For additional images of Regency & Georgian Era fashions, places, people, and objects, visit my Pinterest boards where I have hundreds of pinned examples.
Abbey - An abbey is a monastery ruled by an abbot or a convent ruled by an abbess. When an English property has ‘Abbey’ in its name, (as in ‘Northanger Abbey’) it means that there used to be an abbey there in medieval times. When Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, he confiscated most of the abbeys, evicted the monks and nuns, and gave the land to his top supporters. This historical event was known as The Dissolution of the Abbeys. Some of the new owners knocked down the structures and built on them anew, but others converted the abbeys into private homes, but the word oftentimes remains in the name.
Accomplishments – In keeping with the ornamental status of upper class women, an ‘accomplished’ young lady was expected to have cultivated talents such as playing the pianoforte, painting watercolors, speaking French, fancy sewing, etc.
Almack’s – Assembly rooms on King Street, London, where the most exclusive private subscription balls of the ton were held each Wednesday night of the Season. To be found worthy of the privilege of buying a subscription to the Wednesday night balls, (a ticket known as a ‘voucher’) you had to be personally known to one of the seven powerful Society hostesses who organized it. These ladies were the so-called Patronesses of Almack’s, and fashionable society lived in fear of getting on the bad side of any of them. Only the creme de la creme of Society were permitted to come.
Angelo’s Fencing Academy – An establishment founded by Italian foil fencing master Dominico Angelo Malevolti Tremamondo, or just Angelo as he was popularly known. As personal fencing master to The Prince of Wales (George III) as well as a plethora of other nobles, his reputation and prestige was extreme. His school in Soho was the premiere establishment for teaching, practice, and exhibitions.
Apoplexy or apoplectic fit – In medicine it is a stroke or cerebral hemorrhage. In general it refers to an extreme fit of temper and rage.
Apothecary – Health practitioner who specialized in herbal (and often quack) remedies and dispensed drugs. Precursor to the modern pharmacist.
Archbishop – The Archbishops of York and Canterbury are the leaders of the Church of England. The monarch is the Head of the Church. Bishops supervise the dioceses, ordain new priests, confirm the faithful, and sit in the House of Lords. *see Clergymen
Ascot Racecourse – England’s most prestigious horse-racing track. Located in Berkshire. Founded in 1711 by Queen Anne.
Assembly Rooms – Nearly every town had public halls where dances, concerts, and other social events were held. These ballrooms could be rented for private gatherings or subscription balls. The most famous was Almack’s Assembly in London.
Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre – A circus in London featuring horseback riding, acrobats, clowns, and the like. Founded in 1773 by famed trick rider Phillip Astley.
Bandeau – A narrow band of stiffened fabric worn on the head to confine the hair.
Banns - Public announcement in church of a proposed marriage. The banns were supposed to be read aloud during church for three Sundays in a row in the parish/parishes where the engaged people lived, so that anyone who might know a reason why they should not be wed could come forward.
Banyan – A loose-skirted coat worn by men as a dressing gown; a robe, basically.
Baron – The lowest of the five ranks within the peerage; wife is a baroness.
Baronet – The title of the first rank below the peerage; above a knight; a hereditary title; considered a member of the gentry, not nobility; addressed as “Sir Firstname” and his wife as “Lady Surname”
Barouche – A fancy carriage with a folding hood that seated four. Two, four, or six horses could be used to pull it. Like a convertible today, the hood could be put down for the passengers to enjoy nice weather. It was an elegant but not a particularly manly carriage.
Barrister – A lawyer who argues cases in court. They do not directly represent a client, being retained by a solicitor on behalf of a client without directly taking money from the client. Thus, technically, they were of the gentlemen class due to not receiving a set wage. *see solicitor
Bath – City in the western county of Somerset, England, which became wildly popular in the mid-1700’s for the healing properties of its natural hot springs and mineral waters. Given the craze for classical antiquity, the archeological discovery of an ancient Roman bath in the center of the city kicked off a huge fad for going to Bath ‘to take the waters.’ Supervised by medical experts, people went there hoping to be cured of everything from gout to infertility. As England’s first true planned city established during an architectural golden age, Bath is a World Heritage site and a must-see destination for tourists today! By the Regency, it had lost popularity among the younger set due to the rise of Brighton on the southern coast. Instead of taking the spa waters, the hot new health craze that replaced it was sea-bathing. Bath came to be associated with sickly, elderly people.
Bath Chair – Old fashioned name for a wheelchair. Name probably derived from their use in assisting invalids to take the waters in Bath.
Beau Brummell – George Bryan Brummell, known as the Beau, was the most important arbiter of fashion during the Regency. He rose to the highest levels of society despite an unimpressive ancestry (his grandfather had been a shopkeeper, his father a private secretary to Lord North) through his good looks, impeccable style, keen wit, and elegant manners. He became a friend of the Prince Regent when still a teenager. He was the leader of the dandy set, establishing the style in men’s fashion for understated elegance and beautiful tailoring. Arrogance and reckless extravagance led to his downfall. He had fallen out of favor with the prince by 1813, and fled England in 1816 when his debts became too large. He settled in France, first in Calais then in Caen, where he died destitute and demented in an asylum, a victim of syphilis.
Beaver hat – Also called a ‘topper.’ Black top hat made of beaver-skin because it was waterproof.
Bedlam – An insane asylum in London. The full name was the Hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem. The common shortened name has since become synonymous for all asylums and also as a term for general chaos and clamor.
Betsy - A detachable collar made up of lace ruffles that could be worn with different dresses. Fashionable way to keep your neck warm.
Bit o’ Muslin – A woman of who gives sexual favors in exchange for payment. A prostitute.
Bluestocking Society – An informal group of society ladies began this movement in the 1750’s to discuss literature and other educational matters as a revolutionary step away from the typical, acceptable activities of high class women. Formed to imitate the French society of the same name.
