The Secret Language of Regency Fashion

When perusing old records including fashion drawings, it is easy to become confused by all the different terms used in a historical context. One such example are the words, morning, afternoon and evening, which didn’t mean what they do today.

From what I have been able to determine, morning was the time of day before dinner. Therefore, Morning Dress is what one wore during the day until dinner—not just in the hours before noon. A wedding breakfast or a Venetian breakfast could be held as late as 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon. Basically, breakfast was the main meal served before dinner. With that in mind, morning gowns were what ladies wore for functions such as at-homes, paying calls, shopping, etc. Depending on their wealth and personality, ladies probably wore an old morning gown for around the house if they did not expect callers.

Most engravings I have found labeled “Morning Dress” show a gown, often white, with some kind of robe-like garment with long sleeves over it labeled as a “loose robe pelisse” often with lots of ruffles. A dressed-up morning dress would be appropriate for afternoon calls, with a spencer or pelisse. People paid “morning calls” between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm and wore Morning Dress. I know, confusing, right? It gets worse.

Some Regency fashion plates use the term “afternoon dress” when showing a picture of what is clearly an evening gown. Afternoon, as a label for a time of day, came either after the Regency, or perhaps very late Regency. but was not be widely used until later in the century.

The problem is, other fashion magazines used the term evening gown for the same time of day as those called afternoon. Obviously, one wouldn’t attend a dinner party wearing an afternoon gown, then around midnight, change into an evening gown. They changed clothing frequently, but they weren’t that crazy!

So, based on what I have researched, the day was divided into morning which lasted until dinner, evening which lasted until supper, and night which lasted until morning. To make it easier on my readers, I have decided to stick to present-day usage for those terms. As you may have guess, the language isn’t truly secret, but it is certainly perplexing to our modern understanding.

Have you run into any confusing verbiage in old documents?

The Secret Language of Regency Fashion syndicated from


Robots in the Regency

Technology from the 18th and 19th century often seems downright steampunk, when one considers the amazing advances mechanical geniuses made in mechanisms such as clocks, music boxes, and automatons, which were quite literally, robots, or androids. No, they didn’t go about shouting “Danger, Will Robinson” or make friends with humans or even take over the world (or ship), but they did move in complex ways. In the case of this charming automaton, they could also play music. This particular marvel was created by German engineers Pierre Kintzing and David Roentgen in the 18th century for Queen Marie Antoinette. During the French revolution, it was badly damaged. Robert Houdin recognized its value and restored it in 1864. What is truly unique about this android over others of her era, is she actually makes the music, rather than simply moving while music is played by hidden gears. Remarkable, isn’t it?



© Til productions – Jean-Luc Muller Tiré des bonus du DVD “ROBERT-HOUDIN une vie de magicien”

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Regency Writing, Quills and the Indispensable Pen Knife

Quills and inkwell (Photo credit: studentofrhythm)

In a time before phones, email, text messages, and social media, Regency ladies and gentlemen had only one way of keeping in touch with friends and family too far distant to see frequently; they wrote letters. The upper classes took their writing very seriously, and often wrote long, detailed letters to family and friends. Many also wrote religiously in their journals. And, of course, poets, authors, and anyone who kept books or ledgers needed reliable writing instruments.

Necessary writing tools included quill pens, an inkstand or inkwell filled with ink, a pen knife, and sand or blotters. Often these implements were stored together in a little box inside a desk.

Looking at the process through the lens of our modern eye, it is easy to overlook the pen knife. Yet it is as essential as the pen and ink for anyone who wanted to write. Quill pens, which were usually goose quills (but could also be from peacock, swan, or even crow feathers) always needed sharpening, trimming, and shaping, just as today’s pencils need sharpening. Pen knives could also be used to sharpen the pencil, which had only been in use since the 1700’s, as opposed to the quill pen that people had been using for centuries.

Cutting a quill pen took a great deal of skill. The nib had to be carefully shaped in order for the hollow core to hold the correct amount of ink, and then be released smoothly as the writer pressed on it. I found detailed instructions about how to sharpen a quill here.

Many quills were kept together in a little box. I suspect if one planned to do a lot of writing, one sharpened the quills all at once, then in the course of their writing, simply set aside a flattened or misshapen quill and picked up another  from the box without losing the rhythm of writing.

In Pride and Prejudice, the proud yet fawning Caroline Bingley offered to mend Mr. Darcy’s pen, adding that she mended pens “remarkably well.” It must have been an admirable skill if she felt to boast about it to the gentlemen she hoped to snare as her husband.

Jane’s  Writing Desk, Jane Austen’s Chawton House Museum, copyright Donna Hatch

Pen knives could be ornate, made of expensive materials such as agate or ivory or mother-of-pearl. They were often gilded or encrusted with precious metals and even jewels. These were purchased from a jeweler. Plainer styles which came from the stationers had wooden handles and were merely sanded and polished, without adornment.

For hundreds of years, pen knives had a blade that was fixed in the handle. During the 1700’s pen knives could be folded, like today’s pocket knife.

