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Make Jane Austen Themed Bookmarks

This week, I helped a friend prepare for her Daughter-in-law-to-be’s bridal tea. The young lady’s favorite novel is (what else?) Pride and Prejudice, and my friend has taken that as the theme for the day. Inspired by Dody William’s gorgeous designs on Etsy, we arranged a few of the Bride’s favorite quotes along with some fashion plates I had in my collection.


I have included a printable PDF file of the bookmarks here. Click on the link to open the page in your browser, then save it to your computer.

Once the sheets were printed, we laminated them using 3ml Thermal laminating paper. If you don’t have access to a laminator, this can be done at most office supply big box stores, like Staples, or you can skip this step. Alternately, you can use a clear sticky paper, such as contact paper or even clear packing tape, carefully applied.

The bookmarks were then cut apart, punched with a hole at the top and threaded with a tassel. Ribbons, bows and other trims can also be added, creating a one of a kind, 3-dimensional work of art. If you don’t have a tassel, this tutorial will show you how to make one.

 Laura Boyle is the author of Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends. Through her shop Austentation: Regency Accessories, she offers a large range of custom made hats, bonnets, reticules and Jane Austen related items.

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Host a Regency Tea Party

Regency Tea

Hosting a Regency Tea Party

Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, is credited with creating the ritual of afternoon tea sometime in the early to mid 1800’s as a remedy against the “sinking feeling” she felt between luncheon and the late hour of Court dinners. The practice soon caught on among her friends in the upper class circles and the rest is history.


Taking tea during Jane Austen’s day was nothing like what the term implied a few decades later with the advent of Afternoon Tea. During the Regency, Tea was produced about an hour after dinner, signaling the end of the port and cigars in the dining room and gossip and embroidery in the drawing room. The lady of the house, or her daughters, if she wished to show them off to advantage, would make and pour the tea and coffee, seeing to it that all guests were served. After tea, the family and any guests might remain in the drawing room to read aloud, sew or play games together until supper (if served) or bedtime.

Sir John never came to the Dashwood’s without either inviting them to dine at the Park the next day, or to drink tea with them that evening.
Sense and Sensibility

If dinner had been late, supper might be replaced by light refreshments served with the tea, such as toast, muffins, or cake. Tea or wine and refreshment of some sort or other would be offered to visitors who stopped by throughout the day. During the Regency, tea was also served at Breakfast and could be found throughout the day at any of the popular Tea Gardens or Tea Shops, which served tea and light refreshments for a small fee.

A formal invitation to tea always implied an after dinner gathering with some sort of entertainment whether games or music or conversation. An evening such as this might end in an informal dance if there were enough partners and a willing accompanist.


When having friends to Tea, the most important part is, of course, the tea. Brew fresh tea of the highest quality and serve it with coffee or cocoa if you prefer. Provide an assortment of breads, rolls, cakes, cookies and sweet treats. Use your best china and entertain with a variety of period games and music. Read aloud from the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries or have each guest read her own favorite passage.

As Anne Elliot says, “My idea of good company… is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”


If you liked this article about Regency tea parties, and would like to have your own Regency afternoon tea, you might like to have a look at our Netherfield Collection of exclusive teaware.

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To Punish or Defend? The Regency Duel

A Regency Duel

Although one might need to read Georgette Heyer, rather than Jane Austen, to get a peek at a Regency duel, however, the activity is by no means ignored in Austen’s novels.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet voices her fears that her husband will fight Mr. Wickham, leaving her daughters to be turned out of their home by the Collins’. This may have been due to her over dramatic sense of self pity, but in fact, Sense and Sensibility’s Col Brandon and Mr. Willoughby do meet in an attempt to defend the (doubtable) honor of Eliza Williams.

“One meeting was unavoidable…I could meet [Willoughby] in no other way. Eliza had confessed to me, though most reluctantly, the name of her lover; and when he returned to town, which was within a fortnight after myself, we met by appointment, he to defend, I to punish his conduct. We returned unwounded, and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad.”

Colonel Brandon and Willoughby fight a duel in a 2008 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.
Colonel Brandon and Willoughby fight a duel in a 2008 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.

According to one definition, “A duel is an arranged engagement in combat between two individuals, with matched weapons in accordance with agreed-upon rules.”

During the 17th and 18th centuries (and earlier), duels were mostly fought with swords (the rapier, later the smallsword, and finally the French foil), but beginning in the late 18th century and during the 19th century, duels were more commonly fought using pistols. Special sets of duelling pistols were crafted for the wealthiest of noblemen for this purpose.

