Eleven Realities From the Regency Era We Don’t Miss

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Eleven Realities From the Regency Era We Don’t Miss

Eleven Realities From the Regency Era We Don’t Miss

If only you lived in Regency England, life would be nothing but fine horses, rare liquor, darling slippers for balls, and Mr. Darcy with his cast of happy servants, right?

How about a heated wire to an exposed dental nerve? That’s a little closer to reality. No matter how lovely life in the past might sound, remember that some aspects of the modern era ain’t so bad.regency-dress

1) Laundry day was infinitely more horrible.

Who loves the sorting, the pre-soaking, the folding?  No one.  It’s comparative luxury, however, compared to laundry day in a typical Regency estate.  Doing the laundry involved anywhere between 50-200 pounds of wood to heat water, gallons and gallons to feed a copper boiler, several hours of hand-wringing, and finally the soothing sight of all your undergarments sprawled on the lawn to dry.

2) So was the “detergent.”

There was lye soap, yes. But lye didn’t solve all stains. What was the Regency-era Tide pen?


High ammonia content meant that the contents of chamber pots were often used to scrub stubborn stains. Some servants also used ox-gall– the contents of the gall bladders of cows– to avoid color fade.

How are those luscious ball gowns looking now?

3) Speaking of urine, it had to come from somewhere.

A few modernized houses with the means had a primitive flushing system, but for the most part ladies and gentlemen had to go on the go.  That meant in the street, by the side of the road, and, yes, right in the dining room.  Men took care of business in chamber pots located in dining room sideboards.  Ladies might duck behind a curtain or into a “ladies retiring room” and do their best to aim into a bourdaloue, a kind of travel chamber pot which came complete with a lid.

Don’t worry, though, girls:  It apparently wasn’t as difficult as it sounds. Panties were a few decades away, and women pretty much went commando beneath their skirts.

4) Selfies were serious

Smiling in this era was considered low breeding; to show one’s teeth or laughing loudly marked one as vulgar. Most portraits from this era show either a slight smile or a serious expression in order to reflect one’s dignity.

Then again, if I were a pregnant woman 200 years ago, I wouldn’t be doing much smiling either:

5) Childbirth was a freaking nightmare

This goes beyond the absence of modern painkillers. Nearly 20% of women died in childbirth, and almost as many children.

In their third trimester, women were packed off into “confinement,” as to be seen heavily pregnant was considered indecent. While hidden from society, they might be bled or given vomit-inducing substances in the hopes of delivering a child who wasn’t too large for the new mother’s hips.

After a baby was born, women were kept in bed for weeks and fed little more than a liquid diet.  Infection was rampant; doctors or midwives rarely washed their hands or sterilized instruments.  Even the simple process of changing bedclothes to ensure cleanliness was a good 40 years away.

6) Dentistry wasn’t so hot, either, except when it horribly was.
Basic painkillers such as laudanum were available, but some dentists heated a wire, then laid it against an exposed nerve before commencing further delights.
The well-to-do, when in need of new teeth, got quite literally that– teeth from corpses or live peasants who had sold them.
7) If a lady didn’t want to dance with a gentleman, she better be prepared to sit out all night.
It was considered ill-bred to refuse one man’s request and then charge onto the dance floor with another. And if some corpse-dentured, ox-gall soaked, non-deodorant wearing delight wanted the honor of the next dance, you were committed to a solid half-hour or so. You didn’t just Macarena for two and a half minutes and get on with your life; reels and country dances went on and on and on.
8) Clothing options were limited while in mourning.
Which, given the atrocious mortality rate, was often. Although mourning in the Regency period wasn’t as codified as it was in the Victorian era, ladies were expected to wear black for at least a year. After that, they transitioned to “half-mourning” for several more months, during which they were permitted to get wild in greys and lavenders.
9) There was little escape from boring conversations.
Formal dinner parties were a mine-field of conventions and manners. During the meal, guests were expected to speak only to the lady or gentleman on one side, while keeping an eye on the hostess.  When she turned her head to acknowledge the existence of the person on her other side, everyone else did too.
10) Who you married was rarely up to you.
It was up to your father, or whichever male made the decisions in your family.  Most often, these choices were made based on financial or social obligations. It wasn’t considered odd for men to marry young ladies several decades younger.
Happy honeymoon!
11) But sometimes, fate made worse choices.
Women’s “virtue”– their official virginity– was closely guarded. That meant ladies were almost never alone with men who weren’t family members.
Should a lady be found alone with a man, even if behind closed doors at a ball with several hundred others in attendance, she was considered “compromised” and the rascal male was expected to offer for her. To avoid scandal, a wedding was usually hastily arranged.
Related topics England, fashion, History, literature, Regency
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