What To Give An Earl

At this time of year many of us are engaged in a holiday ritual–what gifts to buy that special man in our lives. I’m here to help. Of course, you must first transport yourself to Regency England to discover what you might purchase for that special Earl in your life.

You could go to Floris at 89 Jermyn Street in Mayfair and ask them to create a special scent for your man?

The Floris Shop was founded in 1730 by Juan Famenias Floris. England from his native island of Menorca to seek fortune. Shortly after his arrival in England from his native Menorca he secured premises in Jermyn Street, where the shop still uses the mahogany counter that was purchased directly from the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1851. Beau Brummel used to discuss scents with Floris. Mary Shelley sent an order to Floris to send her two brushes and a toothbrush during her time abroad when she wrote Frankenstein.

Perhaps your dear Earl is a studious sort of man. He might prefer a book from Hatchards, the oldest surviving bookshop in London. Hatchards, on Piccadilly since 1797, has served such famous historical figures as Wellington, Byron, Queen Charlotte.

What book would you buy him? Endymion: A Poetic Romance By John Keats, perhaps? Or something educational, like The History of England: From The Earliest Times To The Death of George II by Oliver Goldsmith.

Maybe you cannot give your dear Earl such a personal gift such as scent or a book of poetry. You can always fall back on the holiday standby. Food. He might delight in some tea or spices or preserves from Fortnum and Mason, right next door to Hatchards.

Fortnum and Mason have been selling quality foods since the 1700s, started by a footman to Queen Anne, who enterprisingly remelted and sold the candle stubs, supplementing his income.

I can hardly believe we have to start thinking of holiday gifts! I don’t know about you, but I wish I could be doing my Christmas shopping in London. I’d look in all three of these shops, which I never fail to do when in London, and then I’d visit the Buckingham Palace Gift Shop. Instead, I’ll probably settle for surfing Amazon.

Where in the world would you like to shop?

(a version of this blog originally appeared in 2010)


Posted in Food, Frivolity, Holidays, Places, Regency | 2 Comments

West Galleries –Singing in the Choir (Quire)

STC26400 Village choir (see also 12274) by Webster, Thomas (1800-86); Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK; The Stapleton Collection; English, out of copyright

One of my weekly joys is singing with my church choir. Our church is small, and so is our choir, often only six or eight people, just as I imagine a small rural parish church choir in Regency times might have been. But did you know that music in the country parish churches of Regency England was very different from what you find in churches today? I fell down this fascinating rabbit hole while doing research for my not-going–to-be finished-for-Christmas-after-all holiday story, The Lord of Misrule.

Since the heroine of LOM is a vicar’s daughter, I’ve done a lot of church-related research for that story, and am now familiar with the reforms that came with the Victorian era and the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church. Many of those Victorian era changes have lasted into our times, and they can be a roadblock when one tries to recreate an earlier time. In a country parish church of the Regency era, it would  be rare or unlikely for you to find an organ, or hymnals, or even a choir in exactly the same sense we hear today.

“West Gallery Music” evolved in response to the need for guided singing in local church services, where there were few organs, and no trained musicians or choirs to lead the music. During the Reformation of the 16th century, organs in churches were destroyed as part of the rejection of Catholicism. Under Cromwell, English churches continued to suffer abuse, and organs were not replaced. Organs did not become popular in churches again until the middle of the 19th century!

In country Anglican churches 1700-1850, and in non-conformist churches even later, to 1860, the joyful and vibrant traditions of the West Gallery music reigned. A relatively modern term, the name comes from the galleries where the choirs sat. During the Georgian era, population was expanding and in the villages, church attendance was a major part of life. Galleries were added to the interiors of the small churches to provide additional seating, or at least open seating not owned privately, as most pews were. These were sometimes built along the sides, but the west end was usually the province of the choir.

