Friday, April 27, 2018

What’s a (Poor) Lady to Do?

We have, over the years, discussed the activities and challenges of the young lady of the Regency period, as well as her somewhat limited career choices. Novels abound of gently reared ladies having to make do when circumstances conspire against them. My Fortune’s Brides series features gentlewomen down on their luck, so I’ve been doing some pondering as to what the actual choices were for such women, particularly those who are not looking to marry and would prefer not to lower her status terribly. Here are a few ideas:

  • Governess—The old standby. If you’ve survived a Season or two, if you learned some history and science along the way, perhaps another language such as French, you probably have what it takes to teach other young ladies. A slight variation on this would be a finishing school teacher, but those were somewhat rare in the Regency (even though I’ve given my heroines that profession in at least two stories 😊).
  • Nanny—I see this frequently, and I’ve certainly used it myself, but I haven’t found too many contemporary sources claiming a young lady who had been raised for finer things took it upon herself to become a nanny. Still, if you had a motherly instinct, if you were raised with many brothers and sisters, and if you were willing to be seen as a servant, you might be able to handle this position.
  • Housekeeper for a relative—this is a difficult one. Technically, a housekeeper is a servant position, although higher on the servant food chain. But if you served a relative who was willing to treat you more like family so that the role was more of chatelaine, this one might do.
  • Lady’s maid—another difficult one. Again, you are a servant, and chances are you won’t be mixing socially with the upper crust. But if you are a dab hand at sewing, know your way around a cosmetic jar, and have a good ear, you could do well here.
  • Companion—another old standby. Families seem to have a plethora of aged female relations who require someone to fetch and carry, to share confidences, to help with daily care and entertainment. And there’s always the off chance that said relative will be kind in her will.
  • Assistant—I’ll be using this one in my fourth Fortune’s Brides series, but it is a challenging one as well. Secretaries and personal attaches were generally men serving men. A lady really cannot spend time alone with a gentleman. But say a prominent lady, who doesn’t want to claim her age requires a companion or needs specialized skills? Perhaps.
  • Sponsored artist—Sometimes your gift could be your livelihood. Wealthy patrons might sponsor a painter, a musician, or a composer. Most of these sponsored positions went to men, and it would look odd for a lady to be sponsored by a gentleman. But, under the right circumstances, I could see a woman sponsoring another woman.
So, what do you think? Have you heard of other ways for an impoverished young lady to keep her head and her dignity above water?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

1810, What a Year It Was: the (Final) Madness of King George

We’ve talked about the some of the most noteworthy public events of 1810, from literary to sporting to true crime...but perhaps the most momentous was what happened in its final months: the descent of George III into permanent debilitation.

Everyone’s heard of “mad King George”, and doctors and medical historians have derived endless hours of diversion from trying to figure out just what it was that the poor man suffered from. The most recent thinking seems to be that he was indeed suffering from some form of mental illness, perhaps aggravated by arsenic poisoning (arsenic was commonly used in medical treatments of the day) and not porphyria, a metabolic disease. No matter the cause, the last months of 1810 would also be his last months as reigning monarch.

First, a little history: the king’s first confirmed demonstration of mental illness began in the fall of 1788, when various physical symptoms (rash, rheumatic pains, gastric distress, and fever) manifested, quickly followed by delirium, hysteria, and mania. He talked for hours on end, making grandiose, delusional plans and pronouncements until he was out of breath and foaming at the mouth. Though his physical symptoms eased, his behavioral ones did not (on November 17 he talked for nineteen straight hours), and between his ministers and his family, plans were made for a regency to rule in his stead...a plan that fell through when, early in the new year, he began to recover and was able by March to call himself mostly recovered.  He seems to have suffered a brief relapse in 1794 (though not as severe as the 1788 illness) and again in 1801. After that point, his condition seems to have remained highly fragile, with more relapses and recoveries occurring over the next few years.

By October 1810, George III was 72 years old and suffering from cataracts and painful rheumatism. He’d been devastated by the deaths of two of his children in the 1780s, while they were quite young. But now it appeared that he would be facing the death of an adult child—one whose very existence had helped him over those earlier losses.  Princess Amelia, his youngest daughter, had been a semi-invalid for years, probably suffering from tuberculosis, and by this time, was on death’s doorstep. The king’s poor eyesight had perhaps cushioned him somewhat from the truth—he could hardly see how ill she was—but toward the end even that could not shield him from the reality of his daughter’s condition. As her life ebbed, his old, familiar symptoms began to reappear: nervousness and excitability, over-talkativeness, sleeplessness. In her last week of life, he too slipped away into a twilight world, and was too ill to comprehend that Amelia was dead.

