Austen’s Comic Characters, a Guest Post from Amanda Kai

One of the hallmarks of an Austen novel is the presence of a variety of comical characters. Whether they are serving as plot devices to advance or hinder the hero and heroine or merely providing color and levity to the narrative, we just can’t picture Austen’s books without them. There are altogether too many to name every one, but I’ll share some of my favorites.

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)

“Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves.”

“You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.”

Intended as a model of a bad marriage, these two never cease to crack me up. I don’t know who is funnier– Mrs. Bennet and her drama queen antics, or Mr. Bennet and his rapier wit. It is clear that Mr. Bennet must have fallen for Mrs. Bennet’s looks as a young man, because it’s hard to conceive that he would have married her for any other reason. 

Mr. Collins (Pride and Prejudice)

“You judge very properly,” said Mr. Bennet, “and it is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?”

“They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.”

The charm of Mr. Collins is that he has no idea how ridiculous he appears. He’s a born people-pleaser, but his efforts to flatter at so over the top, they’re laughable. He also seems to believe himself to be a great orator, as evidenced by his lengthy speeches nearly every time he opens his mouth. While many people detest Mr. Collins, I confess, I quite adore him. His servile reverence of his patroness, his long-winded remarks and even his obnoxious proposal are quite hilarious to me.

Sir John Middleton and Mrs. Jennings (Sense and Sensibility)

The letter F—had been likewise invariably brought forward, and found productive of such countless jokes, that its character as the wittiest letter in the alphabet had been long established with Elinor.

If ever there was a son in-law and mother in-law who got along like two peas in a pod, it’s these two. Their comic banter is so tandem that when I first saw them together in the 1995 Sense and Sensibility movie, I was convinced they were actually a couple until I had a chance to read the book. I still die laughing every time Sir John delivers his “F Major” line.

Mr. and Mrs. Palmer (Sense and Sensibility)

“You and I, Sir John,” said Mrs. Jennings, “should not stand upon such ceremony.”

“Then you would be very ill-bred,” cried Mr. Palmer.

“My love you contradict every body,” said his wife with her usual laugh. “Do you know that you are quite rude?”

“I did not know I contradicted any body in calling your mother ill-bred.”

Much like the Bennets, these two seem to be ill-matched. Mrs. Palmer is giddy and cheerful to a comic degree while her husband has a dry sense of humor and is quite her opposite in personality. 

Should these two have gotten married? Probably not, but we’re ever so grateful they did because the story just wouldn’t be the same without them. I especially enjoyed Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton’s performance of these two in the 1995 Sense and Sensibility. Mr. Palmer’s deadpan delivery of his lines just slays me every time, along with his wife’s obliviousness to all his insults. “I do wish this rain would stop.” “I wish you would stop”, is another one of those great lines that I wish had been in the book, because it fits so well with Jane’s portrayal of this character.

Mr. Woodhouse (Emma)

What was unwholesome to him he regarded as unfit for any body; and he had, therefore, earnestly tried to dissuade them from having any wedding-cake at all, and when that proved vain, as earnestly tried to prevent any body’s eating it.

“Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than any body. I would not recommend an egg boiled by any body else; but you need not be afraid, they are very small, you see—one of our small eggs will not hurt you. Miss Bates, let Emma help you to a little bit of tart—a very little bit. Ours are all apple-tarts. You need not be afraid of unwholesome preserves here. I do not advise the custard. Mrs. Goddard, what say you to half a glass of wine? A small half-glass, put into a tumbler of water? I do not think it could disagree with you.”

A hypochondriac of epic proportions, Mr. Woodhouse’s fear of drafts and rich food makes for great comedy material. He’s a dear old man, and since almost all of us have known an elderly person who behaves like this, his highly exaggerated behavior is amusing.

Miss Bates (Emma)

“Very well, I am much obliged to you. My mother is delightfully well; and Jane caught no cold last night. How is Mr. Woodhouse?—I am so glad to hear such a good account. Mrs. Weston told me you were here.—Oh! then, said I, I must run across, I am sure Miss Woodhouse will allow me just to run across and entreat her to come in; my mother will be so very happy to see her—and now we are such a nice party, she cannot refuse.—‘Aye, pray do,’ said Mr. Frank Churchill, ‘Miss Woodhouse’s opinion of the instrument will be worth having.’—But, said I, I shall be more sure of succeeding if one of you will go with me.—‘Oh,’ said he, ‘wait half a minute, till I have finished my job;’—For, would you believe it, Miss Woodhouse, there he is, in the most obliging manner in the world, fastening in the rivet of my mother’s spectacles.—The rivet came out, you know, this morning.—So very obliging!—For my mother had no use of her spectacles—could not put them on. And, by the bye, every body ought to have two pair of spectacles; they should indeed. Jane said so. I meant to take them over to John Saunders the first thing I did, but something or other hindered me all the morning; first one thing, then another, there is no saying what, you know…”

A chatterbox by nature, Miss Bates prattles on endlessly, scarcely ceasing for breath and to let anyone else get a word in edgewise. While most of the townspeople tolerate her, she annoys the heroine, Emma, to no end. A well-meaning, sweet old spinster, she ranks as one of the best comic characters in Emma. There have been many great portrayals of her in film and television, but my favorite is actually Nikea Gamby-Turner’s performance in the Emma Approved web series.  Every time she yells out “MAMA!” really loudly when reenacting her conversations with her hard-of-hearing mother for Emma, I burst out laughing. 

Mrs. Allen (Northanger Abbey)

 “My dear Catherine,” said she, “do take this pin out of my sleeve; I am afraid it has torn a hole already; I shall be quite sorry if it has, for this is a favourite gown, though it cost but nine shillings a yard.”

Mrs. Allen is the stereotypical airheaded lady who thinks of nothing but fashion, constantly worrying about ruining her clothing and comparing her attire with others to satisfy herself that she is better dressed than them. Emma’s Mr. Knightley may say that “Men of sense do not want silly wives”, but here we have yet another example of an exceedingly silly woman married to a sensible man. Though Mr. Allen is much kinder than either Mr. Bennet or Mr. Palmer, it does beg the question: why do all these sensible men keep marrying silly wives?

Mr. Rushworth (Mansfield Park)

“If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow.” 

Mr. Rushworth followed him to say, “I come in three times, and have two-and-forty speeches. That’s something, is not it? But I do not much like the idea of being so fine. I shall hardly know myself in a blue dress and a pink satin cloak.”

A bumbling idiot who has no idea how silly he appears, Mr. Rushworth is probably the best example of a comic figure in Mansfield Park. He talks of his gardens, his sport, his dogs, his jealousy of his neighbors, his zeal after poachers, all while boring his fiance to death. He makes a big fuss over having a small part in the play (two and forty speeches!) and over the fact that he will wear a fancy blue outfit with a pink satin cape. He’s a nice enough fellow, but stupid enough that we can already envision the demise of his marriage to Maria Bertram before it even takes place.

Sir Walter Elliot (Persuasion)

Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed.

Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation. He had been remarkably handsome in his youth; and, at fifty-four, was still a very fine man. Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did, nor could the valet of any new made lord be more delighted with the place he held in society. He considered the blessing of beauty as inferior only to the blessing of a baronetcy; and the Sir Walter Elliot, who united these gifts, was the constant object of his warmest respect and devotion.

Mr. Darcy may get a bad rap for being prideful, but his sin is nothing compared to the pride of Sir Walter Elliot! Seriously, who sits around reading Debrett’s and thinking about how great it is to be part of a long line of baronets? His concern with his own appearance and place in society rivals any of the other proud figures in Austen’s works, and is exemplified in his eagerness to reclaim an association with his cousin Lady Dalrymple. Here his social climbing reaches epic proportions, as he spends several days agonizing over how to rectify a social faux pas from some years past that had severed the relationship between him and his cousin. Fortunately for Sir Walter, Lady Dalrymple is able to overlook the offense, and Sir Walter takes full advantage, in his comic style, of every opportunity to claim a social connection with a cousin who is a peer.

Mary Musgrove (Persuasion)

“I hope I am as fond of my child as any mother, but I do not know that I am of any more use in the sick-room than Charles, for I cannot be always scolding and teazing the poor child when it is ill; and you saw, this morning, that if I told him to keep quiet, he was sure to begin kicking about. I have not nerves for the sort of thing.”

“But, could you be comfortable yourself, to be spending the whole evening away from the poor boy?”

“Yes; you see his papa can, and why should not I”

It seems that Jane Austen also has a penchant for making light of characters that display hypochondriac tendencies. Mary always seems to fancy herself unwell and to complain about it to everybody. Except, of course, when there is someplace interesting she wants to go. Then, suddenly, she is well and eager to leave the house or to travel to wherever. When her child falls from a tree and dislocates his collar bone, she is in absolute hysterics, and it is all her poor sister can do to keep her calm and attend to the child at the same time. Yet as soon as the danger is passed, Mary is jealous that her husband wants to dine out, and would rather leave her son in her sister’s care and go out as well than stay home to nurse him herself. 

I could go on all day about humorous characters in Austen’s books and quoting to you all the funny things they said or did, but these are some of the best moments that stuck out to me. Who are your favorite comic characters? What are some funny lines that you recall from the books or movies that you’d love to share with your fellow readers?

Until next time, Happy Reading,

Amanda Kai

Posted in Austen Authors, book excerpts, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Guest Post, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, quotes, reading habits, Regency era | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Broken Engagements in the Regency Period

34113799-concept-of-a-lost-relationship-with-a-letter-a-red-rose-and-an-engagement-ring-left-on-a-table-Stock-Photo A popular plot in Regency era romances is the broken engagement, but what was the truth of the situation?

