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The Bandeau: Hairbands, Regency Style

The Bandeau: Hairbands, Regency Style

During Austen’s era, fashion leaders looked to the past for inspiration. Anything that resembled ancient Rome or Greece was bound to be popular, from sandals and nymph like gowns, to short hair cuts for ladies, like the Titus or Brutus.

The woman in this painting from Pompeii wears a narrow ribbon bandeau.
The woman in this painting from Pompeii wears a narrow ribbon example.

One accessory that remained popular from the late 1700’s through mid 1800’s, was the bandeau (plural=bandeaux). The name comes from the French word for “strip” and  involved wrapping ribbon, pearls or a length of fabric though one’s hairstyle, or around one’s head (sometimes even the forehead). The result was often styled “à la Grecque”, no doubt heightening it’s appeal all the more.

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Netting Instructions from Beeton’s Book of Needlework

“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are….They all paint tables, cover skreens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”
-Pride and Prejudice

In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bingley notes “netting”as one of the common accomplishments of young ladies. It is, as Isabella Beeton, Victorian Household Maven, explains, “one of the prettiest and one of the easiest accomplishments of a lady. The materials are simple, while the effects produced by good netting are most elegant and of great durability. One great advantage of netting is that each stitch is finished and independent of the next, so that if an accident happens to one stitch it does not, as in crochet or knitting, spoil the whole work.” The following instructions are from Beeton’s Book of Needlwork, published in 1870.

Isabella Beeton's books and articles are invaluable in researching life and practices of the mid 19th century.
Isabella Beeton’s books and articles are invaluable in researching life and practices of the mid 19th century.

Continue reading Netting Instructions from Beeton’s Book of Needlework

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The Game of Graces

When I had reached my eighteenth Year, I was recalled by my Parents to my paternal roof in Wales. Our mansion was situated in one of the most romantic parts of the Vale of Uske. Tho’ my Charms are now considerably softened and somewhat impaired by the Misfortunes I have undergone, I was once beautiful. But lovely as I was, the Graces of my Person were the least of my Perfections. Of every accomplishment accustomary to my sex, I was Mistress. When in the Convent, my progress had always exceeded my instructions, my Acquirements had been wonderfull for my age, and I had shortly surpassed my Masters.
Love and Freindship
Jane Austen

The Game of Graces was a popular activity for young girls during the early 1800s. The game was invented in France during the first quarter of the 19th century and called there le jeu des Graces. The Game of Graces was considered a proper game benefiting young ladies and, supposedly, tailored to make them more graceful. Graces was hardly ever played by boys, and never played by two boys at the same time, either two girls, or a boy and a girl.

In 1838, Lydia Marie Child (American abolitionist, women’s rights activist and author of such works as Hobomok and A Boy’s Thanksgiving, which begins, “Over the River and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go…”) published The Girl’s Own Book, a volume full of entertainments for girls of all ages.  In it, she describes the game of Graces, thus:

This is a new game, common in Germany, but introduced to this country from France. It derives its name from the graceful attitudes which it occasions. Two sticks are held in the hands, across each other, like open scissors: the object is to throw and catch a small hoop upon these sticks. The hoop to be bound with silk, or ribbon, according to fancy.

The game is played by two persons. The sticks are held straight, about four inches apart, when trying to catch the hoop; and when the hoop is thrown, they are crossed like a pair of scissors. In this country it is called The Graces or The Flying Circle.
Continue reading The Game of Graces

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Jane Austen’s Women and Their Creative Skills

She was a plain, motherly kind of woman, who had worked hard in her youth, and now thought herself entitled to the occasional holiday of a tea-visit; and having formerly owed much to Mr Woodhouse’s kindness, felt his particular claim on her to leave her neat parlour, hung round with fancy-work, whenever she could, and win or lose a few sixpences by his fireside.

If you watch movie re-makes of Jane Austen’s novels you could be forgiven for thinking that sewing and craft was this strange, irrelevant activity performed by Regency women. In one movie Jane and Cassandra Austen are sequestered in a dark room while Jane wrestles an incredibly small piece of fabric – its not quite clear what she is doing with the needle. In another the actress appears not to know what to do with a needle and thread, she tosses the fabric around and around until the end of the scene where she may just possibly start to embroider.

