Regency Etiquette for Men and Women

I have never found an etiquette book publish during the Regency. The book named Regency Etiquette is not an etiquette book as we might think of it. The closest I once came was an etiquette book published in 1827. The “Etiquette of the Ballroom” in Thos. Wilson’s COMPANION TO THE BALLROOM deals with the etiquette of public assemblies. Thos. Wilson says the manners and practice of the aristocracy were often different and his rules would not necessarily apply. 

All that being said, I have just order this book on Amazon. Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century. Hopefully, it will live up to its book blurb, which says:

“A scholarly guide to etiquette as entertaining and amusing as a work of fiction” (Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine).
Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to live in the nineteenth century? How would you have gotten a partner in a ballroom? What would you have done with a letter of introduction? And where would you have sat in a carriage?
Covering all these nineteenth-century dilemmas and more, this book is your must-have guide to the etiquette of our well-heeled forebears. As it takes you through the intricacies of rank, the niceties of the street, the good conduct that was desired in the ballroom, and the awkward blunders that a lady or gentleman would have wanted to avoid, you will discover an abundance of etiquette advice from across the century, and a lively, occasionally tongue-in-cheek, and thoroughly detailed history of nineteenth-century manners and conduct.
This well-researched book is enjoyable, compelling reading for anyone with an interest in this period. In exploring the expectations of behavior and etiquette, it brings the world of the nineteenth century to lif

In the 1830s and 1840s there was a man who published etiquette books using the names of different people as authors. I have one from 1843 attributed to Alfred D’Orsay. [For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Alfred Guillaume Gabriel Grimod d’Orsay, comte d’Orsay (4 September 1801 – 4 August 1852) was a French amateur artist, dandy, and man of fashion in the early-to mid-19th century.

Alfred Guillaume Gabriel, Comte d’Orsay by George Hayter ~ Public Domain ~

Etiquette books were NOT written for aristocrats. They were written for those who would be called middle class and the noveau riche (new rich or rising rich), who wanted to know how to behave in a manner that would permit them to move among the aristocrats and upper class without embarrassing themselves. 

The earlier etiquette books of the 16th and 17th centuries were aimed at the aristocrats, or, I suppose I should say those who could read. The books concentrated mostly on behavior at the table. For example, one of the rules was not to eat with one’s knife. [I know you have seen bits in film where some aristocrat balanced his peas on a knife at the table while eating.] Rather, most diners had a spoon and a knife, while forks were only used to hold the meat steady while it was carved/sliced.

As a side note, if one is looking for something more modern, he might look to an “old” standard. Debrett’s has been recording everything pertinent to the aristocracy for years (births, marriages, deaths, titles, etc.) It offers Debrett’s New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners.

Combining traditional standards of conduct with modern innovations, this guide to etiquette covers everything from basic table manners to precedence at the State Opening of Parliament.

There is no better time than now for a definitive guide to contemporary civilized living. As traditional codes of behavior have given way to an increasingly informal society, many people are disconcerted by the current lack of guidelines. The established rules are as important as ever, but need adaptation for the complications and developments of the twenty-first century. The Debrett’s New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners cuts through the confusion to combine the very best of traditional standards of conduct with acceptable modern innovations. Packed with no-nonsense step-by-step advice, it covers everything from basic table manners to how to equip yourself at the grandest royal and diplomatic gatherings. Written with clarity and wit, this book celebrates the charm, beauty, and fascination of classic good manners, and their enduring role in a civilized society.

Now, back to the Georgian era: There was a man named Beau Nash in Bath. He was the Master of Ceremonies overseeing the assembly rooms in Bath.

The Historic Interpreter tells us, “. . . the Master of Ceremonies controlled the ballroom.  He was responsible for introductions, instructing the musicians, deciding which dances to do and in what sequence, maintaining order and settling any disputes.

“In addition, other items kept the Master of Ceremonies busy throughout the evening. For instance, there were rules that no gentleman could enter the ballroom in half boots or boots, nor carrying a cane, nor could any military man enter carrying his sword; and that no two ladies could dance together without his express permission. (It is doubtful how often this was enforced outside of the major venues such as Bath and London. This was a period where England’s Army and Navy were busy reigning in Bonaparte’s activities on the Continent and at sea so, there was a shortage of young, eligible men at many of the balls. It was apparently so prevalent, that Jane Austen remarks on it in her letters.)”

Basically, aristocratic children were supposed to learn from parents and tutors and governesses.

In Fanny Burney’s Evelina, which was first published in 1778 and was a HUGE hit, the whole point is that females are on display. They were the commodities, not the shoppers. Essentially, as a female one was not permitted to turn down a man who had asked you to dance unless you were so incapacitated you could not dance for an entire evening. This rule was so strict a chaperone would have enforced it upon a young lady if the girl had been inclined to hesitate. (Lots of people say Burney made up the rule, for they have not seen it anywhere else, except maybe Georgette Heyer, but that is another rabbit hole I am avoiding, at this time.) Personally, as an author I like the rule. How else could Jane Austen force Elizabeth Bennet to dance with Mr. Darcy at the Netherfied Ball and have them fight over Mr. Wickham, which is a major plot point in the story of Pride and Prejudice?)

