Meet Francis Grose, Author of the 1811 Dictionary of theVulgar Tongue

As my novels are set in the early part of the 1800s, attempting to discover appropriate words to express “dismay” or “disgust” often sends me searching out my online copy of 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, a Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence. The book is written by one Francis Grose.  

Amazon describes the books as such… 

The Georgian “Profanisaurus”.

From the 1790s to the 1820s, numerous editions of the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue were published. Looking at the slang and vernacular language of the time, this dictionary pre-dated Roger Mellie’s best-selling Profanisaurus by a good 200 years. Reprinted here, it covers the rude, the crude and the downright vulgar.Learn how the Georgians and early Victorians would insult each other and find out how some of today’s words and derivations have come about. But most of all, just dip in and see how our ancestors considered and talked about such subjects as sex and the workings of the human body.

But who was Francis Grose? Born about 1731, at Greenford, Middlesex, Francis Grose was the eldest son Francis Grose (Sr.) or (Equire) and his wife Ann Bennett (or Bennet), daughter of one Thomas Bennett [you JAFF fans will know I smiled when I saw this name] of Kingston, Oxfordshire, who happen to be my 6th Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother. Francis Sr. was born in Berne, Switzerland, an immigrant who came to England in the early 18th Century, with a pedigree in the College of Arms. He was a jeweller of some renown living at Richmond in Surrey. He fitted up the coronation crown of George III (some accounts say George II, but either way he was a jeweller to a king). He was also a collector of prints and shells, which were sold around 1770. 

Frances Jr. (my 6th Great-Uncle)  received a classical education, but did not attend university. He studied art at Shipley’s and even exhibited a stained drawing entitled “High Life below Stairs” with the Incorporated Society of Artists in 1768. In 1769, he exhibited tinted drawings of an architectural nature at the Royal Academy. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 23, “Grose illustrated many of his own works, and some of his original drawings are in the British Museum (Fagan, Handbook of Dept. of Prints, p. 193). From 12 June 1755 till 1763 he was Richmond herald. He then became adjutant and paymaster in the Hampshire militia. He said his only account-books were his right and left hand pockets: into one he put what he received, and from the other he paid out. From 1778 (or earlier) till his death, he was captain and adjutant of the Surrey militia. In 1773 he published the first number of his ‘Antiquities of England and Wales,’ &c., and completed the work in 1787 (London, 4 vols. folio; new ed. 8 vols. London [1783-] 1797, 4to.). Many of the drawings were made by himself, but in the letterpress he was helped by other antiquaries.”

As Francis Sr. was quite wealthy, Francis Jr. came into his wealth, which he quickly spent without much care as to when his next full pocket would be.

In 1789, he toured Scotland and enjoyed the patronage of Robert Riddell, another well-known antiquary, staying at Riddle’s estate, Friars Carse. There he made the acquaintance of Robert Burns, who wrote of Grose’s “Peregrinations through Scotland, collecting the Antiquities of that kingdom,” his “Hear, Land o’Cakes, and brither Scots.” 

Burns was quite vocal regarding Grose. He wrote “Ken ye ought o’ Captain Grose?” and what is termed a rather coarse “Epigram of Captain Grose.” 

The Antiquities of Scotland, published in 1789-1791, 2 vols. 4to. came about from in stay in that land. 

Early in 1791, he traveled to Ireland to for another antiquarian tour, but died on 12 May of an apoplectic fit while dining with his friend, Nathaniel Hone, in Dublin. He was buried on 18 May  in Drumcondra Church, near Dublin. 

From Wikipedia, we find this list of his works: 

A list of works ordered by original year of the publication of the first volume:


The Dictionary of National Biography says of Grose, “Grose has been described as a sort of antiquarian Falstaff. He was immensely corpulent, full of humour and good nature, and ‘an inimitable boon companion’ (Noble, Hist. of the College of Arms, pp. 434-438, Gent. Mag., 1791, vol.lxi, pt. ii. p. 660). There is a full-length portrait of him, drawn by N. Dance and engraved by F. Bartolozzi, at the beginning of his ‘Antiquities of England,’ vol. i. 1st ed. (for other portraits, see Noble, pp. 436-7; and Gent. Mag. 1791, vol. lxi. pt. i. pp. 493-494). Grose lived chiefly at Mulberry Cottage, Wandsworth Common (Brayley, Surrey, iii. r99). He married Catherine, daughter of Mr. Jordan of Canterbury, by whom he had two sons and five daughters. The eldest son, Colonel Francis Grose, was deputy-governor of Botany Bay (Notes and Queries, ser. ii. 47, 257, 291).” 

Posted in British history, England, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Great Britain, real life tales, research, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What Did It Mean to Be a “Gentleman” in Jane Austen’s England?