Essentially, these untrained choirs consisted of a band with instruments and singers, and while their music could sometimes feature complex harmonies, most of the time the pieces (psalms most commonly, but also anthems and even Christmas carols), were simple, for many in the choir could not read music –even if they could read words. Instruments included whatever strings, woodwinds, or brasses might be available among the village folks or that the church was able and willing to purchase. Each instrument might anchor a section of voices, the treble parts and bass parts, for instance. The bands that played Sunday mornings also were called into service for village festivals and assemblies or any other special occasions.

Women were not allowed to sing in standard Anglican church choirs. The practice of fulfilling the high range voices with boys and young men led to the formation of many “boy choirs” who sang in the cathedrals and large city churches. However, the painting of “A Village Choir” by Thomas Webster (shown at the top) dates from 1840 and definitely shows women participating. Is it because the choir depicted sings in a non-conformist (non-Anglican) church? Or because it is from a later date? (maybe both?) I have not been able to confirm if women would have been singing in a Regency choir, at least on a regular basis. One argument made against it was simply that it would be improper for young women to be isolated away from the rest of the congregation with all the choir men up in the gallery!! By the 1850’s the West Gallery music was starting to decline, falling into disfavor because it was not considered “solemn” enough, and the trend to restore churches back to their “original” state was beginning to gain traction. Galleries were torn down and removed. Much of the music was lost or destroyed. However, in the 1980’s, a revival of this musical form started in Britain, and has spread into the U.S. and Australia. Local “quires” have sprung up, devoted to performing this unique music. Britain’s West Gallery Association provides a sort of loose central organization and resources. If you’d like to learn more about these groups, and/or the music and history, here are some good website and article links:

http://www.wgma.org.uk/Articles/intro.htm   (West Gallery Association site with a good overview)




I am disappointed and also offer apologies that I won’t be able to offer The Lord of Misrule to my readers for Christmas!! It was rolling along quite well, but a double whammy of health issues for myself and for my husband has slowed me down too much to make it feasible. I will keep folks posted about when it will actually be finished and available!

In the meantime, had you run across the West Gallery music tradition? My heroine in LOM (along with her married friend) actually gets drafted to sing in the choir to substitute for a missing choir member, but normally women would not be allowed, in that village and that church. I always say that research is imperfect at best, and a writer can make anything happen as long as it seems logical and believable.

Best wishes to everyone for the holidays, and Happy New Year! (Sending these now since I won’t be blogging again until January –and we are anticipating making some changes here at Risky Regencies, so who knows?? Thank you for visiting us here and for reading.

Posted in History, Regency, Research, Risky Book Talk, Writing | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Jane Austen Movie Night

This weekend I hosted the “Dining for Dollars” Jane Austen Movie Night I’ve been talking about. About twenty people attended and I think all had a lovely time. My goal with the menu was to serve foods based on period recipes that would have a reasonable appeal to modern tastes, but also to make sure to honor the guests’ dietary needs and preferences, including some dishes that were vegetarian, some gluten free, and some nut free. Luckily, no one was vegan, because it’s hard to find recipes that don’t include some butter and/or eggs! I used a lot of recipes from The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye, also some I found online.

The dinner menu:
– Salamongondy (pictured: a salad of cold meats, vegetables, and fruit, based on a Hannah Glass recipe)
– White Fricasey (a chicken and mushroom stew, also a Hannah Glasse recipe)
– Roast Potatoes (adapted from Hannah Glasse, using gluten free crumbs)
– Vegetable Pie (adapted from the cookbook of Martha Lloyd)
– Swiss Soup Meagre (also from Martha Lloyd, also adapted to be gluten free)
– Bread, both regular and gluten free (I cheated and bought from a store that has a good bakery)

I served lemonade, burgundy, claret (Bordeaux), and hock (white German wine).

There was a lot to do to prepare, so several friends came early and took the role that would be taken by under-cooks, kitchen maids, and scullery maids, for which I am very grateful!

