Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Regency Social Ladder

During the Regency era (and prior to...and after) there was strict social ladder upon which one fell. It was hard to climb said ladder, but quite easy to slip and fall for some. Typically you were born into your situation. A royal was born a royal, unless they happened to be lucky enough to marry into royalty. Same went for the aristocracy. It could be slightly possible for someone to raise themselves to gentry level by providing excellent service to the monarch, thus being awarded a title and perhaps a substantial piece of land. The best way to climb the social ladder was obviously marrying into it. The second way was to accumulate wealth, which could be difficult to do in a society with strict rigid order.

The Ladder:

  • Monarch -- At the time of the Regency, the King was unable to rule and so his son, the Price Regent ruled in his stead.
  • Royals -- Family members of the monarch who were in line for the throne, some quite removed.
  • Aristocracy -- These are the nobles.
  • Gentry -- These are high-born people, land-holders, lower aristocracy, a knight and his family.
  • Middle Class -- although this term wasn't used until later, it referred to professionals such as bankers, physicians, lawyers, wealthy merchants, etc...
  • Artisans and Tradespeople -- This is a group of skilled workers, highly trained in a specific trade, and while some could make a pretty living, most did not. These were often mantua makers, watchmakers, dress makers, etc...
  • Servants -- Servants worked for not only for nobles and gentry, but for the middle class as well. They included butlers, housekeepers, maids, cooks, stable workers, etc... They did not make very much money and were often provided quarters within the household they worked for. Wages among servants varied widely depending mostly on your position and who you worked for. A butler for an earl would make substantially more than a butler for a banker--and within themselves, the earl's butler would feel he was at a more elevated position than that of the banker's butler.
  • Laborers -- Laborers had a particularly hard life. They worked themselves to the bone for very little coin. We're talking peddlers--the gal who sells oranges or flowers, the oyster collector, chimney sweeps, factory workers, street cleaners, etc...
  • Paupers -- Paupers either had no work or found only occasional/seasonal work. They were the destitute, with nothing to their names and growling bellies. They often fell to crime, prostitution, and even died at an earlier age from exposure, illness or the dangers of living on the streets.
I admit to being fascinated by all social classes, but if I had to choose one to belong to, I think it would be gentry. Don't get me wrong, I would love to be a Queen or a Duchess, but the rules of society were too strict and confining. As a member of the gentry, I'd still have access to mostly the same things, but perhaps I could live a more "normal" life. Maybe...

Eliza Knight is the best-selling, award-winning, multi-published author of sizzling historical romance and erotic romance. While not reading, writing or researching for her latest book, she chases after her three children. In her spare time (if there is such a thing…) she likes daydreaming, wine-tasting, traveling, hiking, staring at the stars, watching movies, shopping and visiting with family and friends. She lives atop a small mountain, and enjoys cold winter nights when she can curl up in front of a roaring fire with her own knight in shining armor. Visit Eliza or her historical blog History Undressed: Twitter:@ElizaKnight and Facebook:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lady Archer and the Caricaturists

Though she was once a celebrity whose likeness could be spotted in shop windows everywhere, Sarah, Lady Archer, has more or less fallen from the public consciousness—which is probably a good thing for poor Lady Archer, as the attention formerly paid her must have been largely unwelcome. Like Lindsay Lohan or The Jersey Shore's Snookie today, she was once known largely as the butt of jokes.

Lady Archer was born in 1741 as Sarah West, the daughter of a Warwickshire landowner and MP. At the age of twenty, she married the Honorable Andrew Archer, who went on to become the 2nd Baron Archer of Umberslade upon his father’s death seven years later. She wasn’t especially pretty, she was as active in politics as a woman of her era could reasonably be, and she dared to dress in a confident, outdoorsy fashion. (Writing many years later, the Hon. Grantley Berkeley called her "a celebrated amazon of that time.") It was almost inevitable that she should become a favorite target of often-misogynistic caricaturists like Isaac Cruikshank, Thomas Rowlandson, and especially James Gillray. Though she was an excellent whip and rider to hounds, an active champion of Whig causes and politicians, and the mother of three daughters, caricatures of Sarah focus almost exclusively on two of her failings: she was an avid gambler, and she strove to enhance her rather plain looks.

Modern Hospitality

Gillray's 1792 Modern Hospitality, or A Friendly Party in High Life is subtitled "The Knave Wins All." It shows Lady Archer presumably cheating at cards; the Prince Regent sits beside her, while Whig leader Charles James Fox reacts with dismay on the far right.