The word “genteel” is an adjective, meaning polite, refined, or respectable, often in an affected or ostentatious way. Its roots can be found in the late 16th century (in the sense ‘fashionable, stylish’): from French gentil ‘well-born’. From the 17th century to the 19th century the word was used in such senses as ‘of good social position’, ‘having the manners of a well-born person’, ‘well bred’. The ironic or derogatory implication dates from the 19th century, in which the Regency era lies. (

Meanwhile, “gentleman” is a noun, meaning a chivalrous, courteous, or honorable man, as in “He behaved like a perfect gentleman.” The word can also mean a man of good social position, especially one of wealth and leisure, or, as used in the United Kingdom, a man of noble birth attached to a royal household. The term comes from Middle English (in the sense ‘man of noble birth’): from gentle + man, translating Old French gentilz hom . In later use the term denoted a man of a good family (especially one entitled to a coat of arms) but not of the nobility. (

Most of us believe we know how the word is defined, and, I imagine, for many, your personal definition of a “gentleman” is based on behavior. However, that was not always the case during the Regency era. A man could be a “rake” or womanizer, but still be considered a gentleman. Our modern day definition of a “gentleman” does not take in those ranked as gentlemen in the order of precedence, right under “esquire,” which was not a term only used by lawyers of that day. If you wonder what I mean by Order of Precedence, check out this table on Wikipedia. We must remember that during the aristocracy only included those with a peerage. I often emphasize in my Austen-inspired books that Colonel Fitzwilliam is the younger son of an earl, but he is still a commoner, as is Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bennet, and even Mr. Collins. Only the colonel’s father is part of the peerage. Even the gentleman’s mother’s place in society depends upon her husband’s position. However, although the colonel, Darcy, Bennet, and Collins are all “equally” gentlemen by use of the term during the Regency, no one would think them equal otherwise. 

Therefore, when Elizabeth Bennet argues her point regarding Lady Catherine’s objections of Elizabeth setting her sights too high on the “order of precedence” by aspiring to marry Mr. Darcy, her ladyship’s response appears to make more sense. Elizabeth’s father was part of the landed gentry, but Mrs. Bennet’s roots lies in trade, as does Mrs. Bennet’s brother, Mr. Gardiner, and her sister, Mrs. Phillips. 

Elizabeth: “In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal.”

Lady Catherine: “True. You are a gentleman’s daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition.”

The good colonel’s father, an earl, had enough money to purchase him a position of rank in the Army. He is commissioned as an “officer and a gentleman.” His rank has nothing to do with whether Colonel Fitzwilliam truly behaved as a “gentleman,” as the modern term indicates. He could have been a rascal of a man, but still hold the term “gentleman” as part of his recognition in society. In these cases the definition has more connection to being of gentle birth than giving up a chair to a lady. The two definitions are connected because being genteel, or of the gentry, meaning of gentle birth also came with rules for expected behavior. It is hard to describe the meaning of Gentleman, specially to those who have no idea of the  milieu in which Jane Austen was raised. It is a quite tricky question. How about we sat instead: “A gentleman is one who has never had to work for a living and comes from a land-owning family”? The church, the law, and the army were considered suitable occupations for a gentleman during the Regency, but in practice, some were more equal than others. No one would have taken Mr. Collins for Mr. Darcy’s equal, though both would be called gentlemen.

The term “gentleman” during the Regency is a fascinating conundrum, basically because the idea and legal aspects of being a ‘gentleman’ was in flux, in transition, under attack, so to say, as was the entire upper class. Gentleman was a legal term and inheritable title according to long-standing laws. New ideas such as Thomas Paine’s “The Rights of Man,” a book published in two parts, March 1791 and February 1792, and containing 31 articles, posits that popular political revolution is permissible when a government does not safeguard the natural rights of its people. Using these points as a base it defends the French Revolution against Edmund Burke’s attack in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Once must understand that the French Revolution presented real threats to legitimacy of the hereditary ruling classes.

The growing wealth of the middle class purchasing their way into the gentry was another threat. Mr. Bingley in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a prime example of this situation.  Jane Austen’s books all deal with that question: “What is a true gentleman?” But because of the laws where only the first son inherited, second sons, ostensibly part of the upper class and a gentleman, had to have something to live on Again, I return to Colonel Fitzwilliam in the same book.

“Do you certainly leave Kent on Saturday?” said she.

“Yes—if Darcy does not put it off again. But I am at his disposal. He arranges the business just as he pleases.”

“And if not able to please himself in the arrangement, he has at least pleasure in the great power of choice. I do not know anybody who seems more to enjoy the power of doing what he likes than Mr. Darcy.”

“He likes to have his own way very well,” replied Colonel Fitzwilliam. “But so we all do. It is only that he has better means of having it than many others, because he is rich, and many others are poor. I speak feelingly. A younger son, you know, must be inured to self-denial and dependence.”

“In my opinion, the younger son of an earl can know very little of either. Now seriously, what have you ever known of self-denial and dependence? When have you been prevented by want of money from going wherever you chose, or procuring anything you had a fancy for?”

“These are home questions—and perhaps I cannot say that I have experienced many hardships of that nature. But in matters of greater weight, I may suffer from want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like.”

Without forfeiting his rank, a landless gentleman could be a barrister because a barrister was presented an honorarium, not a salary for his services, but not he could not become a solicitor because a solicitor received a salary or fee for work.  A vicar was given a ‘living’, possibly several, which was not considered a salary. He often did not work, per se, generally hiring others to do any work. A military officer was another story with its own issues, and one of the more serious threats to the gentry during the Napoleonic era. There were far more officers needed during the twenty years of war than could be supplied by the upper classes. After a fashion, buying a commission or earning a position of authority in the Royal Navy was seen as an entry into the gentry. Do you not recall Sir Walter’s objections to Frederick Wentworth in Austen’s novel, Persuasion? Wentworth has more value when he returns as a “Captain” and has a fortune of £30,000.