The duel was based on a code of honour. Duels were fought not so much to kill the opponent as to gain “satisfaction”, that is, to restore one’s honour by demonstrating a willingness to risk one’s life for it, and as such the tradition of duelling was originally reserved for the male members of nobility; however, in the modern era it extended to those of the upper classes generally. From the early 17th century duels became illegal in the countries where they were practised. Continue reading To Punish or Defend? The Regency Duel

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A Jane Austen Birthday Party

We had a pleasant party yesterday, at least we found it so…
Jane Austen to Fanny Knight
Chawton, November 18, 1814

Are you coming to Jane Austen’s birthday at the Jane Austen Centre? You can book your tickets here.

A Jane Austen Birthday Party!Jane Austen’s birthday (December 16, 1775) will soon be here and the lovely ladies at Dear Lillie have prepared some absolutely delightful ideas for an Austen inspired birthday party. Whether you are celebrating Jane’s own birthday, meeting together with your book group friends, or simply celebrating for yourself, the ideas here are sure to inspire you! Dear Lillie offers a tutorial for the banner and the mini books, and will soon be selling both cardstock and vinyl silhouette cutouts in their shop:


This past winter Jamie suggested that we have a Jane Austen themed book party this summer while the girls and I were up in New Hampshire. We also planned on having a tiny little party to celebrate Jamie’s 25th birthday. Well, it turned out that trying to do projects for two parties in the midst of everything else this summer was completely impossible so instead we decided to combine the two and have Jamie’s little birthday party with a Jane Austen/book theme.

We all are a bit strange in our family and as much as we love to make things and decorate for a party we don’t necessarily like to have an actual party. I am guessing most people are the opposite and like to go to or host parties but don’t enjoy all of the preparation. So, for the party we had a ton of fun decorating for it but just had us girls and our mom for it.  By using things Jamie already had we were able to spend only the tiniest amount on this whole party. I think all we bought for it were the candles on the cake, some thin black satin ribbon for the banner, the white meringue cookies and some cardstock. Unless I am forgetting something I think we spent less than $15 for the whole party! We even saved on flowers by just picking some Queen Anne’s Lace from the field.























Dear LillieJennifer Holmes lives in Williamsburg, VA with her husband and their two little girls. Her blog covers a wide array of things from new Dear Lillie products, giveaways, home decorating and bits and pieces from their day to day life.

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How to Cut a Silhouette

During the Regency, Candles, the primary form of artificial light available, were not only utilitarian. They also provided a source of evening entertainment. A candle brought close to a person’s profile could cast a shadow on a piece of paper attached to the wall that might be drawn around and blacked in with lampblack or gauche resulting in a silhouette. In those days before photography, a silhouette provided a simple and inexpensive way of taking someone’s likeness. Because anyone could create a silhouette, their making became a popular party activity in the 18th and 19th century. Jane Austen did not portray this activity in her books but silhouettes of Austen family members exist.

The term “silhouette” derived from the name of Etienne de Silhouette (1709-1767), a Frenchman who was a finance minister to Louis XV. Etienne de Silhouette, though not the originator of this type of tracing, became synonymous with the art form because of his ability to create elaborate pieces. The English called them “shades.” Making silhouettes was a favorite pastime at the court of George III. The King loved to throw shade parties.

In 1775, Mrs. Samuel Harrington invented the pantograph. This mechanical device could be used to enlarging or reduce the size of a drawing. A silhouette, normally made life size, could be reduced to a smaller size using the pantograph. These miniature silhouettes were extremely popular because they could be used in jewelry such as lockets and cameos.

How to Cut a Silhouette

  1. Hang a large piece of white paper on the wall of a darkened room.
  2. Have a person sit in front of the paper.
  3. Shine a desk lamp at the person to create a defined shadow on the paper.
  4. Have the sitter turn sideways so that the shadow is a profile. Tell him or her to sit very still.
  5. Use a pencil to draw an outline of the sitter’s head, neck and the top of his or her shoulders.
  6. Use a copy machine to reduce the drawing to the size you want.
  7. Use a glue stick to fasten the copy to a sheet of black paper.
  8. Cut around the outline.
  9. Pull the white paper off the black one, flip the black one over and stick it on the front of a blank greeting card or on a sheet of light-colored paper.


If you use a halogen floor lamp, you can get very sharp detail.

The closer to the person you set the lamp, the smaller and more defined the silhouette will be.

Silhouette information taken from Sharon Wagoner’s article, Period Lighting and Silhouette Making. Sharon is Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit this site for a historical tour through Regency London!

Silhouette information copied from

Buy Jane and Cassandra silhouettes from our giftshop! Click here.