The king had realized, early on, that he was in for another period of illness, and instructed his physicians that he was not to be entrusted to any “medical man specially engaged in the department of insanity,” but the doctor who had looked after him in earlier periods, Robert Willis, was brought in to consult. Poor George had days when he seemed almost normal over the course of November and December, but enough bad days encouraged the revival of the Regency bill that had first been drafted (and nearly passed by Parliament) back in 1789.  Everyone—his family, servants, and ministers—waited with bated breath to see what would happen. More lucid days in January occurred, but while there were hopes that he would once again recover, the Regency bill was voted on and passed Parliament, with George’s knowledge, at the end of the month, and Prince George became Regent with limited powers, to be reviewed in one year’s time (presumably in case the king recovered.)

However, it became clear through the spring that recovery was unlikely: while he still had periods of lucidity, the king slipped inexorably into his delusional world, talking and giving commands to people who weren’t there, and seemed to forget his affection for his family. The lucid periods became fewer, and in the fall it was expected that at the one-year anniversary of the Regency Act in January 1812, the regency would be made permanent. Poor King George would hang on for another eight years, growing blinder and sicker, until his death in 1820.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Regina Scott the Regency

I’m baaaack.

Back in the Regency, that is. For nearly 2 years, all my new releases have focused on frontier Seattle. While I loved getting to delve into local history, and there are more stories calling, I have missed my beloved Regency England. That’s why I’m over the moon delighted to let you know that the first book in my new Regency-set series, Fortune’s Brides, is up for preorder now and will release May 18.

After spending the last ten years following her late husband on campaign, the irrepressible Jane Kimball finds herself badly in need of a position to support herself. Marriage holds no appeal; she’s not likely to find a husband like her Jimmy again. But when Miss Thorn of the Fortune Employment Agency offers her a post with the Duke of Wey, Jane feels drawn to help the lonely widower with his three daughters. He may seem a bit aloof, but Miss Thorn’s cat Fortune approved of him. Why should Jane doubt a duke?

Alaric, Duke of Wey, commands his staff, his tenants, and the halls of Parliament, managing vast holdings in England and across the seas. Why is it he cannot manage his own daughters? As an old danger rears its head, he comes to rely on Jane’s practical nature, her outspoken ways to navigate the waters of fatherhood. And when necessity dictates he take a wife, thoughts turn to an unlikely governess who might make the perfect bride.

You can preorder at fine online establishments:

In honor of this new release, I’m running a cover reveal Rafflecopter giveaway through April 28. Enter to win an e-book copy of all five of the stories in my Uncommon Courtships series. 

Regardless, The Unflappable Miss Fairchild, the first in that series is free on all online retailers through April 28. 

It’s good to be back.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Ackermann Goes Holographic!

Okay, not really. But this is really cool—you’ll see.

As well as publishing the Repository of Arts, we know that Mr.Ackermann designed carriages and owned a print store where he sold prints, paper, and art supplies. He advertised his paper goods at times just as he did those delicious fabric samples we look at occasionally, but most of those ads seemed to occur in earlier issues of the Repository (both of the ones we’ve seen were from 1810.) So imagine my delight when I ran across this paper sample page featuring BRUNELL’S PATENT METALLICK PAPER.

Shiny, isn’t it? It doesn’t scan very well—it looks more like metallic camouflage than anything else—but it was evidently pretty snazzy stuff for the time.  The gold and bronze-colored papers at Nos. 1 and 2 have help up quite well, but the red one at No. 3 evidently didn’t get along well with the tissue paper covering this plate—it more or less dissolved the paper, which in turn left a cloudy haze on that sample. No. 4, in dark brown, also survived well and bears a good resemblance to tortoise shell.

So what is this stuff?  Happily, the original text is present, and reads:

The ornamental crystalization [sic] on tinned surfaces, exhibited in many shops, being confined in its application to articles of the japanner’s trade [japanning being a European form of Asian lacquering], it became a great desideratum to have a similar result elicited on a substance, which, like paper, could be easily employed in covering articles of almost any description.

The metallic paper which is now offered to the public, is the produce of a new discovery made by M. J. Brunel, Esq., F.R.S. &c.

