Monday, October 29, 2012

Regency Tidbits - Shoes

Shoes! We love them.  Some of us see shoes as the ultimate accessory and collect them with reckless abandon. Some of us would rather wear comfortable rather than fashionable shoes. a low sensible heel anyone?)  

There is, however, something alluring about a shoe.  There is no argument that they can make or break an outfit - or the budget.  Our feet are one of our most important limbs. We depend on them and therefore we should protect them, make them look good and give them a good massage every now and then. We are lucky that we live in a time where shoes are mass produced and available to all socio-economic groups. In the Regency period, this was not always the case.
Shoes were often made to measure. It took time to make them, they were expensive and they often did not last long. Because of this there are very few examples of regency shoes in museums and private collections. The ones that do survive show us that women and men have not really changed that much in terms of the humble shoe. Often a pattern, or outline, was taken of the person’s feet. The shoemaker would keep these and use them over and over to make shoes in that person’s size and shape.

Women’s shoes

Leading into the Regency period a woman’s shoe had quite a high heel and was highly decorated with fabric. It was quite a solid shoe. Later the heel disappeared to nearly nothing and or disappeared altogether.  Today, we have shoes that are similar to regency shoes in the Ballet flat.


1800 shoes from the Northampton Central Museum

English shoe, 1796-97, from the L.A. County Museum of Art.

In the Regency this shoe would have been for dancing. It gave little protection. No wonder our heroines are constantly worried about getting their toes crushed during a dance with a clumsy gentleman.
Shoe scene from the movie - Sense and Sensibility


When in the country, a Regency woman may have worn boots or half boots for her recreational jaunts around the wilderness of her country estate or that trip into the local village for ribbons and such. Similarly, the servants would have worn sturdier shoes to complete their duties.
1812-20 cotton jean half-boot from the V&A museum collection

Men’s Shoes
The boot and the shoe were both popular with the gentlemen of this time period. Again the heel that was so popular in the Georgian period was reduced in height.  In its place more of the type of shoe we see today.

Ever more popular during the Regency was the boot. The high-top, the Wellington and the Hessian boot were all good sturdy footwear. The mark of a well-groomed gentleman was to ensure that his boots were polished to perfection. A job his valet would have spent quite a bit of his time over. A good valet would take much pride in making sure his employer was well dressed and this included his footwear.

In the present, the types of shoes available to men and women is almost overwhelming. Sports shoes, slip on shoes (such as flip-flops), flats, heels and boots give us a great deal of choice and comfort levels. Still, there is something about the perfect shoe. One that does not pinch or give you blisters. One that you can wear all day and looks amazing.  I'll let you know if I ever find that perfect pair.

For more information on how shoes were actually made in this time see this link below.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Let no Man put Asunder - Introduction to the Laws of Divorce

Following on from my earlier posts on the Laws of Succession and the Laws of Marriage, this month is an introduction to the English Laws of Divorce. 

Even today, marriage is one of the most important contracts two people can make it, but unlike many other contracts, it was, until very recently, extremely difficult to get out of.  It is only in my lifetime that divorce has become the “out clause” we all know.

Interestingly in the early days of Christian England, divorce by consent or for adultery or desertion was not unknown. It was only the Medieval canonists who, holding to  a strict interpretation of the scriptures, decreed that the bonds of matrimony were indissoluble during the lives of the parties.  The words of the old Book of Common Prayer marriage ceremony read “Let those whom God has put together let no man put asunder”.  Church courts would only grant divorce on the ground that the marriage had been void from the beginning. Eg. A want of consent to the marriage, precontract, consanguinity, affinity and impotence at the time of marriage.
Table of Consanguinity
from Liber Floridus 12th century
  •  Consent – Want of consent could be evidenced not only by duress but the age of the parties. The age of “consent” was fixed at 7 years old but until the age of puberty (12 for girls and 14 for boys – this minimum age was raised to 16 for both parties as recently as 1929) either party could avoid  the marriage. Parental consent was a requirement for the marriage of minors, although if the marriage had been solemnized and the parents raised no objection the marriage held.
  •  Consanguinity and Affinity– A Table of Kindred and Affinity formed part of the Book of Common Prayer and laid down those who could not marry. It was based on sound genetic propositions (eg a man may not marry his mother). Affinity is even more remote – it implied a relationship through marriage or carnal connection eg if a man fornicated with X’s sister he was forbidden from marrying X. Again some of the more remote affinities were only removed within the last 100 years (see the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act of 1907)
  •  Impotence (failure to consummate).  Incurable impotency had to be proved and might arise from malformation or invincible frigidity. A person found to be incurably impotent (inhabilis ab intitio) was not free to marry again but frigidity was no bar to a subsequent marriage!

