Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?
Do you fish in a stream, or lazily dream on the banks as the clouds go by?
Is that what you do? So do I!
Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?
Do you swim in a pool, to keep yourself cool, or swing in a tree up high?
Is that what you do? So do I!
Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?
Do you march in parades, or drink lemonades, or count all the stars in the sky?
Is that what you do? So do I! *
Even though children in the 21st century are more likely to while away their summer days on something electronic, this song has a timeless quality to it that also applies to Regency England.
When the whirl of the London Season wound down because Parliament’s session ended, the gentry and aristocracy went back to their country homes. Those lucky upper class who did not have responsibilities of government, an estate, or a career, could spend time doing whatever they liked, and summer offered a host of possibilities.
Those who were of athletic bent liked to swim, fence, wrestle, ride, go fox hunting, shooting, hawking, archery, and fishing. They also loved the water and went boating and fishing. Some even rode bicycles they called velocipedes. (see picture above)
Parties were a popular pastime to keep up their image as well as pass time with friends. They had parties, balls, and soirees with local gentry. House parties, where guests came and stayed for a week or more were also common.
The beau monde prized wit and intellect. Riddling, where someone made up riddles for others to solve, entertained them. Talking, theorizing, philosophizing, discussing current events, and debating could fill entire evenings.
Art, including painting, water color, drawing, and sculpting were popular among men and women. Gluing flowers to hats, or shells to household objects were a popular craft among ladies. Ladies also sewed, knitted, crocheted, and embroidered.
Music played a major role in their lives. Many of them played multiple instruments, sang, and danced. Others simply listened and enjoyed the music. Most quiet evenings were spent with one or more members of the family playing music and singing. Often, they gathered with neighbors for musical performances where guest took turns entertaining each other.
Some enjoyed gardening both flowers and herbs. They went on fruit or berry picking parties and had picnics, also known as dining al fresco. Going on long walks, alone or with friends, also gave them a chance to enjoy the beautiful summer weather and the lovely countryside.
There are frequent references to the gentry putting on plays or puppet shows. They enjoyed artistic games such as charades, which usually took a large group, a great deal of planning, and even costumes.
The Regency nobility enjoyed games. Card games such as whist, piquet, vingt-et-un filled many an evening. Board games, too–chess, checkers, draughts, dice, backgammon, and tabula were common as were putting together puzzles.
Outdoor games included bocce, bowling often called nine pins, blind man’s bluff, cricket, and even tennis.
Also, since summer presented nicer weather than winter, many of them traveled and visited relatives, as well as went-sight-seeing. Remember when Elizabeth Bennett, with her aunt and uncle, visited a number of country mansions including Mr. Darcy’s Pemberly? That was quite a popular thing to do, and many of the stately mansions and castles opened to visitors.
I plan to do that this summer. In fact, I will spend three weeks in England visiting castles, big houses, churches, and all the best sites of Regency England. When I return, I will be armed with lots of new pictures and information to share.
So, for the Regency lady or gentleman, summertime could be as lazy or diverting as one chose, as long as one had the means and imagination to do it. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
What do you love best about summertime?
*LDS Primary Children’s Songbook pg 245
Ah, summer! It conjures up images of lazy summer days sipping lemonade and swimming. In mid June to early July, when the whirl of the London Season wound down because parliament ended, the gentry and aristocracy went back to their country homes. Which begs the question, since they were so rich and didn’t have to work for a living, what did they do all day–especially in the summer? The answer to this may surprise you.
The British nobility never divided their wealth among their children; they left all of it to their heirs–usually their firstborn son. If they had no son, their entailed estate went to the next closest living heir and that was all pre-determined; there was no choosing an heir. (Certain things could be willed to those who are not the heir but that’s a topic for another time) A younger son may inherit a lump sum when he reached adulthood, or he may receive an annual or month allowance. Sometimes that was enough for him to live off of, thus freeing him to enjoy hedonistic pleasures. However, most younger sons needed an occupation unless they inherited an in-entailed estate or money. They often became officers in the Royal Navy or army because they were educated. This was crucial when needing to read orders and write correspondence. Many became involved in the law as barristers, attorneys, and magistrates. Occasionally I hear of a younger son becoming a physician, but that seems to be rare. But for now, I will focus on those who don’t have to work in an occupation for a living and who have a large estate for which they are responsible.
Wealthy landowners such as Mr. Darcy spent a great deal of time managing their lands. Think of it as being the CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation. Yes, he has upper- and mid-management, but there are many decisions only he must make, meetings he must attend, and a staggering load of responsibility. A Regency landowner had solicitors, land stewards, and workers, but he had the responsibility to care for a huge estate which usually included many different locations, houses, lands, and tenants. Think of it as owning a whole bunch of rental properties with tenants who constantly needed repairs and help with all sorts of things which affected the overall prosperity of the estate. He might also be involved in investing and buying or selling properties which might involve travel. How he managed the family estate would affect generations to come, a heavy responsibility to shoulder with much at stake, so most took this seriously.
