The Phaeton, a Regency Carriage with Wide Appeal – and a Dangerous Side, a Guest Post by Eliza Shearer

Towards the end of Pride and Prejudice, in a letter explaining Mr Darcy‘s role in securing Lydia’s marriage to Mr Wickham, Mrs Gardiner writes to her niece Elizabeth, whom she suspects the master of Pemberley admires very much:

“I shall never be quite happy till I have been all round the (Pemberley) park. A low phaeton, with a nice little pair of ponies, would be the very thing”

Chapter 52, Pride & Prejudice

All Mrs Gardiner wants to explore the Pemberley estate is a phaeton. But what were these carriages like, and what was their big attraction?

The Draw of Phaetons as Carriages

Phaetons were light four-wheeled, open and doorless carriages with one or two seats. They typically had a folding top to shelter their users from the sun or light rain, but they otherwise offered little protection from the elements.

One of their defining characteristics was that they offered no outside driver’s seat for a coachman. In other words, phaeton owners were expected to drive their carriages. This may have well accounted for their popularity during the Regency and beyond.

A Fashionable Means of Transport

A Gentleman driving a Lady in a Phaeton George Stubbs National Gallery
A Gentleman driving a Lady in a Phaeton, George Stubbs (1787)
National Gallery, London

It’s no wonder that Mrs Gardiner dreams of a handsome phaeton: it must have made for a rather exhilarating means of transport, particularly for those used to being driven around. Note, however, that she specifies that she would like it to be a low one (this is relevant, as we shall see in a minute).

Another Austen lady who is partial to a sporty phaeton is – you’ll never guess it! – Anne de Bourgh. While Elizabeth is staying with Charlotte and Mr Collins, there are several instances of Miss de Bourgh driving by or stopping by “in her little phaeton and ponies.” (This little tidbit of information, often overlooked, suggests a more intriguing character than the doormat we are used to seeing in Austen adaptations, wouldn’t you say?)

The Wide Appeal of Phaetons

Phaetons could be decidedly pretty: in Austen’s The Three Sisters: A Novel, part of her juvenilia, a young lady expresses her wish to own one that is “cream coloured with a wreath of silver flowers round it.” But as well as the low sort favoured by ladies, some phaetons featured a very high perch. So high, in fact, that they sometimes required a ladder to reach the seats.

The elevated centre of gravity of the light phaetons made for very fast vehicles, ideal for speed-loving young men. In Northanger Abbey, cool-as-a-cucumber Mr Tinley drives “a phaeton with bright chestnuts” with his sister, making Mr Thorpe a very jealous fellow (he has to make do with a more basic one-horsed gig, a carriage with two wheels only, and a second-hand one at that).

Phaeton son of Helios engraving
Benjamin Green, Phaeton, (1777).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

A Dangers Means of Transportation

High-perched phaetons were, unsurprisingly, very unstable vehicles, especially when driven around a bend at high speed. Accidents would have been common, almost expected for certain types of riders.

It is no wonder that in Love and Freindship, another Austen’s juvenilia story, the heroine and her friend witness the overturning of “a fashionably high phaeton” driven by “two gentlemen most elegantly attired.” (they turn out to be their husbands, but that, reader, is another story).

The Cautionary Tale of Phaeton, Son of Helios

The carriages were named after Phaeton, son of the Greek god Helios. Phaeton asked his father, who drove the chariot of the sun across the heavens every day, to prove his affection by granting him a wish. The god gave his word without realising that what the boy wanted was to drive his chariot, so he couldn’t say no when he realised his son’s folly.

Soon after setting off, Phaeton quickly lost control of the horses of the sun chariot and scorched a large expanse of the Earth which we now call the Sahara desert. Zeus, alarmed, had no choice but to strike the boy down with one of his mythical thunderbolts to stop the carnage, sending him to his death.

The story makes me think that perhaps no vehicle has ever been as suitably named.

Do you fancy the idea of riding a phaeton? Have you ever ridden a similar carriage?

Posted in Austen Authors, British history, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Guest Post, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Pride and Prejudice, Regency era, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Capability Brown, England’s Greatest Landscape Artist: “This site has great capabilities.”

capability_brown_cosway_about_us.jpgLancelot ‘Capability’ Brown changed the face of eighteenth century England, designing country estates and mansions, moving hills and making flowing lakes and serpentine rivers, a magical world of green. (About Capability Brown)

The fifth child of William Brown, the land agent for Sir William Loraine, who held the Kirkharle Hall estate in Northumberland, Lancelot Brown was educated at a school in nearby Cambo until age 16. His first position was as an apprentice to the head gardener on Sir William’s estate, mainly in charge of the kitchen garden. There he remained until age 23. In 1739, he traveled to Boston, a port in Lincolnshire, where he remained for awhile. Later, he took his landscape commission for a new lake in the park at Kiddington Hall, Oxfordshire. Next, he moved to Wotton Underwood House, Buckinghamshire, the seat of Sir Richard Greenville. 

1741 saw him in the position of undergardener for Lord Cobham at Stowe, Buckinghamshire. William Kent, one of the founders of the “new” English style of landscaped garden of the 18th Century, was the head gardener. At Stowe, Brown executed both the architectural and landscaping works in the famous garden. He also met his future wife there, marrying Bridget Wayet, with whom he had nine children, in 1744. “At the age of 26 he was officially appointed as the Head Gardener in 1742, earning £25 year and residing at the western Boycott Pavilion. Brown was the head gardener at Stowe from 1742 to 1750. He made the Grecian Valley at Stowe, which, despite its name, is an abstract composition of landform and woodland. Lord Cobham allowed Brown to take freelance commission work from his aristocratic friends, thus making Brown well known as a landscape gardener. As a proponent of the new English style, Brown became immensely sought after by the owners of landed estates. 

While at Stowe, Brown also began working as an independent designer and contractor and in autumn 1751, he was able to move with his family to the Mall, Hammersmith, the market garden area of London.

“By the 1760s, he was earning on average £6,000 a year, usually £500 for one commission. As an accomplished rider he was able to work fast, taking only an hour or so on horseback to survey an estate and rough out an entire design. In 1764, Brown was appointed King George III’s Master Gardener at Hampton Court Palace, succeeding John Greening and residing at the Wilderness House. In 1767 he bought an estate for himself at Fenstanton in Huntingdonshire from the Earl of Northampton and was appointed High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire for 1770, although his son Lance carried out most of the duties.” (Capability Brown) 

The site tells us, “Brown’s style derived from the two practical principles of comfort and elegance. On the one hand, there was a determination that everything should work, and that a landscape should provide for every need of the great house. On the other, his landscapes had to cohere and look elegant.


Prior Park: There are three lakes in the gardens along with a serpentine lake, a stunning Palladian bridge and a Gothic temple feature.

“While his designs have great variety, they also appear seamless owing to his use of the sunk fence or ‘ha-ha’ to confuse the eye into believing that different pieces of parkland, though managed and stocked quite differently, were one. His expansive lakes, at different levels and apparently unconnected, formed a single body of water as if a river through the landscape, that like the parkland itself, ran on indefinitely.

“This effortless coherence is taken for granted today in a way that was predicted in his obituary: ‘where he is the happiest man he will be least remembered, so closely did he copy nature his works will be mistaken’. His nickname of ‘Capability’ is though to have come from his describing landscapes as having ‘great capabilities’.”

Brown’s nickname came from his habit of saying: “This site has great capabilities.” Brown preferred to “perfect nature.” His lawns were smooth and undulating, intentionally leading the eye away from the manor house and toward stands of trees, hills, and lakes. He had abandoned the formal French style founded at Versailles, and Brown was sometimes criticized for his efforts, but he was a proponent of “English designs,” not French. In his lifetime, he is said to have laid out some 170 gardens. Some of England’s finest—those at Bowood, Burghley, Longleat, Stowe, Petworth, Althorp, and Blenheim are considered his masterpieces.