Bond Street – A fashionable shopping street in the West End of London, located in the Mayfair District.
Bow Street Runners – Established in 1749 by Henry Fielding and headquartered at his house on Bow Street, the “runners” began as paid finders of criminals in London. Eventually evolved into the primary police force in the city of London until to establishment of the Metropolitan Police in 1829.
Braces – Essentially suspenders often worn to hold a man’s lower garments up. Worn over the shirt they crossed in the back and went over the shoulders, but were hidden inside the waistcoat.
Breeches – Short, close-fitting trousers that fastened just below the knees or before the ankles, sporting a horizontal front flap called the ‘fall,’ and worn with stockings. Regency breeches tended to be worn tighter with the emphasis on accenting the manly physique. The name has actually been applied to various outer and inner worn garments through the ages, but is most commonly associated with men’s pants fashionable up until around 1815 when longer pantaloons and trousers gradually became the standard. When boys reached the ages of 3 – 6 years they graduated from wearing the loose dress-type garments normal for children of both sexes to short pants, and were thus considered ‘breeched.’
Brighton – Seaside town about forty-five miles away from London, where people went to improve their health in the craze for sea-bathing—and to party! Brighton had a festive reputation, which was why it was the Prince Regent’s favorite vacation resort. It was here in his favorite getaway spot that he built his fantastic Pavilion. Brighton was annually the next stop on the social whirl for high society following the Season in London.
Buckskins – Fashionable trousers made from the skin of deer. So dashing! *see image above, far left
Butler – More than merely answered doors, the butler was responsible for directing the male portion of the indoor household staff. The butler had extensive duties, including overseeing the correct service of meals, protecting the silverware from thieves, maintaining the wine cellar, and being in charge of household security.
Cabriolet – A light, two-wheeled carriage for one horse. It seated two, was usually driven by the gentleman himself, and had a folding leather hood. There was a perch in the back for the ‘tiger’ or groom.
Cap, or To set one’s cap – Try to catch a sweetheart or a husband. A lady puts on her most becoming cap to attract the gentleman’s attention and admiration.
Canals – Before trains, cargo was moved through England on narrow-boats that traversed quaint man-made canals. A vast network of canals crisscrossed England. This was a common mode of transportation in Europe and America, too. The narrow-boat would be hitched by ropes to a horse that walked alongside the canal on the ‘tow-path.’ An attendant would walk the horse up the path while the animal towed the narrow-boat quietly along the canal. Many investors made great fortunes building canals during the Regency, but the trains soon made them obsolete. Today many narrow-boats have been turned into passenger vessels and offer tourists a relaxing way to view the English countryside.
Chaise – A light, open carriage, usually with a folding top. They generally had two wheels and sat two people and were drawn by one horse. *above
Chapeau bras – A type of man’s hat. Literally means ‘arm-hat’ because it could be folded flat (longwise) if two-pointed and tucked gallantly under the man’s arm. It could be worn with the two corners pointing sideways or front-to-back. Three-pointed styles also existed. Also known as a cocked hat, the chapeau bras was worn on full dress or court occasions.
Chaperon – A respectable female in charge of an unmarried young lady in public, especially responsible for making sure she behaves herself around the opposite sex.
Chatelaine -A set of decorative and useful items hung at the waist with a decorative chain. Commonly associated with the Housekeeper who kept the keys to the Manor on her person at all times, a chatelaine was also worn by fashionable ladies and would secure a watch, sewing or writing implements, small coin purses, etc.
Cheapside – Along with Covent Gardens and Fleet Street, Cheapside was an area of London closely associated with trade and shopping. Most of the city’s merchants were found in these areas.
Chemise – Also called a ‘shift,’ this undergarment is essentially a slip. This sleeveless, mid-calf length garment of white cotton or muslin was worn next to the skin under the stays.
Cheroot or cigarillo – A small, thin cigar. Smoking was not as popular as the use of snuff. Most Englishmen who smoked picked up the habit in Spain while fighting the Peninsular War.
Chit – A saucy, forward girl.
Chocolate – Usually refers to the drink, hot chocolate, though cocoa was also used in desserts. Awful to imagine, but chocolate bars/candy had not yet been invented!
Clergymen – The Church of England was lead by the Archbishops of York and Canterbury with assistance from the bishops, who are next in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The parish priest fell below the bishops. Also referred to as vicars and rectors, they officiated at all religious ceremonies (weddings, christenings, funerals) as well as conducting regular services. They were granted “a living” (or benefice) by a wealthy patron that was usually quite substantial and often included parsonage land they could farm for additional income. Next were the deacons and curates. These men were priests without the benefit of “a living” who worked for a vicar and basically did the hard chores!
Coach – A large, sturdy, four-wheeled closed carriage pulled by four to six horses. It seated four, and might have the family’s coat of arms painted on the door. The coach was driven by the coachman who sat on the elevated, exterior driver’s box at the front of the vehicle, perhaps with a groom by his side and a pair of liveried footmen stationed in the back.
Coaching inn – A hotel/pub/restaurant posted along major roadways that serviced the stagecoaches. At a coaching inn, you could have a meal, rent fresh horses for the next leg of your journey, or stay overnight.
Coffee houses – Though tea may be the quintessential British beverage, coffee preceded it in popularity by several decades and later became eclipsed by it. From the 1700’s, men went to their Regency Starbucks to drink coffee, read the newspapers, and enter into lively debates over things like art and politics.
Come Out, or Coming Out – A young lady’s first entry into society. She would first be presented at the Royal Court to the ruling monarch, and a ball would usually be held in her honor. Then she would be free to attend society events and seek a husband.
Confinement – In general referred to the entire period of a woman’s pregnancy. Specifically to the latter stages of pregnancy when women withdrew from the social scene, entering, as it was discreetly called, their ‘confinement.’
Constables – Peacekeeping officers appointed by the local magistrate to arrest criminals.
Cork-brained – Foolish, stupid.
