Arietta Richmond - Author

Immerse Yourself in Regency Historical Romance

Author: Arietta Richmond (page 2 of 3)

Regency Medicine and Health

Access to reasonable doctors and medical care that can save our lives in an emergency is such a given in the developed world today, that we don’t really consider what life might be like without it. When we think about the regency era, because we are thinking of England, and a fairly sophisticated society, its easy
to forget, or not realise, what a minimal medical capability there actually was then.

Certainly, they had hospitals – but they were not like the hospitals of today.
Nor were their doctors like those of today.  Much of the scientific research that has led to our medicines and ability to deal with disease had yet to be done.

Think about it –

  • There were no antibiotics and only the barest understanding of what caused infection
  • There was generally no careful cleanliness in medical situations
  • There was little understanding of the idea that apparently ‘clean’ water could carry bacteria etc
  • There was no safe general anaesthetic – there was not even the use of ether for that purpose until 1846 approx.  All major operations were done with you either awake, or dosed with laudanum (an opiate).
  • Due to that, appendicitis was pretty much a death sentence.
  • Many women died in childbirth, because, if the child was breech and could not be turned, or there were other complications, a caesarian section was certain death for the mother.  It was not performed successfully, where both mother and child lived, until 1881.
  • Even quite minor infections of cuts and scratches could lead to death, as the infection could not easily be stopped, and there was little knowledge of effectively sterilising cuts.
  • Many ‘doctors’ still believed in the concepts that used things like bleeding the sick person to attempt to treat things – thus weakening an already weak person, and often hastening death.
  • Doctors often did not bother with hand-washing, and other infection preventing activities, because they did not believe there was a need.
  • Doctors also often recommended keeping sick rooms closed up and dark, which did nothing to help with healing.
  • The most effective healers were either women who had studied herbal healing, passed down through families in many villages, and men who had been ‘barber surgeons’ on the battlefield – where the main aim was to keep the injured soldiers alive, by whatever method they could – hence they lacked prejudice and tried whatever was suggested, or appeared to work.
  • Many children died very young, through illness and accident, because vaccines were only just starting to be invented, and the sort of childhood diseases that are now rare in the world ran rampant through the population, with little available but hope to cure the child.
  • being a doctor was also not very well respected as a profession in Regency times, although that was beginning to change, with the increasing persistence of a few men who chose the profession through a genuine care for people, and began to push research along.

The only significant positive about all of this, is that everyone was exposed to all sorts of things, from the moment that they were born, and, if they survived that first few years, they had, as a result, an immune system of outstanding strength.  Most modern people from developed countries, dropped back in those times, would succumb to all sorts of nasty things immediately – we have been so protected from disease, our immune systems are just not set up to cope with that sort of onslaught!

So, next time you wish to be living in Regency times, wearing beautiful gowns and dancing at balls, think carefully – how would you face that sort of medical situation?

The Regency Era View of Beauty

Most of us are very aware, today, that our perception of what is ‘beautiful’ is affected by how the media shows things, and by the appearance of celebrities etc.  Whilst the form of media available was rather dramatically different in the Regency era, the result was not so different.

Celebrity had a huge effect in Regency times – what someone important wore would soon become all the rage.  Fashion magazines existed, and, like those of today, tended to show ladies as models, who were rather slimmer than average. Even throughout the Napoleonic wars, French influence on fashion was strong, and the most popular modistes were often of French background.

Most interesting though, is what we discover when we compare the fashion plates with portraits painted in the era.  Portraits were often painted in such as way as to show the subject in a more favourable light than perhaps their actual appearance provided.  Which makes them an even stronger indication of what was valued as beauty…..

DE ROSSI Pietro c 1800 portrait.Generally the women who were famous for being ‘diamonds of the first water’ in the Regency era were not the super slim things you might expect.  If you looked at them today, you would probably see them as short and rather plump.  Why would that be considered beautiful ?  Well, at the simplest level, a certain plumpness is a good indication of wealth – you are not starving, you can afford enough food to be plump!

Poor women were likely to be almost universally thing and bony, in that time, so to be plump was a way to show your wealthy status.  being over fat was still seen as a negative, but where the boundary between ‘just right’ and ‘too much’ lay was very different from today.  And, being plump produced another result, which suited the fashion of the day.

Although the Regency era corsets / stays, were more flexible and less limiting of movement than those from the era before, or just after, they were still designed to constrain and lift the breasts, so that the breasts were ‘nicely displayed’, framed by the rather low necklines and ‘off the shoulder’ styles of the ball gowns of the day.  A plump woman usually had breasts rather more suited to that, than a thin woman!