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The Shipwright: Building the Fleet


The Shipwright: Building the Fleet

We had a little water party yesterday; I and my two nephews [George and Edward Knight] went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home.
Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra
Monday, 24 October 1808

A Ship has been defined, a timber building, consisting of various parts and pieces, nailed and pinned together with iron and wood, in such form as to be fit to float, and to be conducted by wind and sails from sea to sea. The word ship is a general name for all large vessels with sails, adapted for navigation on the sea: but by sailors the term is more particularly applied to a vessel furnished with three masts, each of which is composed of a lower-mast, a top-mast, and a top-gallant-mast.

A shipwright is one who is employed in building or repairing such vessels. Ship-building is to this country one of the most important arts; it is studied as a science by the learned, who denominate it naval architecture: for the promotion of this science, a very respectable body of ingenious men have for the last fifteen years associated.

In ship-building three things are necessary to be considered: First, to give the vessel such a form as shall be best adapted for sailing, and for the service for which she is designed: secondly, to unite the several parts into a compact frame; and thirdly, to provide suitable accommodations for the officers and crew, as well as for the cargo, furniture, provisions, guns, and ammunition. The outside figure of a ship include: the bottom, or the hold, which is the part that is under the water when the vessel is laden; and the upper works are called the dead works, which are usually above the water when the ship is laden.

To give a proper shape to the bottom of the ship, it is necessary to consider the service for which she is designed. A Ship O’ War should be able to sail swiftly, and carry her lower tier of guns four or five feet out of the water: amerchant ship ought to be able to contain a large cargo of goods, and to be navigated with few hands; and both should be able to carry sail firmly; to steer well; and to sustain the shocks of the sea without being violently strained.

Ships are built principally with oak timber, which is the stoutest and strongest wood we have, and therefore best fitted both to keep sound under water, and to bear the blows and shocks of the waves, and the terrible strokes of cannon-balls. For this last purpose, it is a peculiar excellence of the oak, That it is not so liable to splinter or shiver as other wood, so that a ball can pass through it without making a large hole. The great use of the oak for the structure of merchant ships, as well as for men of war, is referred to by Mr. Pope:

While by our oaks the precious loads are bourne,
And realms commanded ‘which those trees adorn.

During the construction of a ship, she is supported in the dock, or upon a wharf, by a number of solid blocks of timber placed at equal distances from and parallel to each other; in which situation she is said to be on the stocks.

The first piece of timber laid upon the blocks is generally the keel, which, at one end, is let into the stern-post, and at the other into the stem. If the carcass of a ship be compared to the skeleton of a human body, the keel may be considered as the backbone, and the timbers as the ribs. The stern is the hinder part of the ship, near which are the state-room, cabins, &c. To the stern-post is fixed the iron-work that holds the rudder,which directs the course of the vessel.

The stem is a circular piece of timber in the front; into this the sides of the ship are inserted. The outside of the stem is usually marked with a scale or division of feet, according to its perpendicular height from the keel; the intention of this is to ascertain the draught of water at the fore-part, when the ship is in preparation for a sea voyage.

In the plate the shipwright is represented standing at the stern on a scaffold, and driving in the wedges with his wooden trunnel. The holes are first bored with the auger, and then the wedges drove in; these are afterwards cut off with a saw. At his feet lie his saw, his auger, which is used for boring large holes, his axe, and punches of different sizes.

The caulking of a ship is a very important operation: it consists in driving oakum, or the substance of old ropes un-twisted, and pulled into loose hemp, into the seams of the planks, to prevent the ship’s leaking. It is afterwards covered with hot melted pitch, or rosin, to prevent its rotting. A mixture, used for covering the bottom of ships, is made of one part of tallow, one of brimstone, and three parts of rosin: this is called paying the bottom. The sides are usually payed with tar, turpentine, or rosin. To enable ships to sail well, the outsides in contact with the water are frequently covered with copper.

The masts of ships are made of fir or pine, on account of the straightness and lightness of that wood: the length of the main-mast of an East India ship is about eighty feet. The masts always bear a certain proportion to the breadth of the ship: whatever the breadth of the ship be, multiply that breadth by twelve, and divide the product by five, which gives the length of the main-mast. Thus, a ship which measures thirty feet at the broadest part will have a main-mast seventy. two feet long: the thickness of the mast is estimated by allowing one inch for every three feet in length: accordingly, a mast seventy two feet long must be twenty four inches thick. For the other masts different proportions are to be used. To the masts are attached the yards,sails, and rigging, which receive the wind necessary for navigation.

