You know this image most of us have of the Regency Era?

All the expensive ball gowns and the luxurious mansions and Cinderella-worthy carriages drawn by white horses?

Of course you do! Why, don’t we all?

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Regency Era?

Come on now, be honest! We all know it’s either one of the above or some other romantic image of perfect courtships and scenic walks around Hyde Park.

One of the most important things to consider when writing historical fiction is historical accuracy. I have a real obsession with it. And that can only be translated into a lot of research.

And though I am no historian—what an insult to historians worldwide would that be!—I can honestly tell you that the Regency Era is a goldmine of facts that you probably wouldn’t have associated with the Era at first glance.

And here I am, ready to show you! 😉

A Popular Cure

You know how nowadays, besides pharmaceutical products, we have all these alternative cures and ways of treatment? Herbal concoctions, distilled alcohol, meditation, all kinds of creams and salves made from materials I can’t even name.

Weeeell…

Back in the Regency Era they weren’t so lucky.

One very popular cure-all of the time was to drink seawater mixed with milk.

Yeah, how about no?

A Weird Kind Of Fun

Murder scenes were considered entertainment. The public was allowed to visit a murder scene and file past the deceased. In some high-profile cases, thousands of people viewed the victim, tramping over any crime scene evidence. The body of the victim would eventually be taken to the nearest pub and stored in the cool room until the coroner arrived.

Ice Cream I Wouldn’t Try…Ever

….and that hurts me to say as ice-cream is one of my greatest weaknesses!

(Please don’t tell anyone!)

Ice cream was a favorite Regency confection and made from ice that had been saved from winter and kept in an icehouse or from imported ice. One of the most fashionable Regency flavors was parmesan cheese!

Parmesan cheese!

Let that sink in…

Well, This Is Awkward

The upper classes liked to swan around at balls, but rural communities had more practical methods of helping people find a match. If a girl’s parents approved of a boy, he’d be invited to stay the night in her bed. To prevent premarital relations, they’d be sewn into a bag with a seam down the middle to keep them on their own side.

Waterloo Teeth

Sugar was very popular among the upper classes—and so was aversion to soap and water—but led to an epidemic of tooth decay. Luckily for some, help was at hand. In 1815, over 47,000 soldiers died at the battle of Waterloo, and their teeth were harvested to make dentures. “Waterloo” teeth were particularly popular, as they mainly came from young, virile, healthy men.

Eeer…how about NO?!

Many Household Items Were Deadly…For Real!

Candles, cloth, and paper contained arsenic, as did a product called Fowler’s Solution, invented in 1809. This mixture of potassium arsenate and lavender was used as a face cream by women, and men took it in large doses to increase virility and cure baldness. In Germany in 1814 a highly toxic pigment named emerald green was developed.

Made with arsenic and verdigris, this bright green color was rapidly adopted by users of pigments. Painters, dyers, wallpaper and textile makers availed themselves of the lovely green shade, along with many other industries – including confectioners who died candies green.

When the paints oxidized and shed paint dust, when flocked wallpapers lost bits of their flocking, when people wore clothing dyed green, when people in many industries worked with the pigments on a daily basis, or heaven forbid, they ate food dyed green, they were subject to chronic exposure to arsenic. Although there were some alerts to the dangers made within one year of the development of this pigment, they were ignored, and it was many decades–and many deaths–before the pigment was removed from homes and industry.

Wife-Selling Used To Be A Thing

While not common, but not unheard of either, this practice occurred most often in the humbler classes. The newspapers mention this happening at a rate of about once a year.

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, divorce was prohibitively expensive. So some lower-class British people didn’t get them—they sold their wives instead. The custom seems outlandish today, but it could be found in public places like markets, taverns and fairs. Historians disagree on when or how the custom started and how widespread it was, but it seems to have been an accepted alternative divorce among lower-class Britons. Wife sales were crude, but they also served a very real purpose since it was so hard to get a divorce.

She doesn’t look too happy, does she?

A Poet In Shining Armor

Lord Byron became an overnight literary success in March 1812 with his epic poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”. He was so admired that many young ladies carried miniature portraits and cameos of him around with them—a Regency version of a band poster on the bedroom wall.

What can I say, girls will always be girls!

But hey!

Let’s be honest here…

If those portraits are anything to go by, Lord Byron was real eye-candy! 😉

 

Written by Patricia Haverton

60 COMMENTS

  1. Nice article, Patricia. I’ve always thought the Regency era was overly romanticized in the early books I read in the 1980’s. How about the poor servants, cooks, scullery maids, footmen, stablemen, carriage drivers, gardeners? Their life wasn’t attending a lovely ball, it was doing the work preparing for it! I would never want to live in that era. The only people who may have had an acceptable life were the elite rich and royalty. At least they had money enough, in most cases, to eat and not worry about where they were going to sleep at night.