Gronow’s wonderful book is a great illustration of an officer being among the upper classes, but as a war-minted gentleman without much money, he was not fully accepted.

For those of you seeking more information on this topic, there is an interesting 200+ page thesis by Ailwood, Sarah, “What Men Ought to be: Masculinities in Jane Austen novels.” University of Woolongong Theses Collection 2008 that can be downloaded at: It addresses Austen’s ideas of Masculinity, which pretty much targets the society of gentlemen.

Posted in Austen Authors, British history, customs and tradiitons, film adaptations, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, marriage customs, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, real life tales, Regency era | Tagged , , , , ,

Life Below Stairs – The Expense of Keeping Servants

The landed aristocrats were VERY slow to give up the expenses of an extensive household staff. We saw that “plot” being used in the final season of Downton Abbey. It is said that the sixth Duke of Portland employed some 300 servants. Even Queen Victoria kept a separate staff of Indian cooks to prepare her daily curry midday meal. 

The fourth Earl of Ashburnham recorded these expenses for his household (via the East Sussex Record Office): £769 for wages and house labourers; £300 for beer for the servants’ meals; £138 on liveries and hats. 

From Royal Chef by Gabriel Tschumi (1954, William Kimber Publishing) speaks of an additional 24 French chefs being employed for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. Forty to fifty servants was the norm for the larger landed estates. Believe it or not, the number of indoor male servants defined a man’s status in the world. This delineation was especially important in the Victorian era. At the beginning of Victoria’s reign, a house steward would earn £70 – 80 (while a good housekeeper might earn only £30 – 40). 


Attingham Park attinghamparkmansion.

A tax on male servants was legislated in 1777 to help pay for the cost of fighting the Americans in the Revolutionary War. This practice continued during the long years of the Napoleonic conflict. If there eleven or more male servants in a household, the tax was a little over £7 for each. This tax was gradually reduced to 15 shillings by the end of 1869, but it was not abolished until 1937. Needless to say, this tax was a considerable burden on those who saw the need for male servants in their household. 

The same Earl of Ashburnham mentioned above once paid £21 15s 9d male servant tax for a half year (1843). In addition, he was assessed a tax of £11 on his carriages, £1 4s for his armorial bearings, plus a 10% surcharge. 


The Footman

A duty on hair powder (1786 -1869) increased the cost of powdered footmen. The employer also provided the footmen with an allowance of £1 – 2 for the powder. It was common for the footmen to use household flour to save on the costs. Tailored livery for male servants also added to the expense of keeping the servants. Doudneys of Old Bond Street and Burlington Arcade charged 3 guineas for a footman’s livery. Two new suits of clothing were common for each male servant. 


The Footman

Victorian Fashion - Undress Liveries

Victorian Fashion – Undress Liveries

Some male servants were done away with by the beginning of Victoria’s reign. For example, the running footman, the male cook, and the sewer. Higher wages, taxes, and additional expenses aided the employers to be rid of these extravagances. According to Frank Huggett’s Life Below Stairs (page 23) from the 1901 Census report we learn, “Although the figures are not strictly comparable, because of changes in methods of classification, the official census of England and Wales shows that the total number was reduced from 74,323 in 1851 to 58,527 in 1891. Only the wealthiest could afford to employ the full range of house steward, footmen, usher, page and ‘tiger,’ plus coachmen, grooms and gardeners. Others, whose income at the beginning of the reign amounted to no more than £1000 or £1200 a year were advised to be content with a single male servant or, they had only £600 or £700, with a footboy.

Employment as a footboy to a clergyman, a lady, or a farmer, whose fortunes did not match their social aspirations, was one of the methods by which a lad could enter service in the first half of the nineteenth century, though it was more common, and usually more satisfactory, to obtain some less ostentatious position on a large estate instead.

‘Footboy’ was often a euphemism for ‘general dogsbody’ or ‘man-of-all-work’, as Henry White [Henry White, The Record of My Life, Cheltenham, 1889, page 59] found in 1837 when, at the age of fifteen, he started to work for Dr Sisson, the rector of Duntisborne, Gloucestershire. In addition to his more formal duties in livery, he was expected to clean the boots and the knives, to do some gardening, to act as ‘groom and coachman’ for the rector’s only conveyance – a humble donkey cart – and, in his spare time, to make himself generally useful! His livery, which had been tailored for him in the neighbouring town of Cirencester, would not have disgraced the footman of a lord. It consisted of a conventional full dress suit of ‘low shining shoes, white stockings, black plush breeches, with bright buckle and buttons at the knees, a brilliant brimstone-coloured waistcoat, covered by a bright sky-blue coat, pigeon-tailed, of course, with stand-up collar, embroidered with two rows of gold braid, and finishing with a set of yellow buttons.’ When he tried it on, he was then summoned to the drawing room where his ‘young mistress was pleased to make some the smallness of my legs, but this, as the Doctor sagely remarked, was an evil which would grow less every day.'” 


Posted in British history, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Great Britain, Living in the Regency, Living in the UK, Napoleonic Wars, Regency era, servant life, Uncategorized, Victorian era | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Many Visions of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” a Guest Post from Eliza Shearer

With the latest release of Emma at the theatres over the weekend, I thought some of you might like to view the various adaptations of Austen’s Emma through the eyes of another. This post originally appeared on Austen Authors on March 3, 2020.