Divorce a mensa et thoro (from board and bed). The feeling that divorce ought to be permitted in the case of matrimonial wrongs, such as adultery led to the development of a form of judicial separation whereby the parties, although remaining indissolubly united, were permitted to live apart (but not remarry. It could be granted for misconduct such as adultery, cruelty and sodomy and an innocent wife could be awarded alimony for her maintenance.

Surely the most famous divorce in history was that of Henry VIII and his wife Catherine of Aragon. Under the laws of affinity, Henry had required a papal dispensation to marry his brother’s wife.  When Henry sought to put the marriage aside on the grounds that the papal dispensation was ultra vires, the Queen claimed that her marriage to Prince Arthur had never been lawful as it had tot been consummated.  Only when Henry had the control of the church in his grasp did he “divorce” Catherine on the grounds that the marriage was void. His subsequent marriage to Ann Boleyn was also declared void although no reasons were officially given but he may have argued pre-contract or affinity (through his own relationship with Mary Boleyn). The effect was to bastardise Elizabeth. He divorced Ann of Cleves on the grounds of her precontract with Francis of Lorraine, incapacity and duress (sic!).
Catherine of Aragon

The legacy of Henry’s manipulation of the Canon Law and the English Reformation was a revision of the laws surrounding divorce.  Archbishop Cranmer proposed full dissolution of marriage for good cause (such as adultery, cruelty and desertion) but his proposals were never implemented.

Through his actions, Henry had bastardised both his daughters but both Mary and Elizabeth passed Acts of Parliament reinstating their status and thereby demonstrating that the civil Parliament could interfere with the canon law.  In 1548 the Marquis of Northhampton sought to divorce and remarry. The validity of his second marriage was upheld by Act of Parliament.

In 1670 divorce on the grounds of adultery was given effect by statute when Lord Roos’ marriage was dissolved and he was permitted to remarry but adultery remained the only ground for divorce and in order to obtain it the husband to first bring an action to prove the adultery at common law, then obtain a divorce a mensa et thoro from the Ecclesiastical court on the grounds of that adultery and finally petition the House of Lords. The parliamentary procedure was long winded and expensive but it was invoked about 300 times during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was exclusive to the wealthy classes and permitted only for male petitioners.

The only remedy still available for the more lowly classes was the dissolution on the basis of the marriage being void (a vinculo matrimonii) or legal separation (a mensa et thoro). The institution of civil marriage in 1836 removed the ecclesiastical objections to remarriage after divorce but did nothing to facilitate divorce itself.  Reform came in 1857 with the establishment of the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes which abolished the divorce jurisdiction of the church courts. All it did was improve the machinery for obtaining a divorce. The only ground for divorce remained adultery and in the case of a wife petitioner, cruelty and desertion had to be proved as well.  The abuse of the Victorian divorce court by society families became a scandal; formal evidence of adultery was frequently provided with little scrutiny! In the twenty years from 1867 to 1887 the number of divorces rose from 130 to 372.  Compare that with the USA where divorces, under a different legal system,  in the same period rose from 9,937 to 25,535.

It was not until 1935 that true reform in the shape of A.P Herbert’s Act came about.  Divorce on the grounds of cruelty and desertion (for three years)  were included. Wives had the same rights as their husbands. The Church of England responded by legislating that divorced persons should not be allowed to remarry in the Church. “No fault” divorce or divorce on the grounds of “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” only came into existence in the 1960s and 1970s.  

And to end on a personal note, in the late 1920s my own grandmother ran off with another man. She was in the terms of the day, a “bolter” (a term familiar to those who have read Love in A Cold Climate). Although she was the defaulting party my grandfather, being a gentleman, ‘took the blame’.  A hotel room in Brighton was hired and my grandfather seen to enter it in the company of a woman who was not his wife (thus proving adultery). The divorce obtained, my grandmother did remarry (twice in fact…everyone should have a scandalous grandparent). She was not permitted to remarry in the Church (even if she had wished to do so), nor I believe, permitted to take communion!

Source:  An Introduction to Legal History J.H. Baker/Osborn's Law Dictionary

Alison's latest book, GATHER THE BONES, is now available in print as well as digital.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Glimpse at Opera during Jane Austen's Lifetime. by Maggi Andersen

I take my characters in A Baron in Her Bed - The Spies of Mayfair Book One to the opera, and found it fascinating to research. Here's a taste of what I discovered.