Unless he suddenly uncovered a flaw in the morals of he lady, once a man proposed to a woman, he was expected to go through with it. Sometimes engagements were called off when the fathers and/or guardians could not agree on the settlements with the gentleman. However, if a man jilted the one to whom he had proposed, it was thought that he found out something to speak to her low character, particularly that she had known another intimately.

The only means to save the female’s reputation was for the gentleman to marry another quickly, so quickly that the betrothed female sometimes did not even know she was jilted. The jilted person, if of age, had the right to sue for breach of promise. Because betrothals and engagements were no longer enforced by the church, they were considered to rest on a man’s honor. The man could more easily jilt a female than the girl could jilt him.

“Breach of promise of marriage suits originated in the ecclesiastical courts; the Hardwicke Marriage Act, however, invalidated betrothals and forced jilted lovers to use the common law courts for redress. Lower-middle and upper-working class couples had a definite set of courtship rituals, based on their desire for respectability and their simultaneous lack of economic security. Though most couples wanted to find the companionate ideal, they also needed to have good homemakers (for men) and solid providers (for women). They indulged in middle-class sentimentality in their letters and poetry, yet their courting was less formal and unsupervised. This mixture of needs was also reflected in their motives for separating, a combination of ideological, structural and personal difficulties. There was a sustained argument over breach of promise in the later Victorian period, which showed the tensions between individualism and companionate marriage in its culture. The legal community was divided over the desirability of the suit; most judges supported it and most lawyers did not. It also divided the populace, since the lower classes were favorable, but the upper classes abhorred it. Women, too, were unable to agree, breach of promise protected them, but it also placed them in a special category that was inherently unequal. Ironically, the plaintiffs, by appealing to the patriarchal courts, proved to be strong feminists, since they refused to be passive in the face of victimization. This showed great determination, since most of the commentators on the action were hostile; breach of promise cases in fiction, in fact, were overwhelmingly negative, legitimizing the upper-class disdain for the suit and ignoring its usefulness for poorer women.” [Rice University Digital Scholarship Archives; Promises broken: Breach of promise of marriage in England and Wales, 1753-1970, Ginger Suzanne Frost, 1991]

The couple would often try to come up with some excuse that showed that the woman simply changed her mind, and she and the man agreed to part amicably. However, the “tale” told was often overlooked for the rumors and gossip were much more tantalizing to repeat. More gossip and scandal stuck to female’s name; there was less blame attributed to the man unless the girl’s family entered into a counter attack to shift the blame to him or to make it appear she broke the engagement. The appeal to honor was very strong. Both the Duke of Wellington and Lord Byron married women they didn’t want because they had once made the mistake of showing interest or of discussing marriage with the women.

That is the bare bones of it: the woman generally paid the price unless they could successfully claim she felt they wouldn’t suit; however, how society reacted depended on the woman’s dowry, her family position. [This held true for the gentleman, as well.] If a great heiress was jilted people would be careful not to blame her too much because they would want a chance for a son or nephew to marry her. A rich peer or a rich young man was always a good catch, and a father or guardian of the next young lady to catch his eye would make certain he made it to the altar.

A woman could cry off, but she had to be wary of being labeled a “jilt.”  (1670s, “loose, unchaste woman; harlot;” also “woman who gives hope then dashes it;” probably a contraction of jillet, gillet, from Middle English gille “lass, wench,”)

cover.indd A man who promised marriage and cried off could be sued for breach of promise, particularly if the promise was in writing. To win such a suit, one had to prove the promise and damages. Or he might just be labeled as bad ton. There were a few cases of men winning breach of promise suits. A good reference for those cases is Broken Engagements: The Action for Breach of Promise of Marriage and the Feminine Ideal, 1800–1940, by Saskia Lettmaier; Ginger Frost; Victorian Studies, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Autumn 2011), pp. 151-153, Indiana University Press. Not everyone would sue for breach of promise for it involved there being damages (to the daughter, leaving her unable to marry), so upper class might be inclined to sweep the whole thing aside as soon as possible so the social stain might be forgotten. Either way, it was poor form. A gentleman was not to propose unless he to go through with it; likewise a woman should not accept unless she was certain. 

This is an excerpt from Elizabeth Bennet’s Excellent Adventure in which Mr. Darcy has been detained by footpads in London and does not make it to Hertfordshire to marry Elizabeth. See how the scenario of a broken engagement plays out in the story: 

“Where is the dastard?” Elizabeth heard her father demand of Colonel Fitzwilliam.

The colonel and Miss Darcy had arrived at the church without the groom the entire neighborhood expected. Ironically, Elizabeth knew Mr. Darcy had not returned to Hertfordshire. Even without being told, her heart said she would know disappointment. Nevertheless, Elizabeth had permitted her mother and the others to offer a hundred reasons for Mr. Darcy’s absence. How could she tell them she had destroyed her happiness with a quarrelsome tongue?

“Perhaps Mr. Darcy took ill.”

“Mayhap there was a carriage accident.”

“More likely, the gentleman changed his mind, just as I predicted,” Mrs. Connor declared in triumph.

Miss Darcy caught Elizabeth’s hand, offering the girl’s support. “You must know how dearly William cares for you,” the girl pleaded.

Elizabeth did not wish to be cruel to Mr. Darcy’s sister, but her pride smacked of the betrayal. “Mr. Darcy cared more for his railroad than his intended,” she snapped.

Fighting back tears, Elizabeth spoke privately to her father. “Please, sir, may we not return to Longbourn? I believe two hours is long enough to wait for Mr. Darcy.”

Thankfully, her father recognized Elizabeth’s fragile composure. As they made their exit to his waiting coach, Mr. Bennet discreetly requested that Mr. Bingley see the remainder of the Bennet family home. Inside the carriage, her father gathered Elizabeth in his arms to rock her to and fro.

“My dearest girl,” Mr. Bennet whispered as Elizabeth permitted her tears free rein. “I will not tolerate this insult, not to my darling Lizzy.”

“No!” Elizabeth sobbed. “Mr. Darcy is not worth our notice. Please say you will do nothing foolish. I could not bear it.”

“I am but a country squire,” her father declared, “but I am not without connections.”

“Please, Papa. I simply wish to forget this slight. Do not exacerbate it.” Elizabeth buried her face in her father’s cravat. “It was my fault for aspiring to a match above my sphere. Lady Catherine said as much. Mr. Darcy likely realized the censure he would claim with our joining.”

Mr. Bennet took umbrage with Elizabeth’s remarks. “I will not have you speak so, Lizzy. Any man would earn a brilliant match by claiming you.”

Elizabeth attempted to control her tears. She swiped hard at her cheeks. “Permit me my misery this day,” she said through a choking sob. “I promise to know a wiser choice on the morrow.”

“As you wish, Lizzy.” Her father gathered her closer to caress Elizabeth’s back. It was comforting to know his love. “I will forbid all from entering your room until you are prepared to face them. Take as long as you like. One day or a whole month of days. When you decide how you wish to proceed, send for me, and we will deal with this together. Even if you do not wish to force the marriage, I believe Mr. Darcy’s name will know the shame of a breech of promise action.”

Elizabeth did not argue with her father regarding the futility of such legal actions against a man of Mr. Darcy’s stature. Instead, when they reached Longbourn, she hurried to her room to bury her tears in her bed pillow. She noted the worried look from Mr. and Mrs. Hill as she scurried past them. The servants and all her neighbors would know Mr. Darcy had abandoned her at the altar.

Inside the room, Elizabeth kicked off her slippers, sending them flying brought her a momentary surcease. She wished there was something else she could throw, or better yet, punch in a most unladylike manner. The thought of slapping Mr. Darcy’s too masculine cheek would be quite satisfying.

In frustration, Elizabeth ripped at the lace of her ivory wedding dress. She should summon a maid to assist her, but it did her well to hear seams rip and to have lace sleeves come loose in her hands.

With more anger than she knew possible, Elizabeth tore the gown from her body, strip by silken strip. She would never wear the dratted dress again, and seeing it turned to rags brought her the only delight this day could hold for her. Standing at last in nothing more than her shift, Elizabeth gathered the ribbon and pieces of cloth in an untidy heap and unceremoniously dumped them out the window. The realization brought another round of tears to her eyes, injustice rushing to her lips. It was bad enough to know Mr. Darcy only agreed to their marriage to save her from the damage of Maria Lucas’s gossip, but to be so publicly shamed was beyond Elizabeth’s comprehension.

“Maria’s tale would be preferable to what occurred today,” she sobbed aloud. “I might have convinced the girl to ignore the obvious, but now everyone knows the man’s disdain for the Bennets.”


A soft knock at the door caught Elizabeth’s attention: It was Jane.

“Are you…? Is there anything…?”

“No, Jane,” Elizabeth called before biting down hard on her lip to keep from lashing out at her sister.

Jane would soon know the happiness of joining with Mr. Bingley. How often had they hid in the copse to speak of the men they would love?

“I am well,” Elizabeth managed.

“Are you certain?” came her sister’s voice of concern.

Anger returned. “Why should I not be well?” she said with ill temper. “It was the pinnacle of my day to stand before friends and foes and permit them to witness my public humiliation.” She paused, seeking control. “Just leave me be, Jane. I know you mean well, but…”

“As you wish,” Jane said in what sounded of tears.

Silence followed her sister’s departure. Elizabeth could hear the buzz of voices below. She hoped her father could keep everyone away. She imagined the chaos as Mrs. Bennet hustled servants to remove the wedding breakfast.

“The breakfast,” she murmured through a new round of tears. Curling in a ball upon the bed, Elizabeth covered her face. “The breakfast where Mr. Darcy and I were to accept the congratulations of all our dear family and friends.”

EBEZ copy 2Elizabeth Bennet’s Excellent Adventure: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary 

The Last Man in the World She Wishes to Marry is the One Man Who Owns Her Heart!

