Cooking With Jane Austen


Cooking With Jane Austen, Kirstin Olsen

What can be a better way to celebrate fall and the Thanksgiving holiday than to examine a recipe or two from Kirstin Olsen’s 2005 book, Cooking with Jane Austen? – spending time with family and friends and sharing the food!

I’ll just get my two major complaints about the book out of the way. The font is difficult to read – too fancy for my taste – and the book’s cost: $55.00. I found my copy (in excellent shape) via second hand means, which I recommend.

Now, for the good news. While we know that Jane Austen was spare in her descriptions of food, interiors, and clothing in her novels, she provided enough hints for Ms. Olsen to peruse cookery books of that era. Using a variety of sources, Ms. Olsen found recipes similar and close to those she thought Jane might have known. Elizabeth Raffald’s and Hannah Glasse’s recipes are consulted, as well as those from John Farley, Martha Bradley, and more. Ms. Olsen provides historical context at the start of her book and with each recipe category. Even if you never try out one of the recipes, you can glean much information for your personal interest or to add authenticity to a novel you are writing.

Turnip_Elizabeth Blackwell

Illustration by Elizabeth Blackwell

Boiled Turnips

This recipe for boiled turnips begins with a quote from Mr Woodhouse in Emma (172)

An historic explanation of the popularization of the turnip follows, with a typical description of a recipe from an 18th century cookery book:

Turnips may be boiled in the pot with the meat, and indeed eat best when so done. When they be enough, take them out, put them in a pan, mash them with butter and a little salt, and in that state send them to the table…

Ms. Olsen then provides the modern recipe for today’ cook, which is extremely useful for those of us who wish to recreate a regency meal for our Jane Austen book clubs.

Modern Recipe for Boiled Turnips

1 lb turnips, 3 T. butter, 1 tsp. salt.

Wash and peel the turnips and trim off the tops an bottom. Cut them into 1″ dice. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the turnips, boiling them until fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Mash the turnips with the butter and salt and serve immediately. (Olsen, p 216)

For my taste, I would prefer boiling the turnips with the meat, as suggested in the 18th century description, much as I prefer making stuffing inside the turkey over making the stuffing separately in the oven. The bird’s natural fat and juices add much more flavor, don’t you think?

Roast Stubble Goose


Roast Stubble Goose image found on The Historic Foodie blog

Here’s another recipe to celebrate this season and holiday – Roast Stubble Goose. It starts off  with a quotation from Emma, a novel filled with references to food. (Thank you, Jane.)

Mrs. Martin was so very kind as to send Mrs. Goddard a beautiful goose: the finest goose Mrs. Goddard had ever seen. Mrs. Goddard had dressed it on a Sunday, and asked all the three teachers, Miss Nash, and Miss Prince, and Miss Richardson, to sup with her. (Emma 28-29.)

Ms. Olsen tells us that a stubble goose is an older bird that fattened on harvest gleanings. In Jane Austen’s time, it was traditionally served with applesauce.

Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe for Roasted Stubble Goose starts with:

Chop a few sage leaves and two onions very fine; mix them with a good lump of butter, a teaspoonful of pepper and two of salt. Put it in your goose, then spit it and lay it down, singe it well, dust it with flour; when it is thoroughly hot baste it with fresh butter…

In this section of Cooking With Jane Austen (p 121-126), Ms. Olsen offers old and modern recipes for roast stubble goose, roast green goose, goose with mustard, and roast turkey. The book consists of 414 pages, so there are numerous recipes to try.

Other Jane Austen themed food books that I love include: Tea With Jane Austen by Kim Wilson and The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Dierdre le Faye, both still readily available. Also on this blog: 18th Century Cookery Books and the British Housewife and a review of Jane Austen and Food by Maggie Lane.

To all my U.S. readers, have a splendid Thanksgiving holiday. While we are thankful for our lives, family, and friends, please give a special thank you to the animals who were sacrificed to nourish us. They “gave” up their most precious gift – their lives.

chickens and pigeons 18th c.

Chickens and pigeons, 18th c. painting




India shawl made of cotton, silk, and gold thread. 1790-1800, Napoleon-fashion.com

India shawl made of cotton, silk, and gold thread. 1790-1800, Napoleon-fashion.com

Indian influence on Regency dress included fine Indian muslin, used for dresses and cravats, and beautiful, expensive hand-loomed shawls. During the late 18th-early 19th century, an unprecedented number of Indian cloths, made of quality fabrics, were exported to Britain. These cloths were expressly made for the British market, with colors and chintz patterns toned down to appeal to the more restrained British taste.