In addition to caring for their estate, most landowners were involved in politics. If they were titled, they were expected to serve in the House of Lords. If not, many served in the House of Commons. Parliament for months at a time, which took them away from their lands in the country. Those who served in the House of Lords could be called into serve as jury if a peer went to trial.
So even though a number of them did enjoy hedonistic pleasures, an honorable landowner’s life was not all fun and games, not even in the summer.
When looking at old photos and portraits of families with very young children, one almost immediately notices that the boys and girls are dressed alike–in dresses. This custom existed well before the Regency Era, and possibly for hundreds of years prior. Throughout history in Europe and America, all children of both sexes wore dresses and petticoats which were simply considered children’s clothing and not gender-specific attire. Dresses were easier than pantaloons or breeches when a caregiver needed to change the child’s diapers or nappies.
Another reason all children wore dresses is because a potty-training child didn’t have to worry about buttons or other fasteners which can be a difficult task for little fingers. Dresses were also easier to launder as there was less mess. And honestly, no one seemed to think anything about dressing boys and girls alike–that was simply how it was done. Some families put boys in plainer dresses as a way of announcing their gender, but many seemed to have dressed boys in the same frilly frocks as girls.
Once a child started walking, they were “short-coated.” This meant the child started wearing shorter dresses. Hemlines went from several inches below the feet which they wore as infants, to ankle or calf-length or even shorter, so the child could walk. At that time in England, all children still dressed pretty much alike. This practice of dressing boys and girls the same lasted until boys were “breeched.”
Getting breeched or “breeching” was the term for when a boy was dressed in breeches or pantaloons, or in later eras, in trousers. Boys were breeched anywhere from the time they were fully potty trained to the age of eight–or even older, in some cases. Between the ages of four and seven seemed to be most common.
Some boys were breeched all at once, with all their frocks replaced with breeches in one fell swoop, which must have created a flurry of sewing, unless the family were wealthy enough to purchase all new clothes for their son. Breeching was often a ceremonial event, including cutting a boy’s hair. However, some mothers then, as now, could not bear to cut off her son’s pretty curls. Some family traditions included a big celebration around the breeching ceremony, much like today’s birthday parties, which included visits and gifts from relatives.
The breeching rite of passage was a sign of a boy’s maturing, of his readiness to join more masculine pursuits. His mother and nursemaid seemed to have less influence on a boy after his breeching, and his father often got much more involved in overseeing his training and education. Many boys went away to school after the breeching ceremony, so it makes sense to me that some mothers might have been tempted to hold off breeching their sons as a way of keeping them close as long as possible.
Other boys seemed to have been breeched a little at a time, without ceremony, as breeches took the place of dresses gradually, perhaps as the mother could bear to admit her little darling was growing up, or perhaps as the family could afford to buy or make big boys’ clothes.
Occasionally, I find images of toddlers in breeches with leading strings. They were surely too young to have been potty trained because they seem to be relying upon the leading strings to keep them from falling, or at least from falling very hard. This particular image to the right is from a French publication, and since the French didn’t have all the same traditions as the English, it’s possible the difference is cultural by this time.
Getting dressed during the Regency occupied much of a lady’s time, mostly because she had to do it so frequently every day. When a lady arose, she usually threw on a dressing gown over her shift or her nightgown (also referred to as a night rail), whichever she preferred for sleeping.
After breaking her fast with a light meal which often included chocolate (hot, usually no cream or sugar), fruit and/or some kind of bread such as a croissant that her maid brought to her on a tray, she would then perform her morning toilette routine, have her maid do her hair and so forth. After that, she dressed in a morning gown. This was also known as undress. The term “undress” does not mean one is not wearing clothes, simply that one is not dressed to go out. Dishabille is another term for undress. Morning gowns were generally made of simpler fabrics and more loose-fitting styles. Ladies might wear morning gowns all day since they were appropriate for a day at home up until dinner.
She then went downstairs for breakfast with the family, which was served buffet style. She might while away the morning painting or doing needlework or some kind of craft such as gluing shells on lamps or picture frames, or gluing feathers or flowers on hats. If she were the lady of the home, she might meet with the head housekeeper, make plans, catch up on her correspondence.
If a fashionable lady went for a “brisk constitutional” she donned a walking gown, also known as a redingote or a pelisse. This protected the delicate fabrics and pastel colors of her gown and also could provide warmth if necessary. Sturdy walking shoes which were often nankeen half boots went along with the ensemble.
For going horseback riding (a lady always rode astride unless she wanted to cause a scandal or admit she was an inept horsewoman), ladies changed into a riding habit. The riding habit included a long train to aid in keeping her legs covered. It was also fashionable and proclaimed her wealth and status. This ensemble always included a hat, riding gloves, and riding boots as well as a riding crop. Incidentally, the most fashionable riding habits were made by a tailor, rather than a dressmaker. Some ladies reportedly wore riding breeches underneath their riding habits. Whether this was for additional preservation of modesty or for comfort against chaffing, I do not know.
