The Georgian Card Game of Tontine

In Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet spent a few nights at Netherfield Park so she could nurse her ill sister, Jane. The first evening, after Jane had finally fallen asleep, Elizabeth ventured downstairs to join Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, his sister Caroline, and Mr. and Mrs. Hurst.

Mr. Darcy, Caroline Bingley, and Charles Bingley play a game of loo at Netherfield in the 1985 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

On entering the drawing-room she found the whole party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high she declined it, and making her sister the excuse, said she would amuse herself for the short time she could stay below, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment.
“Do you prefer reading to cards?” said he; “that is rather singular.”

There was a new card game just beginning to make the rounds in 1797, the same year in which Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice. In their October issue that year Sporting Magazine took great delight in publishing the rules of the game of Tontine, writing:

The rules we here give for playing this game are entirely new; nothing of this having yet been published for the game it is almost unknown in London, except in the polite circles of Fashion.

If you’re a writer (or reader) of Regency era fiction or romance, and you’d like to give your characters a new game to play besides Whist, Loo, Piquet or Lottery Tickets, Tontine may be the game you’re looking for.

Here are the rules:

Tontine may be played by twelve or fifteen persons; but the more the merrier.

It is played with an entire pack of fifty-two cards. Before they begin, every one is to take a stake, consisting of twelve, fifteen, or twenty counters more or less; each of them they value as they please; and at the beginning of the party, each player puts three counters in the box, which is on the middle of the table; then he is to deal, being cut to him by his left hand, turns up a card from the stock, or each player, according to his rank, and gives at the same time one to himself.

The player whose card turned up is a king, draws three counters from the box, for his own profit; if it is a queen he draws two, and for a knave one; he that has a ten, neither draws or pays any thing.

He that has an ace, gives one counter to his left hand neighbour; he that has a deuce gives two to his second left hand neighbour, and he that has a three, gives three to his third left hand neighbour, as his second left-hand neighbour; and he that has a three gives three to his third left hand neighbour

As for him that has a four, he puts two of his counters into the box; a five puts one there; a six two; a seven one; an eight two; and a nine one; observing to pay, and to be paid, exactly what is due.

Then he who is on the right of the first dealer, takes up the cards and deals; and this deal is played in the same manner as the first; and each player deals in his turn.

They who have lost all their counters are dead; but they do not die without hope, seeing that any of them may revive again, by the assistance of an ace, which may be in the hand of his right hand neighbour, for which he receives a counter, or by means of two, which may be in the hand of his second right hand neighbour, for which he receives two counters; or by a three in the hand of his third right hand neighbour, for which he receives three counters.

The player who has a single counter only, has the same right to play as he that has ten or twelve; and if he should lose two or three counters that deal, he can only pay what he has got, and has his discharge.

The deceased players have no cards before them, nor do they deal, though it comes to their turn, unless they are lucky enough to come to life again, then they plan again, just as if they had never died.

Mr. Collins (left) plays a game of whist with Mrs. Philips (right) in the 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice.

He who outlives all the rest, by having counters left, when theirs are gone, wins the parly, and enjoys what the others have deposited.

If you’d like to read the original text as it appeared in Sporting Magazine, click here to view a scanned version of the article.

Now that you have the rules down, are you (or the Regency characters you create) ready to give the game a try? Gather some friends, round up some counters, deal the cards, and good luck!


A Closer Look at Fitzwilliam Darcy

Hello, and happy Saturday to you!

Today I’m on the Austen Authors blog, talking about Fitzwilliam Darcy, the hero of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Was Darcy a meddling busybody, as Elizabeth Bennet supposed?

Or was he just a nice guy who tried to take care of the people he loved?

Click here or on the icon below to read the post and have your share in the conversation!


How England Learned of the Battle of Trafalgar

On October 21, 1805 the Battle of Trafalgar was fought between the English Navy and the combined fleets of France and Spain.

The Battle of Trafalgar, by George Clarkson Stanfield.

England’s chances for victory were slim. The British force had twenty-seven ships; the enemy had thirty-three.

But England’s secret weapon was the gallant Lord Nelson, commander of the fleet.

Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronte.