In an age when men could gamble freely in clubs but women could not, ladies confined their gaming to private gatherings—soirées, musicales, card parties. The “Faro ladies” were aristocratic hostesses known for holding such gambling parties, where play was deep and went on for hours. They were mostly from political households known to support the politician Charles James Fox, himself an inveterate gambler. Because Fox was a Whig and the Whigs were the radicals of their day—they even harbored sympathies for the dangerous revolutionaries in France—anything they did that smacked of decadence or excess instantly drew criticism from more conservative quarters. How dare these liberal elites indulge in such dissipation?

The Exaltation of Faro's Daughters

In Gillray's The Exaltation of Faro's Daughters, Lady Archer is on the right, while the woman with the dead squirrel soaring over her head is Lady Buckinghamshire.

Lady Archer was one of the better known Faro ladies, together with other grandes dames including the Duchess of Devonshire and the Countess of Buckinghamshire. Both Lady Buckinghamshire and Lady Archer actually ran gaming houses out of their London residences, keeping their own faro banks. Though such play was an open secret, it became headline news in 1796 when a well-connected twenty-three year old named Henry Weston was hanged for forging a £10,000 bank note to cover his gambling losses (a sum which he quickly went on to lose in further play). The Lord Chief Justice at the time, Lord Kenyon, was so incensed that he promised that anyone convicted of running a gambling house would be punished: "though they should be the finest ladies in the land, they shall certainly exhibit themselves at the pillory." Caricaturists leaped on the pronouncement, with Gillray depicting Lady Archer in the pillory in two separate cartoons, Discipline a la Kenyon (she's in the background, while Lady Buckinghamshire is being whipped at the cart's tail) and The Exaltation of Faro's Daughters; she also shares a pillory with Lady Buckinghamshire in publisher S. W. Fores's Cocking the Greeks. A cartoon by Isaac Cruikshank entitled Dividing the Spoil! even compares Lady Archer, Lady Buckinghamshire, and their friends Mrs. Sturt and Mrs. Concannon to prostitutes parceling out their nightly earnings.

The Finishing Touch

The Finishing Touch shows Lady Archer applying rouge in a futile effort to make herself attractive.

And everywhere in the the anti-gambling caricatures, Lady Archer's aquiline profile and painted cheeks are apparent, because the chief thing about her that really seems to have drawn the caricaturists' ire was her appearance. She's easy to recognize in their satires, not just because of the hooked nose and the make-up, but also because she was known to favor the menswear-inspired riding costume that came into vogue for self-assured, active women of means in the early 1790s. In Gillray's The Finishing Touch, Lady Archer is depicted as sitting in front of her mirror, wearing her "mannish" driving habit complete with a high-crowned hat and a skirt that shows her ankles. As her phaeton awaits her just outside the dressing room window, she applies rouge to her cheeks. Lots of rouge.

La Belle Assemblée

In Gillray's La Belle Assemblée, Lady Archer is the hawk-nosed woman in red, leading a sacrificial lamb on a leash.

In the ironically titled La Belle Assemblée, a faux-classical composition (an apparent parody of Sir Joshua Reynolds's Lady Sarah Bunbury Sacrificing to the Graces), Gillray depicts Lady Archer as one of several middle-aged society ladies with pretensions to being younger and prettier than they really are. It's worth clicking on the image to enlarge it, just to see how very unattractively Gillray has drawn Lady Archer, complete with heavy brows and a beak of a nose.

Six Stages of Mending a Face

Rowlandson's Six Stages of Mending a Face depicts Lady Archer as a hag employing everything from a wig to a false eye to make herself presentable.

But that cartoon is positively kind compared to Thomas Rowlandson's 1792 Six Stages of Mending a Face. Reading from top right to bottom left, the first panel shows a hag with drooping breasts, no teeth, and only one eye. In the second panel, she places a glass eye in her empty eye socket; in the third, she covers her bald head with a flowing wig. In the fourth panel (bottom right), she's inserting false teeth. Panel five shows her applying rouge--and in panel six, the hideous crone has completed her transformation into a pretty (but entirely artificial) young woman. The caption reads, "Dedicated with respect to the Right Hon. Lady Archer."

With respect. Oh, those regency caricaturists. They were such wags.