This focus on plumpness as beauty also reflected the evidence of wealth in a more subtle way.  Young ladies of the aristocracy did not work.  They did not even do anything particularly strenuous, beyond sometimes riding a horse, and walking.  Poor women worked – often back-breakingly hard work.  So, as an aristocratic young woman, it was rather easy to get somewhat plump – you were not exactly encouraged to do much exercise!  So, again, being a little plump was a clear sign of your place in the social order, and of your wealthy desirability.

So…. think about it…. in that era, would you have been perceived differently, from  how you are today?  And would you be happy about it?

 

Image courtesy of http://jeannedepompadour.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/miniature-portraits-hans-holbein.html

Being Portrait of a Lady 1810 by Pietro de Rossi

The Hierarchy of Titles, and How That Related to Wealth

When I talk to people about the Regency period, I find that one of the most common areas of confusion is the Titles of the aristocracy (quite rightly too, it
is a bit complicated!).  So here is a summary of who was more important than who, and of how that did (and often didn’t!) relate to wealth.

So – the simplest part of this – Titles.  Different titles had different levels of importance.  They were, from most important down

  • Prince
  • Duke
  • Marquess
  • Earl
  • Viscount
  • Baron

Whilst each title had its own estates and responsibilities (usually – there are some types of Barons that did not necessarily have land estates attached to them), it was possible for one person to be the holder (by inheritance, and the tangled family trees of the nobility) of more than one title at a time.  When that was the case, the title holder could, as a courtesy, allow his heir to take on one of his own ‘lesser’ titles (and its lands and responsibilities).  So the heir of a Duke was often a Marquess, the heir of a Marquess an Earl etc.

Whilst the persons of the major families of the aristocracy were referred to as ‘the upper 10,000’ – because that is roughly how many of them there were – the distribution of titles was not even within that group of people.  For a title to come into existence, the King or Queen at the time had to create it, and sign formal ‘letters of patent’ which brought the title into existence, and attached estates to it, to become its holdings. Like most things that have value, scarcity adds to it – so the more important a title, the less of them there were.

For example, in 1801, there were, between England, Scotland and Ireland, only 40 extant Dukedoms in total, and a number of those were reserved for junior members of the Royal family (as they still are today).  The numbers for each title got larger, as the importance of the title got less.  There is an excellent article on this, with links out to detailed lists for each level of title, here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_nobility.

So all those Dukes we meet in Regency Romances…….  were unlikely to exist – but they make for good stories!

Now lets look at the wealth associated with a title.  Just having a title might make one asset rich, but not necessarily cash rich, or saleable asset rich.  A title holder, whose property was all entailed to the title, had to ensure that their lands were well enough managed to create enough income to offset their upkeep, and still make a profit.  Bad management could easily send that equation into negative.  If the previous holders of the title had been profligate spenders, or gamblers, then a person inheriting the title might be inheriting more debt than wealth – and could not sell the entailed properties to clear it.  Some peers eventually fled the country to escape their debtors, and to escape ending up in debtors prison – rare for an aristocrat, but not unheard of.

Because of this, it was entirely possible for a Viscount, whose family were all good managers, and not prone to overspending or gambling, to end up far wealthier than a Duke who came from a long line of spenders.  Equally, it was not uncommon for astute men from the merchant class to end up overwhelmingly wealthy, as the result of good business ventures and management (like those called ‘nabobs’ who had made their money out of trading in India and importing to England).  That did not make them any better regarded by the nobility, but…. the huge dowries that they provided for their daughters did sometimes make those daughters suddenly become acceptable brides for men of the nobility – who happened to be rather in need of the cash infusion that the dowry could bring!

So – the picture that we paint in our stories is rather a fairytale version of the reality!  but its fun for us.

How Did They Clean Clothes?

That sounds like a very ordinary thing to be talking about, doesn’t it ?  Yet its actually very interesting.  So, let me set the scene, and get you thinking.  In the Regency period, there were :

  • no washing machines
  • no hot running water
  • no cold running water, for that matter
  • no modern style soaps
  • no modern style hyper effective washing powders or detergents
  • no spot removing solutions
  • no dry cleaning
  • no clothes dryers
  • no electric irons
  • no folding ironing boards

That starts to make it harder, doesn’t it?  Imagine how difficult it would be, to get even something as basic as mud off the hem of a skirt, with none of those things to help!
So – what did they have?  They had the following:

  • Big tubs and coppers, that were filled with water and heated by having a fire under them
  • Two sorts of soap – The first was a coarse soap used for washing out difficult stains and generally by the lower classes.  This was made of melted rendered animal fat, lye(which is caustic), ashes, and sand, all mixed up and set into blocks. The second was a more refined soap, very expensive, made for mainly the ladies and gentlemen of the nobility to use.  This still started with things like animal fats and ashes, but also included such things as herbs and flowers, and scent essences made from herbs and flowers.  All of the ingredients were mixed into a paste which was ‘milled’ and made as small and finely ground as possible, so that the resulting bars of soap were smooth and fine to the touch, and smelled nice.
  • Herbal cleaning mixtures – today, you can buy things like citrus based cleaners, made from the skins of oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit – those sorts of cleaners, in their original forms, were invented centuries ago.
  • The nobility, at least, had servants to do their washing for them – by hand, bent over a tub or bucket, scrubbing away at the cloth.
  • Irons – which were, literally, big shaped chunks of iron, with handles, that were set on a rack over the fire to heat, and then used to press the clothes.

 

Old flat clothing ironsOld engraved illustration of a washerwoman washing clothes outside. Industrial encyclopedia E.-O. Lami - 1875.

 

 

 

 

 

So many clothes did not last long, in good condition, because stains could not be removed, and clothes were often not washed at all, or rarely washed, because the coarse washing methods would damage the cloth or embroidery etc. Clothes never washed have a habit of starting to smell of the bodies they have been worn by……

For the nobility, this was not a problem – they got new clothes.  For the lower classes, the fact that the nobility could afford new clothes was a blessing – ladies often gave their old clothes to their maids or to the families of other staff in their households.  And the servants were happy to wear stained and smelly clothes if they were pretty, and in better condition than what they had before.

Second hand clothes were also sold – and the poorer end of the middle class would often buy second hand clothes.  These had been cleaned as well as possible, before being sold, but were still likely worn and had stains here and there.
Another way that clothes were made to last longer, was by unsewing them and ‘turning the fabric’ – literally, turning the fabric inside out, and sewing them together again.  So the inside, which was not faded from the sun, or stained by food or other spills, was now on the outside, and the dress looked better for a while, and lasted a bit longer.

So, next time you go to grumble about needing to do the washing, stop and think – imagine having to do it in Regency times…..  be grateful for that washing machine!

Regency Trivia – Bad Habits


 The main bad habits of the Regency era were not, in many ways, too different from the bad habits of today.

Gentlemen of the ton were lamentably likely to become overly engaged in gambling, drinking, drug addiction (yes, they had drugs…. just not the same ones), getting into fights, and spending all too much time in brothels.

Ladies were also prone to some bad habits, although slightly different.  Those included gambling, but in different places, and drug addiction (laudanum), gossip, overspending on fashion and extramarital affairs (if you married for political reasons, not love, wouldn’t you be tempted….).

Not so different at all.  What was different was how these things were viewed.  Amongst the ton, whilst all of these habits, of both gentlemen and ladies, were regarded as less than ideal, they were, in general, ignored – it was impolite to take note of such things.  Things might reach a crisis if a gentleman’s gambling reached the point where he was run out of money to an unrecoverable point, but that took a lot of doing.  Equally, a lady’s affairs might cause a significant scandal should she be found in bed with the wrong man, but it had to be a very bad choice for it not to be able to be hushed up, and forgotten by next season , in favour of some newer, juicier gossip.

Drugs could also become a problem.  Such things were not illegal at that point, and the most common addiction was Laudanum, which contained a large percentage of opium.  It was good in small doses, as an anaesthetic or tranquilliser, but repeated use meant larger and larger doses, and a dependency, which became debilitating.  Opium was also smoked – a habit which had been brought back from the East, and became popular in some circles, amongst poets and others who rebelled against the societal conventions.

Smoking was becoming more common, mainly cigars amongst the aristocracy, and chewing tobacco was used by the lower classes.

Alcoholic drinks were standard, ranging from an assortment of ales and beers, through cider, wine, fortifieds like sherry and port, to whisky, brandy and other strong spirits.  Alcohols were, in most places, taken instead of water, as water might be polluted and cause illness.  Water was generally only consumed by the aristocracy when it had been boiled and turned into a tea or similar herbal infusion.  A consequence of this was that alcoholic addiction became quite common, especially amongst those who could afford to indulge whenever they liked.

It is interesting to consider that, in a time when honourable behaviour was valued, they still managed to maintain that, with violence (duels, a propensity for boxing and other person to person fighting etc), drug addiction and alcoholism being ‘normal.  They did rather well, don’t you think?

Sadly, it seems that we humans are prone to the same bad behaviour, no matter what century we live in.

Words Used in Regency Times

Words – many words used in Regency times were not the same words that we use now, for the same thing.  Often, however, it is possible to see how today’s words evolved from the words used then.