While cheaper and inferior imitation paisley shawls were increasingly made in Great Britain (by 1821, shawls made in British locations like Spitalfields and Scottland would overtake the Indian exports in numbers sold), the authentic Indian shawl was highly prized for its quality, cost, and prestige. These shawls were so popular with those who could afford them that they were presented to friends and family members by merchants, soldiers, and visitors returning from the East Indies. Made of durable cloth, they were carefully handled and handed down from mother to daughter and aunt to niece over the years.

Shawls not only added prestige and style to a lady’s wardrobe, they served other functions, such as color and pattern. They definitely added warmth to the thin, gauzy, almost transparent muslin gowns that became so popular at the turn of the 19th century. The shawls lent themselves to other uses as well.

Lady Hamilton, Lord Horatio Nelson mistress, used the shawls to great effect for her “Attitudes,” as described by Mrs. St. George, who had the occasion to witness several of her performances.

From their book Drawings Faithfully Copied from Nature at Naples by Friedrich Rehberg, Engraver and Tommaso Piroli, Illustrator, 1794 4

From their book Drawings Faithfully Copied from Nature at Naples by Friedrich Rehberg, Engraver and Tommaso Piroli, Illustrator, 1794 4

She assumes their attitude expression, and drapery with great facility, swiftness, and accuracy. Several Indian shawls, a chair, some antique vases,  a wreath of roses, a tambourine, and a few children are her whole apparatus. She stands at one end of the room, with a strong light to her left, and every other window closed. Her hair (which by-the-bye) is never clean is short, dressed like an antique, and her gown a simple calico chemise, very easy, with loose sleeves to the wrist. She disposes the shawls so as to form Grecian, Turkish, and other drapery, as well as a variety of turbans. Her arrangement of the turbans is absolute sleight of hand, she does it so quickly, so easily, and so well. It is a beautiful performance, amusing to the most ignorant, and highly interesting to lovers of art. The chief of her imitations are from the antique. Each representation lasts about ten minutes. It is remarkable that, though coarse and ungraceful in common life, she becomes highly graceful, and even beautiful, during this performance. It is also singular that, in spite of the accuracy of her imitation of the finest ancient draperies, her usual dress is tasteless, vulgar, loaded, and unbecoming. – Account by Mrs. St. George, Wit, Beaux, and Beauties of the Georgian Era, John Fyvie, 1909, pp 335-336.

As I collected Pinterest images of fashion plates of elegant ladies and their shawls, I saw how much elegance and beauty these accessories added to a woman’s arm and hand gestures. The artists who drew the fashion plates were certainly aware of these effects. I have created a short gallery of an example of the beauty that shawls added to a woman’s figure and fashion statement. Enjoy.

More on the topic:

Cassandra Austen

Cassandra Austen in old age

Jane Austen’s family was not rich, by any means, but the family was genteel and belonged to the English gentry. Rev. Austen earned a respectable living as a rector at Steventon rectory. His wife, Cassandra, was a close relative of Theophilus Leigh, head master of Balliol College. She was also a relation of the Leighs of Stoneleigh Abbey, a most impressive and well-regarded family.

When handsome Miss Leigh married the very handsome Mr. George Austen, her life became no picnic. After his marriage, Mr. Austen took to farming with a spirit. This meant that while he enjoyed the prestige of becoming a gentleman farmer, Mrs. Austen took over the daily charge of the dairy with a bull and six cows, plus ducks, chicken, guinea-fowl and turkeys, the vegetables that were grown in the garden, the honey used for mead, and the home-made wines.

Steventon Rectory, Images from BBC

Steventon Rectory, Images from BBC

Any surplus allowed the Austen family to sell the produce for a profit. Under Mrs.Austen’s supervision during Jane’s childhood and spinsterhood years, only tea, coffee, chocolate, spices sugar, and other luxury foods were purchased. As James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote in 1870 in his Memoir of Jane Austen,

I am sure that the ladies there [Steventon] had nothing to do with the mysteries of the stew-pot or the preserving pan;but it is probable that their way of life differed a little from ours, and would have appeared to us more homely.”

As with many wives of her station, Mrs. Austen accepted her role as the family’s housekeeper. However, she relied on servants, such as a cook and maid of all work to actually do the “hard” work, such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and general sewing. While her servants performed the tasks, Mrs. Austen determined the duties of the day, much like a general manager. She met daily with her cook to superintend the meals of the day. There were also a dairy maid and a washer woman, who came once a month. Cassandra Austen’s other important tasks were to train her daughters in the art of overseeing a household.