SPOILER ALERT: I don’t wish to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of the latest film version of Emma but I discuss it in some detail below, so if you haven’t seen it yet but plan to watch it, please look away now!

We have been eagerly awaiting it since the last trailer made it to YouTube. Emma., with a full stop, is finally here. The bottom line: the visuals are stunning and I enjoyed it, even though I found it lacking in bits. It also got me thinking about the different Emma adaptations that have graced our screens in the last quarter of a century.

Emma: Handsome, Clever, Rich

Gwyneth Paltrow was my first Emma. I saw the 1996 film adaptation before I read the novel, so for years, Paltrow’s portrayal had a substantial impact on how I saw Austen’s character. However, I revisited the film recently, and it didn’t live up to my memories. Paltrow looks the part, but her acting is a bit off. It’s almost as if she was detached from everything happening around her.

Romola Garai in the 2009 BBC mini-series is quite the opposite. This is a much less restrained Emma, a girl full of passion and not beneath the odd tantrum. I did not like Garai in the first episodes; I found her too unladylike, with all that huffing and puffing. However, she does improve in later episodes, and towards the end, I thought she was quite good.

In the new Emma., Anna Taylor-Joy manages to make Emma very likeable despite her flaws, and therein lies my problem: Austen never intended for Emma to be that lovable. “I’m going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like,” she famously said, but Taylor-Joy’s big brown eyes make us root for her a bit too much.

The Best Friend

Even before they become friends, Emma knows Harriett Smith “very well by sight”, and that she is interested in her “on account of her beauty”. Jane Austen further gives us a detailed physical description of Harriet, something rare in her work, and it’s worth transcribing it in full:

She was a very pretty girl, and her beauty happened to be of the sort which Emma particularly admired. She was short, plump, and fair, with a fine bloom, blue eyes, light hair, regular features, and a look of great sweetness (…).

Emma, Chapter III

Given this description, why casting directors insist on selecting actresses that don’t fit Austen’s characterisation is a mystery to me. They are never as pretty as Emma (who is merely “handsome”), and as a result, the dynamics of the relationship are entirely skewed. Why would Emma want to become best friends with a rather dim and pliable girl with no family connections, if it wasn’t because she is truly a beauty to behold?

Another point of contention for me is that the actresses who play Harriet are always far too tall (just as Georgiana Darcy is typically played by actresses who are too short). My perfect Harriet would be petite and very pretty, like a live doll that Emma is drawn to play with. However, Gemma Whelan (the latest Harriett) is 5′ 6″, as is Louise Dylan (of the 2009 mini-series). Whelan at least is a blonde. Toni Collette is a terrific actress but, at 5′ 8″ and with her hair dyed red, she is miscast, to say the least.

The Hero

The actors playing Mr Knightley have a tough job. The character walks a fine line, and bringing to the screen the journey from family friend to romantic interest is undoubtedly a challenge. In general, I can only praise the gentlemen who have played him. Johnny Lee Miller, in particular, gets the look just right, although I can’t help but see Edmund Bertram at times in his portrayal.

I always imagined Mr Knightley as dark-haired, but I won’t hold this against Johnny Flynn, who is otherwise a very good actor. My problem with his casting doesn’t lie with his youthful looks for his age, but rather with his evident sex-appeal. When he appeared on screen for the first time, at least half of the audience in the cinema audibly gasped. It’s hard to undergo a believable evolution from uncle figure to dashing lover in that situation.

There is also the issue of the portrayal of the relationship between Mr Woodhouse and Mr Knightley. In Emma., the supposed friendship between Mr Knightley and Emma’s father is not really shown on screen. As a result, it looks like they don’t have much in common, other than their joint affection for Emma. I realise there are necessary edits to be made in feature films, but this is no excuse: the 1996 version manages much better to create the illusion of closeness between both men.

The Other Men

Mr Elton, in Austen’s words, “was reckoned very handsome”, to the point of Mr Woodhouse calling him “a very pretty young man”. Josh O’Connor isn’t quite right in the 2020 version, and it doesn’t help that he plays Mr Elton as a pseudo-Mr Collins. In comparison, Blake Ritson in the 2009 mini-series is excellent. As well as good-looking, Ritson’s portrayal of the character’s self-interest, vanity and superficiality is spot on.

As to Frank Churchill, I’m afraid the film versions don’t do the character justice. I am a huge Ewan McGregor fan, but that wig spoilt his performance in the 1996 adaptation. As to Rupert Evans (2009) and Callum Turner (2020), is it me or do they look like cousins? Evan’s slightly longer hair may explain a trip to London for its maintenance, but Turner’s buzz cut makes him sound shifty rather than vain. Also, I didn’t think Turner and Taylor-Joy had any chemistry, certainly not of the type presented in Austen’s novel.

The Rest of the Cast

In the 2020 adaptation, Miss Bates, one of my favourite Austen secondary characters, is played by Miranda Hart. Hart is a very well known comedian in the UK on account of the sitcom Miranda, which she co-writes and stars, and as a cast member in the series Call the Midwife. I am not a massive fan, but I think Hart makes a very believable Miss Bates. She brings the right mix of comedy and heartbreaking tragedy to every scene.

