Archive for the ‘Regency’ Category

Wine Repair

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

In the last post, we saw that the duties of a Regency era butler tended to revolve around the proper serving of wine. But that assumes that the wine is good enough to be served in the first place. If it was foul, or musty, or “flat” “lowering” or even “decaying,” the housekeeper might be expected to “improve” it. Or if the cellar was low on good claret, she might be called upon to make some. Just how could these miracles be accomplished? The Complete Servant guidebook gives numerous recipes.

The old methods for "improving" wine seem like old medical practices - more likely to kill than cure

The old methods for “improving” wine seem like old medical practices – more likely to kill than cure


Wine cellars of the 18th and early 19th centuries were not filled with cases of wine in bottles like we see today. Wine was stored in casks and generally not drawn out into a bottle or decanter until shortly before it was to be consumed. (There are stories of butlers requiring the footmen to whistle while they were drawing wine so that even if he wasn’t watching, the butler could be sure that the footman wasn’t sneaking a drink.)

If you had a cask of “poor” wine, the guide advises adding a quart of brandy and either a pound of raisins or two pounds of honey. If the wine was “decaying,” you were advised to remove about four gallons from the cask, add an ounce of powdered roche-alum (some kind of rock) and beat it for about half an hour, put it back and the cask and let it sit for a week. For wine that is “musty or disagreeable,” you were told to add two sticks of charcoal to the cask. If that didn’t work, you could try mustard seed in brandy, camphor (really? that stuff is used in moth balls and embalming fluid?) or two ripe “medlars” (a fruit that Shakespeare compared to “an open-arse” and which doesn’t become edible until it’s rotten)

And there’s more. To clear “foul or ropy” wine, you mixed in chalk dust, burnt alum and egg white. Finally if wine was “green or harsh,” you could add salt, gypsum powder and skim milk. (Or you could just drink water.)

So what if guests arrive and you’re out of good claret? The servant guide says to mix an equal quantity of apple cider and port (a heavy wine fortified with extra alcohol), put the two in a bottle, shake them up, and in a month “The best judge will not be able to distinguish them from good Bordeaux.” The book also instructs housekeepers how to “pass White Wine off for champagne.”

Many of the improvements and the recipes make a wine that sounds like it would be extremely sweet. But the guide offers help to those who prefer a dry wine. “At the commencement of the vineous fermentation,” it advises adding an ounce or two of calcined gypsum. Isn’t that what’s in drywall? So maybe if I’m ever stuck at a party with only white zinfandel, I should punch a hole in the wall, scrape out a couple spoonfuls, and “improve” my wine. Yum!

Next time… turnip wine – so good you don’t even need the gypsum…




Information in this article came from The Complete Servant: Being a Practical Guide to the Peculiar Duties and Business of All Descriptions of Servants by Samuel Adams and Sarah Adams (London: Knight and Lacey 1825).

The photo is Twisted Oak Winery, 2008 River of Skulls (

Runaway Mind Train?

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

I love romantic historical tales and have no idea why. Why would a woman (me) living in an era that affords females more power and choice than any time in history (now) fantasize about living in Regency England or medieval Scotland? To be sure, these stories, whether written in the past or present, all involve heroes and heroines of the genteel class. They may not be rich, but they are hardly what we would call poor either. So part of the fantasy may involve commanding a household of servants or living in a castle. But even if the best of all possible circumstances, life back in the day had some serious drawbacks that should send modern women running in terror.Kate Dolan equates Regency romance to a roller coaster

For a control-freak like myself, I think one of the biggest problems with the life of a historical romance heroine would be the lack of choice and corresponding lack of control. (more…)

Have women gotten sluttier over time? Or do romances just make it seem that way?….

Monday, February 6th, 2012

If you look at the way love has been portrayed in fiction over the last 200 years, you might think that human nature has changed drastically. In Francis Burney’s Camilla, for example, published in 1796, the virtuous young hero considers his engagement with the heroine with at an end (after hundreds of pages of obvious attraction between the two) when he witnesses his bethrothed receiving a kiss on the hand from another gentleman. That’s it. That kiss on the hand is enough intimacy to constitute serious commitment (or in this case, infidelity) to the eye of the beholder. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Jane Bennet is too modest to even give any sign whatsoever of her affection for Mr. Bingley—she won’t even flirt.

Kate Dolan's Deceptive Behavior

This is a traditional Regency with absolutely no sex, but you'd never know it from all the groping hands on the cover

Now let’s consider the story in similar settings, popular Regency-set historical romances, which take place during the same time period, between 1790 and 1820. But these stories are written by 21st Century authors for 21st Century audience. In public, the conventions remain the same—if anything, those in the more recently-written stories are more rigid. The heroine must not be alone with a man or she could be “ruined.” If she is caught alone with a man, particularly in a compromising position, friends will force them to marry. Many plots hinge on this convention, whether it truly existed or not. A heroine must behave in public.

But in private, she’s expected to be something of a nymphomaniac, (more…)

A plaintive mania

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

“One thing that surprises me more and more every day; it is the great number of people in the opposition.”

