Pride and Periods: What did Georgian women do at ‘that time of the month?’

August 30, 2023

Pride and Periods: What did Georgian women do at ‘that time of the month?’

Ah, the Georgian era – a time of elegant manners, lavish balls, and whispered conversations about everything…well almost everything… except ‘that time of the month.’ As you might expect, very little has ever been described in either fiction or non-fiction, about how women coped with their menstruation. Periods just were not discussed openly…period! So let's embark on a journey into the hidden world of Georgian women's lives, where menstruation was dealt with in private. In this blog, we'll bravely lift the skirts of secrecy and delve into the practices of Georgian women when it was ‘that time.’ So, fasten your bonnets and prepare for a tale of periodical proportions!

In researching this topic, there was, not surprisingly, very little information about what women did when ‘Aunt Flo’ came to visit. Women would have had to rely on mothers, sisters or female relations to guide them through the process, and those conversations would have always occurred behind the closed door of the bedroom, using euphemisms similar to those we have today.

During the 18th and early 19th centuries, women lacked the modern sanitary products we have today. Instead, they used a variety of materials to manage their periods. Fabric strips, folded pieces of cloth made into homemade pads were commonly used to absorb menstrual flow. These rudimentary products were washable and reusable, as of course disposable products were not yet available. We can guess that the euphemism for having one’s period as being ‘on the rag’ most likely originated from this practice of using rags

It may surprise you to discover that tampons are not a recent development, but their rudimentary form was used even since the ancient civilizations. Historians believed that tampons were commonly used in ancient Egypt, Greece, and looking at this practice might help us to guess at what Georgian era women might have been able to create at home.

The earliest information we have about homemade tampons comes from ancient times and speaks of ‘suppositories’ for the ‘privy place’. These suppositories were in fact early tampons. Their core could be made from a smoothed stick and were about the ‘length of a little finger.’ These were then bound in absorbent linen rags and securely stitched. A long cord was sewn in and could be tied about the leg if desired. These were made at home and I assume were washable or disposable as needed. Hieroglyphics interpreted by historians reveal that in Egypt they also made their own tampons using rolled-up cotton, or softened papyrus. These home-made tampons were cheap to make and so individuals of different socioeconomic backgrounds were able to benefit. Women in ancient Greece also used tampons by wrapping bits of wood together with lint, and others used sea sponges as tampons, which interestingly, is still in practice today! Romans were also known to use pads as well as tampons made of wool. Other tampons were made from small drawstring bags filled with wadding or sponge which could be replaced

Information on the use of such ‘tampons’ in the Georgian era is limited, so my ideas must be speculation, since I could find nothing on the topic, but I’m guessing that at least some of the lower classes might have made and used their own insertables, as this might have been simpler than the messy rag method, and was as easy for them to make as for the Egyptian and Roman women. We have no reason to believe that these rudimentary home-made tampons were not used in the Georgian era—although I would assume that practice would have been confined to use in mainly lower class women, some married women, and those ‘fallen’ women for whom proof of one’s ‘purity’ was not important.

What about period pain? There are records of herbal concoctions for relief of menstrual cramps and also for the lightening of very heavy bleeding, or irregular bleeding. How effective these methods were we can only speculate, but even today you can go to a herbalist for various tinctures and herbal remedies for period pain and heavy bleeding issues which are very effective. Most households also had a book on herbal remedies which they would make up for themselves. I would speculate that the local ‘herbal’ woman or the herbal remedy book, would have been quite popular in the Georgian era since Tylenol and Nurophen had not yet been invented!

When Georgian era women got their periods, they typically avoided social gatherings, attributing it to various reasons such as illness or personal reasons. Politeness and modesty were paramount, since during this era there were strict social expectations for women, which extended to their behaviour during menstruation. Menstruation was shrouded in secrecy and deemed a private matter. Because there was no overt discussion of periods in public spaces, women found ways to communicate their needs and experiences discreetly, and just like we do today, they had euphemisms such as being visited by ‘a friend’ to infer that they were indisposed, and the family or their acquaintance would be told that they were simply ‘unwell’ or ‘indisposed.’

Men's attitudes towards menstruation during this period were often shaped by societal norms and beliefs. While there were certainly exceptions, many men had limited understanding of the biological processes involved in menstruation. Consequently, menstruation was sometimes seen through a lens of ignorance and superstition. Some men held deeply ingrained stereotypes that linked menstruation to notions of impurity or even viewed women as fragile and emotionally unstable during their periods. However, it's important to note that attitudes varied widely, and there must have been men who supported and empathized with women's experiences, although nothing was ever discussed in the drawing room. I hope that many husbands who were kind-hearted would have at least understood a little what women went through each month and cut their grumpy, PMS-ing wives some slack!

As the 18th century gave way to the 19th, social and scientific advancements began to shape new attitudes towards women's health. The advent of medical knowledge and the gradual spread of women's education enabled a more informed understanding of menstruation. This, in turn, contributed to the development of improved sanitary products and a shift in societal perceptions.
So if you are a woman who is still visited by ‘Aunt Flo’, as annoying and inconvenient as periods are, just be thankful that things are so much easier these days than they were for a woman in the Regency era!

Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration


Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

Sweet Romance; Marzipan in the Regency Era

June 28, 2023

Sweet Romance; Marzipan in the Regency Era

"Here is some of the nicest sweetmeat I ever ate in my life" –Sense and Sensibility.

In my latest work-in-progress, a sequel to Sense and Sensibility called A Return to Norland, my heroine’s suitor, Mr Ambrose, gives a dinner in honour of Margaret Dashwood, at which she sees a most elaborate table centerpiece made entirely of ice and marzipan trees and birds. Now, I wasn’t entirely making this up as elaborate table centrepieces were quite common in the upper classes when the host wished to give his or her guests a sense of his wealth and importance. What was the significance of sugar in the regency era, and how did marzipan play a part in this?

Sweets, or sweetmeats as they were commonly called, were definitely a part of regency life—and enjoyed as much as we enjoy them today. However, sugar in the Regency era was a lot more expensive than it is today—so much so that it was kept under lock and key along with the alcohol and other luxury items, in most households. The consumption of sweets was seen then as a sign of wealth, for those households that could afford the extra sugar for cook to make them.

