Regency Spies: Secret Histories of Britain’s Rebels & Revolutionaries, by Sue Wilkes – A Review

Regency Spies by Sue Wilkes 2016 x 200

From the desk of Stephanie Barron:

PARANOIA RUNS DEEP

From the moment I saw the title of Sue Wilkes’s latest book, Regency Spies (Pen & Sword Books, 2015), I was desperate to get my hot little hands on a copy. In a distant chapter of my life I was trained in espionage by the CIA, and I have a habit of inventing spies in my Jane Austen novels—most of them working nefariously on behalf of Bonaparte, but a few ready to die for King and Country. There’s a paucity of scholarly data on tradecraft, recruitment, and spy running during Jane Austen’s heydey, as Lauren Willig’s fictional Eloise discovers in the absorbing adventures of the Pink Carnation. A century ago, Baroness Orczy handed us the consuming history of the Scarlet Pimpernel and forever transformed our sense of the French Revolution. (Can there be any pleasure greater than tucking oneself up in bed with a soothing drink and a copy of one of these books on a stormy night?) Patrick O’Brian channeled the Secret Funds of the Admiralty’s Sir Joseph Banks into the hands of his irascible polymath Stephen Maturin, who collected intelligence wherever his voyages with Jack Aubrey took him; but O’Brian failed to detail his sources at the back of his marvelous novels.

Perhaps, like me, he had none.

So I was eager to discover what Ms. Wilkes had to share with the world.

I confess to a moment of dismay when I opened Regency Spies. As Georgette Heyer’s character Freddie Standen often observes, “I never knew a more complete take-in!” And as is so often the case with poor Freddie, the fault lay with me, not with Ms. Wilkes. I assumed that by Regency spies, she referred to dashing men in cravats and pantaloons, fencing the despicable minions of Napoleon on behalf of the Crown. In fact, Regency Spies is an impeccably researched and scholarly record of the informants recruited, generally by the British Home Office but also by local militias and constabularies, to report on the seditious conspiracies of their fellow Englishmen. Continue reading

By the Seaside with Sanditon: Guest Blog with Mandy N. on Regency-era Seaside Fashions

Please welcome Mandy N. today as a guest blogger during ‘By the Seaside with Sanditon’. Mandy is an avid collector of vintage fashion plates and has graciously offered to share some of her lovely images and chat about Regency-era fashion that I am quite certain Mr. Parker would think quite elegant enough for Sanditon.

During the Regency-era, seaside resorts were popular among fashionable society for both health cures and holidays. Jane Austen’s novels mention the resorts of Brighton, Scarborough, Cromer, Lyme and her fictional ‘Sandy ton’ or Sanditon. At resorts, fashionable visitors delighted in leisurely pleasures of promenading and seabathing amid sunshine and sea breezes. To partake of resort pleasures visitors required fashionable apparel to promenade, seabath, mingle and be seen by society. Seaside resorts also encouraged ladies to buy trinkets and shell ornaments at the circulating library similar to what Mr. Parker tries to establish at Sanditon. 

The basic seaside costume was a white muslin dress comfortable for a beach stroll and to ‘take a turn on the cliff’ (Ch.6), or dress up with accessories for a promenade. My impression is between the 1809 to 1815 seasons seaside fashion evolved. Accessories such as scarves, ribbons, shawls and reticules added blue, green or yellow colour to a white dress. Bonnets and parasols in matching colours added variety to seaside Regency costumes. ‘the most stylish girls in  the place.‘  (Ch. 11)

           

(Figure 1 left) Promenade Dress (Ackermann’s Repository 1809) shows a stylish frock for a stroll on the beach. A white muslin dress. Bonnet of plaited straw with ostrich feather, tied with ribbon. A Marine Scarf of purple silk and matching Chinese parasol of purple silk. Shoes and gloves of yellow kid. No doubt the perfect outfit to enjoy ‘the finest, purest seabreeze on the coast’ (Ch. 1) 

(Figure 2 right) Promenade or Sea Beach Costume (Ackerman’s Repository 1810). Take a turn around the cliff in natural surroundings near the resort in white muslin under an apple-green crape tunic coat with straw bonnet tied with ribbon. Chinese green silk parasol and green kid slippers. A versatile outfit to wear round the resort. 

(Figure 3) A sight to please Mr. Parker is the sight of a most fashionable young woman who knew to sit upon the seashore to enjoy sunshine and a breeze. Promenade Dress (Ackermann’s Repository 1815). A stripey pelisse with a full neck ruff and silk shawl over the shoulders. Fabric-covered bonnet with flowers. Her strapped slippers allow easier walking on a sandy shore. This Promenade Dress was fashionable in cool months. Regency society enjoyed visiting seaside resorts all year round. (Thanks Heather, for your elegant 1815 Promenade Dress)

 

(Figure 4)  Morning Dress (Ackermann’s Repository 1814). A lady sits on the beach looking out to sea.  Her robe is evening-primrose-coloured sarsanet with blonde lace. French hat of ribbons and flowers. A darker dress may not show dust or sand so much as a white dress. Fashion terms like evening primrose may’ve appealed to stylish ladies. This Morning Walking Dress has the addition of a telescope. Telescope gazing was a popular leisure with men and women at sea resorts. Like the Miss Beauforts, perhaps she- ‘looks at nothing through a telescope.‘ (Ch. 11)

         

(Figure 5 left) Walking Dress (Ackermann’s Repository 1811).  Muslin robe with a fuller sleeve and a square neckerchief in folds. Amber sarsenet coat. A mountain hat with flower, oranmented with white crape (her hair folds beneath the white crape). Half-boots of buff kid and a crimson reticule. This outfit for a seaside stroll appears more sophisticated than dresses of 1809-1810 seasons. Personally, I love the background and beach activity in this costume plate! 

