A Regency Christmas Tree for You

There’s a long-held tenet in the romance community that people of the Regency Era didn’t have Christmas trees as part of their Christmas celebrations. That’s correct.

In general.

But the truth is that long before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert introduced the idea of Christmas trees to the British public, Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III, brought the tradition of Christmas trees to Britain from Germany.

Royal records show that Queen Charlotte celebrated the season by having yew branches placed in rooms at Kew Palace or Windsor Castle, which she then decorated with candles and ornaments.

In 1800 she hosted a Christmas party for the children at court. For the occasion she had an entire yew tree brought inside, “the whole illuminated by small wax candles.” She decorated the tree with “sweetmeats, almonds, fruits and toys” for the children.

While the queen’s Christmas tree tradition wasn’t widely known to the general public, it was definitely known by palace insiders and members of the nobility. Some of those nobles may even have adopted the practice themselves, and that’s the premise behind one of my traditional Regency romances.

In Once Upon a Christmas my heroine, Nerissa Raleigh, is attending a ball a nobleman’s London home, when she seeks a quiet place to escape the hectic whirl of the ballroom.

When the hero, Breck Davenant, follows her, he discovers her in a small drawing room in which the family has erected a Christmas tree.

Here’s Nerissa’s reaction to seeing a Christmas tree for the first time:

He closed the door and advanced farther into the room. It took a moment for him to realize that Nerissa had not replied, nor even turned to look at him. She remained curiously still, her attention focused upon one of the most dazzling objects she ever beheld.

In the far comer of the room stood a pine tree that reached just above Breck’s height. About its branches were hung a number of adornments. Perfectly round oranges, bowed ribbons, and small brass keepsakes decorated the tree from top to bottom. Set among the branches were short candles of purest white, held in place by small sconces of polished brass.

Breck moved toward one corner of the room, the better to see Nerissa’s profile as she continued to gaze at the tree, her brown eyes gone wide with wonder.

“Shall I light them for you?” he asked at last in a low voice that was just as mesmerizing as the tree itself.

He didn’t wait for her to answer, but drew a taper from the candelabrum and began to light the candles on the tree. Nerissa clasped her hands together and watched him with a feeling of deepening anticipation. When he was done, he stepped back, allowing her a full view of the results.

The candlelight amid the branches seemed to set the entire tree aglow; it reflected off the small brass tokens and bathed the room in the warmth of its beauty.

Nerissa couldn’t recall the last time she had been so dazzled. She closed her eyes for just a moment and breathed deeply of the scent of pine and oranges. “Could anything ever be more beautiful?” she asked appreciatively. “It’s almost as if a forest nymph had touched the tree with its magical fairy dust! It—it’s the most wonderful thing I have ever seen!”

She looked over at Breck and found his gray eyes upon her, his lips half-smiling, and an oddly arrested expression on his face.

“I dare say you think me quite foolish!” she said, steeling herself against the teasing she thought surely he would hurl her direction.

He took the time to draw a cigarillo from his vest pocket and light it from the flame of the candelabrum before he answered. “On the contrary,” he said slowly, “I think you quite charming.”

She felt a sudden and unaccountable wave of happiness sweep over her, and she was somewhat surprised by the feeling. She watched him cross the space between them with a few long-legged strides. He chose not to expand upon those brief, provocative words, electing instead to stand by her side and gaze upon the tree with her in companionable silence.

“Why is it here?” she asked after a few moments.

“It’s a Christmas tree. The Germans make them part of their holiday celebrations.”

“I—I’ve never heard of such a thing!” she said, looking up at him and finding the quizzing look had returned to his eyes.

“Barbaric, isn’t it?” he asked. “No doubt they erect it as part of a pagan ritual. Do you think they dance like heathens about it and—”

“Don’t!” exclaimed Nerissa, laying her small hand on his sleeve to still his words. “Please don’t make sport of it. It—it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!”

Breck, long inured to the lures of Christmas traditions, even those of German origin, thought better than to tease her over this admission.

He stepped back a little toward the fireplace, drew deeply against his cigarillo, and watched the play of emotions cross her expressive face. It had been a long time since he had seen anyone so lose herself to enchantment. In his social circle, one rarely encountered anything new. If, by odd circumstance, one did, it would never do to betray the thing.