The engagement lasted four hours, and in the end, twenty Spanish and French ships were sunk or destroyed, the French commander-in-chief was captured, and two Spanish admirals were taken prisoners by the English.

It was a decisive victory, but it came at a cost. Nelson was wounded midway through the action and died nearly at its close.

The Evening after Trafalgar, by Claude Thomas Stanfield Moore.

But the victory forever removed any threat that Napoleon Bonaparte might invade England.

So if the battle was waged and won on October 21, why am I telling you about it on November 6?

Because November 6 is the day news of the victory finally reached England.

In our modern world of instant newsfeeds and alerts it’s sometimes easy to lose perspective about the speed with which information traveled during Jane Austen’s time. News traveled slowly, and, in this case, Mother Nature added to the fifteen-day delay.

The Battle of Trafalgar was fought and won on October 21. No sooner was victory assured, than “a gale of wind” blew in. The storm that followed was of such ferocity, the fleet had no choice but to hunker down. They were so busy ensuring the safety of their own and captured ships, they had no chance to send word to England, or even count their casualties.

The storm lasted five days. Finally, on October 26, the British commander despatched a ship to England. On board, Lieutenant John Richards Lapenotiere carried written reports of the battle.

A miniature, believed to be of John Richards Lapenotiere

Nine days later, Lapenotiere arrived at the harbor at Falmouth. From there he traveled overland to London by “express in a post chaise and four.”

He covered the distance of 271 miles in 38 hours, making 21 stops to change horses.

A fast-traveling post-chaise and four upsets a gig.

His overland journey was well documented, and today, there are plaques along route—now known as The Trafalgar Way—that commemorate Lapenotiere’s journey, as well as the men from each location who fought in that decisive battle.

One of the Trafalgar Plaques, this one in Salisbury.

On November 6, Lapenotiere finally delivered reports of England’s victory into the hands of the Admiralty and the King.

That very day, newspapers printed the story. Click here to read one of those newspaper stories.

And if you’re interested, Wikepedia has an interesting page about The Trafalgar Way that documents the distance, horse-changes, and cost of Lapenotiere’s travels.

I love reading all the details about Lapenotiere’s journey. It’s a reminder to me to be mindful of the limitations of Regency-era travel when I write my own stories set during that time period.

It’s also a fascinating true-life story of heroic men who always kept duty to country uppermost in mind, and risked all to serve their country and its citizens. I applaud them.

Scenes from Cheapside

I’m working on a new story; it’s a variation on Pride and Prejudice that centers on the mayhem caused by Lydia’s elopement with Wickham.

Some of the scenes will take place in the London home of the Gardiners in Cheapside.

Since my memory and imagination are sparked by visual cues, I’ve collected quite a few images of Cheapside for inspiration. Today I’ll share some of those images with you..

A map of the City of London in 1799, bounded in red, bordering the River Thames.


For orientation, Cheapside is located in the City of London (not to be confused with London. Yes, London and the City of London are two different places.).

A close-up view of the 1799 map showing Cheapside and Gracechurch streets (in rectangles). St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London are highlighted in circles.


Cheapside is located in the heart of The City. For hundreds of years it’s been the country’s main center of commerce and trade. In fact, it gained its name from the old Saxon word Chepe, meaning market or bargain.

A 1911 postcard showing bustling Cheapside; Mansion House is the structure with columns on the left


Street names like Poultry, Milk, Pudding, Ironmonger, Bread, and Shoemaker serve as reminders of the area’s old market origins.

The gateway to Cheapside as it appeared in 1903. Mansion House is the building with columns on the left. The road that angles off to the right is Cheapside, with the church spire of St. Mary-le-Bow.


Geographically, Cheapside covers less than a mile but more tradesmen were packed into the length of this street than any other avenue in the City of London.

A view of Mansion House, residence of the Lord Mayor of London, as it appeared in 1837.


Mr. Gardiner was engaged in trade in Cheapside, while his home was located on Gracechurch Street. The Gardiners lived within blocks of London Bridge on the east end of The City. I like to imagine they may have had a very good view of the Tower of London from their windows.

Cheapside, looking east down the street. The Church of St Mary-le-Bow is on the right. circa 1760.


