Friday, April 19, 2013

University Classes, Regency Style

I spent this past weekend traveling with my daughter, a high school senior, to visit one of the oldest colleges in the U.S. It got me thinking about university life during the regency.

A university education was one of the major advantages that set the regency gentleman apart from his social inferiors, and, like everything else in Britain in the early 1800s, the road to a degree was marked by sharp class distinctions. At Oxford, one of England’s two major universities during the regency,

This Nobleman Commoner wears a silk robe trimmed in gold, and the mortarboard he holds bears a golden tassel.
the first major distinction was between dependent members (those at the university who were "on the foundation," meaning they received money for studying and/or working there) and independent members (those who paid their own way).

Independent members came from the country’s prosperous families, the nobility and gentry, and could be divided into four tiers. At the top were Noblemen Commoners, a group made up of peers and sons of peers. Noblemen Commoners were allowed to wear a gold tassel or “tuft” on their cap, giving rise to the term “tufthunter” to describe a social climber. The amateur poet and artist Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe (BA 1802, MA 1806) satirized one such Oxonian:
A gay golden tuft on his cap he displays,
Which dazzles all eyes with its ravishing rays—
True badge of nobility, awful and grand,
Confin’d to the essence and cream of the land.

The wealthy Gentleman Commoner could be distinguished by his silk gown trimmed lavishly in rows of black pompoms.
The second tier of independent members consisted of Gentlemen Commoners. They weren’t noble, but they came from wealth, and paid higher fees accordingly. Both Noblemen Commoners and Gentlemen Commoners received special privileges, for example being allowed to sit at the high table for meals. The third tier of independent members, by far the largest group, consisted of Commoners. Commoners likewise paid their own way, but they came from genteel families of more typical circumstances and were charged standard fees. Below them came the batlers, sometimes spelled battelers or battlers, also called semi-commoners. The batler had a buttery account, as opposed to eating with those who received the “commons” from the kitchen (the buttery was more or less a storeroom that supplied bread, butter, cheese, milk, sugar, and ale; the kitchen served soups, meats, fish, pies, preserves and sweets). In other words, he was on a budget plan. Batlers could afford to attend Oxford at their expense, but just barely, and so they occupied the lowest rank of independent members, existing in a sort of quasi-gentlemanly limbo.

The majority of undergraduates were Commoners, like this young man, recognizable from his sleeveless gown of black stuff. ("Stuff" was essentially anything that wasn't silk, usually wool.)
In contrast to the independent members, dependent members gained admittance through sheer brains and hard work. Though by mid-century such scholars would be viewed with respect for their academic merit, during the more class-conscious regency they were still seen as social inferiors—"charity boys"—rather than real gentlemen. Dependent members consisted of three tiers. At the top were Foundationers, those on scholarships from the university foundation itself. They were usually referred to as Scholars, though Magdelene College called them Demies and at Merton they were known as Postmasters. The second tier of dependent members was made up of Exhibitioners. They had less prestigious scholarships, provided by one of the individual colleges or by outside entities like preparatory schools or private organizations. At the bottom of the pecking order, far below the Scholars and Exhibitioners, came Servitors—even their name sounds lowly—who hailed from humble families and did not have grants.

The lowly servitor worked his way through university, performing servants' duties such as waiting at table. (And notice how the humbler the undergraduate is, the less likely he is to stare out of his portrait.)
Servitors received free lodging and some free meals, and were excused from paying fees for lectures. In return, they were required to perform menial duties for the Fellows, essentially working their way through university as servants. (At Cambridge, those of equivalent rank were called sizars or subsizars.) One famous Servitor was Dr. Johnson of Dictionary fame, who said, “the difference between us Servitors and Gentlemen commoners, is this, that we are men of wit and no fortune and they are men of fortune and no wit.”