The landscaped parkland and gardens include water terraces, a magnificent lake and architectural eye-catchers such as the Grand Bridge designed by Vanbrugh and the Column of Victory.

When I think of Brown, I think of Jane Austen’s description of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. “They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills;—and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place where nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!

Brown died at Fenstanton in 1783. 


At Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, Brown dammed the paltry stream flowing under Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge, drowning half the structure with improved results. ~ Public Domain

Posted in British history, business, estates, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, real life tales, research | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Wife as Property in the Regency Era, Part II

On Wednesday, I spoke of some of the laws controlling a woman’s rights, or lack thereof, during the Regency Era. (Read Part I HERE.) Today, I wish to draw some conclusions and make some observations on the topic. After all, spousal abuse is all the rage on TV and in the news right now.

First, I would like to point out Amanda Vickery’s book, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England. If you have not read it, I might suggest it to readers and writers of the Regency Era, especially if you really want to know the “skinny” on the period.

From the award-winning author of The Gentleman’s Daughter, a witty and academic illumination of daily domestic life in Georgian England.

In this brilliant work, Amanda Vickery unlocks the homes of Georgian England to examine the lives of the people who lived there. Writing with her customary wit and verve, she introduces us to men and women from all walks of life: gentlewoman Anne Dormer in her stately Oxfordshire mansion, bachelor clerk and future novelist Anthony Trollope in his dreary London lodgings, genteel spinsters keeping up appearances in two rooms with yellow wallpaper, servants with only a locking box to call their own.

Vickery makes ingenious use of upholsterer’s ledgers, burglary trials, and other unusual sources to reveal the roles of house and home in economic survival, social success, and political representation during the long eighteenth century. Through the spread of formal visiting, the proliferation of affordable ornamental furnishings, the commercial celebration of feminine artistry at home, and the currency of the language of taste, even modest homes turned into arenas of social campaign and exhibition.

The basis of a 3-part TV series for BBC2.

“Vickery is that rare thing, an…historian who writes like a novelist.”—Jane Schilling, Daily Mail

“Comparison between Vickery and Jane Austen is irresistible. This book is almost too pleasurable, in that Vickery’s style and delicious nosiness conceal some seriously weighty scholarship.”—Lisa Hilton, The Independent

If until now the Georgian home has been like a monochrome engraving, Vickery has made it three dimensional and vibrantly colored. Behind Closed Doors demonstrates that rigorous academic work can also be nosy, gossipy, and utterly engaging.”—Andrea Wulf,  New York Times Book Review

For example, there is a lengthy discussion in Vickery’s book on divorce laws during the Georgian Era verses what we sometimes find in period era novels, especially those from authors who have not taken the time to learn something of the period before putting pen to paper. Readers easily recognize those who think there was an easy way out of a marriage, confusing it with modern times. For example, I live in North Carolina, where “criminal conversation” is still on the books. If you are not familiar with the idea, please check out my piece on Annulments, Divorces, and Criminal Conversation in the Regency.

In the Vickery book, the author discusses several ecclesiastical and regular court cases concerning what we’d call emotional abuse today. These cases are a little earlier than the Regency era, but the general trend through the early 19th century was for liberalizing protections for abused women, not reducing them. So I think this can be taken as good information for the Regency period in broad strokes at least. 

A couple of interesting things I noticed included . . .

Escape from abuse for well-off women suffering from serious physical violence was actually fairly widely available, and the main recourse seems to have been a church law entitling women to “separate maintenance” in the event their husbands were abusive. It seems it was the standard remedy for serious domestic violence, and much more widely available than divorce. Basically it functioned like a modern day order of protection and spousal support. The husband would be required to financially support the wife while staying out of her home. 

Oddly, one of the main types of “abuse” for which the church courts would rule for separate maintenance was when a husband demeaned his wife’s proper household authority by interfering in the internal management of the home. This was considered the woman’s domain, and, essentially, her word was law. It should also be noted that it was seen as laughable, improper, unmanly and “tyrannical” for men to exert excessive control over stuff like small household purchases, laundry, cooking, etc. The family was almost viewed like England and its colonies. There were laws that governed who was entitled to make which decisions, and a husband was not supposed to suppress his wife’s proper range of ‘administration.” Such goes a long way in explaining why young girls of the period were provided instruction on meal planning, etc., but provided only a basic education. Though it’s not clear to me that separate maintenance was typically awarded in the absence of ANY physical abuse, the church courts definitely considered “tyrannical” and overly-controlling behavior as strong evidence of a husband’s being too demeaning to his wife’s dignity for her to be forced to live together with him. 

Another domestic crime for which courts awarded relief to women was the “lock out.” A husband’s marital duties included providing shelter and protection for his wife, and, when he locked her out or put her out on the street, a very common tactic even today, the courts were quite ready to punish him. In one case a court actually broke an entail and the dispossessed father AND surviving sons were forced to give an estate to the mother and daughters who had been locked out of the family home. 

In other words, “Canon law allowed a separation (in the era called a divorce), called the divortium a mensa et thoro (separation from bed and board). The Ecclesiastical courts permitted it for certain specified causes. The causes were life-threatening cruelty and adultery by the husband, or adultery by the wife. This act allowed spouses to live separately and ended the woman’s coverture to her husband and his financial responsibility for her. Yet, if a spouse, man or wife, simply ran off and deserted the other, the doctrine of coverture complicated matters, because they were still legally one person. A woman could not simply leave her husband’s home without permission. He could legally drag her back under his roof—and even soundly beat her for her efforts!” (English Historical Fiction Authors)

Other points of interest on women as property:

There was no such thing as marital rape during the Regency era. A husband could not rape his wife because she had no choice in the matter.

Legal separation. Though most of the cases were initiated by men, when the wife was accused of adultery, women could  sue for it. It was not easy to get and cost money. The women usually needed to have a powerful family and friends who would protect her. Until that decree from bed and board was finalized, the husband had a right to have the sheriff seize his wife and return her where he could beat her.

History does provide us a very VIVID example of how this could all shake out. “Laurence Shirley, 4th Earl Ferrers (18 August 1720 – 5 May 1760) was an English nobleman, notable for being the last peer to be hanged, following his conviction for murdering his steward. Shirley was the eldest son of Laurence Ferrers, himself the third son of the first Earl Ferrers. At the age of twenty, he quit his estates and Oxford University education, and began living a debauched life in France in Paris. At the age of 25 he inherited his title from his insane uncle the 3rd Earl Ferrers, and with it estates in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Northamptonshire. He lived at Staunton Harold Hall in northwest Leicestershire. In 1752, he married Mary, the youngest sister of Sir William Meredith, 3rd Baronet.

“Ferrers had a family history of insanity, and from an early age his behaviour seems to have been eccentric, and his temper violent, though he was quite capable of managing his business affairs. Significantly, in 1758, his wife obtained a separation from him for cruelty, which was rare for the time. She would not accept her husband’s drinking and womanizing, and was particularly upset by his illegitimate children. The old family steward, Johnson, may have given evidence on Mary’s behalf and was afterwards tasked with collecting rents due to her.