ELIZABETH BENNET adamantly refused Fitzwilliam Darcy’s proposal, but when Maria Lucas discovers the letter Darcy offers Elizabeth in explanation of his actions, Elizabeth must swallow her objections in order to save her reputation. She follows Darcy to London and pleads for the gentleman to renew his proposal. Yet, even as she does so, Elizabeth knows not what she fears most: being Mr. Darcy’s wife or the revenge he might consider for her earlier rebuke.

FITZWILLIAM DARCY would prefer that Elizabeth Bennet held him in affection, but he reasons that even if she does not, having Elizabeth at his side is far better than claiming another to wife. However, when a case of mistaken identity causes Darcy not to show at his wedding ceremony, he finds himself in a desperate search for his wayward bride-to-be.

Elizabeth, realizing Society will label her as “undesirable” after being abandoned at the altar, sets out on an adventure to mark her future days as the spinster aunt to her sisters’ children. However, Darcy means to locate her and to convince Elizabeth that his affections are true, and a second chance will prove him the “song that sets her heart strumming.”

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Posted in British history, Church of England, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Great Britain, Living in the Regency, Living in the UK, marriage, marriage customs, romance | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Bleeding a Patient to Cure Apoplexy During the Regency Era

In Regency novels, the reader frequently reads of one of the characters suffering an apoplexy. Exactly, what does that mean? Apoplexy (from the Ancient Greek, meaning “a striking away”) is bleeding within internal organs and the accompanying symptoms. For example, ovarian apoplexy is bleeding in the ovaries. The term, especially as it was used in the Regency Era, referred to what is now called a stroke. (

From the late 14th to the late 19th century, apoplexy referred to any sudden death that began with a sudden loss of consciousness, especially one in which the victim died within a matter of seconds after losing consciousness. The word apoplexy was sometimes used to refer to the symptom of sudden loss of consciousness immediately preceding death. Until the late 19th century physicians often had inadequate or inaccurate understandings of many of the human body’s normal functions and abnormal presentations. Hence, identifying a specific cause of a symptom or of death often proved difficult or impossible.

According to Culpeper’s Complete Herbal (page 214), Lily of the Valley was a remedy for apoplexy.  “It is under the dominion of Mercury, and therefore strengthens the brain. The distilled water dropped into the eyes helps inflammation there. The spirit of the flowers distilled in wine, restores speech, helps the palsy, and is good in the apoplexy, and comforts the heart and vital spirits. It is also of service in disorders of the head and nerves, such as epilepsy, vertigo, and convulsions of all kinds, swimming in the head, and are made use of in errhines and cephalic snuff.”

logo.pngCulpeper also suggests walnuts. In the States we have advertisements on the TV for California walnuts being heart healthy. Culpeper explains that the walnut is a plant of the Sun. “Let the fruit of it be gathered accordingly, which has the most virtue whilst green, before it shells. The bark binds and dries very much, and the leaves are much of the same temperature, but when they are older, are  heating and drying in the second degree, and are harder of digestion than when fresh; if taken with sweet wine, they move the belly downwards, but if old, they grieve the stomach; and in hot bodies, cause the choler to abound, producing headache, and are an enemy to those that have the cough; but are less hurtful to those that have a colder stomach, and kill the broad worms in the stomach or belly. If taken with onions, salt, and honey, they help the bites of mad dogs, or poisonous bites of any kind. The juice of the green husks boiled with honey, is an excellent gargle for sore mouths, or the heat and inflammations in the throat and stomach. The kernels, when they grow old, are more oily, and unfit to be eaten, but are then used to heal the wounds of the sinews, gangrenes, and carbuncles. If burned, these mens’ courses, when taken in red wine, and stays the falling of the hair, and makes it fair, being anointed with oil and wine. The green husks will act the same, if used in the same manner. The kernels beaten with rue and wine, and applied, helps the quinsy; bruised with honey, and applied to the ears, eases pains and inflammation therein. The distilled water of the green leaves in the end of May, cures foul running ulcers and sores, to be bathed with wet cloths or sponges applied to them every morning.” (page 384)

Wild Wallflowers

Wild Wall-Flowers are also suggested by Culpeper (page 383). “A conserve made of the flowers is used for a remedy both for the apoplexy and palsy.”

bright_fig1.jpg imgres-1.jpg Richard Bright, a Regency era physician, conducted a great deal of research on apoplexy. Born in Bristol in 1789, Bright studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and Guys Hospital, finishing his studies in 1812. Autopsies of apoplectics proved that the four humors used throughout the 16th and 17th centuries for medical decisions as erroneous.  “Apoplexy” was a term used by professionals and the educated laity for a disorder that “struck abruptly, causing a sudden abolition of all the activities of the mind, with the preservation, for a time, of the pulse and respiration” (Theophile Bonet, Sepulchretum, 1679).

Jean Fernel (1544) and Johann Jacob Wepfer (1658) found intracranial hemorrhage at autopsies of apoplectics. These observations proved apoplexy was a disorder of cerebral blood vessels, rather than an accumulation of phlegm or some other humor.

At the beginning of the 19th century, physicians still used the these distinctions from earlier medical studies to define apoplexy: “sanguineous apoplexy,” caused by intracranial hemorrhage, and “serous apoplexy,” in which the effusion of serum was held responsible for the apoplectic state.

Giovanni Battista Morgagni was an Italian anatomist, generally regarded as the father of modern anatomical pathology, who recognized a third type of apoplexy, in which neither blood nor serum was effused. “On the authority of Morgagni and other “great masters,” any amount of fluid present in the ventricles and the subarachnoid space was, for a time, deemed to be abnormal by many scholars and a cause of apoplexy. The concept of “serous apoplexy” endured until the latter part of the 19th century.” (World Neurology)

Soon, apoplectics, who survived, were believed to have done so because of proper treatments.

In Bright, R. Reports of medical cases selected with the view of illustrating the symptoms and cure of diseases. Vol I, Vol II London, Longman. 1827, 1831. p 334, we learn, “In the treatment of apoplexy, the most important point is the employment of bleeding; the judicious use of which powerful remedy the cure greatly depends.” 

imgres The early 19th century, treatment still used humoral concepts. Bright purported reducing congestion rather than restoring the humoral balance.  Bleeding was a common practice of the time, as well as the use of leeches and cupping. Physicians monitored the pulse, and when the pulse became depressed, they stopped the letting of blood. Those administering the procedure took extra precautions with feeble individuals. Excessive bleeding was as dangerous as the condition at times. America’s first President lost his life because of excessive bleeding.

From “George Washington: An Eyewitness Account of His Death,” we have, “No one is quite sure what killed Washington. He was in fine health at age 67 when he contracted hoarseness and a sore throat a few days after helping to move a snow-mired carriage near his home. There was little alarm until he awoke in the middle of the night with difficulty breathing, almost unable to talk. A doctor was summoned, but Washington did not wait, ordering an employee to bleed him. The doctor arrived and, according to the principles of the day, bled him again. Eventually, Washington requested no further bleeding be performed, but he was bled again anyway. The bleedings inflicted by Washington’s doctors hastened his end. Some 80 ounces of blood were removed in 12 hours (this is .63 gallons, or about 35% of all the blood in his body).” (Morens, D. M. Death of a President. New England Journal of Medicine. 1999: 341; 1845-1849.)

“Blisters and Setons were used as additional supplements to bleeding. Purging was in regular use. The induction of vomiting was occasionally practiced but it was considered harmful by those who feared that the strain associated with vomiting may be harmful. Bright used stimulants when ‘the patient grew cold’ and ‘the pulse fluttering.’ He poured ‘vinegar down the throat, brandy if it could be procured’ or ‘a few drops of compound spirits of ammonia to elicit cough that tended to rouse the patient.” Cloth dipped in hot water was applied to the stomach. Cold cloths were “dashed on the temples and forehead with a sudden jerk,” when the head felt hot and the carotids were throbbing. Frequently, the head was shaved, and cold applied to the shaven head. Such therapy persisted throughout the 19th century, and bloodletting for stroke was not unknown in the 20th century. Few went as far as Thomas Sydenham, who stated: ‘I have consulted my patients’ safety and my own reputation most effectually by doing nothing at all.'” (World Neurology)

For more detailed information of Richard Bright and His Advancements in the Study of Apoplexy, please visit World Neurology

If you are interested in Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, you can find copies on Amazon.

For more than 360 years, Nicholas Culpeper’s historic guide to herbal remedies has been THE definitive book on the subject. Culpeper, an English herbalist, is the author of the bestselling herbal guide of all time. He offered valuable and sometimes unusual advice on using, gathering, and preparing herbs. Now, this beautifully illustrated new edition, edited and with commentary by acclaimed US herbalist and bestselling author Steven Foster, combines the charm and information of Culpeper’s original seventeenth-century text with up-to-date, modern, practical usage. It includes details about where to find each herb, astrology, and medicinal benefits.

Posted in American History, British history, England, Georgian England, Georgian Era, herbs, medicine, real life tales, Regency era | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Bleeding a Patient to Cure Apoplexy During the Regency Era

Railroaded in the Regency, a Guest Post from Colin Rowland

Outlining plots, which I have been engaged in for severak weejs, is always a voyage of discovery for me. Not having lived during the Regency (no, really? who’da thunk!), I got to thinking about the movement of goods in the early 19th century. How did shops in England get the goods they sold?

I realize that much of a merchant’s inventory was locally sourced, especially when it came to food, but there were many items that had to have been produced elsewhere and brought to the business. How these items were transported got me wondering how common rail travel was. Turns out, not very, at least not in the first three or four decades of the century. They existed, but their usage was limited to a select few applications, such as mining and quarrying, for the most part.

