Regency England through the Eyes of Romance Author Donna Hatch

Donna at Buckingham Palace Gate

                                             Tower Bridge

As many of you know, I recently spent three weeks in England. I walked all over a part of London known as Mayfair, studied buildings and architecture, and visited parks and locations of historical interest during the Georgian and Regency Era. I have such a better idea of Regency Mayfair, and how my characters would live, work, play, and travel. I also visited a bit more modern sites such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the famous Town Bridge. Okay, those aren’t truly modern–they are Victorian–but they came after the Regency so they are modern in my eyes. The Regency Tour offered by Number One London Tours, with Kristine Patrone was fantastic and I really benefitted from Kristine’s knowledge of England in general and English history in particular.

                                   Windsor Castle moat gardens

During the Regency Tour, we left London to tour the extraordinary Windsor Castle. I could live there. Yep, I totally could 😉 Words are inadequate for how beautiful that castle is and how fitting it is to house a royal family when they are able to go there. I saw a cluster of guards marching in perfect formation but didn’t get a photograph of them. I just love the rich traditions the English have! Photographs are not allowed inside Windsor Castle so I put away my camera and just enjoyed the beauty. A tour guide (?) inside one of the rooms that got burned down in 1992 gave me detailed information about the fire and showed me photos of rooms before the fire, just after the fire, and the restoration process. You can read more about the fire here. Great before and after photos of one of the restored rooms are here. I also enjoyed the queen’s dollhouse–it was so cute and I love miniatures. The castle is absolutely magnificent! The garden in the moat is especially charming.

                                            St. George’s Chapel

St. George’s Chapel inside Windsor left me almost speechless. I felt such a reverence and respect for those who built it and for the generations who worshiped there. An organ performance added to the overall beauty. I saw the beautiful and poignant tomb of Princess Charlotte, who died in 1817 during childbirth. I teared up looking at the statue of her grief-stricken ladies in waiting while her body lay lifeless. Overhead,  her spirit ascended with angels–one of them carrying her baby. The tomb beautifully retold  pain, loss, and yet hope of death and the life after. Photos weren’t allowed in the church but you can see images of the tomb here. The church itself was intricately crafted and exquisite!

We had lunch in Eaton on the river. I enjoyed the beautiful weather and watching the queen’s swans swim in the river. Yes, they are hers and yes, they are all accounted for annually in the “swan upping” when they gather, tag, and count the swans. The swan upping would be fun to watch, wouldn’t it?

                                  Prince George’s Brighton Pavilion

Later in the week during the Regency Tour, we took a train to Brighton to view the impressive but ostentatious Brighton Pavilion that Prince George (sometimes referred to unkindly as “Prinny” and who later became King George IV) had built. It was known as his Pleasure Palace. He had wild parties there in his early rakish days and kinda hid out there later on as his weight and behavior made him an object of social scorn.

I’ll blog more about the rest of my trip in snippets for probably months (years?) to come. But what did I learn on this Regency Tour? Regency London is smaller than I thought. Members of the aristocracy could have walked most places on a nice day. They probably all knew each other, too–at least, those who were lucky enough to be included in the beau monde and who frequented London. The architecture was fantastic. I was constantly amazed at the detailed craftsmanship done all by hand. I also learned in an even more profound way how different the lives were for people depending on their social status. We think it’s that way now, but the differences were so huge two hundred year ago that they hardly lived in the same world. Also, Englanders have a profound pride in their country, their culture, their traditions and history, and their monarchy. They have problems too, but that doesn’t seem to sway their love of king and country. The English truly are lovely and brilliant, aren’t they? 😀

I was fascinated–okay, obsessed–about Regency England before, but this trip has flamed that even more. If I didn’t miss my family so much, I would have had a much harder time leaving ancient and beautiful England and returning to the US.  Good thing I live in the Pacific Northwest now and am no longer in the Arizona desert! At least it’s green where I live. Now, if only I can put a formal garden in my backyard…

Summertime Pleasures in Regency England

A song I learned as a child summed up summer activities beautifully:

Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?
Do you fish in a stream, or lazily dream on the banks as the clouds go by?
Is that what you do? So do I!

Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?
Do you swim in a pool, to keep yourself cool, or swing in a tree up high?
Is that what you do? So do I!

Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?
Do you march in parades, or drink lemonades, or count all the stars in the sky?
Is that what you do? So do I! *

Even though children in the 21st century are more likely to while away their summer days on something electronic, this song has a timeless quality to it that also applies to Regency England.

When the whirl of the London Season wound down because Parliament’s session ended, the gentry and aristocracy went back to their country homes. Those lucky upper class who did not have responsibilities of government, an estate, or a career, could spend time doing whatever they liked, and summer offered a host of possibilities.