That being said, in the regency era, if you were fortunate enough to be attending a dinner party given by one of your middle to upper class acquaintances, you might well see displayed on the table some of these sweet temptations: sugar plums (small, round sweets made of hardened sugar and flavoured with spices, dried fruit, and nuts) comfits (sugar-coated seeds or nuts, often flavoured with anise or caraway) Candied citrus peel, Turkish delight, and Marzipan.

Now when I was a little kid, I remember that my grandmother was very fond of marzipan and she often brought some when she came to stay. It was also my mother’s favourite, and so as a child I developed a liking for the almond-based sugary treat. Let’s look more into what it is and why it was so enjoyed.

Marzipan is a confection made from ground almonds and sugar. Its history can be traced back to ancient times, with evidence of marzipan-like sweets being made in Persia as early as the 7th century. The use of almonds in sweet dishes was popular in medieval Europe, particularly in the Middle East and in areas of Spain and Italy.

The origin of the name ‘marzipan’ is uncertain, but it is believed to come from the Arabic word ‘mawthaban’, which means ‘a food made of almonds.’ The ‘pan’ part of marzipan also reminds me of the word ‘bread’ since ‘pan’ means ‘bread’ in several languages. Perhaps it was called ‘marzi-pan’ as in a ‘sweet-bread’. At any rate, marzipan became popular in Europe during the Renaissance, and it was particularly favoured by royalty and the aristocracy. It was used to make elaborate decorations for feasts and special occasions, and it was often shaped into intricate figures like fruits, birds and animals, and hand painted.

During the 18th century, marzipan became more widely available and was enjoyed by people from all social classes. We can learn a little about marzipan as a status symbol in this period, in how it is mentioned in literature of the day. As exemplified in the quote beginning this blog, Austen and her contemporaries mention marzipan as quite a sought-after sweet…in Chapter 24 of Sense and Sensibility, Mrs Jennings offers a distraught Marianne some marzipan in the hopes that the delicious treat will distract her from her broken heart….as if marzipan could replace Willoughby! Below are some other quotes from literature of the day:

In Austen's novel Emma, Mrs Weston prepares a dessert that includes ‘cakes, creams, and iced sweetmeats,’ including ‘a dish of fine marzipan’ (Chapter 42). Maria Edgeworth's novel Belinda, incudes a scene where people are served a dessert that includes ‘cakes, creams, jellies, and marzipan’ at a dinner party (Chapter 17). And in Fanny Burney's novel Evelina, Captain Mirvan offers the beautiful young Evelina some marzipan, saying ‘Let me persuade you to take a bit of this marzipan; you'll find it exceeding good’ (Volume 1, Letter 26). So we can see that to serve marzipan was seen as a sign of refinement and status, mostly because the sugar to make it was so expensive, and therefore was a popular dish in the Regency and Georgian upper classes.

These sweets would have also represented a certain amount of creativity and imagination, as the marzipan was regularly sculpted into animals, people, castles or any other achievable shape. After their creation, these marzipan sweets were put on display as a centerpiece to a dinner party, or on a dessert table, just as they are in A Return to Norland.

As for the taste of marzipan, if you have never eaten it yourself, it was often flavoured with rosewater, orange blossom water, or other fruit essences. It’s not difficult to make, actually, and if you’d like to try your hand, it’s not very expensive to make either. Rosewater is an easy flavour to buy or you can try other fruit essences. Here is an original recipe from "The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy" by Hannah Glasse, which was a popular cookbook in the Georgian era:

Georgian-era Marzipan Recipe:

•1 lb. of ground almonds
•1 lb. of sugar
•1/2 pint of rosewater
•3 egg whites
•1/2 tsp. of orange flower water


1.In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground almonds and sugar.
2.Add the rosewater to the bowl and mix well until a smooth paste forms.
3.In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they are stiff and frothy.
4.Add the beaten egg whites to the almond mixture and stir until well combined.
5.Add the orange flower water and mix well.
6.Knead the mixture until it becomes smooth and pliable, adding more rosewater if needed to achieve the desired consistency.
7.Roll the marzipan into small balls or shape it into decorative figures as desired.
Note: This recipe is meant to be a guide, as measurements and techniques varied widely during the Georgian era. You may need to adjust the amounts of ingredients or cooking times based on your own experience and preference. Enjoy!

Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration


Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

Child-rearing in the Georgian Era

May 25, 2023

Child-rearing in the Georgian Era 

Despite the high incidence of mothers returning to work as quickly as they can these days, in the modern world it is still accepted practice for one parent to stay home with the children for at least the first few years, and often until they can go to school. But the Georgian era was very different, at least for upper- and middle-class families.

To begin with, giving birth to a child was a life-threatening event, and the mortality rates of both mother and infants was high. Records are hazy as data wasn’t kept at that time, but based on historical records and estimates, it is believed that the maternal mortality rate for mothers during the Georgian era was between 1,000 and 1,500 deaths per 100,000 live births, and for babies it is supposed to be somewhere near 150-200 deaths per 1,000 live births. I would assume that this is only the counted data, as many families of poorer status would not have bothered to record the death, so the actual rate could be much higher.

Factors contributing to high maternal mortality rates during this time included poor hygiene practices, lack of medical knowledge and technology, and the absence of effective treatments for complications such as haemorrhage and infections.

If birth did not kill them, many babies died in their first year of life. This was due to a number of factors, including poor sanitation, inadequate medical care, and a lack of understanding of the causes of disease. 

Lady with a wet nurse

If the child was fortunate enough to survive birth, middle and upper-class families would then likely send the child out to a wet-nurse to be fed or have a wet-nurse brought in. This might seem unnatural to us, but for the Georgian era, this was very common. Breast-feeding was seen as a lowly activity and many upper-class women preferred to delegate it. Also, having the mother’s milk dry up as soon as possible meant most importantly that she could conceive again as quickly as possible—with infant mortality rates so high, women knew that it was likely that not all their children would survive, and so, especially if a male heir was expected, it was important to carry through as many pregnancies as possible until an heir (and a spare!) was produced. There was also the matter of stays and corsets, which made suckling your own baby difficult and uncomfortable.