The first recorded operation of a steam locomotive was February 21, 1804, in Pen-y-Darren, South Wales, and seemed to come about as a result of a bet. Its inventor, Richard Trevithick, built an engine that hauled 10 tons of iron and 70 men nearly ten miles from Pen-y-Darren at a speed of five miles per hour, winning the railway owner 500 guineas in the process. The man was too far ahead of his time(about 20 years), and his invention was regarded as a novelty. His creation never made him any money, and he died penniless.

Mr. Trevithick’s was not the first attempt to harness the power of steam, though. The idea had been kicking around since the late 1700s and various tinkerers had attempted to create a working model. In 1784, a Scottish inventor built a small-scale prototype of a steam road locomotive, and a full-scale one was proposed by William Reynolds around 1787. But Trevithick’s idea was taken by others, and by 1845 there were over 2,400 miles of track, carrying more than 30 million passengers per year in Britain alone.

Rail lines themselves were not new. Britain had them in the 18th century, but they were horse-drawn and used almost exclusively in quarries.

As the network expanded, rail’s advantage as a cost-effective way to move both goods and people made it ubiquitous in Britain, and throughout the world. Here was a form of transportation that anyone could use, for a myriad of reasons. It was almost impervious to the whims of mother nature and was incredibly efficient as well.

This is where the expected nugget of information from me is passed along. In comparing any type of wheeled conveyance, from horse-drawn wagons to trucks, or cars, or trains, and yes a train is a wheeled conveyance, the rolling resistance of a train is far and away less than that of any other vehicle. It turns out that steel on steel is extremely efficient!

That’s not to say that the trains were comfortable. This new mode of transportation used wood to fire the boilers and some of the obvious by-products of burning wood were ashes, which tends to settle on anything handy, and burning embers, which were known to start fires. Unfortunately, the fires were not always confined to the surrounding forests and fields. Passengers had to pay attention to embers landing on clothing and starting fires that could quickly get out of control because the first iterations of passenger cars did not have much in the way of windows to keep the outside world at bay.

Conditions did not improve a whole lot with the transition to coal. While the prevalence of burning exhaust was reduced, soot and odor replaced ash and embers. Coal is not a clean-burning fuel, as anyone who has ever lived in a home with a coal-burning furnace can attest. My family lived in a couple that I can still remember from my childhood, and I can clearly recall two things from those years. The smell from the furnace used to permeate your clothing, and the coal chute into the basement made a fantastic slide for a five-year-old boy. (Mom used to get so mad when it came time to wash clothes because she had to wash my blackened trousers and shirts separately from everything else. Ah the joys of youth,)

This blog came about because I wanted to find some way to introduce travel by rail into the plot of a potential story. I suppose I could, but then Mr. Darcy would have to either own a quarry or work in one, and that might go over like the proverbial lead balloon. Bringing Elizabeth into the tale would be even harder. The only person I can see as easy to include would be Wickham. Him I can see as a train robber, although a bit of a bumbling version. Of course, my vision of him is close to Don Knotts’ character in The Apple Dumpling Gang. He’s an easy fellow to make fun of.

Until I can find a way to incorporate my idea into a novel it will have to remain on the back burner. Ms. Austen might have heard of such a thing as a train, but they would have been in their infancy when she passed away, and as much as I’m tempted to stretch the setting of a story I can’t move it by 20 years or more. I guess it’s back to the drawing board for this plot point, although I have some ideas for other new for the era inventions.

Posted in American History, Austen Authors, British history, commerce, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Guest Post, history, Industrial Revolution | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Turning Urine into Gold and Hennig Brand’s “Folly”

Hennig Brand, (flourished 1670, Hamburg [Germany]), was a German chemist (alchemist, really) who, through his discovery of phosphorus, became the first known discoverer of an element.

The Famous Scientists website (see link below) provides us a bit about Brand’s personal life.

“In his late teens, Brand served as a soldier, perhaps a junior officer, in the 30 Years’ War (fought 1618–1648). This was a ruinous war in which millions died. It resulted from Ferdinand II’s desire, as Holy Roman Emperor, to impose Roman Catholicism on Germany’s Protestant northern states.

After the war, Brand is known to have done several things before he discovered phosphorus.

Earned money as a physician, calling himself Doctor, and adding M. D. behind his signature, although he had no recognized qualifications in medicine. (In fact, he was not known to understand Latin, so he was not educated in the sense we think of the word today.) He

  • Carried out alchemical research.
  • Learned the art of glass blowing, one of the essential skills of alchemy and chemistry. (There were no apparatus catalogs in those days: glassware was made locally, usually by the alchemist or his assistant.)
  • Married a wealthy wife, whose sizable dowry enabled him to fund his alchemical research.
  • Became a father.
  • Married a second wealthy wife, Margaretha, after the death of his first wife.”

Yet, Brand had not “supposedly” set out to discover phosphorus. He reportedly had planned to turn urine into gold. They are both yellow in cold, right? One must remember that in the 1600s, collecting urine was not as weird as it might seem nowadays. Urine was used to fertilize crops and soften leather and (yuck) even clean one’s teeth.

Alchemy was a medieval science and philosophy. Those who practiced it had hope to turn base metals into gold through a process called “transmutation.” Therefore, Brand thought that he could create gold by altering urine, which was supplied to him by his fellow soldiers. Brand spent months collecting urine in buckets, until he had accumulated such buckets. He placed said buckets in his basement to “age,” permitting the water to evaporate and the urine to concentrate. ~ The Alchymist (1775) by engraver William Pether, after the 1771 painting by Joseph Wright of Derby.

A military officer and self-styled physician, Brand has often received the undeserved title “last of the alchemists” because of his continual search for the philosopher’s stone, which reputedly could change base metals into gold. About 1669 he isolated from urine a white, waxy material and named it phosphorus (“light bearer”), because it glowed in the dark. Although Brand kept his process a secret, phosphorus was discovered independently in 1680 by an English chemist, Robert Boyle.

In his experiments, Brand ended up with a vibrant blue-green substance which seemed to glow both in the daylight and in the dark. Yet, he could not get the substance to do anything except to glow.

Later, Daniel Kraft, who was also a German alchemist (about 1675) purchased Brand’s blue “goo,” turning into “Magic Tricks.” He would light candles with the “goo.” He would make explosions. He would write blue-green words with it. He made a fortune on Brand’s discovery by marketing it to the rich and famous and to royalty as a “gimmick” for entertainment purposes. So, although Brand did not turn urine into gold, people have made millions using the phosphorus he discovered.

If you want more check out the video listed below. It is quite entertaining!


Famous Scientists

Hennig Brand (Britannica)

Know the History of Alchemy and Its Chemical Experiments (Video)

Science History Institute

Posted in history, real life tales, research, science | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Militia Officers’ Enlistment + the Release of “Mr. Darcy’s Inadvertent Bride” + a Giveaway

Mr. Darcy’s Inadvertent Bride Releases Today!!!

When I first conceived this book, I planned to have Mr. Wickham compromise Elizabeth Bennet with a kiss and then disappear from the militia, but, before I put pen to paper, I had to attempt to have the historical details correct, which, unfortunately, for me, were not as easy as I had planned. First, I consulted with the fabulous Nancy Mayer who filled in the following details about the militia:

  • The Lord-Lieutenant of the county was in charge of the militia. The militia never left the country, but they usually trained and stayed elsewhere so that they were not called on to fire on their neighbors. A man lived in the county where he joined the militia. [This works as I make many in the Meryton militia from Derbyshire and Yorkshire, which is something I do in most of my Austen-inspired books.]
  • Ms. Mayer was not certain whether the names of those in the various militias were turned into anyone in the cabinet. [As that was to be a key point in the story as to whether a man could simply walk away from his duties to the militia without repercussions.]
  • Each regiment had an agent who took care of the sale of commissions. Some agents might serve several regiments. This man or these men would be the ones who knew who had purchased commissions. 
  • The regiments were run and controlled by the colonels with the money going through them to their paymaster.
  • The names of commissioned officers were sent to the secretary of war. Only a third of commissions were purchased. Most were free. 
  • There were quite a few Army agents.  
  • Men in the artillery units, as well as the engineers, had to go to school for training before being commissioned.
  • It was hard for the men to just disappear because they had a place in the county and served with neighbors. To disappear they had to leave home, work, and all belongings. [This might be true for Captain Denny, but Wickham had no loyalties to anyone but himself.]
  • The man would be in more trouble for slipping away from the militia without permission than for ignoring his obligations to the lady.
  • The Militia unit would not care about the necessity of an engagement. Such would not have them searching for the man. Leaving his post would be the issue.
  • It would be friends of the heroine who would search for him, though why they would want him unless she were pregnant, I don’t know.  A Bow Street Principal officer could be hired to track him down privately.
  • The Commandants of the militias would send a list of deserters to the Home Office. 
  • There was the militia from outside the shire and the local parish militia. Generally, both were disliked.

Ms. Mayer suggested the following book for more research: The County Lieutenancies and the Army, 1802-1824 by Sir John William Fortescue.

Next, I asked another member of the Beau Monde who specializes in military history what might be appropriate based on the story taken place at the end of 1812 and beginning of 1813. He told me something I did not know. So, if you have characters in your books who are tied to the militia, you might wish to learn more of these situations.

Between 1792 and 1812 Britain had no less than six types of ‘militias’ operating, some types of militias overlapping. There were three types of militias, yeomanry and fencibles, the Volunteers and the Reserve Army. It was a mess. 

He also shared the following:

By then (1812/1813), there were only really three ‘militia’ organizations, the Yeomanry, the Militia [the third iteration] and the Volunteers. By 1812, there was only two real militia organizations. The Militia, which was now a more general British organization rather than a county/parish organization and far more uniform in implementation. The Yeomanry still existed, raised by the wealthy and almost all cavalry. [The same kind that was involved in the Peterloo massacre.] There were a few Fencibles still in existence from the 1790s, but they were now more quasi-regular units sent to Canada and other colonies.

