History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

29 December 2006

Gentlemen's Clubs

The gentlemen’s club is really a creature of the nineteenth century. Yes, many clubs were founded in the eighteenth century, and some are still in existence today, but club membership exploded in the Regency and Victorian eras. You may have only heard of one or two famous clubs, but the St. James area of London’s West End was bursting with them during this time and is still called "Clubland" to this day.

There were clubs for Whigs and for Tories, clubs defined by profession and by class. Some clubs were exclusive to men who’d attended a specific school like Oxford or Cambridge. Each had a personality whether it be stuffy and silent or scandalously raucous.

White’s is arguably the most famous, though Brooks’s isn’t far behind. White’s was home of the infamous betting book. There was gambling at all clubs and many had house books to place bets in, but White’s betting book was the stuff of legend. Within its pages, personal bets between peers of the realm were placed. Such heady stuff as whether a certain Lord M would marry before year’s end, or which raindrop would chase its way down the window first. It’s rumored that a man once collapsed outside the club doors and bets were immediately placed on his chances of survival.

Gambling was a big focus of the clubs. Men would stay up all night playing hazard and whist. My favorite club, Crockford’s, was founded solely to accommodate hard and deep play. It had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with fun (or ruin).

Fun or not, most clubs didn’t allow women of any sort, not even the disreputable kind. Although many of them had bedrooms, they were strictly for sleeping. The clubs were a bastion of pure masculinity. This brings me to my own personal theory. (Not to say it’s original, I just haven’t done any research into the social theory of gentlemen’s clubs.)

Personally, I think club membership exploded during the Victorian era because of individual and social repression. There were so many rules governing interaction between the sexes; even if you were completely accustomed to it, I can’t imagine it would ever have been comfortable and relaxing. After introductions and courting and betrothals and marriage, there were still strict ideas about how one behaved at home (often considered the woman’s domain).

Can you imagine being married to a strange and completely foreign creature? Someone you not only didn’t understand, but were never supposed to understand? Someone you considered a duty? There were no televisions or radios for entertainment or distraction. Evenings were just man and wife, perhaps occupied with reading or some other task. How would you carry on an enjoyable conversation with a person raised and educated to have utterly different interests and desires?

For many men of the time, their clubs were their true homes. They took their meals there, relaxed, found connection and comfort, not to mention entertainment. Some men lived in their clubs for weeks at a time, married or not. During my research, I read of one man who found his late grandmother’s letters. In them, she laments that she’d been married a year and her husband had only taken dinner at home once.

Of course, we write about heroes, men who defy what’s expected of them, in small or fantastic ways. So would your hero belong to a club? Which kind and how many? I’ve never written much about it, but I’m hoping to write a hero who is a member of Crockford’s someday. I like a bit of scandal in my books!

Happy New Year to all you hoydens out there!


27 December 2006

Headresses: fashion? Or a medeival torture device?

I found a fabulous book at our local library called Medieval Costume in England and France The 13th, 14th and 15th centuries by Mary G Houston.

My current fascination is with the elaborate headdresses of the time. Here are a few:

Forked head-dress.
Butterfly head-dress.
Steeple head-dress--also called a "Henning."
Horned head-dress.

These started out simple and became these large, heavy, elaborately decorated contraptions that had to be stiffened with wire. They weren't worn upright, but sticking out behind the wearer at about a 45 degree angle. My hair is approximately hip length and if I put it into an updo in that angle...YOUCH! It pulls horridly against the scalp and makes my eyebrows float upward like I've had one too many trips to the plastic surgeon. I can hardly imagine an extra five pounds of weight pulling my eyebrows and hairline back. And that was before aspirin.

Anyway, these were held in place with ornamental pins. The heaviest of the heavy used a Frontlet. The Frontlet is a type of cap made of wire netting. It passed over the head and allowed a small loop to appear on the forehead. It was covered in black material and was used to take the strain and discomfort off the head of the wearer of these tall hats.

Okay... so I guess my question is... often they say they women of this time were of the fashion to pluck their forehead and eyebrows. I dunno. Seems to me that sort of weight would just cause someone to start going bald in the front the same way wearing a hair clip in the same place day after day can cause hair loss. And--yikes!--I know that type of achy dull headache I get from a misplaced hair pins/hairbun makes me want to snatch out my eyebrows.

LOL! So, I'm glad this fashion has gone away, but it's fun to study.

26 December 2006

Hoyden News

Firstly, we have a new Hoyden! Eagle-eyed visitors may have noticed that Kristina Cook (UNLACED, UNVEILED, UNDRESSED) has joined us. Kristina writes amazing Regency-set romances, with smart heroines that I just love. Her fourth book, TO LOVE A SCOUNDREL, is already up for presale (and they've given her a hot cover makeover).

She was also a Zebra Deb, so you bet Victoria, Kathrynn and I will all be paying close attention to her advice!

Speaking of my Deb sisters, they both got their covers!!! (and yes, this warrants lots of exclamation marks, LOL!). Waiting for your cover is pure torture (esp your very first cover).

Victoria's is scorchingly hot! All that silky red fabric and naked skin makes my fingers itch to grab it.

And Kathrynn's is--IMO--dreamy and moody and just makes me what to run home and curl up with it. I love love love that misty blue.

What do you all think? I think we're on a cover roll!

25 December 2006

December 25

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate this holiday

Here are a few tidbits about Christmas --

The word for Christmas comes from late Old English: Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038, and Cristes-messe, in 1131. Generally I would say that it is not as closely connected to the ceremonies of other religions as is Easter.

Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Before Christmas and Epiphany were added to the church calendar the only days celebrated were the Resurrection and Pentecost as well as the Lord’s Day.

