Reporting Scandals in the Regency Era

Of late, I have read several Regency era romances that speak of the most recent scandal being published in the newsprints of the day. One even made reference to an entire newspaper that was devoted to the latest on dit.

Okay, I do not pretend to be an expert. Journalism was one of my minors in school, and during my long teaching career, I was often called upon to teach the journalism classes. I do not recall ever reading of scandal sheets during the time period we call “the Regency era.” As we moved into the latter part of the Georgian era, meaning relatively, the reign of George IV, there were more “titillating” stories found in the news prints. I have been privileged to read digital copies of the Times, the Morning Post, and the Morning Chronicle during the Regency era. There was the occasional mention of so-and-so that might be considered as gossip, but nothing of the line of what I have come to see of late in a few of the newer Regency romances.

I did once come across an earlier copy of The Morning Post, cannot recall the date for it, but around 1800 that had a column some might consider to be a “gossip column,” but, in truth, I did not have that feeling when I first read it. 

The Morning Chronicle possessed a column about the doings of the royals and the fashionable sect. Mainly, it spoke of  who had arrived in Town and who had left, along with whom was entertaining with a dinner or a ball, etc. The Morning Herald supposedly was an early form of a “scandal sheet,” but I have never viewed a copy of that particular newspaper to determine if it were so or not.

 One source of written gossip was the detailed prints of the Criminal Conversation cases (Crim.con), meaning adultery, and the Parliamentary divorces that were reported along with other legal  news. However, I know of no true tabloid written during the time period. To the best of my knowledge, these stories of the public break up of a marriage and the naming of those involved were printed as pamphlets, but snippets of the tale were, upon occasion, included in the newspapers of the day. I suppose the importance of the persons involved played a role in that decision.

Caricatures were often displayed in print shop windows rather than printed, initially, in the newspapers. 

One must remember that there were hundreds of known newspapers, and, so, absolutes were impossible.  

There were scandals sheet in the earlier part of the 1700s; therefore, some may transfer those ideas to the Regency era. Those in London during the first part of the 18th Century would visit their favorite coffee house to read periodicals full of the latest scandals.

Zoe Archer at Unusual Historicals tells us: “Newspapers were a relatively recent phenomenon, and expensive. Not many could afford to have them delivered to their homes. To catch up on the latest gossip, men went to public coffee houses and gaming clubs, and women visited India Houses (tea shops with a considerable amount [number of] female customers), and there, over revivifying beverages, they could chat with friends and read about the scandalous events amongst London’s elite.

“Just like today, when we have a huge range of tabloids to choose from, the Londoner in search of scandal had a range of rags and broadsheets, including The Tatler [sic], The Flying PostThe British ApolloThe Observator, and The Female Tatler. Some were published for years. Others folded within weeks or months. The periodicals were themselves the subject of scandal, such as The Female Tatler, whose authorship by ‘Mrs. Crackenthorpe’ was debated, and, for a time, there were two Female Tatlers, each claiming to be real.”

We must not assume that the early 1800s were identical to the early 1700s. Anyone with a sense of the differences in the novels of the time can determine that the morals and the way they saw themselves in the world changed. The late 17th, early 18th century (1689–1750) in English literature is known as the Augustan Age. Writers at this time “greatly admired their Roman counterparts, imitated their works and frequently drew parallels between” contemporary world and the age of the Roman emperor Augustus (27 AD – BC 14). The Union of the Parliaments of Scotland and England in 1707 to form a single Kingdom of Great Britain and the creation of a joint state by the Acts of Union had little impact on the literature of England nor on national consciousness among English writers. The situation in Scotland was different: the desire to maintain a cultural identity while partaking of the advantages offered by the English literary market and English literary standard language led to what has been described as the “invention of British literature” by Scottish writers. English writers, if they considered Britain at all, tended to assume it was merely England writ large; Scottish writers were more clearly aware of the new state as a “cultural amalgam comprising more than just England”. [Crawford, Robert (1992). Devolving English Literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press.]

Meanwhile, the Regency was influenced by the birth of Romanticism. We know Jane Austen, the most prominent author of the period, was highly influenced by the novels she read as a young woman. The sentimental novel or the novel of sensibility is a genre which developed during the second half of the 18th century. Novels of manners were also developed in this time period. An interest in ancient English poetic forms and folk poetry blossomed.

Wikipedia and the Norton Anthology of English Literature tells us: “Romanticism was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century. Various dates are given for the Romantic period in British literature, but here the publishing of Lyrical Ballads in 1798 is taken as the beginning, and the crowning of Queen Victoria in 1837 as its end, even though, for example, William Wordsworth lived until 1850 and William Blake published before 1798. The writers of this period, however, ‘did not think of themselves as ‘Romantics’, and the term was first used by critics of the Victorian period.

“The Romantic period was one of major social change in England, because of the depopulation of the countryside and the rapid development of overcrowded industrial cities, that took place in the period roughly between 1785 and 1830. The movement of so many people in England was the result of two forces: the Agricultural Revolution, that involved the enclosure of the land, drove workers off the land, and the Industrial Revolution which provided them employment ‘in the factories and mills, operated by machines driven by steam-power’. Indeed, Romanticism may be seen in part as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, though it was also a revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, as well a reaction against the scientific rationalisation of nature. The French Revolution was an especially important influence on the political thinking of many of the Romantic poets.”

What I am saying about the Regency was the overall idea of “politeness” would keep a true scandal sheet from appearing. It was not the fact that the beau monde did not love repeating a scandal, but, rather, they preferred to “whisper” it than to “shout about” it. 

Entire newspapers devoted to gossip during the Regency period? From my reading of Roger Wilkes’ SCANDAL: A SCURRILOUS HISTORY OF GOSSIP, it seems newspapers focused only on reporting gossip and scandal did not begin to appear until the 1820s. The term “scandal sheet” did not come into the language until the 1890s. Pamphlets, yes. Columns in newspapers, yes. Broadsheets, yes, But entire newspapers, no.

Book Blurb: Newspaper and magazine gossip is a potent and sulphurous brew – much derided and much devoured – that long ago became part of the daily diet of millions. The raw ingredients are scandal, rumour, glamour and scurrility, and the best is shot through with (preferably illicit) sex, disclosure and danger. How and why has this happened, and where will this obsession lead us? “Scandal!” takes us from Regency London, where muck-raking scandal sheets were hawked in the streets, to the modern free-for-all where tabloid and internet gossip rule. From the madness of King George to the madness of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica, this book goes behind the scenes to look at the mechanisms that disseminate gossip and the power and influence that it continues to exert.

 

About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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2 Responses to Reporting Scandals in the Regency Era

  1. Angelyn says:

    I agree–a whole newspaper devoted to gossip touching on libel would be unusual. The publisher wouldn’t have lasted in the business very long. It seems easier to envision kids on the streets hawking scandal sheets printed from a clandestine press. And therefore few, if any, survived long enough to saved for posterity.

    • Totally agree. After all, engagements were not generally announced and only the briefest of messages might appear for a wedding, even of some of the top lofty aristocrats.

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