So, your hero would have been accepted into the militia as an officer. He would not have bought a commission. The Colonel of the regiment would have been the one to choose him. The colonel could have been from another part of the county or even outside of the county. Again, he could have been able to leave at any point without any legal issues. There may have been social pressures involved, leaving his duty, friends, etc.  There is one other possibility. Several militia regiments/battalions were inducted directly into the Regular Army during this time. It was a ‘semi-voluntary’ action on the part of the Militia. I say semi-voluntary because often the government gave militias, particularly ‘unruly’ groups the option of enlisting or being disbanded. If the Militia agreed to join the Regulars and leaving England for the Peninsula or elsewhere [There were several regiments that showed up in Spain that were ex-militia units] he might see that as a ocean too far. 

Did you learn something new about the militia? I certainly did.

GIVEAWAY: To be included in the giveaway of two eBooks of Mr. Darcy’s Inadvertent Bride, comment below. Winners will be contacted privately by email.

Mr. Darcy’s Inadvertent Bride: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary

Love or Honor or Both?

Miss Elizabeth Bennet cannot quite believe Lieutenant George Wickham’s profession of affection, but young ladies in her position do not receive marriage proposals every day, and she does find the man congenial and fancies she can set him on the right path. However, the upright, and, perhaps uptight, figure of another man steps between them and sets her world on its head

When Fitzwilliam Darcy spots Miss Elizabeth Bennet slipping from the Meryton Assembly to follow a man who favors George Wickham into the darkness, he must act. Although he has not been properly introduced to the young woman, he knows Wickham can be up to no good. Later, when he comes across the lady in London and searching for Wickham, Darcy does the honorable thing and assists her. Yet, when they are discovered alone in her uncle’s house, the pair find themselves being quickstepped to the altar for all the wrong reasons. Can they find happiness when they are barely speaking acquaintances?


“Miss Elizabeth,” he said with a bow of respect. “Imagine encountering you in London.” Darcy filled his eyes with the woman’s unconventional beauty. Like it or not, he was more than a bit glad to have the opportunity to speak to her again.

“Mr. . . . Mr. Darcy.” She appeared as surprised by their meeting as was he, for he had thought the only opportunity he would have to see her again would be at Bingley’s wedding, but only if she had avoided Mr. Wickham. “I hope this finds you well, sir.” 

“Very well, Miss Elizabeth. And you?” This conversation was becoming more awkward by the second. 

“Excellent, sir.” 

People streamed around them on both sides, but Darcy made no effort to remove from the way. “What brings you to London?” He glanced up to notice no servant awaited her. “Pardon my impertinence, ma’am, but I pray you are not out without a maid or one of your father’s footmen to aid you. Is Mr. Bennet in London on business?”

“You ask a grand number of questions, sir,” she said in obvious irritation, “for someone I barely know.” 

Darcy forced himself not to flinch from her intended insult. “I do apologize, Miss Bennet. If you are alone,” he said softly, not really knowing how to speak to such a fiery woman, “I would gladly serve as your escort. I cannot, in all good faith, allow you to proceed alone. London is a very dangerous city, even in some of the better neighborhoods.” 

He knew she studied him for the truth in his words, for a frown formed on her forehead. “I would be glad of your assistance, sir,” she repeated dutifully. “However, I feel it necessary to make you aware my mission in London involves learning of Mr. Wickham’s whereabouts.” 

Mr. Wickham’s name on her tongue was like a blow to his heart, but, beyond stiffening briefly, he managed to ask, “Have you reunited with Mr. Wickham?”

A scene from his youth flashed before Darcy’s eyes. Sweet Marjorie Thistle, a girl Darcy had favored for nearly a year, stood before him and confessed her preference for his long-time companion, George Wickham. Later, her father had approached his own dear parent, along with the elder Mr. Wickham, to explain how Miss Thistle was with child. Likely suspecting the worst, Wickham had disappeared for several months, and Mr. Thistle begged both Darcy’s father and old Wickham for redress. Other than some money, there was nothing to be done to save the girl’s reputation, for no one claim knowledge of Wickham’s whereabouts. Darcy looked upon Miss Elizabeth again and prayed she had not followed Miss Thistle’s road to shame.

“I have not,” she admitted in apparent reluctance, and Darcy said a private prayer of thanksgiving. 

He glanced about him to take a quick inventory of their location. “There is a tea room along the street. Perhaps you will join me. You might explain your purpose in London. Despite our previous exchange of harsh words, I would offer myself up as your companion.” 

“If you could oblige me in claiming a hackney, such would be well done. I would not have you soil your hands in a matter you will surely find repugnant.” 

“I never thought—” he began, but shook off the rest of what he wished to say. He had always been welcomed at the balls and musicales marking every London Season since he was a young man of one and twenty, but Darcy understood his appeal rested more with Pemberley and his ten thousand pounds a year than it did with his social skills, which were awkward at their best. He knew he was too exacting to be thought of as amiable in the eyes of the ladies of the haut ton. Certainly, each of those women would have immediately accepted his hand in marriage and been grateful for his notice of their person, but Darcy had always wanted someone as devoted to him as Miss Elizabeth was to Mr. Wickham. It hurt him to think she would be wasting her youth on such a callow fellow. 

Unfortunately for each of them, Mr. Wickham’s fine countenance and pleasing manners always prevailed. Darcy’s former companion knew how to please a woman with more than intimacies. Whereas, Darcy often found it difficult to be more than polite to many of his female acquaintances. 

“Where do you wish to travel?” he asked as he directed her out of the way of those rushing around them to their own destinations. 

She looked down briefly before clearing her throat. “I had hoped someone at the Home Office would know how to reach Mr. Wickham,” she admitted. 

At the age of thirty, Wickham had successfully tempted another woman into losing her heart to him. The idea made Darcy sad, for the inkling of interest he might have mustered in the young lady standing before him would not truly have time to take root. Not that he required another woman setting her cap for him, but it would be nice to outmaneuver Wickham just one time. 

Even as he thought they might find a common ground if under different circumstances, he studied how her expression changed from hope to despair. When he first laid eyes on her, her auburn hair had reminded him of Marjorie, but Miss Elizabeth’s eyes—a pair of very fine eyes— were so expressive, he could not drag his gaze from her features.

“I see you think me a fool,” she murmured as she pulled herself up taller, although “taller” was certainly not relative when it came to the lady. “I shall not bother you—” she began to gather her wits about her again. 

“I sincerely wish, Miss Elizabeth, you would quit assigning me emotions or conclusions I do not hold,” he said in exasperation. The lady met his gaze, not blinking or looking away, which spoke to her mettle. Darcy noticed for the first time a sense of weariness about her. Not asking her permission, he caught her elbow. “We will have tea, and you will explain the necessity for your discovering Mr. Wickham’s directions. From there, I will determine how best to aid you.” 

She purposely stopped walking beside him. “I did not ask you for your assistance beyond flagging down a hackney,” she asserted. 

He checked his temper, but, even so, his tone sounded harsher than he wanted. “Even if you could safely reach the Home Office on foot, you will require another hour or more of walking, assuming you do not become lost in some neighborhood where you will easily be robbed of your reticule and, perhaps, even your innocence. Even if you possess enough force of character to avoid such dire outcomes and you did not become fair prey for some street thug, the chances of you being admitted to the Home Office is nearly nil. The Home Office is a man’s world, and, at this moment, it is a world consumed with the progress of the war, not with some wastrel of a lieutenant, who broke your heart.” 

“There is no need for you to be so unkind, sir,” she declared boldly, but tears misted her eyes, touching off Darcy’s strong sense of protectiveness. 

“Tea, Miss Elizabeth,” he ordered, attempting to remove her from a very public view of their conversation. 

She asked softly, “Do you possess a means to locate Mr. Wickham? Mr. Denny says you paid the commission for Mr. Wickham’s lieutenancy with the regulars.” 

“Captain Denny?” he asked, a frown marking his brow. Darcy did not appreciate when others made his business theirs. 

“The captain is courting my sister Mary,” she explained. 

“He is mistaken. I simply was called upon to sign off on Mr. Wickham’s request to join the regulars,” he lied. He would not say it was her chastisements that had hung heavy on his conscience and which had induced him to act. Naturally, Wickham had proven himself to be as devious as ever, but, in Darcy’s mind, spending four hundred pounds to silence Wickham and change the opinions of the others within the Meryton militia was money well spent. He had even considered how sending Mr. Wickham away would be a means of separating Wickham and Miss Elizabeth Bennet, thus, clearing her reputation, but, now, the foolish chit meant to track Wickham to wherever the dastard landed and destroy any chance of her discovering a better man than Wickham would ever be. 

“However,” he continued, sucking in a steadying breath. “I do possess connections in the British regulars who may be able to aid you in your quest.” 

“You would truly assist me?” she pleaded. 

Darcy briefly considered only to pretend to search for Wickham and then send her home broken-hearted, but better off, in his opinion; yet, he knew he could not betray her in that manner. “I would.” 

She closed her eyes briefly as if offering a prayer of gratitude. “I find I am quite thirsty, Mr. Darcy,” she said calmly. “You mentioned a tea room nearby.” 

He wondered when maggots had taken up residence in his brain, and he suspected such had occurred during a country assembly he should never have agreed to attend, but he offered the lady his arm. Despite the turmoil surrounding her, Darcy found he liked the feel of her hand around his elbow, and he once again enjoyed the lavender wafting off her skin and filling his lungs with the scent of her.

