Regency Glossary: M - N - O
Manton's - famous maker of dueling pistols, or, the pistols themselves made by Manton.
mantua-maker - early term for a maker of gowns, seamstress. Later, also called a modiste.
masque - a costume ball.
master of ceremonies - the man at an assembly ball who announces which dance is next.
Mayfair - the most desirable neighborhood in Regency London, located by Hyde Park. The thing that made Mayfair unique was that it was the first London neighborhood created exclusively for the wealthy. Previously, the rich had lived for centuries side-by-side with the poor throughout London, everyone jostled together, with slums right around the corner from palaces. Mayfair was desirable because it was all new, with no place for the poor people to move in. The only poor people in Mayfair lived in the servants' quarters inside the big, splendid townhouses.
madeira - a sweet white dessert wine.
magistrate - a justice of the peace. Also, a police magistrate, the “judge” before whom a suspected criminal is brought upon being arrested.
marquess (or marquis) and marchioness - peer and peeress ranking below duke/duchess and above earl/countess. (Both the English and French spellings of this word were in use during the Regency, but not matter how you spell it, it was spoken with the standard British pronunciation: “MAR-kwess,” not the French style, “mar-KEE.”) While the firstborn son of a marquess would probably have a courtesy title of earl or viscount, any younger sons as well as daughters would be styled Lord Firstname Surname or Lady Firstname Surname, just like the younger sons and daughters of dukes (as in Lord Alec Knight or Lady Jacinda Knight.)
marriage - the idea of marrying for love was a dangerous, revolutionary, new idea at the time of the Regency period. Before then, marriage was mainly a matter of wealth- and power- alliances between families. If the people involved fell in love, that was a nice extra, but basically irrelevant. As long as they treated each other with reasonable courtesy, and the husband provided for his family, and the wife bore him children, that was pretty much all that anyone expected. In the old-style way of thinking, romance and passion were generally sought outside of marriage in the form of affairs with other married people or, for the man, in taking a mistress.
The idea of marrying for love was part of the Romantic revolution that placed a higher value on emotions, which had been scorned previously in the Classical era’s favor of calm, cool, collect “Reason.” The Romantics also placed a higher value on the individual, whereas, previously, the individual was expected to acquiesce to his/her “duty,” stoically fulfilling the role in life assigned to him or her based on social rank/birth.
Note that both ideologies, Classical and Romantic, coexisted within people’s minds, especially the young adults of the time, who were in the thick of the fray with this cultural change. It gave many people an inner conflict over their values as they became torn between following traditional ways that had worked just fine for hundreds of years, versus the new idea of following their hearts.
This inner conflict was expressed in many ways during the period - from the music to the architecture—even in the layout gardens. On the one hand you had the precision-sculpted, logical puzzles of the garden mazes; on the other, you had Capability Brown landscapes carefully sculpted to look wild, untamed, and picturesque, designed to evoke emotion and introspection.
marriage licenses - In 1753, Lord Hardwick’s Act outlawed clandestine marriages by minors, which had been carried out for a small fee within the walls of Fleet Prison. By the Regency period, there were two main ways that people could legally marry:
1) The traditional and most affordable way was the “reading of the banns” for three consecutive Sundays in the parish or parishes where each of the engaged pair was a permanent resident. (ie. If the man and woman were from different parishes, the banns had to be read at both places.) In an era before social security numbers and ID cards, the reading of the banns was intended to give anyone with an objection to the marriage ample opportunity to hear about it and come forward, for example, if one of the people had already been married somewhere else and had ducked out on their previous wife or husband. When the banns had been read as proscribed, then a regular marriage license would be granted. The marriage had to take place in one of the parish churches, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and noon.
2) The more private and expensive way, preferred by aristocrats - and most romance novel heroes - was to purchase a “special license” from the offices of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Doctor’s Commons in London. The special license gave the betrothed couple the luxury of being married anywhere whenever and wherever they wanted—unlike with banns, the ceremony didn’t have to take place in a chapel, and could be at any time of day.
