Remembrance Day, Remembered

I originally posted this on November 10, 1914. I’m adapting it today, because….We need to remember!

Today is November 11, Veteran’s Day, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and the 101th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I. In the UK and the Commonwealth, November 11 is known as Remembrance Day.

888,246 Commonwealth lives were lost in World War I. 888,246. that’s a staggering number. Can you imagine? Everyone in the UK must have been personally affected by that war.

In 2014, the UK marked Remembrance Day in a truly remarkable way. At the Tower of London 888,246 ceramic poppies were planted, one for each life lost. The poppies could be purchased for 25 pounds each and will be sent to the donors in January.

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I visited the Tower of London in September 2014 and saw the poppies that had been planted in the moat so far.
You can see the individual poppies in this photo.

By November 11 the whole moat was filled. The poppies bled from a bastion window, arced above the Tower’s medieval causeway, flowed over the top of the walls and fill the moat with a sea of crimson.

The idea for this art project came from this poem:

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

The blood swept lands and seas of red,
Where angels dare to tread.
As God cried a tear of pain as the angels fell,
Again and again.
As the tears of mine fell to the ground
To sleep with the flowers of red
As any be dead
My children see and work through fields of my
Own with corn and wheat,
Blessed by love so far from pain of my resting
Fields so far from my love.
It be time to put my hand up and end this pain
Of living hell. to see the people around me
Fall someone angel as the mist falls around
And the rain so thick with black thunder I hear
Over the clouds, to sleep forever and kiss
The flower of my people gone before time
To sleep and cry no more
I put my hand up and see the land of red,
This is my time to go over,
I may not come back
So sleep, kiss the boys for me

Today in the UK, think of the 888,246 lives represented in the Tower’s moat in 2014. Think, as well, of the 116,516 American dead in WWI. Or the one and a half million American lives lost in war beginning with our Civil War. Think of all the soldiers who have died in wars.

And honor them.

Do you have a particular person to remember on Veteran’s Day? Mine is my father, Col. Daniel J. Gaston, who spent a whole career in the army.

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Fox Hunting in Regency England

“One knows so well the popular idea of health. The English country gentleman galloping after a fox — the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.”
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), A Woman of No Importance, act 1.

Fox_Hunting_-_Henry_Alken

I first wrote about fox hunting in 2014, but the air has finally turned brisk here in Virginia and autumn leaves are finally turning. November would have been the start of the fox hunting season in Regency England. Pursuing the “uneatable” was a popular sport among Regency gentlemen and the fox hunting season would have lasted until right before spring planting. Fox hunting has a long history in Britain, dating back to the 16th century. It became especially popular after the decrease in the deer population made hunting deer more difficult.

Hunting foxes was once considered a form of vermin control. Foxes were notorious for attacking small livestock, but by Regency times, the main purpose of the hunt was the sheer sport of it. Hounds were bred specifically for fox hunting. Gentlemen kept up to 12 hunters, horses bred for the hunt, so they could hunt six days in a row, using two horses per hunt. During the Napoleonic Wars, the Duke of Wellington kept eight horses and hunted frequently while on the Peninsula.

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Hunting was the sport of wealthy gentlemen partly because those gentlemen had the wide expanse of land that the hunting required. Others could only hope to be invited to the hunt. Unauthorized hunting anywhere was considered poaching and could incur severe penalties.

Regency times were times of house parties during which gentlemen rode to the hounds and only a very few ladies did. Ladies were encouraged to ride out with the hunters or to watch the hunt from carriages.

Fox hunting was outlawed in Great Britain in 2005 but still exists in other countries including Australia and the USA.

I love the idea of galloping over the countryside on horseback, but to chase a fox and have it torn to bits, not at all. We have a fox that lives in the woods behind us of whom I am rather fond. I understand the appeal hunting game animals, although I couldn’t do it. Could you? Do you hunt? Have you ever been fox hunting?

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Haunted London

If you do a Google search on “ghost sites london”, guess how many hits you can get? About 31.4 MILLION!! Needless to say, I am not going to claim that I went through all of those in putting together this post.  But I am aware that London is considered one of the most haunted places on the planet, and as it is such a central location in our Regency world, I thought a quick visit on the blog might be appropriate for the day after Halloween in the U.S., or “All Saints” in the Christian Church.