Corset – The French term for ‘stays,’ a body-shaping garment for women intended to hold in the waist and lift the bosom, tightened by laces in the back. Full-figured women might choose hip-length stays to shape the torso, but usually they merely hugged the ribcage to support the bosom. Stays were made of a sturdy canvas cloth, often faced with silk, reinforced inside with whalebone, which had a bit of give so they were not terribly uncomfortable compared to the corsets of the preceding early Georgian and following Victorian periods.
Cossacks – A man’s long trouser inspired by the Russians. These were extremely comfortable being of a loose, baggy fit.
Costermonger – Street vendor of fruits and vegetables.
Cotillion – A French dance for four or more couples with complicated steps and much changing of partners, led by one couple. Came to be associated with balls in a general sense, especially those for debutantes to mingle and meet eligible bachelors.
Country dance – A dance of rural English origin in which partners face each other in two long lines.
Country house – A mansion in the countryside. The more ostentatious you could make it, the bigger the status symbol. Country houses are associated with huge landscape gardens.
Court of St. James – St. James Palace was the official home of the British monarchy during the Regency, although the sovereign had many royal residences, such as Buckingham and Windsor palaces. St. James Palace was a working palace with foreign ambassadors obligated to present their credentials to the court of St. James. Today it is still the official seat of the British government. Young ladies were also presented to the court, marking their “coming out,” meaning they had entered society and were considered eligible for marriage.
Covent Garden – An Italian-style piazza built in the early 1600’s by Inigo Jones, overlooked by a church, Covent Garden offered fashionable housing to the rich for a while, but when they moved away, drifting towards Mayfair, it became the main fruit and vegetable market of London by day; at night it became what we’d call a red light district, the most reliable place to pick up prostitutes. Today it is part of London’s theatre district.
Cravat – Gentleman’s neckcloth, the correct starching and tying of which was crucial to the wearer’s fashionable appearance. Part of a valet’s job would be to know the fine art of cravat tying. Always white for formal occasions; informally could be black, any other color, or even in patterns.
Cups, or In one’s cups – To be drunk, inebriated.
Curate – A clergyman who assists the main pastor, rector, or vicar.
Curricle – A fashionable, sporty, very light, two-wheeled carriage pulled by two horses. Like the cabriolet (which came a few years after the curricle) it was an expensive gentleman’s toy, like the modern sports-car.
Dandy -A gentleman who is fastidious about his appearance, especially his clothing. Not to be confused with a ‘macaroni’ who was flashy or flamboyant. Epitomized by Beau Brummell who was obsessed with perfect tailoring, cleanliness, and the belief that manly fashion should be understated and elegant, but never ostentatious.
Debutante – Upon completing her education and being polished up with all the social graces, a young girl (usually about seventeen) would be presented to Society by her parents or guardians. This was also called her coming-out. For the elite of Regency London, the first official event for the new crop of young ladies who came out each year, was to be presented to the ruling monarch and the Court. After that, their parents would usually throw a lavish debut ball in the girl’s honor, making sure to invite the most eligible young bachelors of the ton! Basically the point of all this was one big marketing strategy to sell the girl to Society in the most glamorous, attractive, and elegant way, in order to lure the interest of a wealthy, high-ranking male and secure for the daughter the most advantageous marriage, which would benefit the entire family.
Décolletage – The neckline of a low-cut gown.
Demimonde – Literally, from the French, half-world. This term referred to the class of women who were considered glamorous and might even be rich, such as actresses, but were far from respectable. Usually used in connection with the high-priced courtesans who served the wealthy; these women were individually referred to as demimondaines or demireps.
Derby and The Oaks – Pronounced Dar-bee, these two are the major horse races in England, held at Epsom Downs, Surrey in late May or early June. An establishment since 1661 and two of the 5 British Classic Races.
Dissenters – Members of Protestant churches other than the Church of England, such as Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, etc.
Dogcart – A sturdy, two-wheeled carriage used by sportsmen because it had a special compartment in the back for the hunting dogs.
Dowager – The widow of a Peer of the Realm. Generally the term will not be applied unless the new titled Peer has a wife.
Dower House – A relatively small house on an estate to which the dowager could retire when the new heir took up residence.
Draper – A store that sold fabrics.
Drawing room – A formal room for receiving visitors, and the chamber to which the ladies would withdraw to have tea after dinner while the men stayed at the table socializing or retired to the game room. Also the Parlor or Salon.
Duel – By the Regency period pistols were more frequently used in duels than swords. Duels were meant to settle disputes of honor in the Norman tradition of ‘trial by combat.’ After a challenge had been issued, the offending party could apologize, but if he opted not to, then he and his opponent would have to meet on the ‘field of honor.’ Technically, dueling was illegal, but it was rarely prosecuted, probably because it was the rich and privileged who were the main participants. The where and when of a duel was worked out by the seconds, and friend and representative of the participant who would have to fight in his place if the guy chickened out and didn’t show up. A duel required the presence of at least one surgeon to give immediate medical care to the wounded. After the Regency, the authorities began prosecuting duels more seriously, until they eventually died out.
Duke – Highest rank of the nobility; always addressed as “Your Grace” or “Duke”; hereditary title; wife is a duchess.
Dustman -The lucky guy who came around to collect the refuse from the fires burned for warmth and cooking. He would haul the ashes and cinders away to be used for bricks and manure, after he sifted for accidentally discarded valuables!
Earl – Third highest rank of the nobility; a hereditary title connected to a territory, as in Earl of _____ ; wife is a countess.
East India Company – A powerful trading company chartered in 1600 that took over the job of running India for the British Empire. Since working for this corporate monolith could be highly lucrative, it was a good, respectable career option for younger sons, but who got the good jobs was subject to your social or family connections—it all depended on who you knew. Those who made fortunes in India were referred to as Nabobs. The merchant ships that carried cargo and passengers back and forth between England and India were called East Indiamen. The Company had docks and warehouses in London on the Thames.
