Archive for November, 2008

For centuries, gambling was viewed as a vice typical of the upper classes, but during the Regency this way of passing the time became an even more accepted practice. Card games were played at private parties and at public assemblies, where both sexes indulged in these activities. While the games were often harmless and played for fun, high stakes betting could lead to vice, shocking losses, and crippling addiction. Men gambled and lost vast sums in the men’s clubs in St. James’s, often losing their inheritance. Politicians seeking to deter such an exchange of lands, which undermined the stability of property, held a double standard towards those whom they deemed worthy of winning such wealth:

Regency card party

Regency card party

If a landowner chose to ‘make a sport’ of his property and to lose it, say, at the game of hazard, to another son of broad acres, that was his prerogative. But if, on the other hand, he was foolish enough to throw away what he had inherited to low-born adventurers or, worse, to Jewish moneylenders, the loss was invariably considered serious. The nation’s rulers judged it a threat to their own kind when an estate or any significant portion of one passed into the ‘wrong hands’. The Regency Underworld, Donald A. Lowe, p. 128, ISBN 0-7509-2121-8

Cruikshank, Interior of Modern Hell

Cruikshank, Interior of Modern Hell

One gets the sense that Jane Austen and her social set played cards for amusement and to wile away a pleasant hour or two with friends and family. For some ladies, gambling for profit was an acceptable way of supplementing a fixed income:

Well-off women with no other income sometimes allowed their houses to be turned into gambling houses. The two best known at the end of the eighteenth century, Lady Archer and Lady Buckingamshire, were only the most prominent of a circle of “faro” ladies who owned banks in private homes.- Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling, David G. Schwartz, p. 162, ISBN 1-592-40208-9

Although the two ladies claimed that their aristocratic birth gave them license to run gambling operations, they were subject to ridicule. Lady Buckinghamshire slept with a cache of weapons to protect her bank, and Lady Archer was known for wearing too much makeup. Faro began to decline in popularity, and by the early 19th century, young ladies in boarding school were learning whist and casino. Young gentlemen continued to play hazard, baccarat, and whist in men’s gaming clubs, also known as Hells.


The politician Charles Fox, able to play for long periods without sleep, lost his fortune at the gaming tables. Horace Walpole described one of Fox’s marathon gambling sessions:

He had sat up playing Hazard at Almack’s from Tuesday evening, 4th February [1778], till five in the afternoon of Wednesday 5th. An hour before he had recovered £12,000 that he had lost, and by dinner, which was at five o’clock, he had ended losing £11,000. On Thursday he spoke, went to dinner at past eleven at night; from thence to White’s, where he drank till seven the next morning; thence to Almack’s, where he won £6,000; and between three and four in the afternoon he set out for Newmarket. His brother Stephen lost £11,000 two nights after, and Charles £10,000 more on the 13th; so that in three nights the two brothers, the eldest not twenty-five, lost £32,000. – Lowe, p 129.

Fox’s father, Lord Holland, paid off his son’s debt to the princely tune of £140,000. (In today’s terms this sum would be astronomical – depending on the inflation converter you used, you would multiply the sum by 97 to get at the value of 1780 money today.) The Prince of Wales, in rebellion against his frugal father, modeled his own conduct after that of Fox. Known for his extravagant lifestyle, Prinny set the pace for hedonistic living as Regent and King.

whist-markersWhist Markers

More links on gambling and games in the Regency Era:

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Carolyn Freeman Travers, Research Manager at Plimoth Plantation, wrote in an article entitled, “Were They All Shorter Back Then?” that the “average height for an early 17th-century English man was approximately 5′ 6″. For 17th-century English women, it was about 5′ ½”. While average heights in England remained virtually unchanged in the 17th and 18th centuries, American colonists grew taller.”

This post in the News for Medievalists confirms Ms. Travers’ findings.

Early presidents
Image from “Does Height Matter in Politics?”

