To be an Accomplished Lady

During the Regency era, a proper education was crucial to a middle or upper class young lady’s future. Since a woman’s only ‘proper’ aspiration was to marriage, her education focused on making her noticeable to potential husbands. Her accomplishments enabled her to display cultural distinction and set herself apart from women who were merely ‘notable’—those who could only manage a household but not cultivate elegant socializing.

The number of accomplishments a young lady acquired reflected the financial state of her family and the level of sacrifice they were willing to make to improve her chances of marrying well.
Men of the middle and upper classes sought a wife who would be a social asset to them (in addition to a good dowry of course.)  A “social asset” was never be an intellectual threat to her husband, but able to follow conversation, and perhaps more importantly keep a conversation away from unpleasantries and steered toward good humor for all. She could understand what was being said around her, but did not have ready opinions or advice to offer.

Certain subjects were considered necessary for becoming that desired social asset.  These included:


No young woman could be considered accomplished without the ability to read. Not only was it necessary for basic household management and correspondence, but it formed a foundation for intelligent conversation and for reading aloud for the entertainment of others.

Though young ladies were not encouraged to read heavy subjects like philosophy and theology, serious books were considered appropriate as they enabled interesting conversation. Similarly, scripture to enable her to recognize passages and sermons, such as Fordyce’s, aimed at young women, were appropriate reading for an accomplished lady.


In this context, writing did not refer to a creative endeavor, but rather being able to create a letter with beautiful penmanship, correctly spelled and with excellent grammar.  Young women would be schooled in the art of letter writing, with books dedicated to the topic and offering examples of good letters for her to emulate. She might even copy particularly pretty phrases out of these book for use in her own letters.

No mistress could run a household or estate without a solid understanding of basic math.  She had to be able to keep accounts, balance a budget, calculate how much food and others supplies needed to be bought, track expenses and even forecast trends in the use of supplies.

Few women would have exposure to advanced algebra or other pure mathematics.  She had no practical use for them and would be dangerously close to challenging her husband’s expertise if she knew them.

Sciences and Social sciences
The natural sciences and social sciences were significant to young ladies only insofar as they facilitated the art of refined conversation.  General awareness and rote memorization in areas of history, politics, geography, literature and philosophy were sufficient for ladies of quality.

A cursory knowledge of botany was common.  Ladies who were more interested might also become learned in the use of plants as home remedies since the mistress of an estate was often the first one consulted in cases of injury and illness.

Despite the Napoleonic wars, a working knowledge of French was indispensable for a young lady.  Italian and German, for singing and understanding sung performances were also useful, but conversational fluency was not expected.  Greek and Latin, beyond a handful of commonly used phrases were the purview of men and not included in a young lady’s curriculum.


Though not expected to be virtuosos, quality young ladies were expected to be proficient musicians.  Playing and singing were considered seductive to men since they displayed her body and bearing to potential suitors. Furthermore, once married, musical skills would be useful for long evening of entertaining both her husband and her guests.

Only a few instruments were considered appropriate for young ladies.  Anything which needed to be blown into was a risk for causing a reddened face and heaving bosom, neither of which would be attractive, much less alluring, so they were out of the question. The violin, which required raised arms, was also inappropriate.  The short bodied dresses of the era presented too many possibilities for embarrassing mishaps.  Moreover, the violin required a higher level of expertise to perform and the potential for embarrassing oneself with a mediocre was greater.

The harp was the most desirable instrument, but most had to make do with the piano which had replaced the harpsichord in popularity. Some young ladies also learned the guitar.

Not only did girls need to be able to play and sing, but they had to be able to dance. The dance floor was the place for young ladies to interact with their suitors, a place where they could escape the watchful eyes of their chaperones and engage in somewhat private conversation and even touch, which was otherwise entirely forbidden. Skilled and graceful partners were highly desirable. Girls who danced poorly could expect to spend a lot of time without a partner.

Artistic endeavors
Girls were encouraged to draw and paint and given training in it whenever possible.  Particularly talented girls might even exhibit their work at local or national levels, or teach other girls, all of which could be valuable if she failed to obtain a husband.

Filigree work, now known as quilling, and japanning, now called decoupage, were also encouraged as ways for ladies to display their artistic skills. Screens, small chests and trunks and various bric-a-brac were frequently the object of their efforts.

Needlework (plain and fancy)

 Needlework was one of the most practical subjects for a young lady. No matter what her future might hold, clothing, plain or elegant, would be a part of it. Clothing required mending and making.  Even ladies who could hire out their own sewing would often engage in making garments for charitable cases in their parish. Fancy work included embroidery, cross stitch, knotting, netting and more.