“The Ferrers’ estates were then vested in trustees; Ferrers secured the appointment of an old family steward named Johnson, as receiver of rents. This man faithfully performed his duty as a servant to the trustees, and did not prove amenable to Ferrers’ personal wishes. On 18 January 1760, Johnson called at the earl’s mansion at Stauton Harold, Leicestershire, by appointment, and was directed to his lordship’s study. Here, after some business conversation, Lord Ferrers shot him. Johnson did not die immediately, but instead was given some treatment at the hall followed by continued verbal abuse from a drunken Ferrers before Dr. Thomas Kirkland was able to convey Johnson to his own home where he died the following morning.

“In the following April, Ferrers was tried for murder by his peers in Westminster Hall, Attorney General Charles Pratt leading for the prosecution. Shirley’s defence, which he conducted in person with great ability, was a plea of insanity, and it was supported by considerable evidence, but he was found guilty. On 5 May 1760, aged 39, dressed in a light-coloured suit embroidered with silver (the outfit he had worn at his wedding), he was taken in his own carriage from the Tower of London to Tyburn and there hanged by Thomas Turlis. There are several illustrations of the hanging. It has been said that as a concession to his rank the rope used was of silk.After the execution his body was taken to the Barber-Surgeons’ Hall in Monkwell Street for public exhibition and dissection. The execution was widely publicised in popular culture as evidence of equality of the law, and the story of a wicked nobleman who was executed “like a common criminal” was told well into the 19th century.” (Laurence Shirley, 4th Earl Ferrers)

From Curious Punishments of Bygone Days, we find: “The way of punishing scolding women is pleasant enough. They fasten an armchair to the end of two beams twelve or fifteen feet long, and parallel to each other, so that these two pieces of wood with their two ends embrace the chair, which hangs between them by a sort of axle, by which means it plays freely, and always remains in the natural horizontal position in which a chair should be, that a person may sit conveniently in it, whether you raise it or let it down. They set up a post on the bank of a pond or river, and over this post they lay, almost in equilibrio, the two pieces of wood, at one end of which the chair hangs just over the water. They place the woman in this chair and so plunge her into the water as often as the sentence directs, in order to cool her immoderate heat.”

A man called “Mr. Stock” supposedly had his wife denounced as a common scold because she complained about him.

The adjectives pleasant and convenient as applied to a ducking-stool would scarcely have entered the mind of any one but a Frenchman. Still the chair itself was sometimes rudely ornamented. The Cambridge stool was carved with devils laying hold of scolds. Others were painted with appropriate devices such as a man and woman scolding. Two Plymouth ducking-stools still preserved are of wrought iron of good design. The Sandwich ducking-stool bore the motto:

“Of members ye tonge is worst or beste
An yll tonge oft doth breede unreste.”

We read in Blackstone’s Commentaries:

“A common scold may be indicted, and if convicted shall be sentenced to be placed in a certain engine of correction called the trebucket, castigatory, or ducking-stool.”

Wives were at a disadvantage in not having any money of their own. Wives did swear out restraining orders against their husbands, but only where the community sided with her and against the husband who usually had to do something like be publicly drunk and disorderly. A wife had no recourse against a husband who installed a mistress in their house, unless she had friends or family who would take her in and help her plea for a separation. There again, though, many put up with abuse and  humiliation to stay with their children.

All the church could do was excommunicate a person. While that meant that the average person lost ability to go to university or to work in some vocations/professions, it wouldn’t work with a peer or a very rich or very poor man. 

One husband took the children and put them under the care of another and refused to allow the wife to see them, even though they were supposedly living together.

People speak of the horrid way women were treated or the fate of women under the law. For the most part, the law extended equal protections to men and women and allowed both to own property and have money. The ones who needed the law changed were married women. That is why who a woman married was so important. Our romantic book heroes would never mistreat a wife, but such cannot be said for real life husbands.

Posted in British history, family, Georgian England, Georgian Era, history, Living in the Regency, marriage, marriage customs, Regency era, research | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

“Rule of Thumb”: The Wife as Property in the Regency Era, Part I

I have written several scenes in my 55+ books in which the wife is abused by her husband, sometimes mentally and sometimes physically. During the Regency there was no laws against such abuse. The wife held no rights. In fact, if we take a closer look at the actual laws on the books in the Regency, we discover a woman was only an extension of her husband—not a person in her own right.

Women, for example, were not permitted to buy property, write a will, make contracts, own her own carriage, or even have custody of her children. In Darcy’s Temptation, which will rerelease toward the end of this calendar year, Elizabeth fears Darcy will send her away after she delivers his heir.

Back in 1765, English jurist, judge, and Tory politician, William Blackstone published the first of four volumes of Commentaries on the Laws of England, considered his magnum opus; the completed work earned Blackstone £14,000 (£1,990,000 in 2022 terms). Blackstone’s four-volume Commentaries were designed to provide a complete overview of English law and to provide it some consistency.

Of women’s legal rights in marriage and without, he explained . . .

By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or, at least, is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband… and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture.

… For this reason, a man cannot grant anything to his wife, or enter into covenant with her: for the grant would be to suppose her separate existence; and to covenant with her, would be only to covenant with himself: … a husband may also bequeath anything to his wife by will; for that cannot take effect till the coverture is determined by his death.

… the chief legal effects of marriage during the coverture; upon which we may observe, that even the disabilities which the wife lies under are for the most part intended for her protection and benefit: so great a favourite is the female sex of the laws of England.

What this meant was a woman could NOT make contracts, purchase property, write a will, perform the duties of a business partner, sign bills of exchange, own the money she made in performance of a job, or even claim custody of her children.

A single woman or a widow possessed more rights than did a married one. In my tale, “His Christmas Violet,” the main character Lady Violet Graham is a widow, and she refuses Sir Frederick Nolan’s offer of marriage, for she does not want again to place her life in the hands of a man.

It was not until the Married Women’s Property Act of 1884 that married women enjoyed the same legal rights as unmarried women.

In my tale, “Lady Joy and the Earl,” Lady Jocelyn “Joy” Lathrop has married a man who takes great “pleasure” in beating her. When he dies, she declares she will never again place her life in the hands of any man, not even the hands of James Highcliffe, 10th Earl Hough, who she has loved since childhood. I received some “criticism” for including this reality in the tale, but I wished to make a point regarding the lack of rights women possessed during the Regency. She was safer as a widow than she would have been in placing her life in the hands of another. In the 1970s, the “rule of thumb,” so to speak, was a man could not beat his wife with a limb that was larger around than his thumb. Whether this was true in the Regency, I cannot say with any certainty, but the thumb has long been used a unit of measurement. The old English “ynche” was defined as the breadth of a man’s thumb at the base of the nail. Yet, I digress.

According to Wikipedia, “A modern folk etymology holds that the phrase is derived from the maximum width of a stick allowed for wife-beating under English common law, but no such law ever existed. This belief may have originated in a rumored statement by 18th-century judge Sir Francis Buller that a man may beat his wife with a stick no wider than his thumb. The rumor produced numerous jokes and satirical cartoons at Buller’s expense, but there is no record that he made such a statement.

“English jurist Sir William Blackstone (yes, Blackstone again) wrote in his Commentaries on the Laws of England of an “old law” that once allowed “moderate” beatings by husbands, but he did not mention thumbs or any specific implements. Wife-beating has been officially outlawed for centuries in England (and the rest of the United Kingdom) and the United States, but continued in practice; several 19th-century American court rulings referred to an ‘ancient doctrine’ that the judges believed had allowed husbands to physically punish their wives using implements no thicker than their thumbs.”

According to Blackstone (1765)

The husband also, by the old law, might give his wife moderate correction. For, as he is to answer for her misbehaviour, the law thought it reasonable to intrust him with this power of restraining her, by domestic chastisement, in the same moderation that a man is allowed to correct his apprentices or children; for whom the master or parent is also liable in some cases to answer.

