In researching Lord Grantwell’s Christmas Wish I came across some new-to-me Regency Christmas traditions. I’ve blogged about Regency Christmases before, like here at Risky Regencies in 2016, when Bound By a Scandalous Secret was a December release.
I mentioned things like Regency households did not have Christmas trees or send Christmas cards. Santa Claus came later, as did singing Silent Night. They did exchange gifts, decorate with winter greenery, and have special Christmas food. You can read the whole blog here.
Lord Grantwell’s Christmas Wish was set in Yorkshire, so a couple of new traditions popped up in my research.
The first was a tradition involving the lighting of the yule log. To bring good luck, a large log was brought in on Christmas eve to burn constantly in the hearth until it has completely burned itself out. Before supper, when the yule log is burning, all other lights are extinguished, everyone is silent, and the youngest one present must light two special candles from the yule log while everyone makes a wish. The wish must be kept secret or it will not come true. In my book it is Anna, the youngest of Lord Grantwell’s wards who lights the candles. And, of course, along with everyone else, Lord Grantwell makes his wish.
Another Yorkshire tradition I discovered took place on Christmas morning. For more good luck, on Christmas morning, before anything was taken out of the house, something green must be brought in, usually a leaf from an evergreen. Grant charges Anna and her brother William with this task.
Did you know there were different versions of The Wassail Song? Even though I was not absolutely sure the Wassail Song was sung in the Regency, I played upon the differences.
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
“You are forgetting something, m’lord,” Thompson said.
“Forgetting something?” He was puzzled. “What?”
“The wassailing song,” Thompson said.
Anna’s face fell. “I do not know the wassailing song.”
“No?” Grant touched her cheek. “We will sing it for you.” He began and the servants joined in:
We’ve been a-while a-wandering,
Amongst the leaves so green.
But now we come a wassailing,
So plainly to be seen.
For it’s Christmas time, when we travel far and near,
May God bless you and send you a happy New Year….
He paused. “Miss Pearson, why are you not singing?”
She shook her head. “That is not the song I know.”
“That is the wassail song,” he insisted.
“No,” she countered with a smile. This is the wassailing song.
Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year…
“No. No. No,” he protested. The words were slightly different. The tunes were slightly different. He led the servants in the second verse:
We are not daily beggars,
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbors children,
Whom you have seen before…
Lillian stopped them. “That is the third verse,” she said. “Here is the second.”
Our wassail cup is made
Of the rosemary tree,
And so is your beer
Of the best barley.
He joined her in singing the refrain—his refrain along with hers, and they all continued singing verses with identical lyrics, Lillian’s differing version making a sort of harmony while the refrains sung together became a jumble.
He and the others ended the song, but she kept singing. One last verse.
Her singing slowed and she held her gaze on his:
God bless the master of this house
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children
That round the table go.
When she mentioned children she walked over to William and Anna and put her arms around them. Grant joined them as they sang the refrains one last time with the children trying to join in.
And God send you a Happy New Year…“
Here’s the Yorkshire version:
Here’s Lillian’s more familiar version:
Love and Joy come to all of you from the Riskies….and to you your wassail, too!
Why does the WALTZ (or French “Valse”) fascinate us? I’m sure it’s partly because it was so scandalous during the Regency, and partly because we love the potential for romance when our heroes and heroines share the intimate dance. This is a long post!! Bear with me –I couldn’t choose what to leave out.
The waltz existed as a form of cotillion and of English country dances long before the scandalous single couple version of it was introduced to England during the Regency. It is those types of waltzing that Jane Austen references in her writings. Here are links to two examples of country dance waltzes, which utilize the familiar ¾ time rhythm:
The Northdown Waltz 1806 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xl5Cf2zTKWc
The Duke of Kent Waltz 1801: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vmUNDR8GE8
The waltz traces back to German peasant dances as old as the 16th century. Its history is similar to that of other dance types: what shocked the aristocracy and at first seemed beneath them eventually was adopted by them, because, well, why should only the peasants have fun? The turning, close-held waltz took hold in the higher regions of society by the 18th century in Bavaria and Vienna, and spread to France, where post-revolutionary society embraced it.
Why was the waltz so scandalous? The illustration at top, while exaggerated, gives you an idea, but this lovely video clip from the BBC explains most of it quite well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6r0dKkkk2jk Besides the intimacy and close hold was the simple fact that the dancers were turning for much of the time, which could lead to ladies becoming dizzy and quite shockingly out of control of themselves!
In 1804 a German visiting Paris wrote, “This love for the waltz and this adoption of the German dance is quite new and has become one of the vulgar fashions since the war…” [the French Revolution]. The “new” form of waltz trickled into England slowly, scandalizing most of English society when they first saw it. The German ex-pats who made up the soldiers of the King’s German Legion are credited with introducing the waltz to residents of Sussex in 1804, but it was slow to catch hold in England, where moral codes were strict (well, stricter).
In 1814, neither the waltz nor the quadrille were yet permitted to be danced in Almack’s. Some theorists say attendees at the Congress of Vienna (Sept 1814) first saw the dance there and brought it back to England. But Princess Lieven, wife of the Russian ambassador assigned to England starting in 1812, had been in Berlin prior to that assignment, so it makes sense that she learned the dance while there. She was the first foreign-born patroness of the mighty Almack’s social club and is said to have introduced the waltz there in 1815.