  2. Great article. You might have mentioned that the wallpaper in Napoleon’s bedroom in St. Helena was green, and arsenic was detected in his hair by scientists at Glasgow University. He may have died from arsenic poisoning.

  3. Glad I did not live then! Could not consider being sold if we had an argument, or not taking a bath or teeth that smelled of rotted teeth! Ugh!!!

  4. I just love all the historical tidbits you share. I might be able to choke down the salty milk but Parmesan ice cream?? Good gawd, NO!! Scary about the method of making green stuff. Shudder

  5. Thanks for the information!
    These facts make me wonder how our current trends will be seen in a few hundred years. The ones you shared sure take some of the romance out of the era for me. Arsenic paint? Cheese ices? Ick! And no thank you to the milk and sea water.

  6. This was a wonderful article. Lots of info to throw out there. People will be amazed. I so enjoy and look forward to your articles of the Regency Era. Please continue doing this. I love it!!!

  7. Another enjoyable insight into Regency life- wow, and I thought we had it tough at times. Thankyou for your post and have a great day. Nancy

  8. A fascinating bit of sharing. I knew it was acceptable in the upper class for ladies to consume a little bit of arsenic daily to develop that porcelain complexion so admired. Looks like the green fad went overboard. Good thing Dr. Seuss wasn’t writing “Green Eggs and Ham” at that time. 🙂

  9. How very crude some of the cures it probably did not kill straightaway but it was a dreadful Awful way to go. Then what a way to get rid of your wife “sell” her. I did not know about the collection of teeth from victims of Waterloo. I do like to read these snipits of regency history. Norah stokes.

  10. All things considered, I prefer my vision of Jane Austen’s glamorous Regency (& Georgian) time period. 🙂

    Thank you for the interesting information. Mainly ew, except for Lord Byron, but fascinating all the same.

  11. Well, I really don’t think that that particular portrait of Lord Byron is doing anything for me as I don’t like the sulky protruding lips, but I can understand why many women of the Regency era simply adored him. Perhaps it’s the eyes?
    As for that awfully deadly green arsenic stuff, really very dangerous & remarkable that it continued to be used in spite of the warnings about it.
    Finally, the selling of wives!! Really!? I have just finished reading a romance about a woman who was divorced by her husband during this time & she became a pariah overnight while he didn’t suffer any slings or arrows. It was all based upon a lie concocted by his overbearing mother who felt that he had married way beneath him!! Simply awful to be cast aside so summarily & to live in the direst of poverty ever after.

  12. All I read is historical or regency romance ,I’ve read over 1500 books in the last dozen years ,but the articles are starting to make me lose interest especially when it comes to personal hygiene .You start think about all of that when you reading, I want to think about a couple in love not that other stuff even if the articles are educational.

    • Don’t let that get to you! Every society has its good side and its bad side! When we read books, we have our imagination to keep us going! And that’s a world that’s entirely up to us to control! 😉

    • Considering they used to put lead-based powder on their skin to whiten it, they really didn’t know any better! 😮

  13. I agree with yourself and like the stories I read to be historically correct as regards the customs, etiquette, how people addressed each other etc. I do get frustrated with some books where the story line may be okay, but the language/words the characters use, how they address each other, etc are just so wrong it is sometimes laughable, and for me ruins what otherwise would have been a nice read, if not an excellent book! I therefore find these articles interesting and saves me doing the research to confirm my thoughts 😉
    Keep up the good work, both with these and the books!

  14. I enjoy these well written articles. I am so happy I live now. Dead man teeth for dentures. I’m afraid of dentist now❗
    Arsenic that’s why you wash your new clothes before wearing.

  15. All the balls with dancing and hopping around, Mercy, with no cool air- condition. Many, ladies would faint due to corsets and ao many petticoats. End of an evening and needing a bath? I love that era with interesting things back in the day. I wouldn’t desire to live in it. The sad_ looking wife being sold may have been relieved. There was very little birth control available in those days. The old saying cheaper by the dozen. Keep writing your good articles.

  16. Thanks so much for another very interesting and informative article. I had heard about the use of arsenic in a great many products, including wallpaper, that was attributed to a a large number of unexplained deaths for a period of time, until the link between arsenic and the use of it in so many products became known. Mercury was also used in. many medical “treatments ” along with lead for beauty products back during that time period, so that women could have those pale, flawless, complexions. Talk about fatal beauty! Even Amelia Earhart was known to have used a Mercury based face cream because she hated having freckles! Thanks again for sharing such wonderful articles with us!

    • It is a bit of a wonder that it took so many years to make the connection between arsenic and all those “unexplainable” deaths!
      Glad you enjoyed the article! 😉

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