loo. Players had to pay into the pool in order to participate. Everyone would then be dealt a hand of cards (either three or five cards each, depending on the version.) Each person that won a trick would get a proportionate share of the pool.

Cards during the early 19th century did not yet bear the intricate patterned backs we are used to today, instead they were plain white, lending themselves to card marking and cheating, even inadvertently, with slight smudges and markings.

The wealthy would provide packs of brand new, government sealed playing cards when they had guests over. The less affluent made do with the cleanest deck they had available.

While today’s card backs bear everything from red and blue swirls to pictures of sports teams or even our own families, one thing remains the same. Even the barest of game cabinets is likely to contain a deck of cards.

So break open a pack and take yourself back to Regency England. Don’t worry if you don’t have anyone to play with. Deal out a regular game of solitaire and tell yourself you’re playing Patience.

 

Throw Together a Tradition

Kristi here.

Ask people to list traditional English meals, and you’re very likely to get Shepherd’s Pie in the list right next to Fish and Chips, Bangers and Mash, and Yorkshire pudding.

Slice of shepherd's pie and a tomato
Slice of Cottage Pie. Note the meat and vegetables on the bottom layer and the potatoes on the top.

Shepherd’s Pie is really a particular version of a Cottage Pie. Technically, a Shepherd’s Pie should contain lamb or mutton while a Cottage Pie can contain the meat from pretty much any animal, though it usually contains beef.

Simply put, Cottage Pies are a mix of meat and vegetables topped with a heap of mashed potatoes and baked. My family has a recipe for one and lots of people make particular plans to have Cottage Pies for dinner and go to the grocery store to buy the ingredients to make it.

What I find interesting about that, is that Cottage Pie was originally a thrown together meal used to eat up the leftovers and scraps.

Picture this: The family sits down to eat and the Mom starts dishing up dinner. She says, “Sorry about dinner tonight. I had to sort of throw together whatever I can find. I’ll plan better for tomorrow. I should be able to get to the market in the morning.”

(Yes, I know that is a very modern conversation, but you get the picture.)

Dad and kids tuck in and discover that this is better than the last three meals Mom made. In fact, it’s one of the best! Suddenly the concoction thrown together just so everyone could eat dinner and not be hungry is a family staple.

This happens in our house constantly.

Frequently dinner is a pantry clean-out. Grab a few cans, haul something out of the freezer, throw it together and you have some nourishment. It might be bizarre, but it’ll get the job done.

The other day I did this and ended up trying to remember what I’d done and what all I’d put in it because everyone in the family loved that meal. It is rare that all three of my kids clean their plate, let alone ask for seconds. We devoured this ultra simple meal.

The bonus was that it ended up tasting very similar to a dish my husband loved growing up as a child. His grandparents grew a very distinct type of bean on their farm and it was always served for the bulk of the Sunday afternoon meal.

Just like Cottage Pie, our thrown together meal is now a menu mainstay. It’s purposefully planned and ingredients are bought instead of it being leftovers and forgotten pantry lingerers.

We call it “That turkey and bean dish” right now. Eventually it will get a better name. Want to try it? I’ve included the recipe below.

Have you ever thrown together something at the last minute only to have it be a roaring success?

That Turkey and Bean Dish

Ingredients:

– 1 pound turkey sausage (the kind in the big links, either the horseshoe shape or the two long links.)
– 1 can french cut green beans
– 1 can whole kernel corn
– 1 can black beans
– Spices: Cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper
– butter or margarine

Directions:

– Slice the turkey sausage into bite size pieces. (For me that means half-circles about a half inch thick)
– Brown them in a frying pan
– Sprinkle them with cumin and onion powder

– Drain the green beans and corn
– Drain and rinse the black beans
– Put them in a pot with some butter
– heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally
– Season with cumin, salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder

– Once everything has had a chance to simmer and brown, dump the bean and corn mixture in the frying pan with the sausage.
– Cover and let simmer about 5 – 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
– Serve over garlic bread or mashed potatoes

If you give this a try, let me know how it turns out for you. My family loves it!