The earliest reference to the celebration of Christmas is an the illuminated manuscript compiled in Rome in 354. In the east, meanwhile, Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus as part of Epiphany (January 6) These two feast were added in the fourth century

In the early middle ages, Christmas Day was overshadowed by Epiphany. Eventually the celebration grew to include the twelve days of Christmas The evening of January 5 was called Twelfth Night in case you are wondering where Shakespeare found that title.

Charlemagne was crowned on Christmas Day in 800 and William I if England on Christmas Day in 1066

Richard II hosted a Christmas feast in 1377 at which twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten.

X (chi) in Greek is the first letter of Christ in Greek (Χριστός). Since the 1500’s the Roman letter X has been used as an abbreviation for Christ thus we have Xmas..

Following the Parliamentary victory over King Charles I, England’s Puritan ruler banned Christmas, in 1647. (See picture: Father Christmas on trial) Pro-Christmas rioting broke out in several cities, and for weeks Canterbury was controlled by the rioters who decorated with holly. Rioting and decorating with holly hardly seem comaptible to me. Wonder if it was not simply an "occupation" -- I must read more about this.

In America Christmas fell out of favor after the Revolution because it was considered an “English custom”. Note they continued to drink tea. Some things British could not be sacrificed!

Dickens “A Christmas Carol” played a large role in reinventing Christmas as a holiday with the family centered traditions we know today.

was declared US federal holiday in 1870.

Most of my information for this blog came from the OED, Wikipedia and The Catholic Encyclopedia

22 December 2006

Guest Author, Jackie Ivie

Welcome, Jackie Ivie, our guest author. When we thought of a great historical author who has a book coming out with a holiday setting, we thought of Jackie and her latest, THE KNIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS! That hero has “Tis the season . . .” written all over him.

Glad to have you stop by, Jackie. What event in history gave you the niggling of an idea for THE KNIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS?

How I wish I had a good answer to this! I was actually writing a short story for inclusion in an anthology that never materialized. I wanted to go back into the Medieval period (so much history then!), and I was given pretty wide guidelines from my editor: Historical, Scottish, emotional intensity, Christmas setting, 100 pages - Can I do it? Boy! Was I game. I had it to page 80 of the 100 specified when the order changed and Zebra wanted a full-length one from what I'd already sent. The request changed. Could I make it a 100,000 full-length historical? I sure can!

What are your favorite historical references?

"Scotland, History of a Nation" by Magnus Magnusson. I'm also fond of every castle book I can find - mostly the pictures; the staircases, window placements, the walls.... Wow! I just love to invent the life that went on within them. Did you research holiday traditions for TKBC? That's a tough one. They didn't actually celebrate Christmas back in the medieval times...that I could locate, anyway. But I knew they had Christianity and I knew they'd celebrate Christ's birth. I found the reference for the mass held at that time and I was off! I needed a winter setting, emotion, and a few scattered sprigs of mistletoe - and I was set!

You've enjoyed great success as a Zebra Debut author. Could you offer words of wisdom to readers and aspiring writers regarding what you've learned along the way?

I'll try. Don't let anything stop you from writing. My editor wants emotional intensity from me - (pretty broad requirement, right?), so, that's exactly what I try to give her. If you're one of the broad spectrum writers - then write to what the publishing demands are. If you're more narrow (like me), then write what you love. Always. And then go as many places as you can afford and shake as many hands as you can.

Tell us about your next book and your works in progress.

With absolute pleasure! My next one is called HEAT OF THE KNIGHT. It's due out in the fall of 2007. Here's a spur-of-the moment blurb: There wasn't anything more detested throughout the Highlands than the black laird of the Monteith clan. It wasn't just his dark visage and size that granted him that emotion. It was the rumored evil in his soul, the lies he spouted, the whispers of his deeds, the cowardice of his actions in not coming to Bonnie Prince Charlie's aid when he was most needed. Now that the "pretenders" war's been fought and the clans defeated, the Monteith is back in residence with enough gold and power to get anything he wants. Anything. Even if what he wants is a Culloden widow named Lisle MacHugh. Lisle would rather sell the family land to the black laird than give him what he most desires: her hand in wedlock. But her wishes aren't worth much when matched against the poverty of the MacHughs. They'd sell anything to the devil for the right price, even with the self-hatred that goes with it. It isn't until Lisle is at the Castle Monteith and legally wed to the black laird that she starts seeing things she isn't meant to see. There are a lot of secrets surrounding the black Monteith and his castle. And his emotionless act is just one of them.

I just signed a contract for two more Highland "knight" books, so the next one is what I titled A PERFECT KNIGHT FOR LOVE. It's already written and expected sometime in 2008. I went even further back in time for that one, bringing in a Norman conqueror fellow with Scotland's King David's court in 1137. A Norman knight and a Celt maiden...hmm...that was really fun to write! And then I'll get Sybil's story finished. I already have a great start on it - and am loving every minute. That woman has her hot Highlander tied in knots by page 8 and she didn't even have to touch him! I'm going to be one busy writer!

Thanks so much for inviting me to blog with the Hoydens!

20 December 2006

Romance and the Romantics: The Case of Claire

Have you then any objection to the following plan? On Thursday Evening we may go out of town together by some stage or mail about the distance of 10 or 12 miles. There we shall be free & unknown; we can return early the following morning. I have arranged everything here . . .
Claire Clairmont wrote these words to Lord Byron in 1816, when she was a seventeen-year-old virgin of no social standing. You can see from the one amateur portrait that exists of her (and which she hated) that she was pretty but certainly not beautiful.

How was she capable of penning so cool, terse, and practical-minded a sexual proposition to Britain’s most famous celebrity? We can’t know. But when the romance community discussion turns to what a Regency heroine would or wouldn’t do, my mind always returns to Claire – who wasn’t actually named Claire.