Posted in British history, Church of England, family, Georgian England, Georgian Era, history, Living in the Regency, Living in the UK, marriage, real life tales, Regency era | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

June 20 ~ West Virginia Day ~ “Country Roads Take Me Home…”

West Virginia Day – June 20

June 20 celebrates the birth of my home state. West Virginia was founded in 1863. I just returned from WV on Sunday. I love driving the mountain roads, but I’m sure many others do not. They are intimidated by the curves. When I come out of the tunnel at Bluefield, the one which separates West Virginia from Virginia, my heart always says “home.”

On June 20, 1863, West Virginia became the thirty-fifth state in the Union. The land that formed the new state formerly constituted part of Virginia. The two areas had diverged culturally from their first years of European settlement, as small farmers generally settled the western portion of the state, including the counties that later formed West Virginia, while the eastern portion was dominated by a powerful minority class of wealthy slaveholders. There were proposals for the trans-Allegheny west to separate from Virginia as early as 1769. When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, the residents of a number of contiguous western counties, where there were few slaves, decided to remain in the Union. Congress accepted these counties as the state of West Virginia on condition that its slaves be freed. “Montani semper liberi,” “mountaineers always freemen,” became the new state’s motto.

Personally, I love driving the mountain roads, but I’m certain many others do not. Many are intimidated by the sharp curves. When I exit the tunnel at Bluefield on Interstate 77, the one which separates West Virginia from Virginia, my heart always says “home.”

Here are some fun facts shared by the Harper’s Ferry Adventure Center:

  • West Virginia formed after breaking away from Virginia during the Civil War. It was admitted to the Union on June 20, 1863 under a proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln. West Virginia is the only state to be admitted under presidential proclamation.
  • Mother’s Day was first observed as a holiday at Andrews Church in Grafton on May 10, 1908. It became a national holiday in 1914.
  • The New River Gorge Bridge is the longest steel arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere. It spans a length of 1,700 feet. Every October on Bridge Day, the bridge is closed to traffic while individuals parachute and bungee jump 876 feet off the bridge.
  • One of the world’s first suspension bridges was built in Wheeling in November of1849.
  • Organ Cave is the largest natural cave in West Virginia and the third largest cave in the United States
  • Camping in WV is fun to do because there is no shortage of places to go. Nearly 75 percent of the state is covered by forests.
  • West Virginia produces 15 percent of the total coal used nationwide. It is home to Coal House, the world’s only residence built entirely of coal. Coal House is in White Sulphur Springs and was occupied on June 1, 1961.
  • West Virginia became the first state to have a sales tax. The tax went into effect on July 1, 1921.
  • Golden Delicious, a variety of yellow apples, are native to West Virginia. The first golden apple tree originated in Clay County in 1775.


Babcock State Park, Glade Creek Grist Mill


Here are some more fun facts you likely did not know about West Virginia. These come from the West Virginia Tourism site.

West Virginia is known for its scenic mountain beauty, unmatched outdoor recreation opportunities and the friendliest folks in the country. But did you know that nearly 80% of the state is covered by forests? Or that the state’s youngest & oldest governor are the same person? Here are 20 facts you may not have known about this slice of heaven:

  1. Let’s start with the fact that it almost wasn’t named West Virginia. The state was originally going to be named “Kanawha” to honor a Native American tribe; however,  after its succession from the Commonwealth of Virginia, officials still wanted Virginia to be part of its name.
  2. West Virginia is the only state completely within the Appalachian Mountain range, aptly given the nickname the Mountain State.
  3. North America’s largest alluvial diamond was found in Peterstown. It is known as the Punch Jones Diamond after William “Punch” Jones and his father Grover found the diamond in 1928.
  4. Outdoor advertising got its start in Wheeling when the Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company painted bridges and barns with “Treat Yourself to the Best, Chew Mail Pouch.”
  5. The first rural free delivery mail service took place in 1896 in Charles Town through the Post Office Department’s pilot program to determine the feasibility for rural delivery for the rest of the country.
  6. Harrisville is home to America’s oldest dime store, Berdine’s Five and Dime, which has been continuously operating since 1908.
  7. Cecil Underwood made history in 1956 when he became the state’s youngest governor at 34 – then again in 1996 when he became the state’s oldest governor after being reelected at 74.
  8. West Virginia is the third most forested state. In fact, the Monongahela National Forest covers nearly a million acres of land and spans across 10 counties.
  9. West Virginia is comparable in size to both Latvia and Lithuania.
  10. Contrary to its name, the New River is actually one of the oldest in the world and unusually flows south to north because it was formed before the mountains.
  11. Standing tall at 292 feet, the State Capitol dome is higher than the dome at the nation’s capital.
  12. West Virginia is located within a day’s drive from 75% of the U.S. population, yet remains an untouched gem among outdoor enthusiasts.
  13. The Golden Delicious Apple originated in Clay County in 1905.
  14. The USS West Virginia was hit during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy. The mast from the ship now lives on West Virginia University’s campus, in front of Oglebay Hall.
  15. The first brick street in the world was laid in Charleston on Summers Street.
  16. The Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, a National Historic Landmark, is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America and second in the world to the Kremlin.
  17. The largest sycamore tree in the world was located in Webster Springs until it fell in 2010 when it was estimated to be over 500 years old!
  18. The Phil G. McDonald Bridge in Beckley is the highest truss bridge in the world at 700 feet tall, although it’s often overshadowed by the famous New River Gorge Bridge.
  19. West Virginia was home to the first land battle of the Civil War at the Battle of Philippi in 1861.
  20. You don’t have to travel far to see the world – West Virginia holds the record for having the most towns named after cities in other countries, including Athens, Berlin, Cairo, Calcutta, Geneva and Shanghai.


The beauty of a WV highway

“In 1963, West Virginia Day was the highpoint of a year-long celebration of the state centennial, with President John F. Kennedy speaking from the steps of the state capitol. The state enjoyed its grandest birthday party that day, beginning with a breakfast restricted to people born on June 20 and culminating with evening fireworks. A 35-layer cake was served at noon, and Kennedy’s speech was followed by a 35-gun salute.

“In addition to official observances, West Virginians celebrate their state’s birthday with a variety of tavern toasts, family cookouts, and other unofficial acknowledgments. Long-standing customs include the creation of a special glass-work by Blenko Glass of Cabell County. Issued in a number equal to the state’s age, the limited-edition piece is sold in Charleston to first-comers on the morning of West Virginia Day.” [e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia “West Virginia Day.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 20 June 2014. Web. 22 May 2018.]


my hometown


fine shops found in the Arcade in downtown Huntington


busy downtown streets in Huntington

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Reporting Deaths in the Aftermath of Waterloo

 One of my favorite Regency series comes from Mary Balogh. In the Bedwyns Saga’s book 5, entitled Slightly Sinful, Lord Alleyne Bedwyn is wounded at Waterloo. A woman who is stripping the bodies of their clothing in order to sell them finds him. His injury causes him what we who write romances call “romance amnesia.” Therefore, his death is reported to his family, when he is still alive. So, over the years since reading Ms. Balogh’s book, I have been more than curious regarding the procedure to inform the families. What happened to the dead after the Battle of Waterloo? (01202 558833)
Pic: Bonhams/BNPS
*Please use full byline*
117 Lady Butler Scotland Forever.
A soldier’s first hand account of the most decisive moment at the Battle of Waterloo which left the British swords ‘reeking with French blood’ has been unearthed after 200 years.
Corporal Richard Coulter described the ‘glorious’ charge of the household ‘heavy’ brigade that involved 2,000 British cavalryman attacking Napoleon’s troops who had been gaining the upper-hand in the battle.
The letter has now emerged for sale at Bonhams in London.