Ruper Graves and Gemma Wheelan are excellent as Mr Weston and Mrs Weston in this latest adaptation. They come across as a believable pair, and I love that he is played as a much more spirited man than in prior versions. The very talented Amber Anderson portrays Jane Fairfax very competently, like her predecessors in the role, and I loved the constant presence of servants in every scene. But I’m afraid I have to disagree with the portrait of John Knightley as a sort of Mr Palmer, uncomfortable in his role of parent and husband. And wouldn’t it be nice if the two Knightley brothers had looked remotely alike?

I have run out of space, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the different Emma adaptations! Which is your favourite? If you’ve seen the new film, did you enjoy it? Who do you believe makes the best Emma, Mr Knightley, Mr Woodhouse, Mr Weston, Mrs Weston, Harriet Smith, Miss Bates, Jane Fairfax?

Posted in Austen Authors, British history, Emma, film adaptations, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Guest Post, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, reading habits, Regency era, Regency romance | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Social Class in Jane Austen “Emma”

Hopefully, you will have the opportunity to view the newest film version of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” this weekend or have been fortunate to have viewed it already. I plan to see it with my friend Kim. Below are some of my thoughts on the character of Emma. 

There are those who claim Emma represents Jane Austen’s literary accomplishment. I am not of that persuasion, although I think my indifference comes more from the fact I do not find Emma Woodhouse a character I admire, than it does from Miss Austen’s ability to craft a tale. In Edward Austen-Leigh’s A Memoir of Jane Austen, he says that Austen, too, thought Emma not a character that many would like. Emma Woodhouse transforms from snobbish girl to mature woman in the length of the novel, which describes her path to self-knowledge.

So, what do we know of Emma’s character? First Miss Woodhouse…
** is 21 years of age
** believes in the rightness of her opinions
** is clever
** is handsome of countenance
** is rich (an oddity in Austen’s heroines)
** is snobbish about class structure
** possesses the tendency to permit her imagination free rein
** manipulates the path of Love for many of her acquaintances
** is the mistress of her father’s house since age 16
** dominates the affable Mr. Woodhouse
** thinks well of her abilities and judgments

Emma_1996_TV_Kate_BeckinsaleEmma is the younger of Mr. Woodhouse’s daughters. She resides with her father at Hartfield; Woodhouse is the second highest ranking man (behind Knightley) in the neighborhood. Mr. Woodhouse (like Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice) comes from an ancient and well-respected family. Like Georgiana Darcy, Emma Woodhouse has a dowry of 30,000 pounds. Her sister Isabella is married to Mr. John Knightley, a lawyer in London and the brother of Mr. George Knightley.

The setting of this novel is more limited than many of the others. Highbury is the center of Emma’s world. People come and go, but Emma never leaves the beloved village where she reigns as the “queen” of society. This constriction creates a quandary for Emma. She would prefer not to associate with those below her social class, but if she acted as such, she would possess no social life whatsoever.

Mr. George Knightley is the ideal country squire. He takes his responsibilities to his land (Donwell Abbey) and to his dependents seriously. He is known for his benevolence to others. The Knightleys and the Woodhouses are the upper echelon of society in Highbury.

One of the things that might appear as out of step with many Regency novels (but is more to the truth of the day) is the fact that Mr. Knightley does not keep a stable of horses. He prefers walking to riding, and when horses are required for his carriage, Knightley lets them. This is a sore point for Emma, who thinks Knightley acting so has people not recognizing his proper place in society. Emma feels that Knightley encourages too much familiarity with those below him.

stovel-figure4Knightley’s interactions with people is in sharp contrast to Emma’s opinions. Knightley is cognizant of social distinctions, but he presents respect to those who are deserving of it. For example, whereas Emma objects to Robert Martin’s position as a tenant farmer on Knightley’s land, Knightley calls Martin superior to Harriet Smith, saying that Martin is a “respectable, intelligent, gentleman-farmer.” Knightley claims Harriet without intelligence and without connections. His words are not disdain, just the truth. Even though Harriet possessed beauty and a sweet nature, her illegitimate parentage would keep her from aspiring to a man above Martin’s station in life. In contrast, Knightley declares Jane Fairfax an appropriate companion for Emma. He judges Miss Fairfax as intelligent, beautiful, and accomplished (although the woman is without a fortune).

Emma is offended by Mr. Elton’s offer of marriage because she feels Mr. Elton should not think himself her equal socially. This situation predisposes Emma to find the new Mrs. Elton as vain and possessing too much self-importance.

Emma’s snobbish attitude is very evident when she tells Harriet:

“A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. A degree or two lower, and a creditable appearance might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other.”

Emma even goes so far as to tell Harriet that it pleases Emma that Harriet refused Martin. “I could not have visited Mrs. Robert Martin of Abbey-Mill Farm.”

Below the Knighleys and Woodhouses, we find Mr. and Mrs. Weston. Mr. Weston spent time in the military, but his fortune comes from trade. The Eltons are also part of this middle ground. All we know of Mr. Elton’s past is that he is “without any alliances but in trade.” As a vicar, he has received a gentleman’s education and Elton is accepted in the finer homes in the area. Mrs. Augusta Elton comes to her marriage with a dowry of 10,000 pounds via her parents’ fortune in trade. Some find it ironic to hear Mrs. Elton speaking of her sister’s family – a family by the name of Sucklings. The Sucklings flaunt their wealth with a large estate near Bristol and a barouche-landau. In this social sphere, we also find Mrs. Bates, who is the widow of a clergyman. Although the woman’s marital status keeps her in the company of the wealthier families, Mrs. Bates and her unmarried daughter reside in let rooms above one of the shops in Highbury. Even so, the Bateses depend upon “the kindness of others” for the luxuries of life. Mrs. Goddard is the last of this class. She is mistress of the village school.

