Friday, June 25, 2010

Guest Blogger Ann Lethbridge on Regency Weddings

In a romance, the end goal is of course a happily ever after, and possibly a wedding. We have all seen that wonderful scene in the Colin Firth Pride and Predjudice of the villagers throwing petals and the groom throwing coins, so I thought I would talk a little bit about weddings during the period.

Weddings during the Regency did not tend to be the huge affairs that we think of today, or that became more prevalent during the Victorian era, but they were important nonetheless.

St George’s was the fashionable church for the ton during this time, pictured here, but a little later than Regency. What a magnificent venue. St George's celebrated approximately a thousand weddings a year during our period. That would have kept the pastor on his toes, I am sure. I visited St Georges in London ealier this month only to discover it was closed for renovations.

One big question is, did brides wear white?

In the various groups to which I belong, we hear over and over again that brides did not wear white. But I think what we really mean is that white was not considered "the right thing" or mandatory. A colored dress did not signify lack of chasteness, it was simply a personal preference. That said, it seems that white was the color of choice for many as can be seen from the following examples.

This is a picture of Princess Charlotte returning from her marriage to Prince Leopold in 1816 -- the wedding of the regency era, For her wedding she chose to wear a silver lamé dress over white silk, trimmed with silver lace.

We also know that Jane Austen's niece Anna, who married Benjamin Lefroy on November 8, 1814, wore "a dress of fine white muslin, and over it a soft silk shawl, white shot with primrose, with embossed white-satin flowers, and very handsome fringe, and on her head a small cap to match, trimmed with lace.

When Jerome Bonaparte (Napoleon's brother) wed the fashionable American beauty Elizabeth Patterson on Christmas Eve 1803 the bride wore a dress of thin white muslin and lace

In my experience, English fashion journals are rather silent on wedding dresses during the Regency era, and often brides of all levels of society wore a dress they already owned or purchased for the occasion and probably wore again.

This is a rare print from 'Ackermann's Repository' for June 1816 of a wedding dress in white satin with an overdress in striped gauze and trimmed with Brussels lace. It was to be worn with pearl jewelry, white satin slippers and white kid gloves but notice, there is no veil. It wasn't until the 1820's that we begin to see all the hoopla about specially designed wedding dresses.

Another thing that plagues writers is the issue of banns and licenses. Banns had to be called in both parish churches of the couple. They had to be read by the vicar on three consecutive Sundays before the wedding. There were two types of licenses. A standard license if couples did not want banns called or to wait for the
fortnight, they could apply to the local bishop or his representative for a standard license. This only eliminated the need for banns. The couple still had to marry in parish church between 8 and noon. There was a seven day wait. A special license obtained only from the office of the archbishop of Canterbury at Doctor's commons in London. One had to swear to the truth of the information and pay five pounds . This allowed the couple to marry anywhere and at any hour a clergyman could be found to officiate.

Ann Lethbridge writes Regency Historical for Harlequin Mills and Boon. Her current release entitled Captured for the Captain’s Pleasure is out this month (June) in the UK and you can still find copies of her North American Release for May 2010, Wicked Rake, Defiant Mistress in stores and on line.

As an army brat growing up in Britain Ann spent many happy hours visiting historical sites of every era of history, but when she found Jane Austen she knew which time period she wanted to write about.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Battle of Waterloo June 18, 1815 - the 195th Anniversary

As today is the 195th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo which ended Napoleon's attempt at European domination, it seems appropriate to mark the day. One can hardly celebrate a conflict which cost the lives of some 22,000 Allied soldiers and officers, and about 25,000 dead and wounded French combatants. The battle, and those losses, took place in less than twelve hours, and in less space than that occupied by many of today's major cities. The carnage was appalling.

The website British Battles has an excellent précis of the battle and the armies, and many details and statistics. I am not a military scholar, and do not pretend to a great interest in wars and conflicts. But one cannot ignore Waterloo.

