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Category: Isobel Carr

Gaming at Brooks's Club: 19th century Thomas Rowlandson c. 1810-1815

Gaming at Brooks’s Club: 19th century
Thomas Rowlandson
c. 1810-1815

I stumbled across a very entertaining book from 1828 while doing a bit of research about Gentleman’s Clubs in London: The Clubs of London; with anecdotes of their members, sketches of character and conversations. It’s exactly the kind of fodder I love for my books. There’s just something delicious about working a bit of real gossip or happenstance into a book, especially if it’s funny our outrageous!


The first anecdote is that of Sheridan (the actor) being inducted into Brookes’s [sic]. His friends has proposed him several times, but he had continually drawn one black ball during the voting. Determined, his friends marked all the black balls to discover who it was that was excluding him, and then they all arranged to distract that member during the next vote to prevent his being present. It absolutely worked and even the man himself came to find the trick they pulled amusing once it was over and done with.

The second story deals with the induction of a man that was actually blackballed by EVERY member and yet managed to bully his way into membership. He was a notorious duelist and when told that after several rounds of voting he had still received a blackball, he charged into the room and demanded of each individual if THEY had been the one to blackball him. No one was willing to say yes, lest they be challenged to a duel and killed by the manic, so they let him stay. He was never admitted again, but he freely boasted everywhere that he was a member.

I can easily see either of these anecdotes shanghaied and used in a book, especially in one of the popular series that stars the owner of a club or a group of men who belong to one. I haven’t written a balloting scene in my Legion of Second Sons series, but now I very much want to. I just have to find a way to make it germane to the story. I can easily see either story being a good way of setting up an enmity between a hero and an antagonist. And it could be a fun way of exploring “politics-lite” since I have been assured that many readers find the actual politics a bit dry, LOL!

What do you all think? I love the idea of the hero standing up to the duelist and saying that of course he blackballed him and I can think of all kinds of ways this could come back to haunt him …

February is Black History Month so I thought I’d go with the obvious theme. While I know a lot of you are familiar with the Chevalier Saint-Georges (champion fencer, friend of the Prince Regent, Marie Antoinette’s music teacher, forgotten composer [thanks to Napoleon banning his music!]), I thought Abram Petrovich Gannibal might be unknown. He certainly was to me until the brilliant Twitter account @medievalpoc introduced me to him.


Abram Gannibal, bust in Petrovskoe.


Gannibal was kidnapped from what is now Camaroon when he was about seven and given as a gift to Peter the Great. The zar took a shine to him, noting his intelligence, and essentially made him his page. The boy was raised in the royal household and accompanied the zar on military campaigns. He was sent to Mez to be educated, spoke several languages, and was part of the intelligentsia in Paris in the early 1700s (supposedly, Voltarie himself called Gannibal “the dark star of the Enlightenment”).


Russian medal adorned with Avraham Hannibal’s coat of arms

Eventually became a powerful member of the Russian court under Peter’s daughter Elizabeth and was made a major-general in her army. He was given estates (complete with serfs) and raised to the nobility. He was married twice, once very unhappily to a Greek woman and then later to a woman from the nobility of Scandinavia and Germany. The second marriage was extremely happy, and produced ten children, from whom some very surprising people are descended: Most famously, Aleksandr Pushkin! Yes, that Pushkin. But many British aristocrats are also Gannibal’s descendants, including the wife of the 6th Duke of Westminster, the wife of the 5th Duke of Abercorn, and the current Marquesss of Milford Haven.


School of Dmitry Grigorievich Levitzky Portrait of Ivan Abramovich Gannibal (1735-1801) Gannibal’s son.

And of course this is really where my brain started ticking. I have a character in my current series who is based on the Chevalier Saint-Georges. His heroine’s race was determined entirely by which model showed up at the cover shoot. And the model who showed up first was black. I’d been toying with the idea of basing her on Belle, but this just seemed sooooo much cooler. A black, French fencing champion and the granddaughter of an Afro-Russian nobleman? Say it with me: OOOOOOH, YEEEAAAAAH.