In Jane Austen’s Mansfield park, Fanny Price’s two younger sisters fight over a silver pen knife which had been a gift from the godmother of a dead sister. The sister had handed the knife to Susan before she died.

To the right is a photo I took while visiting the home of Jane Austen in Chawton, now a museum. I can so easily imagine picturing her here writing her novels and her letters, can’t you?

Pen knives had other uses. Many new few books were uncut at top and front. They had to be sliced open so one could read the book. A sharp knife was needed to keep the pages from tearing. I suspect the wealthy had a knife specifically used for this purpose, and did not double up using the precious pen knife, but the average person probably had to made do with an all-purpose knife.

Pen knives were as important to a Regency household as pencil sharpeners are to an elementary student today.

Jane Austen’s Chawton House Museum, copyright Donna Hatch

To the left is a photo of the house where she lived so happily with her mother and beloved sister, Cassandra, and did so much writing.

I found the images of pen knives that you may wish to view here, and here.


Regency Writing, Quills and the Indispensable Pen Knife syndicated from

A History of Romance Literature

by guest blogger Jane Sandwood

Romance novels have a 34% share of the U.S fiction market, comfortably beating genres such as science fiction, fantasy and the classics according to statistics published by the Romance Writers of America. Within the romance genre sits the historical romantic novel, which, with the ability to transport the reader to another time and another place, provides total escapism. With the continued popularity of the historical romance, it’s interesting to have a look back to the earliest romantic novels to see how the novels of the time have influenced today’s historical romances.

Early Romance

The first book to be printed using movable-type was the Guttenberg Bible, published around 1450. However, “Don Quixote”, which is frequently cited as the first novel wasn’t published until much later in 1605. The first romance was, probably, Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela – or Virtue Rewarded” which was published in 1740. The Pamela of the title is Pamela Andrews, a fifteen year old servant, who has to deal with the improper and unwanted advances of her employer. Pamela resists him and, eventually, he proposes marriage to her. She accepts and eventually becomes an esteemed member of society.

Jane Austen

No story of early romantic fiction would be complete without talking about Jane Austen and the wit with which she describes and comments upon the life of the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. Interestingly, this article from the New Yorker describes the influence of Samuel Richardson on Austen’s work, describing one of his later works, “Grandison” as “a particular touchstone” for Jane Austen. The plots of Austen’s six completed novels explore the dependence of women on marriage for social standing and financial security, and are praised for their use of irony, realism, satire and humor. Of course, they also have strong female characters who conquer adversity before settling down to enjoy a happy marriage.

Historical Romance

In the 1930s, the British author, Georgette Heyer, wrote romantic novels set in Jane Austen’s time, and Regency Romance was born. Regency Romances pay close attention to historical detail.  They include strong, handsome heroes and heroines with modern-day sensibilities such as a strange inclination to marry for love, rather than financial stability.

Historical Romances, including Regency Romances, continue to be popular today and no wonder.  They provide a complete escape from the modern world, taking you to a place of opulence, handsome heroes and impeccable manners.  How could you resist?

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Regency Duels, Affaires of Honor

In England, dueling was part of a long-standing code of honor, far beyond mere tradition. Gentlemen took their dueling very seriously; they would rather die than be dishonored. Today, we’d call it misplaced pride, or an overdeveloped sense of vengeance, or really stupid, but hey, that was a different world with a different set of rules. And yeah, I’m extremely grateful the men we love don’t settle their differences like this.

               Duelling pistols

By the Regency Era, dueling was outlawed. However, duels still happened more frequently than many people knew. The problem was, because courts were made up of peers, they were reluctant to charge another peer with murder as a result of a duel. There is a case where one nobleman was charged with murder and tried, but used the defense that his behavior was gentlemanly and honorable, meaning that he acted within the proper code of conduct. He was acquitted by his peers.

If they were socially equal, or at least similar, the gentleman who was offended would tell the man who’d wronged him that he should choose his “second,” a close friend or family member who would look out for his best interests. If he was really incensed, he might slap him with his glove, but that was considered extreme and beneath gentlemanly behavior, as it was the ultimate insult and probably resulted in a fight then and there.

Cruikshank, The Point of Honor decided, or the Leaden argument of a Love affaire, from The English Spy, 1825

The procedure for issuing a challenge was very specific. A gentleman never challenged a social inferior. For instance, a gentleman of significance with ties to the aristocracy or nobility would never challenge a commoner, such as a blacksmith or a farmer. Also, if there was a significant age difference, the duel would not be extended.