The Spaniards Inn, with the old turnpike toll house across the road from it

PUBS: Old pubs are everywhere in the British Isles, but not all are haunted. Probably the best-known London-area “haunted pub” that pre-dates the Regency is Hampstead’s The Spaniards Inn (built c. 1585), where highwayman Dick Turpin (1705-1739) is said to hang out –pun intended –(and his horse, too). His father at one time owned it, and Dick may have been born there. One of the area’s oldest pubs, the place is so iconic it was immortalized in literature by Dickens and in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Two other ghosts are said to haunt here, one a former landlord murdered by his brother, and the other one of those seemingly ubiquitous “Ladies in White.” But I have a question: Dick Turpin is also supposed to haunt Loughton Camp in Epping Forest. Can a ghost be two places at once?

The Grenadier, Belgravia

The “soldier ghost” and the story of The Grenadier Pub, tucked away down a mews in Belgravia/Knightsbridge supposedly date from Regency times. In 1720 the place was an officers’ mess for the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards in the courtyard of their barracks, but it opened as a pub named The Guardsman in 1818. Later it was renamed more specifically to honor the Grenadier Guards’ actions in the Battle of Waterloo. The ghost is assumed to be “Cedric,” a young subaltern caught cheating at cards and beaten to death for it. Modern visitors to the pub put currency on the ceiling to help pay off his debt.

Highgate’s haunted pub, The Flask, claims to have two ghosts, one a Spanish barmaid who hung herself in the cellar when the publican broke her heart, and the other an unidentified Cavalier who apparently won’t give up hanging out at the bar. But this pub is also supposed to be the site of one of the first-ever autopsies, performed illegally in the back room on a body stolen from the nearby cemetery.

The Ten Bells Pub

The Ten Bells Pub in Spitalfields is said to be haunted, either by two victims of Jack the Ripper who were last seen there before they were killed in 1888, or perhaps also by the Ripper himself who may have imbibed there while scouting for victims. Since his identity to this day is still unconfirmed, who can say? But the pub dates to at least 1755, when it was known as the “Eight Bells” –named for the peal of Christ Church which was next door. The name was changed between 1788-1794 when the church got a new set with –you guessed it –ten bells. The pub relocated in 1851 to its present nearby location due to the construction of Commercial Street and is still noted for its Victorian flair.

The Old Queen’s Head in Islington is yet another haunted pub, one Time Out: London calls “flamboyantly historical”. This one claims an unidentified woman ghost and also a very active little girl ghost who weeps, runs around in the pub and on the stairs, and slams doors. Sounds very naughty to me! But no one seems to know who they are or why they would be haunting the pub. Too crowded at the other haunted pubs?

THEATRE ROYAL DRURY LANE. Now here’s a bright spot that harks back to Regency days –well, actually, much farther back, to 1663 when the first theatre was built here. There are supposed to be several ghosts, and seeing one is supposed to be good luck for actors working here. The most famous is “The Man in Grey”, supposed to be an “18th century murder victim” by his distinctly Georgian clothing, including powdered wig, tricorn hat, cape and sword. Is he the victim whose skeleton was found inside a bricked-up passage in 1848? I do wonder how he could be when the theater was demolished in 1791, rebuilt in 1794, burned down in 1809 and rebuilt again to open in 1812. Numerous refurbishings followed. Maybe the 1848 discovery was someone else –a Regency victim? If so I’d say he had reason to haunt the place.

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, reopened in 1812

Joseph Grimaldi, the so-called King of Clowns (1778-1837), is said to haunt here, although why he should I’ve only a slight idea. Much of his long career was spent at Sadler Wells and other Regency theaters. He had struggles & tragedies in his life, including the suicide of his son J.S. Grimaldi, also an actor during the Regency. But some say ghosts haunt places of either greatest happiness or sorrow. Grimaldi’s star-power was burning brightly when he performed here. Another ghost some sources mention is actor Charles Maklin, who killed a fellow actor here in an argument over a wig in 1735. Talk about artistic temperament! But wouldn’t you think the man he killed there (Thomas Hallam) would be more likely to haunt the place? I wonder if he could be the Man in Grey!!

HAUNTED HOMES: Sutton House & Breaker’s Yard. This Tudor brick house (1535) belonging to the National Trust (in Hackney, far enough east of the city to have survived), is said to be haunted by “The White Lady” (how many of those there are!!) –a woman who died there in 1574 giving birth to twins. But this site has been called “the most haunted in London” (maybe because it’s so old?) and howling hounds and another woman dressed in blue are also said to have made themselves known here.