Her given name was Clara Mary Jane; her family called her Jane. Claire was her own – to my mind – touchingly awkward effort at self-invention. For she’d grown up in a unique, eccentric, intellectual family where (as she put it years later) “if you cannot write an epic poem or a novel that by its originality knocks all other novels on its head, you are a despicable creature not worth acknowledging.”

Her stepfather was the vastly learned radical philosopher William Godwin. Though well known in earlier, less reactionary, decades, by 1816 Godwin was the obscure, strapped-for-cash proprietor of The Juvenile Library, a children’s bookseller and publisher.

Godwin had been married to the great feminist thinker Mary Wollstonecraft; Wollstonecraft had died soon after giving birth to a daughter, Mary – who would later write the uniquely, astonishingly original novel Frankenstein. In 1801, Godwin married a neighbor, a Mrs. Mary Jane Clairmont – perhaps a widow but probably not, with two small children of her own, Charles and Jane-who-would-become-Claire.

And just in case you think “blended families” are an invention of our time, try parsing this one: William Godwin and his second wife raised five children, none of whom had the same mother and father. Besides Mary Godwin and Charles and Claire Clairmont, the household included Fanny – Mary Wollstonecraft’s illegitimate first child by her earlier lover Gilbert Imlay – and finally the son Godwin and Mrs. Clairmont Godwin had together, another William.

By 1816 Mary Godwin was the lover of the young poet Percy Shelley (who, by the way, had a wife and children of his own; Harriet Shelley was to drown herself in the Serpentine River the following year.) It was Claire who introduced Shelley to Byron.

And although the planned Thursday Night assignation didn’t take place, other meetings did. Claire bore Byron a daughter named Allegra. Self-exiled in Italy, Byron took the child to raise (well, he was Lord Byron, after all; Claire was a penniless nobody). Everyone thought it a satisfactory arrangement until Byron (who was, to put it mildly, ambivalent about unconventional, educated women) sent Allegra to a convent to be educated – quite against Claire’s principles. Claire’s efforts to get her daughter back break my heart. Allegra contracted typhus or malaria and died when she was five years old.

I’m fascinated by the confused, passionate, tragically selfish and wildly overreaching stories of people who tried to live beyond the political and moral conventions of their time and who helped invent the big, difficult ideas that still vex and challenge us. As a child of the 60s, I often find myself wondering about risky, self-created lifestyles, their consequences and their aftermath.

In any case I’d love to figure out a way to bring aspects of these lives into erotic historical romance. And every so often I try, but so far, I must admit, to no avail. We often write historical romance heroines (and heroes, too) who flirt with the most advanced and dangerous ideas of their time but who find snug security by the end of the novel. I’ve wanted to bring the romantic poets and particularly the women of their circle into romance for some time, but never know how to bring them "home" again. Shelley and Byron linger about the fringes of The Slightest Provocation as evidence of earlier attempts.

But I’m sure someone out there could do better. Perhaps taking inspiration from Claire, who’s often dismissed as an annoying Monica Lewinsky type of hanger-on, but who picked herself up from her grieving to live a remarkably independent life. She traveled, supported herself as a teacher and governess in France, Austria, Russia, Italy, and England, spoke many languages, read widely and had many friends.

Her life post-Byron was long, hard, very interesting and in some ways more admirable (at least to me) than that of her brilliant stepsister, Mary Shelley, who spent much of her widowhood trying to whitewash her radical, atheistical husband’s reputation in order to secure a baronetcy for her markedly stuffy and unpoetic son Percy Florence. Claire never married – partly because she clung to the “ten minutes of happiness” she’d felt with Byron, but partly because she maintained the radical anti-marriage sentiments of her youth.

So OK, you tell me. Which unconventional historical lives would you like to see brought into romance fiction? Which ones do you think are simply too big and sui generis to fit into a conventional plot arc? Which romances do you think have worked magic with stubborn, selfish, actual historical personages – or reasonable facsimiles?

And isn’t it odd that the era romance readers and writers call the Regency is known among academics as the romantic period?

19 December 2006

What's underneath the skirts?

As I promised, I’ll comment on what equestriennes through history might have worn underneath their skirts. Keep in mind it was not until the end of the seventeenth century that special clothes were developed for the purpose of riding. Until that time, women rode in their everyday dresses, presumably in their everyday underwear (or as in the middle ages, probably nothing).

The bottom line is, we really don’t know much about what women equestriennes wore underneaththeir skirts until the typical riding habit as depicted in Victorian magazines was advertised showing custom doeskin riding breeches as part of the get-up---the breeches clearly intended to be worn under all those petticoats and yards and yards of skirts.

In this painting by Claude Deruet (French, 1588-1622) we get a rare glimpse of what ladies did wear under their clothes, at least in the sixteenth century, and when they just happened to be out riding on a hunt. The women, who are probably members of the court of the Duke de Lorraine, are riding aside and one of them has taken a tumble, thus affording us an uncommon look at what she is wearing underneath her skirts---refined little slippers, pretty stockings and be-ribboned garters---hardly a practical for a chase. But the fanciful seventeenth century taste in everything prevails in this painting, right down to the long, white silky manes of the horses, which were specially bred at this time to compliment their rider’s elegant appearance---er---rather in INelegant, in the case of the poor equestrienne who has fallen. What a long, long way we have come!

And lastly, for my exciting news and wonderful surprise from my editor at Kensington, see my new cover for my Sept 2007 book, DARK RIDER at www.kdennis.com! The hero is a hunk, and man, does he have a "horseman hands." ;-) Will post a larger version on the blog later---working hard tonight to get my info and pre-order stuff up on Amazon! For a mini preview, check out the cover in the banner to the left...Kalen posted for me earlier today. Cheers!

