Musical Instruments in Regency England

When I first began reading Jane Austen’s and Georgette Heyer’s novels, the pianoforte seemed to be the musical instrument of choice for every Regency era heroine.

Portrait of Geneviève Aimée Victoire Bertin by Francois-Xavier Fabre

Jane Austen often equated a woman’s ability on the pianoforte to her overall value to society as an “accomplished woman.” In her novel Pride and Prejudice here’s how Caroline Bingley described Miss Georgiana Darcy:

The harp was another instrument mentioned in Austen’s novels, but with much less frequency; once again, Caroline Bingley mentioned the harp in regard to Georgiana Darcy:

“I am delighted to hear of her improvement on the harp.”

Author Georgette Heyer, who wrote her novels set during the Regency over one hundred years after Austen, also wrote about female characters who played the pianoforte. She also mentioned harps in her stories but usually for comic value, such as when a male character complained about a woman “twanging” away at a harp.

In recent years I’ve come to learn that there was another musical instrument that was just as popular—if not more so—than the pianoforte and the twanging harp: The guitar.

Lady with a Guitar, by Francois Xavier Fabre

I’ve found quite a few portraits of people—women and men—who lived during the Regency era and were memorialized with a guitar.

I find this so interesting, mainly because I always associated guitars with twentieth century America. Say the word guitar and I think of a cowboy strumming “Home on the Range” while sitting with his fellow cowpokes around a campfire. I never really thought of the guitar being prevalent in the early nineteenth century, and I certainly never thought of it being English.

Young Woman Playing Guitar, by Adele Romany.

Another instrument that’s often featured in portraits of the time is the lyre. Unlike the guitar, the lyre makes sense to me, given that a majority of the early Regency years were influenced by Greek symbols and stylings.

Portrait of Hortense Bonaparte, by Fleury-Francois Richard (1815)

In this post I’ve shared a few examples of portraits I found, but I’ve collected even more examples on one of my Pinterest boards, and I’d love to have you take a look!

Click here to visit my new Pinterest board, “Musical Instruments in the Regency.” I hope you enjoy it; and be sure to subscribe to the board so you’ll be notified when I add new images. I’m pretty certain I’m going to be posting some more images of guitars and lyres and pianofortes. And who knows? Maybe I’ll come across some other surprising musical instruments to share with you!


Embroidered or Beaded?

I’m always on the lookout for images to use for inspiration in my writing, especially when it comes to writing descriptions of Regency era clothing.

Not long ago I came found his image on The Met Museum’s website:

This, I thought, is a very nice linen gown, perfect for a warm summer day; and it has some lovely embroidery along the neckline and on the hems of the sleeves and skirt.

The shape of the gown appealed to me, too, because the extra fabric gathered in back reminded me of the “round gown” popular around the year 1800. And the scalloped edges on the hems of the sleeves and skirt were something I couldn’t recall seeing before.

Luckily, The Met had additional photos of the gown’s details, so I took a look at the close-up of the gown’s neckline:

And that’s when I realized I wasn’t looking at embroidery; I was looking at beading.

Lots and lots of beading! Every bit of color on this gown is comprised of tiny colored beads arranged in intricate designs. Here’s a close-up of the beading along the bottom of the skirt:

Each motif is executed perfectly. In fact, from a distance, you would think it was a machine printed fabric.

What’s astonishing to me is how well preserved the gown is; after two-hundred years, every tiny bead is still in its place.

I just love this gown because it’s so deceptively simple with its plain linen fabric, but after spending some time looking at the exquisite bead-work, I have to wonder if this wasn’t a very expensive gown to purchase.

Even more, I wonder about the talented woman (or women) responsible for creating such a lovely gown. Their skills are a lost art!

Stories from Quarry Bank

Not long ago I wrote a post for the Austen Authors blog about Charles Bingley, a character in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. (You can click on the Austen Authors logo to read the post.)

If you’ve read Austen’s classic novel, you know that Charles Bingley and his sisters are quite wealthy by the standards of their day. They certainly enjoyed the finer things in life and spent their money freely on travel, clothes, and large, expensive homes. Austen told us the Bingley siblings inherited their wealth from their father, and that the family fortune had been “acquired by trade.”

I’ve often believed “trade” meant ownership in a textile mill, a belief I explained in the Austen Authors post. Also in the post, I wondered what kind of mill owner the Bingley’s father would have been.

My opinion has always been that the elder Mr. Bingley would have been among the enlightened brand of mill owners. By that, I mean that he treated his employees with respect and probably established churches and schools for his workers. I based my theory on research I did about Quarry Bank, a real-life mill founded in 1784 in Manchester, England.

At the time I wrote that post, I didn’t know there was a book about Quarry Bank Mill that described the workers and the conditions at the mill. Nor was I aware English television had broadcast a dramatic series that told the stories of the children who worked at the real Quarry Bank Mill.

I haven’t seen the series, but last week I discovered the book on Amazon. You can click on the book cover to read more about it

I just ordered my copy, and it’s on it’s way (Thank you, Prime two-day-shipping!).

On a whim, I switched from the U.S. Amazon site to the U.K. Amazon site to see if I could find a DVD of the TV series. Lo, and behold, Amazon U.K. has quite a few books about Quarry Bank Mill! Oh, how I wish I had known about them before!

This book, for example, is only 128 pages long, but contains over 250 pictures of life at the mill:

And this one really piqued my interest:

It tells the story of the wife of Quarry Bank Mill’s owner, and her life-long efforts to improve the education, health and welfare of Quarry Bank’s workers.

