Everything Must Sparkle

I want to apologize for missing last month. As you know, there was kind of a lot of stuff going on, and frankly, I was just too distracted.

I recently got a fascinating new research book: The Sparkling Company, Reflections on Glass in the 18th-Century British World. It was put out by the Corning Museum of Glass, and it’s a deep dive into all the ways glass was used during the era. It would be a fantastic book for anyone looking to know more about the industry and uses of glass for a book (perhaps one of your protagonists owns a glassworks of some kind?). I’m sure we’re all familiar with it’s more mundane uses (windows, drinking glasses, mirrors, lenses, and jewelry), but there was some really interesting information in the clothing section.

Yes, they covered things like paste shoe buckles and buttons, but they also featured some more obscure uses such as “foil stones” (aka foil-backed paste) being sewn directly to clothing. This style was popular in both France and England in the 1780s (there are numerous reports of both the Prince of Wales and his sisters wearing garments decorated in this style).

Detail of a man’s suit, c. 1780s

Another type of glass that was a popular embellishment was jet (frequently described as “jais” or “geais” on fashion plates. This was simply small glass bugle beads that were usually black (though sometimes they are described as of “diverse colours”), and were one of the few things considered appropriate for mourning clothing (when you’re supposed to be sad, but you just need a little sparkle!). You see them combined on clothing with steel sequins/spangles, which would reflect the light, but not in a super flashy way.

Detail of a fashion plate, 1798 showing a headdress with jet beads.

They also used tiny seed beads strung together to create pictures on everything from shoes, to garters, to ridicules (sometimes called “sablé”). I usually think of this as a more Victorian form of decoration, but these examples are from as early as the 1730s.

Beaded mule, c. 1730-1770

And because you all know how much I love a fancy, naughty, garter…

Beaded garter, c. 1730-1770.

Posted in Clothing, History, Isobel Carr, Plot bunnies, Regency, Research, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Real History (and New Book)

I have a new book out! Her Gallant Captain at Waterloo is available right now from online booksellers in both paperback and ebook.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

From vicar’s son
To captain of her heart!
Lady Helene Banes travels to Brussels to bring her battle-seeking younger brother home, only to collide with Rhys Landon, her ex-fiancé! Gone is the penniless vicar’s son, now transformed into a combat-hardened captain. The spark still burns between them, but Rhys has a new love now—the army. Until, on the eve of battle, with Napoleon’s troops advancing, the emotional turmoil of their past explodes into a night of passion!
From Harlequin Historical: Your romantic escape to the past.

One of the joys of writing historical fiction comes when you are able to fit the real history and real historical figures into the story. In writing Her Gallant Captain at Waterloo I had a lot of that sort of fun. Setting the book in Belgium before and during the Battle of Waterloo, how could I miss. I particularly enjoyed trying to fit the events of the battle into the story, but there was also the Duchess of Richmond’s ball for my characters to attend and, inevitably, the horrid aftermath of the battle. And anytime I can include the Duke of Wellington in a book, I’m happy.

Sometimes a historical figure fits in so well that he or she become a part of the story. In this book it was David Banes’ friend, William Lennox. 

Lord William Pitt Lennox was the 4th son of the Duke of Richmond. As a youth he attended Westminster School, the perfect place for my character to befriend him. By 1814 he had a cornetcy in the army and was an aide de camp to the Duke of Wellington when the Duke was in Paris, the Netherlands, and at the Congress of Vienna after Napoleon’s first defeat and exile at Elba. When Napoleon escaped Elba and returned to France, a battle became inevitable, and no one but the Duke of Wellington could command the Allied army to face this foe. These two great generals had never faced each other in battle. The impending battle was considered the event of the century, not to be missed. 

So in the late spring of 1815, Brussels filled with soldiers and civilians, including David Bane and his sister, Helene, who came to bring her brother home. William Lennox was now attached to General Maitland’s staff, but he suffered a riding accident, injuring his eye and General Maitland relieved him of duty. Because of his injury, he would not fight in the battle, which surely must have depressed him greatly.

It is known that the Duke of Richmond, William’s father, rode with Wellington the day of the battle and observed the fighting. It made sense that William would ride with him—and that gave my character, David, the opportunity to ride with them, putting him exactly where I wanted him—in the battle itself. 

I love it when that happens.

Do you love it, too? Or do you prefer the history to remain in the background or not tied to real events?