Entail – A legal term referring to property, which meant that a landed estate was tied up in such a way that it could be passed on to one’s heir after the owner’s death, but the heir could not sell the property. This allowed the great aristocratic families to protect their huge estates from being broken up and sold off piece by piece over generations—highly important when wealth rested in having land.
Epaulet - An ornamental shoulder pad on military uniform.
Epergne – A large, ornate, often silver center table piece with multiple tiers holding various dishes, candles, and a large urn of soup. Since the Regency dining table was arranged with all dishes placed in perfect symmetry around the table, the epergne as the tallest piece in the center was important visually as well as practically.
Equipage – One’s carriage and all the livery necessary to outfit it.
Escritoire – A small, sometimes portable writing desk with a sloping front door hinged at the bottom edge that can be opened downwards to provide a writing surface. It is usually larger than a lap desk. The interior may contain small drawers designed to hold the traditional ink pot, sand container, blotter and writing feathers or pens.
Facings – Material of a different color that shows when the cuffs and collar are folded over. In the military, different colored facings implied different regiments.
False calves – Padding for a man’s calves to fill out his stockings with a more muscular look, especially when worn with knee-breeches. Darcy would NEVER need to wear such a thing!
Faro – A game of chance favored by Regency gamblers. Faro was played at a special table with painted depictions of playing cards around all the edges of the table. Gamblers set their chips on the picture of whichever card they thought the dealer would turn over next.
Fichu – A piece of lace, muslin, or other cloth worn about the neck and cleavage to preserve a lady’s modesty. From the French word meaning neckerchief.
Flambeaux – Flaming torches.
Fleet Prison – A prison near Fleet River for debtors and bankrupts.
Fob – A short chain or ribbon with an attached medallion or ornament that connected to a man’s pocketwatch. Allowed to hang from a small pocket in his waistcoat for adornment.
Folly – An ornamental building in a garden.
Foolscap – Writing paper of the Regency period, so called because it usually was imprinted with a watermark of a jester’s cap.
Footman – Male servant under the authority of the butler. They served at dinner, accompanied ladies of the house on errands and social calls, and looked after the lamps and candles in a house. They wore old-fashioned livery with knee-breeches and powdered wigs. Because the country was at war and needed all the able-bodied men it could get to fight Napoleon, there was a steep tax placed on male servants. Thus, having them was a status symbol.
Fop – A dandy, a man overly concerned with his appearance.
Fortified Wines – Port, Madeira, marsala, and sherry are considered fortified wines as they are mixed with brandy or some other heavy liquor. The original purpose was to aid preserving the wines while being shipped long distances, but it also lent sweetness to the wine as well as increasing the alcohol content.
Fortnight – A period of two weeks.
Foxed – Inebriated, drunk.
Frigate – A common, three-masted, square-rigged sailing vessel of the period, designed for speed and thus often used as Navy warships or by privateers.
Gentleman – In strictly financial terms, a gentleman was someone who did not have to work for a living because he and his family had sufficient assets (savings and land holdings) that they could live comfortably off the interest and/or rents. But the moral dimension of this word imparted the highest compliment one could give a Regency man. It had to do with being chivalrous, educated, reliable, kind, polite, helpful, respectable, intelligent, kind, and above all, always ready to do one’s duty without complaint.
Gentleman Jackson – Boxing, also known as pugilism, was wildly popular in the Regency period with all classes of men, both as a spectator sport and an athletic hobby. Professional boxers fought until one of the contenders couldn’t get up off the ground anymore, and they didn’t wear gloves. Gentleman Jackson was the reigning champ of Regency prizefighting from 1795 to 1818 and opened a boxing studio, where he taught Regency bucks ‘the manly art of self-defense.’
Gentry – The gentry is the class of country landowners just below the aristocrats, such as baronets, knights, and non-titled squires. Unlike the aristocrats above them they did not always migrate to London for the Season each year, often tending to stay in the country. Unlike the yeoman farmers below them, they did not get their hands dirty in the actual work of farming. In contrast with the stereotype of the day that painted aristocrats as decadent hedonists and the merchant class as greedy vulgarians, the gentry viewed themselves as the keepers of gentility and decent Christian morality. Gentry folk and old landed families gained prestige from their long association with the soil they owned and this placed them above the new money of the often richer middle class. Gentry men could work in respectable professions if they chose, for example as physicians and barristers. They were also active volunteers in their local communities with church associations and civil service, such as unsalaried country magistrates or justices of the peace.
Gig – A light, two-wheeled, one-horse carriage especially used in the country.
Glim – An old word for a candle, as in ‘glimmer.’
Governess – Basically a babysitter for a teenage girl, who was supposed to keep her out of trouble, educate her in accomplishments, and teach her how to behave like a refined lady.
Greatcoat – An outdoor overcoat usually with one or several capes around the shoulders worn by men.
Gretna Green – A town in Scotland just over the border from England where couples would elope. A marriage could be obtained without a license, a clergyman, a waiting period, or parental consent. The couple simply had to declare their intention to marry in front of witnesses. In England, parental consent was required for a legal marriage for anyone under twenty-one. In fact, any town in Scotland would offer this service. Gretna Green was simply the nearest and thus the most popular destination.
Groom – Servant(s) who cared for the horses; assisted by stableboys.
Grouse – A game bird similar to a pheasant or quail that lives on the moors and is a favorite target of shooting enthusiasts along with their well-trained dogs whose job it is to retrieve the bird once it’s been shot.
Haberdashery – A merchant shop that sells buttons, ribbons, threads, lace, and other trimmings for clothing. Upon occasion this included ready made items such as reticules, gloves, fans, bonnets, etc.