Catherine Howard

Hampton Court Palace boasts a “haunted gallery” where Catherine Howard (beheaded by Henry VIII) is reputed to reenact her departure, screaming, but since she died at the Tower of London…do you think she just got tired of being where so many other ghosts were crowding in? One story says Catherine was dragged from that gallery to go to her death at the prison. Maybe she opted for the Palace rather than share space with Anne Boleyn, another of Henry’s ex-wives reputed to be a Tower ghost. However, another of Henry’s ill-fated wives is also a ghost at Hampton Court: Jane Seymour, who is said to haunt the Clock Court and the stairs to the Silver Stick Gallery. There’s also a “Lady in Grey” who has worked her spinning wheel in one of the upper palace rooms ever since the palace church was torn down.

THE TOWER OF LONDON. With six centuries of tragic and deadly history behind it, little wonder that the Tower is reputed to have numerous ghosts. Among the long list are: Anne Boleyn (as mentioned), and also Guy Fawkes, Lady Jane Grey, the two little princes, and Henry VI. The Tower has its own “Lady in White.” Another ghost is said to be Thomas à Becket, but really, I’m pretty sure there are too many possible candidates here to count.

CEMETERIES: Ghosts might be expected in a cemetery anyway, but Highgate is a huge cemetery in north London, constructed at the beginning of the Victorian era and highly fashionable in its time. The vast expense of upkeep on such a large tract led to it being abandoned in the 1960’s and then of course it became creepily overgrown and in disrepair, used for movie settings and known for hauntings. Were angry ghosts protesting? And who invited the rumored vampires? Among the notables interred here are Karl Marx and George Eliot. Since 1981 a Friends Trust has taken on the responsibility for the upkeep, and some burials still take place here. Pop musician George Michael and author Douglas Adams are buried here, for instance, but apparently aren’t haunting the place.

Brompton Cemetery and Kensal Green are other Victorian-era London cemeteries where haunts are supposed to occur. Also creepy is the West Norwood Catacombs, a Victorian underground repository full of the shelved coffins of people who did not want to be interred in swampy cemeteries with victims of the cholera epidemic. No specific reports of ghosts there, though, so apparently they were satisfied with their final resting place!

Do you believe in ghosts? Ever had a spooky experience, in London or anywhere else? London has innumerable “ghost tours” that I’m sure take in far more sites than the handful I’ve touched upon in this post. Would you go on one of those? Happy Halloween (slightly belated)!

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Regency Weddings, The Next Generation

October will be a busy month for me and my family. My daughter is getting married! So naturally, all I’ve been thinking about lately are weddings. You might think I would convince my daughter to have a Regency wedding, but – alas! – she’s always had a mind of her own. It’s too bad. A Regency wedding would have been lovely!

The Regency was a time of great drama and beauty, a time when lords and ladies were expected to marry well, but also a time when the concept of marrying for love had taken hold. From Jane Austen to Georgette Heyer to today’s Regency Romance authors, that concept of marriage for love is what we celebrate. At least my daughter’s wedding will be all about celebrating love!

Now, I was married a brazillion years ago, long before I started writing or reading Regency Romance, but after I started writing Regencies I realized I had actually had a Regency Wedding!

Here I am with my bridesmaids. Notice that our dresses are all empire-waisted. Notice the leg-o-mutton sleeves on my dress and the puffed sleeves on the bridesmaids dresses.

Now compare these dresses to two Regency Fashion Prints from the fashion magazines of 1815.

See the similarities?

I had a Regency Wedding!

Many Regency lords and ladies married in St. George’s, the church on Hanover Square in Mayfair, London.

My daughter didn’t want a church wedding, though. She wanted to be married outside in a garden. Too bad, because she might have been able to be married at the Prince Regent’s summer home, the Brighton Pavilion in Brighton Hove.

In a room like this:

Much too fussy for her, though.

But she did want a bit more fuss than those Regency couples who married in a hurry, eloping to Gretna Green, just over the border in Scotland. Here I am standing at the historic anvil. Regency couples were married “over the anvil” in Gretna Green.
No, this isn’t another wedding photo. It is me with the tour guide at Gretna Green when I visited in 2005. I’m holding a copy of The Wagering Widow which began with a Gretna Green wedding.