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Regency Winter Sports -Part 2

When I posted “Part 1” of this article a month ago, I promised we’d talk about curling, bandy, and skiing as additional winter sports. Because Regency romance fiction tends to focus on the elegant upper class and aristocracy, particularly in England, we seldom find these sports depicted in the pages. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t being practiced somewhere, especially among the working classes. Despite the fact that they had little free time, we’ve seen throughout history that working people and the poor were inventive and also made the most of whatever free time they had to enjoy. But curling in Scotland was a sport of all classes.

Curlers, 1835 painting by Scottish artist Sir George Harvey

Curling was practically a national game in Scotland by the Regency period. The records of Paisley Abbey, Renfrewshire, contain the first-known written record of the sport (as a contest using stones on the ice), in an entry from February,1541. Although other early names for it in Scotland included quoiting, kuting, or coiling, most sources seem to agree that the first published use of the term “curling” as a name for it comes from a 1620 poem by Henry Adamson, where his mention of it is made in listing a gentleman’s favored activities. The name comes from the verb curl (Scottish and English), which describes the way the stone moves. The game is sometimes called “the roaring game” after the noise the stones make sliding over the moistened playing surface of the ice.

Whether curling first originated in Flanders or Scotland is still debated. The first publication specifically devoted to the game, by the Rev John Ramsey in 1811 (Edinburgh) opined that terminology used in the game had roots in German and Dutch language and so attributed it to Flemish immigrants to Scotland. But others have made equally strong cases against his logic.

Either way, the sport’s antiquity can be traced by the evolution of the stones used for it. A museum in Scotland has a curling stone marked 1511, the oldest “dated” example known, found at Stirling, and another dated 1551 from the bottom of a pond in Dunblane, Scotland (although the etched dates were probably added at a later time). Known as a finger stone, “kuting-stone”, or even, in some locales, a kutystane, piltycock or “loofie”, the primitive smoothed stones feature indentations cut for thumb and fingers and were probably thrown into motion on the ice. By the Regency, some people were already collecting these old ones and interested in the history of the sport.

One is described as whinstone 8 ½ inches in diameter and weighing some 14lbs. Later the stones grew much larger and heavier, known as “rough blocks” and prized ones often were given individual names as a reflection of their character and effectiveness along with personal regard by their owners. (An account of this can be found in an 1890 book on curling history.) Some had a hole bored in the center to allow the attachment of wood or iron handles, and others had double or even triple handles set in. At weights ranging from 30 pounds to over a hundred pounds, the handles are understandable. By the late 18th century and early Regency, these stones began to develop into the round, finely streamlined and scientifically weighted “stones” used in the sport today. Imagining the brawn required to handle those old stones might be enough to make a young lady swoon!

Curling stone with handle from 1700

The growth of curling’s popularity in Scotland is attested by the formation of the Kilsyth Curling Club in 1716, a club still extent and claiming to be the oldest of its kind. By the Regency period there’d been a proliferation of clubs in Scotland. The game also went to Canada, likely with Scottish immigrants, where the Royal Montreal Curling Club was formed in 1807, the oldest sports club still active in North America and founded firmly in the Regency period. The first “official” rules for the modern version of the sport were drawn up in 1838. Old curling stones have been found serving as doorstops and bootscrapers, weights for thatch roofs, and embedded in old building walls as well as in museums!

This picture is a painting by Bruegel, from 1565, showing Flemish peasants “curling” by hand (no brooms). Scotland and the “Low Countries” did lots of trading, so it’s no surprise they would pass along the sport as well. (Note there’s a child on a sledge in the center foreground!)

When “sweeping” with brooms began to be used as part of the game (and not just to clear the ice) I am not sure –possibly during the 18th century. You can clearly see them in the Scottish picture from 1835 at the top of this blogpost. Below is a second picture by Bruegel that depicts people curling, also from 1565. Perhaps the ice was particularly good that year?

Weather is absolutely one of the main factors that determined where all of these winter sports developed. References are made to the “Little Ice Age” from 1500-1700 related to some of these sports developing. For much of the Regency, there was little snow in December/January in most of England (Scotland and other areas would be different, of course). Scotland always had dependably sturdy ice in winter for winter sports like curling, unlike her southern neighbor. But famously, the winter of 1813-14 in England had terrible weather at the end of December and frigid cold right through until early February.

Known as “the Great Frost of 1813–14” (because besides snow there was a lot of freezing fog), these weeks spawned the last-ever Frost Fair held on the River Thames in London and also give us the first records of “bandy” being played as an organized team contest in the fens area where winter skating was common. Bandy is a precursor/variant of ice hockey which uses a ball and seems to date (in England) from at least 1801, but probably dates back into the 18th century. The shallow washes and flooded meadows in the fens area provided large open areas of ice where chasing a ball with sticks while on skates was not only feasible but seems a natural invention for young boys.