Some of Emma’s neighbors are part of the “upwardly mobile” class. These include the Coles (who prospered in trade), Robert Martin (a farmer on the Donwell Abbey estate), the Coxes (country lawyers in Highbury), Mr. Perry (the apothecary), and Mr. Hughes (a physician).

We note Emma’s reluctance to interact with those in this group beyond what is necessary. In fact, she thinks to refuse an invitation to a dinner at the Coles until she learns that the Westons and Mr. Churchill will attend.

Below the Coles, etc., we find Mr. and Mrs. Ford (shop owners), Mrs. Stokes (the Crown Inn’s landlady), William Larkins (Mr. Knightley’s steward), Mrs. Wallis (the pastry cook’s wife), and Miss Nash and Miss Prince and Miss Richardson (school teachers). Harriet Smith would be part of this level of society if not for Emma’s patronage.

maxresdefaultHarriet Smith is the illegitimate daughter of a merchant, who placed her with Mrs. Goddard, but who ignored Harriet since the placement.

“In taking up an illegitimate parlour boarder in Mrs Goddard’s village school, Emma chooses a protégée she can do what she likes with. There is a snag: Harriet has already formed an attachment with a young farmer, Robert Martin. Emma tries to force the issue by telling Harriet that she (Emma) cannot possibly associate with anyone of Martin’s class. The influential American critic Lionel Trilling argues that Emma is ‘a dreadful snob.’ Being aware of one’s position in society, however, is not the same as being a snob.

“Critic Paul Pickrel argues that Trilling has simply misread Austen’s novel. Whatever we think of her heroine, we shouldn’t take what she says at face value. Emma wants to control everyone and everything around her. The combination is a dangerous one, and by interfering in Harriet’s life she poses a real threat to the future of a naive 17-year-old. But it is too simplistic to say snobbishness causes her to sideline Robert Martin: she wants Harriet to herself and, like a child, will say anything to keep her.” [Austen’s Outspoken Heroines]


Other Highbury characters include James (Mr. Woodhouse’s coachman), Patty (the Bateses’ maid), and Mrs. Hodges (Mr. Knightley’s cook).

The characters who visit Highbury and change the village’s complexion include Jane Fairfax (a rival to Emma for Mr. Knightley’s affections), Frank Churchill (who seeks Jane’s affections and flirts with Emma), Mrs. Elton (who snubs Harriet and attempts to manage Jane), and the gypsies.

Austen masterly weaves these levels of society together. The characters of Mrs. Bates and Miss Bates are the link holding the differing levels together. Miss Bates is gregarious and likable, and the woman, as well as her mother, are the “comic relief” in the novel. Emma’s poor treatment at Miss Bates is the source of Mr. Knightley’s criticism of her and the turning point in the novel.

Although Austen does not go so far as to include characters such as Squire Western from Fielding’s Tom Jones in the plot of Emma, she does display hints of what we find in her last novel, Persuasion: self-made men who are superior to the gentleman class.

“Some of Austen’s female characters – Jane Bennet, Fanny Price, Anne Elliot – are gentle and passive. Austen’s two favourite heroines, Elizabeth Bennet and Emma, are precisely the opposite. Both are able to have equal and intimate relationships with men through their use of speech and laughter. In her essay ‘Silent Women, Shrews, and Bluestockings,’ feminist critic Jocelyn Harris argues that in allowing her women characters to speak so cleverly Austen subverts ‘misogynist constructions of women,’ who ‘have always been discouraged from knowing, speaking, and writing.’

19635888.gif “In Emma, says Harris, the heroine’s openness is preferable to Jane Fairfax’s reserve, even if Emma ‘says too much too often.’ She, ‘like Elizabeth Bennet, speaks too freely because her father’s power is weak.’ But Austen shields these two outspoken, intelligent heroines from being labelled shrews by the use of free indirect speech – so we sometimes find them thinking uncharitable thoughts that they are too tactful to express out loud. Austen was highly conscious of the effect of gender on language. Anne Elliot in Persuasion comments that ‘men have every advantage of us in telling their story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree.'” [Austen’s Outspoken Heroines]

“Jane Austen and her works are generally considered representative of the late eighteenth-century “classical” world view and its values—judgment, reason, clarity of perception—those of the ‘Age of Reason.’ In its best sense, this is a moral world view, reflecting the values of the Enlightenment. Austen’s values represent order in the face of disorder, but her concept of order embodies what is true, organic, living, not the static order imposed merely on the exterior, from ‘society’ or ‘the church,’ for example. Austen’s attitudes actually differ in subtle ways from the conventional manifestations of the classical attitudes and forms of the late eighteenth century—of the excesses of classicism that the Romantics rebelled against so vehemently. However, Jane Austen’s novels can also be called anti-Romantic in that they counter the extremes of the Romantic imagination epitomized by the Gothic novels so popular during her time, and satirized by Austen in Northanger Abbey. In Emma she also satirizes romantic excess, particularly in the character of Harriet Smith who, in a sense, enshrines Mr. Elton by keeping as ‘her most precious treasures’ relics of a scrap of ‘court plaister’ he handled and an old pencil piece that had belonged to him.

