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Author Archives: Myretta

About Myretta

Myretta is a founder and current manager of The Republic of Pemberley, a major Jane Austen destination on the web. She is also a writer of Historical Romance. You can find her at her website, and on Twitter @Myretta.


Kensington Gardens, 1798

Kensington Gardens, 1798

In the late 18th Century, landscape architect, Lancelot “Capability” Brown, diverged from the rigidly formal gardens favored at the time and designed naturalistic landscapes, breaking up the gardens with “follies, cascades, lakes, bridges, ornaments, monuments, meadows and wood.” (The Omnipotent Magician: Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, 1716-1783 by Jane Brown).

One of his legacies appears to have been a nice collection of shrubbery into which my characters keep disappearing. Early in the manuscript on which I’m working, the hero takes the heroine off the beaten path in Kensington Gardens and into a rather lovely shrubbery during which stroll they are, alas, interrupted. But don’t worry. There will be other shrubberies.

Unfortunately, my hero finds himself in a shrubbery with the wrong woman during a morning party at a London estate. Fortunately, he is rescued by the hostess. Today, I thought I’d share the rescue with you.

Simon was dumbstruck. It wasn’t that he was unaware of his sister-in-law’s wishes and he would have to be blind and deaf to miss Lady Margaret’s blatant overtures. He had not, however, expected such a flagrant bid for a proposal. He knew he shouldn’t have gone near the shrubbery.

As Simon stared in amazement at the woman clinging to his arm, and searched his mind for an appropriate response that would not land him in front of a parson, he was saved by a party led by Lady Frampton. The hostess was ostensibly leading a group through a tour of her gardens. From the conversation, it seemed as though she had just run them through the parterre and hustled them into the shrubbery where she claimed to have the largest Hawthorne in Middlesex County. Simon smiled. Perhaps Lady Frampton had found her missing sheep. The group stopped abruptly in front of Simon and Lady Margaret.

“Join us?” Lady Frampton asked.

“We were just returning to the garden,” Simon said, on a sigh of relief.

“Very well, then. Off with you.” Lady Frampton nodded, and Simon could have sworn, winked again. 

And so, having shared this with you, I return to the manuscript. I am very near to reaching the ultimate shrubbery.

Posted in Regency, Writing | 3 Replies

Regency_wedding I’d like to share some research done at The Republic of Pemberley regarding the ways in which our hero and heroine can marry, and particularly the ubiquitous Special License.  The researcher here is Julie Wakefield, a lawyer in England as well as a scholar of Georgian period. Julie is no longer with the web site, but her legacy lingers.

As this is a Jane Austen web site, you’ll find most references to her work and her time.

There were three methods of marrying legally in England and Wales in Jane Austen’s day. Marriage in England and Wales was regulated by the Marriage Act of 1753, known as Hardwicke’s Marriage Act after the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hardwicke who introduced and oversaw the passage of the Act in Parliament. The Act was controversial as it was the first attempt by Parliament to regulate the legality and form of marriage, something that has previously been subject to the control of the Church. The reason for the act was the great uncertainty and difficulties experienced during the mid 18th century by the various methods of getting married. Lord Hardwicke’s act was designed to clarify the law, to prescribe the methods by which people would marry, and to provide punishments for anyone who flouted the new regulations regarding marriage and the recording of the ceremonies.

From 1754 (when the Act came into force) it was only possible to marry in one of three ways. By the reading of banns, by Common License or by Special license. The act made attempts to marry in any other fashion- e.g. by verbal contract, a clandestine marriage, or under the auspices of a so-called Fleet marriage, unlawful, and anyone performing a marriage in this way could be subject to the death penalty, or transported for a period of 14 years (see Section 16 of the Act).

Marrying after the reading of banns. Provided both parties to the marriage were over 21 or had their respective parents consent if they were under age, then after giving 7 days notice to their priest, banns would be read for three successive Sunday in both of their parishes, to advertise the fact that their marriage was to take place. The marriage (and this was a requirement for all marriages by banns or by license) had to be performed before two witnesses. The marriage would then be immediately recorded in a register in a form prescribed by Section 15 of the Act, which was to be kept and maintained in proper order by the priest at the church. The reason for all this publicity and recording was to ensure that the marriage was known to have taken place and that there was evidence of it having occurred, should anyone attempt to deny the existence of the marriage in the future.. There were objections raised to this procedure being introduced by many people in Parliament during the passage of Hardwicke’s bill. The fact that a couples nuptials were being advertised in public was perceived to be unseemly. Horace Walpole was appalled by this situation. He wrote to a friend as follows: How would my Lady A—– have liked to be asked in a parish church for three Sundays running? I really believe that she would have worn her widows weeds for ever, rather than have passed through so imprudent a ceremony. (quoted in The Life of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke, Volume 2 pp 486-7, written by G Harris.)

