Governesses in the Regency Era (Part 3)

This post originally appeared on Babblings of a Book Worm. Enjoy!

Women who took on the role of governess during the early years of the nineteenth century had no idea they were changing history. As more and more families demanded a woman with a more extensive education than what people originally thought young girls should receive, the question arising in the mid to late decades of the 1800s revolved around the idea of if a governess has not received a complete education, then she cannot teach her charges what they must know to be productive in society. By the Victorian era, the structure for schooling for girls underwent a great change. The issues surrounding governesses and what women in society were taught was a means to keep women suppressed. By the late 1800s, women demanded an education so they could seek jobs outside the family unit. 

In the 18th Century governesses were considered valuable members of the family. Often the women employed as a governess were the “poor” relations of the wealthier branch of the family tree. In other words, they generally came from titled families. The 19th Century saw governesses being employed in the homes of middle-class families. They provided an education for the younger children and social instruction, but they also safeguarded the virginal innocence of their female students. A separate schoolroom for the use of instruction also came about in the early years of the 1800s. Governesses were not members of the household, nor were they considered servants. Many earned about thirty pounds annually. 

One of the greatest changes seen occurred when employers demanded the governesses they hired be able to teach their sons equally as well as the boys might receive in a public or private educational facility. Governesses were encouraged to expand their knowledge. For example, the North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women released a lecture series covering natural sciences and history. Attendees could take an exam at the end of the series and earn a “certificate of credit,” of sorts to prove their “expertise” in the subject matter. The lecture series, along with journals and magazines, shared lessons, schoolroom techniques, and classroom management. This led to more formalized standards/qualifications for governesses. [Joan Burstyn, Victorian Education and the Ideal of Womanhood, 1980, Barnes & Noble Books, page 23]

Enjoy the excerpt below in which Darcy watches Elizabeth teach Mr. Hurst’s sons in my novel, Pemberley’s Christmas Governess.

Book Blurb: 

Pemberley’s Christmas Governess: A Holiday Pride and Prejudice Vagary

Two hearts. One kiss. 

Following his wife’s death in childbirth. Fitzwilliam Darcy hopes to ease his way back into society by hosting a house party during Christmastide. He is thrilled when his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam sends a message saying not only will he attend, but the colonel is bringing a young woman with him of whom he hopes both Darcy and his mother, Lady Matlock, will approve. Unfortunately, upon first sight, Darcy falls for the woman: He suspects beneath Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s conservative veneer lies a soul which will match his in every way; yet, she is soon to be the colonel’s wife. 

Elizabeth Bennet lost her position as a governess when Lady Newland accuses Elizabeth of leading her son on. It is Christmastide, and she has no place to go and little money to hold her over until after Twelfth Night; therefore, when Lieutenant Newland’s commanding officer offers her a place at his cousin’s household for the holy days, she accepts in hopes someone at the house party can provide her a lead on a new position. Having endured personal challenges which could easily have embittered a lesser woman, to all, Elizabeth proves herself brave, intelligent, educated in the fine arts of society, and deeply honorable. Unfortunately, she is also vulnerable to the Master of Pemberley, who kindness renews her spirits and whose young daughter steals her heart. The problem is she must leave Pemberley after the holidays, and she does not know if a “memory” of Fitzwilliam Darcy will be enough to sustain her.


Twice more that afternoon, Darcy and the countess had welcomed guests to Pemberley. As if nothing unusual had occurred earlier, neither of them uttered a word regarding the colonel’s announcement. 

Between the arrival of Miss Davidson and her brother, both long time Derbyshire acquaintances of Georgiana and another pair of brother and sister, Mr. Whalen, a casual friend of Darcy from his university days, and the man’s sister, Miss Whalen, Darcy had made his way to the nursery to peer in on Miss Bennet’s progress with Hursts’ boys, who he, personally, thought could use a firmer hand on their shoulders. 