Once the child reached the age of weaning, it would then very commonly be sent away to a foster family until the child could walk, talk and was toilet trained. This may seem heartless, but in the era of large families, it had the practical use of freeing up the time of the mother to run a large household, and must have saved the staff the extra work of hand washing nappies (diapers).

Jane Austen and her siblings were all supposedly sent away to a local village and raised there by an acquaintance of the family. Middle class families like Austen’s could afford to do this, but not all incomes could support this cost. Those more impoverished families would simply employ a nurse to give babies and toddlers the most basic care, keep them out of sight in the upstairs areas, wait for them to gain the age they could behave themselves at the dinner table.

Once children were older, around eight to ten, boys of middle and upper-class families would often be sent away again, this time to formal boarding schools. Girls were typically educated at home, either by a governess, if the family were of high enough status or wealth, or her parents would typically do the job. Recall that Elizabeth Bennet, when asked about her education, confessed that her mother had educated her and her sisters.

Occasionally, if the mother had too many children to have time to teach her older girls, and they had the means to do so, girls might also be sent away to school for the most basic educations. Then they were expected to come home, help around the house, and wait to be married. Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra were sent away to school for a few years, where they received the most basic instruction. Skills commonly taught females were skills that would help around the home—embroidery, sewing and darning, and basic accounting or math. Some girls might receive extra classes in painting, music and French if they were lucky.

In the regency-era portrait on the left of two upper class children, you can see the different expectations on men and women as far as education and preparation for the future goes; the boy is the one who holds the pen, and is engaged in the intellectual pursuit of writing, whereas the girl simply passively looks on. This really symbolizes the beliefs and social mores of the period, that women were not educated in a scholastic way (beyond basic reading and math) whereas the boys were given better and more thorough education to prepare them for their very different roles in society. Girls were rarely educated in anything ‘cerebral’ at all for they would not need it as housekeepers and baby factories. Society generally believed that a girl's primary role was to marry and bear children, and that education beyond basic literacy and numeracy was unnecessary. Therefore, the length and depth of a girl's education varied greatly depending on her family's beliefs and social status.

Discipline was strict in Georgian households, with parents using physical punishment as a means of correcting misbehaviour. This included spanking with a cane or switch, and even locking children in dark closets as a form of punishment. Despite these harsh methods, Georgian parents were also as affectionate towards their children as we are today, and to a great extent, parenting was as good or bad as it is today, depending much upon the temperaments of the adults and the children. Georgian life placed a great deal of importance on family relationships. Children were expected to show deference and respect towards their parents and elders, and were taught to value hard work and good behaviour.

Georgian era children played a variety of games and pastimes, many of which would be recognizable today. However, the types of games and activities that were popular varied depending on the child's social class and location. In wealthier households, children might have had access to toys such as dolls, stuffed animals, and board games. They might have played games of skill such as jacks, marbles, or card games, or participated in group games such as hide-and-seek, blindman's buff, or tag. They might also have had access to books, musical instruments, and other forms of entertainment.

The image to the far left depicts two Georgian era children playing with a ball.

In the painting to the left the girl cradles a doll—foreshadowing her expected future role, of course, as a mother.

Children from less affluent backgrounds might have had fewer toys and less elaborate games to play. They might have spent more time outdoors, playing games of skill and chance such as hopscotch, skipping, or ball games. They might also have engaged in simple crafts or creative activities, such as making dolls or paper boats.

Regardless of their social class, Georgian era children were often expected to help with household chores and other duties as they grew older. They might have been expected to help with cooking, cleaning, or caring for younger siblings. This would have varied depending on the family's circumstances, but would have been a common expectation for children in both cases.

In the image on the left we see a family of nine siblings posing for a portrait—note how the younger children and older children are all dressed similarly—this is because after a certain age children were expected to behave like little adults, even from a young age—and of course, they are all dressed up for their portrait!

In many ways raising a child in the regency era posed no greater challenges than raising one in the twenty first century, give or take a few variations in child-raising methods and social mores. Even these differences changed depending on social status of the families. Both eras have different challenges, both for parents and children! I will leave you to judge if you would rather raise—or be—a child in the regency era, or a child in 2023!

Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration


Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

Cats in the Regency Era

April 29, 2023

Cats in the Regency Era 

Leonardo Da Vinci famously once said of cats, "The smallest feline is a masterpiece."

 Another quote, unknown origin, is this: “Cats leave paw-prints on our hearts.”

Now I know not everyone admires cats quite in this same way, but anyone who is a cat-admirer will admit, if you are looking for beauty, companionship and comfort, you might find them all bundled up together—in the soft fur and regal lines of a cat. In this month’s blog, I look at how were cats viewed in the Georgian and Regency eras. Were they as beloved as companions back then as they are today? We'll explore the role of cats as pets during the Georgian era in England and take a look at some famous cat owners of the time, as well as how cats were depicted in art of the period.

"A cat has beauty without vanity, strength without insolence, courage without ferocity, all the virtues of man without his vices" -Lord Byron

During the Georgian era in England (1714-1830), it may not surprise some cat-loving readers to know that cats were widely kept as pets. Well, of course! Although these feline companions were popular for their ability to catch mice and rats, which were common pests in households at the time, they were also often beloved pets. Although previous centuries had viewed cats as associated with witchcraft, and having to earn their keep by hunting mice and vermin, this view began to change in the 18th century, and cats became more accepted as pets and even a status symbol.

"I love a cat because it never tells a lie." -Samuel Johnson

During the Georgian era, cats were commonly kept as pets by both men and women, particularly in the upper classes. Many famous people during the Georgian era were known to be cat lovers, including Queen Victoria, who was an avid cat owner and had several cats throughout her life. Other notable cat owners of the period included Horace Walpole. This writer and politician was a cat lover and kept several cats in his home. He wrote about his cats in his letters and even wrote a poem about his cat Selima, who, sadly, met his demise in February 1747, by falling accidentally into a white porcelain tub in Walpole’s house. The famous writer Samuel Johnson was known to have a cat named Hodge, of whom he was very fond. Hodge was often seen with Johnson on walks and was even immortalized in a statue of Johnson in London's Gough Square.

