History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

18 April 2007

A Country House Party!

You're invited to a (virtual) Country House Party~
Where: Riversdale House

Your Hosts: George Calvert (grandson of the fifth Lord Baltimore) and Rosalie Stier Calvert
Please arrive via carriage on Friday evening, in time for dinner at four. After dinner, there will be entertainments in the drawing room (music, cards) until supper at ten.
Breakfast will be served on Saturday at half past nine. After breakfast, the gentlemen will go hunting or fishing or join the ladies on a walk or an outing, or play billiards in the hall. The ladies will spend part of the morning on their own or in Mrs. Calvert's dressing rooms, then walk around the lake and gardens, watch the gentlemen fish, or go for a drive to a neighboring park. At half past three, ladies and gentlemen will retire to their own rooms to change for dinner, served at four in the dining room. Following dinner, the ladies will retire to the drawing room, where the gentlemen will join them around seven for tea and coffee (after enjoying cigars and port in the dining room once the ladies have vacated). Cards, 'romping', reading the newspapers, verse-making, fortune telling or improptu dancing will fill the time before and after supper (served at ten) until everyone goes to bed around twelve.

Such would be the schedule of a typical late 18th/early 19th century English country house party. Actually, I will be going to such a party this weekend, at historic Riversdale House which is actually in Riverdale Park, Maryland (as England is too far to travel for the weekend, I'm afraid!). It's called the "Regency Ladies' Weekend," and, along with several other guests, I will don Regency-era clothing and enjoy period food, accomodations, and entertainment (gentlemen may join in the festivities on Saturday night!). I will also get to tour the house's collections, and that's what I'm most excited about.

But as to REAL country house parties, there were many reasons to host or to attend one. House parties served a political function, simply as a means of entertainment, or even a matchmaking function. With arranged marriages disappearing over the course of the 18th century, ambitious parents were forced to engineer good matches rather than arrange them, and house parties served as a perfect, relaxed environment for a couple to move toward an engagement.

For the most part, between breakfast and dinner, guests were left to do what they wished, with every possible facility laid open for their enjoyment--a room for reading, a billiard room, print room, drawing room, music room. There was hunting and fishing, informal tours of gardens and orangeries--many ways for guests to amuse themselves. By the early 19th century, country houses had begun to serve a meal called 'luncheon' to bridge the lengthy gap between breakfast (at nine or ten in the morning) and dinner (between six-thirty or seven in the evening). Luncheon was informal and often only for the women, as the men were out shooting or hunting.

A formal dinner, however, was the one given at any house party, involving gathering in formal dress in the drawing room before dinner, a formal or semi-formal procession of family and guests from the drawing room to the dining room, the serving of a grand, multi-course meal, the retirement of the women to the drawing room while the men drank, smoke, and talked, and finally, the return of the men to join the ladies in the drawing room where music, cards, and other entertainments would take place.

The Ladies' Weekend at Riversdale House will certainly not be as elaborate as that, but I hope it will give me a taste of what such a gathering must have been like in such a grand home. Almost like traveling back in time!

*Note--my source for most of the post--and one of my favorite research books!--is LIFE IN THE ENGLISH COUNTRY HOUSE by Mark Girouard. The pictures, all of Riversdale House, are from the Riversdale House site, where you can find information about the house's history, and even more great photos.

My question to you is this: if you could travel back in time for one week and one week only to any era/location, where would you go, and why? For me, it would definitely be Regency-era England, but only if I could be a 'lady' and not a scullery maid! Second choice would be to an early colonial Virginia settlement (or any of the southern colonies--can't deal with the cold!), just to see how wonderously beautiful this land must have been then.



Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

That sounds like such a great weekend, Kristina! Please post about it again afterward--I'd love to hear how it went, whether it gives you new insights for writing, and so on.

For my own time travel, there's so many places I'd like to visit, but today I'll pick spending a week with Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery at some point when they were in the Northwest. I'm by no means a Lewis & Clark expert, but I've lived in Seattle for 8 years now. This is such a gorgeous part of the country, and I'd love to see what it looked like 200 years ago--the forests, the mountains, the salmon runs before they were overfished, etc.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Janet Mullany said...