Here are some quick facts about Regency Weddings:

  1. Regency brides did wear white, but they didn’t have to. In the Regency, white gowns were popular for many occasions. Other colors like pale pink and blue were also worn at weddings. The older the bride, the darker the color. Wedding dresses were worn after the wedding, too. By the time Queen Victoria became a bride and wore white, the white wedding dress was well on its way to becoming a tradition.
  2. Weddings could take place after reading of the Banns, a license, or a special license. Banns must be read for three consecutive Sundays in the parishes of both the prospective bride and groom. A license, purchased from the bishop of the diocese, did away with the banns but the couple still had to be married in the parish church. A special license, purchased from the Archbishop of Canterbury, allowed the couple to be married in a location other than a church and without banns. Licenses were never blank; different names could not be substituted.
  3. Scottish weddings went by different rules. In Scotland couples could be married by declaring themselves married in front of witnesses, by making a promise to marry followed by intercourse, or by living together and calling themselves married.
  4. Weddings could not be performed by proxy. Both the bride and groom had to be present.
  5. Ship captains could not perform marriages. Couples could be married aboard ship, but only by clergy. (How many times have you read that plot?)
  6. Brides had wedding rings; grooms did not. The bride could give the groom a ring as a wedding gift, but it was not part of the ceremony and didn’t symbolize he was married.

Lastly, here is a photo of my husband and me on our wedding day. Aren’t we cute?

I actually am very pleased at the choices my daughter has made and I cannot wait to share the happy day with her!

Has anyone attended a Regency-themed wedding? What was the last wedding you attended like?

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Ruminations and an award

I hope you’ll cross your fingers for me if you read this post by Saturday evening. My exciting news is that LORD OF MISRULE, my new release from last December, is a finalist for a prestigious 2019 Maggie Award as Best Historical Romance! And Saturday night is when the winners are going to be announced.

I was flabbergasted when I made the finals, but it is so thrilling that my first new book after a 16-year pause in my career has been so well-received. The other thing that makes this honor especially exciting to me is that I write “sweet”, and not only was this book competing with Historical Romances of all sorts of time periods, but it was also up against much hotter reads, which tend to be more popular.

I had the fun exercise of drafting what I’m calling my “fantasy thank you speech” which a friend at the Moonlight and Magnolias Conference in Georgia this weekend will deliver for me in the (rather unlikely) event that my book wins. But in that speech I mentioned that, ” Even though we are all writing about the emotional journeys our characters must take to arrive at deep and lasting love, omitting the explicit sex can make it harder to show the dance of attraction and doubt they go through.”

Thinking about “sweet” versus “hot” has made me think about all the kinds of risks we authors take as we try to do service to our characters’ stories. I tend to write unusual plots, and try to bring something fresh and different to each Regency story I write. Not all readers want that, of course! So it’s often a risk –and that tendency may be how I ended up here in the Risky Regencies sisterhood. Maybe over the coming months, each of us blogging here can talk about what she thinks is “risky” about the writing she does. I admit that I’ve been in a very “ruminative” mood lately, taking stock of where I am and where I’m going now that I am writing again.

What am I working on? Readers wanted more stories from Little Macclow, the Derbyshire village setting of LOM. I hadn’t planned on a series, but it turns out there is enough material there to mine. My current work-in-progress is a prequel to LOM, which I hope to release before or at least by December! It’s the story of Tom & Sally Hepston, who are already married when you meet them in LOM. Is it risky to write a series that wasn’t planned in advance? I guess we’ll find out!!

Do you read both sweet and hot romances? Do you like offbeat stories? What kind of risks do you see authors take, and which ones do you enjoy, or not enjoy?


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New Book! The Lord’s Highland Temptation

I have a new book!

The Lord’s Highland Temptation is available now as an ebook and mass market paperback.

Last year around this time I was in Scotland on Number One London Tour’s Scottish Writers Retreat. What a lovely experience! I simply had to put what I saw and experienced in a book. The Lord’s Highland Temptation is that book.

This book was also inspired by an idea I’d held onto for a while. Did you ever see the old movie My Man Godfrey? The original 1936 version starred William Powell and Carole Lombard. It was remade in 1957 with David Niven and June Allyson. A socialite passes off a vagrant as a gentleman and he becomes the family butler, with everyone in the family singing his praises–except the oldest daughter, who did not trust the man at all. In the end it is discovered the butler is a wealthy man and he and the younger daughter, who has idolized him the whole time, fall in love.

The movie bugs me every time I’ve watched it, because the screenwriters picked the wrong heroine! The tension was between the older sister and the butler. She was the one who should have wound up with him!

So I decided to rewrite that story and set it in Scotland in 1816. My Man Godfrey is a screwball comedy and my book is the sort of emotional story I always write, but I fixed that heroine problem!

This book has been getting some very nice reviews. It even received a starred review from John Charles in Booklist: “RITA Award-winning Gaston gracefully tips her literary cap to the classic film My Man Godfrey in her latest thoughtfully nuanced, sweetly romantic Regency historical. While she deftly explores such serious themes as family duty and survivor guilt, Gaston also celebrates the importance of kindness and compassion in our lives.”

