Regency Glossary: D - E - F
dandy - a man who was fastidious about his clothing and appearance. The original metro male! Beau Brummell was the "king of the dandies."
decolletage - the neckline of a low-cut gown.
debtor's prison - people could be sent to jails such as Fleet Prison or the Clink for not paying their bills. Here’s how it would work. A shop owner whose bill went unpaid would eventually file a complaint with the sheriff, who, in turn, would send bailiffs out to find and arrest the individual. The person was first brought to a “sponging house” where they were given a last chance to pay. The authorities would confiscate their personal effects and sell them. If the money was sufficient to cover the bill, or if a relative or friend lent them the money at the last minute, they would be let go. If not, they had to go before the court, and if they were indeed to be a debtor, they were hauled off to prison until they could pay. How they were supposed to get the money to pay back the bill while in prison is a mystery to me; this punishment must have been intended as a deterrent to scare people away from getting into debt in the first place. For a glimpse of what all this might have looked like, the British version of “Vanity Fair” (the miniseries one starring Natasha Little) shows Rawdon Crawley’s continued scrapes with the bailiffs as well as his sojourn in the sponging house.
debutante - upon completing her education and being polished up with all the social graces, a young girl (usually about seventeen) would be “presented to Society” by her parents or guardians. This was also called her “coming-out.” For the elite of Regency London, the first official event for the new crop of young ladies who “came out” each year, was to be presented to the Queen. After that, their parents would usually throw a lavish debut ball in the girl’s honor, making sure to invite the most eligible young bachelors of the ton! Basically the point of all this was one big marketing strategy to “sell” the girl to Society in the most glamorous, attractive, and elegant way, in order to lure the interest of a wealthy, high-ranking male and secure for the daughter the most advantageous marriage, which would benefit the entire family.
delope, to - in a duel, when a man purposely fires his pistol into the air instead of firing at his opponent, he is said to delope. A man might do this when he thought the cause of the duel was stupid or when he really didn’t want to harm the other person.
demimonde - literally, from the French, “half-world.” This term referred to the class of women who were considered glamorous and might even be rich, such as actresses, but were far from respectable. Usually used in connection with the high-priced courtesans who served the wealthy; these women were individually referred to as demimondaines or demireps.
diamond of the first water - an exceptionally beautiful or graceful young lady.
disguised - drunk.
Dissenters - members of Protestant churches other than the Church of England, such as Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, etc.
dogcart – a sturdy, two-wheeled carriage used by sportsmen because it had a special compartment in the back for the hunting dogs.
dowager - the widow of a nobleman. For example: the Duke of Cheese, being old and moldy, dies. His wife becomes the Dowager Duchess of Cheese. Their eldest son inherits the title, and his wife becomes the new Duchess of Cheese, just as he becomes the new Duke. So, the new Duke’s wife is the Duchess; his mother is the Dowager Duchess.
drawing room - (from “withdrawing” room) a formal room for receiving visitors, and the chamber to which the ladies would “withdraw” to have tea after dinner while the men stayed at the table getting foxed and being, well, men.
duel - by the Regency period, pistols were more frequently used in duels than swords. Duels were meant to settle disputes of “honor” in the Norman tradition of “trial by combat” (a la Lancelot fighting other knights to clear Guinevere’s name). After a challenge had been issued, the offending party could apologize, but if he opted not to, then he and his opponent would have to meet on the “field of honor.” Technically, duelling was illegal, but it was rarely prosecuted, probably because it was the rich and privileged who were the main participants. The where and when of a duel was worked out by the “seconds,” and friend and representative of the participant who would have to fight in his place if the guy chickened out and didn’t show up. A duel required the presence of at least one surgeon to give immediate medical care to the wounded. After the Regency, the authorities began prosecuting duels more seriously, until they eventually died out. Famous Regency figures who participated in duels included Byron, Fox, Pitt, Canning, and Wellington.
East India Company - a powerful trading company chartered in 1600 that took over the job of running India for the British empire. Since working for this corporate monolith could be highly lucrative, it was a good, respectable career option for younger sons, but who got the good jobs was subject to your social or family connections—it all depended on who you knew. Those who made fortunes in India were referred to as “nabobs.” The merchant ships that carried cargo and passengers back and forth between England and India were called East Indiamen. The Company had docks and warehouses in London on the Thames.
encroaching toadstool - a social upstart, one who had made a fortune but was not highborn. They were so called because it was thought that like mushrooms, they rose up from manure.
entail - a legal term referring to property, which meant that a landed estate was tied up in such a way that it could be passed on to one’s heir after the owner’s death, but the heir could not sell the property. This allowed the great aristocratic families to protect their huge estates from being broken up and sold off piece by piece over generations—highly important when wealth rested in having land
epaulet - an ornamental shoulder pad on military uniform.
epergne - a large, ornate, often silver center table piece with multiple tiers holding various dishes and candles or a large urn of soup. Since the Regency dining table was arranged with all dishes placed in perfect symmetry around the table, the epergne, the tallest piece at the center, was important visually as well as practically.
equipage - one’s carriage.
escritoire - writing desk.
expectations - one’s future financial or career prospects.
exploded - something that’s gone out of fashion was said to be “exploded.”
false calves - padding for a man’s calves to fill out his stockings with a more muscular look, especially when worn with knee-breeches. Various figure enhancers of this type were available for men, including male corsets. Not that one of my heroes would ever need such help!
faro - a game of chance favored by Regency gamblers. Faro was played at a special table with painted depictions of playing cards around all the edges of the table. Gamblers set their chips on the picture of whichever card they thought the dealer would turn over next.
fateuil - a small arm-chair.
flambeaux - flaming torches.
folly - an ornamental building in a garden.
foolscap - writing paper of the Regency period, so called because it usually was imprinted with a watermark of a jester’s cap.
footman - male servant under the authority of the butler. They served at dinner, accompanied ladies of the house on errands and social calls, and looked after the lamps and candles in a house. They wore old-fashioned livery with knee-breeches and powdered wigs. Because the country was at war and needed all the able-bodied men it could get to fight Napoleon, there was a steep tax placed on male servants. Thus, having them was a status symbol.
fop - a dandy, a man overly concerned with his appearance.
fortnight - two weeks.
foxed - drunk.
frank - men in government had the special privilege of sending their mail for free. (By the way, the person receiving the letter paid for it back then, not the sender.) To ‘frank’ a letter to someone was to send it using this privilege. Civil servants were “supposed” to only use this privilege for mail related to government business, but most people entitled to it bent that rule.
frigate - a common, three-masted, square-rigged sailing vessel of the period, designed for speed and thus often used as Navy warships or by privateers.
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