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Category: Research

Posts in which we talk about research

So, I missed my July post (sorry). I was in Denver at the 2018 RWA conference. While there, I gave a workshop on inheriting peerages. It was a lot of fun, and people got really into it. They came up with all kinds of crazy situations to ask me about. I wanted to share part of the workshop here, so that those who didn’t make it could still benefit.

House of Lords, 18th Century WikiCommons

One important thing to understand is that  the crown can’t take a title away. That power lies only with Parliament, and Parliament has already stated flat out that once a man is ennobled, this can not be changed except by an act of Parliament. This is called an act of Deprivation. As a matter of public policy it has only been done once (Duke of Bedford 1478; the man was ruled to be too poor to support the dignity, and his state was a result of his having failed to properly care for the lands he’d been given with the title; essentially he was ruled too incompetent to be a duke). The only real reasons for Deprivation seems to have been a peer being convicted of treason (even a murder conviction, as in the case of the 4th Earl Ferrers, didn’t result in the title being lost; it passed to his younger brother after he was hanged). Debt became a legal reason for such an action under the Bankruptcy Act in 1883, but it would have been very unlikely to have been used in the Georgian/Regency period. If you read the section on Deprivation and the Earl of Waterford (p. 227-230) in the law book I link to in the post you’ll see that in 1832 it was ruled that really what Parliament and the crown were allowed to take away were really only those things that the king could “have and enjoy” and this did not include dignities, but was limited to physical things such as land.

So, that means if there’s going to be a challenge, the story will have to be shifted back in time to the point when the hero was making his petition to the crown. The man who would inherit if the hero were illegitimate (or his guardian if he is a minor) would have to apply to Parliament to present their own claim and in that claim they would have to provide the proof of the first claimant’s illegitimacy.

Now here’s the second sticky wicket: English law was HEAVILY weighted in favor of all children of a marriage (all those produced by the wife) being considered legally legitimate regardless if everyone knew that she had lovers and the kid looked nothing like her husband (see the infamous Harleian Miscellany; there were open doubts about the actual parentage of the countess’s children, but no challenge to their legal legitimacy).

In order for a child to be ruled illegitimate, the father would have had to have literally had NO access to the mother for the entire period surrounding conception (not just a few short weeks, but likely at least 3 months). And by no access, I don’t mean that the husband simply states that he never touched her, he had to have been unable to do so. If there was any chance that he COULD have been the father (and merely having access to her person was considered enough) then he was the father. He might not like it, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it (this is why a wife’s good character was so important).

As if this isn’t enough to get over, once the child was accepted, there was no changing his mind. The father can’t decide when the boy is five, or twenty, or when his elder son dies, when he himself is on his deathbed that he wants to cast off a child that has been legally established as his. Again, this is about maintaining the social order, making sure children are not cast off onto the parish, and ensuring that father’s are responsible for their children. The father’s suspicion or even outright knowledge that he wasn’t the father wasn’t enough to make the child a bastard in the eyes of the law.

So, it’s not enough that the second claimant show that everyone knew and admitted that the hero wasn’t fathered by the duke. The claimant has to show that under the LAW the hero was not a legitimate child of the marriage. This means that either the duke and duchess were not married before his birth (as in the already quoted Berkeley case; side note, if the title is Scottish, even this doesn’t work, as marriage legitimized bastards under Scottish law) or that the duke was absent from his wife for a period of months and could not have sired him (and even this might not be enough if the son was publically claimed by the father and had been treated as the heir, but at least it would be something for the Committee for Privileges to gnaw on).

What this comes down to is that it is likely that all the villain of the piece can hope to do is embarrass the hero (unless you want to shift back in time and make the book about the hero’s attempt to claim the title). It’s also likely that he’ll make further powerful enemies, as there are likely other sitting peers who know full-well they were not sired by their legal father.

I hope this was helpful, and I’m happy to answer any specific questions in the comment section.