In a world where most western women engage in sewing and other crafty activities for enjoyment, it is very easy to forget the importance of sewing to Jane Austen and her Regency women. It really was very much “women’s work” – both plain and fancy work formed such a large part of any Georgian woman’s duties that she was said to “be at work” when sewing.

“My dear Catherine…. your head runs too much upon Bath, but there is a time for everything – a time for balls and plays, and a time for work.”
Northanger Abbey

Women’s Work
Women provided a highly valuable economic service for their families with their sewing skills. With plain sewing they provided much needed clothing for their family in an age without sewing machines and large quantities of mass produced clothing. In rural areas away from a wide selection of shops, such as the areas where many of Jane Austen’s characters lived, it was also more practical.

While dresses and coats were often made by a dress maker, Regency women of Jane Austen’s class at least made the men’s shirts and cravats, nightdresses for all the family and some children’s clothing. In 1799 Jane Austen is staying at her brother Edward’s house when she comments about her running stitch:

“We are very busy making Edward’s shirts and I am proud to say I am the neatest worker of the Party”.

Examples of men’s shirts, cravats and waistcoats from that time show the ability of women to make that small, neat running stitch. These pieces also show their skill in pattern making and cutting. A new shirt or dress was often traced or copied from another, and then adapted for the fashion.

Decorative Pieces
Charles Bingley and his sister Caroline in Pride and Prejudice start a conversation about an accomplished woman’s decorative creative skills, understood to be ‘fancy work’.

“All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?

“Yes, all of them I think. They all paint tables, cover screens and net purses…… I am sure I never heard of a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”

In this area of decorative fancy work, many Regency gentlewomen were highly skilled in painting, drawing, decoupage, embroidery, netting and design. Being able to produce a decent drawing was evidence of education and accomplishment; as was making presents such as a netted purse for a brother, or covering screens to be used by the fire as Elinor Dashwood paints in Sense and Sensibility.

Embroidery was a very popular creative skill of the era, it was an easily transportable skill – when visiting friends or family a workbag of embroidery could be taken along. By the Regency era, embroidery designs had moved away from religious symbols to floral designs. Floral designs were often worked in crewel work, woollen thread on a heavier linen for bedding and in tambour using the crochet hook like needle to work a fast colourful chain stitch across the top of the fabric. There were also a wide range of other types of embroidery. Whitework was particularly popular amongst the gentry to work an imitation lace – white work stitches on a fine muslin or cotton could give the appearance of lace, which was far too expensive for most of Jane Austen’s characters to buy. Such whitework pieces were then turned into caps, cuffs or handkerchiefs.

Jennifer Forest is the author of the best selling book, Jane Austen’s Sewing Box. Inspired by the arts and crafts in Jane Austen’s novels, she joined history and craft together in a new way – using research into these Regency craft skills to create beautiful and useful projects today. The book includes instructions and full color photographs of the following handcrafts:
A Letter case, Linen cravat, Linen pillowcases, Workbags, Paper flowers, Knitted and netted purses, Huswife, Carpet work, Muff and Tippet, Pin cushion and thread case, Transparency, Bonnet, Reticule, Knitted rug, and Muslin caps.

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Rolled Paper Crafting and Quilling

rolled paper crafting

Try your hand at Regency rolled paper crafting…

“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.”
“All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?”
“Yes all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover skreens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”
Pride and Prejudice

If you are familiar with the BBC/A&E production of Pride and Prejudice, you may have wondered what the Bennet sisters were doing with a number of pieces of rolled paper spread over the table in one scene.

One genteel pastime for young ladies in the late 18th and the first part of the 19th century was decorating objects with rolled paper crafting.

Undecorated wooden frames were often sold for this purpose. Ladies then decorated the object with pieces of paper rolled and cut into different patterns. After being rolled up, the papers were cut in short lengths and glued to the wooden frame in a filigree pattern. The project might be finished by painting and gilding. Sometimes a focal point was created using a watercolour or print. Objects decorated in this way might include mirror frames, jewel boxes, tea caddies, and even a screen.