Nerissa Raleigh, he was fast discovering, had no such compunctions. She gave herself up to the delight of her surroundings and gazed upon the softly glowing tree with wide-eyed, unaffected appreciation. He had the very distinct feeling that she didn’t even recall the Christmas Ball going on downstairs, or the fact that someone might have by now missed her. Were he to allow it, she would no doubt prefer to remain in the family saloon, staring at the tree for the rest of the evening.

“Miss Raleigh,” he said in a quiet voice that drew her attention, “it is time we were returned to the ballroom.”

“I suppose you are right,” she said, fighting back an odd pang of regret. She watched him move about the tree, extinguishing the candles, and she said rather impulsively, “Thank you! How gallant you were to have lit the candles and made the tree so lovely just for my benefit!”

He had just finished snuffing the last of the flames, and turned to send one of his quizzing looks her direction. “I dare say I was merely in one of my heroic moods.”

She wasn’t offended. “I dare say you are more often heroic than you may know!”

He looked down upon her, a speculative look in his eye, as if he had been about to say something but thought better of it. Instead, he offered his arm and said rather gently, “I’ll take you back now.”

Nerissa placed her hand on his arm and felt the warmth fly to her cheeks. Here was a side of Breck Davenant she had not yet seen. He was being extremely solicitous and surprisingly tender. When he led her back into the ballroom and she would have withdrawn her hand from the crook of his arm, he placed his other hand over hers, compelling her to stay.

“Will you dance with me, Miss Raleigh?” he asked.

She could hardly refuse. In fact, at that very moment she wanted nothing more than to remain by his side. They took their place in a country set. The music struck up and Breck clasped her hand lightly. He may as well have set her gloves on fire, thought Nerissa, for each time the movement of the dance caused her to place her hand in his, his touch left behind a most peculiar warmth. They had been together many times, but now, inexplicably, she was nervous in his presence and could barely bring herself to meet his eyes without blushing.

Breck noticed her behavior, and he was a little intrigued by it. Her whole demeanor had changed since he had lit the candles on the Christmas tree. He recalled how lovely she had looked—her wide brown eyes gazing upon the tree with an ingenuous light that was not at all unattractive. His impulse had been to tease her, but when she had directed that same gaze his way, he had felt something stir in his heart that was not mere amusement.

He had meant to twit her, but instead found himself feeling something quite tender for her. That, he knew, was dangerous ground.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Nerissa’s first encounter with a Christmas tree.

And I hope you liked Breck’s reaction.

Whatever traditions you and your family hold with, I hope they bring you joy this holiday season.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

 

 

p.s. You can learn more about Once Upon a Christmas by clicking on the book cover:

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!

On This Date . . .

In England October 18 is St. Luke’s Day, a day to commemorate Luke, the patron saint of artists, physicians, bachelors, surgeons, students and butchers.

October 18 is also Whip Dog Day, an old ritual in which local boys ganged together to round up and literally whip any unfortunate dog they happen to find on the streets.

It was an ancient custom, established in a church in York, when a priest, celebrating mass, dropped one of the consecrated wafers. A stray dog that had wandered into the church snatched it up and promptly ate it. The poor animal was instantly captured and killed, and on the anniversary of his crime all stray dogs are forced to pay the price for the wafer-eater’s sin.

Detail of a 1616 (oil on panel) painting by John Gipkin (fl.1594-1629); courtesy the Society of Antiquaries of London, UK/ The Bridgeman Art Library

I’ve read some accounts that say the practice of whipping dogs on October 18 was confined to York, but further reading tells me that the custom was more wide-spread.

In A History of Derbyshire author John Pendleton writes this about the village of Baslow:

I’m okay with the idea of gently nudging sleeping congregants to keep them awake during Sunday church services; but that whole business about whipping dogs makes me shudder.

Dog whipping remained part of St. Luke’s Day traditions for hundreds of years. It was still in practice during the Regency era in some parts of the country.

I’ve never read a novel set during the Regency in which Whip Dog Day was mentioned, although there is a scene in chapter nine of Georgette Heyer’s Arabella in which the heroine saves a dog from a group of boys bent on tormenting it.

Can you imagine whipping this sweet pup? Neither can I.

Thankfully, the practice of celebrating Whip Dog Day died out in the late 1800s when we humans made the turn and began viewing animals in a more humane light. It’s an observance that is no longer practiced today and for that I—as a lifelong dog lover—am truly grateful.