The sport derives from an earlier 17th century Irish version similar to field hockey, which used curved sticks also called bandies. The name probably derives from a Middle French verb, bander, which means “to strike back and forth.” The names shinty or shinney were also sometimes used for it in English in the earlier times, perhaps a Scottish influence as the name in Scottish Gaelic is “ice shinty” (camanachd-deighe). In modern times shinty has come to refer only to the game played on land and bandy to mean specifically the ice version. The lack of extensive historical record on this game prior to 1813-14 does not, to my mind, mean no one was playing at it, just that due to the specifically limited geographical area, no one was paying attention, and also I believe it was primarily a working class entertainment.

Skiing has the most ancient pedigree of any of the winter activities I’ve covered here, although its arrival as a “sport” is actually later than any of the others I’ve discussed. Skis dating back to 6,000 BCE have been discovered in Russian peat bogs and there’s evidence of equally or even more ancient ones in China. Rock paintings and carvings from 3,000 BC and 2,500 BC have been found depicting skiers in Scandinavian countries. Norse mythology dating back to writings in 1300 BC introduced Ullr and Skade, the god and goddess of skiing.

Early Norse figure of Ullr

In 1206 AD a war-time skiing rescue spawned a famous Norwegian legend when military Norwegian skiers carried the 2 year-old heir to the throne across mountains to safety. By the 17th century accounts of skiing in other countries appear, and in 1716 a war between Russia, Sweden and Norway was fought primarily on skis. The need for improving ski speed in this century led to advances in both technique and construction, and military exercises and training led to the first types of competitions.

By 1800 in Norway skis were shaped to be narrower in the middle and wider at the ends, which improved maneuverability. Further into the early part of the 19th century, the cambered ski was invented. Lighter and concave at the center, this new type of ski distributed the skier’s weight better and also improved the shock absorbing capabilities of the skis. Norwegians emigrating to other parts of the world introduced skiing to other cultures.

But skis were still a mode of transportation, not recreation. One of the first recorded instances of skis used for recreation happened in 1841 in Beloit, Wisconsin, USA. In 1843, the first recreational skiing race was held in Norway. Twenty years later, alpine ski racing began as an organized sport in both Norway and the U.S. Downhill racing, as we know it today, really was not begun until the 1920’s, in the Swiss Alps. Today the UK has 77 ski resorts, not all in Scotland, but in the Regency, in the relatively flat British Isles, skiing was not a winter activity pursued for pleasure.

Do you enjoy winter sports? Do you participate in any, or are you a spectator like me? Frankly, I must admit that I prefer to watch them from the comfort of a warm chair in a cozily heated room. But perhaps if a sinfully handsome Regency buck were to entice me, I might be willing to go out and play in the snow. Happy New Year to everyone!

Detail from a Scottish painting (anonymous) showing curling, c. 1700 (Traquair Charitable Trust)

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The Myth and Mythos of Merrie England

I’ve never written a holiday novel or novella, but I have written books that include Christmas, and it’s fun to look and see what traditions that are familiar to us now would also have been familiar to my characters. Sometimes, the answers are surprising. I turned, as I often do, to THE ENGLISH YEAR by Steven Roud. A lot of what we associate with Christmas now is decidedly Victorian, and was built upon a mythos of a “Merrie England” that never existed. But if you dig back, there are LOTS of local traditions that fell by the wayside during the industrialization of England (as people moved away from home, they didn’t practice their traditions which would have been strange to their new neighbors, and didn’t adopt those of their new homes, as they were strange to them). But those of us who write in the 18th century and the early 19th century can still draw on those local traditions. And those writing in the Victorian era can make hay with the reinvention of that “Merrie England” to which most of our current Christmas traditions harken back. If your book is set post 1847, you can even have Christmas Crackers!

Yule Log with bands by Roger Griffith
Wikimedia Commons

Many places had traditional dances, murmmers, plays, wassails, etc. A book like Roud’s is great for researching these local festivities, as is Wikipedia. And there is always the Yule log. Not writing someone in a grand house with a giant fireplace? Perhaps “the ashen faggot” is more their speed? A bundle of twigs around a larger log, all held together with fresh/green branches (willow was also used). People would sit around and sing carols and cheer when the “withes” burst. Cider would be passed and drunk as the bands broke, and in some traditions, the bands were assigned to girls, prediction who would marry first. I can see lots of fun being had with this in a village hall or a more modest home.