Posted in book excerpts, book release, British history, George Wickham, Georgian England, Georgian Era, giveaway, historical fiction, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, military, Pride and Prejudice, publishing, real life tales, Regency era, Regency romance, research, Vagary, war, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Courtship and the Prospect of Marriage in Jane Austen’s Time + the Release of “Mr. Darcy’s Inadvertent Bride” + a Giveaway

Felix Friedrich von Ende (German, born 1856)
Title: Courtship

When a man of the Regency era proposed to the woman he wished to marry, there was still the need for parental approval. After all, the father could still without any “fortune” allocated to his daughter. Even if the couple was “in love,” which was a relatively new concept in the early 19th century – the idea of marrying for “love” did not receive universal appeal.

Courtship was considered a “business transaction” rather than an emotional one. Men of the landed gentry and the aristocracy often married to bring more money into the family coffers, for, naturally, maintaining great estates was an expensive business. Men could marry below their status if the woman had a large dowry and a sparkling clean reputation. However, such was not the luxury of females. The idea of marrying for love was still considered déclassé: One was not expected to show too much passion for one’s spouse.

Manners and particular patterns of conduct were expected from potential participants in the “marriage mart.” Certain actions were expected: One was to make his or her availability known, but without being vulgar [think upon Lydia Bennet’s actions at the Netherfield ball] and without deception.

Although Jane Austen lacked a large dowry, she was still expected to choose a mate worthy of her mother’s connections to the aristocracy and her father’s place as a man of the cloth in his community. More than one suitable young man considered courting Jane, but she presented them no encouragement, for our Miss Austen could not think upon accepting “the misery of being bound without love.” Hers was a bold and somewhat controversial move. Not only did Jane’s rejection of Harris Bigg-Wither name her forever as a resigned spinster, but, to a large extent, she became the burden to her family which Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice wished to avoid by marrying the supercilious Mr. Collins.

Certain conventions, such as marrying for money, power, or position, did not change. David Shapard writes in The Annotated Pride and Prejudice:

Marriages among the upper classes frequently involved people whose families were related, or allied, in some way, for such marriages could further strengthen the family ties that were so crucial in this society in determining power, wealth, and position, especially among the upper classes. (p 645)

We know that arranged marriages – those specifically arranged when the children were nothing more than infants had gone out of fashion by the early 19th Century. Lady Catherine addresses this in the first line of her speech to Elizabeth Bennet regarding Mr. Darcy’s supposed engagement to his cousin Anne.

The engagement between them is of a peculiar kind. From their infancy, they have been intended for each other. It was the favourite wish of his mother, as well as of her’s. While in their cradles, we planned the union: and now, at the moment when the wishes of both sisters would be accomplished in their marriage, to be prevented by a young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the world, and wholly unallied to the family! Do you pay no regard to the wishes of his friends? To his tacit engagement with Miss De Bourgh?

Lady Catherine also addresses the unsuitable differences between Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s fortunes. Darcy could name his wife with a simply flick of his wrist, but the fact he proposes TWICE to Elizabeth speaks volumes of the passion he felt for her, and it provides us, Austen’s loyal readers, our HEA – one that rivals many fairy tales.

My daughter and my nephew are formed for each other. They are descended, on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the father’s, from respectable, honourable, and ancient – though untitled – families. Their fortune on both sides is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses; and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured! But it must not, shall not be. If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up.”

A woman out in Society had but one goal, to bind a suitable husband to her. Of Miss Mainwaring in Lady Susan, Austen wrote:

Sir James Martin had been drawn in by that young lady to pay her some attention; and as he is a man of fortune, it was easy to see HER views extended to marriage. It is well know that Miss M. is absolutely on the catch for a husband…” (XIV, Mr. De Courcy to Sir Reginald)

Needless to say, from its title, you understand my latest Austen story does not have Elizabeth and Darcy thinking of each other as a potential mates. As to Elizabeth, all she knows of Darcy is what Mr. Wickham has shared, and Darcy is not best pleased to be forced to accept his long-time enemy’s “left overs,” so to speak. Yet, they have been “caught” together and must pay the piper, meaning Mr. Bennet. Enjoy this excerpt from the novel and then leave a comment to be included in the giveaway.

Mr. Darcy’s Inadvertent Bride: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary is available for preorder and will release on Friday, May 20, 2022.

Love or Honor or Both?

Miss Elizabeth Bennet cannot quite believe Lieutenant George Wickham’s profession of affection, but young ladies in her position do not receive marriage proposals every day, and she does find the man congenial and fancies she can set him on the right path. However, the upright, and, perhaps uptight, figure of another man steps between them and sets her world on its head

When Fitzwilliam Darcy spots Miss Elizabeth Bennet slipping from the Meryton Assembly to follow a man who favors George Wickham into the darkness, he must act. Although he has not been properly introduced to the young woman, he knows Wickham can be up to no good. Later, when he comes across the lady in London and searching for Wickham, Darcy does the honorable thing and assists her. Yet, when they are discovered alone in her uncle’s house, the pair find themselves being quickstepped to the altar for all the wrong reasons. Can they find happiness when they are barely speaking acquaintances?

Elizabeth listened in complete bewilderment. Her father and Mr. Darcy discussed her as if she was not even in the room. She knew she had acted unwisely; however, her mother’s insistence on Elizabeth marrying Mr. Collins had had Elizabeth reaching for desperate measures. “There must be another solution,” she stated the obvious.

Her father stood. “I will provide you two a moment of privacy to settle things between you.” 

“I shall not agree,” she argued. “Under English law, I still hold the right of refusal.” 

Her father ignored her fit of temper. Instead, he crossed the room to exit the drawing room. When he closed the door behind him, finality arrived. The room filled with lost hopes. 

“Please tell me you are not truly going to participate in this farce,” she directed her anger to Mr. Darcy. “A marriage means we will be tied to each other for the remainder of our days.” 

Surprisingly, Mr. Darcy’s lips twitched in what could only be called amusement. “At the very least, now you will be forced to admit your judgement in men is lacking.” 

“For all you know, if you had not interrupted my conversation with Mr. Wickham, I might already be married to the lieutenant,” she accused. Elizabeth would not mention the many doubts she held around such a joining. 

“True,” Mr. Darcy said calmly. “Yet, what type of husband would you have earned in the bargain? No real gentleman would have made arrangements to have you meet him in a dark wooded area,” he asserted. 

“I shall not stay in a room with such an odious oaf as you have proven to be,” she attested and stood to make her leave.

“No. You are the type of woman who prefers a man who fills your pretty head with lies.” 

Without a response, Elizabeth walked away. Although she could not marry such a man as was Mr. Darcy, she doubted she could convince her father otherwise. 

As if he read her mind, Mr. Darcy said coldly, “As you are well aware, your father demands I restore your reputation by my speaking a proposal.” 

There was unexpected bitterness in Mr. Darcy’s voice, which stayed her progress, and she turned in complete dismay to look upon him. She had never anticipated how her choices would also ruin Mr. Darcy’s life. “Mr. Bennet will see reason when his temper recedes,” she ventured. “This notion of a marriage between us is ridiculous!”

Mr. Darcy’s voice held contempt when he spoke. “Unless I am severely mistaken, neither of us possesses a choice in this matter. You cannot think to return to Hertfordshire and simply go forward with your life. Too many people have knowledge of your interlude with Mr. Wickham. Both Colonel Forster and I attempted to curb Mr. Wickham’s explanations of what occurred; yet, the lieutenant is not one easily confined, for he lacks discretion where women are concerned.” 

“You cannot wish this marriage any more than I,” Elizabeth reasoned. 

“You would never be my first choice of wife,” he admitted in bitter tones. “How can you think I would rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? Did you not hear me say my uncle is the Earl of Matlock? I am descended, upon the maternal side, from a line of the nobility, and, on my father’s, from a respectable, honorable, and ancient, though untitled, family. You think I should congratulate myself on the hope of relations whose conditions in life are decidedly beneath my own!” He gestured to their surroundings. 

“I am grieved,” she said sarcastically, “to bring you into a place far below your customary standards! You could not offer me your hand in any possible manner which would tempt me to accept it!”

“Elizabeth!” her father barked from the now open door. “Apologize to Mr. Darcy this very minute!” 

For an elongated second, no one in the room moved. After the silence became too much for any of them, Mr. Darcy spoke into the quietness surrounding them, “Pardon me, Mr. Bennet. I should speak to the Archbishop’s secretary today. I will send word of the necessary details.” 

“You have yet to offer me a proposal, Mr. Darcy!” she called to his retreating form. 

He paused at the door to look back at her. “I will not propose. I will offer you no sentimental admiration of your ‘more endearing’ qualities. No words of praise for your ‘fine’ eyes. A proposal would be the height of the absurd, which will know completion when I return tomorrow to speak my vows!”

Mr. Darcy continued on his way, slamming the door behind him as he exited the house. From somewhere off to her left her father declared, “I knew from my first encounter with Mr. Darcy I could admire the man.” 

If the gentleman had not infuriated her to her core, Elizabeth might have agreed. 

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Fencibles: Defending the Homeland + an excerpt from “Mr. Darcy’s Inadvertent Bride”

Fencibles were the British “defense” (from the word ‘defencible’) forces raised for a specific war. They were raised for defense against the treat of invasion during the Seven Years’ War, the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. They were local military units, composed of residents of a particular area and commanded by Regular Army officers. They customarily performed duties, such as patrolling the coastlines, in order to free up the Regular Army to perform offensive operations abroad. They did not see oversea service, meaning one would not find them fighting on the Continent or in America.

They were enlisted for “service at home” and for the duration of whatever war was going on at that time. Many fencible units were raised by wealthy men who funded their service. This man would often serve as the unit’s commander, generally accepting the rank of “colonel.”

The majority Fencible Regiments were formed between 1793 to the peace arranged at Amiens in 1802. New regiments were formed after that date, but most were for colonial service in British North America.

In England, county/shire militia regiments were raised for internal defense in the absence of the regular army, but Scotland, at least in the opinion of many, were more volatile and were not “encouraged” to form such military units. People worried for insurrection. That does not mean Scottish units did not exist, for the first regiments were raised in Scotland in 1759.