Bike to Work, Regency Style

Today is Bike to Work Day in Colorado. In honor of the day, I’m re-reading Frederica by Georgette Heyer.

Why re-read Frederica?

Reason Number One: It’s a darn good book. I love to read stories in which one or more of the lead characters is redeemed. In Frederica the Marquis of Alverstoke is a reluctant hero. But despite his reluctance, the selfish, entitled nobleman is slowly but surely transformed by of his blossoming love for Frederica and his growing affection for her younger brothers and sister.

Reason Number Two: Frederica—like all of Heyer’s novels—is packed with historical tid-bits about life in the Regency era. It was while reading Frederica many years ago that I first learned that an early form of our modern bicycle made its debut during the Regency.

In Regency England it was called a Pedestrian Curricle or Pedestrian Hobbyhorse; and in the novel, Jessamy (one of Frederica’s younger brothers) learns to ride “the ingenious machine” that was all the crack.

Here’s how Georgette Heyer described the Pedestrian Curricle in Frederica:

Of simple construction, it consisted of two wheels, with a saddle hung between them, the foremost of which could be made to turn by means of a bar. It was propelled by the rider’s feet on the road, and experts could achieve quite astonishing speeds, when, admirably balancing themselves, they would lift their feet from the ground and coast along at a great rate, and to the amazement of beholders.

Frederica’s younger brother Jessamy was one of those amazed beholders. Seeing the Pedestrian Curricle in motion for the first time, Jessamy made it his purpose in life to gain the mastery of the new machine and impress his family with his prowess. So he rented a machine, took lessons, and spent several hours practicing his new skill.

In Chapter 14 Jessamy sets off on one last solo ride before revealing his secret skill to Frederica and the rest of his siblings.

Unfortunately, things don’t go as well as planned, and Jessamy finds himself mired in a nightmare situation from which only the Marquis of Alverstoke can save him. What follows is a very sweet scene between Jessamy and the marquis that is one of my favorites in all of Heyer’s novels, because it shows just how much the marquis has changed for the better, without altering his true personality.

I won’t give away any more of the story, except to say that by the end of the novel, I was a little bit in love with the Marquis of Alverstoke myself. So if you haven’t yet read Frederica, I hope you’ll find a copy and read it right away.

And if you have read Frederica before, today might be a good day to re-read it—especially Chapter 14—in honor of Bike to Work Day in Colorado.


If you’d like to learn more about Regency-era bicycles, check out these links:

BicycleHistory.net

Beware the Draisine! by author Sharon Lathan

The Modern Bicycle and its Accessories; a Complete Reference Book

Eeewww, Grose!

Captain Robert Grose published his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue in 1798, and Regency-era aficionados have been using it to bring life and a little sass to their stories and articles ever since.

Captain Francis Grose

Captain Francis Grose

The next time you settle down for a cozy read with Georgette Heyer (or any number of present-day Regency romance authors), you can thank Captain Grose when you come across these terms:

Banbury Tale or Banbury Story – A round-about, nonsensical story

Bear-garden Jaw – Rude, vulgar language, such as was used at the bear gardens

Quiz – An odd-looking fellow; a strange dog

Gudgeon – One easily imposed on. One who swallows the bait or falls into a trap

Pudding-headed Fellow – A stupid fellow, one whose brains are all in confusion

There have been similar dictionaries published since Grose’s original, but it wasn’t until 2011 when a thorough and worthy update to Grose’s dictionary appeared on the scene.

Entries from Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Entries from Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Compiled by Jonathon Green, Green’s Dictionary of Slang is a hefty, three-volume dictionary of the most vile, unrepeatable language to come out of Britains’ mouths over the last 500 years. Green’s Dictionary builds on Grose’s Vulgar Tongue, as well as The Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant and Vulgar Words published in 1859 by John Camden Hotten.

cover-greens-dictionary-of-slang

What makes Jonathon Green’s Dictionary so remarkable is the sheer size. Covering 500 years of cant, it weighs in at over 6,000 pages; there are over twelve thousand entries for the letter S alone.

If Jonathon Green’s Dictionary sounds like something you’d like to explore, you’re in luck. This month he launched Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online. Now, at the click of your mouse or a tap of your finger, you can immerse yourself in the definitions and etymology of the gutter-talk we blushingly can’t get enough of.

At Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online you can listen to the author’s recent podcast on terms for drink and drunkenness, or just browse the dictionary (arranged alphabetically) to your heart’s content (just make sure the kiddos aren’t looking over your shoulder).

If you ever wanted to expand your knowledge of Regency-era cant (or the slang of other English eras), Jonathan Green’s website should be your first stop.

You can click on the links below for more info:

Visit Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online
Read Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Captain Robert Grose
Read The Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant and Vulgar Words by John Camden Hotten

Acting Up in Regency England

When it comes to traditional Regency romances, there are some plots elements that are popular staples of the genre.

There’s the elopement to Gretna Green plot. Or the plot about the rich relative’s will that dictates a man and woman must marry in order to inherit the relative’s wealth.

And then there’s the actress plot, where a woman of sterling character makes her living on the stage (by choice or necessity) and wins the heart of the hero.

It’s an interesting premise, because actresses in the eighteenth century were considered women of questionable character—promiscuous demi-mondaines—until Sarah Siddons burst upon the scene.

Mrs. Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785.

Mrs. Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785.

Sarah Siddons (born July 5, 1755) joined an acting company when she was 18 years old and quickly gained favor with touring companies and audiences alike. Ultimately, she earned the reputation for being one of England’s great tragic actresses, and she did much to legitimize the profession of acting for women. In fact, she was so beloved by the theatre-going public, she became the muse for an Irish inventor and educator named Gilbert Austin.

Sarah Siddons by Sir William Beechey, 1793. From the National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Sarah Siddons by Sir William Beechey, 1793. From the National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Gilbert Austin wrote a book titled, Chironomia, or a Treatise on Rhetorical Delivery, which was published in 1806. The book presented a system of elocution and gestures to use when expressing emotions. Mr. Austin modeled many of the instructions on Sarah Siddons’ movements and speech patterns on the stage.

Sarah Siddons as Euphrasia, by William Hamilton, 1784. (c) Stratford-upon-Avon Town Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Sarah Siddons as Euphrasia, by William Hamilton, 1784. (c) Stratford-upon-Avon Town Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mr. Austin admired Mrs. Siddons greatly, saying she was “all that is beautiful in grace and dignity.”

He also idolized Sarah’s brother, John Philip Kemble, who was also an actor. Austin described Kemble as “the perfection and the glory of art, so finished, that every look is a commentary, every tone an illustration, every gesture a model for the statuary, and a study for the painter.”

John Philip Kemble, by Sir William Beechey, 1799. (c) Dulwich Picture Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Philip Kemble, by Sir William Beechey, 1799. (c) Dulwich Picture Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

It was little wonder, then, that he used Kemble and Siddons as the ideals on which to formulate this theories of graceful movement and correct speech.

John Philip Kemble as Richard III by William Hamilton. (c) University of Bristol Theatre Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Philip Kemble as Richard III by William Hamilton. (c) University of Bristol Theatre Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mr. Austin wrote the book to instruct private individuals who wanted to improve themselves in grace and oration. He advocated that certain gestures were the mark of a cultivated society; and that proper pronunciation and articulation were sufficient to identify the manners of a true gentleman and man of letters from the common people.

An illustration of the proper way to point.

An illustration of the proper way to point.

He provided instructions on the proper way to stand, point, and clasp one’s hands.

An illustration of "complex significant gestures."

An illustration of “complex significant gestures.”

Some of the illustrations even featured Sarah Siddons’s poses from some of her more notable stage performances.

sarah-siddons-ed

Austin’s book was a great success. It became a staple in classrooms throughout Britain and America; and he earned an international reputation as an authority on gestures and oratory delivery.

The proper way for a man to clasp, cross and fold his hands.

The proper way for a man to clasp, cross and fold his hands.

Would you like to read the book? Click here to read Gilbert Austin’s Chironomia, or a Treatise of Rhetorical Delivery.

When a Prince Turns 21

The Prince Regent, about 1790

The Prince Regent, about 1790

I have a friend whose daughter will turn 21 in about a month. They’re busily planning multiple parties: one for said daughter and her friends, and a second party for the family to celebrate the event together. With all the talk about pub crawls, trips to Las Vegas, and what kind of cake goes well with Champagne, I started to wonder how people during the Regency period celebrated birthdays.