After the verbal challenge – or perhaps warning would be a better word – was issued, depending on the severity of the offense, the other might have a choice; he could either apologize, or he could accept. Sometimes, the apology would not be accepted, often if there were a third person who’d been wronged such as a lady’s honor. (Okay, call me crazy but that almost makes me want to swoon.)
The next day, supposedly after heads had cooled, the wronged man who wished to duel would send his “second” usually a trusted friend, with a written letter challenging the duel. The recipient may chose to apologize or accept the challenge. If accepted, he would choose swords or pistols, and name the time and the place where he wish the duel to take place. In my humble opinion, swords was a more more gentlemanly way to duel. Shooting at someone seems more cold-blooded, but I’m sure it took a great deal of courage to stand still and take aim at someone who was also taking aim at them.
When the allotted day arrived, they met, usually at dawn, in a remote place such as Putney Heath or Battersea Fields which were near London, yet secluded enough to reduce their chances of being caught by the law. Seconds inspected the weapons to be used. A final opportunity for an apology could be given. If not, the seconds decided if the duel should be fought to (a) first blood, or (b) until one can no longer stand, or (c) to the death. Once that was decided, the opponents dueled and the seconds watched to insure that nothing dishonorable happened. f the combatants used pistols, they only took one shot. 
If, during a duel fought by swords, one of the duelers became too injured to continue, occasionally the second would step in and duel. Sometimes, the seconds were hot-headed or very angry (loyal?) and ended up dueling each other as well. This never happened is the duel were fought with pistols since, to my knowledge, one shot was only ever used.
As horrible as it sounds to our modern selves, these gentlemen took their honor very seriously, and considered death preferable to living with the label of a coward, a label that would follow them and their families for years.
And, maybe it’s me, but there a certain romance about a gentleman brave enough and protective enough to be willing to risk death defending my honor from another man who’d besmirched it.

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A Little Crooked House

While visiting England this past summer, I toured Windsor castle and enjoyed the town. One cute little place in the town of Windsor that captured my attention was a little crooked house called, unsurprisingly, The Crooked House of Windsor. It brought to mind the children’s nursery rhyme from Mother Goose:

“There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence, against a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.”

The Crooked House of Windsor was originally known as the Market Cross House. Its original construction occurred in 1592, but in 1687, the city tore it down to make way for progress—an expansion of neighboring Guildhall. However, a lengthy land dispute eventually led to the courts ordering the city to rebuild Market Cross House in its original location. They did so with surprising results: the entire house leans dramatically to the side.

The popular belief as to the cause of the building’s slant is that reconstruction occurred so hastily and sloppily that they used unseasoned green oak wood. As the wood dried and shrank, the entire building leaned shockingly.

             “Windsor 6 Old Crooked House”

However, there is another theory. According to Ancient Origins:

The structure remained straight up until the 1820s. This was due to the adjoining buildings, which would have supported it, and stopped it from leaning. When these buildings were demolished, the house was left without support, and thus began to bend. Supporters of this view also point to an oil painting in the neighbouring Guildhall. During the Late Victorian period, the Crooked House of Windsor was a beer shop known as the Royal Standard. The house is depicted in this painting without the tilt that it is so famous for today. (bold face added for emphasis) 

After an online search, I found this image, at this url, but could not trace it back to any site. It is impossible to know if this is the very same house, but I must admit, the similarities are remarkable as are its surroundings. 

Regardless of the cause of its drastic lean, Market Cross House eventually became known as the Crooked House of Windsor. I find it impressive that it still stands over 300 years later. Despite its name, it was never used as a house, but rather places of business including a butcher’s shop, a brewery, a gift shop, an antique shop, a tea room and restaurant, and, when I visited in June 2017, a Jersey Pearl jewelry store.

What is also fun about this place is that while the doors are crooked at the same angle of the house, the floors and windows are level, so they are at angles with the leaning structure. I’m sure engineers would experience a sense of vertigo. 

There is more to add to the mystery of the quaint little place. Some sources suggest that the basement housed a secret passage to Windsor Castle which is the Royal Family’s official residence. Officially, the passage was a convenient way to transport fresh produce from the marketplace to the royal kitchens at a time before cars or refrigeration. However, if you believe rumor, the secret tunnel was supposedly used for rendezvous between  King Charles II  and his mistress Nell Gwyn. How that was accomplished when the passageway never led to a place used as a house, I do not know, unless the passage itself was a lover’s bower. However, a dark, narrow tunnel does not inspire any romantic thoughts in me!




A Little Crooked House syndicated from

Regency London Living, the boot scraper

Georgian, Regency, and Victorian England conjure images of  unparalleled sumptuous by-gone eras. Through such romantic lens, it is easy to forget the every day, un-elegance of living in the horse and carriage days, when cleanliness was not so easy to maintain as it is in modern Western living.

Before automobiles, asphalt, and street sweepers, trodding the streets and roadways got one dirty—especially one’s shoes. To protect a home from the mud and other undesirable matter found on streets, those who lived in those days used a book scraper. Next to the front door, this study piece of metal provided a way to clean off the soles of boots and shoes before entering a dwelling.

A subtle reminder of that practice years ago, the book scraper still maintains its place in the historic buildings all over England. I find it charming, and a bit humorous, that such a humble artifact still exists next to even the grandest entrances, reminding one to wipe one’s shoes before entering.

Regency London Living, the boot scraper syndicated from