Having said that, some of the current romance novels do not stay as close to historical accuracy as I would prefer, so one may find a very cunning heroine and a dull chaperone to which these manners mean nothing. I was reading a novel recently where the heroine was strolling by herself around Mayfair because she “needed to think” and then visiting a man by herself in the evening “because she had something to say.” The historical part was dreadful, but the romance part — Had conflict! Drama! Danger! — It was pretty well done. If I were asked for a rating, I would have presented the book a 3 out 5. While I enjoyed it, the loss of the “history,” though not convenient for the author was most inconvenient for me. I could not quite remove it from my mind. So maybe it worked for Jane Austen (assuming Burney made up the rules of etiquette), but not for a modern day author who took the “liberty” a bit too far. Just saying.

Cover of Volume 2 of Evelina – Public Domain ~

Evelina, or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World is a novel written by English author Fanny Burney and first published in 1778. In this 3-volume epistolary novel, the title character Evelina is the unacknowledged, but legitimate daughter, of a dissipated English aristocrat, and thus raised in rural seclusion until her 17th year. Through a series of humorous events that take place in London and the resort town of Hotwells, near Bristol, Evelina learns to navigate the complex layers of 18th-century society and come under the eye of a distinguished nobleman with whom a romantic relationship is formed in the latter part of the novel. This sentimental novel, which has notions of sensibility and early romanticism, satirizes the society in which it is set and is a significant precursor to the work of Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth, whose novels explore many of the same issues.

There were etiquette books published in the 18th century for men and some published later in the 19th century for men, but one will have difficulty finding any for females until late Victorian time. What they had in the Georgian era were many conduct books. Regency Etiquette (a book published 1811) Is more deportment and decorum than etiquette. There were many books about conduct and female education. I  guess their mothers would have taught them which fork to use, or not to use, before they were out, while the etiquette books were for the men moving up in society or the courtiers who still ate their peas with a knife. (See my explanation above…)

We, as Regency romance readers and writers, know those who lived through the period, had ways of handling calling cards and dinner invitations, etc., for they have come down to us from writers such as Georgette Heyer, but did Heyer make up “rules,” as did Burney. Some say she did. In truth, it is difficult to find any books of the period which address some of the things we have come to accept in historical romances. For example, we read how the patronesses of Almacks prohibited any young lady to dance the waltz (after 1816) without permission from one of the patronesses, but so far nothing of the period says such. We find this “rule” only in Georgette Heyer. Period literature does not mention these restrictions.

Other Possibilities for Research for Those Interested:

The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness Being a Complete Guide for a Gentleman’s Conduct in all his Relations Towards Society by Cecil B. Hartley (Kindle version is free on Amazon)

 A System of Etiquette and a manual of politeness by John Trusler. One in Google books was published in 1804, but it was of an earlier date I believe. It is for young men.

The Mirror Of The Graces Or The English Lady’s Costume: Containing General Instructions For Combining Elegance, Simplicity, And Economy With Fashion In Dress (1830)

This book, entitled The Mirror of the Graces, is a guide to ladies’ fashion and etiquette, first published in 1811.

As the title page outlines, the book combines ‘taste and judgment, elegance and grace, modesty, simplicity and economy, with fashion in dress; and adapting the various articles of female embellishments to different ages, forms, and complexions; to the seasons of the year, rank, and situation in life: with useful advice on female accomplishments, politeness, and manners; the cultivation of the mind and the disposition and carriage of the body: offering also the most efficacious means of preserving beauty, health, and loveliness. The whole according with the general principles of nature and rules of propriety.’ The author is described as a ‘LADY OF DISTINCTION, who has witnessed and attentively studies what is esteemed truly graceful and elegant amongst the most refined Nations of Europe’.

Says it is etiquette, but not like our etiquette books. It has beauty tips and warnings about not romping about on the dance floor.


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in British history, customs and tradiitons, dancing, Georgian England, Georgian Era, historical fiction, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Living in the UK, marriage customs, peerage, Pride and Prejudice, real life tales, Regency romance, research, romance, tradtions, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Regency Etiquette for Men and Women

  1. Kevin Lindsey says:

    I will be interested to hear what you think of that book. As a living historian I like reading period etiquette books to help me be more authentic. I know Washington and Jefferson had copies of Chesterfield, which seemed to dominate the era. Some of earliest I have found are The American Chesterfield (1827) which cleaned him up a bit and addressed it to Americans, and The Young Man’s Own Book (1835). Both are republished by Westphalia press as Expansive Civility and Manifest Civility respectively. A modern Regency era etiquette book I did enjoy was Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners by Josephine Ross and illustrated by Henrietta Webb. (2006). It’s described as light hearted, entertaining, and instructive. To me it was all 3.

  2. I thank you kindly, Kevin, for the other sources you mentioned and where to find them. I was especially interested in the Jefferson comment, for the “Jeffers” part of my pen name is purposeful. Many blessings…

    • Kevin Lindsey says:

      You’re welcome. The book “Jefferson on Display-Attire, Etiquette, and the Art of Presentation” by G.S. Wilson mentions that Jefferson had it in his library, and that it was very popular with the 18th century gentleman. I have seen a picture of Washington’s copy with his signature in it. The book was still in the library of books when Jefferson sold them to Congress.

Comments are closed.