Susanna Whatman shortly after her marriage

Susanna Whatman shortly after her marriage

Susanna Whatman was a contemporary of Mrs. Austen. Born in 1752, she was married to James Whatman, a papermaker. Shortly after her marriage in 1776, she wrote a housekeeping book to instruct her servants and offer advice about housekeeping duties and domestic life.

The following passage of her advice is of particular interest. Rev. Austen kept an extensive library, much like Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. In this instance, Mrs. Whatman instructs the housemaid to clean the library.

The sun comes into the Library very early. The window on that side of the bow must have the blind let down. The painted chairs must not be knocked against anything, or against one another. A chair must not be placed against the door that goes into Mr. Whatman’s Dressingroom. All the space between the daydo and skirting board is plaister. Therefore, if it is knocked, it will break. The books are not to be meddled with, but they may be dusted as far as a wing of a goose* will go. Nothing put behind the door besides the ladder. Tea leaves* used on the carpet in this room, Drawingroom, and Eating Parlor, and Mrs. Whatman’s Dressingroom, no where else.

*wing of a goose – dusters were made with goose feathers from their wings.

**During the Georgian era, carpets were sprinkled with moist tea leaves and cleaned with a hair broom.

Gretna Green, or the Red-Hot Marriage

Gretna Green, or the Red-Hot Marriage

Another Elopement–A considerable sensation has been created in Dublin by the disappearance of the lovely daughter of Sir Thomas Butler, of county Carlow, with Captain Gosset, son of the Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant. An attachment had existed between the parties for some time, but the friends of both were averse to the marriage, in consequence, it is said, of “almighty love” being their only patrimony. The lady is one of ten children. (The Court Journal: Gazette of the Fashionable World, No. 319, Windsor, Friday, June 5th, 1835, p 357.)

The short announcement above of the elopement serves as a literary amouse-bouche to a longer elopement tale about a Lord and his housekeeper. Clandestine elopements to Gretna Green created scandalous sensations in England during the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian periods. There was nothing quite like peer pressure to keep the daughters of peers and the rising middle class in line to protect lands, inheritances, and investments. There were enough exceptions to the rule, however, to hold all but the most daring in check when held in love’s hormonal thrall. About 300 marriages were celebrated yearly in that border Scottish town in what were popularly termed “o’er the march” weddings.

Gretna Green

Gretna Green

Traveling to Gretna Green along the Great North Road was no mean feat back then. Today, it takes a little over 5 hours via M40 and M6 to travel the 326 miles from London to the Scottish border town. In 1818, it took an average of four days, with carriages traveling and average of 6 miles an hour. Frequent stops to change tired horses and rest for food. and an overnight stop for a room at an inn added to travel time. Should a virginal heiress spend at least one night on the road, her reputation would be lost, even if she slept in a separate room from her paramour and was chaperoned by her maid.

A close male relative needed to catch up with her before she reached Scotland, for her fortune was at stake. A wealthy bride who married in haste missed out on the careful negotiations made on her behalf before her wedding for her future security. Without those arrangements, she would forever be at the mercy of her husband, for he would have full control of her fortune from the moment they said their “I do’s.” Wickham ran through Lydia’s 10,000 pounds (so generously negotiated by Mr. Darcy) in no time. He could do this with impunity, aided and abetted by a law that gave the husband all the rights and the wife none.

Gretna Green, trois cartes postales illustrées (d’une série de 4) représentant les épisodes d'un mariage à Gretna Green : (Le Départ) ; Moments d'angoisse. Image @Wikimedia Commons

Gretna Green, trois cartes postales illustrées (d’une série de 4) représentant les épisodes d’un mariage à Gretna Green : (Le Départ) ; Moments d’angoisse. Image @Wikimedia Commons

After the Hardwicke Marriage Act of 1753, which tightened the conditions for marriage, fortune hunters and scoundrels, and even amorous gents, trundled their “beloveds” in fast equipages and sped north before their “sweethearts” could come to their senses. Couples could marry in haste in Scotland, where marriage laws were lax. The Scots, bless their hearts, were more than willing to accommodate runaway couples and speed them on their way to marital bliss.

Not all Gretna Green elopements involved heiresses and fortune hunters. Lord Erskine, a baron and a Lord Chancellor, ran off with his housekeeper. Their story is told by Peter Orlando Hutchinson in Chronicles of Gretna Green: in two volumes, Volume 2.

Hutchinson chronicled the joining in 1818 of 66-year-old Lord Erskine to his much younger mistress/housekeeper, Miss Sarah Buck, in a way that conveyed the scandalous nature of the elopement. The amorous couple brought along their two bastard children, for once the parents were wed in Scotland, the children would be legitimized. One can only imagine what Erskine’s eight legitimate children must have thought of this misadventure when they discovered that their papa had run off with one of the servants. Erskine headed straight towards the village of Springfield, successfully eluding his pursuing son, Thomas, until it was too late.