Needlework need not be a solitary endeavor. Often, women would bring along their work baskets during social calls and work as they visited. If someone arrived without something to work on, a hostess might offer something from her workbasket to her visitor.  Of course, the elegance of the project would reflect upon the seamstress and fancy projects were more desirable for working in company than plain.

Boarding Schools

Girl’s education was a bit of a controversial subject. Girls from wealthy and cultured homes were often educated by their mothers since they could hire enough help with the household work to have time to invest in their daughter’s education. They might enlist the aid of additional teaching masters for training in music, languages and dance. Alternatively, at the age of ten, parents might consider sending their daughter to a boarding school, sometimes for as little as a year or two to ‘finish’ their accomplishments. If the girls was in the way at home, she might be sent off for much longer. 

Boarding school could be a risky proposition.  Many girls’ school were underfinanced, badly managed that never quite managed to be respectable. Teachers frequently came from the ranks of  clever, but poor former students, impoverished gentlewomen, poor relatives of the clergy or retired servants of the upper classes.

Subjects taught at these schools included decidedly nonacademic subjects likesewing and fancy needlework, drawing, dancing, music. Polite literature, including mythology, writing, arithmetic, botany, history, geography, and French formed the balance of the more academic studies.  Rudiments of stagecraft and acting might also be taught as training in elocution and grace of movement.

Parents typically paid twenty to thirty guineas per year for these schools.  Some of these subjects, particularly those which required additional masters to be brought in, like dance, might incur additional fees. Washing and the privilege of being a ‘parlor boarder’ who enjoyed extra privileges like eating with the mistress of the school and using the parlor, also incurred additional fees.

Armed with these skills, a young woman would be considered ready to enter society and engage in the all-important task of finding a suitable husband.
Baird, Rosemary. Mistress of the House, Great Ladies and Grand Houses. Phoenix (2003)
Collins, Irene . Jane Austen, The Parson’s Daughter Hambledon (1998) 
Collins, Irene . Jane Austen & the Clergy The Hambledon Press (2002)
Davidoff, Leonore & Hall, Catherine. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780-1850 Routledge (2002)
The Female Preceptor. Essays On The Duties Of The Female Sex, Conducted By A Lady. 1813 and 1814
Fullerton, Susannah. Jane Austen & Crime JASA Press (2004)
Harvey, A. D. Sex in Georgian England Phoenix Press (1994)
Ives, Susanna  Educating Your Daughters – A Guide to English Boarding Schools in 1814, March, 10 2013.  
Jones, Hazel. Jane Austen & Marriage Continuum Books (2009)
Lane, Maggie. Jane Austen’s World Carlton Books (2005)
Laudermilk, Sharon & Hamlin, Teresa L. The Regency Companion Garland Publishing (1989)
Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels Harry N. Abrams (2002)
Martin, Joanna. Wives and Daughters Hambledon Continuum (2004
Selwyn, David. Jane Austen & Leisure The Hambledon Press (1999)
Sullivan, Margaret C. The Jane Austen Handbook Quirk Books (2007)
Watkins, Susan. Jane Austen’s Town and Country Style Rizzoli (1990)


 Maria Grace is the author of Darcy’s Decision,  The Future Mrs. Darcy, All the Appearance of Goodness, and Twelfth Night at LongbournClick here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, follow on Twitter or email her.

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A Touch of Quill and Ink: Regency Letter Writing

Line art representation of a Quill

Line art representation of a Quill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before telegraphs or telephones, email or texts, Twitter or Facebook, letter writing was the only way to maintain connections with distant family and friends. During the Regency era, writing letters, reading them, and sharing the news they contained was an essential part of social life, one largely slated for the women of the household.


Typically, women would write letters in the morning, before breakfast. They kept track of the letters they received and to whom they owed letters as carefully as other important social obligation like dinner invitations and entertaining. Though the information in a letter might be widely shared, one did not read another person’s letters. Select portions of letters might be read aloud to an audience. Sometimes the correspondent would indicate what could be read aloud by underlining passage. Otherwise, letters were considered very private and kept in locked boxes and drawers to preserve them from prying eyes.


Letter writing was considered an art form. Young ladies learned it as part of their necessary accomplishments. Governesses or boarding schools would teach handwriting, spelling and grammar, and the construction of suitable phrases to use in correspondence. Collections of letters by famous figures were often published. Similarly, books of sample letters could be found to assist a letter writer in conveying an appropriate sentiment. Phrases might even be copied directly from such books to insure a beautiful turn of phrase.