Both of these books are must-haves for me! And if you’re a fan of North and South (another classic novel that centers around early English Textile mills), or ever wondered how those Bingleys got so rich, you may find these books of interest, too.

If you’ve read any of these books, I’d love to know what you think of them!

Symbolic Armor

I’m an American fascinated with all things British, especially manor houses. In my Yankee mind, every English country house has a butler, a stable full of horses, and an ominous-looking suit of armor standing guard in the hall near the front door.

Suit of Armor inside Peles Castle, Romania (from Pinterest)

But then, a funny thing happened.

While browsing through The Metropolitan Museum of Art collections, I came across this eighteenth century helmet and shield, and all my previous fascinations with battle armor went out the window.

It’s gorgeous! No clunky, clanking armor here; just beautiful design, plenty of gilt, and a deep blue patina that makes every beautiful detail stand out.

This kind of armor was symbolic, rather than functional. Its design was based on Classical themes that remind me of Greek and Roman heroes.

It’s also the kind of armor that was created to impress all who saw it. Very probably it graced an important place in a grand castle or estate, in the same way we’d hang a Monet or Rembrandt so it could be viewed and admired.

Thanks to this display at The Met I now have an entirely new take on armor, and a new bit of inspiration to use when I want to imagine the luxurious interior of a great English country house.

If you’d like to know more about this helmet and shield (as well as other armor on display), follow this link to The Met’s website.

Jane Austen’s Novels Are . . .

. . . not romances nor are they historical fiction. So, how do we Janeites describe her novels to someone who has never read them before?

I’m tackling that question on the Austen Authors blog today. Please click on the link below and share your opinion!

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

For the past few weeks we’ve been in a deep-freeze in Colorado. Before going outside I have to bundle up in multiple layers of clothing, before I don my warmest coat, gloves, and hat.

I may not look very stylish; but under the circumstances, I’m much more interested in being warm than fashionable.

Not so for the gentlemen pictured in this post. They’re dressed to meet the winter elements while still maintaining a strong sense of Regency style.

Their coats appear to be made of different types of wools, while their coat collars are fashioned from velvets and furs.

In our modern times people don’t wear fur. We have the technology to create fabrics and garments that insulate us from cold, so we don’t need to rely on animal hides for warmth; that wasn’t the case for people who lived through in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

William Willoughby Cole (1807-1886), 3rd Earl of Enniskillen; by william Robinson

What I like about these images is that I can sense the weight of the garments these gentlemen are wearing. They look pretty substantial—like they might have some weight to them.

I also think the luxurious fabrics and furs serve as a visual reminder of each gentleman’s wealth and stature; not everyone could afford to wear fine furs.

John Arthur Douglas Bloomfield, 2nd Baron Bloomfield, 1819.

These images are part of my collection of men’s wear illustrations; I refer to them when I want to generally describe a gentleman dressed for a cold winter’s day in England . . . . which, I’m beginning to suspect, feel very similar to a cold day in Colorado!

Smokin’ Hot Literary Characters

Back in the day when cigarette smoking was cool (and some physicians actually prescribed cigarette smoking to their patients!) tobacco companies invested heavily in advertising.

One of the most successful and effective methods for spreading the word about cigarettes was through printed cigarette cards.

Issued between 1885 and the beginning of World War II, pictorial cards were extremely popular with consumers. Each cigarette pack included a collectible card and a bit of history, which might have helped smokers justify wasting their money and health on the wicked weed.

In England, John Player & Sons (a branch of The Imperial Tobacco Company) was arguably the most popular producer of collectible cards. They typically issued their cards in sets and encouraged consumers to collect them all.

The company issued hundreds of different sets, some containing as many as 50 individual cards. The most popular sets featured images of royalty, with collectible sets depicting kings and queens, coronations, castles, and highlighted events from a particular monarch’s reign.

While not quite as popular, the company also issued about a dozen sets dedicated to literary characters. Dickens was very popular; Thackeray and Scott had their own sets, too.


The images in this post give a sampling of characters from books published in 1766 to the mid-1800s. Some of the artwork was produced by major artists, including H. M. (Henry Matthew) Brock, British illustrator of Jane Austen’s novels.

I like these particular images, because they coincide with the way I imagined the characters in my head when I read the books.

An added bonus: the Cliffs-Notes-style descriptions of the books on the reverse side of the cards, which gave just enough information about the characters and the plots for smokers to converse intelligently about classic novels while they smoked themselves to death.

My favorite cards are the three characters from Vanity Fair: Becky Sharp, Jos Sedley, and Lady Southdown.

What do you think: Are the characters portrayed on these cards as you imagined they would look?

Confessions of a Lookie-Loo

Be a Lookie-Loo with me and take a peek into Elizabeth Bennet’s bed chamber at the Inn at Lambton!

I’m on Austen Authors today discussing rooms and places in Jane Austen’s novels that haven’t been depicted in movie adaptations. Please click on the image to join me!


A Jigsaw Puzzle for You!

It’s National Puzzle Day. If you’re like me and enjoy solving puzzles of all kinds, here’s one of the jigsaw variety.

This puzzle will reveal a scene that might be in the beginning chapter of a Regency or Austen-inspired romance.

Ready to solve the puzzle? Just click on the puzzle pieces to solve the jigsaw puzzle online.

If you need help, click on the image below to see what the entire finished puzzle will look like.

Once you’re done, I hope you’ll comment and tell me how you liked solving the puzzle.

Have fun!