If the deceased was a member of Wellington’s staff, or a senior officer, the family may have gotten a personal letter from Wellington within days. Wellington wrote many on June 19, four days after the battle. Likewise, the most reliable news often came to the family from officers and soldiers serving with a soldier who was killed or wounded and there are many examples of such letters being written to families and loved ones of the fallen on the 19th and 20th of June. 

Otherwise, lists of dead and wounded were published in the London Gazette. However, not all lists were made out and sent at the same time, i.e., different regiments. News dribbled in. In some cases, it took a week before missing officers/soldiers were found, either wounded or dead. It was chaos. The senior officers of the regiments themselves were not certain who had been killed and who survived for many hours, if not a few days, after the battle. 

Add to that the fact that many mistakes were made in those initial lists. There are numerous examples of various soldiers named Jackson, Smith, Brown, etc., being confused with each other at first. 

There were no dog tags. Many of the dead, on both sides, were plundered of their belongings and clothes on the battlefield. By the time the burying parties came around, there was no way to identify many of the bodies, which were placed in communal graves. Therefore, it could take anywhere from a week to a month before all returns were in and published. 

As the first official journal of record and the newspaper of the Crown, The Gazette became an authoritative and reliable source of news, and this served the purposes of both the Crown and the Executive well.

The state already held incomparable sources of information from overseas: during peacetime, the various British embassies could be relied on to relay strategic and political news back home and, in times of war, the dispatches of the British generals served a similar purpose – both sources acting effectively as the foreign correspondents of their day.

These varying dispatches continued to be used to good effect as The Gazette developed its profile. Indeed, when the newly launched Times newspaper halted its presses to carry the report of Wellington’s 1815 victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, it was merely to reproduce in full the dispatch which had already been previously published as a ‘Gazette Extraordinary’ (Gazette issue 17028).

The Gazette was also the bearer of official War Office and Ministry of Defence events, including listing those ‘Mentioned in dispatches’ (MIDs), where notable individuals are recognised for their activities in the theatre of war. 

The Gazette even ultimately produced its own terminology for those appearing in its reports: whether when they were appointed to a new military post, or for committing acts of particular gallantry, an individual was said to have been “gazetted” when their name reached the pages of The Gazette.

An easing of publishing restrictions, and the general success of The Gazette in providing reliable official information, led to the creation of two further journals, enabling a more detailed focus on material of particular relevance to Scotland and Ireland.

More on The Gazette below. And you’ll see by following this link that Wellington’s Waterloo Dispatch wasn’t published until June 22nd.

All senior officers had their own staff, usually paid out of their own pockets. Wellington had a butler, a cook, a valet,  two grooms, a guy in charge of his pack of hunting dogs and a washerwoman, in addition to his Aide-De-Camps.

It would not have taken long for a senior officer’s effects to be returned to England. There was a dedicated supply route from England to Ostend and Ghent, then on to Paris and Brussels. The Royal Navy had ships standing by at Ostend and Ghent to facilitate movements of the army, also to transport the walking wounded, as well as French prisoners. 

After Alexander Gordon died, Wellington wrote to his brother, Lord Aberdeen, to tell him of the death. The PS of that letter is heartbreaking – “I have your brother’s horse here with me and will keep it until you let me know what is to be done with it.” So, personal effects, trunks, horses could all be sent to England with no problem or loss of time. Such is one of the plot points of my upcoming story “Courting Lord Whitmire.” 

If you care to read more of these tragic events, try these two books: 

The Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon in 1815 at Waterloo ensured British dominance for the rest of the nineteenth century. It took three days and two hours for word to travel from Belgium in a form that people could rely upon. 

This is a tragi-comic midsummer’s tale that begins amidst terrible carnage and weaves through a world of politics and military convention, enterprise and roguery, frustration, doubt and jealousy, to end spectacularly in the heart of Regency society at a grand soiree in St James’s Square after feverish journeys by coach and horseback, a Channel crossing delayed by falling tides and a flat calm, and a final dash by coach and four from Dover to London.

At least five men were involved in bringing the news or parts of it to London, and their stories are fascinating. Brian Cathcart, a brilliant storyteller and historian, has visited the battlefield, travelled the messengers’ routes, and traced untapped British, French and Belgian records. This is a strikingly original perspective on a key moment in British history.

Waterloo is probably the most famous battle in military history. Thousands of books have been written on the subject but mysteries remain and controversy abounds.

By presenting more than 200 previously unpublished accounts by Allied officers who fought at the battle, this collection goes right back to the primary source material. In the letters the Allied officers recount where they were and what they saw. Gareth Glover has provided historical background information but lets the officers speak for themselves as they reveal exactly what happened in June 1815.

Originally sent to, and at the request of, Captain W Siborne, then in the process of building his famous model of the battle, these letters have remained unread in the Siborne papers in the British Library. A small selection was published in Waterloo Letters in 1891 but much of vast historical significance did not see the light then and has remained inaccessible until now. Glover now presents this remarkable collection which includes letters here by Major Baring, George Bowles, Edward Whinyates, John Gurwood and Edward Cotton as well as letters by Hanoverian and King’s German Legion officers.

This is a veritable treasure trove of material on the battle and one which will mean that every historian’s view of the battle will need correcting.


In case you are interested in the book I mentioned above, here is the book blurb. Trust me. Read the series from beginning to end. You will not be disappointed. Slightly Married, Book 1; Slightly Wicked, Book 2; Slightly Scandalous, Book 3; Slightly Tempted, Book 4; Slightly Sinful, Book 5; and Slightly Dangerous, Book 6. [Note! Part of Slightly Tempted deals with Alleyne’s sister Morgan’s desperate search for him in Belgium after Waterloo. You might also find those insights interesting.] Not all deal directly with the war, but all are worth the read. 

Meet the Bedwyns—six brothers and sisters—men and women of passion and privilege, daring and sensuality….Enter their dazzling world of high society and breathtaking seduction…where each will seek love, fight temptation, and court scandal…and where Alleyne Bedwyn, the passionate middle son, is cut off from his past—only to find his future with a sinfully beautiful woman he will risk everything to love.

As the fires of war raged around him, Lord Alleyne Bedwyn was thrown from his horse and left for dead—only to awaken in the bedchamber of a ladies’ brothel. Suddenly the dark, handsome diplomat has no memory of who he is or how he got there—yet of one thing he is certain: The angel who nurses him back to health is the woman he vows to make his own. But like him, Rachel York is not who she seems. A lovely young woman caught up in a desperate circumstance, she must devise a scheme to regain her stolen fortune. The dashing soldier she rescued from near-death could be her savior in disguise. There is just one condition: she must pose as his wife—a masquerade that will embroil them in a sinful scandal, where a man and a woman court impropriety with each daring step…with every taboo kiss that can turn passionate strangers into the truest of lovers.

Posted in British history, Georgian England, Georgian Era, history, Living in the Regency, military, Napoleonic Wars, real life tales, Regency era, Regency romance, research, war, weather | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball and the Battle of Waterloo, a Guest Post from Jann Rowland

On June 15, 1815, perhaps the most famous (or infamous) ball in history was held. The Duchess of Richmond’s ball is generally regarded as the event in which Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, was informed of the advance of French forces into the kingdom of the Netherlands. This is somewhat accurate.

In March of 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte escaped Elba and landed in France, quickly assuming control of the Empire of France from Louis XVIII, setting off the Hundred Days campaign. The nations of Europe, quickly mobilized against him, with the British and the Prussians fielding armies in the Netherlands, while the Russians, Austrians, and several Germanic Princedoms marched to support them. Thus, outnumbered and facing enemies on potentially three sides, Napoleon knew his only chance was to defeat the coalition armies separately before they could assemble against him.

