Georgette Heyers Regency World

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Until Brummell was their king; it was he who ordained that a well-dressed man concentrated on clean linen, exquisite tailoring, a perfectly tied neckcloth, a dark, well-cut coat and a general air of understatement.

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The elite circle of men who gambled, drank and played together set the fashion for a host of eager imitators, many of whom aspired to join their ranks. Mere clothes could not make a man a dandy, however, nor grant him admission to the inner ranks of the dandy set. A true dandy, such as Gervase Frant, seventh Earl of St Erth, esteemed not just the cut of his coat, but also wit, learning, artistic appreciation, a reserve of manner that seemed like arrogance to lesser mortals, and a demeanour so calm that nothing could impair it.

A dandy was generally uninterested in sporting ventures, although he might be proficient in some or all of them. The Nonesuch or Nonpareil: He was the incomparable man, one who excelled in all the manly pursuits but was also an arbiter of fashion and a leader in all things aesthetic. He was a man of taste, a person people deferred to, watched and often slavishly copied. He was a setter of fashion, not merely a follower, and, as Sir Waldo Hawkridge explained to Miss Trent in The Nonesuch, his appellation was applied by those who admired his handling of the ribbons, his manners, dress and his athletic ability.

Georgette Heyer's Regency World

Pinks and tulips: These names of beautiful flowers were used by the Regency sporting journalist Pierce Egan to denote exceptionally well-turned-out gentlemen. A pink was a man at the height of fashion and a tulip was a fine fellow who dressed well. Unlike the dandy, however, the fop dressed for show, adorning his person with clothes of bold or unusual design or hue and embellishing them with ostentatious jewels, frills and furbelows.

The fop craved attention and did everything in his power to draw the eye of the passer-by. He was frequently a chatterer and usually deemed a vain fool by his peers. Sir Nugent Fotherby in Sylvester was the epitome of a fop with his rings, diamond pin, fobs and seals, his extravagant neckcloth, exotic waistcoats and specially designed boots. Many fops aspired to set a trend or create a new fashion and some took their clothes to extraordinary extremes—such as wearing their shirt collars so high that they could not turn their heads or wearing voluminous trousers or coats with overlong tails.

A fop such as Sir Nugent Fotherby in Sylvester drew every eye with his extravagant dress and accessories. A Bartholomew baby: A person dressed in tawdry or gaudy clothes like the dolls on sale at Bartholomew Fair. A coxcomb: A particularly foolish and conceited fop. While the general expectation was that a woman should be docile and tractable and look to the man for leadership, in many cases women found their own paths to some form of independent thought or behaviour.

Within the highly structured class system of England during the Regency, one of the ways in which the aristocracy kept themselves apart from the masses was by creating their own rules, restrictions and a system of etiquette that enabled them to recognise and connect with those of their own order. This system of behaviour was instilled into young women from an early age and they quickly learned that to forget propriety or step outside the rules was the prerogative only of the royal, the very rich, the eccentric or the outcast.

Propriety demanded that emotions be kept tightly controlled in public, and it was expected that most situations would be met with composure and an appropriate degree of gravity. The social, cultural, economic and intellectual restraints imposed on Regency women—and single girls in particular—repressed many of their natural inclinations and life could be tedious for an upperclass lady faced with a limited number of activities with which to occupy her time and mind.

The death of a family member, even a distant connection, could restrict her activities still further as society expected dutiful females to be in mourning and observe the proprieties by absenting themselves from dances, balls and most other social events, usually for quite some time. For some women these limits on behaviour and occupation often resulted in bouts of illness and the regular use of opiates such as laudanum. Although a woman was denied the freedoms available to a man, there were some significant exceptions to the apparently rigid rules of etiquette and manners, but only for those firmly established within the ton.

Much might be forgiven the lady of impeccable lineage, and a great deal allowed to the girl of vast fortune, although London society could be ruthless in excluding anyone judged to have stepped outside the bounds of propriety. As the centre of the Regency world, London had its own particular set of rules which differed—mainly by degree—from the rules directing behaviour in rural England or in the family home.