The Gardiner home would have been within walking distance of the center of England’s economic power.

The Bank of England (building on the right with columns) and Royal Exchange (on the left) as they appeared in 1907.


Nearby was Mansion House (the residence of the Lord Mayor of London), the Bank of England, the Treasury, Custom House, and Royal Exchange.

The Bank of England, the Royal Exchange, and Mansion House by Nicholas-Toussaint Charlet.


Beside great houses of commerce, Cheapside was famous for its retail establishments. Some of the best shopping to be had in Jane Austen’s time was in Cheapside.

A booksellers shop at No. 73 Cheapside, about 1790.


From hat-makers to perfumeries, stationers to pianofortes, time-pieces to cottons and silks—the finest merchandise could be found in the warehouses and shops at Cheapside.

The London to Brighton Coach making a stop at Cheapside about 1830, by William Turner.


Even on Gracechurch Street, where the Gardiners lived, shops and businesses of all sorts mingled with family homes.

The interior yard of the Spread Eagle Inn on Gracechurch street, about 1850.


It’s no wonder, then, that merchants in Cheapside were extremely successful, and Mr. Gardiner was no exception.

The old Royal Exchange with the dome of St. Paul’s in the background, depicted in 1795 by Thomas Girtin. The Royal Exchange pictured burned down in 1838 but was rebuilt on the same site. It’s located on Threadneedle Street at the east end of Cheapside.


Mr. Gardiner supported his family very well, indeed. Jane Austen described the Gardiners as well-bred and elegant. His income allowed him to host parties at the theater, while Mrs. Gardiner was free to squire Elizabeth, Sir William Lucas, and Maria Lucas through a day of shopping in London.

A 1930 photograph of the oldest house in Cheapside. Legend has it this building on the corner of Cheapside and Friday Street survived the Great Fire of 1666.


Mr. Gardiner’s business was sound enough to allow him to take time off on a fairly regular basis. He and his family made frequent trips to visit the Bennets for as long as a week at a time.

View of The Monument from the south end of Gracechurch Street. Beydon The Monument is Fish Street Hill and old London Bridge. The church spire belongs to St. Magnus Martyr. The Monument was erected to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666.


And in March 1812 the Gardiners invited Elizabeth to join them on a lengthy “pleasure tour” of the Lakes. In the end, unexpected business concerns forced Mr. Gardiner to postpone their travels until July of that year, but they still intended to spend a month touring Derbyshire.

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in the BBC miniseries looks over the countryside of the Peak District in Derbyshire.


I have to admit Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner are two of my favorite Pride and Prejudice characters. Mr. Gardiner is an effective foil for his sister Mrs. Bennet, and Mrs. Gardiner is a loving and trusted confidante to the two eldest Bennet sisters, Jane and Elizabeth.

Joanna David and Tim Wylton as Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner in the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice


I’m looking forward to writing about the Gardiners’ home in Cheapside and the many visitors they receive there. (Hint: one of their callers will be a very proud young man from Derbyshire.)

Stay tuned for more . . .

A Celebration of Jane Austen

200 years ago today, Jane Austen passed away. She left behind an enduring legacy of much-loved novels and correspondence that—to this day—still captivate readers and inspire writers.

Around the globe today are celebrations of Jane Austen’s life and works. If you cannot attend an event in person, I hope you will join one of the many observances taking place on social media today.

On Twitter you can follow hashtag #janeausten200

On Facebook you can go to one of these pages:



You can also read a blog post by Kyra Kramer on Kyra’s post is a lovely and thoughtful tribute to Jane Austen’s life.

Jane Austen’s final resting place is in Winchester Cathedral. Her memorial stone makes no mention of her novels, but today we celebrate them along with her life, and thank her for 200 years of enjoyment and inspiration her books have given us all.

The Sad Tale of Lydia Bennet and Other Women Like Her

Lydia Bennet was fifteen years old when she fell under the spell of George Wickham in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Willful and foolish, she eloped with Wickham less than a year after making his acquaintance, leaving her family stunned by the news and tainted (in Society’s eyes) by her actions.

Why Did He Do It?