The allies had set the date of their invasion of France for July 1, but it was considered possible (perhaps even likely, given the reputation of the French Emperor) the French would attack first. The Duchess of Richmond, whose husband was the commander of British forces defending Brussels, had planned some weeks earlier to host a ball. When rumors of French advances began to run through the city, she asked Wellington if the ball should be canceled his response was: “Duchess, you may give your ball with the greatest safety, without fear of interruption.” Thus, the ball was held as scheduled, the most likely location being a coach house attached to the house the Lennox family was leasing in Brussels.

When the first circles of Brussels society gathered that night, the main topic of discussion was, of course, the rumored impending invasion. Even with so desperate a subject on the tongues of those who attended, however, by all accounts the ball proceeded smoothly. Wellington and his commanders arrived at about 11 PM that evening, and it was said that “with the exception of three generals, every officer high in [Wellington’s] army was there to be seen.”

But Wellington had allowed the ball to go on that evening in an attempt to confirm that all was well and proceeding as planned. In reality, he had received word earlier that day that the French army had crossed the Belgian frontier and was engaging the British allies, the Prussian army, to the east. Wellington put the entire British army on alert. But he was still unaware of the speed of the French advance and the location of the attack and did not order his army to mass just yet.

Just before dinner, a dispatch arrived for William, Prince of Orange, commander of the Dutch-Belgian army. The prince handed Wellington the missive, who put it in his pocket and continued on as if nothing had happened. When he read the note twenty minutes later, he ordered William back to his command post and went into supper. To his surprise, William returned only a short time later with word that the French had pushed much further than expected.

By now rumors were flying through the ballroom. Wellington orders both William and the Duke or Brunswick back to their command posts, though he, himself stayed for another twenty minutes. Then he announced his intention to retire. Before he left the room, however, he whispered in Duke of Richmond’s ear, asking if he had a good map. The two men left the room, going to Richmond’s study, where Wellington surveyed the potential battlefields. The French had pushed far enough into the Belgian countryside that they now threatened Quatre Bras, and Wellington, knowing he would not be able to mobilize his army in time to stop them there, exclaimed: “Napoleon has humbugged me, by God; he has gained twenty-four hours’ march on me.” As he surveyed the map, he fixed his gaze on Waterloo and allowed his finger to fall in the name as the place where the British would stop the French.

1268354; out of copyright

By now the ball was all but over. Officers were pulled from the ballroom and given orders to return to their units, and many did so without even changing back into their uniforms, fighting in their suits and dancing shoes. Those who bade them farewell weeping with fear for those who were going into danger, knowing not all of them would return. The city soon became a bustle of movement as the regiments departed for the front and the battle against the invading French.

The next day, both the Battle of Quatre Bras and the Battle of Liege were fought. Quatre Bras was a victory for the British as they denied Napoleon the crossroads and his strategic objective of driving a wedge between the two allied armies. Liege was a victory for Napoleon, but he was not able to destroy the Prussians. The British, by Wellington’s design, fell back to Waterloo and linked up with the Prussian army. Two days later, the final battle of the Napoleonic wars was fought at Waterloo, and the French were defeated, ending Napoleon’s power forever.

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The Battle of Waterloo: Did the Weather Change History?


French cuirassiers charging a British infantry square at the Battle of Waterloo, 1815 (1906). From Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, Vol. V. (Cassell and Company, Limited, London, Paris, New York & Melbourne, 1906). Artist P Jazet.(Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)











The Battle of Waterloo: Did the Weather Change History?  Background: The Battle of Waterloo was fought thirteen kilometers south of Brussels between the French, under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Allied armies commanded by the Duke of Wellington from Britain and the 72-year-old General Blücher from Prussia. The French defeat at Waterloo drew to a close 23 years of war beginning with the French Revolutionary wars in 1792 and continuing through the Napoleonic Wars. There was a brief eleven-month respite when Napoleon was forced to abdicate, exiled to the island of Elba. However, the unpopularity of Louis XVIII and the economic and social instability of France motivated Napoleon’s return to Paris in March 1815. The Allies soon declared war once again. Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo marked the end of the Emperor’s final bid for power, the so-called ‘100 Days,’ and the final chapter in his remarkable career.

Why did Napoleon lose? Wellington described his victory as a ‘damned near-run thing.’ The battle was closely fought, and either side could have won, but mistakes in communication, leadership, and judgment led, ultimately, to the French defeat.

Communication was key. The fastest way to communicate was by sending messages with horseback riders, but this created a delay in instructions being carried out, and there was a high chance of the messages being intercepted and never arriving. Given the numbers of troops involved and the distances involved, potentially fatal results could easily occur if communications failed, and Napoleon did not have any system in place to ensure that the orders had been received.

In his choice of leaders, Napoleon’s judgment was poor. Marshal Grouchy was said to be a great General, but he was out of his depth in this battle. He showed little initiative and was tardy in his pursuit of the Prussians, giving them time to regroup. Ney also proved unreliable as a leader, failing to take advantage of his situation in the precursory battle at Quatre-Bras and then in leading the cavalry, unsupported by infantry and artillery, at Waterloo.

The Battle of Waterloo took the lives of 47,000 soldiers and occurred in an area as small as 6.5 km by 3.5 km.

For an hour by hour breakdown of the battle’s events, visit BBC History ( And, of course, the Waterloo 1815 website has magnificent details (

Napoleon Bonaparte flees the field of Waterloo, June 18, 1815.





One of the elements outside Napoleon’s direct control, but one that brought about many of his woes was the weather from June 16-18, 1815. Both the French and the Allies experienced the same conditions, and the blame for the loss most likely can be attributed to the fact that Napoleon’s arrogance and inflated self-confidence stood in the way of reason.

The area around Waterloo experienced heavy rains on June 17 and the morning of the 18th. Some military strategists suggest that the soaked ground might have delayed the battle and would have given the Prussian army the time to join forces with Wellington. One must remember that even Victor Hugo spoke of the influence of weather on the battle’s outcome. In chapter 3 of Les Misérables, the commentator says, “If it had not rained in the night between the 17th and the 18th of June, 1815, the fate of Europe would have been different. A few drops of water, more or less, decided the downfall of Napoleon. All that Providence required in order to make Waterloo the end of Austerlitz was a little more rain, and a cloud traversing the sky out of season sufficed to make a world crumble.”

Dennis Wheeler and Gaston Demarée’s article, “The weather of the Waterloo campaign 16 to 18 1815,” cites several passages from those who experienced the battle firsthand.

From the letters of Private William Wheeler of the 51st Kings Infantry comes this excerpt, “…[a]nd as it began to rain the road soon became very heavy…the rain increased, the thunder and lightning approached nearer, and with it came the enemy…the rain beating with violence, the guns roaring, repeated bright flashes of lightning attended with tremendous volleys of Thunder that shook the very earth…”

And Private John Lewis of the 95th Rifles wrote home to say, “…[t]he rain fell so hard that the oldest soldiers there never saw the like…”

Napoleon planned to attack at 8 A.M., but some experts estimate that it was closer to eleven before he struck. Besides the soft ground slowing the progress of Napoleon’s heavy artillery, one must take into consideration the concept that cannon shot was designed to fall short of the target and then skip along the ground for the most damage. In muddy conditions, the weapon’s effectiveness was compromised. The cavalry could not move forward easily. Captain Cotter of the South Lincolnshire regiment wrote of, “…[m]ud through which we sank more than ankle deep….” The cavalry charge was reduced from a gallop to a canter. A damp mist rose and mixed with the guns’ smoke. However, the winds did not carry away the “veritable fog of war.”