Similar results to rolled paper crafting can be created by experimenting in Quilling, an ancient art form that has been practiced since ancient Egyptian and/or 4th Century Grecian times. Although they obviously would not have used paper in the 4th century, it is believed the Greeks used thin metal wires to decorate containers, especially boxes, and Egyptian tombs have been found containing similar wire shapes akin to modern quilling.

During the Renaissance, nuns and monks picked up the art to decorate book covers and religious items. They used gilded paper strips in order to imitate the original metal wires. The name quilling is said to be derived from the fact that the nuns and monks originally used feather quills as their tool to roll the paper. Later, the rolled paper crafting spread throughout Europe and to the Americas.

Quilling is seing a resurgence in popularity today. You will very often see it used to decorate wedding invitations, birth announcements, greeting cards and such.

According to the DIY network:
The art of paper quilling dates back three or four centuries to a time when nuns used the gold edges trimmed from Bible pages to create simple but beautiful works of artistry. The scraps of paper were wrapped around goose quills to create coiled shapes — hence the name “quilling.”

These instructions for a Quilled Flower are reproduced from Nancy’s Wonderful World of Quilling

Step 1:

You Need: Four 6″ strips of 1/8″ paper(your choice of color)

Roll into loose circles with end glued. Pinch to form teardrop, make sure the glued end falls in the center of rounded part of teardrop.

Step 2:

You Need: One 5″ length of 1/8″ green paper.

Roll into tight circle for flower center. Glue four teardrops to tight circle.

Step 3:

You Need: One 4″ length of 1/8″ green paper.

Fold paper in half and roll each end into a loose scroll in the same direction, rolling about half-way to fold.

Step 4:

You Need: One 6″ length of 1/8″ green paper

Roll into loose circle with end glued. Pinch at seam and exactly opposite of seam to form leaf shape. Glue greenery to flower and attatch flower to gift tag, card, scrapbook, or wherever desired.


Sharon Wagoner is Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit this site for a historical tour through Regency London!


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Jane Austen: Criticisms and Interpretatations

Notwithstanding a certain reticence and self control which seems to belong to their age, and with all their quaint dresses, and ceremonies, and manners, the ladies and gentlemen in Pride and Prejudice and its companion novels seem like living people out of our own acquaintance transported bodily into a bygone age, represented in the half-dozen books that contain Jane Austen’s works. Dear books! bright, sparkling with wit and animation, in which the homely heroines charm, the dull hours fly, and the very bores are enchanting….

She has a gift of telling a story in a way that has never been surpassed. She rules her places, times, characters, and marshals them with unerring precision. Her machinery is simple but complete; events group themselves so vividly and naturally in her mind that, in describing imaginary scenes, we seem not only to read them but to live them, to see the people coming and going—the gentlemen courteous and in top-boots, the ladies demure and piquant; we can almost hear them talking to one another. No retrospects; no abrupt flights, as in real life: days and events follow one another. Last Tuesday does not suddenly start into existence all out of place; nor does 1790 appear upon the scene when we are well on in ’21. Countries and continents do not fly from hero to hero, nor do long and divergent adventures happen to unimportant members of the company. With Miss Austen, days, hours, minutes, succeed each other like clockwork; one central figure is always present on the scene; that figure is always prepared for company….

Some books and people are delightful, we can scarce tell why; they are not so clever as others that weary and fatigue us. It is a certain effort to read a story, however touching, that is disconnected and badly related. It is like an ill-drawn picture, of which the coloring is good. Jane Austen possessed both gifts of color and drawing. She could see human nature as it was—with near-sighted eyes, it is true; but having seen, she could combine her picture by her art, and color it from life….

It is difficult, reading the novels of succeeding generations, to determine how much each book reflects of the time in which it was written; how much of its character depends upon the mind and mood of the writer. The greatest minds, the most original, have the least stamp of the age, the most of that dominant natural reality which belongs to all great minds. We know how a landscape changes as the day goes on, and how the scene brightens and gains in beauty as the shadows begin to lengthen. The clearest eyes must see by the light of their own hour. Jane Austen’s hour must have been a midday hour—bright, unsuggestive, with objects standing clear without relief or shadow. She did not write of herself, but of the manners of her age. This age is essentially an age of men and women of strained emotion, little remains of starch, or powder, or courtly reserve. What we have lost in calm, in happiness, in tranquillity, we have gained in intensity. Our danger is now, not of expressing and feeling too little, but of expressing more than we feel….