I asked in a reader group what topics people were interested in having covered on blogs these days and got a whole list of things that I’ll be tackling in the coming months, but the one that seemed the most fun right off that bat was ridicules/reticules.

When hoops were worn and skirts were full, it was easy for a woman to carry about her sovereign purse, pines, etc. in her pockets. These were large, easy to access through the “slits” formed in the top of the petticoats by their being fashioned as a double-apron. But when the round gown became a thing at the end of the 18th century, pockets were no longer feasible. So what was a lady to do? She still needed to carry a few things with her as she went about. The earliest ridicule I’ve seen looks very much like a single pocket. Which makes perfect sense. You’d just tie the waist ties together to form a loop/handle and carry it with you (fashion historians often surmise that this is where the original name “ridicule” came from, as it women were ridiculed for carrying about their pocket).

The Victorian and Albert Museum has quite a collection of these, and all the images I’m sharing today are from their archive (I’m noting this as per their user agreement). As always, click for a larger copy of the image.

Classic set of pockets. These were tied around the waist, over the stays and underskirts, but beneath the top petticoat (aka the lady’s skirt).

18thC embroidered Pockets (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

18thC embroidered Pockets (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

This first bag is transitional, it retains the rough shape of a pocket, but has a drawstring at the top. It’s beautifully embroidered with flowers and a bird, most likely done by the woman herself as the embroidery does not appear professional in quality.

Silk, embroidered with silk thread, with string tassel and straps. c.1790-1800 (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Silk, embroidered with silk thread, with string tassel and straps. c.1790-1800 (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

The museum didn’t give much information about this little bag, but I love the hedgehog styling of the knit dags.

Knit bag, c. 1800 (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Knit bag, c. 1800 (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Netting was a popular pastime, and it’s possible these bags were made by the woman who used them. The smaller red bag is a “finger-ring purse”, the perfect thing for a lady who just needed enough money on her for vails or small purchases.

Netted silk and thread, with hinged gilt frame, 19thC (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Netted silk and thread, with hinged gilt frame, 19thC (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

This is a very basic square purse with absolutely amazing ribbon embroidery.

Embroidered silk satin with chenille thread, appliquéd with silk muslin, lined with silk taffeta. c. 1820-1830 (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum). muslin, lined with silk taffeta. c. 1820-1830 (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Embroidered silk satin with chenille thread, appliquéd with silk muslin, lined with silk taffeta. c. 1820-1830 (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Wool embroidery on canvas (basically needlepoint) bags. This was another common pastime. You see everything from slippers to purses to pocketbooks (wallets) to fire screens worked this way.

Canvas, embroidered with wool. 19th. (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Canvas, embroidered with wool. 19th. (photo credit: Victorian and Albert Museum).

Candice Hern also has a lovely collection that’s worth perusing if you haven’t already. She has everything from small beaded sovereign purses, to larger netting reticules and even miser purses of the kind a man might carry in his coattail pocket.

Thanks to Eileen for the question!





This is a topic that always gets people talking and scheming. HOW can we pull this off!!!?!!! Is there a way to make my heroine a duchess in her own right? The answer is yes, but you’d have to model your fictional title after that of the Duke of Marlborough, and seeing as this is the ONLY dukedom that can be inherited by a daughter, you’d have to create a very detailed background for your family and there would likely be a lot of howling. It’s rather easy (comparatively speaking) for your heroine to be a countess or a baroness in her own right though. It all comes down to how the title was created …

Henrietta Godolphin, 2nd Duchess of Marlborough

Henrietta Godolphin, 2nd Duchess of Marlborough


Ancient Earldoms were mainly created by investiture and oral grant by the king (aka girding; literally belting the man). They were sometimes created by an Act of Parliament and would have a Royal Charter (before Henry VI [1422-1461] per Peerage Law in England; after this point letter patent are the norm). Dukedoms, and marquisates are later creations and were mainly created by charter. Viscounties (a very late comer to England) have always been created by letters patent. Baronies are where it gets fun … initially they were connected to the land. In the time of Edward I [1272-1307] they became distinct inheritances and were created by writ (being summoned to parliament). In 1387 came the first creation by letters patent. From the time of James I [ruled England 1603-1625], creation of baronies was exclusively by letters patent. So to have your barony or earldom in fee simple, it has to be very old, and the family has to have never been granted a higher title.

