One of my favorite parts about writing What the Duke Desires was all the research I got to do into the life of Eugène François Vidocq, who appears as a character in the novel. What a fascinating fellow! Widely regarded as father of the private detective agency, he was a brilliant man who completely changed how crimes were investigated. He really did invent tamper-proof paper for banks as well as using ballistics for the first time to solve a crime. You can check out more pics of him on my Pinterest page.
The press was as powerful a force in the Regency as it is now. Caricatures featuring “celebrities” like Prinny (George IV) and actresses and other luminaries were regularly displayed in shops, and gossip columns were rife with scandalmongers. Indeed, the Duke of Wellington was discussed in great detail and caricatured savagely after he fought a duel with the Earl of Winchilsea over politics, of all things, especially since Wellington deliberately fired wide and the earl fired in the air. Even the mighty Iron Duke couldn’t escape being pilloried in the press.
Most of the time, when you see a woman called the Countess of Whatever, it’s because she’s married to the Earl of Whatever. It’s called a “courtesy title.” Women gain courtesy titles by being married to men with titles (and children gain courtesy titles on behalf of their father . . . until the sons inherit the title). But once in a while, with Scottish or Irish titles or with titles going back centuries, the patent (the legal construct, if you will) for the title will allow for a woman to inherit. In those very rare cases, the Countess of Whatever inherits the title and estate from her father, the Earl of Whatever. She doesn’t have to marry anyone to get it. I love that.
While chocolate as we know it didn’t really exist in the Regency, there was a confectioner named Guglielmo Jarrin who created eggs out of rock sugar. He also had a recipe for created transparent hollow eggs of sugar that could then be filled with yellow cream so they resembled real eggs ala Cadbury Crème Eggs. I wish I could have seen these. They sound so cool! But there’s no way I could make them, even if I could find the lead moulds for them. If you want to try, however, you can check out The Italian Confectioner, available in its entirety online at Google Books.
Turtle soup was common on menus in England going back to before the Regency. It had to always be included as a dish for the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London, and was so popular (and so expensive) that the English even developed Mock Turtle Soup for those who couldn’t afford turtle meat. Mock turtle soup was traditionally made with a calf’s head, so if the idea of eating turtle makes you gag, you might like the mock version even less. Personally, having eaten plenty of it in New Orleans, I enjoy the real thing.
Most people assume that ice didn’t exist in summers during the Regency, but the wealthy did have access to it. Ice houses were big, deep wells where ice harvested from nearby frozen lakes (or sometimes ordered and brought in from the Arctic) was kept through the year. A well-built ice house could keep ice for as long as 18 months, which is pretty amazing. That’s how the famous Gunther’s in London managed to provide ice cream throughout the summers.
The English in our period were quite fond of seafood. My period cookbooks have recipes for such things as smoked fish soup, mackerel pie, fried anchovies, collared eel, and even boiled crayfish (yes, they have crayfish in England). You don’t find recipes for periwinkles and whelks because they were common food for the common people. But they’re mentioned in the famous cookbook by Mrs. Beeton (1861), where she has a table of how much seafood of every type was sold that year in London. Apparently, Londoners ate 4 million whelks (compared to half a million crabs and a million lobsters) and an astonishing 304 million periwinkles!
We tend to think of comics as modern, but the very first comics were humorous or satirical prints done by well-known artists like William Hogarth, James Gillray, and the Cruikshank brothers. The one I’ve included is of George IV (who was Prinny during our period). The caricaturists satirized him shamelessly, especially once he grew in girth. They were the first political cartoonists, but they didn’t limit themselves to political issues. Some of them just liked to poke fun at the rich and aristocratic. If you have time, check out their works online. Some of them were quite racy and amusing!
There was no photography in the Regency, so the only way you could capture your family’s images for all eternity was to have their portraits painted or their busts made. I was particularly moved by the bust of a young man commissioned by his family after his tragic death in his teens. They had no image of him to work from, so the artist did a likeness based on his siblings’ features and the descriptions of the family. Can you imagine having to endure your grief for a loved one without even being able to look at a picture of him? It really brought home to me how we take photographs for granted.
Boys in the Regency did not dress the way we dress children now. They wore little “frocks” like girls until they were of a certain age (I’ve seen anywhere from 3 to 6 designated). Then they were “breeched” or put into breeches for the first time. In the Regency, this meant they were buttoned into a skeleton suit. And no, it’s not the Halloween costume—these were more like our modern day rompers, but with a coat-like top and trouser-like bottoms that buttoned together.