Miss Austen’s heroines have a stamp of their own. They have a certain gentle self-respect and humor and hardness of heart in which modern heroines are a little wanting. Whatever happens they can for the most part speak of gayly and without bitterness. Love with them does not mean a passion so much as an interest—deep, silent, not quite incompatible with a secondary flirtation. Marianne Dashwood’s tears are evidently meant to be dried. Jane Bennet smiles, sighs, and makes excuses for Bingley’s neglect. Emma passes one disagreeable morning making up her mind to the unnatural alliance between Mr. Knightley and Harriet Smith. It was the spirit of the age, and perhaps one not to be unenvied. It was not that Jane Austen herself was incapable of understanding a deeper feeling. In the last written page of her last written book there is an expression of the deepest and truest experience. Anne Elliot’s talk with Captain Harville is the touching utterance of a good woman’s feelings. They are speaking of men and women’s affections.

“You are always laboring and toiling,” she says, “exposed to every risk and hardship. Your home, country, friends, all united; neither time nor life to call your own. It would be hard indeed (with a faltering voice) if a woman’s feelings were to be added to all this.”

Farther on she says eagerly:

“I hope I do justice to all that is felt by you, and by those who resemble you. God forbid that I should undervalue the warm and faithful feelings of any of my fellow-creatures. I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman. No! I believe you capable of everything great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as—if I may be allowed the expression—so long as you have an object; I mean while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest when existence or when hope is gone.”

She could not immediately have uttered another sentence—her heart was too full, her breath too much oppressed.

Dear Anne Elliot! sweet, impulsive, womanly, tender-hearted!—one can almost hear her voice pleading the cause of all true women. In those days, when perhaps people’s nerves were stronger than they are now, sentiment may have existed in a less degree, or have been more ruled by judgment; it may have been calmer and more matter-of-fact; and yet Jane Austen, at the very end of her life, wrote thus. Her words seem to ring in our ears after they have been spoken. Anne Elliot must have been Jane Austen herself, speaking for the last time. There is something so true, so womanly about her, that it is impossible not to love her. She is the bright-eyed heroine of the earlier novels matured, chastened, cultivated, to whom fidelity has brought only greater depth and sweetness instead of bitterness and pain.
—From The Cornhill Magazine, August, 1871.


Anne Isabella, Lady Ritchie, née Thackeray (9 June 1837 – 26 February 1919) was an English writer. Born in London, she was the eldest daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray and his wife Isabella Gethin Shawe (1816–1893). She had two younger sisters: Jane, born in 1839, who died at eight months, and Harriet Marian (1840–1875). Anne, whose father called her “Anny”, spent her childhood in France and England. She married her cousin Richmond Ritchie in 1877.

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“Directions how to make a fire with Lehigh coal”

Coal definitely made a brighter, warmer, and less smoky fire than wood, and in Jane Austen’s day, had become a preferred source of heat. The Industrial Revolution, which began in the late 1700’s was fueled by coal and though it had been a prime energy source for centuries, the oldest continuously worked deep-mine, Tower Colliery, was opened in Wales, in 1805. Prior to that coal had been gathered “at the surface” or in private mining endeavors. The first commercial coal mines in the United States were started in 1748 in Midlothian, Virginia, near Richmond, Virginia.

The following excerpt from The House Servant’s Directory, was written by Robert Roberts in 1827. Mr. Roberts had been butler to the governor of Massachusetts in 1809 and drew upon his work in that great house, to offer this advice to his fellow laborers.

Directions how to make a fire with Lehigh coal

And now, Joseph and David, I must address a few ‘last words’ to you on the subject of making coal fires. Having put down all that need be said in respect to employers and servants in their conduct towards each other, I wish to add some very superior directions for making fires of what is anthracite coal, otherwise called Lehigh, Rhode Island, or any hard coal.