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Layout 1Inquiring readers, Simon the Coldheart, an early Georgette Heyer novel, was reviewed by my co-founder of our Jane Austen book group. Lady Anne would be the first person to admit that she is addicted to reading Ms. Heyer’s novels. Her collection of Georgette Heyer’s novels is complete – she owns all her regency romance novels, mysteries, and historical novels. (With 51 titles, that is saying something.)  This is Lady Anne’s review of one of Georgette Heyer’s earliest novels, which will be reissued by SourceBooks just in time for this holiday season.

No one gets period better than Georgette Heyer. Whether she is writing about England in the Regency era or the 15th Century, she has the details and the language perfectly.

In Simon the Coldheart Heyer uses period language to excellent effect. The story, characterized as a tale of chivalry and adventure, tells of young Simon, a base-born bastard of one Geoffrey of Malvallet, as he is off to make his way in the world. Our young hero is not one to feel sorry for his accident of birth, nor does he look to his father to support him. Simon instead styles himself Beauvallet – a nice little wordplay — and seeks to become a member of the household of one of his father’s enemies.
Matters would have gone ill with Simon but for the appearance of a boy, a little younger than himself, who came strolling towards them, followed by two liver-coloured hounds. He was dark, and magnificently clad, and he carried himself with an air of languid arrogance.

“Hola there! he called, and the soldiers fell away from Simon, leaving him to stand alone, arms folded and head turned to survey the newcomer.

The boy came up gracefully, looking at Simon with a questioning lift to his brows.

“What is this?” he asked. “Who are you who strike our men?”

Simon stepped forward.

“So please you sir, I seek my Lord the Earl.”

One of the men, he whom Simon had dealt that lusty blow, started to speak, but was hushed by an imperious gesture from the boy. He smiled at Simon with a mixture of friendliness and hauteur.

“I am Alan of Montlice,” he said. “What want you of my father?”

Simon doffed his cap, showing his thick, straight hair clubbed across his brow and at the nape of his brown neck. He bowed awkwardly.

I want employment, sir, he replied.

Simon is strong and sure of himself. His great confidence amuses and charms Fulk of Montlice, in whose household he seeks to live, and he is awarded a place. Fulk’s son is about Simon’s age, and the two very different young men become close friends. No jealousy or tiresome infighting here.

The book is set in the early 15th Century, and before long, we find ourselves with King Henry IV and young Prince Hal fighting Hotspur and Owen Glendower, in that famous uprising. Young Simon proves himself in battle – no surprise – and comes to the rescue of his half-brother, the young Geoffrey of Malvallet. The rescue earns him a knighthood and begins another surprising friendship, this time with his half-brother. During the next few years, Simon is a knight in the household of Fulk, and young Alan of Montlice, always in love, despairs over Simon. But Simon is looking for a home. On the day that he finds a baronetcy in disarray, he also learns of a plot against King Henry. Gathering some of the men of Montlice around him, he goes to London to tell Henry, and so is awarded the home he needs. His father comes to ask him to live in his household, but he refuses. Because he goes his solitary way, he earns the soubriquet of Coldheart.

But here, Heyer is on firm psychological ground. The base-born child of a servant-girl who died in his childhood is likely to keep his own council and wish to establish his own line. At our first meeting of Simon he claims to be going to his goal, and throughout the book, he stays clear on that. He does not have the luxury of excuses, or whining, or wasting time over women or poetry. He is intent on making his way. It could be an interesting portrait of a complex person, but Heyer only alludes to it. Her business is with the history, and the fun of a group of young men.

Soon enough, Prince Hal, now King Henry V, calls on Simon, his half-brother Geoffrey, and his great friend Alan to assist with the war in France. This is Shakespeare’s Henry at Agincourt, and the battles that Simon and his men fight are a continuation of that part of the Hundred Year’ War. Like his King, Simon meets a strong-willed Frenchwoman at Belremy, and in the end, of course, the lady Margaret falls before Simon and Simon is Coldheart no more. Ultimately, King Henry makes Simon his lieutenant and warden of the lands and marches of Normandy. Heyer, ever the careful scholar, notes in a footnote that in fact the Earls of March and Salisbury held that title.

