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.
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!
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.
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!
Let’s be honest here…
If those portraits are anything to go by, Lord Byron was real eye-candy! 😉
Written by Patricia Haverton