A trip required a different costume. When a lady took a journey via carriage, she often changed into carriage dress which included a practical gown (practical being a relative term during the Regency upper class) and a pelisse to protect her clothing from the dust and dirt of carriage travel.
For those afternoon visits when a lady planned to call upon nearby friends and neighbors and perhaps enjoy some tea or go strolling in the park a during the fashionable hour, she would change into a “half dress” or an afternoon gown, also known as Promenade dress. Depending on the weather, she would wear a shawl, or a spencer or a pelisse as well as a hat and gloves, and slippers.
Evening required another change. To dinner, one wore an evening gown, whether eating home with family or with friends. Dinner among the nobility was always a formal affair with best dress, more elaborate coiffures, and best manners. If one were unwell and unable to join the family for dinner, one might take a tray in one’s room. A trip to the Opera would be done in an evening gown. In today’s terms, it would be considered Black Tie or semi-formal. Ladies might wear understated jewelry, usually diamonds or pearls.
A ball or soiree called for a full formal dress, what today would be known as “white tie” affair ball. Gowns appropriate for Full Dress frequently came with trains, although I cannot imagine any lady wore a gown with a train to a ball–one could not be expected to perform those vigorous Regency dances during a ball with a train on one’s gown. If one expected to be dancing through the course of the evening, one brought along dancing slippers which had such thin soles that they were too delicate to wear anywhere but the ballroom. Jewelry was more likely to be worn during full dress than any other occasion. Jewels such as tiaras, necklaces, earrings, bracelets etc. were more likely to be displaced during formal dress occasions.
Court dress, the required clothing for taking bows to the queen, had its own set of standards, including the number of feathers required and, in the early part of the 19th century, even a hoop skirt, which, with the empire waistline, was a fashion disaster. When designing a court dress, one had to check the requirements for any given year as they seemed to change frequently.
Of course, each change of clothing required a change of accessories including shoes, gloves, and hat. Evening wear also demanded a change of hairstyle to something more formal and intricate.
Can you imagine changing your clothes that many times every day? No wonder they needed a lady’s maid to assist with all of fuss!
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Mothers are the best! Despite heroines in my Regency historical romance novels who seldom seem to have a mother nearby to help them, I adore mothers. My mother is the closest thing to a saint I’ve ever known. She taught me to love books, poems, and stories by reading to me every night when I was little. She listened as I read to her when I grew old enough. All this reading inspired in me to tell stories of my own, even as a child.
My mother taught me to appreciate music by playing good music in the home, taking me with her to church choir rehearsals, teaching me to play the ukulele, taking me to symphony orchestra performances and annual visits to the ballet to enjoy the Nutcracker during the Christmas Season. This led to my years of singing in choirs, performing as a soloist for local and church events, and playing the guitar (briefly–but I won the 7th grade talent show doing it) and years of playing and teaching the harp .
Mom patiently listened to my woes, didn’t roll her eyes (visibly) at all my drama, helped me memorize my times tables, taught me to cook, tried to teach me to sew (my fault–not hers–that I didn’t learn it well!), kissed skinned knees and elbows, and always greeted me in the morning with a hug and a smile. She even tried to teach me gardening, a skill I didn’t appreciate or try to cultivate until I had a home and garden space of my own.
As a mother of my own six children, I often reflect on Mom’s example and try to emulate her. No, I don’t sew clothes for my children like she did for me, but I consider how she would handle any given situation that I face with my children.
Mother’s Day was invented over a hundred years ago, and I’m so happy for the opportunity to help us each to remember our mothers and make a special effort to express appreciation for she who gave me life, but more importantly, who raised me, nurtured me, taught me, and loved me.
Since Mother’s Day is coming up, I’d like to give a gift to a special mother. If you are a mother, or if you have an amazing mother, (who lives within the United States) you can enter to win a dozen fancy Mother’s Day berries from Shari’s Berries. In addition, the winner will also receive one paperback or digital (your choice) of any of my books or novellas. You can view the selection on my bookshelf. Keep in mind that some of them are only available in digital format.
Simply tell me in the comments below:
1. One thing you love about your mother (or wife who is the mother of your chidren), or one thing you love about being a mother
2. Which book you’d like to win
3. Your complete email address so I can notify you if your name is chosen.
This random drawing will take place and be announced on May 11, 2017 in order to ensure delivery before Mother’s Day.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there!
Open to US mailing addresses only. I still love my international readers, but mailing overseas won’t work in this situation.
One entry per person, please. This means you can enter your mother or yourself but not both. This also means you can ask your husband or children to nominate you .
Winner (meaning the mother) must be at least 18 years old.
Void where prohibited.