Simon the Coldheart is an early book, originally published in 1925. As always, Heyer’s details describe the period, and in this book, she takes the further step of using language suited to the time: slightly inverted, filled with pomp and chivalry. It adds greatly to total experience. The book is a romp, fun for those of us who loved the transformation of Prince Hal into Henry, and fun for anyone who would want to read of that bygone age of chivalry. Click here to order the book.

Click on More Book Links Here:

Our Other Georgette Heyer Reviews Sit Below

These Georgette Heyer books, available this holiday season, will be reviewed on this blog and Jane Austen Today.

Cotillion, Simon the Coldheart, The Reluctant Widow, Faro's Daugher, and The Conqueror

Cotillion, Simon the Coldheart, The Reluctant Widow, Faro's Daughter, and The Conqueror

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Two generations gone—gone in a moment! I have felt for myself, but I have also felt for the prince regent. My Charlotte is gone from the country—it has lost her. She was a good, she was an admirable woman. None could know my Charlotte as I did know her. It was my study, my duty, to know her character, but it was also my delight. – Prince Leopold to Sir Thomas Lawrence after the death of his wife.

Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold at their Wedding

Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold at their Wedding

Princess Charlotte’s death after giving birth to a still-born son on November 5, 1817 elicited a national outpouring of grief that was unprecedented in Britain, and her funeral drew massive mourning crowds on a scale similar to those who thronged to Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997. In stark contrast to her father, the Prince Regent, who was universally despised, the young princess was extremely popular, and her pregnancy was closely followed by an enthusiastic public. Charlotte, the only child of George, Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and George IV) by his wife Caroline of Brunswick, had been married a mere seventeen months before to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha amid pomp and splendor. A dutiful young Regency wife, she became pregnant almost immediately, but suffered two miscarriages before carrying her third child to full term. Though her grandfather, George III, had 7 sons and 5 daughters, Charlotte was the only legitimate grandchild. Thus this pregnancy was a truly significant one.

Charlotte  began her pregnancy as a healthy and robust young woman, but after months of blood-letting and a strict diet, an accepted medical practice prescribed by her physician, Sir Richard Croft, she grew feeble. Her death after her tortuous two-day, 50-hour labor would precipitate a new age in medicine,

Princess Charlotte

Princess Charlotte

ending arch-conservatism in obstetrics. At the time that Princess Charlotte gave birth there were two schools of medical thought in delivering a baby: intervention and non-intervention. During the previous century, anatomical knowledge about the birth process increased. Henrick Van Deventer showed that the female pelvis was unyielding during labor, and forceps were introduced. Intervention during labor was still crude, largely consisting of extracting the baby with forceps during a breech birth in order to save the mother’s life. A cesarean section, which might have saved the baby, would surely have resulted in Princess Charlotte’s death.

Princess Charlotte’s physician had married the daughter of a prominent physician who had trained him and who belonged to the non-intervention school of obstetrics. On the evening of November 3, the Princess’s water broke. Although Dr. Croft had accurately diagnosed a breech birth, he decided not to use forceps during the first stage of labor. He also did not administer pain killers. Prince Leopold was so concerned about his wife’s labor that he rarely left her side.

Throughout the Princess’s labour, Royal Physicians, courtiers and ladies-in-waiting had been in constant attendance. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Home Secretary waited in a downstairs room, while her husband, Prince Leopold, was often at her side. The first stage of her labour, lasting 26 hours, was characterised by inefficient contractions of the uterus – there was very slow progress towards the full dilatation, or opening up, of the cervix that is an essential step in natural birth. The second stage of labour, that part involving the actual pushing of the baby out into the world, which at the beginning of the 21st century we believe should be accomplished in two or three hours, dragged on for twenty-four. The attending doctors were concerned by the appearance of meconium, the dark green bowel contents of the newborn – meconium detected in the course of labour suggests that the infant is becoming distressed. And indeed the child, a boy, was stillborn. Following the birth there was a brisk haemorrhage which undoubtedly contributed to the Princess’s demise. Despite the best efforts of the galaxy of medical talent gathered at Charlotte’s bedside, the royal line could not be secured. So depressed by the tragic event was the Royal Physician Sir Richard Croft that he later committed suicide. – De Costa