Anyone at Oxford could tell at a glance exactly who was of high rank and who wasn’t, since caps and gowns were required (and still are, in many instances). In addition to the gold tuft on his cap, the Nobleman Commoner wore a gown of colored silk—the color was up to him—decorated on the sleeves, yoke and hem with gold lace. The Gentleman Commoner was not quite such a peacock but looked almost as grand, bearing a black tuft on his cap and a silk gown decorated with rows of black pompoms on the sleeves and hem. The Commoners wore a sleeveless gown made of black stuff, with streamers decorated in braid dangling from the yoke in back. Servitors wore a similar sleeveless gown, but without the braided streamers. Until 1770, instead of wearing the familiar mortarboard cap the Servitor had to wear a round hat, sometimes referred to as a cow-pat, but eventually this mark of shame was eliminated and he was allowed to wear a square cap without a tassel.

Over the first half of the 1800s, the term servitor fell out of favor, as did the requirement that such students act as servants for the Fellows. Instead they were first called clerks (sometimes bible-clerks, since they were paid a stipend for saying grace, keeping track of chapel attendance and reading the bible lessons aloud), and then absorbed into the Exhibitioners. The terms Nobleman Commoner and Gentleman Commoner likewise fell by the wayside. Acts like the Christ Church Ordinances Bill of 1867 eliminated such distinctions, ensuring that any undergraduates who were not on the foundation became known simply as Commoners.

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's newest regency romance, Lord of Secrets,was released March 25 and is available now. If you like angst and "tortured" heroes, you should give it a look. It joins her debut regency, Ruined by Rumor, while her third, A Tryst With Trouble, will be released in September. She hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you relentlessly.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Gates of Hell

I’ve always been fascinated by the way the ancient world worked.  The juxtaposition of  the innovations of the Greeks and Romans when laid against the sometimes very backward ritualistic beliefs that relied solely on the divine is at least ironic.  So when Discovery News reported last week that the “Gates of Hell” had been discovered, I dove right in.
Also known as Pluto’s Gate, the discovery was made by Francesco D’Andria, professor of archaeology at the University of Salento, in Lecce, Italy.  Using ancient myths and history as a guide, the location in Turkey matches ancient accounts that describe the city of Ploutonion/Plutonium.
Back in the day, a small Temple of Pluto stood next to a wall, with steps leading downward, to a cave filled with deadly noxious fumes. Greek geographer Strabo described it thusly: “This space is full of vapor and so misty and dense that one can barely see the ground.  Any animal that passes inside meets instant death. I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.”
Nothing much has changed over the years, as reports that birds have fallen dead as they near the opening at the excavation site proliferate.  So what used to happen there, in ancient times?

According to D'Andria, "People could watch the sacred rites from these steps,l but they could not get to the area near the opening.  Only the priests could stand in front of the portal."  Pilgrims journeyed to the site and were given small birds to test the deadly fumes produced by the cave.  Nearby, priests sacrificed bulls to Pluto, all the while hallucinating from the toxic fumes.  It's easy to imagine the frenzied activities surrounding a site like this, and the lure that would pull superstitious people on a journey of what they hoped would be discovery.

And the wheels of my imagination turn on and on...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Get Ready to Delve Into Research.

I am a non-fiction history fanatic and I have been since junior high. I’m not saying I didn’t read my share of Sweet Valley High or Flowers in the Attic, but I was probably the only one in my class devouring tomes on Tudor England or ancient Egypt. I’m so familiar with the historical section of the library that, depending on what I’m working on, I know instantly whether to head for the 930s or the 940s. For my ancient Rome novella, Mask of the Gladiator, I headed straight to the 930s and delved into the tense days surrounding the assassination of Emperor Caligula.

Not everyone is as big a history buff as I am or as eager to crack open a history book. However, if you’ve ever visited an old home or heard a great snippet of local lore and thought “That would make a great story,” get ready to delve into some non-fiction. To help you take the plunge, I’ve compiled a few tips to get you started.

So, let’s begin.