Hackney coach – The Regency version of a taxi cab, drawn by four horses. Often it was an old, beat-up carriage of the nobility. If no hackney was in sight to be flagged down, there were hackney stands all over London where you could count on finding one for hire. Hackney drivers were affectionately known as jarveys. Hackneys preceded by several decades the hansom cabs and growlers of Victorian times.
Half-boots – Ankle boots for ladies. They existed for men, too, but we usually think of them as women’s footwear. Half boots could be of kid leather for outdoor wear or of cloth for indoors. Fancy varieties also existed, made of velvet or silk, and decorated with beads or embroidery for wearing with formal clothes.
Harridan – A bad-tempered, disreputable old woman. Probably from the French word haridelle meaning a worn-out horse.
Hessian boots – Mid-calf boots coming to just below the knee or lower that have tassels on the top. Named for the German soldiers called Hessians who introduced them.
Honor – The all-important guiding principle and ideal behind gentlemanly or ladylike behavior. It had to do with a committed, self-disciplined adherence to exemplary behavior, especially honesty, fairness, and chivalry. The just reward of a stainless honor was a healthy level of pride and self-respect. Honor included a clean conscience and a spotless reputation. For women, especially unmarried ones, honor was also tied to chastity and prudence. The standard method of dealing with blows to one’s honor was through dueling. To fail to issue a challenge to duel after an insult to one’s honor was the same as admitting guilt to the charge. To lose one’s honor was also to lose one’s place as an accepted member of Society and to be ostracized. Once lost, honor generally could not be regained. This was the meaning of being ‘ruined.’ Moreover, by disgracing oneself through foolish, dishonorable conduct, one damaged the honor/reputation of one’s entire family. All of these potential hazards for honor contributed to the prevailing sense that a young lady had better behave with decorum and a young man had better learn early how to fight, fence, and shoot.
Horse racing – Introduced by the Romans as far back as 200 AD, the racing of thoroughbreds as we know it dates from the 16th century with Henry VIII. Newmarket was the first course established in 1605 by James I. A major pastime among the wealthy and the cornerstone of the British betting industry, racing and breeding a prestigious undertaking for centuries.
Housekeeper – Top-ranking female servant responsible for everything in a great house except the cooking and kitchen affairs, which would be under the prevue of the Cook. The Housekeeper’s responsibilities included all cleaning, laundry, household maintenance, and supervising the army of maids. The triumvirate of butler, housekeeper, and cook were the top dogs in the servant hierarchy and equal to each other. Around her neck or waist, the housekeeper wore a ‘chatelaine’ as a mark of office: a cluster of keys to every room in the house.
Hoyden – A mischievous, spunky girl who is viewed to lack decorum.
Hyde Park – A nearly 400-acre park located in London’s ultra-fashionable West End. Five o’clock P.M. was the fashionable hour to see and be seen promenading in Hyde Park along its manmade ornamental pond called the Serpentine, or driving one’s fanciest carriage around the graveled pleasure-driving roads known as the Ring. Rotten Row was the famous stretch of road in the park notorious for speed demons either on horseback or in carriages. For the fair sex, there was the Ladies’ Mile.
I and J and K
Inexpressibles – We would say ‘pants’ but that term was considered vulgar! The general, polite word for all the various types of male garments worn over the lower half of their bodies.
Introductions – A new person to a party or gathering was always introduced by someone who knew him/her. New acquaintances would curtsey or bow – handshaking was reserved for true friends. Self-introductions were allowed by people of higher rank, while people of lower rank had to wait for an introduction and remain silent in mixed-rank company until such an introduction was made. Once introduced to someone, it was expected to forevermore acknowledge that person with a bow, curtsey, or nod.
Jackanapes – A rude or mischievous person, a knave.
Jarvey – Slang term for a hackney coach driver.
Jockey Club – Founded in 1750 by a group of powerful men interested in horse racing matters, this exclusive club set the standards and rules for thoroughbred racing. With offices located in Newmarket and London, it served some of the functions of a typical Gentlemen’s Club, but seriously dominated its role as governing body for all racing matters, including the records of every horse with detailed bloodline pedigrees.
Jointure – A financial provision for a widow. Typically the amount is negotiated based on the portion she brought to the marriage, and is generally established as part of the marriage settlement.
Kerseymere – A type of wool cloth; lighter-weight fabric perfect for breeches.
Kitchenmaid – Servants in the kitchen who helped the cook prepare the meals; ranked above the scullerymaid.
Knight – Lowest rank within the gentry; non-hereditary title; not of the peerage.
La Belle Assemblée – A fashion magazine of the Regency period dedicated to the upper crust. (Translated from the French, it means the beautiful gathering.) It told ladies throughout England what was in fashion each month in London. Curiously, many of the contributors to the magazine were not part of the ton, and had little or no access to the aristocratic elegantes who set the styles, so they had to spy on them in public places and quickly make notes on their outfits!
Ladybird - A man’s lover or kept mistress.
Lady’s Maid – The woman who cared for the mistress’s clothes, grooming, dressing, mending, and so on; considered an upper servant answerable only to her mistress; usually well-educated.
Landau – A four-wheeled fancy carriage with a hood in two pieces that could be fastened overhead or opened up like a convertible, which made it a favorite for warm weather. With a raised seat in front for the coachman, it accommodated four passengers with double seats facing each other. The landau was usually pulled by four horses, but two could be used.
Laudanum – A tincture of opium used as a painkiller and sedative. A few drops were taken in a glass of wine or other beverage. Laudanum was prescribed for many ailments during the Regency, such as headaches or insomnia. As a result, many people became addicted. Despite the fact that we think of opium today as the chief ingredient of powerful narcotics like heroin, it was viewed during the 19th century not as an illegal substance, but as an important and legitimate source of medicine and a staple of commercial trade, imported with great profit from arid regions like the Ottoman Empire.
Linen – A light-weight cloth both cool and strong; very common and inexpensive; used primarily for men’s shirts and undergarments; came in varied weaves, including lawn and cambric.