18 December 2006

Regency Pockets

The only pockets I’ve ever seen on a Regency gown are watch pockets. They’re small, right at the “waist” (i.e. under the bust where the skirt meets the bodice), and set off to one side. In the picture here you can just see the watch pocket gaping open slightly under the right sleeve.

The watch would have been worn round the neck on a long chain, or the chain could have been attached to a broach.

I've seen similar watch pockets on extant habits, but I haven't seen a side pocket in the skirt on any extant garment, not even on the redingotes or pelisses from the era. The earliest side pockets I’ve seen are on gowns from the 1830s, though they remain an oddity up until the 1860s, rather than a commonly adopted feature.

It makes a certain amount of sense if you think about it, though. It's hard to have a pocket in a gown made of a light-weight fabric that's meant to show off the lines of the body, but it's easy won't the skirts get full towards the end of the 1820s, and there's plenty of petticoats to hide the bulge of whatever you might put in that pocket.

So my Georgian ladies can have pockets under their hoops, and Victoria Dahl's Victorian ladies can have pockets in their gowns, but should either of us slide into a Regency setting, we'll have to find a handy use for a ridicule (braining an uppity hero greatly appeals to me).

16 December 2006

18th Century Pockets

Women’s pockets in the 1700s were not a part of the gown, they were a separate accessory that tied on around the waist, under the skirt and hoops. The skirts fastened like a double-apron, with only 3/4-2/3 of the side seam sewn up. The hoops also had an opening, and thus with a little work the lady could work her hand through the layers of her clothing and reach her pockets (which are tied over her shirt and stays/corset). The pockets are quite large, allowing many useful things to be carried in them: the ladies wallet, her sovereign purse, extra pins for her clothing, her vinaigrette, etc.

This style of pocket is great so long as skirts are full and there are hoops or hip pads holding the skirts away from the body, but when the ideal silhouette changes to the body-conscious one that we’re all familiar with from the Regency (in the late 1790s) a lumpy pocket under your skirts is not such a great idea any more. Plus, if you’re wearing a round gown, there’ no way to reach the pocket.

Thus is born the ridicule. From what I’ve seen it looks like women simple started carrying one pocket on a string like a purse. The pocket quickly transformed into the much smaller ridicules seen during the Regency, and by the middle of the Victorian era even the name had changed, becoming the reticule.

15 December 2006

Oh, Those Celts!

Did you know that the Nevada Burning Man festival derives from the ancient yearly Wicker Man ceremony in pagan Celtic lands?
While researching pagan rituals for The Norman’s Bride, my medieval set in 11th century England, I found more than I bargained for. Wicker Man was a giant wicker humanoid figure used by the ancient Druids for human sacrifice!

Apparently once each year, Druidic cultures built a figure out of flexible sticks, such as willow, and placed living men inside, then set the whole shebang afire to honor the gods. Generally thieves and criminals were used, but when no delinquents could be found, the Druids chose innocent men. (No mention is made of women.)

Today, a Wicker Man is still burned as part of neo-pagan ceremonies, particularly Beltane, which is a rite of spring. The Wickerman Festival in Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland, is an annual rock and dance music event; the main feature is burning of a large wooden effigy on the last night. Also, a Wicker Man is burned each year at Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire, England, as part of their pagan-themed ceremonies.

Source: Wikipedia
–Lynna Banning

14 December 2006

Nasty Little Pocketses

I’ve been teaching a class for the last month called How Clothes Worked: The Regency. In it I’ve been showing tons and tons of pictures of extant garments or period drawings and talking about the details of the clothes (where the buttons are, how the dress closes, etc.). One of the big revelations for lots of folks has been where there are (and are not) pockets.

For men, there are lots and lots of options. Most coats have pockets in the tail (inconvenient, yes), and after about 1813/1815 they might have had a breast pocket on the inside (though this remained rare). The pocket flaps on the outside of the coat are merely decorative.

Breeches/pantaloons had pockets, too. There is usually a small watch pocket up near the waistband, and another pocket just outside the fall (about where the side-pockets are on a pair of jeans). There are no back pockets, however, and the front ones aren’t big enough to accommodate a period wallet (that’s what the tail pocket in the coat is for).

The picture here shows a gentleman, c. 1809, wearing a great coat, with his hand shoved into the pocket of his pantaloons.

12 December 2006

Winners of THE HAREM!

Would Keira Soleore and Maureen please email me with your snail mail addresses.


Lord Sin on Preorder!

Since we don't have a guest today I couldn't resist taking the chance to crow a bit. Lord Sin is up for preorder on Amazon! As a debut author, this is a thrill only rivaled to date by "the call".

Lusty and dramatic, with a great touch of suspense, this deliciously erotic debut will keep readers enthralled.

--Julia Ross, bestselling author of Clandestine


Georgianna Exley's passionate nature has always been her undoing-and for this reason the beautiful young widow allows her lovers only a single night in her bed. But Ivo Dauntry has come home to England, and for him she'll break her most sacred rule: granting him six nights of sensual bliss, one for every year he's given up for her . . .


As a gentleman born, Ivo risked his reputation and his life in a duel to defend Georgianna's honor. Now, returned from exile, Ivo discovers that she has proved to be less than a lady . . . and soon, his daring seduction becomes a sensual contest of wills. But the long-ago duel that bound them forever has fueled the hatred of a madman determined to make Georgianna pay for her misdeeds with her life, and once again, Ivo must risk everything to save the woman he loves . . .

To read the first chapter follow this link to my website.

11 December 2006

Nothing pulls me out of a story more than historical inaccuracy, which is how I originaly formed a friendship with our own Kalen Hughes and became one of our little band of History Hoydens. Recently, I've noticed one aspect of historical accuracy that's often ignored -- the accuracy of a character's given name.