In a dock yard where ships are built, six or eight men, called quartermen, are frequently entrusted to build a ship, and engage to perform the business for a certain sum, under the inspection of a master builder. These employ other men under them, who,according to their different departments, will earn from fifteen or twenty shillings to two or three pounds per week.

When a ship is finished building it is to be launched, that is, put out of dock. To render the operation of launching easy, the ship when first built is sup- ported by two strong platforms laid with a gradual inclination to the water. Upon the surface of this declivity are placed two corresponding ranges of planks, which compose the base of the frame, called the cradle, to which the ship’s bottom is securely attached. The planes of the cradle and platform are well greased, and then the blocks andwedges, by which the ship was supported, are driven out from under the keel; afterwards the shores, by which she is retained on the stocks, are cut away, and the ship slides do into the water. Ships of the first rate are usually constructed in dry docks, and afterwards floated out by throwing open the floodgates and suffering the tide to enter, as soon as they are finished.

From “The Book of Trades, or Library of Useful Arts” published by Jacob Johnson, in 1807, with the original copper plate engraving.


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Paying Social Calls

paying social calls

Paying Social Calls in Regency England

She reached the house without any impediment, looked at the number, knocked at the door, and inquired for Miss Tilney.

The man believed Miss Tilney to be at home, but was not quite certain.

Would she be pleased to send up her name?

She gave her card.

In a few minutes the servant returned, and with a look which did not quite confirm his words, said he had been mistaken, for that Miss Tilney was walked out.

Catherine, with a blush of mortification, left the house.

She felt almost persuaded that Miss Tilney was at home, and too much offended to admit her; and as she retired down the street, could not withhold one glance at the drawing-room windows, in expectation of seeing her there, but no one appeared at them.

Northanger Abbey

By the beginning of the 19th century, the etiquette of calling was a firmly established ritual in society, and the calling card an essential part of introductions, invitations and visits. Calling cards evolved in England as a way for people to get into the elite social circle, and for those already there to keep out the unwanted. Calling cards could keep social aspirants at a distance until they could be properly screened.

The Cards

A lady’s card was larger than a gentleman’s, who had to fit his in his breast pocket. Cards during the Regency era were smaller than the 9 x 6 cm of the Victorian era. A lady’s card might be glazed, while her husband’s was not.

The engraving was in simple type, small and without flourishes, although script became more elaborate as the century went on. A simple ‘Mr.’ Or ‘Mrs.’ before the name was sufficient, except in the case of acknowledgement of rank (Earl, Viscount, etc.). Early Victorian cards bore only a person’s title and name, with the name of their house or district sometimes added. By the end of the century, the address was added to the card, and when applicable, a lady’s reception day.

Visiting card cases were made of a variety of materials, including silver, ivory and papier-mache. Their lids during the 1830s often depicted views of castles, such as Warwick or Windsor. By the 1840s, after Queen Victoria’s purchase of Balmoral, Scottish views became popular. Cases during the Regency were primarily of filigree, leather and tortoiseshell. Victorians preferred ivory, tortoiseshell and woodwork. Because gold and other metals were expensive, only the wealthy could afford cases made of these substances.

Victorian cards were larger than their earlier counterparts, so only a few were carried at a time.


Rules for Calls and Leaving Cards

A lady would start making calls as soon as she arrived in Town, to notify everyone that her family had arrived. She remained in her carriage while her groom took her card and handed it in.

The card was conveyed to the mistress of the house, who would then decide whether or not to receive the caller. If the mistress was ‘not at home’, it was a rejection of the visitor. A reciprocal card may be given to the caller, but if not presented formally, that usually meant there was no desire to further the acquaintance. If, however, a formal call was returned with a formal call, there was hope for the relationship to grow.

Cards from visitors were placed on a silver salver in the entry hall–the more impressive names displayed on top. The trays had a pie-crust rim so the cards would not slip off. In less wealthy households, china bowls were used to hold cards.

For a first call, one was wise to simply leave the card without inquiring as to whether or not the mistress was at home. She would then take the next step.

By mid-century, a wife could leave her husband’s card for him. She left her own card, plus two of her husband’s–one for the mistress of the house, and one for the master. The names of grown-up daughters could be printed on her card when they accompanied her on a call as long as they were still living at home.

A turned-down corner indicated that the card had been delivered in person, rather than by a servant. Some elaborate cards had the words Visite, Felicitation, Affaires, and Adieu imprinted on the reverse side, on the corners. So whichever corner was turned up, one of those corners appeared and explained the reason for the visit.

Calls should be made only on At Home days. Days and times for these were engraved on visiting cards.

A newcomer waited until she received cards from neighbors. It was then good manners to call on those neighbors who left cards.