While the guests were arriving and getting their food, I played Jane’s Hand, a CD of music from Jane Austen’s songbooks. Here is one of my favorites, “I Have a Silent Sorrow Here”, written by none other than Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire and performed by Julianne Baird.

I offered guests a choice of films to watch, and they chose Persuasion, starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds, because most had not already seen it. They enjoyed the story and the romantic resolution. Here’s the famous “letter scene”.

Some of my guests were surprised that Persuasion is not as popular as Pride & Prejudice and said they were eager to read the book now.

The dessert menu:
– Hedgehogs (adapted from Hannah Glasse–a huge hit but without the calf’s foot jelly!)
– Rout Drop Cakes (little cookies flavored with rose water, sherry, brandy, and orange juice, dotted with currents, a Maria Rundell recipe)
– Chocolate Ice Cream (store bought, gluten free)

It was a lot of work, but so fun I may do it again sometime.

Have you ever done anything like this, or would you like to? Which movies are your favorites? Any foods or drinks you’ve tried to recreate, or want to?


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Black Tudors?

I saw a new book about black history on Twitter and had to pounce: Black Tudors, The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann. While this is earlier than what I write, I grew up as a historical re-enactor and a lot of my time and study has been devoted to fifteenth and sixteenth century history. I’m only halfway done with the book, but it’s proven well worth my time and money.

I don’t want to give a synopsis of the entire book, as that’s unfair to the author, so I’m going to concentrate on the first black Tudor featured in the book, John Blanke, the Trumpeter. John Blanke shown twice in the Westiminster Tournament Roll and is the only idenifiable portrait of an African in Tudor England.

Blanke is a fasinating figure. Musicians were known to move from court to court rather freely, and they were often used as messengers betweeen courts. It is likely that Blanke arrived in England in the retinue of Katherine of Aragon in 1501 (blacks, both free and enslaved, being more common in Spain, Portugal, and the Italian states). By 1507 he is listed as one of Henry VII’s trumpeters and is being paid the same wage as the others. He must have been a favorite, because when a more senior musician died, Blanke petioined the new king, Henry VIII to be raised in position and have his pay increased. Not only wa this request granted, but when Blanke married in 1512 the king bestowed upon him violet cloth for his wedding clothes (as a musician, Blanke was already entitled to ignore the sumptary laws and was known to dress in crimson).

This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.

One interesting tidbit I learned was the because trumpeters were used as messengers, they were supposed to have dipolmatic immunity, allowing them free passage through foreign and even enemy territory. This, coupled with their frequently moving from service of one king or noble to another, also gave rise to them being thought of as spies. Wouldn’t a Dunnett-like series about a spy/trumpeter moving through the courts of sixteenth century Eurpoe be amazing? Somebody who’s better at mystery plots than I am needs to write this for me!

Posted in History, Isobel Carr, Plot bunnies, Reading, Research | 1 Comment

That Bewitching Illustrated London News, or, Oooops, I Did It Again

snippet from the main title page of the volume 7 of the Illustrated London News, showing a view of London, with the Tower in the background
Dear Reader,

I did it again. I went on Abebooks and bought another volume of the Illustrated London News I discovered another poor, abandoned volume of a nineteenth-century newspaper, sitting in a corner, crying piteously, so of course, I had to adopt it. I mean, how could I leave it there, out in the cold, with nobody to cherish it?!?! And so I… um… adopted it. 🙂

In truth, it’s a volume I’ve been trying to hunt down for quite some time. The last time it became available at a decent price, I waited too long and somebody snatched it up before me. But this time, I got lucky. And now it’s ALL MINE!!!

As always, it’s an utter delight to leaf through the volume. There are so many things to discover! The ads alone are extremely intriguing. (At this point in time – 1845 – ads were still text based, rather than illustrated, because of the tax on ads. I talked about this in my last post here.)

Advertisement for Dietic Pale AleDietetic pale ale? Who would have thought this was a thing!