The matchless beauty of this substance, the character  and variety of its crystalization, exceed in effect and brilliancy what has yet been obtained on tin plates, over which it possesses an additional advantage in the dimensions of the sheets, which can be made as large as 4 feet by twenty inches.

It has already met with a most favourable reception on the Continent, where it is likely to open a new channel for British industry. The Report made before the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, &c. in Paris, on the 10th Feb. last, by their Comité des Arts Chimiques, is evidence of the opinion entertained there of this discovery as an article of trade....
This metallic paper is now used by skilful artists with great success in decorating apartments and furniture. R. Ackermann, at his Repository of Arts, has introduced it with great taste into a variety of fancy work, where it displays an uncommonly novel and rich appearance. It is sold, in various shades, as seen by the annexed patterns, in sheets of the following sizes and prices: Large, 23 by 19 inches, 6s.; small, 19 by 11 ½ inches, 3s.—Nothing but a strong paste made of good flour is required to fasten it to wood, paper, &c. &c.

It’s fun, isn’t it? But what’s even more fun—and interesting--is the man who invented this pretty stuff. M. J. Brunel was Marc Isambard Brunel, a French engineer born in 1769 who fled France during the Revolution, went to New York and became an American citizen before returning to France to marry his English sweetheart and moving with her to England. He was responsible for all kinds of engineering feats—from inventing a machine that could make pulley blocks for the British navy to, eventually, building a tunnel under the Thames (on which project he was aided by his 18-year-old son who would become an even more famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.) 

Queen Victoria would eventually knight Papa Brunel for that feat, but it was still in his future...he would first work on a series of not-very successful ventures and wind up in debtor’s prison for a couple of months (and was bailed out by the government when they heard that he was negotiating moving to Russia to work for the Tsar.) I can’t help wondering if this paper might have been one of those projects that led to his stint in King’s Bench Prison...but I also can't help wondering if the enthusiastic crafters of 1819 weren't head over heels with it.

What do you think?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Cool 19th Century Places to Visit: National Building Museum

I discovered this gem recently when I traveled to the nation’s capital. The National Building Museum is run by a non-profit organization set up by Congress. The red-brick façade appears solid and sturdy, but if you look closer, you can see a marvelous frieze showing every type of regiment in the Union army, all valiantly marching around the outside. Still, nothing prepares you for what awaits inside.

What is now the National Building Museum was originally completed in 1887 to house the Pension Bureau, those hard-working individuals attempting to manage the claims of the hundreds of thousands of men who had served the Union in the Civil War. The order from the government was clear—besides allowing for processing these claims, the building had to have a grand central space for use in civic and social functions. Accordingly, the central space was patterned after an Italian palace, with columns sweeping four stories into the air and a fountain playing in the center. This space was used for a number of inaugural balls in the 1800s.

I was fortunate enough to arrive on a day when tours were being given, so I received an inside look at this wonderful national treasure. Here are some of the high points.

As they were restoring the building, they discovered that part of the director’s suite had this marvelous painted ceiling. It has been cleaned and is being refurbished. It reminded me of the Regency.

A thin metal track runs along the entire ceiling of the walkway along the tippy top floor. Our guide said that when papers must be moved from office to office, the workers would place them in a basket, hook the basket up over the track, and push it along over their heads by use of a paddle until they reached the right office. I stared at her, amazed. They were the first paper pushers!

At the very top are alcoves to house the busts of those who had served in the Civil War. Unfortunately, when the director appealed to the Smithsonian for busts, he was refused. The National Building Museum purchased multiple sets of 8 busts to represent those involved in buildings (architects, builders, etc.). Those are now placed randomly to fill the holes.

The walkway around each floor is edged with columns that are apparently hollow. This is known because someone carved a hole in one. A special camera was brought in and inserted into the hole to confirm materials, only to find that the column was filled with copies of the Declaration of Independence, newspapers from the 1880s, and other documents. More digging through the director’s papers from the time led to the discovery that he had intended several of the columns as time capsules. He’d reasoned that the building would not stand forever, and, when some future people tore it down, he wanted them to know about the people from long ago who had built it.

The various displays in the building are well worth the price of admission, but it should be noted that the building itself, the museum shop, and the café are open to the public free of charge. You can find the National Building Museum at 401 F Street NW in Washington, D.C. It is open from Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm and Sunday from 11am to 5pm. For more on its illustrious history, see

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Newer Additions to my Collection: 1813

It’s been a while since I started doing (and finished up) regular Fashion Forecasts here...and one corollary of that is that I’ve since acquired a lot more prints for any given year. Since the last time we looked at fashions in the year 1813 was back in 2010, I thought I’d post some more prints from my collection...because, eye candy.
All prints are from Ackermann’s Repository, many with the original descriptions. Enjoy!