Capt. Cook's Marriage Allegation when applying for a Common License

Capt. Cook’s Marriage Allegation when applying for a Common License

For those who objected to such publicity there was another route to take: marriage by Common License obtained from a Bishop. To obtain a common license, which enabled the couple concerned to marry in a nominated parish church, without the necessity of the banns being read, the applicant, usually but not always, the bridegroom, had to submit an application called an allegation to the appropriate Bishop, stating who was to be married, where,and that they had the requisite consents, or were of age. If they were under age, written consent of the parents had to be submitted. In addition, until 1823 a bond (a pledge of money) was also required, which was to be forfeit if any of the facts in the allegation were subsequently found to be untrue. Most people with any pretensions to gentility married by this route, to avoid the publicity and delay occasioned by taking the reading of the banns route to matrimony.

Special Licenses were issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury, from the Office of the Master of Faculties. Again, allegations had to be made in written from to obtain a license. The big difference between Jane Austen’s time and ours (until very recently) is that a special license enabled a couple to marry, not in a parish church, but anywhere they wished, for example, the bride’s home. A Special License therefore was very desirable for anyone who wished to have absolute privacy when marrying. In view of remarks like that made by Horace Walpole above, one can see why this was appealing to eighteenth century. A Special license was valid for six months from its date of issue, which was recorded by the Faulty office. However, further research into Special Licenses indicates that they might not be very easily obtainable.

Very few Special Licences were issued prior to the 20th century- in fact 99% of all marriage licenses issued before 1900 were Common Licenses.

In a number of cases the residential requirement was fulfilled merely temporarily or even only on paper to ( just about) meet the requirements. There was nevertheless, a rise from eleven Special Licenses in 1747 to fifty in 1757, probably as a result of Hardwicke’s emphasizing that under a Common License a couple should only marry within the parish of one of them. Such a five fold increase albeit to an extremely low absolute number, caused Archbishop Secker to panic and in 1759 to issue some guidelines whereby only Peers, Privy Councillors, Members of Parliament, barons and knights should be married with Special Licenses.

He also expected couples to marry within the normal canonical hours. Special licenses were also intended for a couple to marry in a place with which they has a real attachment, not a mere fascination. (from Christian Marriage Rites and Records by Colin R Chapman).

There you have it. The three ways in which our couples might be married, other than elopement to Scotland; the Special License not as widely available or widely used as our romances would have us believe.

An accomplished young lady - Mary Crawford plays her harp

An accomplished young lady – Mary Crawford plays her harp

The accomplishments of women comes up rather frequently in Jane Austen’s novels. These are nicely summarized at The Jane Austen Information Page at the Republic of Pemberley.  The question is, however, when Jane Austen allows Darcy to mention that, to all of the Bingley tribe’s common place “accomplishments” something else was to be added- substantial reading,- was she representing her attitude or that of society in general?

Let’s take a quick look (also gleaned from The Republic of Pemberley).

During the early part of the 18th century girls education was very rooted in domesticity. In 1704,  a letter from John Evelyn states that girls should be brought up to be:

humble modest, moderate, good housewives, discreetly frugal,without high expectations which will otherwise render them discontented..

This was typical of the general attitude. Gradually the list of topics a girl was expected to master was extended by a set of “accomplishments”- more in line with the Bingleys’ thinking: sewing, embroidery, management of their hosuehold, writing elegant letters with an elegant hand, walking and dancing elegantly, singing, drawing, playing the harpsichord, reading and writing French.

The Bingley sisters were educated at an expensive seminary where great import appears to have been placed on such, when viewed in isolation, trivial accomplishments.

However as they became almost universal accomplishments – due to the growing middle class begin able to afford to send their children to schools where such topics were taught-these limited options lost some of their social cachet.

Maria Edgeworth

Maria Edgeworth

Towards the end of the 18th century there was a move towards an education based on moral education and intellectual stimulation. In her book, Practical Education, Maria Edgeworth’s ideas were influenced by Rousseau’s theories of child rearing where it was assumed that children were rational human beings and that they should be taught by example and be reasoned with rather than punished.