In places with a church with bells, someone (or a team of someones) might have been found “ringing the devil’s knell” on Christmas Eve. There must be one ring (about every two seconds) for every year since Christ’s birth, timed to end at Midnight. This is something you can do in any setting.

Decorations. Historically, they were not put up early as we do now. That was considered unlucky. And they usually consisted only of greenery and candles (anything that was evergreen could be used, but of course holly and mistletoe were popular). Mistletoe, then as now, was a kissing game, but you had to pluck a berry off the ball of mistletoe for each kiss and when the berries were gone, so were the kisses.

Trees. Yes, it is commonly asserted that Christmas trees were introduced by Prince Albert in the late 1840s, and that’s certainly when they spread to the masses, but they were introduced much earlier by other Germans who immigrated (including Queen Charlotte). Charles Greville noted one in 1829, that the Princess Lieven had three large trees in pots put upon a table, lit with small candles, and surround by gifts for the children.

Do you have a favorite Christmas tradition or a favorite Christmas romance? I think mine is the way my parents always wrapped our presents from “Santa” in white tissue paper with real cloth tartan ribbon. It was very “Merrie England” and “Ye Old Christmas, and I absolutely adored it. I think this Christmas I’ll start doing that for my niece and nephew.

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Regency Winter Sports -Part 1

Nothing like a little snow to get one in the mood for winter. I’ve been researching winter activities –not for my current wip, unfortunately, but research is never wasted!! You may find a few things surprising. I did!

I’m pretty sure that snowball fights date back to the very first human experience of snow, and possibly building snow sculptures does, too –what do you think? But many of the other winter activities that we now take for granted developed very specifically in relation to weather and geography in certain locales. Not surprising is the fact that because so much of England had relatively mild winters during the Regency, many of the “winter sports” that we think of today were not so widespread there during the early 19th century. And it turns out that those enterprising Victorians were the ones who started organizing sports, adding things like rules(!!) and formal competitions, for the most part.

Probably one of the first activities you might think of is skating. Skating first developed as a practical means of winter travel in Finland (lots of lakes) and the Netherlands (flat lowlands with lots of water frozen in winter). The word “skates” derives from the Dutch. When the first skaters in London’s St James Park were noted in the 17th century by noted diarists John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys, their footwear was spelled “Scheetes” and “skeates”. Early skates were made of bone, horn, wood, or metal, tied onto shoes and boots. (You can see the straps on the Regency era skates pictured above.)

Photo of bones with leather ties (for attaching to feet) threaded through drilled holes on the ends.
Medieval bone skates, London

It’s said that even Napoleon Bonaparte was a fan of ice skating. Examples dating to the stone age have been discovered in bogs. The flat, wet fens of England were settled in part by “Hollanders” so it’s no surprise to find skating developed there.

For a time, skating was not considered a proper activity for women, although this varied by location. You can see in the above cartoon the women are (wisely?) huddled on the sidelines. But by the Regency that taboo seems to have relaxed. I do love the picture below, titled “The Timid Pupil.” He looks at her so adoringly and she clearly trusts him, although I don’t know why she isn’t freezing, LOL.

Sledding/sledging also developed first as a practical means of transporting goods and people in snow and ice, especially in Sweden and Norway, but also in Holland. Early examples of sleds and sledges were found in the Oseberg Viking ship excavation. Competition to see whose sled was fastest just seems a natural human instinct. Sledge races are referenced in Norway as early as 1480.

England’s milder climate meant that sledding for recreation was slow to develop there –not having a reliable and continuous supply of snow or ice. If you picture Regency bucks flying down snowy hillsides on sled(ge)s, think again. Sled(ges) were made in every size from those pulled by hand to those pulled by dogs, horses, or oxen, but the design did not evolve much for centuries, and it was cumbersome and very upright.

Porcelain figurine depicting and 18th century woman sitting upright in her sleigh-like sledge, while a gentleman wearing skates pushes it along the ice from behind.

Using small ones to slide down snowy or icy slopes for recreation was called “coasting” in areas where it was done, but it does not seem to have been a regular English Regency activity. The sledges would have been expensive, and the activity no doubt seemed at least very inelegant to most of the fashion conscious, with one notable exception. At the frost fairs held on the Thames, and perhaps in other areas when there was a suitable hard freeze, a large sledge fastened by rope to a central point on sturdy ice would be propelled around in circles for the fun of the occupants.

The type of steer-able, flat wooden sled(ge) with runners that we may think of today was not invented until the 1880’s, and that was also when modern competitive sledding first began (in Switzerland). That is why the villagers who engage in the sledding contest in my Christmas book, Lord of Misrule, have to invent and construct their own contraptions!