leonardo-fetus-in-wombAfter 50 hours, Princess Charlotte delivered a stillborn 9-pound son. His head had been in a sideways position and was too large for her pelvis. After the delivery Charlotte seemed to do well at first, and she was even given some port wine to drink after two days without food (she mentioned later that the alcohol made her tipsy), but after several hours she became restless, had difficulty breathing, and her pulse became rapid and feeble. She developed malaise and weakness, followed by somnolence then agitation, with progressive worsening and death. Five and half hours after her delivery she died from post partum haemorrhage and shock. Three months after this event, Sir Richard Croft committed suicide, unable to live with the resulting criticism and the knowledge that he had been responsible for the two deaths. Later it was concluded that:

Physicians attending her had failed to act with effective means at their disposal, hastening her demise. In the aftermath of this widely publicized tragedy, “rational intervention” — best represented in the work of Davis — gained force once again. This development included the use of ergot (to stimulate uterine contraction during labor and for expulsion of the placenta), experimentation with blood transfusion, and the introduction of anesthesia for obstetrics by Simpson, all intended to make birth safer, as well as less painful. – Obstetric Literature and the Changing Character of Childbirth

For my other post about medicine in this era, click on: The Physician in the 19th Century

For more information about this triple tragedy and about the Princess, click on the links below:

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Terrance Hill, author

Terrence Hill, author


I can’t wait to finish Two Guys Read Jane Austen written by life long friends Steve Chandler and Terrence Hill. The beginning chapters, which combine biography,  insights, humor, and information, are quite promising and I feel confident that Terrence and Steve will answer my question: What do literate men think about Jane’s fabulous novels? Using an epistolary format, Steve and Terrence write their observations about Jane’s perennial best-seller Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park.

  • Read author Steve Chandler’s description of the book on his blog, iMindShift.

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It’s been years since I’ve run across the word “clodpole”, which Georgette Heyer uses to great effect in Cotillion, one of the splendid Regency romance novels that Sourcebooks had brought out and is available for order, including as an E-book, in this link. Half the fun of reading Ms. Heyer’s books is discovering which of her stereotypical characters will court or insult each other in that ironic British upper class way we Heyer fans have come to love.


In Cotillion we meet a veritable bevy of the typical Heyer characters:

  • Eccentric, old and tight-fisted uncle? Check.
  • Young and pretty heiress? Check.
  • Silly spinster chaperone? Check.
  • Buffoonish impoverished earl? Check.
  • Darkly handsome rake? Check.
  • Foppish Pink of the Ton? Check.
  • Long-suffering but pleasantly surprised father? Check.
  • Beautiful but vapid beauty in distress? Check.

The list of Heyer archetypes goes on and on, but we don’t care. We WANT the familiarity of Georgette Heyer’s typical characters, for they play off each other so well. Like an audience at a concert that has been performed in other music halls, we are interested in how this new orchestration of a well-known arrangement will compare to the others. In Cotillion, Heyer’s particular brand of Regency music reaches the heights of perfection. The rich uncle hopes that by bequeathing his entire estate to his orphaned ward, Kitty, he will force his favorite nephew, Jack, to vie for her hand in marriage. For the sake of equality,  Jack must propose alongside his other male cousins so that all may have an equal chance. But Jack won’t be manipulated and forced to court Kitty. An inveterate gambler,  he bets that Kitty and the considerable fortune she stands to inherit will always be available to him, for she has had an unhidden crush on him since the schoolroom. Jack didn’t count on the one variable that would put a spoke in his plans: Kitty’s anger at his absence and her stubborn determination to teach him a lesson.

Enter the Honourable Frederick Standen. The reader first meets this Exquisite in typical Heyer style:

The young gentleman who alighted from the chaise must have been recognized at sight by the discerning as a Pink of the Ton, for although his judgment, which, in all matters of Fashion, was extremely nice, had forbidden him to travel into the country arrayed in the long-tailed coat of blue superfine, the pantaloons of delicate yellow, and the tasselled Hessian boots which marked him in the Metroplolis as a veritable Tulip, or Bond Street Beau, none but a regular Dash, patronizing the most exclusive of tailors, could have presented himself in so exquisitely moulded a riding-coat, such peerless breeches, or such effulgent top-boots.