Georgette Heyer's outstanding novel, An Infamous Army, has been over the years my favourite source for information about Waterloo. In addition to a moving love story, the tale of the days preceding and following June 18th, 1815 is told in meticulous detail. I have heard that the book has been used in history classes because of its excellent recounting of the battle.

But a new book has just come to my attention, and it came into my hands yesterday. It is titled "Dancing Into Battle" and is subtitled "A Social History of the Battle of Waterloo". The author is Nick Foulkes and the book was first published in 2006. Social history is my thing--and I can only regret that I just discovered this book.

It looks terrific. The reviews on its publication were laudatory. I have not yet had a chance to read it of course but a close examination has me itching to get started on it. The writing style seems to be lively and readable, and the author has used contemporary accounts to great advantage. The bibliography spans eleven pages and most of the works cited are original accounts. I have previously discussed in my blog how much I like memoirs; this book excels in their use. Charlotte Eaton had her account of the days surrounding the battle published in 1853. Mr. Foulkes uses the following quotation from her reminiscences "…one poor fellow…immediately under our window, turned back again and again, to bid his wife farewell, and take his baby once more in his arms; and I saw him hastily brush away a tear with the sleeve of his coat,…" Social history at its finest.

The illustrations are not numerous but they are well-chosen. Some I have seen before, others I have not. I very much enjoy seeing representations that are new to me--visual images are so important.

I highly recommend this book, and I would like to hear your opinion of it if you have encountered it already. And give a thought today to the Battle of Waterloo…and join me in praying that we find a better way to resolve our differences than armed conflict.

Next week, guest blogger Ann Lethbridge will be joining us to talk about Regency weddings--a most appropriate topic for June! Ann Lethbridge writes Regency Historical for Harlequin Mills and Boon. Her current release entitled Captured for the Captain’s Pleasure is out this month (June) in the UK.  As an army brat growing up in Britain Ann spent many happy hours visiting historical sites of every era of history, but when she found Jane Austen she knew which time period she wanted to write about.
I will return in two weeks,
'Til then, all the best,

Friday, June 11, 2010

Games of Precision and Simplicity

Simple games are often the best, and the games of the Regency involving sticks, balls and string were often simple indeed. But they were old games, sometimes ancient, and they required great skill to become really proficient.

Ringtoss, in its outdoor versions called quoits or hoopla, is a basic game--toss a ring in the air and catch it on a stick. It had its origins in ancient Greece, and this illustration from 1815 shows how charming it looked played in the Regency.

The 'devil on two sticks', later called diabolo, had its origins in ancient China where it evolved from the Chinese yo-yo. It enjoyed a resurgence of popularity just a few years ago, but as you can see, ladies of the Regency era  (this illustration is Parisian 1815) found it amusing also. Official rules did not appear until 1881, but numerous tricks can be performed by a proficient user of the sticks.

I find 'bilboquet' a particularly interesting pastime, though I cannot find a Regency illustration of the activity. There are two variations of the game--a cup-and-ball version, and a ring(or pierced ball)-and-pin version. The game is know world-wide--called kendama in Japan, where it is still popular, it is also known in Mexico, among the Inuit and First Nations peoples of North America, as well as in Europe.

This 1840s American illustration shows boys at play, 

and this plate, with its humourous illustration, shows the pierced ball and pin in action.
This illustration from a modern package shows the cup and ball in use.
This charming painting by French painter Jeanne Bole though painted in the 19th century, shows a child in 16th century dress holding a cup and ball (very similar to a modern wood version that I own). We do know that the game was popular in France in the early 16th century.

An on-line antique auction site ( recently had the following description of an item for sale:
"A Regency rosewood bilboquet. The delicately turned stem with scalloped holder. The entire strung with pierced ball." It sounds charming, and I'm wondering what price it fetched.

These simple games cannot compete with the technical wizardry of a 'Wii', but I am certain they provided just as many hours of entertainment. Simple games for a simpler time? Perhaps....