And remember when I talked about Victorian street food? Well, it would appear that the West India pineapples that were sold in London’s streets in 1845 weren’t such a big hit…

an illustration showing a street vendor with his cart, surrounded by customers, including a few childrenIn the illustration you can see the kind of handcart from which street vendors would sell their wares. This pineapple seller has a very simple cart; those who sold soup or coffee would have had much more sophisticated carts, with heaters to keep their wares warm.

From time to time, nineteenth-century periodicals would also include sheet music – the kind of song that would have been suitable for a young woman to perform at an evening entertainment in order to show off her singing voice and her skills on the piano. These songs were often quite sentimental like this example from the issue of 25 October 1845. It’s called “My Writing Desk” – which is the place where people would have kept letters they received from family and dear friends. And this is exactly what this song is about.

a few lines of music with an illustration of a man sitting at a desk, his head on his hand, while he contemplates old letters

The first stanza reads:

My writing desk is the home of my treasure,
My desk is the shrine of my care;
Oh! all I have loved beyond measure
Have left me some dear relics there,
Have left me some dear relics there.
The dry leaves of long perish’d flowers,
Whose perfume has lingered behind,
Have made them as sweet as the hours
Those dear relics bring to my mind.


This volume is the second bi-annual volume of 1845, meaning it will most likely include a Christmas special. I haven’t yet looked because I’m kind of keeping the December issues as a special pre-holiday treat.

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Papillote Curls

One of the great things about writing historical romance is that I always come across something new in my research. Often such finds are serendipitous and always they give me the chance to add some historical detail that I otherwise would not have included.

This time I discovered a papillote iron.

I knew that ladies in the Regency curled their hair and I knew they used some sort of curling iron, but I supposed that the curling iron was more like our modern ones. it turns out it was a much cooler process.

The papillote iron looks a little like coal tongs or iron scissors with flattened ends.

You’ve read of curling papers in Regency novels? It turns out they were used with a papillote iron. Curling papers were triangular shaped pieces of tissue paper used to shield the hair from the heat of the papillote.

First the papillote was heated with coals from the fireplace. Next a strand of strand of hair was selected and rubbed with pomade. The strand was then curled around a finger and wrapped in a triangle of tissue paper. The curl was heated by pressing it with the flat ends of the papillote iron. This process was repeated until all the strands of hair that need curling had gone through the process.

When the hair was completely cooled, the papers were pulled off and the result was the corkscrew curls so familiar to us who love the Regency era.

I could not find a good history on papillote curls except that the technique was used in the 1700s to curl wigs and help create the towering hairstyles of that era. The curls were brushed out, creating the volume. This portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire by Gainsborough (1785-87) is an example.

The name suggests French origin. This print from 1824 certainly supports that idea.

Here is a very detailed tutorial on a modern way to make papillote curls using tissue paper and a flat iron.

And another using an actual papillote iron from the time period

There are other ways to use paper to make curls. This technique is very similar to rag curls that my aunt taught me when I was a little girl, but these are with paper towels!

I have stick-straight hair and I’m so tempted to try one of these curling techniques. Maybe I’ll find out what it is like to have curls.

One last note. Papillote also refers to a cooking technique, in which the food is put into a folded pouch or parcel, often made of parchment paper, and then baked. But, since I am so-not-a-cook,  I also knew nothing about that papillote.

Have you ever tried to create Regency-style curls? How did you do it?

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Those Holiday Romances

 Do you read holiday romances? I do. I read them, and re-read them when the season comes around, and keep adding them to my collection. Addicted much? I admit it. But I have questions for you.

1) Since these stories often center around Christmas activities, do you read them even if you are not of the Christian faith?

2) Does the historical context of the period make the “religious” parts of these stories, if there is some, acceptable if you don’t like “inspirational” romances?

3) Do you read them at any other time of year??