The poet Christopher Smart was also known to have a cat named Jeoffry, whom he wrote about in his poem "Jubilate Agno". Jeoffry was Smart's loyal companion and comforted him during his periods of mental illness.

Cats were often portrayed in art and literature of the period, and these images tell us a lot about the different relationships between owners and pets, as well as how they were viewed by society on the whole. These beautiful animals, with their elegant appearance and playful nature made them a popular subject for portraits and sketches. Cats were often depicted as pets or as part of domestic scenes, and in many of these images, cats were shown as valued companions and beloved members of the household. A common motif was the depiction of young girls with kittens as we see below:

Right: Miss Brummel and her Kitten by Thomas Gainsborough, 1782

Left: Jean-Baptiste Perronneau’s mid-18th century depiction of a Girl with Kitten.

Here the kittens paired with young girls are meant to symbolize the tender relationship between the two as well as implying that the young girl is as fragile and innocent as the kitten. These images make me think of today’s photographic portraits of toddlers in flowerpots and other cute scenarios, that adoring parents have done of their children—these images are meant to remind proud parents of the sweetness and innocence of children…at least in the pictures!

Many loving cat-owners wished to be portrayed with their beloved pets, such as this painting by Perronneau by which depicts a rather irate-looking kitty, in the arms of his ‘mom’. Like any cat, he is probably tired of being held, and wanting to escape! I have to add that this cat looks uncannily like my own ‘grumpy cat’, Roxie! The cat is shown as a soft, warm presence that adds to the intimacy of the scene. The cat is a symbol of the lady's refinement and gentility, as well as her wealth and status. Cats were often seen as elegant and fashionable pets, and owning them was a sign of cultural sophistication. Note the woman is compared to the cat in elegance and beauty—both are wearing a neck-collar, and both have their heads in a nose-up, proud attitude…a rather apt way to depict a cat!

I found this image on Google, but unfortunately could not find the artist. It depicts a regency era woman with a large white and ginger cat sitting on the table in front of her. The artist clearly wanted to show the closeness of the animal to its owner because you will note that both their heads lean in toward each other, symbolizing tenderness and affection. Also, the woman’s hand is just brushing the fur of the cat’s forelegs, another symbol of a close relationship. She looks almost melancholy to me, as if she derives some comfort from the presence of her feline friend. Again, the depiction of woman and cat emphasize her status—the privileged idleness of the upper classes is cleverly embodied in the privileged, idle nature of the cat itself!

The Cat's Lunch by Marguerite Gerard,circa 1800

I love ‘The Cat’s Lunch’, left, not only because the cat is being looked after by a loving mistress, but the look on the dog’s face! Clearly the cat is being fed before the pup, and he is waiting for her to finish so that he can have his own lunch! Kitty is perched on a red stool—red being associated with royalty, at almost the height of the girl. This says much about the cat’s personality and place in the household—her expectation that she will come first and will be treated royally—and anyone with a cat will know the truth of this! I also love the rounded lines, the softness of the shapes in this painting, and the way the eye is drawn to the curve of the cat’s back, which is repeated in the curve of the girl’s back.

As time passed from the 1700s through to the 1800s, there were some differences in the way that cats were viewed and treated during the Regency era. One notable change was the increasing popularity of purebred cats, which were bred for their specific physical characteristics and temperament. This led to the creation of many new breeds of cats, including the Siamese, Persian, and British Shorthair, which were highly prized for their beauty and elegance.

Many of these types of artworks also depicted cat as affectionate and playful companions (as in the untitled image below) or curled up in laps or napping on cushions or chairs. They also show the close relationship between cats and their owners during the Georgian era, highlighting their importance as household pets.

As time passed from the 1700s through to the 1800s, there were some differences in the way that cats were viewed and treated during the Regency era. One notable change was the increasing popularity of purebred cats, which were bred for their specific physical characteristics and temperament. This led to the creation of many new breeds of cats, including the Siamese, Persian, and British Shorthair, which were highly prized for their beauty and elegance.

Additionally, there was a growing interest in animal welfare during the Regency era, which led to increased concern for the health and well-being of pets, including cats. This can be seen in the work of animal rights activists such as William Wilberforce and the founding of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in 1824.

If you are an Austen fan you may wonder if Jane herself had a cat? We cannot know for sure but in a letter dated September 23, 1811, Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra about a cat that had taken up residence at a friend's house: "We have got a new cat; a black kitten, almost as large as a full grown cat, very cunning & wild." In another letter dated January 23, 1801, Austen described a cat that belonged to one of her acquaintances as "a fine large cat, black and white, who appeared highly pleased with her situation."

Needless to say that cats were, then, often a favourite pet in the Georgian era, and some were very highly regarded by their owners. Nothing much has changed in two hundred odd years! I shall finish with my favourite cat quote, although it is not from the Georgian era, but from recent times:

"Cats are like glasses of champagne. Beautiful, full of life, but with the power to get you drunk in a few seconds." - Tove Jansson

Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration


Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

Regency Desserts—What is Syllabub?

March 20, 2023

Regency Desserts—What is Syllabub? 

Like Jane Austen, most of us enjoy a sweet treat now and then, although dessert is not, for many households these days, a mandatory end to our dinners. In the Regency era however, dessert was quite a production in many cases, depending on the household budget, and almost always included not just one but several sweets to end the meal. If the meal was a formal dinner with guests, the dessert course could be considered a spectacular finale with many elaborate dishes.

Austen herself had much to say about the importance of sweets, not one of which is her quote above. She approved of sugar in moderation, and talks of her delight in a bath bun, her interest in sponge cakes, and in her novel Emma, Mrs Weston’s wedding cake is eaten down to the last crumb—and enjoyed by young and old!