Livery – Male servant’s uniform modeled on the formal wear of the earlier part of the Georgian period, including frock coat, knee breeches, white stockings, and pumps (shoes), along with a powdered wig. Grooms attending carriages also wore livery, topped it off with a tricorne hat. Each household had its signature colors. By extension the term also referred to the carriage equipage. Liveried footman – A footman wearing livery.
Livery stable – A stable where one could rent carriage horses. You could also board your horses at a livery stable in London or, less commonly, rent a horse there to ride. This could be big business. One livery stable posted along a busy stagecoach route might have as many as a thousand horses.
Longcase clock – A grandfather or grandmother clock.
Lord Alvanley – Regarded by some as the wittiest man of his day and a dandy to rival Brummell, the 2nd Baron Alvanley was a popular member of the Prince Regent’s circle. He was a bruising rider to hounds, a fine sportsman, and a famous host of exclusive dinner parties. He was one of the hosts of the 1813 ball where Brummell, after being cut by the Prince, addressed to Alvanley the infamous remark, “Ah, Alvanley, who is your fat friend?” Like most of the dandy set he loved to gamble, and lost most of his family’s property to gambling debts.
Marquess – Second highest rank within the peerage; just below a duke and above an earl; typically hold secondary titles; wife is a marchioness.
Masque – A costume ball. Masquerade.
Master of Ceremonies – The man at an assembly ball who announces which dance is next.
Mayfair – The most desirable neighborhood in Regency London, located by Hyde Park. The thing that made Mayfair unique was that it was the first London neighborhood created exclusively for the wealthy. For centuries the wealthy lived side-by-side with the poor throughout London, everyone jostled together with slums right around the corner from palaces. Mayfair was desirable because it was all new, with no place for the poor people to move in.
Madeira – A sweet white dessert wine.
Magistrate – A justice of the peace. The judge before whom a suspected criminal is brought upon being arrested.
Mail Coach – Coaches with regular routes and schedules that carried both mail and passengers around the country.
Mantle – Large, long, shapeless cloak with arm slits and a hood worn by ladies.
Marriage licenses – In 1753, Lord Hardwick’s Act outlawed clandestine marriages by minors, which had been carried out for a small fee within the walls of Fleet Prison. By the Regency period, there were two main ways that people could legally marry: 1) The traditional and most affordable way was the reading of the banns for three consecutive Sundays in the parish or parishes where each of the engaged pair was a permanent resident. When the banns had been read as proscribed, then a regular marriage license would be granted. The marriage had to take place in one of the parish churches, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and noon. 2) The more private and expensive way, preferred by aristocrats was to purchase a special license from the offices of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Doctor’s Commons in London. The special license gave the betrothed couple the luxury of being married quickly, anywhere they wanted, and at any time of the day. Both types of licenses expired after three months.
Merchant class – Business owners and their families. They became increasingly powerful and important socially as the Industrial Revolution wore on.
Mews – Originally it meant a place that housed hawks and hunting falcons, but later it became associated with stables. As fancy townhouses were built in London, their backs facing each other, a row of stables or ‘mews’ would be built down the center behind them so that the residents would be able to conveniently keep their riding and carriage horses. The mews also included the little private back alley that gave access to the stable areas.
Middle class – Included the more genteel professions, such as barristers, physicians (but not surgeons), clergy, politicians, professors, and high level scholars. You’ll notice that what all of these jobs have in common is that nowhere does anyone even come close to doing manual labor. The minute you seemed to be actively following profit or had to use your hands to make your living, (other than writing sermons, lessons, or prescriptions) you descended on the social scale. These professions were also open to gentlemen who had enough money not to have to work, but who wanted to do something to occupy their time. They could do jobs like the above without harming their place in the social pecking order.
Militia – A non-volunteer army of infantry composed of ordinary citizens who served for prescribed periods of time. They were called on to protect the homeland from invasion if needed, uniforms and provisions were provided, and the men were trained for battle almost as adequately as the professional soldier. They could not be compelled to serve overseas, but were deployed to all parts of the UK and utilized as a civilian police force.
Milliner’s shop – Ladies’ hat and bonnet shop. Frequently also sold ribbons, feathers, and artificial flowers for decorating your own hats. The art of millinery means designing hats.
Minuet - 1. A stately, graceful dance for two people that began in 17th century France that consisted of small steps in time with slow music; the ultimate dance of ceremony and distinction. This dance was usually the first dance at an assembly or ball. 2. The music for a minuet dance.
Missish – Squeamish, prim, prudish; behavior befitting a young miss.
Modiste – A dressmaker. From the French mode meaning style. Also called by the slightly earlier term, mantua-maker.
Muff - A round fur-lined accessory for keeping ladies’ hands warm. Especially popular in the Regency were big, oversized fur muffs.
Muslin – A fine, thin, semi-transparent cotton available in many different finishes. In all its varieties, muslin was hands down the most popular material for ladies’ gowns for both day and evening wear. It replaced silk in popularity because the best silk was French, and England, until 1815, was of course at war with France. Wearing muslin instead of silk was seen as being more patriotic.
Nabob – An Englishman who went to India and made a fortune there.
Nankeen – A sturdy but lightweight yellowish cotton cloth, especially popular for men’s pantaloons, first brought over from China.
Nanny or Nurse – The caretaker for small children before they were put in the care of a governess. Could also refer to a wet nurse, a nursing or pregnant woman who was hired to breastfeed an upper class baby so the real mother wouldn’t have to be inconvenienced.
Newgate – The most formidable prison in London for criminals (as opposed to Fleet Prison for debtors). Also the site of public executions. It was located next to the main criminal courthouse, the Old Bailey.
Nobility – Term referring generally to those in the peerage.
Nursery – Usually located out of earshot on the top floor of a residence, the nursery was the childcare area of a home with children’s beds and furniture, play areas, and schoolroom areas, as well as quarters for the nurse, nanny, governess and/or any nursery maids, females servants whose job it was to help watch and clean up after the kids.