 

I absolutely love reading firsthand accounts of the era in which I set my books. I’ve been reading Boswell’s London Journal 1762-1763 again. It’s nice, because the entries are small and I can read one or two whenever I have a moment to spare from whatever else I’m doing.

As these were his private journals, he’s quite frank in them. And it’s interesting to see just how a single man about town whiled away his time. For example, here is a typical entry, dated Saturday 4 December (1762):

“I breakfasted with Dempster. He accompanied me into the City. He parted from me at St. Paul’s, and I went to Child’s, where there was not much said. I dined and drank tea with Lady Betty Macfarlane. We were but cold and dull. The Laird was low and disagreeable. I resolved to dine there no more; at least very, very seldom. At night, Erskine and I strolled through the streets and St. James’s Park. Were were accosted there by several ladies of the town [whores]. Erskine was very humorous and said some very wild things to them. There was one in a red cloak of a good buxom person and comely face whom I marked as a future piece, in case of exigency.”

This entry has a footnote which also gives Boswell’s daily memoranda of the same day (yes, the man kept TWO different forms of journal of his daily life!).

“Breakfast first at home. Then in Bath [coat] and old grey [suit] and stick, sally to City. Send off North Britons to Digges. Get the one of the day. Go to Child’s, take dish of coffee, read Auditor, MonitorBriton. Then come to Douglas’s and inquire about parade. Then Leicester [Street], dine. Be comfortable yet genteel, and please your friend Captain Erskine. Drink tea. Then home, quiet, and wind up the week’s journal in grey and slippers. Be always in bed before twelve. Never sup out. Breakfast R> Mackye Sunday and take franks [get Mackye to send his mail for free].”

Clearly, I need to see about tracking down a copy of Boswell’s memoranda (as well as other volumes of his journal). I love this kind of daily minutia. It really helps me fill out my scenes, understand how my characters would have spent their time, and how they would have thought about the world. And can you imagine the scandal if someone wrote a little too frankly in his journal and it was stolen and published? Oh, glorious plot bunny!

 

London was overflowing with places for men to eat or procure cooked meals (taverns, clubs, coffee houses, supper clubs, chip houses, pubs). Many of these same options were available working class women (as were the plethora of street vendors selling pies, bread and cheese, and other portable foostuffs).  

But what was a lady to do when she found herself peckish while on a shopping spree or after a long day touring the British Museum? Obviously if she were ravenous, she could have her footman fetch her a pie, but what if she’d just attended a lecture with a gentleman? Where could they go?

The answer, as far as I can tell, is a fashionable pastry shop (as anyone who’s read or seen Persuasion already knows). Anyone who reads Regency-set romances is familiar with the famous Gunter’s of Berkeley Square. But there were any other options.  

For starters, there was Perry’s: 

Then there’s Farrance’s:

And you could always make up your own (which is honestly one of my favorite options). I’ll be adding these and other locations to the Regency Places map for future reference. 

 

Today I’m going to talk about my new precious: PATTERNS OF FASHION 5: THE CONTENT, CUT, CONSTRUCTION & CONTEXT OF BODIES, STAYS, HOOPS & RUMPS c.1595-1795 by JANET ARNOLD, JENNY TIRAMANI, LUCA COSTIGLIOLO, SEBASTIEN PASSOT, ARMELLE LUCAS & JOHANNES PIETSCH.

Cover

 

This  is the fifth volume of the Patterns of Fashion series, and was recently published by the School of Historical Dress. It includes patterns for 26 pairs of stays, a farthingale, 10 hoops and a rump. And it’s AMAZING. Sadly, I believe it’s also sold out and I don’t know if they’re planning on doing a second printing.

In case this series isn’t familiar, Patterns of Fashion is one of the most influential book of historical clothing studies every produced, and Janet Arnold was basically a goddess among women. Her books set the standard for clothing studies, and the people she trained are doing a great job of carrying on her work.