Some popular desserts of the Georgian and Regency era were blancmanges, cakes and biscuits, especially macarons, baked fruits such as apples, custards, puddings, cheesecakes (which were nothing like our popular creamy version, but were made from almond meal and were more solid, usually baked in a puff pastry) ices (not the ice cream we know today, but more like sorbet), sweet pies, cakes, trifles, flummery, syllabubs, preserved fruits and so on. Not much different today, really, except the ingredients had no chemical preservatives and additives, so were likely a lot healthier!

Of all these desserts, we are familiar with most of them, but some of these treats seem to us to be quite mysterious! For example, syllabub is often mentioned in Regency fiction, but what is syllabub?

Regency romance novels were my first introduction to the dessert. The word ‘Syllabub’ makes me think of something silly and delicious at the same time!! (along with ‘flummery’!) Because it sounds so exotic it has always fascinated me. As I discovered, the heroines of romantic novels are often seen eating this strange-sounding confection at routs, balls and dinners, but I had no clue what it was.

It turns out that syllabub was a popular dessert in seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth century England. Now strangely enough, syllabub could be, depending on its consistency, either a light whipped desert, or a thick drink! Traditionally it was made with wine and cream, and whipped for at least a half hour until it became wonderfully frothy. It was then served as a drink in glasses, and the frothy part sometimes eaten off the spoon. It reminds me of eating the milky froth from the top of a cappuccino!

Syllabub was generally made with whipped cream, whipped egg whites, red or white wine, sugar, and in the regency era, lemon juice and zest. Today’s syllabubs can be any flavour, and be combined creatively with any fruit and spices, but the traditional flavour is still lemon. The quantity of wine added would determine the consistency qualifying whether the mixture would be a creamy dessert or a thick beverage. Supposedly, one always knew who had been at the syllabub, because you would be given away by the white ‘moustache’ on your upper lip!

Syllabub recipes changed a lot over the years. One might milk a cow directly into the basin of alcohol, as in this recipe below from the 18th-century cookbook, The Experimental English Housewife. It instructs homemakers to “make syllabub under a cow” – or in plain words, milk the cow directly into a punch bowl filled with alcohol and sugar. “Let it stand an hour, then strew over it a few currants well washed, picked, and plumped before the fire. Then send it to the table.” I must say I would be always looking in my drink for cow hairs and dirt, however!

Here is another Georgian era recipe for the whipped confection:

Take a quart of thick cream, and half a pint of sack, the juice of two Seville oranges, or lemons; grate in the peel of two lemons; half a pound of double-refined sugar, pour it into a broad earthen pan, and whisk it well; but first sweeten some red wine, or sack, and fill your glasses as full as you chuse; then as the froth rises take it off with a spoon, and lay it carefully into your glasses, till they are as full as it will hold.

From Charles Carter The London and Country Cook (London: 1749)

Later on one must suppose the servants got tired of whipping the confection for half an hour at a time to froth it, and other methods were developed to make frothy and keep it that way, such as reducing the alcohol portion and adding in thicker cream. I personally like the idea of focussing on just the froth portion, and making it thicker, which is how syllabub is made today.

Here is a modern versions I found—needless to say, you will not have to whip it with a birch rod for half an hour!

Traditional Syllabub
•rind and juice of 1 lemon
•7 tbs sweet white wine
•2 tbs sherry
•1/2 pint double cream
•2 oz very fine sugar (we like to use icing sugar)
•grated nutmeg

Place the lemon rind, juice, wine, sherry, and sugar in a bowl and leave to soak for several hours. Remove the lemon rind. Add the cream. Whisk until it forms soft peaks. Put into glasses. If not serving immediately, put in the fridge to chill. However, it is best to make this shortly before you plan to serve it.

Garnish with grated nutmeg and some lemon rind twists. Serves 4

You can serve the syllabub with shortbread, gingersnaps or other biscuits. You can make a syllabub with just about any fruit. Popular choices include raspberries, peaches and strawberries.

Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration


Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

Calling Cards in the Regency Era

February 14, 2023

Calling Cards in the Regency Era

Edward assured them himself of his being in town, within a very short time, by twice calling in Berkeley Street. Twice was his card found on the table, when they returned from their morning’s engagements.’

–Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility.

The idea of “paying calls” comes up frequently in Regency-era fiction, because, in the absence of social media, the paying of short calls on one’s acquaintance was the social glue which held society together. In bite-sized fifteen-minute ‘catch-ups’ one could keep a useful acquaintance going, without having to put in too much effort. There were many rules of etiquette to follow in the making of calls, sometimes known as morning calls, which I will cover in another blog, but today I wanted to show you some authentic calling cards and explain some of the mysterious etiquette surrounding them!

I got interested in this because in my latest work-in-progress, A Return to Norland, Fanny Dashwood begins a season in London by leaving her calling cards with her acquaintance in town, so that they know she has officially arrived. So of course, this led to more research and this blog!

Calling cards were an important part of polite society. Often the first meeting between two parties began with the civility of exchanging cards. A gentleman or lady always carried them and would give their card to the footman who answered the door, who would then announce their visit to the gentleman or lady of the house. Everyone had calling cards, females from the age they were considered ‘out’ to gentlemen, to elderly spinsters; so long as you were somewhere in the middle or upper classes, you would pay calls and leave cards.

Wives and husbands each had their own cards. Let’s say Mr and Mrs Toffeenose called in at their friend’s house, Mr and Mrs Neverhome, they would each leave a card. One from Mrs Toffeenose to Mrs Neverhome, and one from Mr Toffeenose to Mr Neverhome. The gents only left cards for the gents, unless he were specifically calling on the lady. Ladies never called on or left cards for men, unless it was strictly a business matter. The number of residents in a home must also be considered. If Mrs Mary Toffeenose called at a house where there was a lady of the house, a daughter or two and an elderly mother-in-law, three cards would be left. If there were a husband, but Mary Toffeenose called without her husband, she would not leave her card for the husband, only cards for the wife, daughters and elderly mother-in-law.