O and P
Opera – Hugely popular form of entertainment for the Regency upper classes. Though some operas were German and a handful were in English, the prevailing form was the Italian. The typical Regency person’s education included learning at least some Italian in order to enjoy this quintessentially civilized art form. The main place to experience opera in London was (and still is) the King’s Theatre, also known as the Royal Italian Opera House. A season subscription for an opera box could cost as much as £2,500.
Orangery – An indoor ‘winter garden,’ greenhouse, or conservatory where oranges, lemons, pineapples, and other popular exotics as well asflowers and greenery could be grown year-round. A huge status symbol to possess a well equipped conservatory.
Packet – A ship running regular, usually short-distance routes to carry mail and passengers.
Pall Mall – A street in the West End of London notable as the site of fashionable clubs and shopping.
Pantaloons – Men’s lower-body garment that gained popularity by the late 1810s and beyond, evolving eventually into the full length trouser. Originally contrived to deal with the shorter Hessian boots that fell below the typical knee-breech level, these garments were form-fitting to display the fine, manly figure.
Pantomime – Theatre entertainment heavy on spectacle. The pantomime could include singing, dancing, plays – either comic or spooky/gothic, elaborate costumes – and the best special effects of the day. This was rollicking popular fare in contrast to the more prestigious, serious stage dramas.
Paragon – An exemplary person, a model of correct behavior and integrity.
Parasol – A small, lightweight umbrella used by women as protection from the sun. As fair or pale skin was considered a thing of beauty, it fell upon women to protect their skin from the effects of the sun.
Parliament – The House of Commons and the House of Lords collectively.
Parsonage – A parsonage is the residence of the leader of the local Christian church. May also be known as a vicarage, manse, or rectory. These homes are owned and maintained by the church, offered as a benefit and gift to the minister and his family.
Pattens – Ladies footwear for inclement weather. They were rings strapped onto the bottom of a woman’s shoes or boots to elevate her a couple of inches above the mud or slush.
Peer of the Realm – A nobleman with a hereditary seat in the House of Lords: Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, or Baron.
Pelisse – A light overcoat, with or without sleeves, open or buttoning down the front, and hanging to about shin level or to the floor. Materials used varied from light muslin and kerseymere to elaborate furs, with trimmings minimal and subtle or highly ornate, depending on the outfit and occasion.
Phaeton – The Regency version of a sports car. A light, fast, fashionable four-wheeled carriage for one or two horses, usually driven by the owner rather than a coachman.
Physician – As distinguished from a Surgeon, the main difference was that a physician had gentleman status because he did not do manual labor, i.e. did not touch the patient. The physician treated patients by questioning them on their symptoms and then writing out prescriptions to be brewed up by the local Apothecary. The Surgeon, also known as the barber, was the hands-on guy for everything from amputations to pulling teeth. Physicians were considered as white-collar educated professionals whereas surgeons had a much lower status.
Pianoforte – The forerunner of the piano. Before the pianoforte came along, there was the harpsichord, which excelled in showing off precision, technical brilliance, texture, and virtuosity, but was limited in emotional expressivity because the player had no control over volume. By using new technological advances, the pianoforte allowed greater emotional expression because it could play softly (piano) or more loudly (forte), depending on the mood the musician wished to create. This innovation fed into the Regency and early Romantic era’s preference for increasingly emotional music, as in the works of Beethoven.
Pin-money – A woman’s allowance given for personal purchases. Emily Hendrickson’s Regency Reference Book lists the average sum given to a lady of the upper class or peerage as being around 400-500 pounds sterling annually. In today’s money, that would come in somewhere between $20,000-$25,000 U.S. This sum could be written into her marriage settlement or just informally agreed to by her husband.
Pluck – Courage, spirit.
Poaching – Hunting game animals on a landowner’s property, a crime punishable by transportation to a penal colony. Landowners were permitted to ward off poachers by severe means, such as setting man-traps or even shooting at them.
Poppet – A term of endearment.
Port – Sweet heavy red wine fortified with brandy, most frequently imbibed by Regency gentlemen at dinner parties after the ladies had withdrawn to the drawing room for tea. Port gets its name from the country of Portugal. England had sworn off French wine during the war years, and instead began importing wine from this allied country instead.
Portmanteau – 19th century term for a suitcase or traveling bag.
Prime Minister – The head of the English government.
Primogeniture – The traditional system of inheritance whereby the eldest male offspring was the sole legal recipient of the deceased’s title and entailed lands. Money, possessions, and non-entailed properties could be divided up among the various children of the deceased, but these dispensations to younger sons and daughters were usually modest. It was found that family fortunes did not last as long once they started dividing up the money. Instead, the preferred system was to put the male firstborn in charge, educate him for that position, and assume that he would look out for his younger siblings responsibly. Younger sons of wealthy families were expected to make their own way in the world; in the 19th century, it was common to send younger sons into the military and into the Church.
Prince Regent – George, Prince of Wales, (often referred to as Prinny) was the eldest son of George III, and was named Prince Regent when his father became too mentally unstable to rule. His regency, 1811-1820, gives name to the period. He reigned as George IV from 1820 to 1830. Both his regency and his monarchy were marked by fiscal extravagance. His education and taste served to label him one of the most accomplished men of his age, yet his self-indulgence was seen as a waste of his talents. Overweight, overdressed, and oversexed, he was not popular with his subjects. His cultural achievements, however, cannot be denied. No other member of the Royal Family has ever been such a staunch supporter of art, architecture, music, and science. His many legacies include Regent’s Park and the National Portrait Gallery.
Promenade – A promenade is either a public or private area reserved for walking. The phrase can also be used to refer to walking in general, either as exercise or for pleasure.
Pumps – A low-heeled, black or brown shoe worn by men. Usually unadorned, although they may have an understated bow or tassel, these were the formal footwear as an alternative to the preferred boot.