Formal calls were made following ceremonial events such as marriage or childbirth, and also as acknowledgement of hospitality. Calls for condolence and congratulations were made about a week after the event. If intimate, a visitor may ask for admission. If not, they inquired of the servant as to the person’s well-being.

Ceremonial visits were made the day after a ball, when it sufficed to simply leave a card. Or within a day or two after a dinner party, and within a week of a small party.

Times were allocated for each type of call. ‘Morning calls’ were made in the afternoon. ‘Ceremonial calls’ were made between three and four o’clock, semi-ceremonial between four and five, and intimate calls between five and six–but never on Sunday, the day reserved for close friends and relatives.

Visits were short, lasting from twenty to thirty minutes. If another caller arrived during a visit, the first caller left within a moment or two.

A call should be returned with a call, a card with a card, within one week, or at the most, ten days.

If a family was temporarily leaving the area, they wrote P.P.C. (pour prendage conge) on their cards when they called

An in-depth look at paying and receiving Morning Calls can be found in Isabella Beeton’s 1861, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. This book was revolutionary in providing young wives with a quick reference guide to all aspects of running a household and covers everything from grocery shopping to menu planning, child rearing, becoming a gracious hostess and servant management. The fine art of paying calls had come into full bloom during the Regency and little had changed by the time Mrs. Beeton penned her indispensable manual.

“After luncheon, morning calls and visits may be made and received. These may be divided under three heads: those of ceremony, friendship, and congratulation or condolence. Visits of ceremony, or courtesy, which occasionally merge into those of friendship, are to be paid under various circumstances. Thus, they are uniformly required after dining at a friend’s house, or after a ball, picnic, or any other party. These visits should be short, a stay of from fifteen to twenty minutes being quite sufficient. A lady paying a visit may remove her boa or neckerchief; but neither her shawl nor bonnet.

When other visitors are announced, it is well to retire as soon as possible, taking care to let it appear that their arrival is not the cause. When they are quietly seated, and the bustle of their entrance is over, rise from your chair, taking a kind leave of the hostess, and bowing politely to the guests. Should you call at an inconvenient time, not having ascertained the luncheon hour, or from any other inadvertence, retire as soon as possible, without, however, showing that you feel yourself an intruder. It is not difficult for any well-bred or even good-tempered person, to know what to say on such an occasion, and, on politely withdrawing, a promise can be made to call again, if the lady you have called on, appear really disappointed.

In paying visits of friendship, it will not be so necessary to be guided by etiquette as in paying visits of ceremony; and if a lady be pressed by her friend to remove her shawl and bonnet, it can be done if it will not interfere with her subsequent arrangements. It is, however, requisite to call at suitable times, and to avoid staying too long, if your friend is engaged. The courtesies of society should ever be maintained, even in the domestic circle, and amongst the nearest friends. During these visits, the manners should be easy and cheerful, and the subjects of conversation such as may be readily terminated. Serious discussions or arguments are to be altogether avoided, and there is much danger and impropriety in expressing opinions of those persons and characters with whom, perhaps, there is but a slight acquaintance.

It is not advisable, at any time, to take favourite dogs into another lady’s drawing-room, for many persons have an absolute dislike to such animals; and besides this, there is always a chance of a breakage of some article occurring, through their leaping and bounding here and there, sometimes very much to the fear and annoyance of the hostess. Her children, also, unless they are particularly well-trained and orderly, and she is on exceedingly friendly terms with the hostess, should not accompany a lady in making morning calls. Where a lady, however, pays her visits in a carriage, the children can be taken in the vehicle, and remain in it until the visit is over.

For morning calls, it is well to be neatly attired; for a costume very different to that you generally wear, or anything approaching an evening dress, will be very much out of place. As a general rule, it may be said, both in reference to this and all other occasions, it is better to be under-dressed than over-dressed.

A strict account should be kept of ceremonial visits, and notice how soon your visits have been returned. An opinion may thus be formed as to whether your frequent visits are, or are not, desirable. There are, naturally, instances when the circumstances of old age or ill health will preclude any return of a call; but when this is the case, it must not interrupt the discharge of the duty.

In paying visits of condolence, it is to be remembered that they should be paid within a week after the event which occasions them. If the acquaintance, however, is but slight, then immediately after the family has appeared at public worship. A lady should send in her card, and if her friends be able to receive her, the visitor’s manner and conversation should be subdued and in harmony with the character of her visit. Courtesy would dictate that a mourning card should be used, and that visitors, in paying condoling visits, should be dressed in black, either silk or plain-coloured apparel. Sympathy with the affliction of the family, is thus expressed, and these attentions are, in such cases, pleasing and soothing.