Thank you, John Charles!

See more at my website.

Have you ever thought a movie or TV show picked the wrong hero or heroine?

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Books Every Georgian/Regency Author Should Read

I recently found out that the blog I’d posted this on (Popular Romance Project) has been wiped from the internet, causing a dead link on my website. So I’m reposting it here to preserve it.

One of the topics that comes up a lot among historical writers is what research books are essential. If you ask your top ten favorite authors, you’d probably end up with a pretty impressive research library (and I’d LOVE to see other authors tell us about their Must Have Books in the comments). Here are mine. I think these books are must reads for anyone wanting to create an authentic Georgian/Regency world, and I’m going to talk a little bit about why.

The Rise of the Egalitarian Family: Aristocratic Kinship and Domestic Relations in Eighteenth-Century England by Randolph Trumbach (1978; ISBN 0127012508; OOP, used ~$40).

When writing a love story, you need to understand the mores of the times. One of the many, many useful things that Trumbach does in this book is discuss the evolution of the love match as a social ideal in the Georgian period. It’s all bound up with the Enlightenment and the Hardwicke Marriage Act and the slow descent of the nobility’s dependence on land for their fortunes. By the Regency period, Trumbach maintains that the love match had ousted the arranged marriage entirely and was well on its way to trumping matches based on social advantage and monetary considerations. So if you want to have that tension between generations, this book is a great resource for understanding where everyone might be coming from in their viewpoint of what would be ideal.

This book is also the main source for basic information that we use in every book, such as the time periods for mourning, marriage settlements, consanguinity. And it features tons of information about basic domestic issues such as the role of wives in the family and the raising of children. Really, it’s just an all-round great book for getting a solid understanding of what was going on inside people’s everyday lives.

The Regency Companion by Sharon Laudermilk and Teresa Hamlin (1989; ISBN 0824022491; OOP, used ~$200, use interlibrary loan).

This is just an all-round brilliant book. It contains a wealth of information about everything from the Season and courtship among the ton to basics about how people lived such as the clubs men frequented, the theatres, roles of servants, etc. I just don’t know any other book that provides the information this one contains. It’s essentially foundational.

20,000 Years of Fashion by Francois Boucher (1973; ISBN 0810900564: OOP, used ~$12).

I simply don’t know a better survey book for fashion. While I’m obsessed with clothing, I don’t think everyone else needs to be, nor do I think it’s a wise place to spend your time considering, “With a small bit of effort, he undid her gown and it fell to the floor” suffices to get you where you need to be. But I do think every writer needs to know enough not to make any glaring errors, and Boucher’s summaries and careful selection of images are perfect for providing that little bit of knowledge you need (and since it covers pretty much all of European history, you don’t need to buy a new book if you decide you’d rather write Victorian settings, or Medievals.

The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500-1800 by Lawrence Stone (1983; ISBN 0061319791: OOP, used ~$1).

Stone not only delves into the basic makeup of the English family (and he mostly talks about the upper class, “Barons and up” as he labels them), but he has great charts that provide vital information regarding the average ages at which people in this class married, how many times they were married, under what circumstances they were likely–and unlikely–to remarry, etc. This book provides a sort of grounding for the history of your characters’ families and a general understanding of how the most basic building block of society evolved and functioned. I would also suggest his Road To Divorce to anyone who wants to write about characters with broken marriages.

The British Aristocracy by Mark Bence-Jones (1979; ISBN 0094617805; OOP, used ~$10).

I love this book! It’s extremely insightful about how the aristocracy think of themselves, what matters to them, and what the origins of those feelings are. Bence-Jones is an insider who lays it all out for us. I found the section on “The Concept of the Gentleman” extremely enlightening and also highly recommend it for the chapter on “The Aristocratic Character.”

The Art of cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (1774; free on Google Books)

Though you might throw food in with the unimportant minutia, I think that’s a mistake. The devil of historic world building really is in the details, and nothing throws a well-informed reader like potatoes in a Medieval setting or iced tea in a Regency (or indeed in any book set in England, including a contemporary!). And this isn’t something you have to spend years studying to get a handle on. Glasse’s historic cookbook is free on Google Books and contains hundreds of period recipes. Plus, it adds depth to get little things like this right, and it’s fun to have you characters eat Maids of Honor rather than just lemon cheesecakes (and it’s good to know that period “cheesecake” is pretty much a modern cheese Danish too).