Those peregrinators who enter into the village of Springfield, in the parish of Gretna in the county of Dumfries, in that part of Great Britain denominated Scotland, would do well to draw their handkerchiefs from their pockets, and give free vent to their feelings when they contemplate that especial hostelrie yelped “The King’s Head.”

The King’s Head Inn stands in the midst of the village of Springfield…This hostelrie is a glorious ruin; we say ruin, because forsooth. since the alteration of the road the tide of passengers and the channel of business have been turned aside into another course, and hence the prosperity of former days has dwindled away to a lamentable extent.

King's Head In external appearance the edifice is ordinary and humble; — no lawn or parterre in front; no flowers and sweet smelling shrubs no long carriage drive from the lodge up to the steps, for it stands flush with the street; no grounds; no sentimental walks; no trees to hang on. It forms the coin or angle of two streets; it is entered from the principal one by a door in the centre of the facade; there is a sash window on each side of the door, whilst three similar windows appear in the story above, ranged equidistant; the roof is of slate, but the heart sinks when the eye surveys it, for with tears be it recorded, the said roof is but sparingly adorned with chimneys. Hence, in passing through Springfield, no pictures of profuse hospitality arise in the imagination of the peregrinator; no visions of good cheer, or pleasant fellowship, and no bright ideas of rich entertainment gladden his spirit.

Lord Erskine’s Marriage

Lord Erskine

“Visitors to this shrine have somewhat liberally amused themselves with writing, by means of certain diamond rings, their names or those of their friends, mottoes, apophthegms, and amatory verses. On one of the panes of the window in the apartment over the kitchen appears the name and title of a noble baron of these realms, now no more…” (Hutchinson found it doubtful that Erskine scratched his name on the window pane, for no noble baron would have added the prefix of “Lord.”)

Thomas Erskine, Baron Erskine of Restormel, in the county of Cornwall in England, was born into this wicked world in the year 1750…He fixed on the study of the law…and in due course he became eminent.

At the age of twenty, videlicet, in 1770, he wedded the amiable and accomplished Miss Moore; he became a widower in 1805, she being the mother of several [8] children his offspring.

An acute man, a first-rate lawyer, an ingenious arguer, a specious reasoner, and an orator that claimed the willing attention of his hearers, he at last rose to the exalted and honourable office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain.

Alas and well-way! there is no stability in human nature, no reliance, no confidence, no trust. Oh what a fall was here!–honour, respect, high place, dignity–all, all, came rushing down to the dust.

If it be the historian’s greatest delight to record mighty and noble achievements, so, also, it must be his greatest affliction to tell of weaknesses and acts unwise that the heroes of his pages may have perpetrated.

[He] married his housekeeper–ye powers!–but hush!–hold your tongue.

The manner of it was this to wit,–hush, hush!–cannot it be evaded? Evaded? how? Shall the just and impartial chronicler record what he likes and omit all that he chooses to omit? There is no help.

Coloring the events with highly emotional language, Hutchinson described the ceremony in the downstairs parlor of the King’s Head as an execution, no pun intended. At this point, the he backtracks his tale and describes the couple’s journey from London to Scotland. “–hush! do hold your tongue.”

We are told by such rare chronicles as have made especial note of this matter, and eke by such contemporaries as are now living and remember it, the noble baron laid aside his honours, and became a plain man by assuming an alias–even that of “Mr. Thomas,” and that name, indeed, was returned to those who inquired whose carriage stopped the way.

Mr. Thomas passed unknown for a space; but deception will endure only for a season, and the will eventually prevail. So it was here Mr Thomas’s doublet was soon peered through, and the Lord Erskine was perceived withinside.

It even got about, through the horribly libellous exertions of the gossips of the day, that he travelled in woman’s attire for the purpose of preserving a more certain incog…We pray you to abjure all credence in this assertion; to eschew harbouring it in any wise; and to abhor the mention of it…

Such a scandalous report arose after this fashion,–namely, as my Lord journeyed in the vehicle, together with Mistress Sarah Buck, the lady of his especial election, and the two little pledges of his dearest affection; he did in fatherly love, and that he might beguile the way, and amuse these, the said little pledges, facetiously put upon his own head the bonnet of the herein-before-mentioned Mistress Sarah Buck. Now this is the historical relation of the fact the clearing up the mystery and the expungement of all slur and detraction.