These peerages can have different rules of inheritance, depending on how they were created. They can be in fee simple (usual for ancient earldoms and baronies by writ), in fee tail general (all heirs of the body, meaning both sons and daughters), and in fee tail male. At their creation they might also have been in fee tail special (usually where there was no son and the inheritance was directed to a specific person such as a daughter’s son or husband or the title-holder’s brother. The second creation of the Duke of Marlborough is a good example of this (he had no sons so his title was allowed to be inherited by his daughters).

When a title is in fee simple, it usually means there are no letters patent spelling anything out. The peerage was created by writ of summons or girding, and is so ancient that there are no records specifying a limitation of the tail. It is generally treated the same as in fee tail general for inheritance purposes, but this could be tricky, as in fee simple legalistically means “to his heirs” not limited to “heirs of his body” (so collateral relations can inherit if all branches of direct descent fail, and this happened on occasion way, way back [usually within a generation or two of the creation of the title]; the law book says that such failure has been “of such rare occurrence in the history of the peerage that this rule need not detain us”). The reason that quite a few baronies can be inherited by women is that when they are created by writ, they are inherited in fee simple. This is also true for some of the older earldoms (if you look at the law book I linked to earlier, there is a list of them p. 118-119).

When a title is in fee tail general, the letters patent say “the heirs of his body”. Sons always have legal precedence over daughters and elder sons over younger sons (basic English law of primogeniture). But this is how you can get a female heir to a title, co-heiresses (when there are more than one daughter and no sons), and titles falling in abeyance (basically being put in limbo until only one claim remains, or until the Crown picks an heir, and yes, this is the one interference allowed the king; how’s that for a plot bunny?).

Most common, of course, is for the title to be in fee tail male (the heirs of the body male) so that only direct male descendants are eligible to inherit. This is the real limitation on having a dukedom inherited by a woman. They’re all just too new to have been created under the old system. The oldest extant (non-royal) dukedom is that of the Duke of Norfolk, and was created by letters patent in fee tail male. And this is the case with all the others as well (with the already noted exception).

One more interesting legal bit to remember, while a man might hold many titles (George Fruit, Duke of Apple, Marquess of Orange, Earl of Pear and Rose, Baron Fruit and Flower), they might not all have the SAME rules of inheritance. So, George, the Duke of Apple dies, leaving behind a younger brother and a daughter as his heirs. Under most circumstances, all the titles will go to the duke’s brother, BUT, depending on how the duplicate titles were inherited, and IF the duplicate title is in fee simple or in fee tail general, then the daughter COULD inherit it, and after she makes her claim, the titles she was legally heir to, and any holdings entailed to them, would be broken off from the inheritance of the new duke and she would become a peeress in her own right. This was even more likely if some of the titles were Scottish and some were English (see the division of the titles of the 5th Duke of Sutherland).

Basically it would work like this:

These are direct titles which have built up upon one another in the same male line. The younger brother will get all of these, even though the earldom and barony are in fee tail general or simple and could go to a daughter. I can find no cases of a direct line of titles being broken in favor of multiple heirs.

Duke of Apple, in fee tail male
Marquess of Orange, in fee tail male
Earl of Pear, in fee tail general
Baron Fruit, in fee simple

But the Earl of Rose and Baron Flower are not related to the dukedom in the same way as they others. They might have come into the family through the marriage (having already been inherited by a woman in a past generation) or they might have belonged to a distant male relative and devolved that way to the Fruits. Because Rose and Flower are not in the direct line of Apple, and because they are (for our example) in fee simple or in fee tail general, they can be broken off and can go to the most direct heir of the body. And that is the recently deceased duke’s daughter, not his brother. This is not to say that the daughter HAD to make this claim, or that she would even know it was possible to make it. There have surely been many claims daughters could have make over the years that they didn’t, and thus the titles and lands went to the more distant male heir without a fuss.

