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.
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).
People in Regency England depended upon either horseback or carriage to get around. Many of them traveled extensively from their country homes to London for the Season, which was both a social and political time of year while the House of Lords was in session. Roads were terrible, and weather and highwaymen often made travel uncomfortable as well as dangerous. To accommodate the Regency gentry or nobility, the styles, paint design and features of carriages were as varied as today’s automobiles. Image, status, and money, as well as personal taste, were all factors in choosing a carriage. Nobility had their family coat of arms painted on the side of their family coach. A reader may come across a number of different names for carriages, and unless one is willing to do some research, these names may mean nothing. So, to help you out, here are some of the more commonly used carriages:
Barouche: a very expensive and large, four passenger carriage pulled by four horses. Its folding hood could be raised but it only covered two of the passengers. This was viewed as a status symbol to own.
Curricle: a vehicle meant for two horses, but was extremely small and only had two wheels. It had a hood that folded down, like a convertible. It was lightweight and very fast, often used in racing, but tipped over easily, so it was also dangerous.
Dog cart: named so because owners often used it for taking fox hounds to a hunt. It had a seat in front for one driver, and a seat facing the rear of the carriage that could fold down for two passengers. It was best for transporting cargo.
Family coach: a closed carriage that comfortably seated four passengers and was driven by a driver who sat up front, way up high. It had windows, curtains, lanterns and usually storage compartments for refreshments. They also normally featured small desks for writing the many extensive letters Regency people were so mad about sending and receiving.
Gig: much like the dog cart, often popular with country doctors.
Governess cart: also called a “jaunting cart,” was sometimes driven by ladies but most often by children. It was very small and light, and pulled by one pony or donkey.
Hackney: like the modern day taxi cab, these could be carriages of any kind, but typically those that were closed, and driven by the cab driver, called a jarvey. They were used in London. One could hail them from the street, or go to a hackney stand where the jarveys hung out until they found a passenger.
Landau: an open carriage with folding hoods that could be raised to protect the passengers. It was the carriage to use when one wanted to see and be seen. It, too, had a driver up front and was pulled by four horses.
Phaeton: a smaller two-seater used by owners who drove themselves. It had a roof, but the front and sides were open, although some pictures show it as having a folding hood. The front two wheels were smaller than the back wheels. Often the seat was very high, in which case it was referred to as the high-perch phaeton. It was considered stylish and rakish.
Post Chaise: a small carriage which could be pulled by two or four horses. Often painted yellow, it could be hired out by someone who wished to travel privately and not with a group of strangers such as a stage coach or mail coach. Generally it only had room for one seat, which seated two, but it also had an outside, rear facing seat for servants and a platform in front for luggage. The driver, called a postillion, rode on the backs of the horses instead of on a bench on the chariot.
There were also stage coaches and mail coaches, which were public transportation for the person who didn’t mind (or were forced by the size of their purse) to travel with other passengers. They followed select routes and stopped at inns for food and for changing out the team of horses. The mail coach was the cheapest way to travel, and the most uncomfortable because it’s primary function is to carry mail rather than passengers. Sometimes, passengers were obliged to ride on top and there are stories of that proving a fatal way to travel.
The titles of duke and marquess are usually territorial, such as Duke of York, Marquess of Salisbury, etc. Though the titles of earl, viscount, and baron are most often associated with a territory, but can also be based on a family name, eg Earl Tarrington. A baron’s wife is not typically titled a baroness, though she is addressed as Lady Titlename. Only a woman who is a baroness in her own right uses that title.
The British peerage, in order of precedence is:
Duke/duchess (the Duke/Duchess of Placename, addressed as Your Grace)
Marquess/marchioness (the Marquess/Marchioness of Placename, addressed as Lord/Lady Placename)
Earl/countess (the Earl/Countess [of] Titlename, addressed as Lord/Lady Titlename
Viscount/viscountess (the Viscount/Viscountess [of] Titlename, addressed as Lord/Lady Titlename.
Baron/baroness (Baron/Baroness Titlename, addressed as Lord/Lady Titlename.
The next two ranks are not peers, meaning they do not sit in the House of Lords:
Baronet (addressed as Sir Firstname, his wife as Lady Surname)
Knight (addressed as Sir Firstname, his wife as Lady Surname; a knighted female is addressed as Dame Firstname, her husband as Mr. Surname, ie he does not share the disctinction of his wife)
A baronet title is hereditary but a knighthood is not inherited.
For details on each rank as well as correct forms of address, I recommend these sites:
Bow Street Runners
Next to Robin Hood’s Merry Men, few other groups inspire images of mystery and intrigue quite as well as Bow Street Runners. They were a unique and unprecedented fighting force that paved the way for the modern police. They are also no longer in existence, and very little is actually known about them. Hence the mystery. And the tragedy. As an author of Regency romance novels, I made a study of these elusive and fascinating law enforcers.
Before they were formed, there was no organized police. The few constables in London were untrained and failed to do much to protect the innocent or bring justice to the guilty. There was a night watch that was supposed to be served on a rotating basis by the men in a particular district, but most working class men wouldn’t or couldn’t be up all night keeping watch. Besides, it was dangerous. So they hired out others to take their turn, often elderly men who needed the money because they could no longer work. These night watchmen typically huddled in groups around the nearest light and hoped no one would harass them. Needless to say, they were too feeble to affect much of a threat to a thief.
Therefore, the average citizen the majority of the arrests. The victim had to gather all his own evidence, perform the arrest, drag the person before the magistrate (judge) and convince the magistrate this was their man. That citizen was basically the investigator, policeman, and lawyer all in one. A daunting task, to be sure. Although since the accused were considered guilty unless proven innocent, receiving a guilty verdict was usually a no-brainer.
Into this ineffective chaos step the Fielding brothers. Henry Fielding was a magistrate who operated his office on Bow Street. In 1750, he organized an elite fighting force of highly trained and disciplined young men known as the Bow Street Runners. Nick-named the “Robins Redbreasts” for their distinctive red waistcoats, they knew how to conduct investigations including a rudimentary forensics, and question witnesses and victims. They even carried handcuffs. How early they began carrying them and wearing the red waistcoats is anyone’s guess but there are Bow Street Runners with handcuffs and red waistcoats in a book by Robert Louis Stevenson.
In the early years, there were only six Bow Street Runners in London and for some reason, that number was kept constant. But later, those figures grew and there was even a mounted patrol who protected the highways from the dreaded and dangerous highwaymen. The patrol changed safety, and therefore nature, of travel.
While the office of a magistrate belonged exclusively to gentlemen of the nobility or gentry, the Bow Street Runners were working class men. They were smart, skilled and cunning, and hand-picked by the Fielding brothers. Though they typically remained in the London area, there are accounts of them tracking fugitives as far as the Scottish border. They drew a modest salary from Bow Street, so most of their pay came in the form of a bounty or reward, usually paid by the victim or a group who had a vested interest in solving the crime. Runners could also be hired out to conduct special investigations, or act as body guards. I have found no evidence of any foul play or briberies taken, suggesting that they were men of honor and that they had a strong loyalty to their magistrate.
Other magistrates followed the Fielding’s example by having a specific group of investigators, but none achieved the acclaim that the Runners did.
In 1830, when Scotland Yard was organized, the Bow Street Runners became obsolete. Much of Scotland Yard’s procedures were adopted from those created by the Runners, and I can only assume that many Runners became investigators for Scotland Yard. Progress is usually a good thing, but I feel a sense of loss whenever such a unique organization is swept away to make room for something better.
Why my fascination of Bow Street Runners? It started of necessity because Runners have a role in each of the books in my Rogue Hearts Series and I needed to research them. Each hero in the books The Stranger She Married, The Guise of a Gentleman, and A Perfect Secret end up calling on his brother Grant who works closely with the Bow Street Runners to help him overcome the obstacle standing between him and his happily ever after. But it turned into a genuine interest. I think some day I’ll write a book about a Runner getting his own true love.