I've always been fascinated by the way societal trends affect the first names given to children. In our own era, it's easy to see how modern social trends affect first names:

2002: The name "Emma" increased in frequency dramatically in 2002. When a study was done, it was found that these mothers named their daughters Emma because they were influenced by the character on the TV show Friends who named her own daughter Emma in the 2001-2002 season finale.

1970: The name "Jennifer" was quite rare prior to 1970. What happened? A movie called Love Story. Jennifer has been in the top 10 names for girls in the USA since that time, enjoying several years as the number 1 name.

1960s: One TV show gets the credit for the surge in Jason, Joshua, Jeffrey, and Jeremy -- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The show featured seven brothers, all with names beginning with the letter J, and young girls watching the show used the name of their favorite character when naming their own sons. Prior to this show, all four of these names were considered very rare in the USA. I believe the statistic was less than 20 occurrences of these names per year, nationwide. Now it seems that there are 20 occurrences per class.

What does this have to do with historical novels? I recently read a Regency where a secondary character had the name "Doreen." A quick Internet search will tell you that the name didn't exist until 1896, when a romance novelist named Edna Lyall invented the name for the title character of her book, Doreen: Story of a Singer. Probably as a direct result of the novel's popularity, the name was avidly used in the UK at the turn of the century, reaching the top 10 names for girls in 1920. It's fallen into disfavor since, and was never used widely in the US. But in the Regency era, the name simply didn't exist.

Same for Wendy, which sounds obviously anachronistic to me, but I've seen it in at least two Regency novels (once as the name of a servant and once for a small child). "Wendy" was famously invented by J. M. Barrie in 1896 for the heroine in his classic play, Peter Pan.

So, what names are appropriate -- or more importantly, believable -- for the Regency? A look at social trends of the time is a good clue, but keep in mind that our heroines would have been named as infants, well before the Regency itself began, so look to Georgian trends rather than the Regency proper.

The social development towards naturalism can be seen in the popularity of flower names -- Margarette (aka Daisy), Rose, Poppy, Amaryllis -- a trend seen markedly in early Victorian days but begun in the late Georgian period. The same is true of jewel names -- Pearl, Ruby, Gemma, etc.

And some trends are eternal. Honoring one's deceased relatives was very popular, and if a family was driven by duty and honor, chances are they used this limited pool of ancestral names very often. (This is seen frequently even today, which explains why I have four uncles named Joseph and multiple cousins named Anthony).

Today first names are usually picked by the mother, but in the Georgian and Regency eras fathers often chose the name. If a man wanted to honor his father and had only a daughter, odds were the child received a feminized male name: Georgiana, Frederica, and the like.

There aren't a lot of repositories specific to the Georgian or Regency periods, but there are some excellent sites on other time periods. Some links for you to peruse:

Medieval Names -- a truly outstanding site, staffed by volunteers who love all things medieval

First names in Early Britain

The Origin of Names in a variety of cultures through history

Irish First Names through history, very brief but with social context

I hope this gives you some food for thought. I admit first name etymology is one of my obsessions, perhaps not shared by many authors, but I'd love to hear your own opinions on the topic.

Best to all,

09 December 2006

Going Native with Celia May Hart

Don't forget Celia is giving away a copy of her new book, THE HAREM to one lucky poster!

That’s what you have to do to write a historical of any sort or description. Go native. I’ve been reading about the Hoydens going to primary sources...

But what if your primary sources are in a moldy library in Hyderabad, India and in Deccan to boot? That’s where scholarly secondary sources come in handy.

When I chose India as the setting for my novella “East Meets West” for THE HAREM anthology, I knew next to nothing about it. Oh, I knew about the East India company -- that was where younger sons came back from with riches to star in a book of their own set in Regency England. That’s all I needed to know, right?

There’s a phrase among readers that’s called “glomming” and that’s about the best way to “go native”, by immersing yourself into anything and everything you can find that belongs to that era. Primary, secondary, visual, audio, anything that will make the flavor of that time and place second nature. Do it until it comes out of your pores.

“White Mughals” by William Dalrymple, did that very nicely. He did the research in that Hyderabad library and followed the compelling tale of James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the British resident at Hyderabad and his love for the beautiful Khair un-Nissa.

Kirkpatrick and other British men went native while at their posts, not just taking a bibi (which means “wife”, but to the men it meant “convenient woman to sleep with”, although to be fair, some did treat their bibis like their wife), but becoming deeply involved with the culture, the religion, the festivals. One of the hotly debated points in Dalrymple’s book is whether or not Kirkpatrick actually became a Muslim.

They dressed in the local style, kept local hours, attended the festival, took up the hookah. Remember Becky Sharpe sampling a chili in “Vanity Fair”? They grew accustomed to the foods. Most of it was due to political expediency and the importance of getting along with the local rulers.

Dalrymple didn’t just settle for these observations of how the British changed, but he examined the lifestyle of local aristocratic circles these men often moved in, including the culture surrounding the marriage of a young woman as well as festivals.

He even uses an Iranian visitor, Abdul Lateef Shushtari, to examine both sides. (The upper caste of India (the Mughals) were of Iranian stock and this is why they were Muslim.) Like all travelogues it has nifty little details, such as that despite the British respect for the Indian elders, they apparently had a lot to learn about hygiene. In Shushtari’s opinion the Muslim caste had also gone “native”, adopting Hindu ways and their women were overeducated and independent-minded compared with the women at that time in Iran.

A good secondary source can also find you those primary sources that are accessible, as well as other secondary sources that might focus on a particular subject. Read the footnotes, read the bibliography, find other books. Historians can be notorious for disagreeing with each other, so make sure you get at least one alternative viewpoint in there. Find those primary sources, if you can, listen to the music, view their art and before you know it, you’ve “gone native”.

Welcome to the club!

08 December 2006

Reality at the End of a (Silver) Fork

I lack a historian’s stamina. The ocean of fact that some of our hoydens swim in threatens to drown me. Too much undigested actuality pulls me under.