Not only could it be complicated to craft just the right words to convey a desired message, the very act of penning a letter was far more complex than sending off a quick text message today. ‘Dashing off a quick letter’ was hardly swift or simple process by today’s standards. A correspondent required a number of expensive supplies and specialized equipment to produce a proper letter.


The first step to crafting a letter was preparing the paper. Paper was an expensive commodity during the Regency, not like today when hundreds of note pads of various shapes and colors litter drawers, desks and countertops all over my house.

 10 16 cross writing 1020

In the 1700’s, paper makers began standardizing paper sizes and watermarking them according to size. Foolscap, one of the most common (and smallest) paper sizes, was typically used for printing and letter writing. Even so, at 16 1/2 inches by 13 1/4 inches it was often too large for a specific task and was often trimmed to size. A writer would not waste paper by leaving large spaces empty. To fit more on a single sheet of paper, letters wold be crosswritten, sometimes several times.  It took some practice to learn how to read such documents.

Paper, sold at stationers, could be bought by the ream (480 sheets) or the bale (ten reams. It was most commonly sold by the quire (1/20th a ream, 24 sheets). In some cases, particularly for specialty paper, like drawing paper, it was sold by the sheet.


Writing implements

Once the paper was ready, a pen (most likely) or pencil would have to be readied.

Quill pens


By far the most common pen was a quill pen from goose, swan or crow feather. Goose quill pens enjoyed the greatest popularity.

English: Three goose feathers in stages of bei...

English: Three goose feathers in stages of being made into writing quills. Top: unmodified. Middle: polished. Bottom: cut and shaped. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Not just any feather was suitable for a quill pen. The best pens quills were those from primary flight feathers taken from living birds. A healthy goose could produce about twenty pen-quills a year. Large flocks of geese were maintained for the sole purpose of producing pen-quills. Feather from the left wing were favored because the curve made them easier for right-handed writers to use. Left handers preferred pens made from the right wing. Goose feathers were used primarily for writing pens. Swan pens produced very broad lines. In contrast, crow feathers produced very fine, flexible pen nibs, favored by artists and ladies who wrote with small, delicate lines.

 Freshly plucked quills had to undergo extensive treatment before they could be turned into pens. The process, called quill-dutching started with plunging the quills into hot sand to remove the inner and outer membranes. The heat treatment also hardened the barrel of the quill and made it transparent. A treatment to nitric acid might be used to improve the appearance, but some thought it made the quills to brittle, so not all quills underwent this procedure. As a final step, quill dressers would trim away a section of the feathery ‘barb’ of the feather to make the pens easier to handle and take up less space in shipping. Bundles of twenty five or fifty quills were baled together and shipped to stationers’ shops.

 The pens would not be ready for sale until they had the attention of a pen-cutters. These professionals used a small, sharp pen knife and cut the quill down to a usable writing nib. A well cut pen, if treated correctly, could be used for quite some time before needing to be recut, something typical done by the pen’s owner. A pen could be re-cut several times before it needed replacement.




ink jar and quills

ink jar and quills (Photo credit: studentofrhythm)

Pens were of little use without ink. That should be fairly easy, right, a little lampblack or charcoal and some water and we’re ready to go. No, not at all. Ink are very complex substances to create.

 The most common ink was iron gall ink, made from oak galls, iron sulfate and acacia gum. The galls were pulverized, soaked in rain water for seven to ten days, boiled half volume, then the iron sulfate and acacia gum were added. Sugar, salt or brandy might also be added to the infusion. The fluid was stored in a tightly stoppered stoneware jug and kept warm to ferment for two weeks. Finally it was strained and ready for use.

 When first applied to paper, iron gall ink would be light grey, but after exposure to air, it darkened to a very permanent, dark purplish black. Although a useful, all purpose ink, if the iron sulfate content was too high, it would disintegrate the paper over time.

Ink corrosion:iron gall ink has oxidized the c...

Ink corrosion:iron gall ink has oxidized the cellulose, causing the paper to disintegrate. The manuscript is exhibited behind glass in a church in Evora, Portugal (next to the Capela dos Ossos). I took the photo through the glass. The manuscript is exhibited there without any comment, as just a curious old object. The light is indirect daylight. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Red, blue, yellow and green writing inks were also available, each as complex to make as iron gall ink. Stationer’s made these inks available along with quills and paper. Some stationers would formulate their own ink, generating a brand loyalty in their customers.

 For those seeking less expensive sources of ink, traveling ink sellers made their way through the streets, crying their wares along with sellers of fish, scissor grinders, and other tradesmen. They carried their supply in small barrels and dispensed it directly into the bottles supplied by their customers.

Pen knife 

 Pen knives, some extremely ornate, some plain, and some with folding blades, were another necessary implement for letter writing. Ordinary models might be acquired at the stationer’s while highly decorated models might come from a jeweler.