In all these visits, if your acquaintance or friend be not at home, a card should be left. If in a carriage, the servant will answer your inquiry and receive your card; if paying your visits on foot, give your card to the servant in the hall, but leave to go in and rest should on no account be asked. The form of words, “Not at home,” may be understood in different senses; but the only courteous way is to receive them as being perfectly true. You may imagine that the lady of the house is really at home, and that she would make an exception in your favour, or you may think that your acquaintance is not desired; but, in either case, not the slightest word is to escape you, which would suggest, on your part, such an impression.

In receiving morning calls, the foregoing description of the etiquette to be observed in paying them, will be of considerable service. It is to be added, however, that the occupations of drawing, music, or reading should be suspended on the entrance of morning visitors. If a lady, however, be engaged with light needlework, and none other is appropriate in the drawing-room, it may not be, under some circumstances, inconsistent with good breeding to quietly continue it during conversation, particularly if the visit be protracted, or the visitors be gentlemen.

Formerly the custom was to accompany all visitors quitting the house to the door, and there take leave of them; but modern society, which has thrown off a great deal of this kind of ceremony, now merely requires that the lady of the house should rise from her seat, shake hands, or courtesy, in accordance with the intimacy she has with her guests, and ring the bell to summon the servant to attend them and open the door.”


This article was written by Michelle Hoppe Prima for Literary Liaisons, an author run website devoted to Regency and Victorian history. Ms Prima is an award winning author in her own right, with several titles to her credit. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two daughters and five dogs.

Sources for this article include:
Visiting Cards and Cases by Edwin Banfield, Baros Books, Wiltshire, 1989. ISBN#0948382031

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1993 ISBN#0671793373

The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England From 1811-1901 by Kristine Hughes, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, 1998. ISBN#0898798124

The Model Wife, Nineteenth-Century Style by Rona Randall, The Herbert Press, London, 1989. ISBN#0906969840

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Twelfth Night

On Twelfth Day we were all agreeably surprised with a sort of masquerade, on being dressed into character, and then we were conducted into the library, which was all lighted up and at one end a throne, surrounded by a grove of Orange Trees and other shrubs, and all this was totally unknown to us all! Was it not delightful? I should have liked you very much to have been of the party. Now I will tell you our different characters. Edward and I were the Shepherd King and Queen, Mama a Savoyarde with a Hurdy-Gurdy; Marianne and William her children with a Tambourine and Triangle; Papa and Aunt Louisa– Sir Bertram and Lady Beadmasc, one hundred years old– Aunt L with a great hoop; Aunt H a Pilgrim; Uncle John– a Turk; Elizabeth a flowergirl; Sophia–a fruitgirl; Fanny Cage– a haymaker; George– Harlequin; Henry– Clown; and Charley a Cupid! Was it not a good one for him, sweet fellow! He had a little pair of wings and a bow and arrow! and looked charming.

Besides these great days we had Snapdragon, Bullet Pudding, and Apple in Water, as usual.

Fanny Austen to Miss Dorothy Clapman
January 12, 1806

Twelfth Night is a festival marking the coming of the Epiphany and concluding the Twelve Days of Christmas.

It is defined by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as “the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking”. However, there is currently some confusion as to which night is Twelfth Night: some count the night of Epiphany itself (sixth of January) to be Twelfth Night. One source of this confusion is the medieval custom of starting each new day at sunset, so that Twelfth Night precedes Twelfth Day.

In medieval and Tudor England, the Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve — now more commonly known as Halloween. The Lord of Misrule symbolizes the world turning upside down. On this day the King and all those who were high would become the peasants and vice versa. At the beginning of the twelfth night festival, a cake that contained a bean was eaten. The person who found the bean would rule the feast. Midnight signaled the end of his rule and the world would return to normal. The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed. This Lord of Misrule tradition can be traced to pre-Christian European festivals such as the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia.

Food and drink are the center of the celebrations in modern times, and all of the most traditional ones go back many centuries. The punch called wassail is consumed especially on Twelfth Night, but throughout Christmas time, especially in the UK. Around the world, special pastries, such as the tortell and king cake are baked on Twelfth Night, and eaten the following day for the Feast of the Epiphany celebrations. In English and French custom, the Twelfth-cake was baked to contain a bean and a pea, so that those who received the slices containing them should be designated king and queen of the night’s festivities.

