Regency Glossary: S - T - U
Sack – A dry white wine from Spain or the Canary Islands.
St. James’s Palace – the official royal residence until 1837.
Saloon or Salon – (both terms were used.) Any large, grand room for receiving visitors, often adjacent to the Drawing Room and connected to it by double doors.
Salver – the butler’s silver tray.
Sandals – delicate, slipper-like ladies’ shoes fastened by a strap over the instep.
Savoury – a spiced dish served at the start or end of a dinner.
Scandal - broth – tea – due to women gathering for conversation and gossip over tea.
School of Venus – slang term for a brothel.
Schoolroom – usually the upper floor of a great house where the children received their education until either they went away to school or (for girls) “came out” in Society.
Scrivener – a copier or secretary.
Scullery – part of the kitchen where the dishes were washed, thus a scullery maid or “scullion” was a dishwasher, at the very bottom of the servant hierarchy.
Sealing wax – beeswax mixture used for sealing letters. Many different colors used, such as black for mourning, red for business, etc.
Season, the – the ton’s most active period of socializing each year, in London, from around Easter through July.
Sedan chair – a portable covered chair for one person carried on poles by two footmen, with a hinged door on the front. In great houses, the owner’s sedan was kept in the roomy entrance hall, but hackney sedans were also available to the public and could be hired at stands in Town (like hackney coaches). Inns often kept a sedan available for customers who got too drunk to walk home!
Sen'night – seven nights, i.e. a week.
Set her cap at – said of an eligible miss in pursuit of a particular bachelor.
Session (of Parliament) – usually from January or February to the middle of August. An “adjournment” was a brief cessation of business during a session.
Settlement– the marriage settlement was a legal agreement drawn up before the wedding working out the financial aspects of the marriage, such as the woman’s pin money (allowance for clothes, home décor, other personal spending), jointure (how much money she would have to live on as a widow), and portions for any children born from the marriage.
Sheraton, Thomas (c. 1750-1806) – the quintessential Regency furniture- or cabinet- maker in London.
Sheriff – in medieval times, a very powerful administrative position as the king’s representative, helping the Earls to run the various shires—most famous example is Robin Hood’s nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham. By the Regency period, however, “sheriff” had become a low-key annual position in local government with general peacekeeping duties, usually rotated between the local country gentlemen. The sheriff’s assistants were called bailiffs. In London, the sheriffs and their bailiffs ran the sponging houses (see below).
Sherry - an after-dinner wine varying in color from pale gold to dark brown, fortified with brandy. (Today it is usually drunk before a meal rather than after.) It also was and still is used in many recipes, such as sauces and desserts.
Shift – women’s main undergarment, also called a chemise. Shaped like a nightgown or a modern slip, could be cotton, linen, or muslin. The corset or stays went on over it, then the gown.
Shilling – a silver coin worth twelvepence. Twenty shillings equaled a pound.
Skittles – old English version of bowls (bowling). Could be indoors or outdoors. Nine pins and a ball.
Sly-boots - a sly, crafty person.
Snuff – powdered tobacco inhaled through the nostrils. Fancy snuff boxes were a fashionable gentlemen’s accessory.
Sovereign – a gold coin worth 1 pound, first issued in 1817. Replaced by paper money in 1914.
Special license – obtained for a fee from the Archbishop of Canterbury, it granted the right to marry at any convenient time or place. (All other types were strictly regulated as to where and when they could take place.)
Spencer – a women’s short jacket (like a modern Bolero). Made to correspond with the high-waisted cut of Regency gowns.
Sponging house – small makeshift jail where people in debt were incarcerated until their creditors were paid.
Squabs – the cushions of a carriage, also “a squab” was a slang term for a fat person.
Squire – informal courtesy term for a country gentleman whose family had long lived in an area, and who had tenant farmers on his land.
Stagecoach – large, heavy, commercial carriages drawn usually by four horses, taking ticketed passengers along set routes with stops to change horses at coaching inns (which maintained large livery stables for this purpose) about every 10 miles.
Stay-lace – the laces of a lady’s stays or corset.
Stone – old unit of weight equaling 14 lbs.
Strand – the shore of a river or ocean, i.e. beach. Thus, “the Strand” in London is a ¾ mile long, old, important road that began as a bridle path along the north shore of the Thames river. Once had great mansions along it, but by the 18th c also abounded in shops, churches, pubs, coffee houses, theaters, etc. The Strand links Westminster to the City.