To a large extent, turning 21 was just as much of a landmark event during the Regency as it is today. It was a milestone that marked an age when a person became truly independent and was old enough to make life-altering decisions. That was true, for the most part, for the Prince of Wales.

Queen Charlotte with her two eldest sons

Queen Charlotte with her two eldest sons

The future King George IV was born on August 12, 1762. To an American like me, the particulars of his birth are interesting because of the number of people involved. In those days, Queens of England gave birth to a room full of witnesses. From accounts at the time, the following people were either in Queen Charlotte’s bedchamber or in the room adjoining it with the door open between:

  • The Princess Dowager of Wales
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury
  • The Duke of Devonshire
  • The Duke of Rutland
  • The Lords Hardwicke, Huntingdon, Talbot, Halifax, Bute, Masham and Cantalupe
  • All the ladies of the bedchamber
  • The maids of honor

The only doctor present did not attend the queen. Instead, he remained in the adjoining room so he could attend to any of the witnesses who felt queasy. The future king was delivered by a midwife named Mrs. Stephen.

The Prince of Wales

The Prince of Wales

When the prince turned 21 in 1783, he had no official celebration. As it happened, the Prince’s mother, Queen Charlotte, had recently given birth to her fifteenth child; so while the King and the rest of the family congratulated the Prince in private (very heartily, I’m sure), there wasn’t a public commemoration.

So the Prince of Wales turned to his friends to help him celebrate, and they didn’t disappoint him. They joined together at the White Hart Tavern in Windsor. “A large turtle, of the enormous size of four hundred weight, was killed on the occasion, being a present sent to the Prince from the East Indies.” (Yes, you read that right. He killed his present and ate it. I wonder if that’s what the people of East Indies had in mind when they gave it to him?)

The White Hart, Lincoln. Perhaps this tavern is similar to the White Hart in Windsor where the Prince celebrated his birthday.

The White Hart, Lincoln. Perhaps this tavern
is similar to the one the Prince frequented.

One account of the party hints that not all the guests had the Prince’s best interests in mind. In his book The Private Life of a King, John Banvard wrote:

Deeply did every real friend of the Prince lament that of a pernicious class some had obtained an entire ascendancy over his ingenuous mind; and that, whilst they hailed his independence with hollow congratulations, they dreaded nothing so much as for his spirit to become as independent as his circumstances, and his opinions to disdain the restraint which his person had shaken off.

In other words, John Banvard believed the Prince hung out that night with a bad crowd. There were people at his party that would have a negative influence over the prince in months and years to come; but for one night, at least, the Prince of Wales drank wine, ate turtle and partied like he just turned twenty-one.

 

The London Coffee House

I’d like to share with you one of my favorite blogs: Spitalfields Life. The author posts info about living in Spitalfields in the heart of London; but what makes this blog special is the way the author mixes the history of the area with modern times.

One of this week’s posts is a good example of that past-and-present mix. It features a marvelous map of historic coffee houses by artist Adam Dant, which, combined with text and accompanying photos, provides a thorough history and entertaining tour of London coffee houses.

Adam Dant Map-Coffee Houses

Map © Adam Dant

Click on the map above to visit the site; and be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to see some of Adam Dant’s other maps. I particularly love the maps of Clerkenwall, as seen in Tudor, Georgian, Victorian, and modern times.

If you visit the Spitalfields Life home page, you’ll see that the author posts a new entry every day. I read each one for their charm, the history they impart, and the extraordinary stories they tell. I’ve read every one and have high hopes of feeling just like a Spitalfields native before too much longer.

If you love London history and you’re fascinated by the modern London lifestyle, you’ll find something to enjoy at Spitalfields Life.

Old Trade Cards of London

Once again, The Gentle Author offers an extraordinary post on his Spitalfields Life blog. The Gentle Author posts every day (earning my admiration) and each post is filled with stories and artwork that inspire. Some of his posts have made me cry, while others have made me laugh; but always, they cause me to slow down and take time to dwell on the beauty of the images he shares.

Spitalfields 03

His May 3 post is no exception. The topic is old trade cards of London. I’ve spent the last twenty minutes studying and admiring the art, language and lettering of the old trade cards he shared. You can view the full post here.

Spitalfields 02

While you’re there, be sure to subscribe to The Gentle Author’s blog, Spitalfields Life so you don’t miss any of his wonderful posts. You won’t be disappointed.