“The ordered society in Austen’s world is one in which people live in authentic harmony—socially, economically, emotionally, and ethically. Balance, order, and good sense exist in the face of too much sensibility; a balance of intellect and emotion, thought and feeling, outer and inner experience, society and the interior life, is the key to understanding Austen’s schema of meaningful experience and right relationships. Throughout Emma we are part of the energy of the novel leading toward the fulfillment of this ideal in the vitality of the characters.” [PERSUASIONS ON-LINE V.21, NO.2 (Summer 2000) The Dilemma of Emma: Moral, Ethical, and Spiritual Value by Karin Jackson.]


[Note: Squire Western is a caricature of the rough-and-ready, conservative country gentleman. Affectionate at heart, the Squire nevertheless acts with extreme violence towards his daughter Sophia, by constantly incarcerating her, and even verbally and physically abusing her. However, since the Squire is a caricature, Fielding does not intend for us to judge these actions too harshly. Similarly, the Squire’s insistence on Sophia marrying Blifil has less to do with greed than with his stubbornness and adherence to tradition. Squire Western’s speaks in West Country dialect, and peppers his speech with curses.]

Posted in British history, Great Britain, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Regency era | Tagged , , , , , | 24 Comments

Life Below Stairs – The Footman

There are tales of footmen who experienced criticism and mild taunts when they went about their master’s business. Even so, the footman became a sort of symbol of the division in society. Reports abound of street urchins throwing mud on their uniforms and white stocking. Some even reported those who attempted to prick the footman’s legs to see if he were wearing “falsies” to make his legs appear to have more muscular curves. Footmen also knew some disparagement from upper servants in the house. 

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Coachman’s Cockade – Charlecote Park © National Trust / Claire Reeves

However, many managed to develop a certain resplendence while out and about on their master’s business. In full dress livery, they wore white gloves and a hat, often set at a jaunty slant. Later in the century, they wore a top hat with a colorful cockade. In some houses, they also had an indoor livery that could include a dress coat with brass buttons stamped with the lord’s crest (rather than a tailed coat), pumps (instead of buckled shoes), and a white tie. The daily powdering of the hair was not a pleasure. The process involved a stiff lather produced with plenty of soap and water. The hair was combed so that their grooved (evenly spaced) lines in it to which the powder or flour was applied. At night, the footman had to wash his hair and add oil to fee it from the clogging detritus. 

Footmen were chosen for their height (and for their handsome countenance, especially in the service of a lady’s household). The preference was six feet or taller. For each inch over six feet, the man was generally paid extra. In most households, footmen were matched in height. In that manner, none stood out from the rest. They were trained to perform as one, and they prided themselves on their presentation at a door when escorting their mistress about Town. 

6d3697229a4dd16507e8ced2bb9160ee Typically, three footmen were required for the better households. The first footman served as the mistress’s footman. He prepared her early morning and breakfast trays, walked her dogs, cleaned her shoes, brushed the mud from her riding habit and hems of her dresses, and cleaned/scrubbed the silver coins to disinfect them after tradesmen handled them. The first footman served the meals at the master’s house. He accompanied his lady when she dined at another’s home without her husband. He stood behind her chair to increase the appearance of rank and status. He was often charged with the duty of paying toll gates, hired carriages, and postage, expense reimbursed to him by the house steward. He was ironically called “James,” no matter his Christian name. 


Alfred Nugent, Footman – played by Matt Milne

The second footman assisted in preparing the table for the midday meal, and along with the first footman served the meals. He would occasionally be assigned the duty of acting as valet to the eldest son of the lord. He regularly cleaned all the mirrors in the house. (Think of all the mirrors Sir Walter had at Kellynch Hall in Jane Austen’s “Persuasion.”) Meanwhile, the third footman was responsible for carrying in the coal, wood, etc. His duties varied greatly.

Footmen traveled with the family carriage, no matter the weather or the time of day. He also cleaned the plate, a task he often shared with the under butler. This was a tiresome duty. Cleaning the gold or silver plate involved first sponging off the grease before the moistened plate powder was rubbed in (by hand). The longer the powder was rubbed, the greater the shine. Afterward, the powder was brushed from the surface, with special care given to the crevices of crests and ornamental work. Think of polishing the area between the prongs of a fork. Yes, that was part of the process. 


Rob James-Collier as Thomas Barrow

Footmen served a lengthy apprenticeship. Some used this training to apply for positions as valets or butler. (Were you thinking of Thomas Barrow in Downton Abbey?) 


James Fennimore Cooper, England, Bentley, 1837, Vol. 1, page 188. 

Frank E. Huggett, Life Below Stairs: Domestic Servants in England from Victorian Times, Book Club Associates, 1977. 

Thomas Webster. An Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy, Longmans, 1844, pages 330-331.




Posted in British history, estates, fashion, Georgian Era, Great Britain, history, Living in the Regency, Living in the UK, servant life, Victorian era | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Lost Art of Letters, a Guest Post from Elaine Owen

The day after I wrote my post on Mailing Letters in the Regency, the lovely Elaine Owen shared this post on Austen Authors. I thought it appropriate to revisit this topic. This post originally appeared on Austen Authors on 3 January 2020. Enjoy! 