Both types of licenses expired after three months.
meal times - According to David N. Durant in Where Queen Elizabeth Slept and What the Butler Saw, (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998) “Town hours,” or daily meal schedules, ran later than “country hours” because in London, Parliament was running later than previously, so the gentlemen of the ruling class didn’t get home until later in the day. Even when retiring to the country, the upper classes set themselves apart from the rustics by keeping Town hours. The mealtimes at a typical country house weekend might go like this: breakfast, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon; 2:00-3:00 p.m. luncheon (aka nuncheon); 5:00-6:00 tea; 7:00 p.m. dinner; 10:00-11:00 a light after-party or after-entertainment supper, served hot or cold.
merchant class - business owners and their families. They became increasingly powerful and important socially as the Industrial Revolution wore on. The upper classes looked down on them as the crass nouveau riche.
mews - Originally, it meant a place that housed hawks and hunting falcons, but later it became associated with stables. As fancy townhouses were built in London, their backs facing each other, a row of stables or “mews” would be built down the center behind them so that the residents would be able, conveniently, to keep their riding and carriage horses there. The mews also included the little private back alley that gave access to the stable areas. Nowadays, many of these quaint old mews in London are being turned into upscale “carriage house” apartments.
Michaelmas - September 29, the feast of St. Michael the Archangel.
middle class - similar to the “upper middle class” of today, including the more genteel professions, such as barristers, physicians (but not surgeons), clergy, politicians, professors and high level scholars. You’ll notice that what all of these jobs have in common is that nowhere does anyone even come close to doing manual labor. The minute you seemed to be actively following profit or had to use your hands to make your living, (other than writing sermons, lessons, or prescriptions!) you descended on the social scale. These professions were also open to gentlemen (see definition) who had enough money not to have to work, but who wanted to do something to occupy their time. They could do jobs like the above without harming their place in the social pecking order.
milliner's shop - ladies’ hat and bonnet shop. Frequently also sold ribbons, feathers, and artificial flowers for decorating your own hats. The art of millinery means designing hats.
mistress - a kept woman, said to be "under the protection" of her male keeper. If a girl was poor but beautiful, this was one route to a luxurious and fashionable (but not respectable) life. As for the men, there was no real social sanction against them having mistresses if they could afford it. Wives and respectable ladies might not love these arrangements, but in their culture, they were generally expected to turn a blind eye to it.
The current thinking, which became even more crisply defined in the Victorian era to follow, was that the wife, the mother of a man’s children, was to be put up on a pedestal, too “pure” to be an object of lust: the angel in the home. The sultry sexual role was saved for the mistress, who, in turn, was not seen as being moral enough to be a good mother.
Thus, love and lust were kept in separate compartments, as were the women who provided each; respectable ladies and women of ill repute were generally forbidden to talk to each other (a dynamic nicely depicted in Gone With the Wind in the scenes between Scarlett O’Hara and the local madam, Belle Watling).
modiste - French term for a dress-maker. Also called by the slightly earlier term, mantua-maker.
muff - a round fur-lined accessory for keeping ladies’ hands warm. Especially popular in the Regency were big, oversized fur muffs.
muslin - a fine, thin, semi-transparent cotton available in many different finishes. In all its varieties, muslin was hands down the most popular material for ladies’ gowns for both day- and evening-wear. It replaced silk in popularity because the best silk was French, and England, until 1815, was of course at war with France. Wearing muslin instead of silk was seen as being more patriotic. Napoleon had the opposite problem in France, getting the ladies to keep buying and wearing French silk in spite of the trendy new English muslin.
nabob - an Englishman who went to India and made a fortune there. (Someone who tried and failed to do so, or made very little money in this effort was referred to as a ‘chicken nabob’!)
nankeen - a sturdy but lightweight yellowish cotton cloth, especially popular for men’s pantaloons, first brought over from China.