Here are just a few classic examples:

Megrim – in Regency times, this was the word often used to describe a bad headache.  It has evolved into today’s word – migraine.

Canker – the term ‘a canker’ was used to describe almost any growth, in or on the body, especially those that were hard or impossible to heal.  The modern day use of the word ‘cancer’ to describe diseases which involve a difficult, or impossible, to heal growth in the body largely derives from this word.

Linen Draper – a merchant who sold fabric – derived from the idea that they would drape the fabrics for display, so that the fall could be seen.  From this evolved the term of a Draper, for a seller of material, which could still be found in use until around 30 years ago, and also the term of ‘drapery’ referring to curtains.

Pianoforte – the original term for what we now know as a Piano.  The instrument was an evolution from the harpsichord and other similar instruments, and was notable for having the ability to play at loud or soft levels – which the previous instruments did not.  The name is a combination of the Italian words for soft and loud.

Post Chaise – a larger carriage or coach, pulled by either two or four horses, where one of the leading horses was ridden by a man called a ‘post boy’ who ensured that the horses stayed well controlled and correctly placed on the road.  The word that we have kept from this, still in use today, is the term for rising to the trot when riding a horse – it is called ‘posting to the trot’.

There are hundreds of equally interesting words, and usages from the period, that have influenced our language today – this is just a short sampler.  When you read books set in the Regency period, do you just accept the words ?  or do they fascinate you enough for you to go and look them up?  Would you like more articles about this sort of thing?

Common Foods and Drinks in Regency Times

Common foods and drinks – let’s look at a few things that we take for granted today, but which were seen very differently in Regency times.

Because there were no fast ways to get things from one part of the world to another, anything that could not be grown in England (or was not yet grown in England) had to be imported, at extreme cost.  Many fortunes where made in shipping ventures to bring exotic goods to England from the far reaches of the world. The ton had an insatiable appetite for luxuries, and for items that would allow one person or family to appear more sophisticated or more obviously wealthy than their neighbours.  Merchants were happy to encourage those appetites, although with some caution, as quite a few of the ton were known for not ever paying their bills!

So – here are some commonplace things today, that were not that way in Regency times:

  • Tea – tea had to be imported from China (it was later imported from India, where the British Raj had encouraged its cultivation, using plants that had beenTea Tin obtained from China), so it was extremely expensive.  The tea storage box was usually locked, and kept under lock and key by the housekeeper in noble households.  What was often spoken of as ‘tea’ was usually a herbal tisane or infusion, made from herbs that grew in England – very little ‘tea’ was actually tea. Tea was rarely taken with milk – generally, a slice of lemon was added, if anything.
    This is an example of the beautiful tins in which tea was sold – this one is similar to one that was listed on eBay recently for more than $1000 – very collectible indeed!
  • Coffee – by Regency times coffee was available, but was not yet at all common, outside the wealthiest households.  It reached greater common use in America, before it did in England.  There were limited varieties, and the resultant brew was made in a number of different ways, all of which tended to produce a much more bitter taste than the coffees of today,
  • Hot Chocolate – another drink that was only just coming into use, and really only amongst the nobility at that time.  The hot chocolate of the time was quite bitter, and very thick – it tended to be made using chocolate that was nearly 100% cocoa – like the darkest of chocolates today.  Experimental cooks had just begun to work out that, if they added sugar (also a very expensive imported substance!), and some cream, they could make a sweeter, thinner mixture, which, by the early 1800s, was becoming popular with some ladies of the aristocracy.  At this time experimentation also began on adding various spices to the mix, for flavour.
  • Sugar – Sugar came from a number of sources, but the white table sugar that we know today was very expensive, because not only did it have to be imported from tropical countries, but the process of refining it to create the fine white crystals was difficult and time consuming.  Other sugar sources were sugar beet, and less refined sugars (such as molasses syrup).  Some (again, extremely expensive) items, like yellow rock sugar from China, were also occasionally seen.
  • Oranges – whilst oranges were available in England, they were fairly expensive, as the English climate was too harsh for orange trees to grow well, unless they were in a greenhouse.  So they, too, were imported from tropical parts of the world.  An orange was a thing to be treasured, and a single one, if they could afford it, might be shared between a family.  As  the market grew, more were imported, and they became less expensive – but that took many years.

That’s enough for one post on this!  But it gives you an indication of how simple things can be so different – things you would never think about, as a person living with the easy accessibility of those things today.  To top it off for the Regency era population in England, the Napoleonic Wars had resulted in trade embargoes, and in much more difficult trade routes (by land or sea) to bring goods to England from the East.  So that meant more expensive goods, and it also meant more smuggling!  Then, when the wars ended, the market in many products collapsed, as trade began to flow again, and there was an economic failure in many sectors.

Imagine living in a time when you could not afford a cup of tea or coffee in the morning, or to put sugar in anything, because they were more expensive than gold……  How well would you survive?

Regency Trivia – The Role of Women

Today I want to talk about how men’s and women’s abilities and intelligence were viewed in Regency times.

It was assumed that men were better in all ways than women, that men were more intelligent, and of stronger mental constitution, than a woman ever could be.  This resulted in many things that we would consider very strange today.  Such things as

  • Women were considered incapable of doing complex maths or science, or even basic science – a woman could not be a member of the Royal Society (one of the first associations of scientists)
  • Women were considered incapable of serious art, although they were encouraged to dabble in watercolours to entertain themselves.
  • Women were not expected to do well at languages, or at any activity requiring serious thought – they were told ‘not to worry their pretty heads about it’  and men would take over.
  • Secretarial and clerical work was all done by men, and the thought of a woman doing such work was scandalous.
  • Women were not thought to be capable of being good poets or authors either – and those who were, could not get published except by going under a male pseudonym and making sure that no one knew of their true identity.
  • Women were not thought to have the intelligence to manage their own finances at any level, and were legally unable to do so, in many cases, without a man to be officially responsible.

You begin to see the challenges that an intelligent woman would have faced !  How long would you cope for, caged up by those attitudes, and the limitations that came with them ?

April Book News

Book Five, The Rake’s Unlikely Redemption, has gone out to beta readers for a final check over, and responses are coming back in.  I am aiming for a 15 April release and I will let you know as soon as it is available, to make sure that you, my loyal subscriber, get it at the launch price.

Book Six, The Marquess’ Scandalous Mistress, will follow soon.

Books Seven,  Eight and Nine are being planned, with the plots coming together nicely.  I will keep you posted on progress.

Book One is now available on Nook and Kobo, and will soon be available on iBooks.  I will be releasing all of the books to the wider distribution channels progressively, so if you like to read on a different platform, its coming! By the end of this month, Book2, The Captain’s Compromised Heiress, should be available on those sites too.

In a longer term plan, I am starting to put together a Derbyshire Set Companion – this will be a book full of short biographies of each character, information on the locations mentioned, and other interesting bits of information about people, places and events from all of the books.  I expect that to be released in about 3 to 6 months time.

Regency Trivia – The Aristocracy and Their Servants

Today I want to talk about the relationship between the nobility, and their servants.  In my books, we have touched on the lives of servants a few times, especially in Book Three, and I am sure that it is obvious to you that the gap in wealth between the common people and the nobility was enormous.  What may not be so obvious is the way that the economics and social structures worked, around that.

In everything that you read about the period, you will see mention of noble families with huge houses and huge numbers of people employed to maintain them. Whilst, obviously, it does take a lot of people to keep homes like the mansions of the aristocracy in immaculate condition (just imagine the dust, when most roads were not paved and the passing traffic was all horses, whose hoofs stirred up the dirt with every step!), there were often more staff employed than absolutely necessary.  Why?

Because creating employment was a responsibility of the aristocracy, that came right along with the title and the properties.  Titled persons (of the landed nobility, to be precise, we could get complicated here, but that is for another day), had a number of properties which were ‘entailed’ to the title – went with it regardless and could not be sold or willed to anyone else.  The wealth of the noble families came from the crops and animals raised on the land attached to their properties (or resources mined from their land), which were raised by their tenant farmers.  The villages in their lands survived because the nobles maintained the tenant farmers houses, in return for their labour, and because the nobles employed a large percentage of the villagers in their houses, stables, dairies etc.

Where the lands were large, and productive, and had been so for generations, it was not uncommon for the nobles to employ more staff than needed, as part of their obligation to their dependants – and often whole families worked for the nobles, for generations.  This was not always the case though – the aristocracy were not immune to human failings, or the fickle effects of nature.  Where crops failed multiple years ain a row, times were hard for villagers, servants and nobles alike.  Equally, if the nobles were not so noble, and wasted their money in gambling, or unwise investments (yes, there were plenty of scam artists then too!) then times were hard.  But under those conditions, the nobles could often live on credit for many, many years, but it was their servants, tenant farmers, and those businesses that supplied them (and were not getting paid!) that suffered.

The economic effect of a noble family falling into debt and poverty went far beyond their own suffering – it caused a wave of economic disaster which rolled out from them through hundreds of other people, whose livelihoods depended on them.  Not too different from the effect when a big corporation fails today.  If you had lived in the Regency period, what do you think that you would have done, to support your servants?

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