Calling cards not only served to announce one’s arrival in town, or that you are sorry you missed someone not at home, but also they were given to those with whom you desired to have an acquaintance. For example, if Mary Toffeenose wanted to climb the social ladder and try for a friendship with Lady Rotteneggs, she would visit, present her card to the groom or butler, who would ask her to wait, while the card was delivered to Lady Rotteneggs. Lady Rotteneggs would then either accept the card and have Mary Toffeenose shown into the drawing room, or she would return the card to the groom and tell him to tell Mrs Toffeenose that she ‘was not at home’. This was a way of screening those who you considered below you or whom you did not want to pursue as an acquaintance.

‘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.

–Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

This phrase ‘not at home’ wasn’t actually considered a lie, even if the person were home. It was generally accepted in society that to say you are not home, means that you are either unable or unwilling to receive at that time. If it was a new acquaintance, you may not try again, as to be rejected generally meant that the person did not desire your acquaintance. But most of the time it meant just that the person really did not feel like guests, and would probably see you another time. By far the best way to see if you were welcome, was to simply leave your card without enquiring if the lady were home, and wait for her to return to call. If she did, then you were on the road to an acquaintance with that person.

Calling cards were about the size of our business cards today, give or take a bit—the men had to have smaller ones as they kept them in their pockets, but ladies could have slightly larger ones—and were always kept immaculately in a special card case. These were pretty, elaborate and painted, made of tortoiseshell, filigree, silver, or even leather sometimes, but were always carried about the person so that a card could be given when the situation called for it. The cards themselves, in the Regency era at least, were plain. Cream was usual, and were generally only embellished with the name of the person. Days and times of one’s ‘at home’ days could also be inscribed on the cards. The gentlemen could add their addresses, town and country, in the corners, but ladies did not. Sometimes they might write a short note on the other side giving their business, or saying when they would call again. Personal calls were often indicated by turning down the edge of the card (see image below). That way the recipient, if out, would know the caller came personally, that they did not just ask the groom to present it. Below are some card cases and cards which will give you an idea of how plain the cards were and how pretty the cases!

Note the turned-down edge on this one.

Cards, especially of those you considered desirable acquaintances, were displayed in a salver on the hall table so that others could see whom of high-society was calling on you—in order to impress your lesser-ranked callers. In Austen’s Persuasion, Sir Walter and Elizabeth took great pride in displaying the cards of prestigious Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret on their hall table for all to see:

The toils of the business were over, the sweets began. They visited in Laura Place, they had the cards of Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple, and the Honourable Miss Carteret, to be arranged wherever they might be most visible: and “Our cousins in Laura Place,”–“Our cousin, Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret,” were talked of to everybody. – Jane Austen, Persuasion.

So next time you call on someone who isn’t home, consider resurrecting that most necessary nineteenth century social protocol, and leave a personal calling card!

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Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

Coffee in Georgian-Era England

January 18, 2023

"Coffee in Georgian-Era England 

"No coffee, I thank you, for me -- I never take coffee. A little tea if you please, sir,by and bye…” Jane Austen’s Emma

In my upcoming novel, A Return to Norland, one of my characters is involved with coffee plantations in the West Indies, which meant I had to do a little research on coffee in general, and to what extent it was part of the daily lives of Georgian England.

Coffee had been introduced to English society in the 1600s, and by 1675 there were over 3,000 coffee shops spread over England. We are told that the atmosphere in these cafes was as much a part of the attraction as the drink, I guess not unlike today’s cafes, where people go for the ambience, and to be seen, as much as for the coffee itself.

However, unlike today’s cafes, those coffee houses in England from the 1700s onwards, were seen as places where men would gather to discuss erudite subject matter, discuss political issues, catch up with the day’s news and so forth. Commonly referred to as ‘penny universities’ they provided a place where people (males only unfortunately) could learn as much sipping coffee and listening to the discussions, as they could in a lecture room! The majority of those frequenting the coffee houses were people of higher social status. Coffee houses were the equivalent of today’s think-tanks, basically. Some famous businesses, notably Lloyd’s of London, were born in coffee houses of the 18th century.

Over time, coffee houses adapted to the social circles and needs of different coffee-drinking populaces. For example, The Coffee House, a favoured haunt of merchants and sailors, saw shipping information was shared and deals conducted. The Grecian Coffee-House in Devereux Court catered to the Whigs; the Rainbow attracted Freemasons and French refugee Huguenots. Slaughter’s on St. Martin’s Lane, boasted an artistic clientele. Still other coffee houses, including the Moll King’s coffee house Covent Garden, catered to lower class tastes

Many virtues have been ascribed to this berry, which it never possessed; and much undeserved censure has been thrown upon its use. It is certainly good in weakness of the stomach, head-ache, and want of appetite; in lethargic and sleepy diseases; but it is not good for lean and bilious people, nor for women in a state of pregnancy. Its invigorating qualities are strongly experienced, by taking it when the stomach is over-loaded with food, nauseated with surfeit, or weakened by intemperance; and it certainly takes away that listlessness and languor, which nervous people so severely feel, after any deviation to excess, fatigue, or irregularity. It is said to be of use in the gravel; and a dish of strong coffee, without milk or sugar, taken frequently in the height of an asthmatic fit, contributes much to its abatement. In the wet and damp seasons, to which the climate of England is so subject, there is no doubt but great advantage must result from the use of coffee.

(Perkins, 1796)

Coffee was not just reserved for coffee houses, however, and was a very common beverage on the breakfast table in many homes, and at many other times of the day also. Austen talks of coffee in almost all her novels, with the quote above coming from the novel Emma, where Miss Bates eschews an afternoon pick-me-up coffee, for the staple of English society, tea. But it is drunk with appreciation in Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and –on no fewer than six occasions – in Pride and Prejudice. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, when the gentlemen returned to the drawing room from their after-dinner port, they enjoyed coffee with the ladies, and Elizabeth is the one in charge of pouring the coffee-pot.

In a letter to her sister Cassandra in 1799, Austen noted that coffee was regularly on the breakfast table while her brother was home, noting, ‘It is rather impertinent to suggest any household care to a housekeeper, but I just venture to say that the coffee-mill will be wanted every day while Edward is at Steventon, as he always drinks coffee for breakfast’.

