I published this post on the Historical Hearts Blog and thought too share it here too. Enjoy! :D
Has it always been the gift of flowers and candy for courting a lady? Seemingly not.
I often wonder while I sit in my comfy recliner, watching regency movies or reading a new and exciting historical novel; Are the happy ever afters truly accurate? Do they really happen like we dream, watch or read about?
It turns out that fiction is simply fiction and majority of the time love has very little to do with a couple’s courtship. How sad.
Now this is not always the case, but it sadly occurred with some regularity among noble houses in the Regency period. People married for money and station in the past, with love having little or anything to do with the union. I guess I can see why it was so accepted to have a mistress back then. It makes me want to weep at the idea of a woman never finding her true love or happy ever after in life. Am I alone in this thought?
I guess this is an ideal example of the hardships woman faced back in the Regency in regards to marriage; the truth is she a woman very little choice in the matter. Fathers ‘owned’ their daughters in a sense and contracts were drawn up once a settlement was agreed upon by the future groom and the bride’s father. But first, a woman needed to be chosen. And how was that done? *very big grin*
House parties and balls were a good opportunity for fathers and eager mothers to parade their young daughters around like horses up for sale at the stockyards. The young women (around seventeen years old) would be dressed in the latest fashion, jewelled in extravagant pieces and educated in the art of snagging a husband. After all, it was a woman’s goal in like to marry and run their own household. *can you hear me snorting people?* The girls would be introduced to the men in attendance either by the host, their mother or a friend. It wasn’t like today, where you (okay, like me) would sashay up to a fella in a nightclub or bar and wink, ‘Hey stud, wanna dance?’ He would in turn give you a saucy wink and pull you onto the dance floor where you would bump and grind to the latest song on the pop charts. *snort* Hardly.
A lady could never appear eager (I clearly wouldn’t have survived back then) or approach a man, especially if she had never been formally introduced to him before. There was a format that needed to be followed and strict unwritten rules that governed everyone, from the royalty to the labouring poor.
It wasn’t always peaches and cream for the men either, they were ‘expected’ to dance with all the girls making their come out, if not for the prospect of finding a bride but to appease their mothers, whether because they felt sorry for the wall flower sitting by the sideline or because they were a friend of a friend of a friend etcetera, it was still the expected thing to do. It was in these moments that a lady needed to shine. Her dancing needed to be precise and angelic, her manner needed to be demure and educated and her appearance needed to capture the man’s attention. Low necklines exposing the ‘girls’ was not unheard of either. But snagging a young buck was not always the easiest thing to manage.
Men or boys (depending on your point of view) were ‘expected’ to sow some ‘wild oats’ before settling down and choosing a bride, likely because their father before them had done the same thing. College, at either Oxford or Cambridge, had little to do with education (in their mind anyway) and more to do with exploring life away from under their mother’s hand. Gaming Hells and Brothels catering to high society gentleman were a lucrative establishment to run, with regular visits from young gentlemen to their favourite courtesan or card table. As a result, gentlemen did not generally marry at a young age and the men who were truly available to a debutant was likely quite older than she. But what happened once a young lady actually caught a gentlemen’s eye?
Well, the idea of flowers and candy was not at all a reality back then. Feel sorry for em now, huh? It was prohibited (not by a law, but simply society standards) that a man and woman could not correspond or exchange gifts. It was only into the Victorian era that flowers and candy became acceptable gifts, but that was all. The first gift a man would generally give his wife was her wedding ring and oddly they were not always expected or common.
So how did they get to know each other then? Well, in my opinion they didn’t, but I’m sure that’s debatable.
A young lady’s most precious asset was her ‘virginity’ and it was not wise to call that into question or unmarried you would stay. It was therefore important that an unmarried woman was chaperoned at all times when outside of her home. She was accompanied by her mother, a member of the family or maid at every moment, whether it be a carriage ride in the park, a shopping trip or making a call to a friend, ensuring her ‘maiden state’ was never called into question. She was never, ever, left alone in the company of a man, courting or otherwise. Can you imagine trying to date a bloke with your mother listening to your every word? *shudders* I, for one, am glad times have changed.
I like thinking back to the Pride and Prejudice movies, either the early miniseries or the recent movie to explain this next point. Do you ever see Mr Darcy and Miss Bennett touch? Do you see them kiss? Well, they do kiss, but only AFTER they’re married. They never hold hands, or show any affection towards each other in any form of physical contact, simply because it just wasn’t done back then. Nor do they address each other by their given names, as that would appear far too ‘vulgar’ and call the poor woman’s virtue into question.
So, how did they truly do it? It was trying, to say the least.
While there is just something romantic about the Regency period, I think it is fascinating to learn that the idea of sending flowers and candy was not a reality in any way, shape, or form. But then again, there was always the opportunity to go riding with the handsome gentlemen, just sadly with your mother in tow.