So there you have it, ways to get yourself tied into legalistic knots for fun (and maybe profit).

One of the questions that seems to come up a lot when I ask what people want me to blog about is underpants. Did they? Didn’t they? Didn’t they feel naked without them? When I asked on FaceBook what topics I should think about covering in the next few months, this one again floated to the top, so here we go …

comfort 1815 no drawers

“Comfort”, 1815. No drawers.


The earliest depictions I’ve seen of drawers on women are 14thC German allegorical images on the topic of the woman “wearing the pants” in the family. In all of them, a man is usually also reaching for them, clearly desperate to reclaim the “power” they represent or is being beaten with a distaff or stool (or both). Clearly these images cannot be taken as documentation for women wearing underpants. In Textiler Hausrat, by Dr. Jutta Zander-Seidel, she states: “Underpants were not a usual component of women’s clothing in the 16th and 17th century [the eras of study in her book]. . . for the general populace, the use of these garments are not known before the beginning of the 19th century.”


Extant linen women’s drawer’s, c. 1820


The earliest drawers that I can document for women are from the 16thC and are Italian. They are documented in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4. They are voluminous, split-crotch drawers with embroidery all over them. Clearly not mere “underwear” and not a fashion that I’ve seen outside of Italy. It should be noted that these are commonly depicted as the fashion of Venetian courtesans, who wore open gowns that displayed them.

Gilray, 1810. Woman in drawers.

Gilray, 1810. Woman in drawers.


So when DID women start wearing drawers of some kind? As Dr. Jutta Zander-Seidel states, the early 19thC. Knee-length drawers of peach coloured stockinette are reported to have been worn as early as 1806, but they were considered fast and unladylike, and from everything I’ve see and read, were not commonly adopted until later. They had a split crotch, usually being made up of two entirely separate legs on a drawstring waistband. An illustration from 1810 shows a lady wearing them, so it can be construed that they were becoming more accepted by then, but given the numerous examples of women NOT wearing them, they were clearly not universal. I see more frequent examples from the 1820s onward though.


Extant pantalettes, c. 1830s


Another thing that crops up in the 1820s is pantalettes. Unlike drawers, these were meant to show just below the hem of the skirt. You see them first in the teens (there’s a report of Princess Charlotte scandalizing people by wearing them). Again, their adoption does not seem to be anywhere near universal, and they were gone by the 40s, relegated to children’s wardrobes. Like drawers, they were made up of two separate legs. I see very little representation of these in art, but if you look REALLY closely you will occasaionly spot them peeking out from under a skirt here and there.

1822 pantalettes

Street scene, 1822 (you can just make out pantalettes under the skirt).


A note of warning for Regency authors: Beware of Bloomers. This garment was named after the famous suffragette Amelia Bloomer, and she is Victorian. So don’t use the term “bloomers” when you mean drawers or pantalettes.

Ok, now on to the good stuff: wearing them.

In my personal experience, they’re completely unnecessary. You’re wearing at least three layers of skirt (chemise, petticoat, gown) and all the fabric does a pretty good job of keeping you covered and discreet. All drawers really are is a major challenge when you need to pee? TMI? Sure. Here’s some more: when you can’t bend at the waist and you can’t pull them on and off, having to pee through a slit you need to hold apart while also holding up your skirt is a royal PITA (suddenly those sawhorse-looking stands for a lady’s chamber pot make a lot of sense!). Also, can we talk about chaffing? A bunch of loose fabric between your thighs combined with a little perspiration equals major chaffing. So yeah, in period garb I’m a fan of going commando and I won’t be putting my heroines into drawers.

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