Finally, the French infantry advancing towards the Anglo-Dutch lines reportedly crossed through fields of wet rye. Muskets and rifles loaded prior to the march would likely misfire because of damp powder. Napoleon’s assault would have suffered more than would have Wellington’s defensive lines under such conditions.

An article in the Evening Standard suggests that a volcanic eruption in Indonesia changed the climate and provided Wellington the advantage. We know the year 1816 was called “The Year Without Summer.” 

A volcanic eruption in Indonesia contributed to Napoleon Bonaparte’s downfall at the Battle of Waterloo, scientists have claimed. New evidence suggests electrically-charged volcanic ash altered the Earth’s weather in 1815, causing a June downpour of heavy rain across Europe. The wet and muddy conditions played a key role in the French emperor’s defeat at Waterloo, an event that changed the course of European history. Two months before the battle, the volcano Mount Tambora erupted on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, killing 100,000 people and sending huge amounts of ash 62 miles into the atmosphere. Electrified ash “short circuited” the ionosphere, the upper atmospheric layer responsible for cloud formation, the new research has shown. The resulting “pulse” of cloud formation led to heavy rain across Europe, according to lead scientist Dr Matthew Genge, from Imperial College London . . .”

Dr Genge said: “Victor Hugo in the novel Les Miserables said of the Battle of Waterloo: ‘an unseasonably clouded sky sufficed to bring about the collapse of a world’.

Great Historical Events That Were Significantly Affected by the Weather. Part 11: Meteorological Aspects of the Battle of Waterloo

The American Meteorological Society tells us, “The weather had important effects on the battles. On the 16th, in a battle between part of the French army and part of the Prussian army, at the village of Ligny, about 40 km south-southeast of Brussels, thunderstorms connected with the passage of the aforementioned warm front made the use of muskets impracticable.

“However, the most important weather effects developed on the 17th and during the night from the 17th to the 18th. Violent thunderstorms occurred early in the afternoon of the 17th close to Ligny, while Napoleon was in the process of attacking the Anglo–Dutch force at Quatre Bras. The rains turned the ground into a quagmire, making it impossible for the French artillery and cavalry, and even for the infantry, to move across the fields in extended order, as required by the emperor. The French advance was so greatly slowed down that Wellington was able to withdraw his lighter force to a better position near Waterloo. Thus, the Anglo–Dutch force was almost completely preserved for the decisive battle of the next day.

“The rain showers of the 17th and the night from the 17th to the 18th softened the ground to an extent that, on the morning of the 18th, Napoleon and his artillery experts judged that the battle—the Battle of Waterloo—could not be started before a late hour of the forenoon [1130 local standard time (LST)]. Until the arrival of the Prussian force, about 1600 LST and later, the battle tended to go in favor of the French, but the Prussians turned the tide of the fighting.

“The paper quotes judgments of military historians on the significant effects of the weather. Some historians believe that, had Napoleon been able to begin the attack earlier on the 18th, the battle would have ended in a French victory.”

An engraved vintage illustration image of the Duke of Wellington with his army at the Battle of Waterloo, from a Victorian book dated 1886 that is no longer in copyright
Posted in British history, Georgian England, Georgian Era, history, Living in the Regency, military, Napoleonic Wars, real life tales, Regency era, world history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Advancements in Agriculture During the Regency

The British Agricultural Revolution, or Second Agricultural Revolution, was an unprecedented increase in agricultural production in Britain arising from increases in labour and land productivity between the mid-17th and late 19th centuries. Agricultural output grew faster than the population over the hundred-year period ending in 1770, and thereafter productivity remained among the highest in the world. This increase in the food supply contributed to the rapid growth of population in England and Wales, from 5.5 million in 1700 to over 9 million by 1801, though domestic production gave way increasingly to food imports in the nineteenth century as the population more than tripled to over 35 million. (Richards, Denis; Hunt, J.W. (1983). An Illustrated History of Modern Britain: 1783–1980 (3rd ed.). Hong Kong: Longman Group UK LTD. p. 7)

For many years the agricultural revolution in England was thought to have occurred because of three major changes: the selective breeding of livestock; the removal of common property rights to land; and new systems of cropping, involving turnips and clover. All this was thought to have been due to a group of heroic individuals, who, according to one account, are ‘a band of men whose names are, or ought to be, household words with English farmers: Jethro Tull, Lord Townshend, Arthur Young, Bakewell, Coke of Holkham and the Collings.’ Most of these “tall tales” have been debunked, but there is some basis for the stories.

There is some belief that if agriculture could have sustained the population growth of the Roman period and again around 1650, the English countryside would have looked quite different. But it did not. It was not until after 1750, when the English population was accounted to be nearly 6 million strong that the need for agricultural reform took hold. Agriculture had to “keep up” with the need to feed more and more and more people. A hundred years later, in 1850, the population was pushing 17 million.

Agriculture was going through a renaissance at that time.

There was an Agricultural board  that put out an annual State of Agriculture. Many almanacks had plans for when to plant what and when to harvest.

The introduction of the four crop rotation led to better use of the land. The concept is simply. Instead of leaving a field fallow, it was planted with turnips or with clover, both of which brought nutrients to the soil.

One of the most important innovations of the British Agricultural Revolution was the development of the Norfolk four-course rotation, which greatly increased crop and livestock yields by improving soil fertility and reducing fallow.[6]

Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar types of crops in the same area in sequential seasons to help restore plant nutrients and mitigate the build-up of pathogens and pests that often occurs when one plant species is continuously cropped. Rotation can also improve soil structure and fertility by alternating deep-rooted and shallow-rooted plants. Turnip roots, for example, can recover nutrients from deep under the soil. The Norfolk four-course system, as it is now known, rotates crops so that different crops are planted with the result that different kinds and quantities of nutrients are taken from the soil as the plants grow. An important feature of the Norfolk four-field system was that it used labour at times when demand was not at peak levels. Unlike earlier methods such as the three-field system, the Norfolk system is marked by an absence of a fallow year. Instead, four different crops are grown in each year of a four-year cycle: wheat, turnips, barley, and clover or undergrass. (“Norfolk four-course system”Encyclopædia Britannica.) 

There was also a push to reclaim land, especially in eastern England, where from the 17th Century onward, where the fenlands were drained. Woodlands and upland pastures were also cleared.

In addition, the idea of farming crops in rows was still pretty new. Traditionally, crops like wheat were sowed in the broadcast fashion (flinging seeds out into the field, so they take root or not wherever they land). The Tullian method was to plant in rows, on mounds, at regular intervals, with the space between rows being hoed or plowed throughout the season. Dibbling was a planting method in which one crop is planted between rows of a different crop (wheat between rows of turnips, for example).

Other points of interest in the “Agricultural Revolution” include:

  • The Dutch improved the Chinese plough so that it could be pulled with fewer oxen or horses.
  • Enclosure: the removal of common rights to establish exclusive ownership of land – For many enclosure was the most meaningful  innovation of the agricultural revolution.
  • Development of a national market free of tariffs, tolls and customs barriers
  • Transportation infrastructures, such as improved roads, canals, and later, railways
  • Increase in farm size
  • Selective breeding

If one wants a quick look at farming during the era, I might suggest A History of Everyday Things in England, Part III (1733-1851) by Marjorie and C.H.B. Quennell. There is one chapter on the 18th Century and another on the 19th Century. It also examines the economic and political forces at work that affected the wages and livelihoods of farmers. Although copies are difficult to find, they are well worth the price.