Maggi Andersen

Drury Lane 1808

Opera and drama could only be found in London at limited venues. Drury Lane and Covent Garden had the monopoly on plays and opera in English, explicitly granted by royal patent. The Kings theatre, Haymarket  which had no special royal connection or license, remained the dominant presenter of opera throughout Austen’s lifetime, though it’s supremacy was challenged in the 1790s by the more conveniently located Pantheon.
The Kings Theatre and Opera House, Haymarket

The audience was composed mostly of the aristocracy, the gentry and the people of means for the ticket prices were far higher than at the theatres. Boxes, which held four to six people, were reserved, but seats in the orchestra were not, and those in line got the best seats; wealthier patrons often sent their footmen ahead to hold seats for them.
While waiting for the opera to start, people could visit the coffee room, talk w3ith friends, scan the audience for famous faces, or buy a book from the “Fruit Woman” for 1s. 6d. which contained the cast and the libretto. Once the opera commenced all activity was meant to cease, but many continued to move about and indulge in conversation. Few patrons could speak Italian and the King’s Theatre could not present its performances in English.

Opera was only performed during the winter when members of the ton were in town. During summer the wealthy repaired to their country homes and the seaside. Singers then toured the country performing in provincial towns.

Dorothea Jordan

Female performers were seen as glorified prostitutes and shunned by society, which had some basis in fact:
Dorothea Jordan, had a long-running and much-publicized affair with the duke of Clarence, bearing him ten children. (Jane Austen saw her perform at Covent Garden in 1814. One satirical cartoon shows her in her bedroom, gazing adoringly at a duchess’ coronet, which she hopes someday to wear by marrying her lover. A map on the wall purports to show the route from “Strolling Lane” (i.e. prostitution) through “Old Drury Common” all the way to “Derbyshire Peak.” A genealogical chart of the nobility lies on her dressing table, and her bed-hangings are crowned by a Phrygian cap, symbol of the French Revolution. The latter is intended to ridicule her pretensions to nobility; as a common woman, let alone an actress, she should know her place.

Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough
Some actresses of sterling talent who resisted the temptation to climb to the top of the social scale were exempted from the popular prejudice against performing women. Sarah Siddons, who was generally well respected, is a notable example, but those who seemed to be using their visibility as a means to wealth and comfort were strongly stigmatized. The situation was worse for those without stardom to protect them, and it was worst of all for the “opera girls.”

Source: All Things Austen - An Encyclopedia of Austen's World Volume II 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Edinburgh Scotland - by Joanne Boog

For many years the dream of visiting this great city had been a deeply held passion. But once there I was amazed how all the books I’d read about Edinburgh - its magnificent buildings and history - came flooding back and had me visiting all the places I longed to see.
Who can forget the scenes in the Outlander series created by Diana Gabaldon about Jamie and Claire! Images of the printing shop, the pubs and even the brothel come alive while walking down the streets and ducking into the allies on either side. Let alone Holyrood palace (House). Since coming home and reading Stephanie Laurens, The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae I can picture the buildings and the streets without difficulty. 

The streets and buildings are grey but to me they do not appear dirty. Some see the city as a grubby and forever stormy place. But not I. The stone remains this colour on purpose, a reminder of the cities once industrial atmosphere. Attempts have been made to clean the stones but that would change the character of the city. So it remains dark and heavy grey, like storm clouds on the horizon. It’s a magical place that takes you back in time to remind you that there are ancient things in this wonderful world.

The Royal Mile threw characters and events in my way as I walked up and down this thoroughfare. The castle at one end and the beauty of Holyrood palace at the other was spectacular. I stopped and listened to musicians play the bagpipes, others busking on the sidewalks who immersed everyone within hearing of the old songs on Scotland. The best was just outside the fore court of the castle. Rob - a history teacher by trade - dressed in the traditional plaid and wild skins that the people of William Wallace’s time would have worn. But more than that he WAS William Wallace. Standing in front of a small crowd he would tell of all the events that had had shaped the iconic legends life. I could have talked and listened to him for hours.

It is no wonder that many authors and poets found inspiration in these streets. I certainly did and hope that some of the things that I have written may be greatly remembered by others who come to this marvellous city.
This was but a snap shot of what I saw, heard and learnt while in the great city of Edinburgh.

Joanne Boog