Friday, April 30, 2010

Male Bonding: The Gentlemen's Club System

Gentlemen’s Clubs in the Regency period were an indelible part of the English aristocracy. A man’s club proclaimed who he was, what his political beliefs were, and, in one case, what he ate (the Beefsteak Club).
Some examples of Gentlemen’s Clubs during this time period included:
  • Albion
  • Arthur’s
  • Beefsteak Club
  • Boodle’s
  • Brooks’
  • Cocoa Tree
  • Four-In-Hand Club
  • General Service Club
  • Marlborough Club
  • Royal Guards
  • United Service Clubs
  • Watier’s
  • White’s


The club was sacred--so sacred, in fact, that not only were women not allowed to become members, women weren’t allowed to enter the club’s revered halls. Even further, a woman who appeared in a carriage or on foot on St. James’ Street--club street--during the afternoon would have expected social damnation from the Bon Ton.

However, a young lady traveling on St. James’ in the morning, with her maid or footman, ran no risk of censure. The reason that this was so was, most likely, due to the fact that a majority of male activities began in the afternoon or evening hours.

In addition, a woman who came calling for her husband at his club made a laughingstock of them both.
At their clubs, men indulged in typically male pursuits:
  • They discussed politics--Brooks’ Club, located at 60 St. James’ Street, was known as Whig headquarters, while White’s, at 37-38 St. James’ Street, boasted of Tories supporters.  
  • Gentleman won... or lost fortunes in the gaming-room. 
  • They drank themselves under the table.
  • Men also placed bets on everything, including absurd, obscure happenings. For example 1,000 pounds was the bet for whether a man could survive underwater for a twelve-hour duration. The outcome of that wager was hardly a surprise!
  • And lastly, the members of the male species tended to avoid their families by dining frequently at their club.
One wife confided that during her first year of marriage, her husband only dined with her once. The rest of the time he supped at Mr. Brooks’ Club.

Clubs were indispensable to the male psyche... and still are today. Any aristocratic gentleman who had the least pretensions to being thought fashionable belonged to a club. In fact, the eleventh Duke of Devonshire stated in 1979, “... I belong to as many London clubs as I can afford and which are willing to have me as a member.” He also said to a interviewer, “... my idea of Heaven, apart from being at Chatsworth, is to sit in the hall of Brooks', having tea."

Male bonding was strong at these Gentlemen’s Clubs. A member was certain to find--
  • stimulating conversation,
  • servant deference,
  • social rules and customs.
 All of these rigid rituals shored up a man’s self-importance. Even the club boor was welcomed because he could be depended on to promote knowing smirks and snickers from the other club members.

The code of honor was very important in these clubs. Debts incurred by gambling were expected to be paid usually within three days after a gentleman gave his vowels. To use the definition of vowels found in The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, “A gamester who does not immediately pay his losings, is said to vowel the winner, by repeating the vowels I. O. U. or perhaps from giving his note for the money according to the Irish form, where the acknowledgment of the debt is expressed by the letters I. O. U. which, the sum and name of the debtor being added, is deemed a sufficient security among gentlemen.”
Paying one’s gaming debt was more important than--
  • refraining from seducing the neighbor’s wife, 
  • treating the servants humanely, or dead last on the list of priorities,
  •  paying tradesmen what was owed.
No matter that the gentleman’s fortunes could very well have been wiped out, and that he was now destitute. No matter that his children would’ve been forced into genteel poverty. Paying one’s gaming debts was considered the measure of a gentleman.

Gentlemen’s Clubs were, and are, so fundamental to the English psyche, that author Ralph Nevill wrote in his 1911 book, London Clubs, “[The club member] lunches and dines, dines and lunches, till the sands of the hourglass have run out, and the moment comes for him to enter that great club of which all humanity must perforce become members.”

The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London, Anthony Lejeune and Malcolm Lewis
The 1911 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Studio Editions, Ltd.
The British Rich, Philip Beresford
Ackermann’s Illustrated London, Wordsworth Editions, Ltd.

Award-winning author Susanne Marie Knight specializes in Romance Writing with a Twist! She is multi-published with books, short stories, and articles in such diverse genres as science fiction, Regency, mystery, paranormal, suspense, time-travel, fantasy, and contemporary romance.

Originally from New York, Susanne lives in the Pacific Northwest, by way of Okinawa, Montana, Alabama, and Florida. Along with her husband, daughter, and the spirit of her feisty Siamese cat, she enjoys the area's beautiful ponderosa pine trees and wide, open spaces--a perfect environment for writing. For more information about Susanne, please visit her website at

Latest Regency release:

PAGING MISS GALLOWAY: 2010 EPIC Award Finalist and Awe-Struck ( Regency Winner. A determined young miss, a battle-weary lord, and a reckless masquerade. What will the Earl of Tremaine do when he discovers his page's shocking secret?


Susanne Marie Knight said...

Thank you, Lesley-Anne, for inviting me to be a Regency guest blogger!



Susanne Marie Knight

Jana Richards said...

Hi Susanne and Lesley-Anne,
I'd heard of Men's clubs before from the many historical novels I've read over the years, but I didn't realize how important they were to British Gentlemen. A fascinating account. Thanks!

Jana Richards

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Thank you, Susanne, for visiting, and providing such an informative post.

Aren't the clubs interesting, Jana? Their individual histories are well-recorded too, and just as fascinating...


Susanne Marie Knight said...

Hi Jana! It's good to hear from you! So glad you enjoyed your visit to the Gentlemen's Clubs for some R & R. :))

Thanks again, Lesley-Anne!