Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Truth Stranger than Fiction – Samuel Foote

Guest post by Grace Elliot

'Truth is Stranger than Fiction’

This saying is never truer than for the 18th century wit, actor and mimic, Samuel Foote. Mr Foote’s claims to Georgian fame include establishing the Haymarket theatre, playing transvestite roles, turning a family murder into a bestselling book, flouting licensing laws and writing a string of plays for one-legged actors. Indeed, truth being stranger than fiction it is extraordinary that Mr Foote (his real name) lost a leg when a practical joke went wrong and then used his disability to strive for even greater fame.

As a young man Foote trained as a lawyer but his heart wasn’t in it. A short man with a big personality, Foote’s lifestyle outstripped his financial means and he ended up in debtors jail. Evidently a resourceful man, he paid of his debts with earnings from a book he wrote. His bestselling ‘Genuine Account’ utilized the notoriety of his own uncle who was convicted and hung for the murder of his brother. This bestseller gained Foote celebrity status and he started to mix in London’s creative circles.

Foote frequented the same coffee houses as a young David Garrick, Henry Fielding and Samuel Johnson, as well as other influential Londoners. A measure of his wit was that in one coffee house a pinch of snuff was awarded to the man who told the wittiest quip or told a tale well – this ‘snuff of glory’ was soon Foote’s regular prize. As time went on Sam Foote edged further away from a career in law and towards the stage.

Foote took acting lessons and his first roles were in ‘unlicensed’ productions. The government of the day had recently created the Licensing Act of 1737 which forbad the performance of plays not approved by the Lord Chamberlain. This came about in response to plays poking fun at politicians, essentially a form of censorship the act muzzled wits and satirist, and productions reverted to softer, more sentimental pieces. However, the publics’ thirst for biting satire went unquenched – enter Sam Foote.

Samuel Foote as Lady Pentweazel
in a play he wrote titled ‘Taste’.
By 1747 Foote was writing and acting, and put on a play called ‘A Dish of Chocolate’. The chocolate referred to in the title was the beverage the visitor paid for at the door – the entertainment being gratis –and therefore not invoking the licensing act. His ‘Tea Party’ performances became hugely popular, filling a gap in the market for comedy and satire, and Foote’s place on the London stage was assured. Apparently, Benjamin Franklin was a fan and on a trip to London had dinner with Foote. They had an evening of banter of which this remark by Franklin was noted down by Foote:

“Any boy who is good at excuses, is generally good for nothing else.”

An actor playing the part of Mrs Cook
written by Samuel Foote
Foote lead a full life which is difficult to compress into a short piece, so let us move swiftly on to one of the defining moments of his life – losing a leg. Foote was invited to a country house gathering in Yorkshire hosted by Lady Mexborough. Other guests included the Duke of York, and perhaps Foote felt intimidated because he was quoted as having said:

“He could ride a horse as well as most men he knew”, even though he was a poor rider. The aristocrats, for whatever reason, decided to challenge this comment and challenged Foote to ride any horse in the stables. He accepted (no doubt to save face) but instead of a placid mount, for a joke the Duke gave Foote his own, flightly, mettlesome horse. Foote was thrown instantaneously and in the fall, sustained two compound fractures that necessitated his leg to be amputated.

However, Foote lost a limb, not his head and when the Duke expressed concern that Foote should not suffer poverty as a result, Foote made a canny suggestion.

“I took the liberty to mention to His Royal Highness that a patent from the Crown for the House in the Haymarket during my lifetime would protect me from want…”

The repentant Duke duly issued Foote with a charter to hold a patent for the new theatre in Haymarket – and the Theatre Royal was born – pretty much a license for Foote to print money.

Foote longed to perform again and so was fitted with a special jointed, artificial leg. He used his disability to reinvent himself, and wrote parts for one legged actors – such as Luke Lame in The Lame Lover. Another, more controversial play was The Devil Upon Two Sticks which personified the devil as a doctor. Foote became a wealthy man but work lead to exhaustion and …ultimately, all did not end well for Foote, but to tell is another story – but needless to say, truth is stranger than fiction.


The Ringmaster’s Daughter

1770’s London
The ringmaster’s daughter, Henrietta Hart, was born and raised around the stables of Foxhall Gardens. Now her father is gravely ill, and their livelihood in danger. The Harts' only hope is to convince Foxhall’s new manager, Mr Wolfson, to let Hetty wield the ringmaster’s whip. Hetty finds herself drawn to the arrogant Wolfson but, despite their mutual attraction, he gives her an ultimatum: entertain as never before – or leave Foxhall.

When the winsome Hetty defies society and performs in breeches, Wolfson’s stony heart is in danger. Loath as he is to admit it, Hetty has a way with horses…and men. Her audacity and determination awaken emotions long since suppressed.

But Hetty’s success in the ring threatens her future when she attracts the eye of the lascivious Lord Fordyce. The duke is determined, by fair means or foul, to possess Hetty as his mistress – and, as Wolfson’s feelings for Henrietta grow, disaster looms.

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Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and author of historical romance by night. Grace lives near London and is housekeeping staff to five cats, two teenage sons, one husband and a bearded dragon.

Grace believes that everyone needs romance in their lives as an antidote to the modern world. The Ringmaster’s Daughter is Grace’s fifth novel, and the first in a new series of Georgian romances.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

#Regency Ladies’ Accomplishments

by Maria Grace

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.) Being a "social asset" meant being somewhere between ignorant and illiterate and an intellectual. She could never be an intellectual threat to her husband, but should be able to follow conversation, and perhaps more importantly keep a conversation away from unpleasantries and steered toward good humor for all.

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 offering examples of good letters for her to emulate.


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 was higher.

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.

All these accomplishments might be acquired in a variety of ways, depending on the accomplishments of a girl’s mother and the means of her family. Her education would begin at home, conducted or at least supervised by her mother. If a family’s situation allowed, a governess might be hired or teaching masters brought in for specialized subjects like music and dance. Families of better means might send their daughters for a year or two to boarding school to ‘finish’ a young lady’s accomplishments.

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)
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)


Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.

She can be contacted at:
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