Other winter sports that were practiced during the Regency included curling in Scotland (since at least 1511) which was practically a national game by the Regency, and bandy (also known as “shinty” and “shinney”), again in the fens area where people skated. Bandy is a precursor/variant of ice hockey which uses a ball, which seems to date (in England) from at least 1801, although the first recorded organized games there were during the same record-breaking Regency weather in 1813-14 that produced the last Thames River Frost Fair. I’ll take a look at those (and skiing!) in Part 2, next time!

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Novellas and Other Short Things

I’ve been putting together another release (I know, it feels like a flood), so I thought I’d talk for a moment about short fiction. Shorts are very popular right now, and while many think it’s because they’re faster to write, honestly, a good novella or short story can take a really long time to produce. A friend who can write a hundred thousand word novel in six weeks once complained that it took her twice that long to write a novella.

Cover by Jessica T. Cohen

I have a short that I wrote years ago for Arabella Magazine (anyone else remember that short-lived publication?) They published one original piece every month, and the novelette I wrote for them was the first thing I ever sold. When they folded before it came out, I was crushed. But then Kindle Shorts was a thing, and I thought I could get into that. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but it didn’t work out.

So I stil have this little novelette (shorter than a novella, longer than a short story)…I put it up on my website as a freebie. I have no idea how many people ever read it. But it seemed reasonable to put it out now that I’m self publishing and shorts are popular and accepted.

I also have an honest-to-god short story laying around. It was written for a Christmas blogathon based on the Twelve Days of Christmas (I got Three French Hens). It’s long since disappeared from the web, and it’s fun, so I added it in as a bonus.

It should be up for pre-sale any minute now…when Amazon gets the link up, I’ll come back and add it. And it’s a pre-SALE. 99-cents and then it goes up to $2.99.


A beautiful viscount falls for his best-friend’s mannish sister. Yes, it’s classic me.

An impossible challenge … Eleanor Blakely is all too aware that her reputation dangles by a very slender thread, unfortunately, she’s found herself in the midst of a delicious series of wagers with a consummate charmer, and she can’t seem to stop herself from saying yes to every wicked proposition. Whatever twist of fate has kept his best friend’s sister on the shelf is a mystery to Viscount Wroxton, but when the inveterate little gamester suddenly catches his attention, she’s entirely is too fascinating to ignore. The fact that she has five enormous brothers is hardly worth thinking about—she’s thrown down the gauntlet, and he has no intention of losing, whatever the cost…

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To Autumn

We are just starting to see the beauty of autumn here in Virginia with brisk, sunny days. Soon the leaves will turn their reds, yellows, and oranges and get ready to fall.

Here, again, is my Regency homage to autumn, because the season and the poem are so beautiful. 

On 19 September 1819, John Keats took an evening walk along the River Itchen near Winchester and was inspired to write one of the most perfect poems in the English language:

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

The poem was included in volume of Keats’ works printed in 1820 to better reviews than his earlier works. A year later, Keats died.

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Celebrations by Light

Do you think overblown “holiday light displays” (or the desire to ride around viewing them) are a phenomenon of our modern age? Step back into the Regency with me for a moment.

The trail of research we authors do as we work on our stories often leads into interesting nooks and crannies, if not right down infamous “rabbit holes.” Researching the events of April 1814 for my current wip (reading the newspapers of the time, one of my favorite ways to research) led me to chase down information about the celebratory “illuminations” that were hurriedly put up once the news of the Allies’ victory in France and the abdication of Napoleon became officially announced in London. While the references to them in my wip are just casual conversation, I wanted to know what, exactly, my characters had seen!

The news of peace in Europe broke over the 9th-10th, which was Easter weekend of that year. Descriptions of many of the more prominent displays are given in both The Times and The Morning Chronicle, April 11-13, which is just when my story begins. Many of the displays are described as “transparencies” –colorful paper or cloth images which were illuminated by placing a light source behind them. The first two excerpts are from The Times, while the third is from the Morning Chronicle (and went on for two full-page columns on that day):

Advertisements for purchasing ready-made “transparent” illuminations and lighting can also be found in these papers. They tell us so much: glass and ceramic lamps in colors could be purchased or simply rented for a single night’s display, and transparencies were made ready very quickly (kind of like commemorative T-shirts are today when breaking news happens)! You could hire someone to design and come put up your display (just as some people do for the holidays today). And we see these displays were also popular for special events, not just national celebrations of major news events, and not just in the city.

