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Archive for November, 2012

Marriage, Divorce, and (possibly) Annulment During the Regency

Today, the Dashing Duchesses are pleased to welcome Regency author (and attorney) Ella Quinn.  Ella has agreed to share with us some fascinating tidbits about estate law, Regency style. So, pull up a leather chair in the study, dears, and let’s learn about the law.

During the Regency period, the Hardwicke Marriage Act of 1753 was in effect. The purpose of the Act was to regularize all aspects of marriage and the ending of a marriage. The Act itself was not very specific about many matters except that it had to be performed by clergy of the Anglican Church. The Church rules were specific as to marriages.

There were three ways to marry: reading the banns, buying a license, and elopement.

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On Cock-horses, Grooms, and Blooding

 Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes.

This English nursery rhyme always makes me smile, and not only because if you remove it from a children’s song, cock-horse is such a delicious innuendo. One imagines that the lovely lady didn’t have to go to Banbury Cross (a market town in Oxfordshire): perhaps she was bored by the usual parlor games at her country house party, and needed a breath of fresh air. Or perhaps she was going to meet a suitor: she certainly looks as if she dressed for the occasion, and even if she is very properly riding her horse side-saddle, she has daringly flashed a  bit of ankle. Read the rest of this entry »

For the Birds

As any proper duchess will tell you, all things good and glorious were either invented, or at the very least discovered, by the English.

The pencil, the perambulator, spotted dick. Uranus. The planet, of course. However, one thing which feels inherently English but is not, is the noble art of Falconry.


Historical evidence suggests falconry dates back as far as 2000 BC and originated in Mongolia. It was most likely introduced in Europe around AD 400, when the Huns invaded from the East. Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (Everyone knows Freddie, yes?) is generally considered the most reliable source of falconry knowledge which he obtained during his wartime travels in 1228. He obtained a copy of Arabic falconer Moamyn’s manual and had it translated into Latin. Frederick himself made corrections to the translation in 1241 and later wrote “De Arte Venandi cum Avibus.” For those among us who are a little rusty with their Latin, that means “The Art of Hunting Birds.”

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Built for Pleasure

Grand ducal manors are all very well for balls and piano-playing young ladies, but for sheer charm and interesting trysting possibilities, give me an English folly.

Imagine you’re walking through a wildflower-thick English meadow and you pass a cluster of trees and catch sight of a lone, skinny tower planted in the grass. Or perhaps you’ve been hiking acres of quiet rolling hills and you suddenly stumble on a small temple nestled amid the trees. Dotted through the English countryside are scores of follies like these.

Wimpole’s Folly, courtesy of Tysto via Wikipedia





The lovely thing about follies is that they’ve been created not for usefulness but for pleasure, and they are often an expression of an owner’s quirky passion. While follies are located all over the world, England has more per square mile than any other country.

Among the earliest English buildings considered to be a folly is the Triangular Lodge, built in the 1590s in Northamptonshire by Sir Thomas Tresham. He was obsessed with the Holy Trinity and wanted a building that was based on the number three, so the folly’s three sides each measure thirty-three feet, and each has three triangular windows and three storeys. There aren’t many other examples of follies for about another century, but then folly building took off. Read the rest of this entry »

The Stillroom and Kitchen Garden

File:Victorian Kitchen Garden - geograph.org.uk - 588021.jpg

Victorian Kitchen Garden
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license
Attribution: Adrian Cable

Before there was a drug store on every corner, there was the kitchen garden and the stillroom.

Do you want to reduce your freckles with a mixture of muriatic acid (ouch?), rain water and spirit of lavender? Then you’ll need to buy the spirit of lavender or make your own. Do you want to stuff your turkey with onion, celery and apples, and perhaps flavor it with rosemary and thyme? Then you’ll need to grow your own aromatics.

Of course, many people did buy those items, but there is a long tradition of planting and harvesting on the great country estates. Since the beginning of time—or at least the beginning of agriculture—people have planted what they needed. This continued for both the great country houses and the poor tenant farmers and laborers, and even continues today. In fact, I didn’t buy a single Halloween pumpkin this year. I grew my own, along with fresh herbs, tomatoes, squash, and peppers. The Regency period was no different, at least in the country. Read the rest of this entry »

The Great Historical Ice Cream Experiment

I scream, you scream, what’s a party without ice cream?