Just leafing it through it, I encountered information I’d never seen before in my 40+ years as a historical re-enactor and costumer. This is absolutely the best part of research, and fills me with delight. I also confirmed what I’d always thought about 17thC stays, but had never been able to find the resources to confirm (that they are in fact often built into the gowns, especially in the first half of the century).

So, what was new? Metal hoops! I’ve seen cane and reed and rope and all kinds of other stuff used, but I’d never seen metal ones in the 18thC. They appear to be very large and are most likely for a court gown (which would need the extra support). And yes, these are still collapsible.

Metal Hoops, c. 1760-1780 (German)

Here are several examples of 17thC gowns with the stays build in (or with the gown bodice boned, if you prefer). I find the Dutch ones particularly fascinating with their fancy frill. They act as stays and stomacher both.

Boned Bodice, c. 1645-1655 (English)

Boned bodice, c. 1630-1635 (Dutch)

Here is also another example of pregnancy stays, which I get asked about quite a bit at conferences. This pair has two stomachers, so basically the lady is wearing her regular stays, but adapting them to her changing figure. I’ve also seen a gown that was adapted this way in the 18thC, so this must have been a common solution.

Reproduction of pregnancy stays, c. 1665-1675 (English)

And here’s a great example of why these books are so valuable to anyone who wants to make or understand historical clothing. First, the put stuff into a larger context in the front of the books:

Detail page about Reisser & Garsault books about stay making. 18thC. French.

Information about taking measurements and construction, also from Reisser & Garsault. 18thC. French.

Then they offer details of the extant garment:

Details of extant strapless stays, c.1760-1770 (English)

Details of extant strapless stays, c.1760-1770 (English)

Then they have a diagramed study with even more details:

Diagram of extant strapless stays, c.1760-1770 (English)

Diagram of extant strapless stays, c.1760-1770 (English)

In short, this is my favorite series of books ever, and I can’t wait to see what the Historical School of Dress puts out next.

 

I believe that writers of historical fiction need this same type of knowledge base. I’ve occasionally been vilified/attacked for pointing out that some cherished facet of Romancelandia is, in fact, erroneous (men wearing wedding rings), anachronistic (scones in Regency settings), or just plain wrong (engagement announcements during the Georgian era). I’m open to being shown that I’m wrong, but doing so requires documentation (which does not consist of point out that Heyer did it in her books).

Extant silk shoe, c. 1780 Victoria and Albert Museum

I grew up in the world or re-enactors, so I have very definite ideas about what research is and what it takes to document the minutia of everyday historical life. In the re-enactment community, we talk about things being “documented” and “undocumentatable” all the time. We harp on it constantly, and argue over what is and what isn’t. We disagree about interpretations and conclusions. It’s a constantly evolving hobby, and this is part of the fun (really . . . no, really). And since we’re attempting “living history” we have to know not just the dates of battles and the names of major historical figures, but the little things like what food stuffs were available and, more importantly, common for the class and location of our persona.

There are three kinds (or levels) of sources/documentation: Primary, secondary and tertiary (and then there’s art).

Primary sources are actual items from the period (what historians call “extant”). A hat. A shoe. A saddle. Also in the primary grouping are period documents like letters, journals, newspapers, household inventories, and period books (cookbooks are invaluable). Though you have to be careful with some of these, because they function almost like secondary sources, since they are one person’s viewpoint and they often require context in order to obtain full understanding (into this group I consign the single source [a letter] that mentioned French women dampening their petticoats to make them cling; it was by an outraged Englishman who didn’t like travel or the French and I without any other source to back it up, I call shenanigans).

