The “Regency” is the era in England when the Prince of Wales was regent for his father, King George III. This began in between 1811. Because he was the Prince Regent, the period is called the Regency. the Regency ended in 1820 when George III died and his son, Prince George became King George IV.
However, there is also an expanded Regency style which spans from the beginning of the century until Queen Victorian takes the throne. This expanded Regency era is marked by classical influences and elegant designs. The books written by Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen have made it famous. When people think of Regency, they often think of books and movies such as Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and most of all, Pride and Prejudice. The Regency has its own terminology with which the modern reader may not be familiar. The following are a few terms I often use in my books that bear explanation.
Abigail: A lady’s maid, one of the most prestigious positions for a household servant. Her duties are to care for her lady’s every bathing and grooming and dressing need, including brushing and/or washing her clothing.
Almack’s: Assembly rooms on King Street in London where exclusive subscription balls were held each Wednesday night of the Season. Only young ladies of good breeding deemed worthy by Almack’s patronesses were awarded vouchers to entrance. Although, reportedly the patronesses weren’t as particular when it came to awarding admittance to gentlemen.
Apoplexy: A stroke.
Banns: Public announcement in church of a proposed marriage. The banns were read aloud during church service, following the reading of the second lesson, for three consecutive Sundays, with a query as to whether anyone knew of any reason why the couple should not wed. This was done in the parish of both the bride and groom. Once the banns were read three times, without objection, the cleric issued a certificate allowing the couple to marry at one of their parish churches.
Bluestocking: A woman with unfashionably intellectual and literary interests, often with a scientific bent.
Bow Street Runner: (See more info below) The forerunner of the metropolitan police later referred to as Scotland Yard, the Bow Street Runners were established in the mid-18th century by the magistrate of the Bow Street court, Henry Fielding.
Cit: a derogatory term for a member of the merchant class in London.
Chit: an unflattering term for girl or young lady
Cut direct:A deliberate, public snub, also called cut dead, as in “she cut me dead”
Demi-monde: Literally “half world”; a class on the fringes of respectable society but most often referred to courtesans, prostitutes, etc.
Dowager: The widow of a peer, eg the Dowager Countess of Placename. The term was not added to a woman’s title until the new holder of the title married. This differentiated her from the wife of the new peer. The term also sometimes refers informally–and disparagingly–to an older woman of the upper classes.
Entail: An inheritance of real property which cannot be sold by the owner but which passes by law to the owner’s heir upon his death. The purpose of an entail was to keep the land of a family intact in the main line of succession. The heir to an entailed estate could not sell the land, or bequeath it to anyone but his direct heir.
Guinea: A gold coin worth 21 shillings.
Hell (ie gaming hell): A gambling establishment, less respectable than the elite gentlemen’s clubs which also provided many opportunities for gambling and betting.
Jarvey: The driver of a hackney coach or cab in London.
Jointure: A financial provision for a widow. Typically the amount is negotiated based on the portion she brought to the marriage, and is generally established as part of the marriage settlement.
Laudanum: A tincture made with a mixture of brandy and opium used to control pain or as a sleeping aid.
Mayfair: A desirable residential neighborhood in Regency London.
Modiste: A lady’s dressmaker who was usually French or pretended to be.
Pianoforte: An early version of the piano developed about 1730. Unlike the harpsichord, it could be played softly (piano) or loudly (forte). The full term was gravicèmbalo col piano e forte (literally harpsicord with soft and loud).
Rake: A dissolute person who indulges in excessive drinking, gambling and debauchery. Often rake is incorrectly used interchangeably with “playboy” or “womanizer.”
Rout: A crowded party with no place to sit and barely room to stand.
Season: The social “Season” began in early spring and lasted until the end of June. The Season typically followed the sitting of Parliament.
Special license: A license obtained from the Archbishop of Canterbury that granted the right to marry at any convenient time or place. Only men of influence could obtain one. They were valid for 3 months. Without a special license, marriages could only take place between 8:00am and noon in a parish in which one of the parties has resided for a minimum of 4 weeks.
Tiger: A liveried groom, generally small and young, who managed the horses when his master ascended to or descended from the seat, and sometimes took the reins to exercise the horses while his master temporarily left the vehicle. An owner-driven curricle or phaeton typically had a groom’s seat between the springs on which the tiger sat. The tiger wore an orange and black striped waistcoat which is what gave them their “title.” A small, lightweight tiger was preferred in order to maintain the proper balance. In fact, it was something of a status symbol to have the smallest possible tiger.
Ton: Fashionable Society, or the fashion. From the French bon ton, meaning good form, ie good manners, good breeding, etc. A person could be a member of the ton, attend ton events, or be said to have good ton (or bad ton).