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 Georgian Staycation

Yesterday I went to the dentist, which was pretty exciting when you consider it’s the only planned outing I’ve had during the entire month of August.

With the exception of a couple of visits with my son and grand-dog, weekly trips to the grocery store, and daily walks for fresh air and exercise, I have made it my mission to stay at home, where I know it’s safe.

But that mission may soon change. My home state has been documenting a promising trend: a decline in the number of new COVID19 cases, as well as hospitalization rates. I see that as a good sign, and I wonder: Come September or October, will it be safe to venture out a bit further afield than the one square mile that surrounds my house?

I’m not thinking about taking a “real” vacation or heading off to some crowded resort, but if things continue to improve, a staycation might be in order. I could take my cue from Jane Austen, who knew all about staycations.

A view of Bywell Castle, Northumberland, by George Fennel Robson.

When Jane Austen began writing Pride and Prejudice in 1796, Europe was at war. British citizens were cut off from their usual tourist destinations on the Continent. If they wanted to travel, they had to be content with exploring the architecture and delights of nature to be found at home.

Whitton, by Humphry Repton.

That may be why Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner chose a pleasure tour of the Lake District for their summer travels in Pride and Prejudice, and they invited Elizabeth Bennet to come along.

Elterwater and Langdale Pikes, Westmoreland.

Other Britains had similar ideas. It soon became the popular thing to stay in England and visit spa towns and seaside resorts, the Lake and Peak Districts, Devon and Cornwall, Wales and Scotland.

Hillsborough Head near Ilfracombe, Devon, by John Frederick Tennant.

From all those domestic staycations sprouted a new industry: travel guides. One guidebook by Thomas West became a best seller.

Title Page for A Guide to the Lakes by Thomas West (1778)

West not only provided directions on how to reach some of the most popular destinations, he made a practice of describing “stations” where tourists could achieve the best and most picturesque views of landscapes and stately homes. Here’s one example:

Proceed through rocky fields and groves to Holker, one mile, the seat of the right honourable Lord George Cavendish; the carriage road is by Cark-Hall. At the top of the hill, there opens a fine view of Furness. Holker-Hall lies at your feet, embosomed in wood; on the left Ulverston bay opens into the great bay and is four miles over. The coast is deeply indented, and the peninsulas are beautifully fringed with wood.

Just as Elizabeth and the Gardiners set off “in pursuit of novelty and amusement” in Pride and Prejudice, Georgians flocked to to the countryside, where they visited monasteries and medieval ruins.

Tintern Abbey, by Frederick Calbert.

Derbyshire was particularly popular with tourists because it offered stately homes (like Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall) with the unmatched scenery of the Peaks.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire.

Some grand estates received so many visitors they printed their own pamphlets so people could take self-guided tours. And historical sites, like Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge, suffered when overly enthusiastic visitors chipped off pieces of stone to take home as souvenirs.

A view of Stonehenge, 1744.

If things keep going well in my home state, I just might take a page out of Jane Austen’s proverbial tour book and plan a staycation of my own.

I think I’ll start small and visit a place that isn’t too far from home. How does an afternoon at the zoo sound to you?

The Village People

I always love finding images that help me visualize life during the Regency Era.

Recently I came across some of those kinds of images, and I thought I’d share them with you.

The artist is Graham Hyde, who was popular around 1900 to 1910 for his cartoonish illustrations.

In 1902 he produced a series of illustrations for Tuck & Sons that featured village people going about their daily lives during the late Regency/early Victorian time period.

One my favorites is this one, featuring a squire and his dog:

This one depicts children running to the town square, perhaps to see a Punch-and-Judy-style show.

Other village people illustrations include the local shepherd boy …

… and a farm worker taking a break from ploughing a field.

In 1908 Graham Hyde produced another set of illustrations along the same theme of characters you might find living in a village.

This set is more stylized and leans a little more toward Mr. Hyde’s cartoon-ish side.

This one is titled “Ye Doctor.”

Then there’s this one titled, “Ye Huntsman.”

Here’s “Ye Host,” which instantly makes me think of a landlord at a country posting inn:

And finally, here’s my favorite of the set, “Ye Village Dame.” It reminds me of Mrs. Philips running to tell Mrs. Bennet the gossip concerning Wickham’s iniquities:

What do you think of these illustrations? Do any of them remind you of characters you’ve read in classic literature?