In colonial America, a Christmas wreath was always left up on the front door of each home, and when taken down at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, any edible portions would be consumed with the other foods of the feast. The same held true in the 1800s – 1900s with fruits adorning Christmas trees. Fresh fruits were hard to come by, and were therefore considered fine and proper gifts and decorations for the tree, wreaths, and home. Again, the tree would be taken down on Twelfth Night, and such fruits, along with nuts and other local produce used, would then be consumed.

Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, or What You Will was written to be performed as a Twelfth Night entertainment. The earliest known performance took place at Middle Temple Hall, one of the Inns of Court, on Candlemas night, 2 February 1602. The play has many elements that are reversed in the tradition of Twelfth Night, such as a woman, Viola, dressing as a man, and a servant, Malvolio, imagining that he can become a nobleman.

Robert Herrick’s poem Twelfe-Night, or King and Queene (published 1648) describes the election of king and queen by bean and pea in a plum cake, and the homage done to them by the draining of wassail bowls of “lamb’s-wool”, a drink of sugar, nutmeg, ginger and ale.

In Jane Austen’s day, the celebration of Twelfth Night was still in full swing (It would not be toned down until Queen Victoria struck it from “official” calendars in the 1870’s. Her fear that it was too riotous a holiday, and the fact that “new” industrial working conditions did not allow for a full 12 days of celebrating contributed to its demise.) In her book, Jane Austen’s Christmas, Maria Hubert describes just how festive the occasion was.
“In Georgian England, much of the ‘gaieties’ of Christmas seems to revolve around Twelfth Night, the last eve of Christmas, and the feast of the Epiphany, or visit of the Wisemen…It heralded the end of the Christmas season, and was the time for the solemnity of the religious observance to cease, for the guests to go home, for decorations to be taken down. This was effected usually by a grand fancy ball, a masque or fancy dress, either on Twelfth Night itself or within a few days, depending on other big social events in the area. Sometimes these balls were called the Grand Christmas Ball, the Children’s Ball, or Family Ball, and included invitations for the children of the invitees. One such party is referred by Jane in her letter to Cassandra of December 27, 1808:
I was happy to hear, chiefly for Anna’s sake, that a ball at Manydown was once more in agitation; it is called a child’s ball, and given by Mrs. Heathcote to Wm. Such was its beginning at least, but it will probably swell into something more. Edward was invited during his stay at Manydown, and it is to take place between this and Twelfth-day. Mrs. Hulbert has taken Anna a pair of white shoes on the occasion.

The first society hostess to announce her ball actually on the 5th or 6th of January held precedence–but woe betide if a greater hostess decided to claim that precedence by making a later announcement for the same date.

A masque ball was the most popular, as it allowed the participants to indulge in the popular 18th century game of Twelfth Night Characters, a game steeped in antiquity dating back to Roman times and before, when masters changed places with servants.

In the 16th and 17th century Court, excluding the Parliamentary period when all such frivolity was banned, a huge cake was baked with a bean inside. Whoever got the bean in their piece was crowned the King of the Bean and ruled supreme for the night. A card drawing game developed in the 18th century, whereby each lady drew a card from the box held by a footman to the left of the entrance, and each gentleman drew a card from the same to the right. These cards were caricatures of Pairs. Thus Signor Croakthroat might by paired by Madame Topnote. The guests had to find their partner, and depending on the gaiety of the event, the amount of wine and negus consumed, and the inhibitions of the guests, the character roles had to be taken on in varying degrees of ‘spirit’ for the whole evening. Signor Croakthroat might, for example, be always clearing his throat, and singing musical scales, whilst Madame Topnote might enjoy making her fellow guests jump by occasionally emitting a loud high note!

Stationers were employed to create exclusive sheets of character cards which could not be duplicated at another party. Those who made the cheaper sets, which were not exclusive, kept ledgers of who bought which set, so that there were no duplicated embarrassments for customers.

Jane Austen was known to enter such activities with more than a little ‘spirit’ according ot the late Sir William Heathcote, who is said to have remembered being with her at a Twelfth Night party when he was a small boy. He stated that on this occasion she had drawn the character of Mrs Candour, and acted it ‘with great appreciation and spirit’. Mrs Candour would, in fact, have been an ideal character for Jane to portray. The role involved taking people aside and telling them candidly what one thought of them, or of their cap and gown, or making outrageous comments in loud whispers about the other guests!”

In 1835, Leigh Hunt, who was name for Jane Austen’s cousin, published an account of Twelfth Nights past in his London Journal. Such a description surely gives a good idea of what might have been enjoyed by a close circle of friends “ringing out” the Christmas Season.