Freddy, though fond of Kitty, is not in love with her, and he is out of his depth when it comes to countering her will. Before he knows it he is engaged to her and has promised her a month in London before she must return to her uncle’s stuffy old mansion. Ms. Heyer takes her time setting up this fun plot, but knowing the particulars will be important, for when she sets events in motion they roll along seemingly of their own accord and with some unexpected twists that are sure to delight.

Can Frederick successfully introduce his faux Intended to his family and Society without having to submit to the Shackles of Marriage?

Will Jack be able to forgive Kitty for (unsuccessfully) trying to make him jealous?

Will Kitty, a total Innocent when it comes to London Society, be able to stay out of trouble?

As the plot thickens, we are treated to one priceless scene after another, including those of Kitty dragging Freddy to all the Sights of London. Our fastidious Freddy is aghast when forced to enter the musty rooms of the Egyptian Hall, and feels downright incensed when viewing the Elgin Marbles. “Why, they have no heads!” he expostulates, feeling very put upon at having to escort Kitty to places that he’d never intended to see or ever see again. He’d have much preferred to take her to Astley’s Amphitheatre or the Royal Circus, but both edifices did not open until Easter Monday.

Freddy’s family adds spice to this hugely enjoyable novel. His sister Meg, whose taste in Fashion is questionable; his mother, who spends most of the novel tending to her sick children; and his father, whose encounters with his son are all too brief and rare, add to the deliciousness of this convoluted plot. The title of the book hints at plot developments that are not so obvious at first, for when dancing the Cotillion, partners must switch and change within the dance formations.  If you are looking for a book to read during the Thanksgiving holidays, I cannot recommend Cotillion enough, for its conclusion is as satisfying as its very promising beginning.

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wedding-dress-18182Gentle Readers, My niece is getting married and I will be away for a week to attend her wedding. In celebration, I have created this Georgian to Victorian era wedding dress post that consists of a series of quotes gathered on the topic.

The handsome veil of Mechlin lace,
A sister’s love bestows,
It adds new beauties to her face,
Which now with pleasure glows.
Friends brothers sisters cousins meet,
To attend the happy bride,
And Queer’s joy is all complete,
The nuptial knot is tied –
The Dandy’s Wedding, London, 1823, Two Centuries of Costume in America, MDCXX-MDCCCXX By Alice Morse Earle

Hand made lace was extremely expensive and few brides could afford a veil. As the 19th century progressed and machine made laces became more readily available, the bridal veil became more prevalent at weddings.
White was not the prevalent color for wedding dresses during this era. Royal bridal gowns were made of silver tissue and lace, and for a short time regency brides preferred to wear yellow bridal dresses over other colors.

You may be surprised to learn that in the 1800’s, it was common for brides to wear everyday colors such as blue, pink, green, dark brown, burgundy and, yes, even black, rather than white and ivory. It was much more practical for a bride of the average class to wear darker colors for a variety of reasons. One major reason being money. Prudent brides planned ahead – a wedding gown could be worn for many occasions, not just on their “special day.” The wedding gown was a lady’s “best dress” after the ceremony and it was much more practical to have a darker colored dress than a white or ivory dress. Let’s take a minute to imagine the time and effort involved in keeping the hemline of a white gown clean! Dust and dirt and no modern conveniences! Just think about what a white hemline would look like at the end of a day! Laundering was a big consideration, unless, of course, the lady was from a prominate family who had servants available to handle the laundry. – Wedding Gown Traditions

Princess Charlotte's silver net wedding gown, 1815

Princess Charlotte

Description of Princess Charlotte’s Wedding in 1816: The Royal Bride, happy in obtaining him whom her heart had selected, and whom consenting friends approved, wore on her countenance that tranquil and chastened joy which a female so situated could not fail to experience. Her fine fair hair, elegantly yet simply arranged, owed more to its natural beautiful wave than to the art of the friseur; it was crowned with a most superb wreath of brilliants, forming rosebuds with their leaves.