Peerage Law in England by Sir Francis Beaufort Palmer (1907; free on Google Books)

This is a basic guide to how peerages are inherited, disputed, and granted, with many examples laid out so you can really understand it. This knowledge is ESSENTIAL if you want to deal with tricky inheritances. Yes, it’s a very dry book, but you really can’t hope to just muddle your way though these issues. Basic questions that this book answers come up on my historical writers’ loop all the time (the most common one is usually about a peer losing his title if it’s proven that he’s illegitimate, which simply can’t happen; all challenges have to be made BEFORE the title is granted, during the review of the claim).

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Shall We Dance? Regency Dance Series-Part 4 –How They Learned

Given all the ways dance mattered, socially and personally, during the Regency, it’s obvious that acquiring the skills and training to dance well (along with the proper etiquette) was supremely important. Skills on the dance floor would not entirely make or break a young person’s future, but they certainly helped.

Young ladies and gentlemen of wealthy families would usually receive private tutoring from a professional Dance Master. These men would be hired by multiple families and would travel from house to house to teach the latest dances as well as proper steps, comportment, posture, and behavior.

I’m certain there was snobbery over just which dance master your household had hired! One who was French and had references from higher ranked families, or one who was well-known among the ton and had published extensively, would certainly be preferred over a relatively unknown candidate.

How their pupils felt about them probably varied not only by how well they taught, but also by their age, personality and personal appearance, and the ages of the young people they taught. I can imagine young ladies developing a crush on their dance instructor if he was a bit charming, but I also imagine the young girl you can see in the back of the Cruikshank cartoon below thinking very un-ladylike thoughts about hers while forced to stand in the “hip-turner” box (also known as turn-out boards, or the torture box).

It was more properly called a tourne hanche, which betrays its French origins. Its purpose was to train the feet to turn outward at a wide angle, a ballet-like position you can see the others in this scene all maintain. The small, easily portable violin played by the dancing master is not an exaggeration by the cartoonist –it is called a pochette, or “pocket violin.”

The less wealthy could take classes at a dance academy (in a large enough town), just as one might do today. Dance Masters strove for prominence through publishing as well as through the success of their competing establishments. Given a basic understanding of the main forms of dances, one could purchase the latest books, which usually included the instructions for performing each dance. Publications such as “Thompson’s 24 Country Dances for the Year 1802” came out every year with new dances. The selection would vary depending on who issued the publication. The most popular dances might be carried over from year-to-year for a very long time, while some new ones might be introduced to be danced to old familiar tunes.

The most prominent dance masters competed with each other, trying to out-do each other with their offerings and credentials. In the 1820’s, established master Thomas Wilson and relative newcomer George Chivers engaged in an infamous rivalry. A typical advertisement from The Morning Post (13th November, 1818) reads:

Waltzing, Ecossoises, Quadrilles, Spanish Dancing, Minuets, La Grand Polonaise, Gavottes, Country Dances, Swedish Dancing &c — Mr CHIVERS, late of the King’s Theatre Italian Opera House, gives PUBLIC or PRIVATE LESSONS and PRACTICE in the EVENING, from Eight till Ten, or Nine till Eleven, or any hour of the day, MONDAYS, WEDNESDAYS, and FRIDAYS. Mrs Chivers superintends the ladies in a separate apartment. Families attended. Professors taught any department, and the greatest secrecy observed. Cards had at Mr Chivers’ Academy and Assembly Rooms, No 7 Pickett-Place, Temple bar; where may be had A Companion to the French and English Dancing, also the Swedish Dances (which Mr C. has introduced into this country; its simplicity and elegance surpasses all others, and is well adapted to parties having a majority of either sex.) The Rooms may be had occasionally, which have accommodation for 200 persons.

Chivers’s establishment shared space with a Fencing Master, also a fairly typical arrangement, but one that pressed limitations on scheduling classes. I fancy a resemblance between Cruikshank’s dance master in many of his later cartoons and Chivers’s portrait from one of his own publications, although I’ve found no reference that this was intentional.

Trained older siblings could be pressed into duty to teach the younger family members when circumstances demanded economy. Dance would be among the subjects taught at finishing schools for young ladies and academies for young gentlemen. This lovely Hugh Thompson illustration is from a story (“Quality Street”) about sisters who start such a school.  

Nor should we discount the role of observation, as anyone attending an assembly or ball could watch others to study the figures (sets of steps) of any dance one didn’t know. English country dances dominated during the early Regency years. They are fairly easy, once you have learned a “vocabulary” of the various figures, which appear over and over again in different combinations for each dance. So learning the order in which they are done for a particular dance would not be too hard.