The Dutch acquired the iron-tipped, curved mouldboard, adjustable depth plough from the Chinese in the early 17th century. This plough only required a pair of oxen to drag it through the earth as opposed to the 6 to 8 of the European model. The Dutch brought the plow to England when they were contracted to drain the fens and the moors to create more land for farming. Joseph Foljambe and others improved on the model. Its fittings and coulter were made of iron and moulboard and share were covered with an iron plate, making it even easier to pull. Foljambe made the ploughs in a factory in Rotherham, England, creating interchangeable parts for when something broke, so the farmer did not need to replace the whole plough. Many a blacksmith could replicate the broken parts in his smithy.

In Europe, from the Middle Ages onward, the practice of open fields had been commonplace. In this system subsistence farmers used strips of land in large fields for their own personal use. The foodstuffs produced were divided among all those using the field. Typically, these fields were owned by the aristocracy, or, early on, by the Catholic Church. The process of enclosing property accelerated in the 15th and 16th centuries. The more productive enclosed farms meant that fewer farmers were needed to work the same land, leaving many villagers without land and grazing rights. Many of them moved to the cities in search of work in the factories.

The commons were enclosed by a private act of parliament and the land turned into profitable farming or for sheep. This helped increase the profits of the landowner but prepossessed many common laborers who had managed a decent living using the commons as a pasture.

Lincoln Longwool

As to advancements in what came to be known as selective breeding, one must turn to the efforts of Robert Bakewell and Thomas Coke. The idea was to mate two different animals for their desirable characteristics and to stabilize certain qualities in order to reduce genetic diversity in desirable animal programs from the mid-18th century. Arguably, Bakewell’s most important breeding program was with sheep. Using native stock, he was able to quickly select for large, yet fine-boned sheep, with long, lustrous wool. Bakewell was also the first to breed cattle to be used primarily for beef. Previously, cattle were first and foremost kept for pulling ploughs as oxen or for dairy uses, with beef from surplus males as an additional bonus, but he crossed long-horned heifers and a Westmoreland bull to create the Dishley Longhorn. 

Unfortunately, the Agricultural Revolution in Britain proved to be a major turning point in history, allowing the population to far exceed earlier peaks and sustain the country’s rise to industrial pre-eminence. Towards the end of the 19th century, the substantial gains in British agricultural productivity were rapidly offset by competition from cheaper imports, made possible by the exploitation of new lands and advances in transportation, refrigeration, and other technologies.

Posted in British history, customs and tradiitons, estates, food, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Industrial Revolution, inventions, real life tales, Regency era | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Questions on Age of Consent for Marriage During the Regency Era

I often receive questions from readers or new authors to historical romance regarding the legal age to marry during the Regency. Below are some of the questions I have received and my response. Perhaps it will help another writer or reader.

Dance with Death Wedding by Rowlandson Wellcome

Question: I’ve been reading more than writing while I’ve been sick, and I keep seeing the age of consent for marriage being twenty-five years. I thought it was only twenty-one.   

Answer: If a young gentleman or young lady wanted to marry before reaching his or her age of majority (meaning age 21), he or she required the permission of his/her parent or guardian. The acceptable age of majority was 21 years of age. It was 1970 before England accepted the age of 18 for majority.

Parents/Guardians had to extend permission for individuals who were underage to marry in England. The only exception was where the underage party had been married before, say, in another country. The age of consent was 12 for girls and 14 for boys, but parental consent to marry by licence was needed for minors under the age of 21.

So, this means the girl could marry at age 12 and the boys at age 14 but ONLY with parental permission. A common marriage licence, and even a special licence, to marry an underage person had to be signed off on by a parent or guardian. This was a sworn statement that provided permission for the underaged. person or persons to marry. After age 21, the person could choose to marry whoever best pleased him/her. If they lied about having parental consent, the marriage could be set aside.

I do not know where people get the idea a female had to have a guardian until she married or until age 25. I believe the age of marrying without missioner was 25 in France, at the time, and perhaps such was the idea. However, I think the confusion comes from fathers or someone setting up a trust for a female. The trust would give her money at age 25 or when she married, if she married with the approval of the man named guardian of the money. If she didn’t have his approval, she could marry if over age 21, she just wouldn’t receive the money.

Question: If an underage lady (say 19) elopes to Gretna without her guardian’s consent, can the guardian have the marriage declared illegal and annulled?

Answer: No. One could marry in Scotland at 14 without permission.

The reason many made the trek to the Scottish border was because Scottish law said the couple only required a witness, not even a priest, and, as long as they were over fifteen, then English Law accepted a marriage that was witnessed in Scotland. The Smithy is just the first building one comes across over the Scottish border and that is how the Smithy became the place the deed was done and a couple married “over the anvil.” There were a dozen or more people living in Gretna Green who set themselves up to offer to be a witness to couples crossing the border. 

“Joseph Paisley was an ex-tobacconist and smuggler, renowned for his strength. He became a blacksmith, but quickly recognised it was more lucrative to marry eloping couples and became one of the first blacksmith priests in 1754. Despite becoming immensely fat and addicted to drink, he continued to conduct marriage ceremonies until his death in 1814.

“Robert Elliot was a farmer’s son who worked for a stagecoach company. In 1811, he married Paisley’s granddaughter, Ann Graham, in the parish church at Gretna Green. He became Paisley’s assistant in the marriage business and took over from him on his death in 1814. 

“In his memoirs, Elliot claimed to have performed between 4,000 and 8,000 marriage ceremonies before he retired from the business in 1840. However, some of the other facts in his memoirs were clearly wrong, so it is hard to know how accurate this figure is and impossible to confirm one way or the other as his registers, and those of Paisley, were destroyed in a fire.” (Regency History)

Scotland, also, had a civil register years before they appeared in England. One could be married merely by going to this register and having the man record the marriage. Quite often the man was willing to predate the entry back several months if the woman was pregnant even though it legally didn’t matter when the child was conceived. All that mattered was whether or not the parents were married when it was born.

Question: What about marrying by common license?  Did those have to be done at the local parish as well, or could they be done at any church?   

Also, how common were common licenses?  I can’t remember where I read that most aristocratic marriages were done by common license and only the lower classes had the banns read. Is this true?

Answer: The Common license required the name of the parish church in which the wedding would take place. According to the parish registers I have seen, many people of the gentry and middling sort, as well as aristocrats married by common license. Some felt the ribald remarks and tomfoolery committed by some of the villagers/friends kept them from having the banns called. Most of the special licenses were used by the aristocracy. 

Question: Did couples need to get special approval to marry at a local church, like St James’s or St Peter’s?  

Answer: A couple had to marry at their parish church unless they had a special license when they could marry at any place a clergyman would conduct the ceremony.

Question: I read somewhere that a couple could marry at age 6. How was that possible?

Answer: Okay, I could be wrong on this, but I believe someone twisted the meaning of “permission” to mean to marry at age six. It is my understanding, the couple could become engaged at age six, and the girl could break the engagement at age 12, if such was not her desire.

The number of marriages of “infants” decreased during the Age of Enlightenment and up until the 18th century when people started to think 16 was too young. Also, the trend was towards nuclear families instead of more communal living with many generations in the same house. Marriage statistics take in all classes of people. A peer of the realm or his wealthy heir could marry at any age. A man of lower status had to be established in his profession or job to be able to afford a wife. Quite often the would-be bride was also working in some way to acquire money for the new home. 

The fact it it was legal to marry at twelve and fourteen for girls and boys does not mean it was common. I have seen statistics saying that during the early 19th century the average age for women to marry in the British Isles was mid-twenties.

As for the short life expectancy, most of that is due to death in early childhood. If a person has six children, and three die before the age of one and the other three live to be seventy, their average life expectancy is thirty-five. As Sheldon Cooper would say on The Big Bang Theory: “Do the math.”

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