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's debut regency romance, Ruined by Rumor, is currently available from Carina Press. She hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you relentlessly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Fifties: Those Were The Days

My latest short story, "Laid to Rest" is set in 1957. I love the 50's and going back to that era is amazing. Today I'm going to share some of my research. Here are a few fun facts about the 50's:

Average gas price: 20 cents
Average income: $3500.00 yearly
Postage stamp: 3 cents
Average car price: $2500.00

Some Favorite TV shows:
Red Skelton
I Love Lucy
You Bet Your Life

Some Top Songs:
Your Cheatin' Heart
Lawdy Miss Clawdy
Earth Angel
Hound Dog

Firsts in the 50's:

Super Glue
Diners: First Credit Card

Transistor Radio

Cartoon strip: Peanuts debuted in 1950

Mr. Potato Head: first toy ever advertised on TV

Hula Hoop

And one of the most popular icons ever made her debut in 1959. She was my favorite doll and she is still at the top!  Can you guess?   Barbie!

Do you remember any of these?  I don't remember gas ever being 20 cents a gallon!

Post by Patricia Preston

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Family Photos

If you’re anything like me, you have a box filled with either family photo albums or loose pictures.  Every now and then you sort through them, reminisce and laugh or cry.  You might remember some faces or events, but the further back you go, the less history you have at your disposal.  I’m lucky—my family members have identified many of the faces I don’t recognize, and my mother has done our family tree back about as far as I suppose you can take it. 
As a writer, when I look at pictures, sometimes I get to wondering.  Even if I know who the people in the photograph are, I still like to wonder and make up little stories about them.  Look at this group of troublemakers. 
I’ve fashioned a novel after this photo, a vintge-era story about a group of young men who go to war.  Some never come back, and some come back changed.  It’s a complex story wth a lot of characters (and some resemblance to the Kennedy clan), not yet complete.
But I haven’t put anything “on paper” for these two.  I’m not even sure who they are, we have several guesses.  When I put the picture up of Facebook, one of my friends commented that they probably had a deck of cards in their pocket, reading for some poker.  Another commented that they ‘should have pistols.’ 

What do you think?  Come up with a short line about “The Fellas” we can go round-robin to make a story…let's see how far we get.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

After all, tomorrow is another day. And yesterday is history.

The Queen PosterSometimes, I think I spend too much time reading non-fiction history. I realized this the other day when a friend of mine asked me why Queen Elizabeth is Queen if Britain is changing their inheritance laws. She also asked me to explain the difference between a Queen Consort and a Queen in her own right. Without hesitating, I explained. I also veered into an explanation of Salic Law and how it didn’t exist in Britain.
Amazing Grace Poster
Yes, these are the kind of facts I keep in my head, the kind I wait eagerly to whip out when an opportunity arises. Once, I was in a Denny’s near a college when three girls in the next booth started discussing William Wilberforce. I nearly jumped over the booth to join in the conversation. Yes, my enthusiasm for history is that powerful.

Gone with the Wind PosterCombine my love of history with my equally powerful love of movies and watch out. Someone I know who lives in Virginia once said, “You know where they filmed Gone with the Wind, don’t you?” Without blinking, I said, “Yes, in Culver City on the MGM lot.” My friend then tried to correct me and tell me that the Twelve Oaks staircase scene was filmed in Virginia, according to some sign in some hotel in Richmond. Now, if there is one thing I know besides history, it’s Gone with the Wind trivia, and I know for a fact they did not shoot that scene in Virginia. Thank heavens for Google, or I’d have had to pull out one of my five books on the filming of Gone with the Wind in order to prove I was right. Remember those big, glossy coffee table books that used to be a film buff’s go to source before Google and IMDB?

Yes, folks, these are the kinds of facts crowding my mind. Thankfully, I also love writing about history, so I’m able to use all this great knowledge to entertain people. I used a great deal of my Gone with the Wind and golden age of Hollywood trivia to help me make Studio Relations, my fall 2012 release, more authentic and believable. Also, through my writing, I’ve been lucky enough to meet other history buffs. I’ve spent a great deal of time before signings or panels talking to other writers about Tudor England, the American West and Regency England. Speaking with other writers who love history helps remind me that I’m not the only one obsessed with history. My obsession is probably a sickness, and I’d do something about it except that Gone with the Wind is on TCM tonight.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Missing E

 By Alice Brilmayer, aka Alice Gaines

Probably the oldest thing I own is a silhouette in cross-stitch that my mother did when she was a girl in 1931.  It’s framed and preserved behind glass and shows a couple seated before a hearth, drinking tea.  The caption reads, “Sweet are the thoughts that savor of content.  A quiet mind is richer than a crown.”  Below that, are the initials of its creator, BEG.  Bernice E. Gaines.