For example, Lord Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton, entered the army in 1756. He served in the American war as captain in the 78th foot, and afterwards as captain in the first royals. On the outbreak of the French war in 1788 he was appointed major in the Argyll or Western fencibles, raised jointly by the Argyll and Eglinton families, with Lord Frederick Campbell as colonel. In 1780, and again in 1784, he was elected to parliament as member for Ayrshire. If we may trust the testimony of Burns, in his ‘Earnest Cry and Prayer,’ Montgomerie’s oratorical power was less conspicuous than his courage: —

⁠I ken, if that your sword were wanted,
⁠⁠Ye’d lend a hand;
⁠But when there’s ought to say anent it,
⁠⁠Ye’re at a stand.

(Dictionary of National Biography)

Montgomerie served in the 77th (1st Highland Regiment) from 1757-1763 and was senior Major of the Argyll Fencibles during the American Revolutionary War. He raised the West Lowland Fencibles in 1793. Ironically, although most of the West Lowland Fencibles were from Ayshire and other lowland areas, at Montgomerie’s insistence, they wore highland dress.

1790 Oil on Canvas from John Singleton Copley – Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton, 1739 – 1819. Soldier; Lord Lieutenant of Ayrshire ~ Public Domain ~,12th_Earl_of_Eglinton#/media/File:John_Singleton_CopleyHugh_Montgomerie,_12th_Earl_of_Eglinton,_17391819._Soldier;_Lord_Lieutenant_of_Ayrshire-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

“Most fencible regiments had no liability for overseas service however there were exceptions. Ireland while not united with the Kingdom of Great Britain until 1801 was the destination for several British fencible regiments during the Rebellion of 1798 where they fought in some minor pitched battles. The 3rd Argyllshire Regiment, who like some other fencible regiments had terms of service that extended to any part of Europe, garrisoned Gibraltar (as did Banffshire Fencibles, 2nd Argllshire Fencibles, and the Prince of Wales Own Fencibles) The Dumbarton Fencibles Regiment was raised in Scotland, garrisoned Guernsey, fought in Ireland, and detachment escorted prisoners to Prussia.The Ancient Irish Fencibles were sent to Egypt where they took part in the operations against the French in 1801.

“Fencible regiments were less effective than regular troops for military duties, with problems of lack of education and disease. In Ireland the regiment troops would take part in inter-regimental brawls and attacks on army soldiers. Some regiments of Fencibles, however, were noted for exceptional service.” (Fencibles)

From “The Forgotten Army: Fencible Regiments of Great Britain 1793 – 1816 on the Napoleon Series website, we find . . .

Below is an example of a Royal Warrant to raise a Fencible Regiment:

Warrant for the Raising of a Regiment of Fencible Men under the Command of Col. M. H. Baillie, [signed George R]

Whereas we have thought fit to order a Regiment of Fencible men, to be forthwith raised under your command, which is to consist of ten companies, of 4 sergeants, 5 corporals, 2 drummers, and 95 men in each, with 2 fifers to the Grenadier Company, besides a sergeant-major and quartermaster-sergeant, together with the usual commissioned officers; which men are to serve in Great Britain and Ireland only.

Given at our Court at St. James, the 24th day of October 1794, in the 34th year of our reign.

By His Majesty’s Command (signed) W. Windham

To our trusty and well-beloved M. H. Baillie, Esq., Colonel of a Regiment of Fencible men to be forthwith raised or to the officer appointed by him to raise men for our said regiment.

Other Sources:

Musteen, Jason R. (2011), Nelson’s Refuge: Gibraltar in the Age of Napoleon, Naval Institute Press, p. 218.

Scobie, Ian Hamilton Mackay (1914), An old highland fencible corps : the history of the Reay Fencible Highland Regiment of Foot, or Mackay’s Highlanders, 1794–1802, with an account of its services in Ireland during the rebellion of 1798, Edinburgh: Blackwood, pp. 353.

Mr. Darcy’s Inadvertent Bride: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary

Love or Honor or Both?

Miss Elizabeth Bennet cannot quite believe Lieutenant George Wickham’s profession of affection, but young ladies in her position do not receive marriage proposals every day, and she does find the man congenial and fancies she can set him on the right path. However, the upright, and, perhaps uptight, figure of another man steps between them and sets her world on its head. 

When Fitzwilliam Darcy spots Miss Elizabeth Bennet slipping from the Meryton Assembly to follow a man who favors George Wickham into the darkness, he must act. Although he has not been properly introduced to the young woman, he knows Wickham can be up to no good. Later, when he comes across the lady in London and searching for Wickham, Darcy does the honorable thing and assists her. Yet, when they are discovered alone in her uncle’s house, the pair find themselves being quickstepped to the altar for all the wrong reasons. Can they find happiness when they are barely speaking acquaintances?


Her father had summoned Elizabeth to his study early on Thursday morning. “I fear, Lizzy, an awkward situation has come to my attention. We must make a decision regarding Mr. Wickham sooner, rather than later.”

“Has the militia returned to Meryton?” she asked, not certain she any longer wished for Mr. Wickham’s attentions. The fact the lieutenant had made no attempt to speak to her before he departed for Brighton with his fellow officers had created a disturbing suspicion she could not quite shake. It filled her chest with nothing but ill will for the gentleman. 

“No, and I understand it will be at least a fortnight before Forster and his men return to Hertfordshire,” her father explained. 

“Then we continue to wait,” she observed with disappointment marking her words. 

“I have the latest letter from Captain Denny before me. Permit me to share what Mr. Denny wrote. As the gentleman is aware I read what he writes to our Mary before I turn the letter over to her, I cannot help but to think the following was purposeful information on the captain’s part.” He lifted the letter where he might read it without squinting. “One event of importance has occurred during the last few days: Mr. Wickham has joined the regulars. Some of the other men say Colonel Darcy made arrangements for Wickham’s commission, but no one can say for certain why Colonel Darcy would extend a hand to a man he supposedly abused previously, but such is the tale.” 

“Then Mr. Wickham does not mean to return to Hertfordshire: I am free to choose elsewhere.” 

“Not quite,” her father was quick to say. “You and I have been under the assumption your mother has not heard the rumors regarding your relationship with Lieutenant Wickham and your little ‘indiscretion.’ We erred. She breezed in here this morning to inform me Mr. Collins has indicated his purpose in coming to Longbourn was to choose among my daughters to claim himself a wife. Naturally, his first inclination was Jane, and, reportedly, my cousin was greatly disappointed to learn both Jane and Mary are spoken for. Mr. Collins suggested you are equal to Jane in beauty and essentials. When your mother learns Mr. Wickham will not return, and she will learn, for, most assuredly, Mary will tell one or more of your sisters of the gentleman accepting a commission elsewhere, Mrs. Bennet will insist you ‘save’ her and any unmarried sisters remaining at home when I pass.” 

“You are saying my choices are to decide between a man who appears not to want me and a man who appears to become more of a fool with each phrase he utters. If I were to marry such a man, I would be miserable. His fatuous praise of this ‘Lady Catherine’ person alone would be enough to drive me insane.” She fought back the tears rushing to her eyes. “What am I to do, Papa? It is not as if I hold the legal right to seek information from the Lord-Lieutenant of the shire regarding Mr. Wickham. Moreover, if the lieutenant has joined the regulars, then the Lord-Lieutenant will no longer keep him on the roles of the militia. Will the man even have knowledge of Mr. Wickham’s whereabouts? To whom do I turn for information? I am not Mr. Wickham’s wife.” A sob caught in her throat. “We hold no official understanding between us. I am simply some girl to whom he presented a ring which once belonged to his mother.” 

“Mr. Wickham gave you a ring?” her father charged. “Why was I not made aware of this previously?”

Elizabeth recoiled from his anger. “I thought you knew. It is not a ring I can wear on my finger. It is the type presented to a young girl on a momentous occasion, say, a special birthday or going off to school. Mr. Wickham said it had belonged to his mother.” She would not tell her father of the lieutenant’s professions of affection. Those sweet words had been the sticking point for Elizabeth. If Mr. Wickham’s words had been a mere flirtation, she would have immediately sent him packing. However, the gentleman had spoken of affection—deep affection for her—something she had never expected to hear on any man’s lips. 

“Where is this ring now?” her father questioned. 

“Wrapped in a handkerchief in a drawer in my bureau,” she confessed. 

“I see.” Her father sounded exhausted, and Elizabeth knew regret at having caused him such distress. “This is another wrinkle in what feels to be a never-ending fabric wrapping us all in shame.” He sighed heavily. “I will make private inquiries into Mr. Wickham’s new position in the regulars. His presenting you a ring is a ‘promise’ we must insist he keep or officially deny so you might choose elsewhere. A ring, even one which can only be worn on a chain about your neck, indicates a betrothal exists between you. This situation is more serious than I first suspected.” 

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The Polite Way to Pay Social Calls, According to Jane Austen, a Guest Post from Eliza Shearer

Paying and receiving social calls was one of the keystones of social etiquette during the Regency, and as such is a constant in Jane Austen’s novels. 

The socially acceptable time for ‘morning calls’ was between breakfast and dinner, so they spanned a good few hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or thereabouts, and an hour or so later in the case of fashionable urban households. 

Certain rules were to be observed at all times, as Jane Austen shows in her work. Here are some of the things she had to say about the behaviour of visitors. 

Visitors Should Always Have Calling Cards to Hand

Calling cards were beautifully printed pieces of paper with a lady or gentleman’s name and title, to which one could add by hand their address or an “at home” note. On arriving in Town, the carrier would leave calling cards in the homes of friends, relations and acquaintances, with an expectation that the call would be returned.