All photos from WikiCommons.

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Altar

Everyone screws up occasionally. The epicness of your less than perfect moment can often be tied to the significance and size of the event at which it occurs. Stepping on your hairbrush and wiping out in your bathroom can be excessively painful, but the embarrassment factor is rather low. Tumbling down the ramp at your high school graduation can haunt you for the rest of your life, leading the highlight reel at every class reunion.

Engraving of the wedding of Albert and Victoria
Photo via Wiki Commons

Kristi here and there is perhaps no grander stage to mess up on than a wedding. Emotions are high, stress abounds, and months (sometimes years) of careful planning is being set in motion. While everyone is praying for four perfect hours of ceremony and reception, that is rarely the case.

Check around on YouTube or watch a few episodes of America’s Funniest Videos and you’ll be able to start a list of common wedding maladies:

The Fainter

Fainting in the middle of the church, 1811
Photo via Wiki Commons

Sometimes it’s the groom, often it’s a groomsman. Every now and then it’s the bride. Funniest one I’ve ever seen? The priest.

If you go to a lot of weddings, you’ve probably seen a fainter. They start to blink and then sway just a bit and then next thing you know, their knees give way and everyone does their best impression of dominos. (By the way, if you’re in a wedding make sure you eat breakfast that morning and don’t lock your knees. That lessens your chances of becoming the fainter!)

You can see some great faints in this video. Most of them are from weddings.

The Wayward Kid

I have considerable experience with this one. I was one.

As the flower girl for my cousin’s wedding, I thought I was hot stuff. Unfortunately, I almost became really hot stuff when I became curious about what would happen if I stepped on the base of an enormous candelabra. No, I didn’t burn the church down, but I think I caused a moment or two of horror.

Flames from two candles
Photo via Wiki Commons

Kids  are adorable and make for some really cute pictures, but they are also unpredictable. You never know when they’ll decide to eat the flower petals or obtain a massive case of stage fright.

The Guests

Wedding at St GeorgesThere are many other opportunities to embarrass yourself at a wedding (and given the propensity of brides to hire photographers and videographers, these moments are captured for posterity). Even if you are only a guest, you aren’t immune to being caught up in the wedding disaster hall of fame. Dance floor escapades, bouquet toss brawls, and unplanned toasts are all fodder for the awkward situation generator.

Got a few guests who’ve indulged too much at the open bar? The chances of chagrin inducing capers increase exponentially.

My Altar Moment

Kristi and Husband at Wedding
Me and My Hubby, nine years ago

I have to say, though, that I’ve never heard of someone else having the same experience as I did. I’ve heard of flubbed up vows, tongue-tied grooms, and ministers forgetting their notes, but I think I’m fairly unique in my story.

Fortunately, it wasn’t me, although I nearly caught the giggles, which would have made the rest of the ceremony very difficult.

What happened? Well, the minister called my husband a woman. He said, “Do you, Kristi, take this woman…” I very nearly lost it. In his defense, the poor man was very nervous. As a dear friend of the family, he was worried about making a mistake in the middle of the wedding. And then he did.

His own daughter is getting married this weekend. I don’t think he’s officiating the ceremony.

What about you?

Have you been to a wedding where things didn’t quite go as planned? What hilarity ensued at your own wedding?

How to Have an American Duke

Ah, titles. They are one of the most fascinating things about the Regency period, I think. It’s no secret that people are enamored with the idea of royalty. (Have you seen the one year William and Kate Wedding Dollsanniversary dolls of William and Kate?) The fascination with titles and everything that comes with them is part of the draw of the Regency time period. Right before the industrial revolution and the rise of the middle class, the power and prestige that came from sheer luck of birth was still riding high at the beginning of the 19th century.

Kristi here, with a look at how all that power and prestige makes its way down the family tree. On the surface, inheritance is simple. But the intricacies can get very complex.

I read a completely made up statistic once that more fictional English dukes have been created than have ever actually existed. If you type “duke” into Barnes and Noble’s search bar you won’t find that hard to believe.