Kristina, I'll be there, too! Actually I'm the hired help so, god help you all, I'll be making breakfast. I'm happy to say I won't be emptying the chamberpots because the house does have indoor plumbing, but there is only one shower and it could get ugly.
See you there!

10:45 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm sooooooooooooo jealous!!! I love these kinds of events.

If I could go back I'd have to pick the late Georgian era (1780s), my total obsession right now. I just love the clothes, the hair, the houses. Yea!

Though the HBO series ROME has me thinking I might love to pay a visit to anciet Rome, too.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Ok, ya'll have to give me a heads up about this event next year (maybe I can swing flying out!).

10:47 AM  
Blogger Kristi Cook said...

Aha, Janet--it was YOU who mentioned the event on the Beau Monde loop, or somewhere I frequent! I remembered someone saying they were a docent there. I'm really looking forward to it--even with you making the breakfast, LOL! Here's a question...if we're supposed to bring sleeping bags, does that mean we are sleeping on the floor?!

10:51 AM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Kristina, this sounds like such a fabulous weekend. I second Susan's suggestion: Do post the party wrap-up, the "after."

Sleeping bags?? Well, at least you won't have to share a bed with someone you don't know, as they had to do then. :)

11:02 AM  
Blogger Kristi Cook said...

Good point, Keira!!

Actually my good friend and fellow Zebra author Sally MacKenzie is going, too--although, as much as I like her, I wouldn't be all that thrilled with sharing a bed with her, either!

11:07 AM  
Blogger Janet Mullany said...

yes, Kristina, sleeping on the floor--a blast from the past in entirely the wrong sort of way. I'm bringing a yoga mat and a disintegratory sleeping bag that I hope the mice didn't get into. Tonda, you should definitely come next year (I hope we'll be doing it again)--you and the Riversdale historian Ann Wass would make a costume dream team.

I'll blog some more on this tomorrow on the Risky Regencies, which I was intending to do anyway!

11:54 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Sounds like a lovely time. Great fun!

If I could visit somewhere in the past, it might be ancient Greece or Rome, or maybe Tuscany. I'd have to go where it's warm, and the clothes are comfortable ;-)

I'm a fair weather traveler, in the past or present!

4:24 PM  
Blogger kimmyl said...

You guys are so lucky.

If I could go back it would be to the late 1800's to Scotland. I just love Scotland, maybe one day I'll get lucky and get to go. It's a beautiful country and I love the history.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I completely surprised myself by answering your question with, "Ancient Greece!"

Huh? Now where did that come from? Must be a past-life hangover.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

I'd only want to go back to 1890s/1900s Paris--Montemartre, the Moulin Rouge at its epoch, Picasso and Degas, Worth dresses, attending the Universalle Exposition--I'd be in heaven!

10:48 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Camilla and Jane George have already hit my first and second choices.
The Belle Epoque (or a little after, so I could lunch with Gertrude Stein). Or late 5th century Athens, seeing the Parthenon newly built (but of course avoiding the nasty plagues that hit the city from time to time).

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The past is nice to read about but I wouldn't want to go there. Insanitary, you could die of a sore throat, and imagine the stomach bugs you could pick up from the food! Nope. Way too risky!

6:40 AM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

Hey Pam--Gertrude Stein is in my WIP! *G* Isn't she fascinating?

4:55 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've often thought the Belle Epoque would make a fabulous setting for a romance.

Want to start a breakout trend? :-)

7:18 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I think the Belle Epoque would be a great breakout trend. What a gorgeous era, so passionate about art, so cynical about love (or that's how I read it anyway). And then there are the clothes .

7:38 AM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

Oh, I'm already trying to start a break-out trend with books set within the twenty-five year period before WWI that deal with the social, gender, technological, artistic and political changes of the time(among other things!).

5:06 PM  

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