Her dress was silver lama [lamé] on net, over a silver tissue slip, embroidered at the bottom with silver lama in shells and flowers. Body and sleeves to correspond, elegantly trimmed with point Brussels lace. The manteau was of silver tissue lined with white satin, with a border of embroidery to answer that on the dress, and fastened in front with a splendid diamond ornament. Such was the bridal dress … La Belle Assemblee, May 1816

In the 1800’s, gray became a color for wedding gowns for brides of lower classes because the dress became re-used as the bride’s Sunday best. For those who had to wear a dress that would be used for regular occasions after the wedding, many brides would decorate the dress for the special day with temporary decorations.

The “traditional” wedding dress as known today didn’t appear until the 1800’s. By 1800, machine made fabrics and inexpensive muslins made the white dress with a veil the prevailing fashion. By the nineteenth century, a bride wearing her white dress after the wedding was accepted. Re-trimming the dress made it appropriate for many different functions.- Ezine Articles: Wedding Dresses

Satiric wedding scene, Thomas Rowlandson

Satiric wedding scene, Thomas Rowlandson

1907 Worth Wedding gown

1907 Worth Wedding gown

The bridal image has not always been white. Wedding dresses were virtually any color in the 1800’s, said Phyllis Magidson, the curator of ”New York Gets Married.”

”It was simply the best dress your family had to offer, meant to be worn at special occasions thereafter,” she said. A very wealthy woman might have her gown made at Maison Worth in Paris, where a dress could cost as much as a middle-class person’s salary for a year, but for most people, Ms. Magidson added, ”wearing something that was specifically and solely intended to be worn for the wedding — the concept that we have of being a fairy princess — is a fairly contemporary perception.”

Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840 was the 19th-century equivalent of Lady Diana Spencer’s extravaganza in 1982, and Victoria just happened to get married in white because she wanted her gown trimmed with a particularly rich lace. Her wedding-picture engravings were so widely circulated that the public began to associate white with weddings, Ms. Magidson said. – New York Times, Style, 1997

Queen Victoria's White Gown

Queen Victoria

The wedding of Queen Victoria had more of an impact than most and actually started an entirely new trend when she decided not to wear the traditional royal silver bridal gown. Instead Queen Victoria gave the white wedding dress completely new meaning and symbolism when she married her beloved Prince Albert in a simple dress, made of white satin, trimmed with Honiton lace, with Honiton long veil and a wreath of orange blossoms to represent purity. It was then that white became the dominant, traditional choice, symbolizing purity and maidenhood. – Emma’s Wedding Diary

Reproduction wedding dress in two parts, from 1799 model

Reproduction wedding dress in two parts, from 1799 model

Additional Links:

There is an old poem about how the color of your wedding dress will influence your future: “Married in white, you will have chosen all right. Married in grey , you will go far away. Married in black, you will wish yourself back. Married in red, you’ll wish yourself dead. Married in blue, you will always be true. Married in pearl, you’ll live in a whirl. Married in green, ashamed to be seen, Married in yellow, ashamed of the fellow. Married in brown, you’ll live out of town. Married in pink, your spirits will sink.” – History of the White Wedding Dress

Modern Jane Austen inspired chiffon gown wedding dress

Modern Jane Austen inspired chiffon gown wedding dress

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Fashion in England and France, 1750-1820

The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France, 1750-1820

A free online, 15-week, self-directed class is offered on the Costumer’s Manifesto, a megasite for those who are interested in fashion and costumes. Click here to start the course, which begins with ancient times and takes the student through the mid-twentieth century.  The course is designed and authored by Tara McGinnis, Ph.D., creator of the Costumer’s Manifesto.

Another fabulous find on the CM is Blog.mode, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s fashion blog that coincided with a special exhibition addressing fashion. The site has unfortunately closed, but one can still access all the posts and comments, such as this post about a comparison of two white dresses, one made in the 1820’s and the other in the 1830’s.