Calling cards were often placed on a silver salver or tray in the entrance hall, like Sir Elliot in Persuasion likes to do to show off his friendship with members of the nobility. 

The Art of Polite Conversation Was a Must

Visitors were expected to ask about the other person’s health, or that of their family. After satisfactorily settling those points, it was proper to follow-up with polite questions on the other person’s comings and goings, or their on the area and the entertainment (or lack thereof) on offer. Beyond that, finding common ground (and avoiding controversial topics) was ideal, but small talk sufficed – the weather was a subject that never failed to get conversation going.   

Calls Had to Be Returned Promptly

Social calls had to be returned promptly, or risk causing offence. In Pride and Prejudice. Jane Bennet, freshly arrived in London, pays a call to Caroline Bingley, but her supposed friend does not return it for two whole weeks. By the end of the encounter, Jane knows they are no longer on intimate terms, as she writes to her sister Elizabeth:

Caroline did not return my visit till yesterday; and not a note, not a line, did I receive in the meantime. When she did come, it was very evident that she had no pleasure in it; she made a slight, formal apology, for not calling before, said not a word of wishing to see me again, and was in every respect so altered a creature, that when she went away aI was perfectly resolved to continue the acquaintance no longer. 

Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 26

A social break-up of this kind wasn’t pleasant, and it was pretty final: in any future encounter, the parties were allowed (even expected) to behave as if they didn’t know each other. 

Certain Social Calls were Unavoidable

As well as visits of pleasure to friends and family, there are visits of duty, which one must not avoid. Classic examples are visits to the bereaved, newly-weds, or charity visits. Visits to those in reduced circumstances also fell in this category. 

In Emma, Mrs and Miss Bates are a prime example of this. Emma abhors visiting them, although she knows she must. Even Mr Weston tells his son Frank Churchill when Jane Fairfax arrives to stay with the Bates that he should call on them early, as particular attention is due to them (little does he know…). 

Visitors Should Occupy Themselves 

After servants brought in refreshments, and once the conversation was flowing, visitors may also look at doing other things. Ladies were welcome to do needlework by helping themselves to the communal work basket in the room, containing perhaps baby clothes or clothes for the poor (no undergarments or stockings needing darning, please!).  

Gentlemen may pick up a newspaper, like Mr Darcy does in his first encounter with Elizabeth when he finds her alone in the Parsonage (probably more to hide his awkwardness more than anything else). However, doing it systematically, ignoring all conversation (like Mr Palmer in Sense and Sensibility), may come across as ever so slightly rude. 

Visitors Should Not Stay too Briefly

Visits had to be a quarter of an hour at least – anything less risked causing serious offence. In Emma, Emma doesn’t allow Harriet to pay but the briefest of calls to the Martin household, until then firm friends (and in the case of the son, suitor) of Harriet’s: 

The style of the visit, and the shortness of it, were then felt to be decisive. Fourteen minutes to be given to those with whom she had thankfully passed six weeks not six months ago!-Emma could not but picture it all, and feel how justly they might resent, how naturally Harriet must suffer.

Emma, Chapter 5

The shortness of the visit in effect tells the family (and her suitor in particular) that Harriet is no longer interested in continuing the acquaintance. 

Ladies Must Never – Ever! – Call Upon a Gentleman

Like in so many other things, women weren’t on an equal footing with men during the Regency. An unattached gentleman may call on a lady he is interested in courting to continue the acquaintance, for example after a night of dancing, if she was his main partner. However, such visits should always be undertaken with care, so as not to encourage gossip, or lead others to believe that the couple had entered a secret engagement. Ladies, however, were not allowed to do the same, or they may be thought wanton. 

Can you think of other does and don’ts for visitors during the Regency? Do you expect (or like) your visitors to behave in a certain way?

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The Babington Plot to Kill Queen Elizabeth I

Anthony Babington, the third child and eldest son of Henry Babington, was born into a wealthy Catholic family in Dethick, Derbyshire, in October 1561. The bells of the church announced his birth to the world; yet, his plotting would destroy his family. At an early age, around 16, he served as a page to the captive Mary Queen of Scots and reportedly “fell in love” with her courage and beauty. It is said, while wearing a disguise, he often visited her at Sheffield, where she was imprisoned.

Portrait of young gentleman said to be Anthony Babington ~

“The sixth Earl of Shrewsbury was entrusted with the care of Mary, Queen of Scots, when she was detained from 1569 onward, in his various houses around Derbyshire, Wingfield among them. In August 1569 the Earl was eager to move Mary from Wingfield. He wanted to take her to Sheffield because Wingfield needed cleaning. There were over 240 people in residence and the manor “waxed unsavoury.” At Sheffield, the Earl had two houses, Sheffield Castle and Sheffield Manor and could easily move the queen between them when cleaning was necessary. [ Fearnehough, David. (2010). Derbyshire extremes. Stroud: Amberley. p. 117.] 

“The Earl of Shrewsbury heard of a plot to release Mary at that time. The Earl of Northumberland and his wife had come to stay nearby at Wentworth House. The alleged escape plan involved the Countess of Northumberland pretending to be a nurse and coming to attend Christine Hogg, the pregnant wife of the embroiderer Bastian Pagez. The Countess was “something like the queen in personage” and would take Mary’s place while she escaped. [Bain, Joseph, ed., Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 2 (Edinburgh, 1900), p. 671.]

“Queen Elizabeth wrote to the Earl of Shrewsbury on 14 March 1570 giving permission for him to move Mary back to Wingfield because the water supply at Tutbury Castle was inadequate. The Earl had hoped to take Mary to Chatsworth House and also made preparations there.

Wingfield Manor. The view from the tower at Wingfield Manor, looking North to North East with the village of South Wingfield in the background. Little known, Wingfield Manor is a huge grand ruin of a country mansion built in 1440 by Ralph Cromwell and is one of the many places Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned. It sits atop a small hill over looking the valley below and is quite imposing on the landscape. The ruin is looked after by English Heritage. ~

“Mary was back at Wingfield in 1584 and Ralph Sadler described in October how the “castle” was guarded by soldiers armed with pistols, muskets and halberds, and the difficult terrain nearby which would deter escape. He wrote about the unsatisfactory conditions in November, when she was to moved to Tutbury Castle. Mary’s bedchamber at Wingfield was too close to the kitchens and the “smoke and scent of meat” from below, despite being the best lodging in the house.

It was thought that was when Mary met Babington, who organised the abortive Babington Plot, a Recusant Catholic plot against Elizabeth I.

Henry Babington died in in 1571, leaving Anthony as his heir under the guardianship of his mother. About 1579, Babington married Margery Draycot and he appears to have spent some time at Lincoln’s Inn the following year.

Anthony Babington’s looks and his quick wit made him a favorite at Queen Elizabeth’s court, but he did not realize he was being watched carefully due to being a practicing Catholic.

In March 1586, Anthony Babington and six friends gathered in The Plough, an inn outside Temple Bar, where they discussed the possibility of freeing Mary, assassinating Elizabeth, and inciting a rebellion supported by an invasion from abroad. With his spy network, it was not long before Walsingham discovered the existence of the Babington Plot. To make sure he obtained a conviction he arranged for Gifford to visit Babington on 6th July. Gifford told Babington that he had heard about the plot from Thomas Morgan in France and was willing to arrange for him to send messages to Mary via his brewer friend.

Sir Francis Walsingham ~ Portrait c. 1585, attributed to John de Critz ~

However, Babington did not fully trust Gifford and enciphered his letter. Babington used a very complex cipher that consisted of 23 symbols that were to be substituted for the letters of the alphabet (excluding j. v and w), along with 35 symbols representing words or phrases. In addition, there were four nulls and a sybol which signified that the next symbol represents a double letter. It would seem that the French Embassy had already arranged for Mary to receive a copy of the necessary codebook.

Gilbert Gifford took the sealed letter to Francis Walsingham. He employed counterfeiters, who would then break the seal on the letter, make a copy, and then reseal the original letter with an identical stamp before handing it back to Gifford. The apparently untouched letter could then be delivered to Mary or her correspondents, who remained oblivious to what was going on.

The copy was then taken to Thomas Phelippes. Cryptanalysts like Phelippes used several methods to break a code like the one used by Babington. For example, the commonest letter in English is “e”. He established the frequency of each character, and tentatively proposed values for those that appeared most often. Eventually he was able to break the code used by Babington. The message clearly proposed the assassination of Elizabeth.

In 1586, Babington wrote to Mary and outlined the plan to use money and troops, provided by Philip of Spain, to sail up the Thames and capture London and Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth was to be murdered and Mary would become the Catholic queen of both England and Scotland.

Sparatcus Educational tells us, “Babington home was searched for documents that would provide evidence against him. When interviewed, Babington, who was not tortured, made a confession in which he admitted that Mary had written a letter supporting the plot. At his trial, Babington and his twelve confederates were found guilty and sentenced to hanging and quartering. ‘The horrors of semi-strangulation and of being split open alive for the heart and intestines to be wrenched out were regarded, like those of being burned to death, as awful but in the accepted order of things.'”

Gallows were set up near St Giles-in-the-Field and the first seven conspirators, led by Babington, were executed on 20th September 1586. These seven men were first dragged behind a horse, face down, through the streets of London. Next they were hung upon gallows in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Finally, they were taken down, while still alive, to have their insides ripped out.

Babington’s last words were “Spare me Lord Jesus”. Another conspirator, Chidiock Tichborne, made a long speech where he blamed Babington “for drawing him in”. The men were hanged only for a short time, cut down while they were still alive, and then castrated and disembowelled.

The other seven were brought to the scaffold the next day and suffered the same death, “but, more favourably, by the Queens commandment, who detested the former cruelty” They hung until they were dead and only then suffered the barbarity of castration and disembowelling. They were officially the last victims to be hung, drawn, and quartered.

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