Some activities such as waltzing that were severely frowned on in more rural regions, might be permissible, even fashionable, in London; yet sometimes the reverse was true—a young woman, for instance, might indulge in certain activities in her home district such as carriage-racing or riding alone that, if repeated in the metropolis, would see her frowned upon or even ostracised in polite circles.

For those bred to its rules and expectations, however, the social whirl of the London Season could be a glittering, exciting, romantic world full of promise and possibilities. All the Accomplishments Beyond learning to read and acquiring enough arithmetic to manage the household accounts, girls were not expected to acquire an education in the same way as boys. Although it was not uncommon for upper-class women to learn French or Italian this was perceived as a useful social skill rather than an intellectual endeavour.

Children of both sexes participated in physical games with friends or siblings, but young women were expected to become less boisterous as they approached adolescence and confine their main physical activities to walking or riding. In addition to knowing how to behave it was also vital for a debutante to demonstrate her prowess in at least one of the accepted female accomplishments.

Singing, watercolour painting, fine embroidery, dancing, sketching and the ability to play an instrument, such as the harp or the pianoforte, were considered essential skills for the young lady about to make her come-out.

Grace, elegance, poise and good posture were deemed evidence of good breeding, and simplicity of presentation—without affectation, simpering or false modesty—when singing, reciting poetry or playing an instrument was applauded as entirely becoming to a virtuous young woman. Judith Taverner won approval for 70 Jennifer Kloester her unaffected performance on the piano during her week-long stay with the Duke and Duchess of Rutland at Belvoir Castle in Regency Buck, and Charis Merriville in Frederica was judged to have a simplicity of manner which only enhanced her beauty. In addition to practical skills, books and magazine articles encouraged wellbred women to cultivate a manner which was charming yet simple, amiable though reserved, sensitive but not overmuch and expressive yet refined.

Making a Come-out By seventeen, and sometimes earlier, a girl was able to begin spreading her social wings and might attend certain sorts of smaller parties, family dinners and minor assemblies in places such as the resort towns of Bath or Harrogate. A woman attended a drawing-room in full Court dress in the form of a grande toilette consisting of a magnificently embroidered or ornamented silk, satin or lace dress over a hooped skirt, her finest jewels, and a headdress with as many as eight ostrich feathers.

The haughty but elegant Lady Nassington of A Civil Contract kindly chaperoned Jenny Chawleigh to her presentation and enabled Jenny to feel more confident about meeting the Queen and the Princesses. Most girls came out into society by eighteen and hoped to be married within their first Season, or at least receive an offer as Letty proudly told her cousin John she had done in The Toll-Gate.

Mothers, Wives, Widows and Daughters From the moment of birth, an upper-class Regency child would be shared to varying degrees between parents and servants. Although a mother might choose to breast-feed her baby, as Jenny Chawleigh did in A Civil Contract, it was not uncommon for well-born ladies to engage a wet-nurse to attend the infant.

A good upper-class mother would ensure that her daughter had at least one London Season with a presentation at Court, and that she was exquisitely gowned and thoroughly schooled in the ways of the world. Lady Laleham in Bath Tangle was a well-known social climber who contrived to visit the Spenborough home when she knew the rich and eligible Marquis of Rotherham was also visiting.

In the case of Tiffany Wield, the spendthrift heiress of The Nonesuch, this was held to be a good thing but for many women the loss of autonomy was unpalatable. As a wife she was viewed by the law as being one with her husband, and consequently she lost her legal status as a separate individual and with it the considerable legal rights available to her as a single woman. If a 74 Jennifer Kloester husband predeceased his wife her property reverted to her and if she died childless it would revert to her heirs. If her husband was alive and she died leaving children, he held her property until his death when it passed to her heirs. The only offset to the injustices meted out to wives under Common Law was the provision of another type of law known as Equity. A husband was legally bound to support his wife so long as they shared a bed and board and if she committed a crime other than murder or high treason while her husband was present, under the law he was held to have coerced her and she was automatically deemed innocent.

Lady Barbara Childe revelled in her freedom as a dashing young widow and, in An Infamous Army, vowed never to remarry. In some cases a widow was also provided with a dower house, usually set at a small distance from the main house on the principal estate. By the time of the Regency a widow with property and an independent income was in a better position to protect her assets from the possibility of them being dissipated by a second husband in the event of a remarriage. The freedom enjoyed by those financially independent widows meant that they were often cautious about re-entering the marriage state.

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In some families, if the parents were able to arrange an eligible match, they hoped that the girl might feel affection for the chosen bridegroom; but if not, she was expected to swallow any aversion and marry him anyway. Some parents, such as Lady Ombersley in The Grand Sophy, held in abhorrence the notion of compelling a loved daughter to marry against her will; on the other hand, a girl who found herself in love would be able to contemplate marriage with a man only if he were of good birth or had a substantial estate or fortune.

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Love alone was not enough within the upper class. On the Marriage Mart Marriage was a vital issue for upper-class Regency women. It offered the possibility of a degree of freedom and independence that was not generally available to them as single women and could also save them from the stigma of spinsterhood. Once they had made their debut, most girls expected to be married or at least betrothed in their first Season and certainly by the second or third. At twenty-nine Annis Wychwood in Lady of Quality was unusual in having decided she had no wish to be married and rejecting every eligible offer made to her since her come-out.

In upper-class circles the main marriage mart was London during the Season, where the constant round of social events and activities provided ample opportunity to mingle with eligible men and find a suitable partner for an unmarried daughter. One of the main aims of the London Season was for families of the same class to interact in a range of social settings and for their children to contract suitable alliances.


For women, a creditable marriage was the great aim, a brilliant marriage was the great hope. Sixteen was the legal age to marry in Scotland and parental consent was not needed. For those in love and below marriageable age, for older men seeking a younger bride or for a rake or fortune-hunter dangling after a rich young heiress, Gretna Green was the obvious destination. Many couples made the journey along the Great North Road from London. It was a long drive by coach and, even undertaken at speed or in fear of pursuit by outraged relatives, took several days.

It was also a costly venture as Gerard Monksleigh discovered in Bath Tangle when he calculated the post-charges for a journey of over three hundred miles. Under Scottish law a couple wishing to marry needed only to commit to one another in the presence of at least two witnesses to make their union 78 Jennifer Kloester Faced with parental opposition to their marriage, a desperate young couple might consider a flight to Gretna Green. The idea of being married over the anvil has passed into folklore since then and may originally have been a matter of convenience.

It was therefore easy to find and the blacksmith, used to being awoken at all hours for shoeing, was possibly more amenable than most to being disturbed by anxious couples wishing to tie the knot. Most inappropriate matches could be circumvented as long as the correct protocols for arranging a marriage were followed. A man wishing to offer marriage approached the parents first, sought an interview with the father or the mother if a widow and made his intentions known.

These would then be conveyed by her parents to the young woman who might be given the opportunity to respond. Or, if the parents were happy with the match, they would give their permission for the man to approach his intended himself and endeavour to persuade her to accept him.


This was especially so in cases where the bride was bringing a fortune or estates to a less well-heeled but impressively well-born suitor. Once a couple had agreed to wed a notice was sent to the papers announcing the betrothal. From this point it was virtually impossible for a man to withdraw without committing breach of promise for which he could be sued or worse, damaging his honour and reputation. A woman who gave back her ring after the wedding arrangements were finalised as Lady Serena Carlow did in Bath Tangle risked being branded a jilt and could suffer socially as a consequence.

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An engagement period was usual and it was necessary to call the banns on three Sundays in a row before a marriage could proceed. Marriage afforded a degree of independence and a freedom not available to the single upper-class woman as Lady Buckhaven was pleased to discover in Cotillion. A married woman could go out unchaperoned; she could have a range of male friends; she could go out with another man socially; she could even take a lover—provided that she was discreet and had already done her duty by presenting her husband with an heir.

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