Although coffee was a popular drink, tea retained its place as the national drink. By the beginning of the 1800s, coffee houses had begun to wane in popularity. This was partly due to elite clubs and societies becoming more closed-door, and at the same time, the British East India Company influenced government policies to stimulate the demand for tea. Therefore, public coffee houses had slowly begun to disappear by Austen’s time, and had almost completely vanished by the 1830s, although coffee continued to be drunk in the home as a popular beverage.

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Medicine in the Regency Era

November 28, 2022

"Send for the Doctor! "
Medicine in the Regency Era 

In my up-coming novel, A Return to Norland, one of the main characters (no spoiler alerts here, sorry) becomes ill and medical help is sent for. In the Regency/Georgian eras, however, one did not just go to the doctor or send someone to the doctor to ask for a house call, because depending on the type of ailment, there were different people who performed different functions all under the umbrella of ‘doctoring.’

Generally, the poorer and lower middle class households first referred to textbooks such as Buchan’s Domestic medicine or the family physician (1769). Buchan wrote Domestic Medicine not as a medical text book exactly, but more like a home remedy book, which families could refer to. It described various different ailments, and their treatments, clearly enough that untrained people could diagnose and ‘cure’ (perhaps) whatever it was that ailed the family member. Jane Austen’s family supposedly had a copy.

Unfortunately, many of his remedies were not of the standard, or the wisdom, of what we know today. For instance, Buchan was a proponent of bloodletting, purging, and other treatments we know to be harmful. Not all his theories were bad, and he was a great proponent of common-sense measures such as fresh air, exercise, hygiene, cleanliness.

But what if the ailment or injury was too difficult to cure by home remedies, or that applying leeches to little Sarah for three days merely exacerbated her symptoms? What to do?
Then people had the option to summon an apothecary, a surgeon, (and many times the apothecary doubled up as a surgeon if there was no skilled surgeon in the area, as in rural locations) or if you had enough money, a physician.

Apothecaries were pretty low on the food chain, apothecaries being considered in ‘trade’. Today we would call him a pharmacist, although nowadays pharmacists are highly trained and are afforded a little more respect. But back in medicine’s relatively early days, they were the cheapest form of medical attention one could get, and usually, but not always, would come to a house if asked to call. He was addressed as Mr Whoever, or just Whoever, and would primarily mix and dispense drugs/herbs/poisons. He could prescribe and mix you a sleeping draught, or something for fever, and so on. He might also do the work of a surgeon.

The surgeon, also only addressed as Mr Whoever, or just Whoever, was trained to treat ailments from boils to headaches to broken legs. He was, however, usually trained by a doctor, and did the dirty hands-on stuff which the physician would leave to him. As a rule, he would do things such as dressing wounds, setting bones and so on. He took on the messy jobs that no self-respecting physician would touch. Blood, gore and spurious foul liquids were not unknown to him. When we look at his kit, pictured, you can get the gist of his work.

The physician was the only one of these men who was considered a gentleman. He had a university education and was referred to as Doctor Whoever. His status differs so much from that of the apothecary and the surgeon that he was respected by the families he attended, often being invited to social occasions, to dine with them, or to stay the night. Mostly the doctor’s clients would be members of the gentry and aristocracy. Reimbursement for their services had to be discreet, since a gentleman did not receive wages for labour.

On the whole, doctors were expected to avoid anything hands-on, and simply diagnosed illness or injury by asking questions and prescribed medicines which could be made up by the apothecary. England did not have medical schools, so to further his studies he would often have travelled to Scotland or even to America to study medicine in the newly set up medical schools there. A good deal of his knowledge came from on the job training, and from learning from a practising doctor.

None of this means that his medical attention was efficacious or that richer people got a better quality of expertise. In their education, never did would-be doctors practice on actual patients. All their learning was done by listening to lectures on medicine. A website called ‘Pen and Pension’ has a really interesting page on medicine in Georgian era England, and it seems that medical practice in England in the Georgian era was pretty much a free-for-all, and that there were just as many, if not more, ‘quacks’ than men with a genuine idea of how to go about things.

Just because you could afford a physician, didn’t mean you got a treatment that worked. Nothing worked all of the time, and sometimes, less was more, as in the case of blood-letting and use of narcotics and opiates!

Overall, it might be a reasonable assumption that to call a medical person in the Georgian era would have been as much inviting death as a cure, and it is no wonder people avoided medical help until the last minute, since of course, there was no anaesthesia to help.

I will close with this interesting reference to Emperor Napoleon’s wife Josephine, who became sickly and weak while he was busy with his Egyptian campaign. Apparently, she was ordered to stayed in bed for two weeks and follow this regimen:

“Doctors drew blood from her veins and applied leeches to her wrists, prescribed medicinal drinks, ordered compresses made from boiled potatoes strapped to her limbs. Adopting a remedy centuries old, they ordered a sheep killed and wrapped Josephine in its fleecy skin.”

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Georgette Heyer- The Mother of the Modern Regency Romance

October 28, 2022
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Georgette Heyer- The Mother of the  Modern Regency Romance 

notoriously private woman, who refused to give interviews, Georgette Heyer was one of the most prolific and well-known writers of ‘regency romance’ of her time. In fact, Georgette Heyer essentially established the historical romance genre and its subgenre Regency romance, popularising the genre which had previously been established by Jane Austen, with her domestic-focussed ‘women’s’ novels for, and about, women of the Georgian and Regency periods.

Heyer’s regencies were inspired by Austen’s, but she brought to the genre a new life and a much less ‘serious’ feel than Austen did. Heyer was, however, a stickler for accuracy, which I presume must have come about from a fascination with the Georgian and Regency eras, and which anyone who loves Regency writing can sympathize with—Heyer collected references, books and historic documents, and kept detailed notes on all aspects of regency life. She is, for example, well known for her use of ‘regency cant’ the vernacular of the day, and which she sprinkled liberally throughout her novels. It is generally accepted that she made up some of these words herself, but even if she did, they lend an authentic feeling to her writing. For example, phrases such as ‘doing it too much brown’ (flattery), ‘to become a tenant for life’ (marriage) and ‘to be in damned low water’ (poor). These lend sparkle and life to her sentences and characters—the sparkle which draws us to her writing and which is unlike any other writer then or now. (For more on her regency ‘cant’, here is a great website which catalogues many of her turns of phrase, authentic or made up.)