A Gentleman’s Sporting Life

In a Regency era story I’ve been working on, my hero is a sporting man. Whatever the sport, he loves it: Fencing, boxing, fishing, shooting—they’re all on my hero’s list of favorite things to do.

Fencing at O’Saunessy’s Rooms in St James Street in 1820, by Cruickshank.

While researching different sports that were popular at the time, I came across a reference to the sport of hare-coursing.

A portion of a 17th Century painting on silk of a hunter and his dog hare-coursing.

Hare-coursing is a violent sport in which dogs are turned loose to hunt down hares by sight.

That’s all the description I’ll provide, because I find the concept of the sport too upsetting. I’m an animal lover through and through, so I’m glad to know the sport is banned in most places today.

Still, it was a normal gentleman’s pastime during the Regency, and while I’d never write about it in a story (except to condemn the practice), I was intrigued to discover there was a specific style of dress men wore for the sport.

I did a previous post (which you can read here) that featured gentlemen dressed for shooting pheasant or other game birds.

Likewise, when I stumbled upon a description of hare-coursing, I also found this image of a coat a gentleman would have worn that was specially designed for the “sport.”

From the John Bright Collection

The coat itself is made of wool, trimmed with velvet, which leads me to think hare-coursing was a popular pastime during the colder months of the year.

The coat has two deep pockets on either side of the back skirt. The size of the pockets indicates they may have been used to carry the dead hares.

But what I found most interesting was the buttons on the coat. They were cast with images of a running hare, which makes me think the garment belonged to a wealthy man who could indulge in a custom coat to wear just for engaging in hare-coursing.

I’d never glorify hare-coursing by including it in a story, but this image does inspire me to rethink my hero’s wealth. Is he the kind of man possessed of such an extensive wardrobe that he’d naturally have a custom coat made up to wear only one or two times a year?

Or would that be too vain of him?

Maybe I’ll have my hero be a little more altruistic—the kind of man who would rather put his wealth to better use.

Hmmm, the possibilities are endless!

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’m spending a lot of time outdoors this summer, working in my yard and watering plants to protect them from the hot summer sun.

Let’s face it, gardening can be hot, dirty work, so my gardening attire usually consists of shorts, tank top, and flip-flops . . .

“In the Garden” by Carlton Alfred Smith

. . . which makes me wonder, how did ladies of the Regency era ever manage to do their gardening with all those layers of clothes they were required to wear by the standards of the day?

“The Rose Garden” by Charles Edward Wilson

The truth is that ladies born into wealthy Regency families had servants to do their gardening for them. Women who did not have the same luck of being born to wealth were probably more consumed with earning a living and feeding their families to worry about cultivating flowers and lush green lawns.

“Tea in the Garden” by Frederik Hendrik Kaemmerer.

As it happens, I belong to the latter class of ladies, because I have to work for a living; but thanks to progress made since the Regency Era, I can support her family and still have time to grow and appreciate a garden of colorful flowers. And the best part is, I don’t have to wear elbow-length gloves to do it.

A Regency-era Shooting Party

In my book Mary and the Captain, Charles Bingley’s younger brother Robert rescued a young boy named Daniel from a difficult situation. Robert took Daniel to Netherfield, and had to find a way to keep young Daniel busy during the day. Robert and Daniel spent as much time as possible out of doors, where Daniel could run and play to his heart’s content. Charles and Robert even took Daniel shooting with them in the high meadow at Netherfield.

The illustrations below helped me envision those Regency-era shooting parties.

In the story, I tried to convey the fact that shooting was a usual past-time for the men at Netherfield.

At one point in the story, beautiful Helena Paget complains that while she finds nothing to do in the country, the men get to enjoy shooting.

And Mr. Penrose, the vicar of Meryton, admits to Caroline Bingley that he has a been a guest of her brother Charles on one or two afternoons of shooting in the meadow.

I added these shooting-party illustrations to my Pinterest board; it contains many of the images that inspired me and sparked my imagination as I wrote Mary and the Captain. You can see all the photos and illustrations by clicking here to visit my Pinterest board.

A Dangerous Game of Billiards

Today I’d like to share with you an account I found of a 1798 billiard game that went horribly wrong.