But, just for kicks, I’m going to make up another one to use in this example. Introducing the Duke of Handsomeshire (because, really, what good is a fictional duke if he doesn’t look good?)

The Creation of the Duke of Handsomeshire

Sometime back in history, the king thought someone deserved great honor and bestowed upon him the title of Duke of Handsomeshire. He was given some land and possibly some money and a whole bunch of other favors because the king liked him.

Now the First Duke of Handsomeshire  feels very responsible for this new title. He gets himself a wife and sets about having an heir and a spare or two. Or five or six because children died way too often back then. We’ll call his sons Adam, Benjamin, Charles, and Edward. (D was Deborah and she’s a girl, so sadly means nothing in this article.)

Fictional duke with four sons and a daughter.

The Progression of the Dukedom

Chatsworth House
Chatsworth House, seat of the Duke of Devonshire, via Wikimedia Commons

The title, property, money, and all of that other fun stuff pass down to son number one, Adam. He becomes the second Duke of Handsomeshire. All the other kids? Well, good luck to them. If Adam is feeling generous he might help the others, but really he doesn’t have to. All Adam has to do is manage the estate, find him a wife, and make lots of little heirs of his own.

This  continues down the line for several generations. As long as the Duke of Handsomeshire has sons, there’s little question of who inherits. However, years go by and the sixth Duke of Handsomeshire is blessed with lovely, talented, beautiful daughters. Who can’t inherit squat as far as the title is concerned.

By now the family tree of the original duke looks like this:

Fictional duke's family tree extending out six generations
Click the picture to see it in full detail

The Rerouting of the Direct Line

Once the sixth Duke of Handsomeshire dies, the powers that be start tracing the tree backward. Since women can’t inherit, they can immediately be ignored.

Hopefully the sixth duke had a younger brother. If that younger brother is dead, then hopefully the younger brother had little boys of his own. But, alas, it’s a generation of skirts, so up the tree we go.

If, as I have made the case here, there aren’t a whole lot of male progeny, they have to trace quite a good distance back to keep it in the direct male line of the original title holder. In this case we have to go all the way back to the 1st duke’s fourth son, Edward. Benjamin had lots of daughters and Charles sadly died without any offspring. You can make his death as tragic as you like. It really has no bearing on the inheritancy.

What you end up with is this:

Fictional duke's extended family, showing 7th and 8th dukes
Click to see the picture larger

The 8th duke isn’t going to inherit until his father dies, of course. He’s just labeled to show the continuation of the line.

The Ramifications of the New Line

Now over six generations, the family is going to spread out. With no tie to the title or the family money, descendents of younger sons have had to make their own way in life. It’s feasible that somewhere along the line these men moved. Possibly even out of the country. Not expecting to inherit, and indeed possibly not even knowing there was a duke back in  branches of the family tree, they’ve gone about their lives.

Suddenly a guy shows up with a complicated diagram and a whole lot of legal papers stating you’ve inherited something from your sixth cousin. And this is how you could end up with an American (or French or German) Duke of Handsomeshire that actually knows how to farm or run a business or some other such un-aristocratic skill.

The Case of No Male Descendants

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. When a peerage was made, there could be provisions set that allowed certain titles to descend through the female line. Probably the most famous exception was the Duke of Marlborough. His family looked like this:

The Family of the First Duke of Marlborough
By John Closterman (1660-1711) via. Wikimedia Commons

But neither of the lads in the picture survived, leaving him with only daughters. This meant that the brand new title had nowhere to go. So provision was made for the title to pass through the female line down to the next male heir.

Knowing this, it now makes a lot more sense why so many second and third cousins could be found hanging around and reminding everyone of their connection to the peerage. One never knew when one might inherit.

Learn More

If you’re looking for more information about the details of exceptions to this male-inheritance rule as well as pesky things such as entails and what happened to a title if there were no male sixth cousins hanging around, you can read this article from ChristianRegency.com.

Now just for fun, go trace your family tree and see how far you are away from a title. Unless you’re female.  Then you can see how many people would have to die for your brother or husband to inherit. Should only take you a couple dozen years or so.