Becoming proficient at the steps, however, could be more problematic. Regency dancing is energetic, the steps precise. The “walking” steps that many modern country dancers use were not the thing at all in period.

Practicing in front of the mirror

Dance footwork in the Regency era, even for country dances, was closer to ballet. Jane Austen wrote of Fanny in Mansfield Park, “Sir Thomas, having seen her walk rather than dance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at her side, gave his orders for her sitting down entirely.” Posture, deportment, and above all, elegance, were required.

Do you wonder if you would forget how to do one of the dances at a ball? You would not be alone. Many dancers needed a way to “crib”! How about carrying a fan with the latest dances printed on it? Or a discrete set of cards with the instructions, strung on a ribbon around your wrist or tucked into your reticule? Here are pictures of some of these period “memory aides” for dancing (helpfully offered for sale by the dance masters)!


1799 fan “Nelson & Victory”, printed with dances and short notes on the figures of each.
1791 fan printed with dances AND music!

The dances on this fan are:
• Captain Mc Lean – Whim of the Moment – Duke of Clarences Fancy – Dreary Dun
• Paynes Jigg – Miss Dukes Fancy – The Fife Hunt – The Birth day – Dibdins Fancy – Garthland
• Sir Alexander Dons – Ballata Waltz – Jem of Aberdeen Waltz – The Harriot -The Highland Club


Example of printed instruction cards (1828?) in a leather case, from Candace Hern’s fabulous collection of Regency things. If you haven’t seen her website, I recommend a visit! https://candicehern.com/regencyworld/dance-instruction-cards/

A similar set of cards in The Harvard Library’s Ward Theater Collection, designed to be threaded on ribbon and worn around the wrist, printed with dance instructions for the quadrille, 1815. Selling sets of such cards were yet another way the enterprising dance masters tried to earn their bread.

Speaking of dance cards, what about those little ones with a pencil with which you could write in your partners names? Did they have those in the Regency era?

In this 1820’s image of Quadrille dancers, one of the “waiting” women (at left) is clearly looking at her dance card. Is it to see what other dances are planned and to whom she has promised them? (She’s with her current partner -how rude that would be!)

The term “dance card” in English with the latter meaning is dated 1892 by the Oxford English Dictionary –well past the Regency and even Victorian eras. It’s a beloved tradition with authors and I may have even had this wrong in some of my early books, but the answer is: NO. Prompt cards to tell the dances, yes, but not to write in the names of partners, not until much later in the 19th century. For one thing, tiny pencils were not yet being made! And pens required an inkwell. But here’s an example of one from the 1880’s, and a fun collection of such cards, dating 1913-1940’s, if you’re interested!!  http://gettysburg.cdmhost.com/…/collecti…/p16274coll9/search

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Dance history is one of my great loves! If you have questions, I will be happy to try to answer them in the comments. Parts 1-3 of this series, if you missed them, can be found posted in previous weeks during July.

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A Regency Trip to the Met

When I was in New York City for the Romance Writers of America annual conference, one of the highlights was a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a group of friends, fellow members of the Beau Monde and Regency writers all. We spent the whole day in the museum.

First priority was a special exhibit on The Art of London Firearms, featuring firearms collected by The Prince Regent, later George IV.

This 1789 portrait by Sir William Beechey opened the exhibit. And, according to the Met, the Prince Regent was an excellent shot and an avid collector of firearms.

Here is a set of the Prince’s dueling pistols and their description:

A nice surprise at this exhibit was this 1815 gentleman’s navy wool tailcoat.

Next we wound up in a musical instruments section of the museum and among other beautiful instruments, we saw this early Italian pianoforte (1740) by the inventor of the pianoforte, Bartolomeo Cristofori.

On to the painting exhibits, there were surprisingly few items of British art, but there were these two treasures:

Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds, ca 1825 by John Constable
Whalers, ca 1845
by Joseph Mallord William Turner

Turner is one of my favorite British artists, so that was a real treat.

After a lovely, relaxing lunch in the fine dining room of the museum, we went in search of the room from Lansdowne House in London that Victoria Hinshaw said was acquired by the Met and on display. What a treat, we thought, to be able to see something she’d just talked about in her presentation on London mansions for the Beau Monde conference the day before. We walked through room after room of mostly French stuff until finally asking one of the museum guards. Turns out it was removed for renovation! Here, though, is what we might have seen, courtesy of Laurie Benson, my fellow Harlequin Historical author.