Very few servants at first understand the method of kindling and continuing a fire of Lehigh coal, many will never learn, and many more from erroneous instructions, whilst they think they understand is, make but a bungling piece of work of it. I had prepared some observations on this subject to be inserted among the directions and receipts, but have omitted them in order to give room to the following full account and directions, and as our book is intended to be useful to servants, it must be granted that a knowledge of how to make a Lehigh coal fire, when it is becoming so common in this country, is quite an acquisition.

I wish my fellow servants to read the rules very attentively. They are very humorous, but very true, and they lay down a plain and easy method for preparing and burning this kind of coal. These rules were first published in the ‘New York American’—and people thought them a burlesque upon the use of this kind of fuel, but experience has make them acknowledge that they are most excellent and true, and hundreds have enjoyed the comforts ofa hard coal fire made according to the writer’s directions.

Chapter One: Of Buying and Breaking*

  1. Buy from the vessel, if possible; for a chaldron there is more than at the yard. And remember that every seller of coal is a cheat.
  2. Stand by and see that large pieces only are put into the cart, for a cart of very large pieces, when broken up, makes a cart and a quarter of small ones.
  3. Refuse a load that appears to contain dust, because Lehigh dust is clear waste, and enough in all conscience is made when breaking.
  4. Break the coal before housing it, unless you would have to break it yourself at the risk of either eye.
  5. Do not be hoaxed out of a dollar for a hammer made expressly for the purpose of breaking Lehigh. The family axe is just as good.
  6. Do not take a man from the yard with his patent hammer, to break your coal for you, unless you would pay twice what the job is worth, and what a dozen, in less than five minutes after the coal is dumped will offer to do for you.
  7. In breaking, see that each piece is broken by itself on the pavement, and not as is usual, on the mass, unless you wish to burn half the coal as powder.
  8. Make the man who breaks, carry in as fast as he breaks, whereby much dust will be saved.
  9. Let the pieces into which it is broken be about as large as your fist, if your hand is rather a small one; otherwise about the size of your wife’s, provided her hand is something larger than common; or about the size of a half pint tumbler.
  10. Watch the fellow who breaks, or he will not break half small enough—or he will break it on the mass—or he will use a bushel as a missiles against the boys, cows or pigs—or he will take care to wet it all in the gutter before he takes it up.
  11. When the coal is in, proceed to the mystery of burning, which deserves a separate chapter. This subject, however, is better handled under the two heads, of kindling, and of replenishing and perpetuating.

Chapter Two: Of the Kindling

  1. This a great mystery, therefore proceed with caution and with a mind divested of all prejudice.
  2. Let the grate be perfectly cleared of all foreign substances, and begin the fire at the bottom.
  3. The best material for kindling is charcoal, unless perhaps dry hickory be preferred; the latter is much cheaper—not absolutely, however, that I know of, but it is relatively. For, in relation to the cook, it may be affirmed that half the charcoal which you buy for kindling will go into the kitchen fire to save trouble. The cheapest method is this: buy a load of dry hickory, stipulate that it shall be large, have it sawed three times—the wood will now be in junks which you may defy the cook to burn—split it up as fast as wanted and no faster. Some say that Liverpool is the cheapest kindler. It may be at six dollars a chaldron, but it is not at sixteen dollars; and they you must have wood to kindle the Liverpool.
  4. Having got the kindling, proceed to the grate. Throw into it first live coals from the kitchen, then lay on the charcoal or hickory, be not too sparing—then place loosely, and with the fingers, fair pieces of Schuylkill, Lehigh or Rhode Island of the orthodox size. I advise the use of the fingers, because the work is done quicker than with tongs, from which the smooth Schuylkill perpetually slips. Let the coal be piled as high as the grate will allow.
  5. If you are in a hurry, put up the blower; if not, do not use it, for the hard coal kindles better without forcing. The blower makes a quicker fire, but a worse one, for the outside of the coals is burned before the inside is even heated. When the blower is removed, the heat suddenly subsides; the coals (Lehigh, especially) are found encrusted with a white coating of hard ashes, which renders them almost incombustible, and the fire afterwards becomes very dull.
  6. If the process of kindling fails, begin all over again. Failure most frequently proceeds from stinginess with the materials of kindling. Better be prodigal of it than have the fire go out, and the grate all disemboweled a second time.
  7. The fire now being well kindled—but this is the subject of another chapter.
Chapter Three: Of Replenishing and Perpetuating