On a bookshelf across the room, I have the books she wrote about gardening.  The author is listed as Bernice Brilmayer.  Between the embroidery and the books, my mother had married my father, Bob Brilmayer.  At the time, although the author name on the books didn't reflect it, my mother moved her maiden name to her middle name and referred to herself as Bernice Gaines Brilmayer.  In doing so, she’d lost the E.

My mother died when I was thirteen, so I don’t have her around to ask what the E stood for.  I didn’t think to ask my father before he died, so for the longest time, I didn’t know what my mother’s middle name was.  When she assumed her spouse’s last name as her own -- something that would never have been done by a man at the time -- she maintained her old identity as a Gaines, but lost her middle name.  My brother discovered it on a birth certificate or some such document a few years ago.  Elizabeth.  My mother’s middle name was Elizabeth.

Back in the olden days when people wrote on manual typewriters, when a woman got married she technically became Mrs. Husband.  So, Miss Jane Smith became Mrs. John Jones on her wedding day.  She didn’t even become Mrs. Jane Jones until her husband died.  When you read the society column, the wives were listed that way…”The committee, consisting of Mrs. Robert Rhodes, Mrs. Harold Martin, Mrs. Lawrence Cartwright, etc.”  And there would be the picture of the smiling ladies of the committee, none of whose husbands had done any of the actual work but whose names were nevertheless the ones listed.

That’s how it was done.  Although it was in my lifetime, it could be seen as ancient history to younger people here.  Things have certainly changed, and overwhelmingly, if not totally, for the better.  I think if we look to this recent past, we can find a lesson for romance fiction written in earlier time periods.  Namely, just how strictly do we need to stick to the societal conventions of the historical period in which we’re writing?

First, let me draw a distinction between historical non-fiction, historical fiction, and historical romance.  The first must be completely factual and true to the period.  The second also needs historical accuracy, although characters and situations that never existed can occur in the service of the story being told.  On the other hand, historical romance (in my humble opinion) isn’t so much about the events and conventions of history as much as it’s a romantic story (and I mean that in the heroic sense as well as the romance sense) that’s set in a prior period.  We can’t change events that actually occurred, and we can’t rearrange conventions willy-nilly.  However, I do think we can create characters who act outside of the strictures of “polite society” and break conventions for good and moral reasons.

There were always women who rebelled against the “proper female role.”  Lucy Stone, for example, retained her maiden name after her marriage to Henry Blackwell.  Blackwell, himself, applauded her independence in that matter, and when Lucy asked him if she should attend a convention in Saratoga, Blackwell told her to “ask Lucy Stone.”

Mary Edwards Walker retained her maiden name after marrying Albert Miller.  A doctor, she went on to serve as a surgeon in the Civil War and was captured and imprisoned for a while in a Confederate jail.  She was and is the only female recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.  She also railed against the constriction of women’s clothing and often appeared dressed in men’s clothes as she campaigned for women’s suffrage.

If I were to create historical romance heroines like these women, a critic could easily say, “Women wouldn’t have done that in that period.  It wouldn’t have been allowed.  This story isn’t true to its history.”

To which I say, some people always forged their own paths in opposition to the accepted way of doing things.  Some people looked at what was correct and decided the correct wasn’t right.  These are the people I want to write and read about.

Friday, July 06, 2012

A Waterloo dinner

(Reposted with slight alterations from my personal blog.)

I've been saying for years, ever since I turned into a Napoleonic Wars military history geek and developed a historical crush on the Duke of Wellington, that I wanted to start hosting an annual Waterloo dinner on or around the battle's June 18 anniversary.

This year I put my money and my kitchen where my mouth was.  Now, I suppose you could do a Waterloo dinner with authentic 1815 foods, and I'd love to attempt such a meal someday...but I went with a Wellington as the main course and a Napoleon (aka a mille-feuille) for dessert, because, really, why wouldn't I?  As a wholly American, wholly non-aristocratic person hosting a Waterloo party, I've got to have my tongue somewhere in my cheek during this process.

Rather than a traditional beef Wellington, I made Alton Brown's Pork Wellington, which is the most delicious thing I've ever cooked myself. And if the Wellington was the best thing I've ever cooked, the Napoleon was the best dessert I've ever bought.  It came from Le Fournil, which is up there on my Seattle recommendations list with Tilth and Serious Pie.