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What’s not to like about amanda-looks-onLost in Austen? This rollicking fun time travel satire premiered last night in Canada on Viva, a new entertainment channel for women. Links to my Lost in Austen reviews sit below:


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Glengarry riding habit, 1817

Glengarry riding habit, 1817, Ackermann

During the first two decades of the nineteenth century, riding habits echoed the high-waisted empire styles that prevailed and the fashion trends that were currently in vogue. The light blue Glengarry riding habit of 1817 (at right) is typical of the fashion of the day. The military-inspired dress was trimmed with lace, braids (image at bottom of post), and frogs. The hat was made of cork, a sensible light weight material, which was visually overpowered by the plumes of feathers that arched over the wearer’s face. Unlike later riding habits, regency riding costumes came in a variety of colors:

It must be remembered that riding dress fashions had not yet fixed on dark colors. Every tint of bright color was used, even figured materials. . . Cloth was of course the general material, but velvet was also used and even silk.  There seemed to be no limit to the equipments and trimmings of habits. Where undersleeves were worn in full dress, they appear on the habits. If fichus were the mode, fichus were worn on horseback, while artificial flowers decked riding hats, as well as long feathers. Necklaces even appear, and frequently chatelaines with watches and various trinkets. I have seen several old French and English fashion plates in which the rider carried a carefully spread fan. If ruffs were worn in full dress, ruffs appeared on horseback. If embroidery was worn, the habit was embroidered.  Two Centuries of Costume in America, MDCXX-MDCCCXX By Alice Morse Earle

Frog fastening

Frog fastening

Lady in riding habit, 1720

Lady in riding habit, 1720

Braiding and frog fastenings of the era were heavily influenced by the return of English troops from Egypt. Frogs had been used in the East since ancient times, and added a dashing, even exotic touch.

The masculine influence in riding habits began near the end of the 17th Century when ladies adopted masculine coats and waistcoats for riding and hunting. The tailored tops were paired with feminine petticoats, as in this illustration. Horse riding had always been an important and fashionable sport for the upper classes, but these masculine-inspired riding habits were condemned from the start by critics who argued that the bold outfits belied a woman’s innate modesty. Some women began to wear them in the most unexpected places.

Samuel Pepys wrote famously in his diary on June 11, 1666:

Walking in the galleries at White Hall, I find the Ladies of Honour dressed in their riding garbs, with coats and doublets with deep skirts, just, for all the world, like mine; and buttoned their doublets up to the breast, with periwigs under their hats; so that, only for a long petticoat dragging under their men’s coats, nobody could take them for women in any point whatever; which was an odde sight, and a sight did not please me.

It took a long time for these outfits to become generally accepted. Almost eighty years after Samuel Pepys wrote his remarks, Samuel Richardson reminded women in his Familiar Letters on Important Occasions (1741) that:

as sure as any thing intrepid, free, and in a prudent degree bold, becomes a man: so whatever is soft, tender, and modest, renders your sex amiable. In this one instance we do not prefer our own likeness; and the less you resemble us, the more you are sure to charm: For a masculine woman is a character as little creditable as becoming. (Women of Quality, Ingrid H. Tague, 2002, p 52.)

Not all men of the era became chagrined at the thought of a woman in mannish attire. In 1670, Cardinal Dubois, a Frenchman, wrote in his Mémoires:

Mme de Fontanges – let us follow our young beauty as she goes hunting with her prince. That day she was wearing an expensively embroidered riding habit and a hat covered with the most beautiful plumes procurable. She looked so elegant in this costume none other could have suited her better. Nicole-Cargill-Kipar’s Late 17th Century Clothing History

Riding costume, 1841

Riding costume, 1841

Despite their doubtful propriety, ladies continued to wear riding outfits, and as the 18th century progressed these costumes began to be more accepted.  With the changing fashion, the silhouette became more frilly and femininized and began to take on a higher waistline. In fashion plates the riding costume would be accessorized with a riding crop to distinguish the outfit from carriage costumes, which were made with similar sturdy, long-wearing cloth. By the end of the nineteenth century riding costumes had come full circle and taken on a more somber, tailored, and masculine look. Ladies’s riding habits began to be fashioned by men’s tailors as well as dressmakers.  In a New York Times article from June 1901, the author wrote: “the lady on horseback is as much of a man, down to the saddle, as circumstances permit.”