An Evening or Opera Dress—note the opera glass in her hand!—from February is “A round robe of mull muslin, or crape, over satin or sarsnet, with long sleeve and low front, bordered at the bottom and on the bosom with a rich brocade ribband, or embroidery of coloured silks. A patent net neck-kerchief, edged with lace round the throat. A sash of pale Russian flame colour, tied negligently in front of the waist. The hair flat on the sides, and in waved curls in front, divided in the center of the forehead, and confined in full curls at the back of the head, with an apparent stray ringlet falling on one shoulder. Neck-chain, ear-rings, and cross, of blended gold and pearl. A Cossack cloak, or mantle, of pale Russian flame-coloured cloth, with arched standing collar, finished with a coloured border, corresponding with the dress; lined with white sarsnet, and confined occasionally at the throat with a correspondent cord and tassel. Satin slippers, the colour of the mantle; and gloves, a pale primrose.”

What a wonderful cloak on this Morning Dress for February! “A plain cambric robe, made high in the neck, with plaited fan frill and long sleeves, finished at the bottom with a border of fancy tucks or needle-work. A Prussian hussar cloak, of Sardinian blue velvet, or superfine cloth; lined and edged with pink satin, and finished at its termination with a variegated ball fringe; large hood, or cape, lined and trimmed to correspond; the points finished with rich cone tassels, and confined at the throat with the same. A Moorish turban hat, composed of Sardinian blue velvet and sable fur. A muff of spotted ermine. Blue kid half-boots; and gloves a pale tan colour.”

March’s Half Dress features “A round robe of coloured sarsnet, or muslin, spotted with amber; drawn frock bosom; and long, full sleeves, tied twice at the wrist, at regular distances. A tucker of lace, or plaited net. A cap Ă  la Russe, composed of white satin and lace, confined with a ribband round the head, terminating in bows and ends on one side. Hair in disheveled curls. Necklace and cross of amber beads. Gloves and shoes of lemon-coloured kid. Spanish capuchin, or lapelled cloak of white or stone-coloured kerseymere, embroidered with a rich border, in chenille and silk.”

Also from March is an Opera DressA round low dress, of fine India muslin, the bosom composed entirely of needle-work and lace beading, and a correspondent border round the bosom; and confined round the waist with a sash tied in front. A robe pelisse, of fine amber-coloured cloth, or satin; bordered round in shaded brown chenille, with deep and rich corners. The pelisse lined throughout with white satin or sarsnet; and trimmed entirely round, and at the wrists, with a full swansdown border. A white satin hat, of the Spanish form, turned up with three rows of white beads or pearl; a curled ostrich feather waving towards one side. A neck-chain and cross of the satin bead, with earrings en suite. Gloves of white kid; and slippers of satin, the colour of the pelisse, trimmed with fringe. A fan of ivory, or crape, decorated with fancy feathers."

April brings a very frilly Morning Dress, for which I don’t have the text...but did I mention it was very frilly?  And perhaps ruffled as well?  Note the cap, daintily decorated with three rows of scalloped lace.

If April’s Morning Dress was all about ruffles, May’s Morning Dress is all about cute little tassels around the collar and capelet...but I do confess to being more distracted by the little dog...or is it a miniature heraldic lion?

We’ll do more of my 1813 acquisitions in a week or two. Got any favorites among these?

Friday, April 6, 2018

Happy Birthday, Kristy J. Manhattan

It has been said it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a team to produce a book too. My beloved husband challenged me to finish my first book and encourages me to keep writing. Friends like my dear Marissa celebrate successes and commiserate failures. But through each book, through every plot, every good and bad cover, every praising or complaining review, there has been one person who has always been by my side.

Kristy J. Manhattan.

I call Kris my critique partner, but that isn’t a very good description of the many ways she influences my books. For one thing, she rarely asks me to critique her work even though she is a talented writer herself. (She wrote 1,000 words yesterday. I cheered.)

For another thing, she does far more than critique. She serves as a sounding board for plots and characters, helps me think through issues, and offers advice about career plans and hopes. She was my guide the first time I went to England (she’d been there before--that's her outside the assembly rooms in Bath). She read every book aloud to me while I checked the text back in the day when we had to hand proof (as in the publisher would send a manuscript that had been rekeyed and the author was responsible for ensuring that every letter had been transferred over correctly). And she serves as my first reader, the one who lets me know when I get it right and when I might have gotten it wrong.