Gretna Green, trois cartes postales illustrées (d’une série de 4) représentant les épisodes d'un mariage à Gretna Green

Gretna Green, trois cartes postales illustrées (d’une série de 4) représentant les épisodes d’un mariage à Gretna Green

They sped on their journey at a fair pace and…Arrived at Springfield by the old road–for neither the present new one nor Gretna Hall were in existence–they repaired to the King’s Head hostel, and in that hostel, to the parlour or sitting-room on the right hand of the door at entering. Here they…”married in haste:” and let us add also… they shortly afterwards” repented at leisure,” but with that we have nothing to do.

Hutchinson describes how Lord Erskine alighted from the carriage wearing an ample traveling cloak, which he wore inside the King’s Head. “It was gathered round his neck by a collar; and by flowing in long folds down to the ground, it served well to cover his whole person. Under this he took his children during the ceremony, in order, as I was told, that they should become his heirs.” A contemporary announcement of the marriage stated, “His Lordship formally signed certificates on the spot to give his children the advantage of the conduct pursued.”

Lord Erskine's marriage

The inscription on the plaque is thought to refer to the elderly Lord Erskine, who eloped to Gretna Green with his young housekeeper, Sarah (sometimes referred to as Mary) Buck. Stafordshire Figures: 1780-1840

According to Hutchinson, the marriage was not to last and Lord Erskine would soon ask for a divorce. While Hutchinson did not tell us why his lordship wished to divorce his lady, he shared the horrified reaction of Dame Beattie upon hearing the news: “Alas the inconstancy of man, the shallowness of his judgment, the instability of his resolution, and the insecurity of his love.”

Alas, yes, but this did not change the fact that the deed had been done…and undone.

Other tales of Erskine’s elopement provide vastly different accounts, despite Hutchinson’s protestations. According to the website for Gretna Green, Lord Erskine was married at the “Queen’s” Head Inn to his housekeeper. He was indeed disguised as a woman and wore the outfit until the “priest” arrived. Only then did he change out of female clothes in order to be married in male attire. The children were instead covered by Miss Buck’s cloak during the ceremony.

Erskine’s legitimate son, Thomas, arrived too late from London to stop the marriage. An argument with his new step-mama ensued, the details of which entertained the village for some time.

Upon Erskine’s death at 75, he left Sarah with very little money and a few more children to look after. One presumes that, as with most British estates, Erskine’s will left his lands and moneys largely intact, to be inherited by his eldest son.

Court dress, Heideloff gallery, 1794-95

Court dress, Heideloff gallery, 1794-95

Female gowns worn at court during the Regency era looked ungainly. Instead of the lovely columnar silhouette of the Grecian-inspired draped gown, court gowns at this time made their wearers resemble the upper half of an extravagantly decorated apple or a pregnant cake topper.

These custom creations, made with sumptuously expensive materials, adhered to the rules laid down by Queen Charlotte, who presided over the royal drawing rooms until her death.Earlier Georgian gowns flattered a lady’s waist, with corsets that made the waist seem miniscule. As waists rose, the silhouette of the gowns became grotesque, swallowing a lady’s figure in a ball of fabric.

dress of the princess augusta_1799_hern

The dress of the Princess Augusta, on the King’s Birthday, June 4, 1799. Phillips, The Fsshions of London and Paris, July 1799. Source: candicehern.com

While narrow clinging draperies falling about the feet in loose folds were being worn everywhere else — in the Park at assemblies, balls, routs, and dinners — ladies still went to Drawing rooms in enormous hoop petticoats. The rigidity of Court etiquette has always preserved decayed fashions…The effect of a hugely puffed out skirt under a low and extremely short bodice was most disfiguring. If hoops were unsightly before they became ten times more so then. – Georgiana Hill, A history of English dress: from the Saxon period to the present day, 1893,  p 291

1805 court dress_pub. tabart co bond street

A lady in court dress, 1805. Pub. by Tabart & Co. June, 1805, Bond Str.

Young ladies presented at court for the first time wore white gowns. Married ladies could wear a variety of colors.The gowns’ narrow trains looked out of proportion to the wide-hooped skirts. Head-dresses consisted of a diamond encrusted bandeau and from three to five to seven to more feathers. A variety of feathers were used for head ornamentation – heron, ostrich (the favorite), Bird of Paradise, pheasant, and macaw.

marchioness of Townshend_1806_2

Court gown, 1806, Marchioness of Townshend. Only the wealthy could purchase fashion magazines with colored plates. Most were published in black and white.

