Archive for the ‘Regency’ Category

The major distinction between employees and those in service seems to confuse a great number of people. Employees varied by the household and its needs. Employees included governesses, tutors, secretaries, companions, and estate managers.

We’ll start with governesses.

By the end of the 18th century, girls’ boarding schools were going out of fashion. Therefore, many girls of wealthy families were educated at home. Boys would be taught by a governess until they went to school. If a family did not have girls, it’s likely the local clergyman would teach the boys, or a tutor would be hired.

A governess was always a well educated lady. She was gently born. Her family either could not afford to support her, or she did not wish to be a burden to them. Many of them seem to have been daughters of clergymen. She was well educated and could teach reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, literature, watercolors, French, and maybe Italian, and music. She would also help teach comportment and needlework. She was also to be an example of good moral character. Unlike the Victorian era, Regency governesses were not morbidly religious.

Whether or not she had her meals with the family depended on her employers. She did not eat, socialize, or gossip with the servants. She used the front door. It was very important that she main her status as a lady.

I once read an employment contract for a governess. Unfortunately, I can’t find it now, but I remember that it required she be given a private parlor in addition to a bedchamber. It stated her holidays, time off, wages (obviously), and several other items. Because she was not a servant, she would have to be paid enough to save for her own pension.

For additional information, I recommend reading, A Governess in the Time of Jane Austen.

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There is a tendency to confuse these two completely different eras. The Regency followed immediately on the heels of the Georgian period, and was just about as freewheeling. The Victorian was, on the outside, buttoned up and prudish. Sex was, for all intents and purposes, pushed underground.

So here are just some of the difference between the times.

The garment a woman wore over her shift, or chemise was usually called stays, during the Regency. Although the term corset did exist. Yet there was huge difference in how they were made and what their purpose was. During the Regency stays were meant to smooth the lines for the high-waisted gown. They were not tight as there was no reason to accentuate the waist. There were two kinds, short and long. Many young ladies would have worn sort stays. Even when waists dropped between 1830 and 1830, the stays were not tightened as they were later on. Victorian corsets were made to make the waist smaller. They also made it much harder to breathe and many doctors considered them a health hazard. A whole movement grew up in protest of tight corsets.









The phrase, lay back and think of England, was Victorian. That’s because, after Freud came out with his theory that women didn’t need help having an orgasm, men no longer felt it necessary to make sure a woman enjoyed herself. During the Regency, it was a point of pride that a woman came. They also believed that a woman had to reach completion in order to conceive.

During the Regency, several well-known philosophers supported and encouraged women’s rights. Even though the laws didn’t change, women became, in many ways, more independent. Women as well as men took lovers. No one thought twice about a bluestocking setting up her own household after she had reached the proper age. Women of all sorts held salons where artists, writers, politicians, and other interesting people would gather. The Victorian era slammed the door shut on those blossoming rights and philosophies. It was not unusual for an unmarried woman (older spinsters and widows) to come under the boot of a man. It was also not uncommon for a woman to be placed in an institution for the mentally incompetent for disagreeing with a male member of her family too often or too strenuously.

During the Regency a widow was in mourning for a year for her husband. The first six months was full-mourning. She wore black. Close friends and family could, and, hopefully did, visit her. But she did not go to parties, dinners, etc. The second six months was half-mourning. She was allowed to wear gray and other subdued colors. But not lavender. As a color, it had not yet been invented. She could go out to subdued gatherings. Once her year of mourning was over, she was expected to rejoin Polite Society. Mourning for a child, or sibling was generally much shorter. I’ve heard times of six weeks for a baby, and up to three months for a grown sibling. Parents were generally about six months. During the Victorian era, morning for one’s husband was expanded to two years. One year of full-mourning, the next year of half-mourning. Other periods of mourning were also lengthened.













Chaperoning of young unmarried ladies was significantly different as well. During the Regency, once a lady was betrothed, she and her soon-to-be husband were allowed to be alone for significant periods of time, anywhere, including closed carriages. In fact, it was expected they would anticipate their vows. Therefore, engagements were usually short and gentlemen could not cry off without ruining a lady’s reputation. If he decided he did not want to marry her after all, he had to find some way to make her jilt him. During the Victorian period, ladies were chaperoned up to the wedding day. They did not spend time alone with their betrothed until they were man and wife.

Only footmen and the coachman wore a uniform during the Regency. The wearing of uniforms by female servants was Victorian.

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During the Regency, a coachman typically lost his last name. It was not at all unusual for a coachman to be called Firstname Coachman. The coachman’s job was to drive coaches (in contract to sporting carriages), such as the large traveling coach, a smaller town coach, a landau, or other coach. He also maintained all the carriages. He’d know what the tolls were from place to place so that he wouldn’t be cheated at a toll gate.

A coachman typically lived above the carriage house. That building could be either separate or attached to the stables.

Like footmen, a coachman would wear of uniform of sorts. However, their uniforms were not the flashy livery of a footman. It was more subdued and included a multi-caped greatcoat to protect him from the elements.

He sat on the box of the coach. If it was a long trip, he’d have an assistant with him and they’d take turns driving. He also had to know how to shoot, and would travel with a weapon of some sort near him.