The earliest known recipe for ice cream was published at the beginning of the 18th century, long before Gunther’s tea shop became popular for its iced confections. In an era before home refrigeration, a dish like ice cream would be considered a special treat indeed. But how did they manage without a freezer?

Our forebears did have ice, but it took a family of means to maintain an ice house. One needed room on one’s property to dig a semi-underground room to store huge blocks of ice cut from frozen waterways in the winter and keep it covered with straw for use warmer weather.

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The Kilted Hero

There are many aspects of history that draw me, from the excitement of court intrigue to the fascinating social rules certain eras were confined to – oh…and then there were the kilts.

Goodness! Who knew a man in a skirt could hold such an allure? Something about a powerful man looking anything but dainty with a thick wool plaid belted around his waist, just showing the tops of his knees. But it’s not just the plaid, it’s what it stands for. There is pride and confidence…and history.

The original kilts were not what we would recognize today. The kilts most of us are used to seeing have been fitted for the wearer. There are perfect pleats and not a lot of excess fabric. But one must remember the kilt was a functional piece of a man’s wardrobe. The original kilts were massive lengths of fabric that covered the man not only around his waist, but also had enough fabric to wrap around his body to keep him warm on cold days and pull the length of fabric over his head when it rained.

However, these kilts were cumbersome and were usually stripped off before battle, so the men charged out in their leines only, which were like long white shirts. In my head they kind of look like big scary men in nightgowns, which makes me giggle a little. ;)

In addition to being much larger than we are used to, the kilts were also not clan specific in the pattern on their wool, some didn’t even have the checked plaid pattern. The idea of a certain pattern belonging to a certain clan didn’t emerge until the 19th century. Prior to that, the wool was dyed with what colors were available in the area, which also made hiding in the foliage much easier – for hunting and war alike.

There is a lot of speculation around the kilt, not just how it came to be shortened to how we know it today, but also when it really originated. Some say it came from the Norse ancestors who wore similar garments to keep them from the elements. Regardless, there are no real reported cases of a kilt being seen prior to a viewer account in the late 16th century.

After the Jacobite Rising, kilts were banned in an effort to suppress Highland pride and keep any further uprisings from starting. This lasted for 35 years and violators were severely punished. Once kilts were allowed once more, they were held in a more romantic regard, as a memory rather than the convenient all-weather garment it had started out as.

As for what those men wear under their kilts – well, I’ll just let you use your imagination for that one. ;)

The Sport of Slinging Arrows

Our house party would not be a success, Dear Friends, without the addition of some sport. Take up your bow and quiver and meet us on the lawn. The games are about to begin.

No longer tainted by hunting or combat, archery has been fashionable since the incomparable Queen Elizabeth I tried her hand at slinging arrows. Even ladies can participate in the competition! And we well know there are few sports a Duchess can engage in to get her blood moving. (Other than bedroom sport, of course.)

It is refreshing to be out-of-doors, is it not. We shall amble to the west field, to the butts. The archery butts, that is, where the targets are arranged. Of course, to be correct, we should call the targets a boss. (And who doesn’t want to shoot arrows at their boss?) Read the rest of this entry »

The Lady’s Dressing Room with Isobel Carr

Today, the Duchesses are thrilled to have a visit from Georgian historical author, Isobel Carr. Isobel is a former Golden Heart® finalist and her soon-to-be released, Ripe for Seduction, earned a starred review from PW and 4-stars from RT BOOK REVIEWS! 

Her grace, Duchess Isobel is an expert on historical clothing and she’s stopping by to inform us about that delightful subject, the lady’s dressing room, specifically the apron-front gown. I had the pleasure of being in one of Isobel’s historical clothing workshops last summer at the RWA conference and was delighted by the details she shared with us and the items of clothing she passed around for all to see. 

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Catherine Gayle Invites Us For Parlor Games

Guests at a Regency era country house party were treated to any number of diversions. A host or hostess would have countless outdoor adventures planned for the houseguests, from archery to hawking, from exploring mazes to taking shopping excursions in the nearest town.


But the well-planned host or hostess would always be certain to plan for poor weather. Indoor activities were nearly as important as those for the out-of-doors, and at some house parties even more so.


Of course, there were a great many card games the guests could partake in, but the Regency era was also a time when various parlor games began to rise in popularity.

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