Upon the marriage of her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, the Marchioness of Townshend was appointed Mistress of the Robes, a situation which she still holds. Bell’s Court Fashionable Magazine, La Belle Assemblee, Vol 1, Part 1, p 17-18

Occasions for a woman’s appearances at court included the presentation of the daughters of peers and rich merchants who wished to make their debut in Society, after a woman was married, and after an honor had been conferred on her husband, such as a diplomatic mission or a new title.

Publisher, John Bell. Caption on image: Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales in her court dress on the fourth of June, 1807, as authentically taken from the real dress by Mrs. Webb of Pall Mall. London. Printed for the 18 no. of the La Belle Assemblee, published July 1, 1807 by John Bell, Weekly Messenger Office, Southampton Street, Strand..

Publisher, John Bell. Caption on image: Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales in her court dress on the fourth of June, 1807, as authentically taken from the real dress by Mrs. Webb of Pall Mall. London. Printed for the 18 no. of the La Belle Assemblee, published July 1, 1807 by John Bell, Weekly Messenger Office, Southampton Street, Strand. Digital Collection, University Libraries, University of Washington. Fashion Plate Collection, SpecColl GT513 F37 1800

In 1808 the hoops were wider than ever, but the waist was longer, in fact almost in its natural place. No pointed waists were seen; they were all round, whether high or low The contrast between a lady in Court dress and a lady arrayed for a fashionable party was so great that they seem to belong, not only to totally different periods, but to different nations.- Hill, p. 293

Rowlandson, Drawing Room at St. James's Palace in London, Microcosm o fLondon, 1810. Image, Wikimedia Commons.

Rowlandson, Drawing Room at St. James’s Palace in London, Microcosm of London, 1810. Image, Wikimedia Commons.

Feathers were worn very large and high in the earlier years of the century. There was little taste shown in the disposition of the plumes. -Hill, p 293

Court etiquette was strict; young ladies took lessons on how to walk when approaching the queen, proper curtsies, entering the room, and leaving the room. Court gowns cost the earth, but every young lady worth her salt had to presented to the queen before she could officially enter the Marriage Mart and engage in the rounds of social activities that the London Season offered.


Parisian court gown with high-standing Medici collar and train, 1807 (l). British court gown, with garlands of roses and 5-ostrich feather headdress, 1817-1818 (r).

By 1807, Parisians had sensibly adopted court gowns that resembled contemporary fashion silhouettes, while the British still clung to the more traditional, old-fashioned hooped skirts.

1808 La Belle Assemblee court dress

1808 La Belle Assemblee court dress. Waists had lowered somewhat, and the gowns did not look quite as ridiculous, but waists would soon rise again, stopping to just below the breasts. I imagine the assembled ladies at court looked like a flotilla of colorful balloons.

[The Regency] was a money making time for milliners, tailors, upholsterers and purveyors of all sorts As for the jewellers, their shops were literally ransacked, and diamonds were hired at ten per cent. -Hill, p294

Dressing for court was an enormously expensive investment. Careful attention was paid to displaying embroidery and embellishment in the most elaborate patterns. In a united show of thriftiness, Queen Charlotte and the young princesses frequently embroidered their own gowns. Designs were representations of natural objects, such as acorns, shells, wreaths of silver leaves and cloth roses, and peacock feathers. Gowns were made with silver tissue, net, satin, and chenille.

1808 La Belle Assemblee court dress

1808 La Belle Assemblee court dress

Pearls and diamonds were the regulation Court jewellery, and always used for necklaces and bandeaux, though all sorts of stones might be employed for garniture.-Hill, p296

1818 Court dress, British Ladies Magazine. Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

1818 Court dress, British Ladies Magazine. Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

Queen Charlotte presided over the royal drawing rooms until she died in 1818. Her daughters took on her duties at court in her place, but the standards for wearing round hoops continued at this time. When the Prince Regent ascended the throne in 1820 as King George IV, the rules for hoops were finally abandoned. Head-dresses. which were generally made of diamond bandeaux and white ostrich feathers, remained.

Hoops continued to be worn at Court up to the reign of George IV. It seems, however, that people were getting thoroughly tired of them, and that the milliners were less careful than when hoops were a universal fashion; for in 1818 there was a complaint in the Lady’s Magazine of the “ill-contrived” hoops seen at the Drawing-rooms, and ladies were warned that a good effect could not be produced unless great attention were given to procuring a well-formed hoop. -Hill, p. 297

John Bell, Publisher. Court dress, London, England, July 1, 1822. LACMA50 collection

John Bell, Publisher. Court dress, London, England, July 1, 1822. LACMA50 collection

When at length hoops were abolished by the good taste of George IV., the costumes worn at Drawing-rooms took the form of the fashions of the day. The clinging gowns were never seen at Court, for by the time the Court had left off wearing hoops the wider skirts were in fashion. In the reign of William IV. Court dress was pretty much the same as the full dress of the period, except for the trains and high feather. -Hill, p. 297

Buttons, Georgian Style

For a few years I have been collecting images of beautiful hand-crafted 18th century buttons on my Pinterest board: Buttons, Georgian Style. The buttons, as you can see from the collection, are tiny works of art. Some feature scenes or portraits, others are embroidered or worked metal.