Even though Jane Austen describes illuminations (presumably home-made transparencies simply for decoration) in Mansfield Park and also refers to some in her letters, I hadn’t paid attention to this aspect of Regency celebrations until now. I think the evolution of the form seems a natural one, given the ancient interest in the art of stained glass. People have been intrigued by the play of light shining through color as a decorative art for a long time! Transparencies were a way to achieve a similar effect on a temporary basis and at a fraction of the cost.

Stained & painted glass

Of course, one of the wonders of Internet research these days is the bountiful yield of posts that have been written by others also fascinated with the same subjects. But what also interested me was the perfect illustration of how the wealth of material on the Internet continues to expand over time.

Kathryn Kane’s blogpost (from 2012) is fabulous in describing the process of how transparencies were made, including the fashion for making them from prints or original artwork on a small scale by ladies at home. She also leads into this with some background history on illumination. (I wrote a post about street lighting myself, here). The word “illumination” seems to have evolved to refer both to the displaying of lights themselves as part of a celebration and also the display of so-called “transparent” art set in front of such displays of lights. But at the time of Kathryn’s blog, no one had uncovered, or at least posted, any pictures to illustrate what she was talking about.

By 2016 when Shannon Selin wrote an excellent post in this topic (here), she had discovered a Gilroy cartoon at the Yale Center for British Art, showing a decidedly political use of transparency art, not quite what we’re talking about here, but still giving an idea of the form. The pictures are mounted in a wooden frame, placed in front of the light.


Selin, author of the alternate history novel Napoleon in America, offers more details than Kane about the “how-to” books and designs that were published for the home craftsperson. She says Rudolph Ackermann “published 109 transparent etchings between 1796 and 1802,” and also cites a book, Instructions for Painting Transparencies (1799). She writes: “British engraver and publisher Edward Orme encouraged the fad for transparencies in both England and France with his bilingual manual, An Essay on Transparent Prints and on Transparencies in General (1807).” She includes a description paraphrased from Orme on how to turn an etching or engraving into a transparency. She writes: “This involved painting large areas of color on the back of the print (corresponding with the outlines of the illustration), and then adding varnish to specific areas to give the paper a see-through effect when held up to light. Scraping or cutting away small sections of the surface was another way to enhance the transparency.”

Finally, I found a blogpost from 2018 that shares the writer’s discoveries while delving into the Georgian Papers collection in the British Royal Archives under a fellowship grant. The illustrations she found are delightful and I direct you to Cassandra Good’s post (here) to see for yourselves, because copyright permissions don’t allow me to share them in this post. I hope you will particularly study the 1763 design by architect Robert Adam for what he called a “transparent illumination” to celebrate the King’s birthday. It appears to show huge transparencies erected on portions of the building, which would have been quite spectacular to see, especially lit from behind. These are a far cry from the small, window-pane sized illuminations described in Kathryn Kane’s post and most likely would have been painted on fabric rather than made of paper.

My conclusion is that “transparent illuminations” (to distinguish them from the illuminations made only with candles, lamps or other light sources) could vary in size from the spectacular displays mounted on buildings to the small displays in household windows, and the elaborateness of the design as well as the size and artistry would reflect on the financial resources and inclination of the displayer. This helps me to put some of those newspaper descriptions into perspective.

I think the social ramifications are interesting to speculate about. If you purchased ready-made illuminations destined for your front windows, would you be worried your neighbor might have purchased the same one(s)? Would families have been conscripted to spend their evening hours in those same front rooms to keep an eye on the illuminations for safety reasons? Lamps or lanterns might supply some degree of safety, but open candle flames were always a hazard, then as now, and paper (even the linen-rag paper of the Regency) soaked in varnish or oil would have been very flammable.

Was there also a risk that drunken revelers in the streets might take offense at the chosen designs on display? There are early accounts of destruction and broken windows when illuminations were done in support of partisan ideas or unpopular causes, or were just deemed “inadequate” by fickle mobs. And not just in England. Illuminations were part of special celebrations in America and France in this period as well.

Certainly at least the efforts by the high and mighty were just as subject to censure as they are today. The Morning Chronicle was quick to point out an error in the illuminations mounted by the Prince Regent in April, 1814. The defeat of Napoleon was celebrated as a restoration of the House of Bourbon, the French monarchy (even though in a new “constitutional” form), and many illuminations featured congratulatory slogans in French. The Chronicle greeted the elaborate design shown by the Regent with the snidely oblique criticism:

I suspect that the political leanings of the Morning Chronicle might have been showing a bit, but OTOH maybe it only proves that “you just can’t get good help” even if you’re the Prince Regent. Or at least that the “grammar police” have been around for a really long time!