Q and R
Quadrille – A dance in square formation for four couples that usually has five parts or movements.
Quizzing glass -A monocle dangling from a neck chain or ribbon, worn as a fashionable accessory by both men and women.
Race courses – For thoroughbred horse racing there were 5 courses of renown: Epsom Downs in Surrey, Newmarket in Surrey, Doncaster in South Yorkshire, the Royal Ascot in Berkshire, and Goodwood in West Sussex. Until 1836 when special vans were constructed to transport horses, the races were regional in nature as it was too exhausting to walk the prized animals for days to reach different venues. Peripheral entertainments such as cock fighting were held at the tracks.
Redingote – A long, fitted outdoor coat with a belt, often trimmed with fur.
Reticule – A purse usually made of cloth, often beaded, with a drawstring closure.
Rotten Row – A path for horse riding in the southern part of Hyde Park. A corruption of the phrase route de roi meaning King’s Row in French.
Scullerymaid - Servant who washed dishes and performed other dirty tasks in the kitchen; lowest ranking household servant; also called “scullion.”
Seals – A device, typically small, with an emblem or initials cut into the surface (called intaglio) so that when pressed into melted wax a raised imprint is left; the design was usually specific to the family house, name, business, or official title; seals could be simple or fancy, part of a desk set, the face of a finger-ring, hanging on a chatelaine or fob, and many other options.
Sealing Wax – Beeswax or a mixture of shellac and turpentine that was melted and used to seal envelopes and/or stamp official documents; the standard was to use red for business, black for mourning, and other color of choice for social letters.
Season – The prime time for social events for high society in London. The Season began after Easter and lasted through June. A variety of entertainments were held during this time, and it was a way for ladies to meet potential mates.
Silhouettes – A tracing of a person’s profile done in shadow. As an easy way of capturing one’s likeness, this art form became popular during the time of George III. Named for a Frenchman, Etienne de Silhouette who was gifted in the art form.
Snuff – A powdered tobacco, often scented, usually taken into the nose. It was usually carried in small, decorated containers called snuffboxes.
Solicitor – A lawyer who handles wills and estate matters. They work directly with a client and are paid by the client, thus considered “in trade” and not a gentleman in the technical sense but they do have a higher rank and are respected.
Sovereign – In addition to the ruling monarch, a sovereign was also a gold coin worth a pound.
Spencer – A short, bodice hugging, usually long sleeved, outer jacket worn by ladies. Partly utilized for warmth, but also for fashion.
Special license – A license issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury for a fee that allowed a couple to marry at any time or place.
Stays – See corset.
Steward – A person who manages the finances and affairs of a grand estate. Generally educated gentlemen of independent means, of a higher class, and not part of the household staff. Answerable only to the Master.
Taking the waters – The waters in spa towns such as Tunbridge Wells and most notably Bath were thought to have healing powers, so to “take the waters” means to either drink or bathe in these mineral waters.
Tattersall’s Repository – It was established in 1773 near Hyde Park Corner for the sale by auction of horses, carriages, hounds, harnesses, etc. in an age when gentlemen vied with one another in being well mounted, and members of the ton drove in stylish carriages. On the mornings when there was no sale it was a fashionable lounge for sporting gentlemen. The Hyde Park premises contained accommodation for 120 horses, a large number of carriages, and a spacious kennel for hounds. Approximately 100 horses were auctioned in a week. During this time, the Jockey Club had its headquarters at Tattersall’s. Subscribers paid one guinea per year and all sporting bets were settled there, regardless of where the sporting event took place.
Tippet -An abbreviated cape similar to what we might call a stole or boa; a fancy scarf usually of swansdown or fur.
Ton – The ton was the high society of the Regency period. It is pronounced like “tone,” and it comes from the French word ton meaning “tone, style.”
Town – With a capital T, this always refers to London.
Trouser – Long pants worn all the way to the ankles, generally a bit looser than the pantaloon or breeches, often with foot straps to secure in place.
V and W
Valet – The gentleman’s personal manservant. He dressed and undressed his master, shaved him, did his hair, kept his clothes neat and meticulously ironed, blacked his boots, sewed buttons as needed, and kept secret any flaws of his master’s figure that might need correction by means of a male corset, shoulder pads, or false calves. But most importantly of all, the valet had the solemn duty of starching and tying that showpiece of male attire—the cravat.
Vauxhall Gardens – A pleasure garden of walkways, fountains, and pavilions located across the Thames from fashionable London that offered a variety of entertainments including music, dancing, and elaborate fireworks displays. There were also numerous dark walks suitable for assignations.
Waistcoat – A man’s vest. Worn over the shirt and under the coat. Colors, patterns, and fabrics varied and anything was allowed. Could be single- or double-breasted, with or without collars or lapels, but must have a couple small pockets for a man’s accoutrements, such as a pocketwatch or fob.
Waltz – The waltz was considered somewhat shocking because of the contact maintained between the partners when it was introduced in England, but it soon became quite popular. A lady required the consent of one of the Patronesses of Almack’s for her first waltz.
Whist – A card game somewhat like bridge for two to four players.
White’s Club – The premier gentleman’s club of the Regency is also the oldest in London, and has its origins in White’s Chocolate House, which opened in 1693. In 1736, White’s began to operate as a private club on St. James’s Street. Four years later it moved across the street to larger premises, which burnt down in 1753. The club then relocated in a building at the top of St. James’s, where it still stands. Shortly after the original club was formed everyone wanted in and the rush for membership became overwhelming. A second club was formed called the Young Club. Vacancies in the original Old Club were filled by members of the Young Club. The two clubs were finally merged into one in 1781. White’s and other exclusive gentlemen’s clubs in London used a method of voting for proposed new members whereby a system of black and white balls were deposited, in secret by each election committee member, into a special box. A single black ball was sufficient to deny membership. Hence the term ‘blackballed.’