Buttons from the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Buttons from the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Button with shank

Button with shank

The history of buttons is fascinating. The earliest discovered button was made 5,000 years ago from a curved shell. It served a decorative function and fit into a loop, such as for a heavy robe or flowing garments. By the middle ages, the wealthy began to wear buttons that helped to fit their clothes more tightly around the body. Unlike today’s buttons, many of which are punctured with holes, most buttons back then were made with shanks, which gave button-makers leeway to decorate button faces with artistry and imagination.

Buttons for men's coats

Buttons for men’s coats

The first button-makers guild was formed in France in 1250. Only the very wealthy – kings and nobility – could wear buttons then. They were such a valuable commodity that one could pay off a debt with a single button. Ladies could detach their sleeves with laces or bows or buttons. These sleeves could be washed separately from their garments, exchanged with other outfits, or even given to a lover as a token. During the Renaissance, luxurious buttons indicated social status. King Francis I ordered buttons from his jeweler; Henry VII met his future wife, Anne of Cleves, wearing bejeweled buttons.

more buttons

As an aside, ladies wore their buttons on the left to make it easier for their maids to dress them. Men usually dressed themselves and thus their buttons were placed on the right. Button decoration, of course, changed with the taste of the time, from the renaissance to the baroque, to rococo, and neoclassic. By the mid-18th century, the more prosperous middle class merchants advertised their new status wearing elaborate and expensive buttons.

Steel Buttons

In a period when ladies were piling towers of greased and powdered hair on their heads, men were adorning themselves with immense cut steel buttons and shoe buckles. One exquisite thus decorated gives a lady a Coup de Bouton which has the same effect as a mild sunstroke Plate XXVI, Social Caricature in the Eighteenth Century, George Paston, 1902, Google eBook

The variety of buttons made in the 18th century was staggering. They were crafted with ceramics, enamel, fabric, metal, repoussé or hammered metal, horn, bone, tortoise, gemstone, glass, ivory, papier mache, wood, iridescent white oyster, conch,  and materials under glass, such as fabric paint, feathers, paper collage or decoupage, etc. Dandies in the Georgian era resembled colorful peacocks, dazzling onlookers, as the caricature above points out. Beau Brummel’s influence on male fashion subdued such bright fripperies.

buttons met museum2

Buttons also took on many forms, like those that were hollowed-out for smugglers to carry contraband for transporting jewels .The poor fashioned their own buttons from bone, horns, shell, or wood. Dorset buttons, which resembled tiny wheels, were made by binding linen yarn or cheap woolen yarn over a disc.


Dorset button image from the Dorset Guide. Dorset Guide.

There was quite a cottage industry for Dorset buttons at this time. Work was scarce in that region in the mid-18th century, but there were some women who made buttons from home. This was a primary industry in Dorset for over a century. Women workers, often the sole breadwinners of the family, averaged 2 shillings a day for making 6 or 7 dozen buttons, which provided more preferable conditions for making money than laboring on a farm. Tracey Chevalier wrote a novel, Burning Bright, which was about Philip Astley and his amphitheatre. In it she featured a girl from Dorset who made buttons for a living – fascinating.

Interestingly, these beautiful buttons on my Pinterest page were worn by males. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that women’s clothes began to feature buttons again. During the Georgian and Regency periods women’s clothes were pulled together and kept in place by laces, pins, sashes, and bows.


I used to regard A&E as one of the premier cable channels in the U.S. Known then as the Arts and Entertainment Network, it ran such prestigious shows as the 6-hr 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Inspector Morse, Midsommer Murders, and Biography. (These days this once admirable network features rubbish like Storage Wars, Duck Dynasty, Dog, the Bounty Hunter, Flipping Las Vegas, and Donny Loves Jenny.)  Regardless of the transformation, I shall always be grateful to A&E for showcasing P&P in the fall of 1995. For six weeks we were treated to this marvelous adaptation of Jane Austen’s most famous novel. The mini-series held me spellbound (and my then husband as well). I wanted to be Lizzy to Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy. What romantic-minded lady didn’t?