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Not all Regency households could afford to set up a stable (more about that in a future post). However, for anyone who could, they did. It was important for transportation, pleasure, and a symbol of wealth. We’ll discuss all the stuff that goes into setting up a stable at a later date.

The most important person in a stable was the head groom. He was responsible for making sure the stable ran properly. The head groom worked directly for the master of the house. Many stables had under grooms (apparently, just called grooms). They assisted the head groom. They exercised the horses that weren’t being ridden regularly, cleaned and repaired the tack, and cleaned the stables.

Grooms would also teach the young children of the house how to ride and accompany them on rides. It was not uncommon for a groom to remain with a lady or gentleman when they set up their own households. In Town it was essential that a groom accompany a lady when she was riding.

Grooms lived in rooms above the stables. From what I could discover, they did not eat with the indoor servants, but had meals delivered to them.

Next Coachmen


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Because of all the discussion about this topic, I thought it would be a good idea to put everything in one place.

The Betrothal

The proper gentleman (especially one who wished his suit to be accepted) had a conversation with the lady’s father or guardian and got permission to address her before popping the question. The proposal could be on one knee if the gentleman wished. There could be a betrothal ring, but the ring would be worn on the right hand and also be used as the wedding ring.

Unless there was a good reason, the betrothal period was not long at all, especially, if it took place during the Season. One reason for not waiting was that it was expected that couples would anticipate their marriage vows, and the families wanted them safely wed.

St. George’s church in Hanover Square was the prime location for weddings, and it stayed busy. During 1816, there were 1063 weddings at St. George’s.

To the best of our knowledge, there was no announcement in the paper of the betrothal.

Aristocrats usually married by special license. They cost around 20 guineas. A great deal of money at the time. The license was obtained at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office in Doctor’s Commons. One could only marry a minor by special license if one had the permission of the father or guardian. With a special license, the wedding ceremony could take place anywhere and anytime. Banns were called for three Sundays in a row, that by the way, was two weeks, as long as the couple was a member of the parish. It wasn’t usual for people to be members of a home parish in the country and St. George’s when in London. If banns were called, the ceremony had to take place between 8am and noon. One could also marry by regular license. The only advantage of a regular license is the waiting time was five days instead of two weeks.

At some point, there might be a betrothal ball. The settlement agreements would be drafted and signed.

Ladies who could afford a new gown, had one made. White did not become the color of choice until the Victorian period. However, if a lady looked good in white, she might wear it. If the wedding took place in a hurry, she’d wear her best dress. Regardless, the gown would be worn on other occasions. She’d wear a bonnet, not a veil.

The Ceremony and After

Although, anyone passing by could enter the church, and many did, generally only immediate family was present. There was no walking down the aisle to music. Indeed, if the couple wished, they could enter through a side door. The bride and groom would usually arrive separately. By tradition, the bridesmaid was single. The groom would have a gentleman supporting him. The attendants also acted as witnesses and signed the church register. I have a copy of the Book of Common Prayer used at the time, and there was no place in the ceremony for the groom to kiss the bride.

A wedding breakfast was held sometime after noon. The cake was a dense fruit cake. Champagne and wine would be served. Other than that, I haven’t heard of any rules for the event. The type of food served would be up to the people holding the wedding breakfast.

Generally, the couple left for a wedding trip within hours of the ceremony. In fact, they were expected to go away for at least a month.

There would be an announcement of the wedding.

Below are examples of a parish register and a special license.


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Footmen were, in some ways, the Regency’s splurge. Not that they weren’t necessary. They were in fact extremely necessary to one’s status. However, all male servants were taxed. Therefore, the more male servants one had, the greater the tax. The reason they were a splurge is that they were also the Regency version of eye candy. Men hired for the position of footmen were tall, handsome, fit, and known for a well-turned leg.

Footmen were the only servants, aside from possibly the coachman and outriders, who wore uniforms called livery.

Footmen worked for the butler. Many houses had a 1st footman whose job it was to man the door and attend the master and mistress if the butler was not available and the household had no under-butler. Footmen were used to run errands (running footmen), clean silver, serve at the table, and if a lady wanted tea a footman would bring it. They also assisted maids in moving heavy furniture to clean, carrying tubs or buckets, and opened and closed doors. They were used to carry packages, and follow ladies around shopping or on a stroll in the park. Regency slang for a footman was a fart-catcher, because they walked behind the mistress or master.

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Rounding out the senior servants are valets and lady’s maids (also called dressers and abigails). These personal servants took orders only from their master or mistress.

They were highly trained. They not only dressed the lady or gentleman, but they cared for all the expensive clothing, to include cleaning, mending, and altering the garments. The laundress only washed linens. Therefore, the remainder of the clothing was left to the lady’s maid and valet.

But that wasn’t their only duty. They were responsible to dressing and cutting hair, keeping jewels clean and in good order, sending messages, supervising the cleaning of the lady or gentleman’s bedchambers, packing, serving breakfast or other meals in the bedchamber, and ensuring that everything in the room was just so.

When traveling, the valet and lady’s maid would frequently travel ahead to ensure an inn room was made comfortable for their master or mistress. They would even bring sheets to change the beds. They were the first person a gentleman or lady would see in the morning and the last person at night.

The one thing a valet did not do was tie the gentleman’s cravat. Or if he did, the gentleman would never admit to it.

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