This was a case that attracted a lot of attention at the time. The parties were:

Mr. Pitter, “a German” who had been a gentleman’s servant; and

Colonel Fitzroy, a man of some renown and, possibly (based on his surname), a man connected to the Royal Family.

Here’s the news account:

“It appeared in evidence that, on the third of August last, the plaintiff and defendant were at the library at Eastbourn. In this library there was a billiard table. Mr. North (the Bishop of Winchester’s son) and other gentlemen were present.”

Game of Billiards by August Serrure

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“The plaintiff . . . played several games with the Colonel.”

A Game of Billiards by Louis-Leopold Boilly, 1807

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“A dispute took place respecting the laws of the game, in the course of which the plaintiff contradicted the defendant.”

“The Colonel asked him how he dared to contradict a gentleman, and then beat him in so violent a manner, that he was under a surgeon’s hands, and kept his bed for several days.”

Game of Billiards by Theodore Levigne

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“The defence to this action was that the plaintiff had used very provoking language to the defendant, and that he had brought the assault upon himself by his insolent behaviour.”

“The learned judge of the court lamented that gentlemen of fortune and family should play with such men as the plaintiff. If they chose to make any men their companions, and get into scrapes, they must abide the consequences. His verdict: The plaintiff was entitled to a verdict, with reasonable damages. Verdict for the plaintiff—Damages Ten Pounds.”

The Billiard Game by Jean-Baptiste_Simeon Chardin, 1725

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I love reading accounts like this because they contain so much information about what it was like to live in Georgian England. The story is a compact little primer on societal prejudices, class distinctions, and monetary values in the late 1700s.  I was also intrigued by the reasoning the judge used to reach his verdict.

Who knew a simple game of billiards could have such consequences!

 

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

Hold on to Your Hats! It’s a Helter Skelter

I love to ride roller coasters. The hair-raising speed, the sudden drops you feel in the pit of your stomach, the hair-pin turns—they all combine to make for one thrilling ride.

If roller coasters are a little too intense for your taste, you might want to give a Helter Skelter a try.

The Helter Skelter at Coney Island, New York in 1905

The Helter Skelter at Coney Island, New York in 1905

Helter Skelters are slides built around a central structure. Instead of modern mechanical gears and pulley systems, they rely on gravity to give riders a smooth, twisting-turning trip to the ground. Inside their central structure is a staircase; riders climb the stairs to their highest point where they emerge from the structure at the top of the slide; then they sit down on a mat, or take a seat on a sled, and ride the slide to the ground.

Helter Skelters aren’t exclusive to America. The photograph below, found at I Love the British Royals, shows the future King George VI riding a Helter Skelter at Wembley Exhibition in London, 1925.

The future King George VI on a Helter Skelter at Wembley Exhibition, London, 1925.

The future King George VI on a Helter Skelter at Wembley Exhibition, London, 1925.

Nor are Helter Skelters a 20th century invention. In fact, there are records of Helter Skelters as far back as the Regency era.

The image below from 1817 shows a man with two masked revelers at the base of a Helter Skelter slide, with twin tower structures in the background.

A gentleman and two masked revelers at a Helter Skelter slide; 1817.

A gentleman and two masked revelers at a Helter Skelter slide; 1817.

And the following 1816 image depicts two ladies and a gentleman watching riders descend a Helter Skelter.

A Helter Skelter slide; 1816.

A Helter Skelter slide; 1816.

In this undated image, one man collects his wife and daughter as a second man collects his wife after they’ve gone down a Helter Skelter:

Riders completing a turn on a Helter Skelter slide. The riders used wheeled chairs to descend the slide.

Riders completing a turn on a Helter Skelter slide.

Some Helter Skelters were rather elaborate. The 1816 image below shows a Helter Skelter with dual slides that take deep turns—certain to thrill the era’s most adventurous riders. And with a starting point four stories high, riders probably reached some impressive speeds on their way down.

An elaborate Helter Skelter, four stories high; 1816.

An elaborate Helter Skelter, four stories high; 1816. The image shows riders descending on wheeled sleds that follow a track.

Given my love for roller coasters named Goliath and Intimidator, I feel a special kinship with the Regency era ladies and gentlemen who dared to take a turn on a Helter Skelter. It looks like the kind of fun I like!