You may wonder why I am asking all these questions! I have been working on my first “holiday romance” –a Regency set in the countryside over the 12 days of Christmastide, starting on Christmas Eve day and ending on Twelfth Night. But my major medical issues and those of my husband are interfering with my ability to get it done when I had hoped, and I am considering releasing it AFTER Christmas. So here’s my biggest question:

would you buy a holiday romance after the holidays?

Book sales usually decline during December, when folks are too busy, and they tend to pick up afterwards –I guess people have time to read again once they get through the press of getting ready and celebrating!! But I would love to know if you think it would be lame to release a holiday story after Christmas, say for Twelfth Night (January 6) instead?

LOL, that’s if I can even make that deadline. But I’m considering it. My poor characters really want their story to get out there, and not have to wait until next year!! I would love to know what you think.

THE LORD OF MISRULE: On a snowy Christmas Eve day, a vicar’s daughter runs into the Devil himself, or is he just the Lord of Misrule? In a season of miracles and magic, can love bind two unlikely hearts in the days leading to Twelfth Night?


Posted in Holidays, Reading, Regency, Risky Book Talk, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Dieting in the Georgian Era

“A Voluptuary Under The Horrors of Digestion”: 1792 caricature by James Gillray

Today I’m going to defend a fellow author’s honor. I don’t actually know who the author is, but she could be any one of us because we’ve all been on the receiving end of an incorrect historical “fact check”. A couple days ago there was a tweet going around ripping a historical author a new one for daring to have a heroine who was concerned about being overweight. This character dared to diet. Dieting (and concerns about being fat), per the tweeter, were anachronistic and she simply had to toss the book aside.


Byron, he of the long poems and wild affairs, had a well-documented fear of growing fat. It was so severe that I’ve seen modern biographers refer to it as a neurosis. As far back as his days at Cambridge he was notorious for subsisting on “soda water and biscuits” (sometimes “vinegar and potatoes”). He was known as an adult to live off a slice of toast and tea for breakfast, and nothing but vegetables and seltzer mixed with wine for dinner. He also smoked cigars to stave off hunger pangs. He complained about how much food his wife ate, famously saying that women should never be seen eating anything but lobster salad and champagne.

And Byron wasn’t alone. As far back as 1724 English doctors were recommending meatless diets, exercise, and avoiding luxury foods in order to lose weight and improve health (George Cheyne, An Essay of Health and Long Life). You can find powders recommended to reduce too corpulent bodies (Medicina Britannica, 1747), and frank statements that “Nay sir whatever may be the quantities that a man eats, it is plain that if he is too fat, he has eaten more than he should have done.” (The Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791).
There is even a long and very modern sounding treatise of advice in Sure Methods of Improving Health, and Prolonging Life (1827) which recommends moderation in habits and diet and exercise to lose weight.

Advice and opinions about weight and diet also appeared in Ladies’ Magazines such as Manuel des dames, which has VERY strong condemnations of women who have “excess embonpoint” (see quote below, which is vicious) and says they should “Take long walks, stay up late, eat little, talk, move about, and study a great deal…Abstain from meat, bread, starchy vegetables, broth, and milk.” It also says the most common causes of corpulence are “indolence and luxurious living”, and that “activity of body and mind” are necessary to counter it (as well as the omission of one meal a day).

It an excessively meager figure is hideous, an enormously fat one is disgusting. It is nothing more than a heavy, shapeless mass, whose every movement is awkward, ludicrous, and often painful. Something of the coarse and crude is written all over these massive forms. The soul seems crushed, the eyes are dwarfed, the features are enveloped, and the foetid odour of profuse sweat ends by arousing disgust.”

Not to mention the plethora of period caricatures we have making fun of the Prince Regent’s weight and his penchant for older, fat women. So there you have it: The Georigans stigmatized fat people just like we do today, and no, dieting wasn’t invented in the 1860s. So Regency Author, whoever you are, you have every bit as much right to write about these issues as any contemp author and there’s nothing anachronistic about it.