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet

Rewatching the first minutes of the first episode, I was reminded of how compact and economical those opening scenes were – and how they crucially fed our expectations for the rest of the series. In interviews over the years, Andrew Davies, the screenwriter, said that he wanted to emphasize the lives of Regency men as well, and so the film opens with Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy racing through the fields on their steeds to view Netherfield Park, which was available to let. The relationship between Darcy and Bingley is immediately established – Bingley the eager puppy wanting his friend’s approval, and Darcy’s slightly caustic reply as a supportive older friend, cautioning him that he’ll find the society something savage.

As the two friends gallop away, the camera pans to Elizabeth, who pauses during her country walk to watch the men disappear. We follow the tomboyish Lizzy as she skips home over a dirt path, past a field with horses, and to the Bennet family home, Longbourn. Lizzy gazes through the window into her father’s study, while in the background we hear loud bickering between two young women. Mr. Bennet, holding a book in his right hand, rolls his eyes as Lizzy smiles in acknowledgment. This brief exchange demonstrates their close relationship in an instant.

We are then treated to a raucous scene in the parlor with Kitty, Lydia, and Mrs. Bennet in all their argumentative glory. Only Mary sits quietly, reading a book amid the mayhem. A calm, beautiful Jane greets Lizzy, who has just entered the hallway. Both respond to their mother’s shrill cries with half smiles and serene expressions. These scenes, in which the viewer meets quite a few of the principal characters, took all of 3 minutes.

We next see the Bennets at church in their Sunday best. The costumes are sumptuous; the locations are authentic – not the staged sets that were so prevalent in BBC dramas of the 70’s and 80’s. I recall the excitement I felt when I saw the care that the director and producers had taken to give us an “authentic” English Regency experience. Cameras followed the actors as they moved through the rooms of real houses and the lanes and paths of actual locations. The stilted production techniques inside studio interiors that used two or three fixed camera angles belonged to the past. The BBC and PBS had finally caught up with commercial television in shooting and producing drama that seemed realistic.

The church scene provides us with two of Jane Austen’s most famous lines. Mrs. Bennet runs after Mr. Bennet screeching, “Mr. Bennet, wonderful news. Netherfield Park is let at last!” We are then treated to the brilliant witty dialogue that Jane Austen crafted for Mr Bennet as he replies to his wife’s many suppositions and inanities.

Andrew Davies gives Lizzy the honor of speaking the novel’s famous opening line, “For a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” How apropos. Only 4:20 minutes have elapsed at this point. Even my ex, who had not read any of Jane’s novels, understood the plot for the full 6 episodes – two bachelors, five single girls, a silly mother, a sarcastic father, and romance and social history galore. We settled in for six hours of satisfying viewing time.

I could continue, but at this rate it would take me over 400 pages just to describe the first episode. Suffice it to say that I love Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and prefer Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy (horrid wig and all) over Keira Knightley as Lizzy 2005. Some critics with modern sensibilities found Ehle too old and zaftig for the part of Lizzy Bennet. Jennifer was 25 when she took on the role, only 5 years older than Lizzy. (Twenty-five year old Julia Sawalha, who played 15 year old Lydia, was ten years older! And let’s not argue about 30-something Greer Garson playing Lizzy Bennet in 1940 P&P. Awful.)

Mary Anne Clarke by Adam Buck, 1809. View more images here.

Mary Anne Clarke by Adam Buck, 1809. View more images here.

As for Jennifer Ehle being too heavy for the part of a 20 year old Regency girl, those critics need only to examine images of that era to see that Jennifer was the perfect size to play Lizzy. Keira Knightley possesses the thin fashionable looks that suit our 21st century tastes, but not those that depict early 19th century beauties. Feel free to disagree.

The 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice also benefited from the immensely satisfying performances of Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Bennet, Alison Steadman as Mrs. Bennet, David Bamber as the incredibly silly Mr. Collins, and Barbara Leigh-Hunt as insufferable Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I found very little fault with the supporting actors, who played their roles to perfection. I can’t say how often I’ve seen this version of P&P – 12, 15 times? I’ve lost count. Be assured that I’ll enjoy many more viewings.

In case you wondered how Mr. and Mrs. Darcy would look after 15 years of marriage, here’s a lovely image.

If you wonder how our favorite couple would have aged, here's an image of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth 15 years later.

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth 15 years later. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in 2010 after the King’s Speech premiere.

Additional bits of information about P&P 1995:

Left to right; Anna Chancellor, Jane Austen, Rev. George Austen. Bottom: Francis (l) and Charles (r) Austen.

Left to right; Anna Chancellor, Jane Austen, Rev. George Austen. Bottom: Francis (l) and Charles (r) Austen.


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