I didn't get any pictures of the Wellington, but here's the Napoleon, accompanied by my desk toy/writing mascot Duke of Wellington:

The chocolate curls on the side got a little messed up in transit from the bakery, but I think you can still tell that's an awesome cake. And those glasses held a lovely, smoky-tasting tawny port.

I plan to continue this dinner in future years.  We were even riffing on the idea of a Waterloo seder, complete with questions like, "Why is this night different from any other night? On all other nights we eat our meat plain or lightly sauced. On this night why do we wrap it in puff pastry?"  Halfway through we'd send someone to the door to look for Blucher and the Prussian army, and Mr. Fraser thinks we should close with a particularly solemn rendition of this song.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Satirical Work of James Gillray

By Erastes
He was a withdrawn, silent and lonely man, greatly slandered in his lifetime, probably by his victims and their friends. He worked in such a fury of creative energy that even his acquaintances years before his breakdown, wondered if he might be part-demented. He was so popular that there were often queues at the print shop, above which he worked, waiting for his latest cartoons and caricatures. At once the most ferocious and most brilliant caricaturist of his time, Gillray had a genius for turning public figures into monsters that were yet recognizable, his wild exaggeration being itself a criticism of their personalities.*
Born in 1757, James Gillray was educated at the cheerless and funless Moravian Academy in Bedford and later apprenticed to Harry Ashby, an engraver in the printer's district in London.

When qualified, he broke away from the engraving business and studied at the Royal Academy. He set up his own studio and intended to paint portraits but he was not patronised and eventually he had to return to the money-spinning business of engraving.

A Little Music or the Delights of Harmony

After experimenting with social subjects, such as the etching above, he started to do political satire and his popularity flourished. No-one was safe from his earlier work, neither politician nor royal prince.

The Prince of Wales

He worked exclusively for Hannah Humphreys in Bond Street, and moved into the premises.

Towards the end of his career Gillray's primary target was Napoleon Bonaparte and as "Little Boney"s power and ambition increased so did Gillray's caricatures of him become ever more extreme.

He was eventually given a "pension" by the Tory government, after which his attacks concentrated less on the Tories, and more on the Whigs... Perhaps the Whigs should have given him a pension too...

When his eyesight began to fail, and he was no longer able to create the quality of work he had been used to do, he began to drink and sink into depression.

Sadly, in 1811, Gillray attempted suicide by throwing himself from the attic of Humphrey's shop, after which he was deemed insane. Hannah Humphreys tended to him until the day he died in June 1815.

The Prince of Pleasure, J.B. Priestley.
James Gillray Online

Erastes is the penname of a female writer who lives in Norfolk, UK with 3 cats and a daft dog. She cares for her dad full time and tries to write in the spaces between the lost keys, spectacles, keys, slippsers and keys. She is dedicated to gay historical fiction and her mission in life is to raise the profile of it so no one thinks it's an odd subject! You can find out more about her many books on

Sunday, July 01, 2012

It's a truth universally acknowledged...

 It's a truth universally acknowledged... that Jane Austen knew her stuff. No question. If you doubt me, read these extracts from “The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen”. In letters to her niece Anna Austen, written in 1814, she offers tips on the novelist’s art.

Listen to this advice about writing what you know:

We think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland, but as you know nothing of the manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representations. Stick to Bath and the Foresters.

On practical plotting:

Your aunt C. does not like desultory novels, and is rather fearful yours will be too much so, that there will be too frequent a change from one set of people to another, and that circumstances will be sometimes introduced of apparent consequence, which will lead to nothing. It will not be so great an objection to me, if it does. I allow much more latitude than she does – and think nature and spirit cover many sins of a wandering story…

On the need for consistency in characterisation:

I like your Susan very much indeed, she is a sweet creature, her playfulness of fancy is very delightful. I like her as she is now exceedingly, but I am not so well satisfied with her behaviour to George R. At first she seemed all over attachment and feeling, and afterwards to have none at all; she is so extremely composed at the Ball, and so well-satisfied apparently with Mr Morgan. She seems to have changed her character.

On finding a situation that works, and the right sort of character-chemistry:

You are now collecting your people delightfully, getting them exactly into such a sport as is the delight of my life; - 3 0r 4 families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on – and I hope you will write a great deal more, and make full use of them whilst they are so very favourably arranged. You are now coming to the heart and beauty of your book…

Not much different to the advice writers get two hundred years on. The more things change, the more they stay the same.