To me, one of the most interesting facts about Heyer’s novels is that as Heyer's popularity increased, other authors began to imitate her style to the point of plagiarism. Barbara Cartland, a contemporary of Heyer’s, had written several novels in a style similar to Heyer's, reusing names, character traits and plot points and paraphrased descriptions from her books, particularly A Hazard of Hearts, which borrowed heavily from Friday’s Child, and The Knave of Hearts which borrowed heavily from These Old Shades. Heyer complained and took the case to her lawyers, but unfortunately the case never came to court. It was enough, however, to deter the other writer, and the plagiarism ceased.

That was not the only instance of plagiarism. In 1961, another reader wrote of similarities found in the works of another female novelist. These novels borrowed plot points, characters, surnames, and plentiful Regency slang. Apparently, her fans accused Heyer of "publishing shoddy stuff under a pseudonym". In response, Heyer made a complete list of the plagiarisms, including the historical mistakes in the books. Among the phrases that writer ‘borrowed’ were repeated use of the phrase "to make a cake of oneself", which Heyer had discovered in a privately printed memoir unavailable to the public. In another case, the author referenced a supposedly historical incident that Heyer had actually invented, in an earlier novel—a dead give-away for plagiarism, and I read somewhere a long time ago now, that Heyer claimed she had invented some of the phrases herself, and was able to catch out the offending novelist by pointing out the use of the same phrases in the plagiarised novels.

Perhaps these events make her more interesting to a reader—I certainly found her books fascinating because of it, and one can see why Heyer was so wildly successful enough to have other writers attempt to plagiarize her work. She writes with wit, certainly with a sense of the comedy of life, with an eye to detail and makes use of intricately woven plots, and most of all, she is funny…all of which make for the best reading.

So which of Heyer’s books would I recommend to new readers of hers? To be honest, any of her books are fine to start as almost all of them are pretty accessible. But if I had to state my favourites so far (as I have not read all of her books yet) I would recommend: The Black Sheep, Friday’s Child, Venetia, Regency Buck, Bath Tangle. Heyer wrote thirty-seven romances alone, not counting some thrillers also, so if you like her style, unlike Austen’s mere handful of novels, you will have plenty to keep you going!

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Rout Cakes—A Must-Have at any 19th Century Rout!

September 23, 2022

Rout Cakes—A Must-Have at any 19th Century Rout! 

Mrs Elton was a little shocked at the want of two drawing rooms, at the poor attempt at rout cakes, and there being no ice in the Highbury card parties. (Jane Austen, Emma)

If you make a habit of reading Austen and her contemporaries, you may have come across a Regency era party food called ‘Rout Cakes’. In Austen’s Emma, Mrs Elton is contemptuous of the quality of the said ‘rout’ cakes. Rout cakes are also alluded to in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair , when Joseph Sedley, Amelia’s rather overweight brother, virtually inhales twenty odd rout-cakes at a party:

‘Joseph Sedley contented himself with a bottle of claret besides his Madeira at dinner, and he managed a couple of plates full of strawberries and cream, and twenty-four little rout cakes that were lying neglected in a plate near him.

What exactly is a rout, anyway? According to the Oxford English Dictionary a rout is ‘a fashionable gathering; a large evening party or soirée of a type fashionable in the 18th and early 19th centuries.’
Apparently, however, a ‘rout’ was not too large a gathering—under ten card tables, (which I believe seated four people) in fact. The earliest reference to the word rout goes back to 1745 in E. Haywood Female Spectator, the Georgian era equivalent of our modern Woman’s Day Magazine, which qualifies a rout this way. ‘She told me, that when the Number of the Company for Play exceeded ten Tables, it was called a Racquet, if under it was only a Rout.’

Rout Cakes are a kind of rich sweet cake flavoured with brandy and/or orange juice, rose water, Madeira and usually currants. These were traditional at a party/rout—and in the regency, ‘routs’ were very popular. Who doesn’t like boozy cakes!!

Now, I do love trying my hand at Regency era recipes, so for this blog I went looking for recipes—and found that there is a lot of variation in recipes. So for interest, here is the recipe which dates the earliest, and comes from Maria Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery.(1824)

Rout Drop-Cakes
Mix two pounds, one ditto butter, one ditto sugar, one ditto currants, clean and dry; then wet into a stiff paste, with two eggs, a large spoonful of orange-flower water, ditto rose-water, ditto sweet wine, ditto brandy, drop on a tin floured: a very short time bakes them.

But for more modern cooks, below is a recipe which might be easier to follow, and the one I used myself. See my photo below. I had a blast making them, and I can understand why Joseph Sedley ate so many!

Rout Cakes


  1. Using an electric mixer, mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs. Then add the remaining liquids.
  2. Add the flour/currants to the liquid mixture and blend until all of the flour is incorporated into the mixture.
  3. Heat the oven to 160F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper
  4. Wet your hands and roll the dough into small balls, about 2 teaspoons full. Or drop onto the surface with a spoon
  5. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until they are firm and slightly golden brown


salted Butter, softened


Sugar half brown/ half white

1 & 1/2 CUPS

Large Eggs


Orange-Flower Water or essence


Rose-Water or Rose essence


Sweet White wine –madeira, port or sherry




 All-Purpose (Plain) Flour

3 & ¼ CUPS



If you can’t get the Orange-Flower Water or essence, try orange zest and orange juice together to get the flavour. A good supermarket should have Rose-Water or Rose essence in the baking section.

Store in an airtight container. Note: These were easy to make, and even more delicious than I had imagined! Serve with tea, coffee, sherry or Cointreau, and definitely serve them at your own ‘rout’!

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