One question Lydia’s father and sister Elizabeth pondered was, why would Wickham run off with Lydia? She had no money, no dowry, and no connections. Had he some hidden motive in singling Lydia Bennet out as the object of his villainy?

Lydia Bennet and George Wickham as portrayed in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

Lydia Bennet and George Wickham as portrayed in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Austen never revealed Wickham’s true motive in the story, but it could very well be that George Wickham was just plain caddish when it came to his dealings with women. The Bennet family was right to worry that Lydia’s actions would have a long-term effect on the family’s reputation. Society did not deal kindly with anyone whose name was attached to scandal.

Lydia Bennet entered into her scandalous union with Wickham with her eyes wide open; but there are records of similarly situated young women who were innocent victims of such men.

The Teacher and the Student

The Newgate Calendar (a chronicle of the scoundrels who were confined within the walls of London’s Newgate Prison) recounts the trial of Henry Morris, whose story has parallels to Wickham’s.

Morris was a teacher by profession, and one of his students was fifteen-year-old Mary Anne Murphy. Morris was smitten with Mary Anne; he approached her father in 1812, declared his undying love and asked the father’s permission to marry her.

Mr. Murphy gave Morris his consent to marry his daughter once she attained the age of sixteen some six months hence; in the meantime, he required that Morris court his daughter only under his supervision.

Morris agreed, but quickly went back on his word, meeting Mary Anne in secret. Morris began missing his teaching responsibilities at the same time Mary Anne began missing class; soon Morris abandoned teaching his classes altogether, and Mary Anne went truant. Within months of promising to wait until his beloved was of age, Henry Morris eloped with Mary Anne Murphy to Scotland.

Once husband and wife, they returned to Mary Anne’s father to make amends; but Mr. Murphy had been looking into Henry Morris’s background, and discovered his new son-in-law was even worse than he imagined.

The Case against Him

Henry Murphy, it was discovered, was not a teacher at all. He had no qualifications and had forged his credentials to secure his position.

Second, Morris had a history of wooing and abandoning young girls; Mr. Murphy discovered four such girls and suspected there were more.

Third—and worst of all—Henry Morris was not only a bounder, but a bigamist. At the time he ran off to Scotland with Mary Ann Murphy, he was already married to a woman named Maria Fontaine.

The main door of Newgate Prison.

The main door of Newgate Prison.

Mr. Murphy had Henry Morris arrested on the charge of bigamy; he was imprisoned at Newgate until his trial. Young Mary Anne—in typical Lydia Bennet style—refused to see her husband’s infamy. She stood by him, took home-cooked meals to his cell, held his hand in court, and begged her father over and over to drop the charges against her husband. He refused.

Henry Morris was convicted of bigamy and he was deported to serve seven years of hard labor at a penal colony in Australia. Mary Anne’s response:

When the verdict was pronounced, she burst into the most outrageous expressions of grief; cried out most violently to save him; tore her hair, and clung around his neck, declaring that she would not be separated from him. The judges, however, ordered her to be removed, but directed that it should be done as gently as possible; and she was accordingly carried out of court in a state of utter distraction.

The reaction of one of Morris's wives upon hearing his sentence. From The Newgate Calendar.

The reaction of one of Morris’s wives (presumably Mary Anne) upon hearing his sentence. From The Newgate Calendar.

Some reports allege that Mary Anne followed Morris to Australia, waited patiently for his release from prison, and lived with him again as man and wife.

As sad as Mary Anne Murphy’s story was, there was an even more famous case of bigamy that shocked England in the early 1800s.

The Bigamous Rake

In 1802 Mary Robinson was quietly living her life in the Lake District. A shepherdess and the daughter of the proprietor of The Fish Inn in the village of Buttermere, Mary was an acknowledged beauty in the county. She was also quite an innocent and was, therefore, unprepared when a handsome gentleman with “blue eyes and a fair complexion” drove into Buttermere.

Mary Robinson, the Maid of Buttermere.

Mary Robinson, the Maid of Buttermere.

He introduced himself as Colonel Alexander Augustus Hope, a wealthy retired officer and younger brother to the Earl of Hopetoun. He was so taken with Mary’s beauty, he immediately set out to woo her; within three months of their meeting she agreed to elope with him to Scotland.