Louis Simond observed a state of near riot in London in 1810. Everyone complained vociferously. London riots 2011 vs. London near-riots 1810The wealthy were indignant over a high income tax, the middle class complained over the closure of markets due to the war and the instability of prices, and the poor were engaged in a desperate battle to fend off starvation. The government which had outlawed trade unions and undertaken other measures in the effort to fight Napoleon, was denounced on all sides as “vicious and corrupt.” Reform seemed not enough—people were demanding revolution. (more…)

Hard Knocks

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

I used to think the doorbell was a modern invention. Push the button on the porch and a bell rings in another part of the house entirely. Like switching on a light or answering a telephone call, I assumed it was a modern sensation.

But no, the electric doorbell was invented in 1831. And the word “doorbell” itself dates back to at least 1815. The concept itself is even older. Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella, writing of a visit to London in 1808, observes with surprise that unlike houses in other parts of Europe, the houses in London feature doorknockers instead of bells to announce visitors. He found the knockers infinitely more useful than a bell because “the knocker may be so handled as to explain who plays upon it, and accordingly it has its systematic set of signals. The post-man comes with two loud and rapid raps, such as no person but himself ever gives. One very loud knock of less vehemence denotes a servant or other messenger. Visitors give three or four. Footmen or coachmen always more than their masters; and the master of every family has usually his particular touch, which is immediately recognized.” (more…)

Almacks = All That

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

I’m going to keep with a Regency theme for the next few weeks in honor of the release of Deceptive Behavior. I’ve discussed the politically incorrect sport of beagling on the Risky Regencies  and more tourist impressions of London on Moonlight, Lace and Mayhem.  link. This week on Living History I’ll say a quick word about a London institution that is legendary to readers of Regency romance and pretty much unknown to everyone else.

The place is Almack’s. When I did a little research, I found that there were actually two Almack’s, a gentleman’s club at No. 50 Pall Mall and Alamack’s Assembly Rooms on King Street, St. James. William Almack founded his club in 1762 and had so much success that he decided to open assembly rooms in 1765 to compete for the female crowd. But where men used their clubs as a retreat from the world, in the female world of Almack’s Assembly Rooms, everything was on display. In the Regency era, those of the fashionable world sought vouchers of admission to a weekly ball. The guest lists were strictly controlled by seven formidable ladies of rank and strict rules were enforced such as a dress code requiring men to wear knee breeches and white cravats.

However, in the earlier era when Almack opened his club to rival the assembly rooms of Mrs. Cornely’s Assembly Rooms at Carlisle House, he envisioned something a little more lively. It was essentially a casino, allowing women to gamble as well as men.

But business gradually declined over the years until Almack’s was remade as a place not to gamble not so much on short terms games of chance as on long term places in society, not to mention husbands and wives. Instead of gaming every night, there was only the Wednesday night ball, preceded by a Monday meeting during which the patronesses would decide who needed to have their membership vouchers rescinded and who might be then added to the list.

This would be Snobbery with a capital “S.”

And it didn’t sound like much fun, either. Dances were selected to avoid any hint of impropriety. No alcoholic beverages were served and food was limited to bread and butter and pound cake. It all seems designed to avoid the decadence of the previous generation.

Frankly, I think I prefer the decadence of the Georgians. I’m not quite sure why the Regency era is so popular with everyone, including myself!




A Tourist in Regency London

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Shopping’s pretty good, but the new theatre at Covent Garden sucks and the British Museum is a joke. That’s one tourist’s impression of London in 1810.

Louis Simond published the journal of his 1810-11 tour as “An American in Regency England,” but as his name suggests, Simond was a native of France who emigrated to the United States shortly before the outbreak of the French Revolution. His perspective may therefore be more European than American. Nevertheless, he approaches everything as an outsider and describes it in vivid and often amusing detail. (more…)

Austen fans take heed

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Anybody who is disappointed that Jane Austen did not write more books should read the stories of Frances Burney. I don’t think her writing is quite as skillful, but her books are every bit as entertaining and because she wrote in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, they have an authenticity that cannot be approached by modern writers who aspire to write stories set in Georgian or Regency England (myself included).

I’m reading Camilla right now. After 500 pages, I don’t find the hero or heroine quite as sympathetic as I’d like, but the host of other characters continue to fascinate and amaze me. Now, in my opening paragraph, I said I didn’t find Burney as skilled at storytelling as Austen and that’s because her stories and plots are a little more exaggerated and so therefore not as realistic. But my judgment was not really fair. Perhaps what I really should have said is that, to a modern reader, Austen is a little easier to handle. For her time, Burney’s farcical style and dramatic plots were probably perfectly conceived to appeal to her readers.

Burney’s stories deal with the trials and tribulations of a slightly higher class of people than those who populate Austen’s books; she uses a mix of nobility and gentility. (more…)

A Romance by Any Other Name…

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Although many of my stories contain a romantic relationship, I don’t really consider myself a romance writer. My books never seem to contain enough romance to satisfy my critique partners, who are all successful romance writers. Presumably that means they don’t satisfy many romance readers, either, which explains why my critique partners have much better sales records than I do.

Maybe I have a less romantic view of the world. (more…)