Posted in History, Isobel Carr, Rant, Regency, Research | 11 Comments

Two Regency Recipes

Last time, I blogged about an event I’m organizing for my UU church’s “Dining for Dollars” fundraiser–a Jane Austen movie night with period refreshments.

Since then, I’ve made progress on a menu.  It’s a fair-sized crowd (about 20 people) with a variety of dietary needs and preferences. I’m looking mostly for recipes that can be at least partially prepared ahead of time at home, then reheated or finished as necessary at the church hall; otherwise I’ll need to hire some servants to help me!

The dietary issues are something I doubt a Regency hostess would have had to worry about, but I do want to make sure everyone has at least a few items they can eat. There will be both meat and vegetarian items. I’ve also figured out a few dishes that are gluten free and nut free. No one has asked for vegan. Perusing Georgian and Regency recipes, I’m finding that many include eggs and/or butter. I would have been willing to tinker with them if necessary, although I’m not sure how accurate the results would be (not that I’m being a real purist here).

Here are a few recipes I’ve tried out so far.

The first is a “White Fricasey” of chicken and mushrooms (above). I used a recipe for Uppercross Cottage Chicken Fricassee from the Jane Austen Centre website, adapted from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (first published in 1747). With roasted potatoes and glazed carrots, it made a very nice meal. It should be easy to double and reheated well, so this should work as the main meat entree.

The other recipe I just tried out is “Rout Drop Cakes” from The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye. The recipe is adapted from one in A New System of Domestic Cookery, by Maria Rundell, 1806. These cookies are made with currants and flavored with orange juice, rose water, sherry, and brandy. I could see why they might be good for parties as they are small and not too crumbly. Good finger food, and I love the hint of rose-scent!

Some other recipes I may try out soon are a “Vegetable Pie” for the vegetarian entree, a “Swiss Soup Meagre” from the cookbook of Martha LLoyd (with whom Jane Austen lived in the later part of her life), and a hedgehog cake which I hope will turn out as cute as the examples I’ve seen online.

Do you enjoy trying out period recipes? Any notable successes or amusing failures?


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Advertisements in Newspapers & Magazines

Punch wrapperWhen you look at surviving copies of 19th-century periodicals (typically bound in volumes) today, you will perhaps notice a distinct lack of advertisements. Ads were printed on the wrapper (the cover) of single issues as well as on additional pages, and when periodicals were privately bound into volumes, the wrappers and the pages with ads were typically thrown away. Some magazines, like PUNCH, released annual or bi-annual volumes of their publication as special keepsakes – and these didn’t contain any ads either.

So imagine my delight when earlier today I stumbled across a volume of PUNCH on Google Books that not only consists of individual issues bound together, but has also retained most of the wrappers with ads.


The issues are all from 1874, which means that thanks to changes in taxation and technological improvements, the ads all look very different from what you would have found in periodicals in the early decades of the century. By 1874, many ads came with pictures or with interesting typography.

Ads in PUNCH, the Victorian magazineThere wasn’t any particular order to them, so Howard’s Parquet Flooring stood side by side with anchovy preparations, the latest novels (such as TAKEN AT THE FLOOD by Mary Elizabeth Braddon), or Thomson’s Unbreakable Corset Busk.

More ads from PUNCHIn the early decades of the 19th century, by contrasts, ads tended to be text only, and they were very short and to the point. The reason for this was the tax on paper and the tax on ads. The latter was a reaction to social unrest: the government believed that there was a connection between ads and politics. On the other hand, most periodicals couldn’t survive without the income from ads. Indeed, it is thought that the majority of radical publications folded due to a lack of advertisers.

As the political climate changed, the tax on ads was first reduced in 1833 and was finally abolished in 1853. The tax on paper, however, remained in place until 1861, keeping paper expensive and forcing publishers and advertisers to be economical with the space on paper. Hence, illustrated ads as seen in the examples here in this post, only started to appear with regularity after the repeal of the paper tax, and the following decades are often referred to as the Golden Age of advertising.

Ads in Punch

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