The syllabuses recommended by Practical Education included such topics as chemistry, mineralogy, botany, gardening – a very suitable occupation as it combined academic study with exercise outdoors. Children were encouraged to play with “toys that afforded trials of dexterity and activity such as tops kites, hoops,  balls, battledores and shuttlecocks ,ninepins and cup and ball.”

Maria Edgeworth was also keen on children avoiding bad company- particularly that of servants, who could influence them by their vulgar manners: “If children pass one hour in a day with servants it will be vain to attempt their education.”

Hannah Moore

Hannah Moore

This is the stance that was taken by Hannah Moore too. Her book, Strictures on the Modern System of Female Educationwas published in 1779. She believed that girls should be given a rigorous academic education, but that the emphasis was still to be on maintaining propriety. The aim of her educational book was to produce well- mannered, lively, and intelligent companions for husbands and children.

Here is Hannah Moore’s view of female education:

A lady may speak a little French or Italian, repeat passages in a theatrical tone, play and sing, have her dressing room hung with her own drawings, her person covered with her own tambour work, and may notwithstanding, have been very badly educated.Though well-bred women should learn these, yet at the end a good education is not that they may become dancers, singers, players, or painters but to make them good daughters, good wives, good Christians.

The importance of moral education was also advocated by  John Locke in his influential work (published initially in 1693 ,but by 1777 there had been 25 editions)  Some thoughts Concerning Education.

He advocated a private education within the home- not attendance at school, where children’s morals might be corrupted by association with children and masters of a lesser moral caliber. This became a common factor in education of girls during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

How about the young ladies in your books? What kind of education have they had? Are they satisfied with it?

Elegant Extracts in Prose title page

Elegant Extracts in Prose title page

In Jane Austen’s Emma, Harriet Smith tells Emma that her beau, tenant farmer Robert Martin is, indeed well-read.  

“Oh, yes! that is, no — I do not know — but I believe he has read a good deal — but not what you would think any thing of. He reads the Agricultural Reports and some other books, that lay in one of the window seats — but he reads all them to himself. But sometimes of an evening, before we went to cards, he would read something aloud out of the Elegant Extracts — very entertaining. And I know he had read the Vicar of Wakefield. He never read the Romance of the Forest, nor the Children of the Abbey. He had never heard of such books before I mentioned them, but he is determined to get them now as soon as ever he can.”

Elegant Extracts in Prose and the companion anthology, Elegant Extacts in Verse, were collated by Vicesimus Knox  (1752-1821)  who was the Headmaster of Tonbridge School in Kent and was famous for his liberal, enlightened views on education which were influenced by the teachings of John Locke.

Vicesimus Knox

Vicesimus Knox

His book Liberal Education (1781) has some interesting points to make about education, and he was particularly scathing about the shortcomings of the state of university education in the late 18th century.

He had attended Oxford from 1771 –1778 and seems to have disapproved of the somewhat immoral regime there. He asserted in his book, that

to send a son to either university without the safeguard of a private tutor would probably “make shipwreck of his learning, his morals, his health and his fortune.”

He suggested reforms to the university system in his pamphlet A Letter to Lord North, which Knox addressed to the Oxford Chancellor in 1789. This pamphlet suggested the intervention of Parliament, and advocated a stricter discipline, a diminution of personal expenses, the strengthening of the collegiate system, an increase in the number of college tutors, the cost to be met by doubling tuition fees and abolishing “useless” professors, with confiscation of their endowments. College tutors were to exercise a parental control over their pupils, and professors not of the “useless” order were to lecture thrice weekly in every term, or resign

Here is an extract from one of his essays: On the Spirit of Despotism (1795):

Ignorance of the grossest kind, ignorance of man’s nature and rights, ignorance of all that tends to make and keep us happy, disgraces and renders wretched more than half the earth, at this moment, in consequence of its subjugation to despotic power. Ignorance, robed in imperial purple, with pride and cruelty by her side, sways an iron sceptre over more than one hemisphere. In the finest and largest regions of this planet which we inhabit, there are no liberal pursuits and professions, no contemplative delights, nothing of that pure, intellectual employment which raises man from the mire of sensuality and sordid care, to a degree of excellence and dignity, which we conceive to be angelic and celestial. Without knowledge or the means of obtaining it, without exercise or excitements, the mind falls into a state of infantile imbecility and dotage; or acquires a low cunning, intent only on selfish and mean pursuits, such as is visible in the more ignoble of the irrational creatures, in foxes, apes, and monkies. Among nations so corrupted, the utmost effort of genius is a court intrigue or a ministerial cabal.”