That was it!!! After a visit to the gift shop we were off to dinner!

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Shall We Dance? Part 3 -The Waltz

Why does the WALTZ (or French “Valse”) fascinate us? I’m sure it’s partly because it was so scandalous during the Regency, and partly because we love the potential for romance when our heroes and heroines share the intimate dance. This is a long post!! Bear with me –I couldn’t choose what to leave out.

The waltz existed as a form of cotillion and of English country dances long before the scandalous single couple version of it was introduced to England during the Regency. It is those types of waltzing that Jane Austen references in her writings. Here are links to two examples of country dance waltzes, which utilize the familiar ¾ time rhythm:

The Northdown Waltz 1806 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xl5Cf2zTKWc

The Duke of Kent Waltz 1801: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vmUNDR8GE8

The waltz traces back to German peasant dances as old as the 16th century. Its history is similar to that of other dance types: what shocked the aristocracy and at first seemed beneath them eventually was adopted by them, because, well, why should only the peasants have fun? The turning, close-held waltz took hold in the higher regions of society by the 18th century in Bavaria and Vienna, and spread to France, where post-revolutionary society embraced it.

Why was the waltz so scandalous? The illustration at top, while exaggerated, gives you an idea, but this lovely video clip from the BBC explains most of it quite well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6r0dKkkk2jk Besides the intimacy and close hold was the simple fact that the dancers were turning for much of the time, which could lead to ladies becoming dizzy and quite shockingly out of control of themselves!

In 1804 a German visiting Paris wrote, “This love for the waltz and this adoption of the German dance is quite new and has become one of the vulgar fashions since the war…” [the French Revolution]. The “new” form of waltz trickled into England slowly, scandalizing most of English society when they first saw it. The German ex-pats who made up the soldiers of the King’s German Legion are credited with introducing the waltz to residents of Sussex in 1804, but it was slow to catch hold in England, where moral codes were strict (well, stricter).

Early caricature of French “Incroyables and Merveilleuses” waltzing

In 1814, neither the waltz nor the quadrille were yet permitted to be danced in Almack’s. Some theorists say attendees at the Congress of Vienna (Sept 1814) first saw the dance there and brought it back to England. But Princess Lieven, wife of the Russian ambassador assigned to England starting in 1812, had been in Berlin prior to that assignment, so it makes sense that she learned the dance while there. She was the first foreign-born patroness of the mighty Almack’s social club and is said to have introduced the waltz there in 1815.

Dance Master Thomas Wilson’s book “A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing” came out in 1816. His famous illustration of the “nine positions of the waltz” is below (you can see the numbers underneath each one if you look closely). By then, the dance had become prevalent enough to be ridiculed by the cartoonists of the day, and popular with the young who always want the “new” thing.

Thomas Wilson’s “Nine Positions” of the Waltz

The royal courts, generally foremost in setting fashions in many areas, consistently lagged in the area of dance. In July of 1816, the waltz was included in a ball given in London by the Prince Regent. A few days later an editorial in The Times complained: “We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last … it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females….”

The Regency form of waltz was closely related to other dances: the German Landler, and the French Allemande, and the other dances that drew on these forms. At her Capering and Kickery website (kickery.com) dance historian and teach Susan de Guardiola writes: “The early waltz looked quite different than the modern form. Dancers moved on their toes in a different pattern than what is seen in today’s competitive ballroom dancing, and adopted a wide range of “attitudes” of the arms…. Nor were waltzes choreographed, though Wilson suggested dancing different waltzes in sequence [slow followed by lively and back to slow again]. Entire ballrooms of dancers did not perform identical moves.” [Gail’s note: The name sometimes used for Regency waltz is the “pirouette waltz”.]

This video of five dances performed at the Royal Pavillion in Brighton is long, but at about 5:40 the dancers perform “The Allemande a Deux” (1780) which is a French modification of a German Landler. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17QPpXyCql4

If you compare it to the video of the single couple performing the Regency waltz (see next link), I think you will see some of the similarities, and you will also get a sense of how Regency waltzers did not all do the same figures at the same time. Regency Waltz/Valse 1826: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7B_Qsdnn5E (Video from the French National Historic Dance Championships –you have to love a country that holds such a thing!!)

If you are interested to know more, I found a fun video that compares the Regency style “pirouette” waltz to the later versions, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fq0QxdsoUzo

Do you think our modern version of the waltz has lost some of the “spice” of this earlier style? Or are you glad that our version is a lot easier to dance?

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