What I really love is the history of stories, the big, changing meta-story of how different cultures in different eras have gazed at themselves in mirrors, charted themselves on paper.

I like to write characters who are also readers. In Almost a Gentleman, Phoebe and Kate are inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion to seek love beyond their first youth; reading Emma, Fannie and Elizabeth of The Slightest Provocation ask whether Mr. Knightley is dreamy or maybe a little bit weird.

But lately I’ve been wondering if my characters should be reading Austen at all. Because chances are that what they’d really have been reading was the era’s “silver fork novels.”

Of course people of the Regency read Austen. But in truth many more of them read what could much better be called “Regencies.” An author of the 1820s could sell more copies than Austen ever did by penning witty, brittle, yet also romantic novels about bored, exquisitely dressed (yet also extremely manly) men with names like Tremaine, De Vere or Vivian Grey, with pedigrees and social standing to match their clothes.

According to Ellen Moers’ superlative study The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm, what the authors and publishers of “silver fork” novels were going for was an air of “exclusivity”: a highly formalized portrayal of the social life closed off to the common run of humanity was something that the common run of humanity found oddly titillating and delightful.

At first I found this all a bit surprising. Of course we spend our lives in a media-generated haze of images of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. And often, like Woody Allen in Annie Hall, we might be less than interested in any club that would have us as members. But I’d imagined this phenomenon as a recent one, spawned by TV and the web. Just as I’d thought that the novel of Regency high life had been invented by Georgette Heyer in the early-to-mid-twentieth century.

Seems I was wrong. Seems that it took the tonnish lifestyle little more than a decade to propagate its own reflections into popular fiction. Brummell and company had their heydays in the streets, clubs, and ballrooms of the first decade of the nineteenth century. By 1820, when the Prince of Wales had become King George IV and the debt-ridden Brummell had beat his retreat to Calais, gentlemen of fashion had made their way between the sheets and beneath the covers of fashionable novel.

Silver fork heroes were as elegant, witty, and clever as Heyer’s Corinthians, and as available to have their hearts melted by lovely, worthy women. People debated who the originals for these men were. And an early silver fork author, Robert Plumer Ward, reported with delight that he’d overheard a group of young ladies gushing over his rakish hero, Tremaine. Ward must have known that he’d done his job well when he heard them say they’d have married his hero “for the sake of converting him.” Plus ca change…

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. You don’t need mass electrification to have a mass media. The Georgian-to-Regency-to-Georgian era had an immense popular press. According to Wikipedia, Regency London had 52 newspapers. Clearly this was a society that adored its own image.

And so I’ve come to imagine the socially prominent Regency ton living their lives surrounded by glittering panes of glass – windows you could see through and silvered mirror glass you could see yourself in. If you were an insider, you spent a fair amount of time scanning the mirrors of the on-dits and the silver fork novels (and it must have been devastating not to see your own face reflected therein). And if you were among the much bigger group who hadn’t been invited, the gossip and the novels were like big French windows that you could peek through to watch the dancing.

Ellen Moers tells us that the originator of the fashionable novel, the brilliantly successful publisher Henry Colburn, saw that “a literature written about the exclusives, by the exclusives (or those who knew them well) and for the exclusives would be royally supported by those who were not but wanted desperately to become exclusives: the nouveaux riches of post-war England.”

One could perhaps write a Regency about a Henry Colburn – or about one of his authors. Some of these authors were women; one was the future British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. When he wrote Vivian Grey Disraeli was a dreamy dandyish Jewish boy in his early twenties; he made up most of what he wrote, for of course he was not to be admitted to Almack’s for many years after.

Perhaps one could write about the sort of man who might want to have a silver fork novel written about him.

Or how about the reader of a silver fork novel? How about a Birmingham manufacturer of… oh, say, silver forks, or big, beautiful panes of glass?

I obviously haven’t gone beyond musing and meandering yet. Still wandering through the hall of mirrors and windows that’s my and our literary history.

And wondering whether any of you share these fascinations…

07 December 2006

Height and the Lutrell Psalter

I love this topic, Kalen, and being tall like you--- of considerable height myself (5'11), I've often wondered if I wouldn't have towered over my medieval heroes, and well, if maybe my depiction of them as 6 feet tall or taller, isn't' historically accurate (unless they were from Scotland).

I wanted to post this image of the 14th century Lutrell Psalter, because it has been much studied regarding the heights of the horse, the knight and the ladies (and since I can't post this image with a comment, I went ahead and blogged it.)

The Lutrell Psalter, a prayer book commissioned by the noble and very wealthy Lutrell family, is named by modern scholars after its original patron. The largest picture in the manuscript depicts a knight on horseback attended by two women, immediately below the words A Lord Geoffrey Luttrell had me made in Latin (Dominus Galfridus Louterell me fieri fecit). The two women in the picture can be identified by their coats of arms as Geoffrey Luttrell's wife, Agnes de Sutton, who hands him his helm and lance, and his daughter-in-law, Beatrice le Scrope, who carries his shield. Geoffrey Luttrell was lord of the manor at Irnham, between Grantham and Spalding in Lincolnshire, but he owned estates across England, thanks to his great-great-grandfather, also called Geoffrey. His ancestor's loyal support and service to King John had been rewarded with grants of various properties, which were greatly added to by marriage to an heiress. The style of the illumination shows that Sir Geoffrey commissioned the Psalter some time between 1320 and 1340.

Now to the height business. Destriers of the time were usually no more than 15 hands tall (4 inches=hand) and the horse in this image is estimated to have been around 14.2 or 14.6 hands tall at the withers (58 inches, or so). That said, Lord Geoffrey's wife, with the top of her head not quite reaching the withers, is estimated to have been about 5'1" and Lord Geoffrey himself, not over 5'6". . But he was a great hero of the time, and he must have been a tall man in the saddle!