(Figure 6 right) Walking Dress (Ackermann’s Repository 1815). Exemplifies a costume worn by the seashore at time of Sanditon. A high muslin dress of short waking length trimmed with treble flounces and full ruff of French style. Long sleeve with wristband over the hand. French bonnet of white satin edged with blue ribbon and a plume of feathers. Mantle of silk embroidered with silks. Silk stockings, gloves and slippers of blue kid. Blue shoes? Civilization indeed!  ‘Who would have expected such a sight at a shoemaker’s in old Sanditon!’ (Ch. 4)  But did she buy her large, large bonnet from Jebbs? 

         

(Figure 7 left) Promenade Half Full Dress (La Belle Assemblee 1810). An ensemble fit for an heiress to stroll upon the Terrace. A muslin dress with long sleeves and low neck. French scarf of yellow silk. Note the lace veil on the yellow silk bonnet to protect a lady’s complexion, or, if she is ill protection from unwanted public gaze upon the Terrace. Parasol of light yellow & white fringe. Gloves and shoes of yellow kid.  Likely, such fashion was seen at large, fashionable resorts. ‘the Terrace was the attraction to all; everybody who walked, must begin with the Terrace.’ (Ch. 7) 

(Figure 8 right) Promenade Costume (Ackermann’s Repository 1812). A muslin robe with long sleeves, simple collar and brooch. Amber sash, rosary and cross necklace. Gloves and shoes of yellow kid. Her hat is trimmed with white ribbons. I wonder if she reads a book of poetry? ‘Upon the Terrace with the Parkers and Denhams, sat Clara Brereton.’ She is known to wear white ribbons.

(Figure 9) ‘Two females in elegant white.’ (Ch. 4) Promenade or Sea Beach Costumes (Ackermann’s Repository 1810). First figure: White muslin gown, a tunic of pink sarsanet with cording up front. Straw hat tied with white ribbon. A founding lace cap with flowers. Muslin cloak and head-dress of square veil of French lace. Gloves and pink slippers. Second figure: A white muslin robe and cloak of fine muslin. Headdress with a square veil of lace accented with a brooch. Gloves and amber slippers. Lace veils probably protected a lady’s face from sun and wind on the beach. The outfits appear loose and comfortable for around the resort wear. ‘The sea air and sea bathing together were nearly infallible’ (Ch. 2)

(Figure 10) Sea Bathing Costume (La Belle Assemblee 1815). A pelisse of green-white silk with fringes. Leghorn hat with feathers. Green and white striped half boots. At seaside resorts, ladies could parade in style enjoying the purest seabreeze by the dancing sea. Yet, promenading was not the only leisure. Sea resorts were famed by society for the novelty of sea cures and seabathing. ‘Here began the descent to the beach, and to the bathing machines-and this was therefore the favourite spot for beauty and fashion.’ (Ch. 4) This fashion plate features a lady strolling in seabathing costume to the beach in to the seabathing machines to change and enter the water in privacy. Seabathing machines can be seen on the lower right side of the fashion plate. The advantage of this costume was a lady could quickly dress or undress. Does she carry a muslin slip in her bag? The most fastidious belle could not find a more becoming Bathing Costume. I wonder if this lady bathes for leisure or sea cure? In the novel, active hypochondriac Diana Parker appears a regular seabather, so presumably owns a Bathing Costume. She intends ‘to enourage Miss Lambe in taking her first dip…and go in the machine with her if he wishes it.‘ (Ch. 12)  

In the Regency-era seabathing was the motive to improve one’s health, but socializing and fashion appear as important as any sea cure. As we see in these fashion plates from the Ladies Journals of the era, it is apparent that they catered to the novelty of fashion by the sea. To realistically display Walking Dresses or a Sea Bathing Costumes, beach or cliff scenes were popular as background on fashion plates. To a fashionable lady, the picture may convey not only the infallible delights of finery but the delight of visiting a resort for ‘the sea, dancing and sparkling in sunshine and freshness.’ (Ch. 4)

For people not yet drowned by seaside images, you can check the wallpaper gallery at Solitary Elegance. The August wallpaper features two Regency seaside mother & child plates and a quote from Sanditon for your enjoyment.

Many thanks to Mandy N. for all her work scanning images and researching the text. Bravo!

Further reading

Upcoming event posts

Day 6 – March 20 Group Read Chapters 9-12
Day 6 – March 20 Review: Sanditon (Hesperus)
Day 7 – March 21 Sanditon Completions
Day 8 – March 22 Event Wrap-up