Letter writing, that old-fashioned art we hardly practice any more, has changed a great deal since Jane Austen’s day. Writing letters back and forth flourished in the days before electronic communications but now it’s in danger of dying out completely. This was brought home to me recently when I had a conversation with my son. This is the same son who moved out of our house last June. He recently discovered that he can no longer hand deliver his rent check to his landlady and  told me he was going to have to mail his checks from now on.

Me: So you’re going to need to buy some envelopes and a book of stamps this weekend.

Son: And I put the stamps on those little things you use to hold the letter, right?

Me: Envelope. You mean envelope.

Son: Right.

Me: You put a stamp on the envelope and put your check inside it.

Son: What kind of stamp?

Me (slightly shocked): The kind you buy from the post office! And then you have to put your landlady’s address on it.

Son: That goes on the front, right?

Me (deadpan): No, the back.

Son: Oh, that’s the side with the little flap, right?

Me (trying not to laugh): Yes, the flap. That’s the back. Just kidding, you put the address on the front. You put the stamp on the back.

Son: OK.

Me: Just wait till you have to put your return address on it. That’s really confusing.

Son: I’m going to need some help figuring this out.

At this point I laughed out loud. This is the kid who taught me to use HDMI cables! But it got better.

Son: Then you put the letter in one of those big containers, right?

Me (blank stare): What?

Son: One of those metal containers they have outside post offices, right?

Me: You mean mailboxes?

Son: Nods

Me: You don’t have to go to the post office. You can just put the letter in your own mailbox at home.

Son: Oh, you mean they’ll pick up your mail and take it with them when they come to drop stuff off for you?

Me: Yes. They do both at the same time, at least in most places.

Son : Cool!

Yes, sending letters via the post seems to be dying out! But in Jane Austen’s day upper class people wrote a lot of letters, both for business and for pleasure. A substantial part of any gentleman or gentlewoman’s day was given to correspondence. Jane herself is estimated to have written some three thousand letters over her lifetime (!), and every novel she wrote has the heroine writing and receiving letter. Letters in her day must have been what phone calls, emails or text messages are to us.

Knowing how to write a letter in regency England was a complicated task! To start with, the letter writer had to pick the kind of paper they were going to use. Paper was generally made from cotton and linen mixed together, and each paper producer used their own unique combination of these elements. They all had their own standard sizes, weights, textures, and other qualities. Each paper was so unique, in fact, that paper producers sometimes applied a watermark to their own brand to make it readily identifiable to the buyer.

The letter writer also had to choose a quill pen, the ink they wanted to use, a pen knife (to sharpen the quill as needed), and either sand or blotters to use during their writing (to dry the ink). Quill pens and pen knives came in a dizzying array of choices, from dull and practical to ornate and costly. A writer’s choice of these instruments, like their choice of writing paper, revealed much about their personality, their social status, and even their finances.

The postage charged for a letter depended partly on how many pages were in the letter, so the writing space inside a letter was at a premium. It was not unusual for a letter writer to fill up as much of the paper as possible and then turn the page on its side and write over the previous lines at a right angle.

Envelopes did not yet exist, so once somebody finished writing their letter they folded the left over blank sections of the paper so as to cover up the written portion. Then they wrote the address in that blank portion. Of course, to do this the writer had to make sure there actually was a blank section! There were guides on how to fold a letter in the most practical yet attractive way. Without a doubt writing a letter took some careful planning!

Finally, the letter writer had to choose how to send their missive. Here, too, there were choices. In town, for letters going to recipients in the same part of town, the penny post delivered mail the same day and was pleasingly inexpensive. But letter writers who wanted to send a message to another part of town usually had to hire a messenger to carry it directly. The messenger would be paid by the recipient, not the sender. Outside of town the system was still fairly rapid, taking two or three days in most cases, but the recipient still usually paid to receive the letter. There were times when the recipient simply could not afford to accept it.

In Austen’s day certain government officials could also choose to “frank” the letter, meaning that they would pay the delivery charges up front and the recipient would pay nothing. (You may remember that Edmund uses his father’s status to do this for Fanny in Mansfield Park.) Eventually the government realized that having postage paid up front was the most efficient way to go, and from then on it was customary to buy a stamp to place on the letter to show that the cost of delivery had been paid. But that change did not come about until well after Austen’s death.

Letters are key to many events in Austen’s novels. For example, take the events of Pride and Prejudice. The Bennets find out about Mr. Collins’ impending visit by letter. Caroline Bingley flirts with Mr. Darcy as he writes to his sister and even offers to mend his pen for him. After Darcy’s failed proposal to Elizabeth, he tells her the truth about Bingley and Wickham in a letter. When Elizabeth is visiting Derbyshire she finds out about Lydia’s elopement via a letter from Jane. And Elizabeth receives crucial information about Darcy in a letter from her aunt Gardiner. The list could go on and on!

My son, alas, still does not know how to send a letter. He discovered that he could pay his landlady electronically and the teachable moment was gone. Eventually he will have to learn but it seems unlikely that he will ever sit down, Darcy style, to pour out his heart to the woman he loves using paper and pen.

Here’s a quick trivia challenge for you: can you guess how many times letters are referenced in Austen’s six main novels? Which novel uses the word letter the most? Which one uses it the least? Let me know in your comments below, please!


Posted in Austen Authors, customs and tradiitons, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Guest Post, Jane Austen, reading habits, real life tales, Regency era, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , ,