Arietta Richmond - Author

Immerse Yourself in Regency Historical Romance

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Paper in the Early 1800s

Today, the first thing that comes to mind when asked “What’s paper made from?” is ‘Trees’ or ‘Wood’. People assume automatically that paper is made from wood, that paper and wood are synonymous.

But in fact, paper has been made from wood only since the mid-1800s; until
the 1850s, paper was made from recycled linen and cotton rags. In England
before the mid 1600s, in most cases, the only ‘paper’ available was parchment
or vellum – parchment is the skin of a sheep or goat that’s been prepared
for writing; vellum is a fine parchment made from the skins of calves, lambs
or kids. It was, as a result, very expensive, and in limited supply.

Once the idea of making paper from linen, cotton, hemp and similar fibres really took hold (it was introduced to Europe around 1000 from China, by way of the Arab nations), it spread slowly. Rag based paper existed in England from around the 1300s, but the scale of production was small. By the mid 1700s, the demand had risen so much that rags were worth a great deal of money, and there were laws in parts of Europe forbidding trade in rags outside national boundaries (so, of course, people smuggled them).

The demand drove change. Throughout the eighteenth century, there was an intense search in Europe and the U.S. for a new fiber source of paper. Contests were held, universities offered prizes, and inventors and laboratories worked feverishly to come up with a new source for paper. Inventors would often print a book on their newly-invented paper that described how the paper was made. And so we ended up with books printed on paper made from asbestos, straw, swamp grass, marsh mallow, and esparto dune grass from certain beaches in Spain.

In the early 1800s the crisis in demand for rags was made worse by the progressive invention of better printing presses, and the rising demand for books from the wealthy classes. The first patent for a paper using deinked waste paper as part of its fiber source was issued in 1800 in London. It was not until the 1840s that the initial development of the papermaking machine in England and experiments in ground wood pulping in Germany and Nova Scotia enabled the commercial production of paper, which used wood fibre as part of its composition.

So – when your read about books in Regency stories, or about characters pulling out a sheet of paper to write on, those books and writing papers are made of rag fibre, and are very expensive. No-one wasted paper, unless they were unbelievably wealthy.

Crossed

This is also why letters of the time were often ‘crossed’ – (see image above) where the writing was written on the page in one direction, and then the paper was turned 90 degrees and the person continued writing in lines which ‘crossed’ the first loot of writing – all to save paper. Which made it remarkably hard to read what your correspondent had to say! (and has made it extraordinarily difficult for historians to transcribe the letters of historical figures, even when they are well preserved.

So next time you scrunch up a sheet of paper in frustration, throw it away, and start again, consider that, in the Regency era, you would have been throwing away what could amount to a month’s wages for a poor person!

The Industrial Revolution

You’ve probably all heard the term ‘The Industrial Revolution’ at some point in your life, but you may not realise just how much of that revolution was happening in Regency times.

The Industrial revolution was a period when much manufacturing which had previously been done in homes, as ‘cottage industry’ began to move into more factory style bulk production.  This happened for a number of reasons.

1.   Over the century of the 1700s, there had been many small inventions,
especially in the cotton production and weaving industries, each of which
greatly enhanced the productivity possible from a single worker.
2.   The Napoleonic wars, like any war, required a great deal of supplies to keep soldiers in the field – not just food, but uniforms, weapons and ammunition.  The protracted series of wars (from 1790 to 1815) drove innovation in manufacturing, both because merchants wanted to profit from being a supplier to the military, and because so many young men had gone to war that efficiencies were needed to get anything made, as there just were not enough workers in some areas.
3.   The appetite of the English aristocracy for high quality and exotic goods, for conspicuous display of wealth, drove merchants to look for new and more effective ways to provide what they wanted to buy – from new types of fabric, produced in the new weaving factories, to other items which had become more scarce as the wars affected the ease of trade.
4.    The increasingly innovative use of steam engines (to drive things like factory machines, as well as the trains for the railroads which were starting to be built) provided a more economic method of creating rapid production, and the railways began to make fast distribution of goods possible.

Put all of that together, and you have a recipe for rapid change.  Change that brought good things and bad. Machinery allowed the manufacture of much more high quality cloth, and more complex patterned cloth, using the new Jacquard weaving looms, and for many new items, such as machine produced greeting cards. But machinery in factories was a new thing – a thing that could be very dangerous to workers, in an era where there were no laws protecting those workers (It was more than a century later, before the idea of Occupational Health and Safety was invented….).  In the weaving shops, small children were often employed because they could get under machines, and get their hands into tiny spaces to untangle things – many were crippled or killed when machines broke or trapped them.

(overseer supervising child workers – image via Brittanica.com)

The advent of machine tools also allowed greater standardisation in production of items – which made things cheaper – what had previously been handcrafted and only available to the rich, could now be bought by the lower and middle classes.  The change in standard of living this created was the beginning of a great destabilisation of the distribution of wealth, and the sense of ‘knowing your place in the class system’ of the world.

Until our Regency period, it was a world where almost every item was made by hand, was unique, and not quite the same as the next one, and took much time to make.  Imagine how different such a world was!  And how exciting, and terrifying, the rate of change must have seemed, when machines began to be possible, and mass production came into existence.

Mirrors

Mirrors are another thing that we take for granted today.  They are everywhere – not just in our bathrooms and bedrooms, but as decoration in buildings, in lifts and in other places, as well as in our homes.  We use them to make rooms seem bigger, or in small chips to add glitter and brightness to all sorts of things.

In the Regency era, it was rather different.  Mirrors were another thing that
was mostly limited to the very wealthy.

Early mirrors were made of polished metal, or sometimes obsidian or stone,  (going back many centuries) but even that required having enough wealth to afford one.

Glass mirrors with metallic backings were experimented with for many centuries, but no reliable and effective process was developed until around 1835, when a German chemist developed the process to lay down a very thin layer of silver on one side of a glass sheet, using a chemical process, to create the first mirrors of the style that is common today (although today’s mirrors use a thin layer of aluminium).

There were silver backed mirrors from around the 1600s, but they used larger amounts of silver, which was not as evenly applied, and produced a much less effective mirror. Another metal backed mirror was invented by the Venetian glassmakers in the 1600s – they coated the back of a glass plate with mercury!  It produced a beautiful undistorted reflection – but was difficult to create and had obvious (but unknown to them) health risks!

In Regency times, mirrors made from polished steel were available, and some small glass mirrors, with metallic backings of various kinds.  The larger mirrors found in some aristocratic homes were amazingly expensive, and possessing one, or more, was an ostentatious statement of wealth. Each of those mirrors was either backed with manually applied silver leaf, or with a tin/mercury amalgam, which was also hand worked to get a thin flat layer.  The metal was applied to the back of the mirror, usually then painted on the back to protect it, and the whole enclosed in a frame to make sure the layers stayed in place.  These methods also meant that mirrors were rather heavy!.

So – next time you casually glance at a mirror to check your hair, spare a thought for our Regency heroes and heroines, trying to look their best for a Ball, with minimal mirrors available!

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.

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?

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?

Regency Trivia – Horses

On a completely different topic from last weeks trivia, today I’d like to talk about horses.

Why? Because in the Regency period, the horse was still the primary form of transport, either ridden, or used to pull a carriage or cart.  Railways were just coming into existence, as were steam ships, and there were quite a few canals across England, but still, around 80 to 85% of transport was achieved with horses.

Now, we have so many different forms of transport, that it is easy to forget that our favourite Regency characters did not have those options.

The fact of the horse being the primary mode of transport has a number of implications for our characters – the first being how long it took to go anywhere – even a fast coach, changing teams of horses regularly, did not cover more than 50 to 80 miles in a day.  The second implication, which is the most important for any author telling a story set in the Regency period, has to do with the familiarity of most people, with horses.

The aristocracy could afford the best horses, and everyone of noble birth learned to ride from almost as soon as they could walk, unless they had a significant infirmity which prevented it.  People of the merchant class also rode, although less often, but would certainly have a carriage available, or ride in a hackney cab. People of the lower classes were familiar with horses, but often did not ride.  In  the country they might have a cart, or have plough horses, or work in the stables of a Lord.  In the city, they had to deal with streets full of horse drawn vehicles, every day.

What this means, for any author telling a story of the period, is that it is inevitable that horses will feature in your stories – because the nobility used them every day.  It is therefore important to know enough about horses, and horse breeds, saddles, harness and riding styles in the period, to describe them as part of the story, correctly.  As a person living now, you cannot assume that the way that horses were trained, ridden and driven was the same then, as it is now.  Nor can you assume that saddles and harness were the same then, as what you use today.  Because they were not – they were, in fact, very different.

I frequently read Regency stories (yes, I love reading about the period as well as writing about it!) where the author gets the ‘horse stuff’ so very wrong, and it frustrates me a lot. I have been a horse person all my life – have ridden, bred and trained horses, so I notice these things.  It fascinates me that many authors, who put meticulous effort into researching the clothes, food, words, manners and social structure of the era, do not bother to research something so fundamental to Regency daily life as horses, as used in that period.

Its a kind of cultural blindness – we forget to consider that such a thing might have been different then.

Are there things like this that annoy you too?  Are you expert in a topic that authors often misrepresent?  If you are, I would love to know about it – about what annoys you, and why.  And, especially if its something that you think I have not done well in one or more of my books, I really want to know – I am always ready to learn, so that I can improve my stories.  So – if you do know something like that – please do email and tell me!

Regency Trivia – Divorce

Following on from last weeks trivia (about Love)  today I am going to talk about Divorce.
In today’s world, the two words often come close together!  We regard it as normal to have marriages not last long, and divorce is, in most places, seen as an ordinary part of life.
In Regency England, the situation was rather different.  Prior to an act of parliament introduced in 1857, the only way to get a divorce was via the church courts, or by bringing a private bill to parliament!  This was, understandably, rather extravagantly expensive.  Even with that option, it was much easier for a man to ask for, and get, a divorce, than for a woman.  If a woman was unfaithful once, the man could ask for divorce.  A man could be unfaithful as often as he liked, and the woman could not ask for divorce unless she could prove severe cruelty or a few other things.  It was a very, very, unbalanced situation. There is an excellent article on the history of divorce through the centuries at http://www.historyofwomen.org/divorce.html if you are interested.
The impact of this, combined with the ease with which a man or woman could get trapped into marrying as a result of being compromised (as we discussed last week), was that a very large proportion of the aristocracy were very unhappy in their marriages, trapped married to someone they did not love, and could not leave.  It is no wonder than both men and women took lovers, and that scandals were not uncommon!  This is also why there was such a focus, in the dreams of young girls at the time, on the concept of actually managing to fall in love with someone that you were able to marry.
Imagine living in that time – how would you go about trying to find someone that you could love for the rest of your life, when you couldn’t even be alone with them to talk????

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