Surgeon – treated external wounds, such as broken bones. They were addressed as “Mr.” while physicians were addressed as “Dr.”
Sweetmeat – candy, especially candied fruit. (Has nothing to do with meat! Not to be confused with sweetbreads, which are nasty bits of meat like the pancreas, thymus gland, and other gag-worthy “delicacies” from either a cow or a sheep.)
Syllabub – a fluffy whipped cream based dessert, flavored with white wine or cider, nutmeg, and often lemon zest, served chilled. A Regency favorite.
Tailcoat – aka “coat.” (The “greatcoat” was the term for what we'd call a "coat", i.e. the coat a man wears outdoors. A gentlemen kept his “coat” meaning tailcoat, like a modern suit jacket, ON indoors under normal circumstances. It was considered extremely familiar to appear in front of a lady without it, however, the snug, tailored fit restricted movement, which is why Regency heroes are always removing their coats to assist the heroines in some manly task.) Tailcoats were both daywear and evening wear, usually double-breasted, with square cut-ins at the front high enough to allow the bottom of the contrasting waistcoat to be seen even when the coat was fastened. Tails in the back fell to about the backs of the knees. For evening it was either black or a very dark blue, for day, more leeway in dark-toned neutrals such as dark green, navy blue, duns or browns, dark plum. Tailcoats were generally made of a fine, smooth wool, such as merino. Lightweight wool for warmer seasons.
“Take the King’s shilling” – to join the military.
Tallow candle – cheap lighting source made with lard instead of the much more expensive beeswax. Unlike beeswax, smelled bad after burning for a while.
Tankard – a classic pewter beer/ale mug sometimes with a lid, especially used in taverns of the period.
Taper – any small candle.
Tattersall’s – (aka “Tatt’s”) Where the ton went to buy its horses. Established 1776 near Hyde Park Corner by Richard Tattersall, a former groom of the Duke of Kingston. “There were stables and loose boxes and a large circular enclosure for trying out horses, in the center of which was a cupola topped with a bust of” Prinny, who was involved in the high-end horse auctioneering establishment from the start. It also had two subscription rooms for members of the Jockey Club (for horseracing enthusiasts, not just jockeys). The rooms were also the center of racing wagers. Tattersall’s was at this location until 1865, when the buildings were demolished. It is currently headquartered in the famous horseracing town of Newmarket. (Weinreb and Hibbert, p. 879) You can visit their website at www.tattersalls.com.
Tea – first arrived in England in about 1660. In the Regency, all tea came from China, imported by the East India Company, which had a monopoly until 1833. (Tea from India did not arrive in England until 1839.) Tea drinking started in the upper classes but by the Regency had spread to other classes. Average tea consumption per person was 2-3 lbs a year. Tea was also available in taverns and coffeehouses. In private homes, it was kept in loose form in a tea caddy. (Cowie, p. 285)
“Tiger” – a liveried boy-groom who sat in the back of a gentlemen-driver’s carriage. When the driver arrived at his destination and got out, the tiger was in charge of holding the horses and minding the carriage. Boys were preferred because gentlemen’s self-driven vehicles were all about speed, and a boy’s lighter weight slowed the horses down less.
Tinderbox – small box holding pieces of flint (stones) that could be struck against a metal surface to produce sparks. The sparks would be captured on dry old rags or other flammable material to get a fire started. This was the same mechanism built into flintlock rifles to make them fire: The spark would hit the gunpowder and explode, launching the bullet.
Tokay – a sweet white Hungarian dessert wine.
Ton – French for high society, all of the people who belong to the fashionable world of London, aka “Society,” aka “The Quality,” aka “the Beau Monde.” Can also be used as an adjective usually to criticize vulgar behavior, i.e. “That’s not quite ton.”
Toothbrushes – (From Hendrickson, p. 81) “Made from the roots of the marshmallow plant, dried, bruised, then dyed in dragon’s blood, conserve of roses, and rectified spirit.”
Toothpastes and powders (Hendrickson, p. 81) – Yes, they did brush their teeth in the Regency period! Aren't you glad? *g* I know I am. Tooth pastes “were tinted pink or coral so they would be well rinsed. Among the chief ingredients used: For Powder: powdered chalk, cuttlefish bone, burnt hartshorn, salt, cream of tartar, and sodium bicarbonate. Cinnamon, cloves, or orris root for flavoring. Regency brands included Butler’s Vegetable Tooth Powder and Trotter’s Oriental. For Pastes: same ingredients as above, with enough honey or syrup added to make them a smooth paste. An aromatic such as conserve of roses was added, and they were ‘put up’ in porcelain or earthenware pots with tight covers.”