This description of the Glengarry Riding Habit (top image) was written in Ackermann’s Repository, September, 1817. A dressmaker named Miss M’Donald was responsible for its creation.

It is composed of the finest pale blue cloth, and richly ornamented with frogs and braiding to correspond. The front, which is braided on each side, fastens under the body of the habit, which slopes down on each side in a very novel style, and in such a manner as to define the figure to considerable advantage. The epaulettes and jacket are braided to correspond with the front., as is also the bottom of the sleeve, which is braided nearly half-way up the arm. The habit shirt is composed of cambric, with a high standing collar, trimmed with lace. The cravat is of soft muslin, richly worked at the ends and tied in a full bow, and there are narrow lace ruffles at the wrists. The headdress takes the form of the Glengary cap, composed of blue satin, and trimmed with plaited ribbon of various shades of blue, and a superb plume of feathers. Blue kid gloves are worn and half-boots. Sources: Riding Habits, Candice Hern, and Nineteenth-Century Costume and Fashion, Herbert Norris and Oswald Curtis.

Images of Riding Habits in the Regency Era:

History of Riding Habits

More links:

Image of 1841 riding habit from Redingote Fashion History.

Military influence in the Spencer jacket, with braided piping, 1815

Military influence in the Spencer jacket, with braided piping, 1815. Image: Kyoto Costume Institute.

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1809 Silk Pelisse, Victoria and Albert Museum

1809 Silk Pelisse, Victoria and Albert Museum

1801 Court Dress with Train, Centraal Museum

1801 Court Dress with Train, Centraal Museum

Nineteenth Century Fashions: A Compendium offers a breathtaking series of thumbnails of 19th Century fashions from museum collections and websites around the world.  The images are not original. In fact, a score of them have already been discussed on this site, such as the images from the Kyoto Costume Institute. Click on the link, then click on the years that interest you. Enjoy!

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Inquiring reader: I featured this post on Jane Austen Today on November 3, but I loved the history of the back story so much that I wanted to publish the post here also. For another nearly forgotten Pride and Prejudice performance, click on Celia Johnson: The Forgotten Elizabeth Bennet.

Seen on the blogosphere is this quote from Theater Mania about the 1958-1959 season:

One of the season’s short-lived shows was First Impressions, a musical version of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, in which Polly Bergen took over the lead role of Elizabeth Bennett three weeks before opening. “I replaced Gisele MacKenzie and had to learn the score very fast,” she told me. “Farley Granger [who played Mr. Darcy] and Hermione Gingold [who played Mrs. Bennett] were not singers, so I carried the vocal load of the show. It was a vicious dog-eat-dog atmosphere.”

The action took place in the early 19th Century, causing one critic to snipe that “Polly Bergen is about as period as Mickey Mantle.” She had the critique framed and hung above her desk. “I learn more from bad reviews than good ones. Everything was rushed; the last thing I gave any thought to was that it took place in 1813! It was a horrific experience, and I thought that was what Broadway was. But it’s really the medium I love.”

“As Darcy, Hollywood’s Farley Granger is the stuff telephone poles are made of.”

Here’s more about Polly Bergen in an interview that Jane Austen would have appreciated for its satiric humor:

Polly Bergen. First Impressions. NYC (Photo: Polly Bergen, Stuart Hodes)
At the first full cast rehearsal, when Polly Bergen Polly Bergen and Stuart Hodescame in I recognized her perfume.

“Aah, Vent Vert!
She stopped. “How come you know?”
“It’s my favorite. I bought some in Paris.”
I’d bought a bottle in Paris but had first sniffed it on Air France which had a full bottle in every john. I decided not to share that detail with Bergen.
The next day when Bergen arrived she approached, leaned close, and said, “Okay, what’s this?”
I had no idea. “Chanel Number 5.”
I took another sniff. “I got it! Pissoir d’amour.
She gave me a faint smile. “You’re quite an expert.”— Stuart Hodes

One may purchase the cast album on Amazon.com today for around a whopping $90. The following is an Al Hirschfeld cartoon of Polly Bergen in 1958.

Shubert Theatre Playbill of First Impressions

Shubert Theatre Playbill for First Impressions

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