She pointed out when my heroine’s eyes inexplicably changed color in the middle of the story.

She noticed when my characters bought two horses and somehow rode away on three.

She catches typos, grammatical errors, and plot holes (though I try to give her very few of any of these).

Because of her love of cats, she’s coaching me through my upcoming series that features a mysterious employment agency owner and her matchmaking feline Fortune.

Her support gives me confidence to send my books to a publisher and to let them loose into the world through self-publishing.

If you enjoyed any of my stories, chances are Kris helped make it that polished jewel.

Today is her birthday. I wrote this post to let her know how much I value and appreciate all her efforts on my behalf over the years. Here’s to many more stories to come, Kristy J. Much love.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A Mysterious Tale...or, Perhaps, a Tail

I mentioned a few weeks back that I’d found an intriguing article in a copy of La Belle AssemblĂše, and I thought you might find it interesting as well. Is it a hoax—a story constructed purely to titillate and entertain? Or did two young Scottish ladies see something magical on that sunny January day?

From the September 1809 edition:


We give the following letter, leaving our readers to attach what credit to it they please:

Letter from Miss Mackay, daughter of the Reverend David Mackay, Minister of Reay, to Mrs. Innes, Dowager of Sandside.

Reay Manse, May 25, 1809

MADAM,—to establish the truth of what has hitherto been considered improbable and fabulous, must at all times be considered a difficult task, and I have not the vanity to think that my testimony alone would be sufficient for this purpose; but when to this is added that of four others, I hope it will have some effect in removing the doubts of those, who may suppose that the wonderful appearance I reported having seen in the sea on the 12th of January, was not a mermaid, but some other uncommon, though less remarkable, inhabitant of the deep. As I would willingly contribute to remove the doubt of the sceptical on this subject, I beg leave to state to you the following account, after premising that my cousin, whose name is affixed along with mine, was one of the four witnesses who beheld with me this uncommon spectacle.

While she and I were walking by the sea shore, on the 12th of January, about noon, our attention was attracted by seeing three people who were on a rock at some distance, shewing signs of terror and astonishment at something they saw in the water; on approaching them, we distinguished that the object of their wonder was a face resembling the human countenance, which appeared floating on the waves; at that time nothing but the face was visible; it may not be improper to observe, before I proceed farther, that the face, throat, and arms, are all I can attempt to describe, all our endeavours to discover the appearance and position of the body unavailing. The sea at that time ran very high, and as the waves advance, the Mermaid gently sunk under them, and afterwards reappeared.

The face seemed plump and round, the eyes and nose were small, the former were of a light grey colour, and the mouth was large, and from the shape of the jaw-bone, which seemed straight, the face looked short, as to the inside of the mouth I can say nothing, not having attended to it, though sometimes open. The head was exceeding round, the hair thick and long, of a green oily cast, and appeared troublesome to it, the waves generally throwing it down over the face; it seemed to feel the annoyance, and as the waves retreated, with both its hands frequently threw back the hair, and rubbed its throat, as if to remove any soiling it might have received from it. The throat was slender, smooth, and white; we did not think to observe whether it had elbows, but from the manner in which it used its arms, I must conclude that it had. The arms were very long and slender, as were the hands and fingers, the latter were not webbed. The arms, one of them at least, was frequently extended over its head, as if to frighten a bird that hovered over it, and seemed to distress it much; when that had no effects it sometimes turned quite round several times successively. At a little distance we observed a seal. It sometimes laid its right hand under its cheek, and in this position floated for some time. We saw nothing like hair or scales on any part of it, indeed the smoothness of the skin particularly caught our attention. The time it was discernable to us was about an hour. The sun was shining clearly at the time; it was distant from us a few yards only. These are the few observation made by us during the appearance of this strange phenomenon.

If they afford you any satisfaction, I shall be particularly happy. I have stated nothing but what I clearly recollect; as my cousin and I had frequently, prior to this period, combated an assertion which is very common among the lower class here, that Mermaids had frequently been seen on this coast, our evidence cannot be thought biased by any former prejudice in favour of the existence of this wonderful creature.

To contribute in any degree to your pleasure or amusement, will add to the happiness of,—Madam, your greatly obliged,

(signed) ELIZ. MACKAY,

So what do you think they saw that day? I don't know about you, but I think I feel a story coming on...!