Those who were of athletic bent liked to swim, fence, wrestle, ride, go fox hunting, shooting, hawking, archery, and fishing.  They also loved the water and went boating and fishing. Some even rode bicycles they called velocipedes. (see picture above)

Parties were a popular pastime to keep up their image as well as pass time with friends. They had parties, balls, and soirees with local gentry. House parties, where guests came and stayed for a week or more were also common.

The beau monde prized wit and intellect. Riddling, where someone made up riddles for others to solve, entertained them. Talking, theorizing, philosophizing, discussing current events, and debating could fill entire evenings.

Literature played a big part of their lives. They read quietly or aloud. They wrote poetry, stories, and long letters. They often recited memorized poems and stories.

Art, including painting, water color, drawing, and sculpting were popular among men and women. Gluing flowers to hats, or shells to household objects were a popular craft among ladies. Ladies also sewed, knitted, crocheted, and embroidered.

Music played a major role in their lives. Many of them played multiple instruments, sang, and danced. Others simply listened and enjoyed the music. Most quiet evenings were spent with one or more members of the family playing music and singing. Often, they gathered with neighbors for musical performances where guest took turns entertaining each other.

Some enjoyed gardening both flowers and herbs. They went on fruit or berry picking parties and had picnics, also known as dining al fresco. Going on long walks, alone or with friends, also gave them a chance to enjoy the beautiful summer weather and the lovely countryside.

There are frequent references to the gentry putting on plays or puppet shows. They enjoyed artistic games such as charades, which usually took a large group, a great deal of planning, and even costumes.

The Regency nobility enjoyed games. Card games such as whist, piquet, vingt-et-un filled many an evening. Board games, too–chess, checkers, draughts, dice, backgammon, and tabula were common as were putting together puzzles.

Outdoor games included bocce, bowling often called nine pins, blind man’s bluff, cricket, and even tennis.

Also, since summer presented nicer weather than winter, many of them traveled and visited relatives, as well as went-sight-seeing. Remember when Elizabeth Bennett, with her aunt and uncle, visited a number of country mansions including Mr. Darcy’s Pemberly? That was quite a popular thing to do, and many of the stately mansions and castles opened to visitors.

I plan to do that this summer. In fact, I will spend three weeks in England visiting castles, big houses, churches, and all the best sites of Regency England. When I return, I will be armed with lots of new pictures and information to share.

So, for the Regency lady or gentleman, summertime could be as lazy or diverting as one chose, as long as one had the means and imagination to do it. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

What do you love best about summertime?

*LDS Primary Children’s Songbook pg 245

Summer in Regency England

By Ozzie Diaz Duque (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ah, summer! It conjures up images of lazy summer days sipping lemonade and swimming. In mid June to early July, when the whirl of the London Season wound down because parliament ended, the gentry and aristocracy went back to their country homes. Which begs the question, since they were so rich and didn’t have to work for a living, what did they do all day–especially in the summer? The answer to this may surprise you.

By Neil Gallagher – Own work, Copyrighted free use, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1359639

The British nobility did not traditionally divide their wealth among their children; they left all of it to their heirs–usually their firstborn son. If they had no son, their entailed estate went to the next closest living heir and that was all pre-determined; there was no choosing an heir. (Certain things could be willed to those who are not the heir but that’s a topic for another time) A younger son may inherit a lump sum when he reached adulthood, or he may receive an annual or month allowance. Sometimes that was enough for him to live off of, thus freeing him to enjoy hedonistic pleasures. However, most younger sons needed an occupation unless they inherited an in-entailed estate or money. They often became officers in the Royal Navy or army because they were educated. This was crucial when needing to read orders and write correspondence. Many became involved in the law as barristers, attorneys, and magistrates. Occasionally I hear of a younger son becoming a physician, but that seems to be rare. But for now, I will focus on those who don’t have to work in an occupation for a living and who have a large estate for which they are responsible.

Wealthy landowners such as Mr. Darcy spent a great deal of time managing their lands. Think of it as being the CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation. Yes, he has upper- and mid-management, in the form of solicitors, land stewards, and workers, but he had the responsibility to care for a huge estate which usually included many different locations, houses, lands, and tenants. Think of it as owning a whole bunch of rental properties with tenants who constantly needed repairs and help with all sorts of things which affected the overall prosperity of the estate. He might also be involved in investing and buying or selling properties which might involve travel. How he managed the family estate would affect generations to come, a heavy responsibility to shoulder with much at stake, so most took this seriously.

In addition to caring for their estate, most landowners were involved in politics. If they were titled, they were expected to serve in the House of Lords. If not, many served in the House of Commons. Parliament met for months at a time, which took them away from their lands in the country. Those who served in the House of Lords could be called into serve as jury if a peer went to trial. 

So even though a number of them did enjoy hedonistic pleasures, an honorable landowner’s life was not all fun and games, not even in the summer.