'Til next time,

Friday, June 4, 2010

EMMA - Spoiled for Choice

Please don't ask why it took me so long, but I have at last watched the 2009 TV adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma. It is 240 minutes of pure delight--gorgeously costumed, beautifully set, historically accurate--and of course it is from BBC so one need say no more.

I can't believe it is fifteen years since the A&E version of Emma starring Kate Beckinsale and the Miramax film starring Gwyneth Paltrow were released. I thought they were wonderful when they came out--each had their individual problems of course, but I enjoyed them both and have rewatched them both. At 107 and 120 minutes respectively however, they cannot compete in depth of storytelling with the BBC release.

That said, it is the characterizations--the casting, if you will--that is exercising me most today. Romola Garai is an absolutely captivating Emma and I think, to my mind, probably captures my vision of Emma best of the three actresses. Gwyneth Paltrow was engaging (yes, I like GP!) and Kate Beckinsale brought a hesitant charm to the character which was an interesting viewpoint, but Garai is superb. Overconfident, immature, impulsive, infuriating and lovable, she is Emma.

But Mr. Knightley, I am not so sure. Jonny Lee Miller does an excellent job of the role, and brings a spontaneity to the character that is perhaps not what Jane Austen intended but is very believable. However, he is very much the proper gentleman, who would not be out of place in London, and so too is Jeremy Northam's Knightley. While Mark Strong is not such an obvious leading man/hero, I think I prefer his Mr. Knightley to the others. He is a countryman through and through, reliable, dependable, plain spoken. He has the maturity to reprimand Emma and the age difference between he and Emma is obvious (though not detrimental). His dress, while gentlemanly, is not ultra-fashionable, and when he scoffs at Frank Churchill's London haircut, you can understand his disdain. Northam and Miller are too well-barbered themselves for their scorn to be believable.

Harriet Smith must be played with delicacy. She must not be too silly, but she must be foolish, and ooze naivety. To my mind, she also has a simple dignity that is bewildered by Emma's attentions. Toni Collette in the Miramax film played a coarse, simpering Harriet. Louise Dylan, in the recent film, is a more intelligent Harriet enduring Emma for her own reasons. Samantha Morton's Harriet, playing opposite Kate Beckinsale, was bemused, sweet and confused with a physical delicacy that supported her mental fragility.

Mr. Woodhouse is himself, in all versions. I think Bernard Hepton, in the A&E version is perhaps my favourite. I did not find Robert Bathurst, as Mr. Weston, at all appealing in the new BBC version. James Hazeldine in the A&E version again must take my vote. Anne Taylor/Mrs. Weston also, I could not like in the new Emma. Johdi May played the character too young, too uncertain, and lacking in credibility for a governess of some seventeen years. Greta Scacchi from the Miramax film will always be Mrs. Weston to me. She was calm, mature and wise, with the wisdom Emma needed but did not absorb from her teacher. In my opinion, a perfect characterization.

Likewise, Jane Fairfax was too shy and uncertain in the BBC retelling for my taste. Olivia Williams from the A&E Emma was my favourite, demure but intelligent, strong but so kind to her unfortunate relatives. Ewan MacGregor as Frank Churchill on the other hand, was completely miscast, and was the least memorable characterization. Rupert Evans in the newest version was competently deceitful and all too convincing in his unkindnesses.

I could go on and on--characters are so endlessly fascinating. I wish I could take my favourite actors from each version of Emma and put them together in one film. I wonder if there would be the necessary chemistry between them, if their interactions would make the glorious whole that I envision.

Probably not! But my imagination serves me well in creating the perfect film. I wonder which film adaptation of her story Jane Austen would have approved, or if she would have appreciated a film version at all. Perhaps after all, Jane Austen is meant to be read, not seen.

Til next time,


I want to add my thanks to Joanna Waugh for a superb guest post last week. Those chandeliers have gone on my list of things to see in Bath whenever I get there!

Also please visit my website for a new contest here

Photos on this blog courtesy BBC, A&E, and Miramax Films