John Hatfield.

John Hatfield.

It wasn’t until her husband abandoned her within months of their marriage that Mary discovered several hard truths:

  1. Her husband’s name wasn’t Alexander Hope and he was not related to Lord Hopetoun. His real name was John Hatfield, and he was the son of poor parents in Cheshire.
  2. John Hatfield had a long history of romancing women possessed of dowries or fortunes large and small, marrying them, and abandoning them. He was a bigamist, several times over.
  3. Hatfield left a trail of forged checks and unpaid bills across England, thanks to his smooth talking ability to swindle tradesmen, hoteliers, and acquaintances. (Sounds a lot like Wickham, doesn’t it?)

After he deserted Mary Robinson, Hatfield married at least two more women. He finally met his match when one of the women he wronged turned him in to authorities. He was convicted of several counts of forgery and bigamy; and because the court heard sufficient testimony to deem him an habitual criminal, John Hatfield was condemned to death. He was hanged in 1803.

Is it possible these famous cases (and others like them) were in the back of Jane Austen’s mind as she wrote her story about Lydia and Wickham? Perhaps, but the last chapter of Pride and Prejudice hints that while their love didn’t last forever, Lydia and Wickham at least stayed together, and Lydia “retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her.”

You can read more about the bigamous John Hatfield and the Maid of Buttermere by clicking on any of the following links:

The English Lakes: A History by Ian Thompson

Website of Pascal Bonenfant

Let’s Take a Trip, Regency-style

When I first began reading Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, I was intrigued by the world she created. Prior to reading her novels I never gave a thought to how people really lived in the early 1800s, even though I’ve always loved history, and studied English history, in particular.

The cover of my well-worn copy of Frederica

The cover of my well-worn copy of Frederica

There was something about her novels, though, that brought that world to life for me. One part of her Regency world that intrigued was the idea of travel. Reading Heyer’s novels, like Arabella, Regency Buck, and Sylvester, made me curious about how people traveled long distances, or even from one neighboring town to another. Heyer had a way of making travel sound both tedious and romantic. Her words painted a picture of just how boring and exciting, dangerous and uncomfortable it could be to ride in a cramped coach for hours with people you don’t know.

Illustration from The Country Gentleman magazine; April 1932 edition

Illustration from The Country Gentleman magazine; April 1932 edition

Over the years I’ve collected quite a few images of Regency-era coaching scenes. They help me visualize Heyer’s stories as I read them, and help me better describe coaching life as I write my own novels.

A 1908 postcard titled, Taking Up Passengers.

A 1908 postcard titled, Taking Up Passengers.

Below are some of my favorites images: they’re a series of coaching illustrations by artist Gilbert Wright that he produced between 1907 and 1911. I like them because of the little details Wright included in his paintings, like those boots in the first painting, titled Getting Ready.

And in the painting titled The Top of the Hill, he showed the passengers of the stage coach walking up the final approach to the hilltop; whether they did so to lighten the load or simply to get some exercise on a pleasant day, is a question left to our imaginations.

I’m happy to share my favorite images with you so that you, too, can “get a visual” of what it was like to travel in Regency England. I hope you enjoy them!

Getting Ready, by Gilbert Wright, 1911.

Getting Ready, by Gilbert Wright, 1911.


Waiting for the Coach, by Gilbert Wright (1908)

Waiting for the Coach, by Gilbert Wright (1908)


Two Gallants, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

Two Gallants, by Gilbert Wright (1911)


The Start, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

The Start, by Gilbert Wright (1911)


Detail of The Start showing a female passenger climbing up on the box, by Gilbert Wright

Detail of The Start showing a female passenger climbing up on the box, by Gilbert Wright


A Heavy Storm, by Gilbert Wright, 1907

A Heavy Storm, by Gilbert Wright, 1907


A Fresh Relay, by Gilbert Wright, 1911

A Fresh Relay, by Gilbert Wright, 1911


The Top of the Hill, by Gilbert Wright (1907)

The Top of the Hill, by Gilbert Wright (1907)


The Return to the Stables, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

The Return to the Stables, by Gilbert Wright (1911)