He peeked into the rooms set aside for the school room to watch Miss Bennet place metal figures of soldiers on a map of Europe Darcy recognized as once belonging to him, at a time when Mr. Sheffield had been his tutor, rather than his valet. Instantly, an image of one of his favorite memories of his mother came rushing in. Lady Anne Darcy was sprawled out upon the nursery room floor playing pirate with him as she assembled a stack of boxes to provide him a hiding place. Since Cassandra’s birth, he had often thought he wished to replicate such moments with his child. He almost ached from the knowledge Anne would never be able to see their child grow into womanhood. 

“This, Horace, is the French leader, Bonaparte.” Miss Bennet placed the figure on the map. “What did we learn a moment ago regarding how the English commander, the Duke of Wellington—” She paused to touch a soldier painted with a redcoat. “. . . managed to outmaneuver the French at Waterloo?” 

The boy looked to Miss Bennet with a bit of awe before responding. “Wellington’s men used the constant rain as their partner during the battle.” 

“I know. I know,” his brother chimed in. “Old Boney could not move his heavy guns in the rain.” 

The lady placed a comforting hand on the child to draw his attention to her lesson. “Excellent response from both of you, but, please remember, Philip, a gentleman would not speak of his enemy with a derogatory term. We agreed to call the French commander by his proper name.” 

Darcy would disagree with her statement, but he knew the boy’s tutor would likely reward the child with a slap on the back of his hand, instead of the touch of comfort the lady supplied. Her gentle prompting might save the child a harder lesson to learn. 

“I am sorry, Miss Bennet.” Philip dropped his chin in what appeared to be honest regret. 

“Nothing major of which to be sorry,” she assured. “Just remember, young gentlemen must always speak well. People will judge you with first impressions, and you wish those judgements to be in your favor.” 

“When may we finish setting up the battlefield?” Horace asked. 

Miss Bennet smiled on the boys. “If you have a steady hand, we might do the deed now so you may consider your strategies before I return in the morning.” 

“May we play soldier with a few of the red and blue ones until you return?”

She glanced up to notice Darcy standing in the open door and smiled. He thought her smile could prove quite addictive.

“I did not mean to disturb you, Miss Bennet. I thought I might steal a few moments with my daughter.” He, most assuredly, came regularly to the nursery to spend time with his child, but such was not his purpose on this occasion. He wanted to ease his mind regarding the Hursts’ abuse of Miss Bennet’s goodness. 

“I believe Miss Cassandra is asleep,” she said softly. “Mrs. Anderson slipped down to the kitchen for fresh tea. I told her I would remain until her return.” 

“Teaching the boys something of Waterloo, I see,” he remarked as he entered the school room. 

She glanced to the array of toy soldiers before her. “The boys and I agree we could enjoy playing while learning something of England’s history, although, in reality, I suppose some of our men should be wearing green like the French chasseurs.” A blush caressed her cheeks. “As I have tended young ladies for the last four years, I fear my historical studies have been placed aside for more feminine attributes.” 

“You studied history?” he asked, curious about this particular woman. 

“Not formally, but my father was a great reader of a variety of topics, which he shared with any of his daughters who cared to learn more.” Her smile widened. “As I was his favorite, we spent countless hours reading and dissecting passages full of history, science, the classics, and the like.” 

Darcy stepped further into the room. “I possess an extensive library at Pemberley. If you wish to partake of reading, do so to your heart’s content.” 

Tears misted her eyes. “Truly, you do not mind, sir? Your generosity is a lovely gift.” An idea found her as she glanced again to the two boys who shoved first one soldier forward and then the next while making sounds of combat. “Might you possess any pieces on the battles of the most recent war? The boys and I could read them together and act out the battles on the map with the soldiers.” 

“I will pull a few books which might prove beneficial and ask Mr. Nathan to deliver them to your quarters. If you have no objections, I will add a tome on the Jacobites. My cousin Fitzwilliam and I always enjoyed acting out the bloodiest of the battles.” He smiled in memory. “The colonel would be pleased to share his interest in the rebellion. I am certain my cousin has spoken of his deep interest in history.” 

Her face took on a puzzled look. “I cannot say Colonel Fitzwilliam and I have held a long enough acquaintance to have shared such memories.”


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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