André-Jacques Garnerin and His Parachute

André-Jacques Garnerin
Parachute Descent in 1797 by Garnerin, Public Domain

The word parachute is derived from the Greek word para and the French word chute, which together means preventing a fall. The idea of parachuting originated sometime in the 1600s in the Renaissance period  and was soon put into action because by the late 1600s, there were reports of a man entertaining the Siam court with “prodigious leaps … [using] two parachutes or umbrellas fastened to his girdle.” A hundred years later, a Monsieur le Normand demonstrated parachute jumps from a house at Lyons, believing parachutes were a feasible means of escape burning houses. However, the first person who thought of the parachute as something to be used for high altitude jumps was a man named André-Jacques Garnerin. Continue reading

Regency Priorities For Servants When Waiting on Women


Regency servants had an important task in that they were there to serve their mistresses and masters. However, when accomplishing their duties, they had to serve female guests according to their rank, which helped if you were familiar with those you were serving. If not, it could be tricky, as marriage, remarriage, or widowhood could affect a woman’s rank. Moreover, if a servant was new or if they were waiting on a large party and unfamiliar with their guest’s titles or ranks, it could make their task nearly impossible.

Besides waiting on women according to rank, the servant also had to take into consideration the age of the person being served.  This meant the oldest person within a rank was served first and the youngest person within that rank last. For example, the oldest daughter of a Duke would be served first, the second oldest daughter next, and so on, with the Duke’s youngest daughter being served last. Continue reading

Georgian Whist Players

Two-Penny Whist by James Gillray c. 1795, Georgian Whist
Two-Penny Whist by James Gillray c. 1795. Courtesy Lewis Walpole Library.

In the Georgian era when supper parties were all the rage, whist was often the card game of choice for after dinner entertainment. It was a social activity that, although tactical and strategic, had simple rules, and everyone played it, including royalty. Whist, sometimes referred to as rubber (which meant winning three games), was loved by many Georgians and that resulted in the famous Victorian philosopher, historian, and satirical writer, Thomas Carlyle, reminiscing about their love for the game. Carlyle remarked that for them “there could not be a more rational way of passing the evening.”[1] Continue reading

Jane Austen’s Vocabulary From Sense and Sensibility

François-Antoine de Boissy d’Anglas
The Dashwood Sisters

Jane Austen wrote English romance fiction in the early 1800s. Among her more popular books was Sense and Sensibility. It is a novel written in 1811 about the Dashwood sisters—Elinor and Marianne. The story is set in the late 1700s and examines the sister’s romances, loves, and heartbreaks. This novel, similar to other Austen novels, contains words that help to engage the readers and transport them back to those times. Fifteen of the more interesting words used in this novel are listed below:

Abstruse: Obscure or difficult to understand.
Chapter 19: “‘But I had no inclination for the law, even in this less abstruse study of it, which my family approved.'” Continue reading

Visitor Safety in Regency London

Regency London
A Pickpocket and His Accomplices, Public Domain

Many of the visitors to Regency London had no idea what to expect and did not realize that from the moment they boarded the stage to London until the minute they returned home, they were “eyed by the crafty, the wicked, and the designing.” To help naive visitors safeguard themselves against cheats, pickpockets, and swindlers, advice was available. Some of the more valuable advice was don’t be a country bumpkin, watch your bags, don’t get tripped, look and listen, avoid street crowds, don’t window shop, don’t get bumped, walk correctly, and be wise, aware, and prepared.

Don’t Be a Country Bumpkin
Among the tricks played on the unsuspecting country bumpkin was smashing. It consisted of exchanging bad money for good, and sometimes, coachmen, guards, clerks, and waiters were guilty of it. Unscrupulous men also hung about inns pretending to be useful or selling and buying articles and passing bad money. Drivers, mostly “short stage and hackney coachmen; the latter of whom [were] mostly ‘turned-off characters'” sometimes gave bad money in return for good when providing change. It was a favorite trick because the victim usually did not discover it until much later. Continue reading

Cheating Valets and Tricks of the Trade

French Valet and English Lackey by Thomas Rowlandson, cheating valets
French Valet and English Lackey by Thomas Rowlandson, Public Domain

One writer in the early 1830s believed that the moral character of household servants had declined. He claimed that servants had an unspoken rule whereby they could supplement their incomes indirectly from their employers and that household domestics took advantage of the situation. One way was by using various tricks to regularly gouge their employers.