What do you think? Did you know about these elaborate displays of lights and art during the Regency? When the holidays roll around again this year and you see the displays on people’s homes, will you think about the historical roots behind the tradition? Please leave me a note in the comments! And thanks so much for reading.

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Kalen Hughes is Back (sort of)

I have what is very big news for me: I finally got all my ducks in a row, and my old Kalen Hughes books, which have been out of print for several years now, are available again! The eBooks are up on Amazon and enrolled in KU for the first 90 days. The print books are also there, but I’m having a bit of trouble linking them up.

I have spiffy new covers, by Jessica T. Cohen (one of my best friends, who happens to be a professional illustrator). I’m gonna give her a plug here, because she’s really amazing and you should check out her work. She’s got covers coming for Pam Rosenthal soon, and they’re pretty spectacular. She’s open for bookings and she can do fine art styles in a host of different styles and mediums as well as the style you see here. She even did custom “dingbats” for my chapter headings and scene breaks.

Sin Incarnate

Formally Lord Sin

I knew I wanted to try illustrated covers (who knew they’d suddenly be big again and I’d be on trend for the first time in my professional life?!). Jess and I put our heads together and decided on a clean “paper cut” look for them, with additional embellishments. I was blown away by what she came back with. I simply adore the arches. And the putti. Everything is better with putti.

Scandal Incarnate

Formally Lord Scandal

They’ve been brought over to my Isobel Carr pen name, and given new and infinitely better titles (IMO). And look, my half-Turkish hero isn’t BLOND AND HAIRY on the cover this time around. *roll eyes*

I had a ton of fun doing the typography layout on top of Jessica’s amazing art. There was just something really rewarding about combining our two skillsets and making someone beautiful and functional. And yes, the “sexually aggressive heroines” was a theme we’d consciously gone with long before that horror movie poster hit Twitter, LOL! And we’ll be sticking with it.

The whole experience has been very enlightening, and I have to give major thanks to Carolyn Jewel and Zoe York for all their help and advice and handholding. I’ve been a complete wreck trying to figure all this self pub stuff out. It’s actually really hard to find all the basic info on format and size and file type. Every time I thought I had what I needed, I’d get an error message informing me I was wrong. Hopefully things will go smoother from now on … though I’m waiting for the plagiarism notification email from Amazon. You think by now they’d just have a place for you to upload your reversion letter when you’re setting up the book.

There’s a third cover in the works, for my previously “self-published only on my website” novelette, which I’m going to call Temptation Incarnate. I’ll have it up hopefully in the next week or two. And best of all, I finally have my writing mojo back! While I’ve been working on all of this, I have been noodling about (which is as close as I get to plotting) with ideas for then next Incarnate book, and low and behold it’s going to be F/F. My dashing lady rake popped into my head and announced that while she likes men fine, women are where it’s at for her. So the duke that was her destiny will get kicked to the curb early on and she and her lady-love with get their HEA.

Ok, Sapphic muse, let’s roll…

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What We “Know” about Regency Weddings

Why write another post about Regency weddings? If you search this site, you’ll find a whole collection of fun & fact-filled wedding-related posts written by various Riskies over the years. But the book I’m currently working on is set against the background of a Regency wedding, and I’m reviewing everything I know about such events. I’m looking at how we know what we know as much as the “what we know” both in this post and in my research. As a former journalist, I always remember to “consider the source” when collecting information.

Pride & Prejudice Wedding

As romance writers, we authors can find it a bit disappointing to hear that Regency weddings were not as big and special as they tend to be today. It’s true that many of our revered traditions developed during Victoria’s reign or later. One of the oft-cited sources for documenting the “low-key” Regency approach is a remembrance by Jane Austen’s niece Caroline (b. 1805), describing her half-sister Anna’s marriage to Benjamin Lefroy on November 8, 1814.

Note the following from her recollection: “The season of the year, the unfrequented road to the church, the grey light within… no stove to give warmth, no flowers to give colour and brightness, no friends, high or low, to offer their good wishes, and so to claim some interest in the great event of the day – all these circumstances and deficiencies must, I think, have given a gloomy air to the wedding…” She adds, “Weddings were then usually very quiet. The old fashion of festivity and publicity had quite gone by, and was universally condemned as showing the bad taste of all former generations…. This was the order of the day.” (my added emphasis)

Genre painting by Henry G. Schlesinger

I haven’t found the date when Caroline wrote this reminiscence, but I note that she was all of nine years old at the time of the actual wedding. I find her insistence that “this was the order of the day” a bit suspect. How would she know this? She was not then at an age to be attending any other weddings. Also, it was November. I’m sure hothouse flowers were not in the budget!