Top boots – High riding boots that had the tops folded down, usually in a contrasting color of leather, especially brown. Very common daytime footwear for gentlemen whether on horseback or not.
Top hat – a man’s high-crowned hat, with a slightly scrolled brim, also known as a “beaver” hat, because early on, there were brown ones made from beavers’ hide, which was relatively waterproof. But top hats were more commonly made of silk, which, not being waterproof, led to the growing popularity of umbrellas for men. Additional note from Cowie, p. 292: The top hat was invented by a London haberdasher named John Hetherington in 1797. It literally caused a riot the first time he wore it out, for which he was arrested! He was charged with “Breach of the Peace,” the authorities claiming that that his invention was “calculated to frighten people.” Nevertheless, by 1805, the top hat was in general use, especially in the upper class. Ladies later adopted it as part of the riding habit.
Tory – a political conservative. The Whigs were the liberals and to some extent were sympathizers of the French Revolution and later, Napoleon, even during the war; by contrast, the military engaged in fighting said war leaned Tory, including Wellington. King George III was a staunch Tory, but Prinny only became one after he gained power as Regent. In his early adulthood, he had been a constant companion of the Whigs. The Tories held power from 1783-1830. The Tory Prime Minister during the Regency years was Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool (1812-1827). Some viewed him as overly repressive, cracking down on any signs of radicalism in England, but the main concern of the government was to make sure that the chaos that their generation saw erupt in France did not also happen in England, mobs and guillotines, etc. After Lord Liverpool, Wellington served as Prime Minister until the Whigs swept into power in 1830 on a reform platform. Note that the London gentlemen’s club favored by Tory aristocrats was White’s; Brooks’s for Whigs. As for universities, Oxford was Tory and Cambridge, Whig.
Town – Used with a capital T means London.
Trap – “A light, two-wheeled carriage on springs, like a gig, which had under the seat a box extending a few inches beyond the back of the seat, beyond the back of the seat in which originally dogs and later all sorts of things were carried. A dog-cart.” (Cowie, p. 297)
Trousers – “Worn from about 1730 by men of the lower orders in town and country and by soldiers and sailors.” Fashionable daywear from 1807, introduced as fashionable evening wear in 1817. (Cowie, p. 298)
Tucker – a fabric square, usually white, in muslin or lace, which was folded and tucked into the neckline of a woman’s gown to make it more modest, aka a modesty piece or (French) a fichu. This increased a woman’s wardrobe because low cut evening gowns could be worn for daytime if a tucker was used.
Turnpike – England had excellent coaching roads in the Regency period. Like today’s toll highways, these were maintained by monies collected by gatekeepers posted at the entrance points of the road. Otherwise, the road entrances were blocked by a bar or pike set up on a swinging arm. Once you paid your toll, the gatekeeper would move the pike and let you drive your carriage onto the road.
Twelfth Night – January 5, the culmination of the “twelve days of Christmas,” followed by Epiphany on Jan. 6, bringing all Christmas festivities to an end.
Tyburn – Where Marble Arch now stands in Hyde Park, there had been a gallows since the Middle Ages. Tyburn was synonymous with the gallows, which got its name from a small stream there, a tributary of the Thames. Public hangings at Tyburn ended in 1783, when they were moved to the yard of Newgate Prison. (Cowie, p. 300)
Umbrella—(for rain, as opposed to a parasol, which is a sun-shade and fashion accessory) was dome-shaped in the Regency and made of usually black silk treated with a sticky oily substance. The ribs could be of whalebone, cane, or (after 1800) metal, and the handle could be of wood, ivory, or metal. It was considered effeminate and Continental for men in England at first, but was more widely adopted by males after 1805 as a sensible accompaniment to the top hat in rainy weather, and went on to be considered quite fashionable for men by mid-century, carried closed. (Cowie, p. 301) An umbrella was always kept in a great house’s entrance hall to protect a guest who was leaving and had to walk out to their carriage in inclement weather. (Durant, p. 316).