 The knives were necessary to recut quill pens when the tips degraded from use. They were also indispensable for maintaining the other Regency era writing implement, the pencil. They were not, though, used in trimming paper.


 Though we take it for granted today, the pencil was the first truly portable, use anywhere, on almost anything writing instrument. Its introduction freed artists and writers from the constraints of quills and ink.

 At first, solid sticks of graphite were wrapped in string or paper to make them cleaner to use. By the 17th century, various wood and metal holders, like chalk holders used today, had been developed. The exact date that graphite was encased in wood to create a cased pencil is not known. At first, these were all handmade and very expensive, but as machines were developed to do the job, they became affordable to common folk.

Plant sap, known as gum elastic could be used to rub out marks made by pencils. It was so effective it became known as a ‘rubber’. These ‘rubber’ cubes could be purchased at a stationer’s right alongside pencils. They were not actually attached to pencils like they are today until the end of the 19th century.

Sealing wax and wafers

Since envelopes did not come into general use until 1840, Regency era writers had to resort to other means to keep their correspondence sealed and private. The least expensive alternative was to wafers of flour and gum. Letters were folded to form an envelope and a person would lick the wafer to stick the paper shut.

 Those who could afford more elegant means used sealing wax which provided a tamper evident seal for their documents. Despite its name, sealing wax contained little or no actual wax.

Museum - FreimaurersiegelArt and science were required for the production of a high-quality sealing wax. Each maker tended to have their own special formula, and some included wax, while others did not. A formula from The Encyclopedia Britannica (1773), included beeswax, rosin, olive-oil and Venice turpentine. Other formulas included shellac, sandarac, rosin, pitch or mastic. “Spanish wax” contained shellac, mastic, turpentine, chalk or gypsum, color and fragrance.

 In general, people preferred red sealing wax and it was the most commonly used wax. Black sealing wax marked letters bearing the news of death and during periods of mourning. Green was the only other color available during the Regency era, used by the office of the Exchequer and the courts, of both the government and the Church.

 Sticks of sealing wax were about seven to eight inches in length and did not have a wick. They would be held over a candle to soften, then pressed down on the paper to be sealed. A seal or signet pressed into the soft wax made any tampering with the seal evident.

 With all the specialized tools and supplies for letter writing it is little wonder that elaborate writing desks and desk sets to store everything were common in the era. Clearly our concept of dashing off a quick text in seconds on a cell phone bears little resemblance to the production that penning even a brief letter would have been during the Regency era.

Chelsea Porcelain Factory - Inkstand - Walters 48842 (2)


 All About It:or: the History and Mystery of Common Things. New York: W. Townsend &Company, 1859.

Collins, Irene. Jane Austen, The Parson’s Daughter. Hambledon (1998)

Copeland, Edward, McMaster, Juliet, The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Kathryn Kane.The Regency Redingote. Sealing … Wax? 16 November 2012

Kathryn Kane.The Regency Redingote.The Precious Regency Pencil 23 October 2009

Kathryn Kane.The Regency Redingote.Ink — Regency Writing Fluid 18 September 2009

Kathryn Kane.The Regency Redingote.The Quill — The Regency Pen 11 September 2009

Kathryn Kane.The Regency Redingote.A Pen Knife was not always a “Pocket-Knife”. 8 January 2010

Kathryn Kane.The Regency Redingote.Oh, foolish Foolscap! 31 October 2008

Lane, Maggie. Jane Austen’s World. Carlton Books (2005)

Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. Harry N. Abrams (2002)

Martin, Joanna . Wives and Daughters. Hambledon Continuum (2004)

Selwyn, David .  Jane Austen & Leisure The Hambledon Press (1999)

Todd, Janet M., Jane Austen in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Watkins, Susan.  Jane Austen’s Town and Country Style Rizzoli (1990)

Willich, Anthony Florian Madinger, MD. and Cooper, Thomas, MD., The domestic encyclopedia: or A dictionary of facts and useful knowledge chiefly applicable to rural & domestic economy. With an appendix, containing additions in domestic medicine, and the veterinary and culinary arts. The whole illustrated with numerous engravings and cuts. In Three Volumes. Volume II.Phildadelphia: Abraham Small, 1821


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A Little Colorful Language: Cacklers, Mowers, Woolbirds and Swing tails

Francis Grose, author of Dictionary of he Vulgar Tongue


We have a house full of cats and a dog who thinks she a momma-cat.  They all have their own proper names. But they’ve also got multiple nicknames each. I may just incorporate a few of these regency Era slang terms as new nicknames for them!