  1. The fire now being well under way, it will need to be fed but three times during the day and evening. The first replenishing should take place immediately after breakfast, when the family breaks up, the gentlemen retreating to the counting room, office or study, and the ladies to their dressing-rooms; the second about an hour before dinner; the third a little into the evening.
  2. If my readers are willing to be truly economical, let them replenish a fourth time, viz. at the going to bed—which I call the perpetuating process. Since, if it be done properly, the fire need be kindled but once for the whole winter, say, on the first day of November, and thus an immense amount of kindling may be saved.
  3. The method of perpetuating is extremely simple and consists merely in adding a few pieces of coal at 11 o’clock, say, and then cover the whole with cinders and ashes…till you have shoveled up as much as the grate can bear. In the morning all you have to do, is to clap on the blower, and presto, the fire before you is red hot. Following this plan, my parlor has always been comfortable at breakfast.
  4. Let not the ladies murmur: the grate can still be cleaned. When the servant first approaches the grate in the morning, everything is calm, quiet, slumbering and cool—you would hardly believe the fire to be there; and the brass can therefore be polished without the least hindrance. And not till that is done, should the blower be applied.

Chapter Four: Of the Poker

    1. A judicious use of the poker is essential to the well-being of an anthracite fire. This is the most delicate part of the science of coal burning, and the strictest attention should be given to it. So nice a matter is this,that I am almost ready to say, that I can form my opinion of a man’s intellect from his application of the poker as well as his pleading, preaching or physicking.
    2. An ignorant, meddlesome or nervous person you will often see thrusting in the poker at all adventures without rhyme or reason—as often as marring as making the fire. In a cold winter day particularly, the poker should always be kept out of their reach. They are unworthy of its honors.
    3. The legitimate office of the poker, in the case of a hard coal fire, is to clear away the ashes which accumulate on the lower bars and promote a free circulation of air. Not to quicken the blaze by breaking a large coal in pieces, or by changing the position of the pieces as in the fires of Liverpool.
    4. A fire should be poked when at its zenith—if you wait till it is much below that, your poking will only poke it out; the more you poke, the less it will burn.

  1. If the fire from having been too long neglected, appear to be in a doubtful state, hesitating between life and death—never touch a poker to it, it will be the death of it—never stir it—scarce look or breathe upon it, but with the step of a ghost clap on the blower, and if the vital spark be not wholly extinct, the air will find it out, and in a few moments blow it up to a generous heat—then gradually add fresh coal in small clean pieces, devoid of dust, and your fire is safe—Servants never learn this mystery, they always fly to the poker in every case of distress, and by their stupid use of it, double their own labor and vex the mistress of the house.
  2. This direction should be particularly observed in the morning, when a fire has been perpetuated. No coal should be added, nor the fire touched, till the blower has been up and done its work. It will often be found, especially in the case of Schuylkill coal, far preferable to Lehigh—that this alone will furnish sufficient heat for the breakfast hour; which is a demonstration that it is not waste, but a clear saving, to perpetuate the fire in the manner laid down.
  3. Many more niceties might be enumerated touching the poker; but I refrain and willingly leave something to the imagination of the reader. I would conclude, as preachers say, with only one practical remark—that you will never have a good anthracite fir, till you have broken your husband, a brother or wife of the mischievous habit of poking. It is surely an unseemly habit in itself, as well as injurious to the fire. It shows a too meddlesome, prying, insinuating disposition; and I can never help thinking, when I see one of this sort poking the coals, that he only wants the opportunity to thrust himself into my private affairs.

*This coal is sold by weight…and broken up at the yard, at an extra charge of fifty cents per ton.


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The Madness of King George

I had just left off writing and put on my things for walking to Alton, when Anna and her friend Harriot called in their way thither, so we went together. Their business was to provide mourning against the King’s death, and my mother has had a bombasin bought for her. I am not sorry to be back again, for the young ladies had a great deal to do, and without much method in doing it.

Jane Austen to Cassandra
June 6, 1811

George William Frederick, (4 June 1738-29 January 1820), or
King George III, is said by many to have gone mad,
necessitating the Regency. But is this what really

Not according to recent research.