Nash, John - the star architect to the Prince Regent who planned out Regent’s Park, Nash was the first to cover London houses in stucco in 1782 (in Bloomsbury Square). He worked for a while in Wales, and early in his career hooked up with famous landscape gardener, Humphrey Repton.
Repton was working on the grounds at the Marine Pavilion at Brighton for the Prince when Nash was brought in to design a conservatory. Nash made a favorable impression on the Prince (though there is speculation that it might have been his lovely young wife that caught the royal eye first, before the Prince realized Nash’s genius).
“In 1806, when he was fifty-four, he accepted the obscure post of architect to the department of Woods and Forests and this was soon to launch him into the most brilliant phase of his whole career.” Nash won an in-house competition for the building to be done on Marylebone (later Regent’s) Park. Other architects suggested boring tracts of row houses, but Nash turned it into an upscale residential estate meshing urban convenience with a park-like setting. His design left plenty of open space for outdoor recreation, horseback riding, walking, etc. “as allurements for the wealthy part of the Public to establish themselves there.”
In order to attract the right clientele to buy property in the new development, (they especially wanted members of Parliament), Nash realized he needed to make the commute back and forth to Whitehall more convenient. This led to major downtown reconstruction, as we would say, building the grand, new Oxford and Regent Streets. This required a whole re-envisioning for major portions of London.
The Prince Regent got behind Nash’s ideas in a competitive spirit, eager to make his capital rival Napoleon’s Paris. John Bull and the English public, however, were not quite so enthusiastic at the time, watching so much of their tax revenue go to giving London a facelift rather than fixing the country’s economic woes.
Eventually, when his patron, Prince and later King George IV died, Nash was dismissed on account of the public outcry over the expenditures. Nevertheless, even today, visitors to London can still appreciate the magnificent vistas that Nash brought to life. (See Regency London by Stella Margetson, Chapter Four, “The Regent and His Architect.”)
negus - a warm mulled mixture of water, sugar, and strong wine, such as port or sherry. It was popular at balls and parties, especially when guests were just coming in from the cold outdoors.
Newgate - the most formidable prison in London for criminals (as opposed to debtors). Also the site of public executions. It was located next to the main criminal courthouse, the Old Bailey. (You can read actual transcripts and sentences handed down in real trials that took place during the 1700-1800’s at the Old Bailey at www.oldbailey.org. One of the best sites on the web for history buffs!)
nuncheon - another word for lunch. Possibly a combination of noon + luncheon?
nurse - the nanny for small children before they were put in the care of a governess. Could also refer to a wet nurse, a nursing or pregnant woman who was hired to breastfeed an upper class baby so the real mother wouldn’t have to be inconvenienced!
nursery - usually located out of earshot on the top floor of a residence, the nursery was the childcare area of a home with children’s beds and furniture, play areas, and schoolroom areas, as well as quarters for the nurse, nanny, governess and/or any nursery maids, females servants whose job it was to help watch and clean up after the kids.
of the first stare - in the most fashionable style
on-dit - a piece of gossip, translated from the French it means “it is said” or “they’re saying”
opera - hugely popular form of entertainment for the Regency upper classes. Though some operas were German and a handful were in English, the prevailing form was the Italian. The typical Regency person’s education included learning at least some Italian in order to enjoy this quintessentially civilized art form. The main place to see/hear opera in London was (and still is) the King’s Theatre, also known as the Royal Italian Opera House. A season subscription for an opera box could cost as much as £2,500. (Contrast this with the annual salary of Jane Austen’s clergyman father, approximately £150/year, or a private in the army, at just under £18/year.) “The doors opened at six and performances began at seven.” (Hendrickson, Emily. The Regency Reference Book, p. 24.)
orangery - an indoor ‘winter garden,’ greenhouse, or conservatory where oranges, lemons, pineapples, and other popular exotics could be grown year-round. (A huge status symbol.)
ormolu - a style of decorating furniture, especially small tables and fancy chairs, to look like they were made of solid gold. Also used on clocks, vases, desk sets, etc. and other small, elegant household objects.
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