Undergarments—For men, the shirt, of cotton or lawn, long-sleeved, pulled on over the head and closed with three buttons down the chest. Could have pleats or a ruffle down the chest (and at sleeves). Drawers like modern boxers, tied with a ribbon at the waist, aka “trunks” if the short version, knee-length, or “long pants” if they went to the ankle. The long underwear version could even have a strap under the foot if you wanted them to be tight to be worn with a smooth look under tight pantaloons. Knitted wool, cotton, or silk thread stockings were the Regency man’s version of socks. They could be black, gray, white, or flesh-colored and since elastic was not yet invented, they were held up by a ribbon or tape sewn in at the top edge or by a simple garter at the knee. See my article on Men’s Fashions in the History section of my website to learn more about the figure-fixers that were available to men, such as corsets for beer guts and padding for skinny legs. *g*
For women, the layer closest to the skin was an ankle-length, sleeveless shift or chemise of white cotton or muslin, similar to a modern day slip or sleeveless nightgown. Stockings on feet, same as men’s above, but wider choice of colors and could end higher on the leg. A petticoat was tied on around the waist to add volume to the skirts of one’s gown. A decorative ruffle, ribbon trim, or lace around the hem was common.
Regency corsets aka “stays” were not as brutal as early Georgian or the later Victorian ones. These go on around the rib cage, push up the bosom and squeeze in the waist. A long corset could go all the way down to the hips if extra help was needed to smooth out the figure. Corsets were made of a sturdy canvas-like fabric reinforced with whale bone, and were laced up the back with the help of one’s lady’s maid. (See my Women’s Fashions article as well for more details.)
“Under his protection” – euphemism to describe the life situation of a man’s mistress.
“Unlicked cub” – a boy, connotations of defiance or a lad who has a cocky streak, not listening to his elders.
Unmentionables – euphemism for a man’s trousers/breeches.
“Up” – forget north or south, one always travels “up” to London and the two great universities, Oxford and Cambridge. To everywhere else, it’s “down.”
Upper servants – in a wealthy London home, these include the butler (who rules the footmen), the housekeeper (rules the maids), the man-cook or chef (rarer, a status symbol for a family to have a male chef), the cook (usually female, rules the kitchen), the lady’s maid (hair- and clothing-stylist of the lady of the house, gets the clothes Her Ladyship no longer wants). The valet serves the same function for the gentlemen of the house. The head gardener (rules the landscape crew), the head groom (stable manager, responsible for all horse care, and rules the grooms), the head coachman (in charge of maintaining the carriages and acting as head chauffeur for the family), the head nurse (in charge of the children and the nursery staff). FYI, the lower servants were the crews that each of these division leaders commanded. Young Lady’s Maids would be the lady’s maid for the daughters of the household, but they are also considered lower servants.
Upper servants are distinguished by the fact that they are usually addressed by “Mrs.” or “Mr.” So-and-So. (Contrary to popular belief, butlers were only “Jeeves” or Last-Name-Only to the master and perhaps the lady of the house. To the children and the rest of the servants, butlers and other upper servants at his rank were “Mr.”
This is why I deliberately chose to have my Knight brothers in the Knight Miscellany series almost always call their long-time family butler “Mr. Walsh,” rather than just “Walsh.” This is what they would have called him when they were boys, and they continue to call him this as a token of their affectionate respect for him. The respect and affection of the family they served was of huge importance to devoted upper servants.
Upper servants have their own room and offices and they get to eat upstairs in their own special out-of-the-way dining room. All lower servants eat downstairs in the servants’ dining hall.
Out in the country, on the family’s estates, there were a handful of functionaries who outranked even the upper servants. These were educated folks who were managers and paperwork guys/clerks, in charge of the budget and the maintenance of their respective domains. The Land Steward was in charge of managing the land (park and farm lands of the estate). The House Steward was above the upper servants inside the house. If the estate was not that big, these positions could be combined simply as Steward. If His Lordship owned multiple estates, he would probably have an Agent In Chief, to whom all of his far-flung Stewards would answer. All Agents and Stewards were educated people. There would also be a Clerk of the Kitchens and a Clerk of the Stables, as well as a Head Gamekeeper (in charge of maintaining the wild animals on an estate where the master enjoyed hunting, shooting, and fishing). He and his family lived outside in a cottage.
Governess, tutor, secretary, chaplain, archivist, doctor, and librarian stand completely outside the servant hierarchy due to their gentility. This could also include a Chamber Nurse who had experience working at a hospital or for a physician and was employed to care for a child with a disability or family member with a long-term illness.
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