Actually, the research isn’t all that new, which is why it
is inexcusable, to my thinking, to continue to characterize the King as merely having gone mad.

In 1994, the movie, The Madness of King George tried to
set the record straight…sort of. If I remember correctly,
there was a little blurb at the end stating that the King
actually suffered from Porphyria, a disease of the blood. One is inclined to think, however, that most people never read the blurb, though this is, in fact, the modern consensus of what the King’s malady actually was. Porphyria.

So-what, we ask, is porphyria? Dictionaries will merely
tell you that it is a metabolic disorder that affects the
blood, secondarily. The main cause of symptoms, however, is
not a result of how the blood is affected, but the
accumulation of porphyrins in the body, which are toxic to
tissue in high concentrations.

Porphyrins, in turn, are actually precursors of
heme-an essential part of the blood. In the disease state,
porphyrins are not manufactured into heme as they should
be, thereby leaving them to roam the system, which is the
root of the trouble.

There are differing types of porphyria, which result in
differing symptoms, but the King is thought to have had the
blood type (“hepatic porphyria”) which affects the nervous
system, and results in abdominal pain, neuropathy, seizures
and mental disturbances, including hallucinations,
depression, anxiety and paranoia. (Little wonder that 19th
century doctors thought he was nuts!)

Interestingly, research has shown that the disease is
hereditary and plagues the British royal family, stemming
from Scottish monarchs James 1 and Mary 1 of Scotland. Queen Anne of Great Britain, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Charlotte, and prince William of Gloucester (not to be confused with the current Prince William) almost certainly suffered from the illness (as well as Vincent Van Gogh).

They suffered from what is called, “Acute Intermittent Porphyria” which is certainly what the King had, as can be attested by his record of attacks;

1.1765 – a brief episode.

2.1788 -a longer episode. A Regency Bill is

3.1810-final,debilitating attack; the King is
considered insane and Parliament meets to enact a Regency

The King never returned to his senses, or to power,
and he was “locked away at Windsor Castle” where he also fell subject to the misinformed and sometime brutal treatment of his physicians, and to eventual neglect.

Some of the mystifying behaviour he was said to display? For starters, he claimed to talk to angels. By itself, and by modern standards, we would likely not label him insane for such claims. (Questionable, eccentric, or odd, perhaps, but probably not mad.) But there’s more.

He spoke for hours on end without pause; and he once greeted
an oak tree as though it were King Frederick William III of Prussia. Sadly, before he died, he prattled incessant nonsense for upwards of 50 hours, then lapsed into a coma and death.

King George was a popular monarch in Britain for most of
his reign. Here in the United States we tend to think badly of
him, no doubt due to the fact that our forefathers saw fit
to blame him entirely for all the injustices and wrongs
we suffered as a British colony. (Parliament is not mentioned in the Declaration–only the King.)

However, he was a thoughtful, domestic family man; he loved to cultivate crops and build gardens and was dubbed “farmer George” because of it. He remained faithful to his wife for his lifetime, which was singular for a Hanoverian monarch and much admired by the British people. And he espoused thrift and economy; the very opposite of what his son, the Regent, later did.

In short, I cannot help but to like this King. He was not
able to foster a good relationship with his eldest son, and
in fact, was disliked by his own father. But he was a King
with a conscience, and, except for an occasional stubborn
streak (which he showed in his refusal to give up the
colonies for so long), he was a reasonable man, savvy
enough in the political arena to retain the power of the
throne during his reign, and had a sincere desire to do
what was right.

As to the misfortune of his having had porphyria, the best
thing I can say is that, if not for the disease, we would
not have had the Regency. That, indeed, would have been a
great loss–at least to us Regency authors!


Linore Rose Burkard is the author of Before the Season Ends, an Inspirational Regency Romance that readers love. She spent a great deal of time researching the period while writing her book.

Coming soon from Harvest House Publishers: a new edition of Before the Season Ends, (December 1, 2008) followed by its sequel, The House in Grosvenor Square.( April, 2009)

Visit her website to read more great articles and subscribe to her free monthly eZine, Upon My Word! Facts, Fashion and Figures of the Regency.

Sources: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University,

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