Thanks for letting me barge in on your topic!

Just How Tall Were People?

One of the things I get asked about all the time, or that I see misrepresented all over the place, is the issue of just how tall were people in the past. People see a few gowns obviously made for short women and up and decide that ALL women of the era were that small . . . did it ever occur to them that the gowns that survive might have done so specifically because they were made for EXCEPTIONALLY small women, and so couldn’t be readily made over for someone else?

I was recently at Kent State to view their The Age of Nudity exhibit. On one side of the room was a group of truly Lilliputian ladies in gowns c. 1810-1815. At 5’10” I towered over the dummies. On the other side of the room stood a group of Georgian ladies c. 1780-1800. At least three of the gowns would have fit me. If you’d mixed the dummies together the Regency ladies would have looked like the Georgian ladies’ prepubescent daughters. I highly doubt that in one generation the women of England shrunk so significantly. A more likely answer is simply that the gowns of tall women were more likely to be cut down and made over than those of short women, as there was more fabric involved to accommodate the change in style or owner.

There are all kinds of studies out there about height. Some are archeological, taking the measurements from bones (usually femurs which allow for a good approximation of height). Some work off army records for recruits, others off the records of slaves and indentured servants. Only one that I’ve been able to find takes specific account of the social status of the people being measured (which is vital, as you'll see when we get there).

Let’s get our bearings by looking at the average heights of modern American non-Hispanic Whites. Per the US government Body Mass Index study of 2003 were looking at roughly 5’10” for men and 5’5” for women. Let’s add the data from the Health Survey of England, 2004 into the mix: men 5’9” (6’1” in Scotland), women 5’4” (5’6” in Scotland).

Per Professor Richard Steckel the Georgians were an average 2.5” shorter than their Medieval counterparts. He states that Medieval men were, on average, about 5’8”. This declines to about 5’ 5 ¾” in the 18th century.

But Carolyn Freeman Travers, the Research Manager for Plimoth Plantation, tells us something a little bit different . . . She gives an average height for Medieval England (again based on excavations) of 5’ 6 ¾" for men and 5’ 1 ½” for women. She go on to give the average heights of 17th and 18th century Londoners as 5’6” for men and 5’ ½” for women. A MUCH smaller change than the one reported by Steckel.

Another study of note is the Height and Social Status in 18th Century Germany. It found a 6” average difference between the poor and the middle class and then another 3” on top of that for the upper class. Which makes sense as studies have shown that nutrition and stress play a large roll in height (A modern studies of twins, quoted by Travers, showed that a person’s height is controlled 90% by heredity and 10% by environmental causes. 10% might sound small, but this means that 'a person who would have been 5’ 7" under optimal conditions, in an extremely adverse situation might stop growing at 5’ 1.”').

So, when I make my hero a strapping man, well over six-foot in his stocking feet, am I living in a fairy tale? Not if he’s part of the top ten-thousand, or even one of the wealthy middle class. Let’s take our “average height” of 5' 6"and add the 3” aristocratic bump. Our average male aristo is now 5’9”. Hmmm, that number seems awfully familiar . . . and it should, as it’s the average height of a modern English male!

So, were people really smaller in the past? It doesn’t seem so, or if they were, not by much. Heck, my own family is a case in point: My dad is 6’, mom is 5’4”, my sister is 5’1”, my brother is 6’2” and I’m 5’10”. While the boys and I would be noticeably tall were we to magically appear on a Georgian street, my mom and sister wouldn’t stand out at all. In fact, my sister would be on the dainty side even then!

05 December 2006

Welcome, Celia May Hart

East Meets West
Celia May Hart

part of
The Harem

Aphrodesia -- December 2006

Chandari's destiny is with the Maharajah, not with the lieutenant escorting her. But as temptation grows into a hunger neither can resist, two star crossed lovers are willing to risk everything for stolen moments of sheer ecstasy...

Celia will be giving away a copy of The Harem to one lucky poster! We'll do the drawing randomly and announce the winner this coming Saturday.

Your novella, East Meets West, is set in Regency India. How did you become interested in this time period and location? What you love about it?

When I was first asked to write for the anthology, India leapt into my head. My dad was about to go on a three month trip there and I had picked up a book, “White Mughals : Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India” about this young Englishman who’d fallen for a high-caste Indian girl. Fascinating stuff and the footnotes were even more interesting. The art from this period is amazing, just amazing. (And I’m giving away a bookmark and a card over at my website that have examples of that art on them.)

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

No, I think I pretty much laid it all out there. At his age, Benedict West should have achieved a higher rank or be dead (the death rate for Europeans was spectacularly high), but that just added character complexity. Chandari being half-caste, lived in that shadowy world between cultures, and had this been a novel I would have delved into that more deeply.

When I think “harem” I think of those of the Ottomans, of Topkapi and Dolmabahce. What made you think outside this obvious box?

The women in India, in the upper classes, once married lived in zenanas -- which were off limits to men (and especially foreigners), surrounded by female relatives as well as any additional wives. The aristocracy in India at the time were of Iranian descent, so they brought their Muslim culture with them. Having just read “White Mughals” I was all “oooh!” I can do this and still have it in the Regency period!

What sparked this novella? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

Lieutenant Benedict West inspired it. Actually, I sorta brainstormed with my editor. She quoted a line from a Beatles tune and there was the story -- the lieutenant climbing into Chandari’s window on a crazy drunken bet with his fellow lieutenants.

Did you have to do any major research for his book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

I had to research just about everything. All I knew about India before this was what was in Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” and a few Bollywood films. I borrowed some background books on India history from a fellow writer friend (Lynn Kerstan), bought a copy of an unabridged “Kama Sutra” (and dealt with that unpleasantry in the novella too) and I had to research about the East India Company and their soldiers, how they were different from His Majesty’s army.