Christmas Goes out in Fine Style
Christmas goes out in fine style,—with Twelfth Night. It is a finish worthy of the time. Christmas Day was the morning of the season; New Year’s Day the middle of it, or noon ; Twelfth Night is the night, brilliant with innumerable planets of twelfth cakes. The whole island keeps court; nay, all Christendom. All the world are kings and queens. Everybody is somebody else, and learns at once to laugh at, and to tolerate, characters different from his own, by enacting them. Cakes, characters, forfeits, lights, theatres, merry rooms, little holiday faces, and last not least, the painted sugar on the cakes, so bad to eat but so fine to look at, useful because it is perfectly useless except for a sight and a moral,—all conspire to throw a giddy splendor over the last night of the season, and to send it to bed in pomp and colors, like a Prince.

Twelfth-cake and its king and queen are in honor of the crowned heads who are said to have brought presents to Jesus in his cradle—a piece of royal service not necessary to be believed in by good Christians, though very proper to be maintained among the gratuitous decorations with which good and poetical hearts willingly garnish their faith. “The Magi, or Wise Men, are vulgarly called the three kings of Collen (Cologne). The first, named Melchior, an aged man with a long beard, offered gold; the second, Jasper, a beardless youth, offered frankincense; the third, Balthaser, a black or moor, with a large spreading beard, offered myrrh.” This picture is full of color, and has often been painted. The word Epiphany (Eirifaitiat, ivperapparllio, an appearance from above), alludes to the star which is described in the Bible as guiding the Wise Men. In Italy, the word has been corrupted into Beffania, or Beffana, (as in England it used to be called Piffany) ; and Beffana, in some parts of that country, has come to mean an old fairy, or Mother Bunch, whose figure is carried about the streets, and who rewards or punishes children at night by pulting sweetmeats, or stones and dirt, into a stocking hung up for the purpose near the bed’s head. The word Beffa, taken from this, familiarly means a trick or mockery put upon anyone — to such base uses may come the most splendid terms. Twelfth Day, like the other old festivals of the church of old, has had a link of connection found for it with Pagan customs, and has been traced to the Saturnalia of the ancients, when people drew lots for imaginary kingdoms. Its observation is still kept up, with more or less ceremony, all over Christendom. In Paris, they enjoy it with their usual vivacity. The king there is chosen, not by drawing a paper as with us, but by the lot of a bean which falls to him, and which is put into the cake; and great ceremony is observed when the king or the queen ” drinks;” which once gave rise to a jest, that occasioned the damnation of a play of Voltaire’s. The play was performed at this season, and a queen in it having to die by poison, a wag exclaimed with Twelfth Night solemnity, when her Majesty was about to take it, “The queen drinks.” The joke was infectious; and the play died, as well as the poor queen.

Many a pleasant Twelfth-Night have we passed in our time; and such future Twelfth-Nights as may remain to us shall be pleasant, God and good-will permitting; for even if care should be round about them, we have no notion of missing these mountaintops of rest and brightness, on which people may refresh themselves during the stormiest parts of life’s voyage.

We spent a Twelfth Night once, which, by common consent of the parties concerned, was afterwards known by the name of The Twelfth Night. It was doubted among us, not merely whether ourselves, but whether anybody else, ever had such a Twelfth Night;—

The evening began with such tea as is worth mention, for we never knew anybody make it like the maker. Dr Johnson would have given it his placidest growl of approbation. Then, with piano-forte, violin, and violoncello, came Handel, Corelli, and Mozart. Then followed the drawing for king and queen, in order that the “small infantry” might have their due share of the night, without sitting up too too-late (for a reasonable “too-late” is to be allowed once and away). Then games, of all the received kinds, forgetting no branch of Christmas customs. And very good extempore blank verse was spoken by some of the court {for our characters imitated a court), not unworthy of the wit and dignity of Tom Thumb. Then, came supper, and all characters were soon forgotten but the feaster’s own; good and lively souls, and festive all, both male and female,—with a constellation of the brightest eyes that we bad ever seen met together…

The bright eyes, the beauty, the good humor, the wine, the wit, the poetry (for we had celebrated wits and poet’s among us, as well as charming women), fused all hearts together in one unceasing round of fancy and laughter, till breakfast,—to which we adjourned in a room full of books, the authors of which might almost have been waked up and embodied, to come among us. Here, with the bright eyes literally as bright as ever at six o’clock in the morning (we all remarked it), we merged one glorious day into another, as a good omen (for its was also fine weather, though in January) ; and as luck and our good faith would have it, the door was no sooner opened_ to let forth the ever-joyous visitors, than the trumpets of a regiment quartered in the neighborhood struck up into the morning air, seeming to blow forth triumphant approbation, and as if they sounded purely to do us honor, and to say ” You are as early and untired as we.”

Historical information from

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