First, learn about the era. Choose some overview books and delve in to the politics, people and feel of a time period. For instance, if you know you want to write a book set in France, you’ll find a very different country under Louis XIV than Louis XVI. Also, understanding the bigger picture can help you craft your story. Your characters will have a very different experience in Versailles France than they will in Revolutionary France.

Now that you know about an era, pinpoint the date the story takes place then narrow down your research. Discover who was and wasn’t alive at the time and what did and didn’t exist. Learn about the politics and current events and the thoughts and ideas influencing people’s lives. Study the art and architecture, get a real sense of what it was like to live during that exact moment in time.

Once you know your date, learn about the details of daily life. Everything from the food and clothes to the language and daily rituals will help you craft your story and make the characters more believable. Also, when your plot hits a sticking point, a little research can go a long way to helping get your story back on track.
Speaking of tracking, don’t forget to keep track of your research. Take detailed notes along with the book title and page number and make sure to keep it organized. Collect it in a binder or post it to a note taking website. You never know when an editor will ask a question and you’ll have to back up your answer with your research.

I hope you enjoyed this brief primer on research and that it helps you get started. Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts and ideas. I always enjoy hearing about and learning from other people’s methods.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

A Weekend In Washington D.C.

This past weekend my husband and I spent two days in Washington D.C. We took the train from Newark, N.J. and stayed at the Willard Hotel, an old world hotel filled with history that's next door to the White House.

Built in 1846, it has hosted every president since Franklin Pierce. Some of the historic incidents include:

Amid the history, we had a great time. While the cherry blossoms were a week late this year the weather was wonderful during the day. We walked through several museums and saw works of some our favorite artists.

Saturday night we had dinner with Eliza Knight and her husband. It was great spending some time together and catching up on family, mutual friends, books, and writing. It was a wonderful weekend.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Of Wimseys and Wellesleys: Name Changes

Sorry to be a bit late in putting this post up--my daughter's 9th birthday is today, and she had her two best friends over for a sleepover last night. Suffice it to say I'm exhausted and wishing I'd taken Monday off from my day job for recovery in addition to half of Friday for cleaning/setup!

In any case, continuing on with my series on titles and forms of address of the British nobility for your historical romance...

Today's post is a bit of a sideline about how malleable surnames were in Britain 200 years ago.

I mentioned in a previous post that Wellington's last name up into his 20's wasn't Wellesley, but Wesley. And his paternal grandfather wasn't born a Wesley, but a Colley. (Or a Cowley. The further back in time you go, the less consistent people were about spelling even their own names.)

So, how did a Colley become a Wesley? It was a matter of inheritance. When Richard Colley inherited an estate from a Wesley cousin on his mother's side, he changed his name accordingly. Note that he inherited property, NOT a title. With very rare exceptions, titles can't pass through the maternal line, but as long as property isn't entailed (a subject for a different post), one could leave it to pretty much whomever one liked. There wasn't a requirement to change one's name upon inheriting from a differently-surnamed relative, but it was commonly done. You can see something similar in Jane Austen's Emma, in which Frank Weston is adopted by his wealthy maternal grandparents and becomes known as Frank Churchill.

Two generations later, how did the Wesleys become Wellesleys? Basically, Wellington's oldest brother Richard decided he liked Wellesley better, and the rest of the family followed suit. Wellesley was indeed the original form of the name, if one went up the family tree a few generations.

Name changes of this kind were perfectly legal and didn't require the formal bureaucratic process a similar change would entail now. As long as you weren't doing it with intent to defraud someone, the powers that be didn't care.

Another form of name change you see a good bit in the 18th and 19th centuries is hyphenation, upon informal adoption, inheritance, or marriage. The second of the Wellesley brothers, William, inherited estates from a cousin by the name of Pole and is known to history as William Wellesley-Pole. He had a son, also named William, who married an heiress named Catherine Tylney-Long. When a woman brought a lot of money and/or family prestige to a marriage, sometimes her husband added his name to hers...which in this case led to the exceptionally unwieldy moniker of William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley. For reals.

Next time, we'll go back to titles proper.