In all, he sounds rather like the type of teacher of whom George Austen would have approved. Possibly, the Extracts were part of his library at Steventon  and were used to prepare Rev. Austen’s pupils for entry to public school. Certainly Jane Austen may have read them herself, or at least knew of the Elegant Extracts in Verse. In her comic poem “I’ve a pain in my head” (written as an account of her visit to Mr Newnham an apothecary with a relation of her brother Edward’s tenants in Chawton), she parodies a poem entitled “The Doctor and the Patient” which is to be found in Knox’s books.

The prose books were collections of essays from publications such as the Rambler, Spectator and the Idler and also contain extracts from works by leading modern authors such as Gilpin , Swift, the Scot Hugh Blair, French philosophers such as Voltaire and classical authors such as Pliny

The books were used a standard texts is schools for years. Indeed, this was the use for which Knox explicitly intended for his books, for he believed in the reading of fiction as a means of exercising the imagination and critical and creative thought.

The books “are calculated for classical schools, and for those in which English only is taught.” The extracts “may be usefully read at the grammar schools, by explaining everything grammatically, historically, metrically and critically, and then giving a portion to be learned by memory” (From the preface of  Extracts in Verse).

In 1810 Wordsworth wrote that Elegant Extracts in Verse ‘is circulated everywhere and in fact constitutes at this day the poetical library of our Schools.”

In 1843, Robert Chambers, introducing his own Cyclopaedia of English Literature says it will take the place of Knox’s Extracts which, “after long enjoying popularity as a selection of polite literature for youths between school and college has now sunk out of notice.”

The three volumes of Vicesimus Knox’s anthologies were both expensive and popular: Elegant Extracts in Prose (1783), and Elegant Extracts in Verse (c. 1780) had each at least 15 editions, and Elegant Epistles (1790) had at least 10. Each volume was issued in an abridged form, but in only one or two editions. The unabridged volumes had each about 1000 pages and sold for five guineas. Which was a considerable amount in the late 18th and early 19th century.

So what does this tell us about Robert Martin who reads these books? That he might be better read than Harriet and, quite possibly, Emma. It is so typical of Emma that the girl who can make fine reading lists but never completes her task, is able to dismiss a man who, even though he reads only extracts of works, is probably much better read than herself.

Another point to bear in mind is that he, or at least his family, is prepared to spend quite large amounts of money on books, even though their income would not match Emma’s.

It is interesting that Jane Austen provides a little insight into Robert Martin’s depth of understanding by letting us know that he reads such books as these. It seems to me that she probably approved of this young gentleman, trying to improve himself by extensive reading such books as came his way.




Are you watching Emma Approved? The people who brought you the wildly popular Lizzie Bennet Diaries and the ill-conceived Welcome to Sanditon have taken on Jane Austen’s Emma and are 56 web episodes into a modernization of the story. Although I don’t feel Emma Approved has the appeal of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, it’s doing a pretty good job of moving the story into the 21st Century.  There’s a good cast. Alex Knightley is pretty fanciable.  Maddie Bates is hilarious. Harriet Smith is an excellent combination of shy and aspirational (and I’m waiting for Robert Martin to come back).

The sticking point for me is Emma Woodhouse. I know she’s a character of whom Jane Austen said, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” If I recall my first reading of the book, I thought she was right. I didn’t like Emma very much. But she grew on me, through the course of the book and through each subsequent reading. I’ll admit that she’s not Jane Austen’s most likable heroine. I’m guessing that’s Lizzy Bennet (raise your hands). Apart of Lady Susan, whom we really can’t identify as a heroine, she might very well the least likable. (Although my vote here goes to Marianne Dashwood.)

But Emma Approved Emma is not really growing on me. Perhaps its because she’s too perky. Perhaps it’s because she hasn’t been brought low yet. Perhaps its the actress. I really want to like her. I like what’s being done with this adaptation. I keep watching in the hope that she’ll pull it out yet (and because I think Alex Knightley is adorable). So… what about you? Are you watching? Does it work for you? Do you have reservations? Have you seen the preceding Web series (I refuse to call them “webisodes.)

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