Secondary sources are frequently underused in the writing community (with the exception of the Oxford English Dictionary), but re-enactors live for them! If you really want to know how the clothing fastened, what it looked like, what fabrics were used, what the layers were, Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion: Englishwomen’s Dresses and Their Construction, c. 1660-1860 (where she deconstructs and details historical garments) is far more useful than an overview like 20,000 Years of Fashion by François Boucher. Overviews, of course, have their own purposes, and Boucher’s book is on the list of “must haves” for every writer in my opinion, but it doesn’t lead you into the lived history the way Arnold’s work does.

The next level down is tertiary. These are the sources that most writers and students are using: All the biographies and history books that we snap up in the non-fiction section of the bookstore. You have to be careful with tertiary sources. In the re-enactment community, these are not considered documentation in and of themselves. Only primary and secondary count for that (hence some of the arguments). Only tertiary works which are extensively documented should ever be relied upon (look for authors who are respected experts in their field and for books with lots of citations). Often, something that looks great on the surface will be found to be less than useful when you dig in. An example of this is something like What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. The book skims the surface of many topics and fails to date them specifically within the 19th century, resulting in a mash-up of the late-Georgian, Regency, Romantic and Victorian eras. It’s a fun book, but it’s not all that helpful for an author trying to find out what her character might have served at tea (especially as afternoon tea only became an established “thing” in the Victorian era). Another is An Elegant Madness, which seems like a great book, but upon closer inspection is riddled with errors that leave my in doubt of pretty much everything the author says (such as the author’s inability to keep Frances Villiers, wife of the 4th Earl of Jersey and her daughter-in-law Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, wife of the 5th Earl of Jersey straight; some major blunders about who was having an affair with whom).

Gillray, c. 1800

Lastly, we come to art. This area can be tricky. The problem is that unlike having the physical item in your hand (for example, the actual dress), you’re looking at an artist’s interpretation of that item (so these act a lot like secondary and tertiary sources). Add into the mix that much of the art we look at is highly stylized, allegorical, political, and/or farcical (so the see-through dress over the shift with a “display” hole cut out over the bum can’t be taken as a literal example of the clothing being worn in France c. 1800) and it’s sometimes hard to know what you’re really looking at. And then there is the problem of reproduction. A lot gets lost when the paintings are photographed and reproduced. Fine details can entirely disappear. And often you have to have a strong background in the period already to know what you’re looking at, which makes art useful for the knowledgeable historian, but problematic for the novice (and it tends to be the go-to source for many novices, since it appears to be the most accessible form of documentation).

The one thing that should NEVER be cited as documentation is a work of fiction. Not my books. Not Diana Gabaldon’s books. Not Bernard Cornwell’s books. Not Georgette Heyer’s book. If you see something in a book that intrigues or inspires you, make a note of it and then double check it. Authors are fallible. We make mistakes. We fudge things. We cling to our own preconceived notions or to “facts” we were taught (which often have built-in cultural, religious, or socioeconomic biases of their own).

Some things are open to interpretation, and there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. For example, I like writing about strong, fast, wild, unusual women. Because these kind of women interest me, I read a lot of biographies and histories about the ones that really existed. Books like Jo Manning’s My Lady Scandalous (about courtesan Grace Elliot, aka Dally the Tall), Hallie Rubenhold’s The Lady in Red (about Lady Worsley’s disastrous marriage and divorce), the illustrated version of Amanda Forman’s Georgiana (about the Duchess of Devonshire), and Janet Gleeson’s Privilege and Scandal (about Lady Bessborough). I also read things like Harriette Wilson’s memoir, Sex in Georgian England by A.D. Harvey, and Broken Lives by Lawrence Stone.

All of this feeds in to my version of Georgian England, which is very different from the one created by Georgette Heyer or one created by one of my current peers who prefers to write ingénues or guttersnipes. Any of us being asked to justify our preference is ridiculous in my opinion, but this is utterly different than someone asking if it was really possible for Jo Beverley’s heroine Elfled Malloren to have a pair of lace stockings (and yes, it was; there’s an extant [primary source] example in a museum in Germany that belonged to Madame de Pompadour).

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