One nineteenth century nobleman decried that “there is not such an animal in nature as an honest servant.” Among the servants who reportedly cheated and took tremendous advantage of their employers were valets. One person explained why: “The whimsicalities and extravagances of many masters in high life, together with the total absences of thoughtfulness in some young men of fortune, [throws] wide a door … for the exercise of the tricks and impositions of this species of servant.” Continue reading

Women’s Dress Fashions for March 1881

New Sleeves Styles for 1881, Author's Collection
New Sleeves Styles for 1881, Author’s Collection

Great attention was devoted to sleeves in 1881, and fashion dictated that they needed to change from the tight plain top. This did not mean, however, that the old sleeve styles were no longer fashionable. They were fashionable but they appeared a little larger and a little fuller at the top. Examples of some of the new sleeves styles for March 1881 are shown in the illustration to the right.

The first sleeve on the top left is a 3/4 length sleeve with scalloped edges and is filled in with bouillonné. The center sleeve is a puffed sleeve with cravés of cerise satin. The next sleeve is an Abbe Sleeve embroidered with red floss silk, and it forms a double sleeve from the shoulder to the elbow. The first sleeve on the bottom left is a Tight Sleeve. It has two puffs and numerous buttons. The center sleeve is also tight to the wrist, but it is puffed at the top, scalloped, and fastened with four buttons at the lower edge. The last sleeve is also a Tight Sleeve, but it has three puffs at the back and a puffed cuff. Continue reading

Georgian and Regency Whist

Whist Token (Front and Back) from the 19th Century, Courtesy of British Museum
Whist Token (Front and Back) from the 19th Century, Courtesy of British Museum

Whist was a tactical and strategic card game that involved taking tricks. It was played during the eighteenth and nineteenth century with a French deck, which is the standard 52-card deck. Two partners sat opposite one another and the game was played with four players. The object of the game was to take the most tricks and to accomplish that, players followed simple rules.

Changes to the game of whist occurred around the 1840s, but prior to this time, Edward Hoyle was considered the expert on the game of whist. So, Hoyle provided whist rules for Georgian and Regency Era people. Based on Hoyle’s book, I have provided the most frequent whist terms, dealing and shuffling rules, playing rules, and winning and scoring rules. Continue reading

Murder of Lord William Russell

Execution of François Benjamin Courvoisier for the Murder of Lord William Russell, Author's Collection
Execution of François Benjamin Courvoisier for the Murder of Lord William Russell, Author’s Collection

Early on a Wednesday morning in May of 1840, a few minutes before seven o’clock, 73-year-old Lord William Russell was found dead in his bed at his house, No. 14, Norfolk Street, Park Lane (now known as Dunraven Street). Lord Russell was the eldest son of John Russell, the 4th Duke of Bedford, and a well-known aristocratic and longtime parliamentarian. His body was discovered by the housemaid Sarah Mancer. She was going about her normal duties when she discovered one of the sitting rooms had Lord Russell’s papers strewn all over on the carpet.

Concerned, Mancer began to further investigate. She discovered several things tied in a bundle near the hall door and also found the dining room disturbed. It had knives, several silver candlesticks, and other silver things sitting on the floor. At this point she rushed to inform the cook, Mary Hannell. Then she roused Lord Russell’s Swiss valet, François Benjamin Courvoisier. Continue reading

James Gillray – Prince of Caricaturists

James Gillray, Courtesy of Wikipedia
James Gillray, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Francis Grose, the famous English antiquarian and lexicographer, wrote a book titled Rules for Drawing Caricatures. He offered this definition of caricatures:

“The sculptors of ancient Greece seem to have diligently observed the forms and proportions constituting the European ideas of beauty … [and] a slight deviation from them, by the predominancy of any feature constitutes what is called character, and serves to discriminate the owner thereof and to fix the idea of identity, [which then] … forms caricatura.”

Caricatures, therefore, were exaggerations of a person’s natural features — straight noses were even straighter, fat faces even fatter, and rosebud lips even fuller. Caricatures were also used to satirize the social and political nature of the times. Continue reading