She continues: “No one was in the church but ourselves (she had listed six men and four females, all relatives in the two families), and no one was asked to the breakfast, to which we sat down as soon as we got back…The breakfast was such as best breakfasts then were. Some variety of bread, hot rolls, buttered toast, tongue, ham and eggs. The addition of chocolate at one end of the table and the wedding-cake in the middle marked the speciality of the day.”

Isn’t it possible that, looking back in her later life, she might have been tempted to justify the extreme austerity of this family wedding by claiming it was the norm? Both Anna and Ben Lefroy were the offspring of clerics, and the groom was a cleric himself, as yet without a living. An expensive wedding was doubtless not an option for the family (and probably not considered suitable for clerics, anyway). A longer version of the same quote begins, “My sister’s wedding was certainly in the extreme of quietness: yet not so much as to be in any way censured or remarked upon….”  Caroline sounds defensive to me, as if she feared people would judge her family against the more elaborate Victorian wedding customs that became the fashion later in the century when she was looking back.

The Village Wedding by Fildes

Just eight years before Anna Austen’s minimalist wedding, we have another oft-quoted wedding example from the opposite end of the continuum that I propose existed as much then as now. The Annual Register for 1806 includes this description of a very elaborate wedding clearly designed to show off the extreme wealth of the bride:

“Sept. 9.  This day was married at Slinsford Church, Dorset, Viscount Marsham, son of Earl Romney, to Miss Pitt, only daughter and heiress of William Morton Pitt, esq., with a fortune of 60,000 pounds and an estate of 12,000 pounds per annum, independent of the estates of her father.” (There follows a list of the witnesses, seven of whom were prominent enough to be named, in addition to the bride & groom and family members, plus one “officiating” attendant each for bride and groom.)

The astronomical expense lavished on this wedding would be almost unimaginable if you didn’t take into account that the ultra-wealthy aristocrats were the rock star celebs of their day. “In the early part of the morning the whole of the unmarried female branches of the neighbouring tenantry and villages attended at Kingston-house, the seat of W.M. Pitt, esq., each female attired in an elegant white muslin dress, provided for them, as a present on the occasion, by Miss Pitt. After refreshments, about 40 couples proceeded, two and two, before the procession to the church, strewing the way (before the happy couple), in the ancient style, with flowers of every description. After the ceremony they returned in the same order, attended by nearly 300 spectators, where a dinner, consisting of English hospitality, was provided on the occasion in booths on the lawn; and the festive eve concluded with a ball on the green, in which the nobility present shared in the mirth. At an early hour in the evening, the happy couple and suit set off in post chaises to pass the honey-moon at the lady’s own seat, Enchcome-house, Dorset.”

Health to the Bride, genre painting by Sadler

It makes me a little bit crazy when I hear people now try to characterize the behavior of people in the past as being all one particular way. I’m not saying fashions and trends didn’t exist, but individual people and families still followed their own traditions and were limited (or not) by their incomes and situations, just as we are today.

Knowing this makes me comfortable designing the wedding in my new book the way that fits my characters and their specific situations, within a good grounding in what we do know about Regency weddings. Since they’re not using a Special License, the wedding has to be in the morning, and at church. This was a matter of law, not choice, as was the presence of an officiating clergyman and a clerk to record the proceedings. There will be no white dress, veil, or assemblage of bridesmaids. Her dress could be white, but since in this period it could be any color, I think it’s more fun to go there. And while fashion prints start to show veils in the late Regency (see an interesting post here), my 1814 wedding is too early for that. A wedding “breakfast” will follow, as was customary. It makes sense that you need to feed your guests! As my groom’s family is wealthy, the breakfast will be more elaborate than the one Caroline Austen described, but nothing so grand as Miss Pitt’s! And as my bride has almost no family near her, her relatives will travel a distance to attend.

If you married, how big or small was your wedding? Or weddings you’ve attended? How big or small is your family? I’ve been to intimate weddings with less than 30 people and one huge wedding with 500 guests where I didn’t even know the bride or groom.

It’s just one more very sad ripple effect of the Coronavirus pandemic that weddings since March of 2020, if happening at all, have to be small, intimate celebrations, and preferably held out-of-doors. Circumstances require adaptation. That was as true back in the Regency as it is now, so I think assuming Regency weddings were only done in one particular way is a false view of the times. Sorry, Caroline Austen!

Wedding Couple, 1826

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