What do you like to read?

Everything except horror. That keeps me awake and scared and I need my beauty sleep. I’ll read paranormal (Robin T. Popp is a current fave), science fiction and fantasy (can’t go pass Lois McMaster Bujold or Elizabeth Bear), romance, the odd mystery, all sorts of non-fiction “research” that I’m sure I’ll use in a book one day.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I’m kind of both. I know how it begins, and how it ends usually. (It completely freaks me out when I don’t know how it ends.) So I plot up to a certain point and then the synopsis reads “And stuff happens”. When I get to that point, it’s usually brainstorming how to stop that middle from sagging.

I don’t clean up as I go, but I do mark writing that is lazy or possibly anachronistic with . When I come back to do revisions, I’ve already got places marked to clean up. I do find tons more. Because I plot, there are rarely major revisions, but I have switched around scenes or rewritten them so that the “big reveal” happens later. So I think there are about two, sometimes three, drafts, the original and the minor clean up ones before it goes off to the editor. It’s amazing how a deadline shrinks the number of revisions you do. Before I sold I was constantly revising work.

What are you planning to work on next?

I’m between contracts so I’ve sent off a bunch of ideas to my editor for the next Aphrodisia (and threw a few historical ones at her as well). I haven’t heard back yet, so I picked out one of the historical ideas and am working on that. It’s set in Dark Ages Britain (because I was an Arthur nut before I discovered Georgette Heyer and the Regency period). There are a whole queue of ideas waiting for my attention including an out-and-out fantasy, but they will all get pushed back when a contract comes along!

Thanks for letting me be a part of the History Hoydens for a week!

03 December 2006

How Do You Do It

The info Kathrynn posted on riding "aside" is amazing. I confess to knowing very little about horses and have used various experts to help me with details. It's great to have one "in house."

In my last bit I introduced you to Major General Lord Blayney, the 11th Lord Blayney and the most famous of the lot. He wrote a comprehensive and surprisingly entertaining account of his experiences as a prisoner of war. The book, "Narrative of a Forced Journey Through Spain and France, as a Prisoner of War, in the years 1810-1814" is hard to find. The only print copy I have discovered in the US is at the New York Public Library. To my surprise the two volumes are not in the rare book room but as easily available as any book in the collection, which is to say you have to sit for a photo ID, request the book and then wait until it is brought to you. Rather like the Library of Congress but the staff at the New York Public Library is not as friendly or as efficient.

Efficiency is not something I am entitled to complain about. Somewhere on my desk, in its drawers, on the bookshelves around me or in a folder, maybe even transcribed and saved on the computer are all the notes I took when I read the Blayney book over a three day period in 2004 (that was two computers ago) I cannot find those notes anywhere. So my plan to share my favorite bits will have to be tabled. With my apologies.

By way of an interesting tidbit of Blayney family history, I can tell you that the Major General's son, Cadwallader, was the 12th and last Lord Blayney. Though he lived until 1874 he sold Castleblayney to Henry Thomas Hope in 1842. Hope is best known for his prize possession The Hope Diamond which he inherited from his uncle in 1839.

The Hopes lived at Castleblayney and made many improvements to the house and grounds. Isn't that nice. What I really want to know is if the diamond was ever in residence with them. There is no firm information on that but then they weren't Blayneys so little is written of them in the family's published genealogy. This will now send me off to play around with Google in hopes of finding more Hope Diamond details. The question is where will I put those notes so that I can find them three years from now?

Please, please tell me how you research pros keep track of your research. I am not a detail person and need notes for the minutia so many easily keep track of. I have tried various methods of organization: note cards, note books, files, computer files and can only thank heaven that I can usually find what I am looking for. Not a very professional approach but I am being honest here. Anyone care to share?


01 December 2006

The Parts of a Sidesaddle

For those of you who want see a leaping head, here is an image, with all the parts of a sidesaddle labeled. The leaping head (lower pommel) hooks over the riders left thigh. Imagine juming a horse over a four foot hedge and staying in the sidesaddle by squeezing the upper pommel and the leaping head between your thighs. Hang on!

Aside or Astride

Aside or Astride? When in history did riding sidesaddle become the norm for woman? The sidesaddle has been around a long, long time…ninth century Pict and Celtic women were some of the first documented to ride astride. The Roman-Celtic goddess Epona, the goddess of the horse, is typically depicted riding sidesaddle.

But clearly, equestriannes have ridden astride from ancient times through the Middle Ages, and social customs did not demand a woman ride aside until the late 14th century. A sort of sidesaddle for noblewomen was popularized in England by Anne of Bohemia in 1382. She rode aside, in a padded chair facing to the left, with her feet resting on a platform called a planchet (see image; not a particularly stable way to control a horse).

In the 15th century, Catherine de Medici rode with her shoulders facing forward and her leg hooked over the pommel of the saddle. She is generally credited for popularizing this side saddle style. Again, not a secure way to sit, and soon we see the attachment of the “leaping head” to the saddle. The design of the leaping head is attributed to one of several men who claimed to have come up with the idea in the late 1700’s. My take---a woman probably came up the “leaping head”…her life depended on it.

By the Victorian era, most women of quality would not be seen in public riding any other way than riding aside, although I have seen magazine prints from the late 1800’s advertising riding habits which split up the middle for the “Victorian Amazon” who defied convention and insisted on riding astride.

The sidesaddle hasn’t changed much since beginning of the 19th century. Equestiranne etiquette dictated ladies of quality ride through the 1930’s. Yes, the 1930’s! The sidesaddle is enjoying a resurgence, and the basic design of the leaping had has pretty much remained unchanged.

On my next post, we’ll take a quick look at women’s riding habits, and just “what’s under the skirts.”

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