  • Grimalkin. 

  • Tibby.

Ram Cat. A he cat.

Gib Cat. A northern name for a he-cat, there commonly called Gilbert.

Cherry-coloured Cat. A black cat, their being black cherries as well as red.

Smellers. A cat’s whiskers.



  • Buffer

  • Jugelow

Gnarler. A little dog that, by his barking, alarms the family when any person is breaking into the house.

Rum Bugher. A valuable dog. 



  • Grogham

  • Keffel

  • Prad

  • Prancer

Rip. A miserable rip; a poor, lean, worn-out horse.

Roarer. A broken-winded horse.

Rum Prancer. A fine horse. 

Star Gazer. A horse who throws up his head

Queer Prancer. A bad worn-out foundered horse

Scarlet Horse. A high red, hired or hack horse: a pun on the word hired.

Galloper. A blood-horse, a hunter.

Gibbe. A horse that shrinks from the collar, and will not draw.


Chickens ect

  • Cackler. 

  • Margery Prater.

  • Chick-a-biddy. 

Sucking Chicken. A young chicken

Cackler’s Ken. A hen-roost. 

Cackling Cheats. Fowls. 

Cackling Farts. Eggs. 

Cobble Colter. A turkey.

Gobbbler. A turkey cock.

Quacking Cheat. A duck.

Tib Of The Buttery. A goose.



  • Dunnock. 

  • Mower. 

Cow’s Spouse. A bull.

Churk. The udder.



  • Blater

  • Cow’s Baby

  • Essex Lion

  • Quaking Cheat

  • Rumford lion



  • Bleating Cheat

  • Woolbird

  • Havil

Bleating Rig. Sheep-stealing. 



  • Grunter. 

  • Swing Tail. 



  • Active Citizen 

  • Creepers 

  • Scotch Greys  


Other Animals

Dickey. An ass.

Roll your dickey; drive your ass.

Kingswood Lion. An ass. Kingswood is famous for the great number of asses kept by the colliers who inhabit that place.

Long One. A hare: a term used by poachers.

Pantek. A hart; that animal is, in the Psalms, said to pant after the fresh water brooks

Sea Lawyer. A shark.


Quoted from:   Grose, Captain (Francis). (2004) Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811 ed. Ikon Classics


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History A'la Carte 8-21-14

NewIconHaC2small copy

Welcome to History a’la Carte’ where I get to share a video and my favorite history links of the week with you.

  This week the demise of powdered wigs, eating peaches, skirt supporters and masculinity and disabilities in WW1; a few of your options in this weeks’ serving of History a’la carte’.  




*~*~*~*~*~* General history*~*~*~*~*~*






*~*~*~*~*~*General Medieval*~*~*~*~*~*





*~*~*~*~*~*1000 and earlier*~*~*~*~*~*

Want more History a’la Carte? Click here

History A'la Carte 8-14-14

NewIconHaC2small copy

Welcome to History a’la Carte’ where I get to share a video and my favorite history links of the week with you.

  This week lots about trousers and feminists, the birth of football and some hot mustard to top it all off;  a few of your options in this weeks’ serving of History a’la carte’.  




*~*~*~*~*~* General history*~*~*~*~*~*






*~*~*~*~*~*General Medieval*~*~*~*~*~*





*~*~*~*~*~*1000 and earlier*~*~*~*~*~*

Want more History a’la Carte? Click here

History A'la Carte 5-9-13

The fourth installment of the BBC series The Super Sizers go Regency, a light hearted look at Regency dining to enjoy with your  History a’la Carte. And please tell me what you think of the new format, too!

Regency Etiquette Series


 *~*~*~*~*~* General history*~*~*~*~*~*







*~*~*~*~*~*1000 and earlier*~*~*~*~*~*

History A'la Carte 4-25-13

The third installment of the BBC series The Super Sizers go Regency, a light hearted look at Regency dining to enjoy with your  History a’la Carte. And please tell me what you think of the new format, too!

Regency Etiquette Series

 *~*~*~*~*~* General history*~*~*~*~*~*








*~*~*~*~*~*1000 and earlier*~*~*~*~*~*

History A'la Carte 4-25-13

The second installment of the BBC series The Super Sizers go Regency, a light-hearted look at Regency dining to enjoy with your  History a’la Carte.

Regency Etiquette Series

History A'la Carte 4-18-13

The first installment of the BBC series The Super Sizers go Regency, a light-hearted look at Regency dining to enjoy with your  History a’la Carte.

History A'la Carte 4-11-13

The final installment of the BBC series on the Regency era, all about the prince,  for your enjoyment with your  History a’la Carte.