Dance Master Thomas Wilson’s book “A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing” came out in 1816. His famous illustration of the “nine positions of the waltz” is below (you can see the numbers underneath each one if you look closely). By then, the dance had become prevalent enough to be ridiculed by the cartoonists of the day, and popular with the young who always want the “new” thing.
The royal courts, generally foremost in setting fashions in many areas, consistently lagged in the area of dance. In July of 1816, the waltz was included in a ball given in London by the Prince Regent. A few days later an editorial in The Times complained: “We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last … it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females….”
The Regency form of waltz was closely related to other dances: the German Landler, and the French Allemande, and the other dances that drew on these forms. At her Capering and Kickery website (kickery.com) dance historian and teach Susan de Guardiola writes: “The early waltz looked quite different than the modern form. Dancers moved on their toes in a different pattern than what is seen in today’s competitive ballroom dancing, and adopted a wide range of “attitudes” of the arms…. Nor were waltzes choreographed, though Wilson suggested dancing different waltzes in sequence [slow followed by lively and back to slow again]. Entire ballrooms of dancers did not perform identical moves.” [Gail’s note: The name sometimes used for Regency waltz is the “pirouette waltz”.]
This video of five dances performed at the Royal Pavillion in Brighton is long, but at about 5:40 the dancers perform “The Allemande a Deux” (1780) which is a French modification of a German Landler. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17QPpXyCql4
If you compare it to the video of the single couple performing the Regency waltz (see next link), I think you will see some of the similarities, and you will also get a sense of how Regency waltzers did not all do the same figures at the same time. Regency Waltz/Valse 1826: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7B_Qsdnn5E (Video from the French National Historic Dance Championships –you have to love a country that holds such a thing!!)
If you are interested to know more, I found a fun video that compares the Regency style “pirouette” waltz to the later versions, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fq0QxdsoUzo
Do you think our modern version of the waltz has lost some of the “spice” of this earlier style? Or are you glad that our version is a lot easier to dance?
Today I’ll continue the dance series I began on July 6, with some notes about the cotillion and the quadrille, dances which were common in the early Regency and the late Regency, respectively. While there is a great deal of overlap in some characteristics of these dances, their prevalence in the ballroom does not seem to have overlapped much at all.
Jane Austen wrote to her niece Fanny in 1816, “Much obliged for the quadrilles, which I am grown to think pretty enough, though of course they are very inferior to the cotillions of my own day.” Jane was past her dancing prime by then and was referring to music sheets, but as so often happens even today, was not a fan of the “new” style of dancing that the younger people loved.
The Cotillion was a French country dance for four couples popular in England in the late 18th century. While it often began with a circling figure and included later small circles, most of the dance was performed in a square, with various “changes”, or figures that moved in and out of that main formation and allowed for changes of partners.
Because the cotillions came from France, many kept their French names. The only dance Jane Austen ever mentions by name, “La Boulangerie” is a cotillion. Here is a video so you can see what it was she so enjoyed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLUzvSXguQY
There were many various types of cotillion dances: “waltz cotillions” and “allemande cotillions” for instance. They included some figures also commonly found in English country dances and reels, and later the quadrilles, so there is a shared basis between the types of dances.
For instance, four of the basic quadrille segments are also found in cotillions: Les Pantalons, L’Eté, La Poule and La Pastorale. Many steps are also shared, but in style and music the dances are quite different. Quadrille enthusiasts denounced the cotillion as old-fashioned and “belonging with the ancient minuet.”
The word “cotillion” changed during the 19th century from referring to the specific type of dances to the more modern usage, referring instead to a dance event, even specifically to a dance event for debutantes. Just know that during the Regency era, that was not what it meant!
Captain Gronow wrote in his memoirs about the first appearance of the Quadrille at London’s elite social venue, Almack’s: “In 1814, the dances at Almack’s were Scotch reels and the old English country-dance; and the orchestra, being from Edinburgh, was conducted by the then celebrated Neil Gow. It was not until 1815 that Lady Jersey introduced from Paris the favourite quadrille, which has so long remained popular.”
The quadrille became a craze, so popular that it overtook all other forms of dance being done at this time, except for the waltz (topic for Part 3 of this series), introduced at about the same time. Cartoonists of the day, such as Gilroy and Cruikshank, could not be expected to resist ridiculing such a vibrant fad, especially as it required some skill and practice. “Accidents while dancing the Quadrille” was a popular caption.
Like the cotillion, this was a dance form with four couples arranged in a square. Unlike the cotillion, it consisted of five sections or movements, each with its own complicated sequence of figures and music, with differing time signatures. Also unlike the cotillion, in the quadrille, the couples took turns performing the steps, with the head couples leading and the side couples resting until their turn. (Given the exertion required and the length of the dances, this was no doubt a blessing!)
This video gives a good sense of the dance –watch as much as you wish, just know it lasts 11 minutes and 19 seconds! Paine’s First Set of Quadrilles (1815) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSD37PF2_Dw
Here is a video that shows “The Mozart Cotillion” being danced at Chawton House (yes, I thought you’d like that!) 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEsAijdGT20
I hope you are enjoying these dance notes and finding them helpful to visualize Regency dancing for your reading or writing pleasure! Part 3 on the Waltz will be posted on July 25.