Uniformly Magnificent!

WellingtonCara/Andrea here,
In historical romance, most of us authors love swathing our heroines in silks and satins. We pore over vintage prints from La Belle Assemblee, studying sleeve shapes, sashes, bodices and furbelows. We peer at the tiny details like buttons and ribbons, sarcenet and lace,  gold-threaded embroidery and delicate seed pearls. Handsome hero 1Then, of course, there are bonnets, reticles and pelisses . . .

The details add wonderful color and texture to our characters. Which got me to thinking about our heroes. They tend to be more understated—biscuit-colored breeches, navy superfine coats, snowy white cravats, dark Hessians, polished to a mirror shine . . . Unless, they are military men.

Lawrence-Lord-StewartFor a just-finished manuscript, I was looking at the Sir Thomas Lawrence paintings of Wellington and Charles Stewart, and taking careful note of the glorious finery of the fancy dress officers. Gold braid, epaulettes, crested buttons, starburst medals and intricate patches fashioned out of precious metals and gems—some of the regalia puts the most elaborate ballgowns to blush. Which got me to thinking about uniforms, and a bit of research turned up the sort of obscure and fun facts that always tickle my fancy.

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Hats Off! (And On)

Lock Hatter Cara/Andrea here,

It's summer season here in the States, and we're all thinking of beaches and sun  . . . which got me thinking about hats. Now,
Army hatwhen we historical authors dress our Regency heroes for daily life, sunny or otherwise, only the best will do—boots by Hoby, coats by Weston, pistols by Manton . . . and, of course, hats by Lock & Co.

Lock 4On my last trip to London, I spent a lot of time strolling along St. James’s Street, which for any Regency aficionado, is pure bliss. Many of the famous shops of the era are still there, including  Lock & Co. which is located at No. 6, sitting cheek to jowl with another legendary purveyor of gentlemanly staples—Berry Brothers and Rudd, the famous wine and spirits merchants. Part of No. 6 is still called “The Kiln” because a noted maker of ceramic figurines worked there before James Lock bought his freehold in 1764. (Another arcane but fun fact is that the emporium was built on the site of an old real tennis court constructed for Charles I.) Other neighbors are Truefitt and Hill for men’s grooming essentials, and White’s, the quintessential gentleman’s club.

Lock 2Lock and Co. has a long and colorful history, as befits the oldest hat emporium in the world. (It’s also one of the oldest family-owned businesses.) And its illustrious client list includes Sir Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and Princess Kate.

It was founded in 1676, when the Locks, a prosperous merchant family, moved to the western part of London after the Great Plague and Fire of 1666. They took up the freehold lese of seven houses on St. James’s Street, near St. James’s Palace—which to this day has remained the official royal residence of the sovereign of Great Britain, though Buckingham Palace has been used by the Royal family since Queen Victoria took up residence in 1837.) Their neighbor was Robert Davis, a hatter, and the two tradesmen families worked side by side for many years.

Nelson's hat 2n 1747, James Lock, the grandson of the original Lock patriarch was apprenticed to the Davis clan to learn the trade. As the Davis patriarch had no son, James was groomed to take over the business, and dutifully married Davis’s daughter. During the Seven Years War, he earned a reputation as an excellent military hatter—the officers of many regiments were responsible for purchasing their own supplies.

Nelson's hat 3Men of the Lock family served in the Grenadier Guards during the Peninsular War. But perhaps the most famous snippet from the store’s history during the Napoleonic Wars involves Admiral Horatio Nelson. He designed a special seagoing hat to his own specifications—including a fold-down eyepatch for his bad eye—and placed an order for it with Lock & Co., providing a detailed sketch and notes for them to follow. Alas, it was never picked up, as Nelson and Victory sailed to the Battle of Trafalgar before he returned to England. (A facsimile is on display in the store, along with a copy of the instructions.)

Family history gets a little complicated during the next century, with financial troubles and lawsuits threatening the emporium’s existence. Suffice it to say, the problems were ironed out and today, there are still seven Lock family members involved with the company. Recently, when one of them was asked if the shop would ever be put to another use, he indignantly replied, “Pack the place in, d’you mean? After three hundred years? Not bloody likely! If the Duke of Bedford can keep his family chateau in business we can do the same for ours!”

Lock 3Here are some of my favorite "hat history" highlights from the Lock & Co. website:

The Bowler Hat
The Bowler, or more properly the Coke hat, was first made by Lock and Co. in 1850 for William Coke, who wanted a stout hat for gamekeepers that would withstand knocks from overhanging tree branches. (Its crown is hardened by numerous layers of shellac.) He also insisted its brim be small, so as not to catch in the wind and be blown off. Legend has it that Coke jumped up and down on the “Bowler” (the name of the actual hatter who fashioned it for Lock) and when he couldn’t crush it announced he was satisfied.

BoaterThe Straw Boater

The Boater is patterned after the hats issued to naval midshipmen in the late nineteenth century, though the naval hats were floppier and designed for sun protection.

The Trilby
The Trilby is named after the female heroine in a novel by George du Maurier, which was serialized in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Made of soft felt, it became very popular in the early twentieth century as men adopted a more casual, modern look.

Milky_Way_blue_sSome of the couture creations of the present store are truly works of art, but I confess, I never wear a hat except for sun protection—and then it tends to be a very mundane baseball cap. What about you? Are hats part of your wardrobe? Do you wear them as a fashion statement, or are you like me and wear one for purely practical reasons. Do you have any favorite hat style from history? I love the military-style shakos with ostrich plumes that a Regency heroine would wear for riding.

The Stiff Upper Lip

MedievalNicola here, reflecting on the qualities associated with the
“stiff upper lip” and whether they are the type of characteristics we like to
read about in our heroes – and heroines.

No Self-Control

A new series on TV in the UK is tracing the “emotional
history” of Britain and it is interesting to discover that the nation has not
always been associated with reserve, resilience, restraint and emotional
coolness. In the Middle Ages visitors including the Dutch scholar Erasmus
commented on the fact that the English were always kissing each other, weeping,
arguing and generally allowing their passions to get the better of them.
Italian visitors to the Elizabethan court also commented unfavourably on how the
British lacked self-control. It was a time when the Brits were renowned for
letting it all hang out emotionally and it was the French who invented the word
“sang-froid” to describe a quality that their neighbours across the Channel
singularly lacked.

During the English Civil Wars of the 17th century
the Parliamentarians, famous for frowning on
Cavalier celebrations of festivals such as
Christmas, represented the virtues of modesty and discipline whilst the
cavaliers revelled in pleasure and panache. This vogue for indulging the
emotions was popular during the Restoration and by the 18th century the
word “sentimental” was a term of praise. It referred to a person of taste and
refinement, someone who would openly show emotion. Both men and women wept over
books such as Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, and sentimental paintings were
much in fashion. The last great hero of this era was Horatio Nelson, flamboyant
and sentimental, a man who paraded his passions in public.  This was a man who had no hesitation in
asking one of his closest friends to kiss him goodbye on his deathbed. When
Nelson died the huge outpouring of grief at his funeral mirrored the emotional
nature of his life.


The Lip Stiffens 

But the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution were
changing British attitudes towards the
Darcy expression of passion. The French
Revolution was seen as a disastrous result of the outpouring of rampant
emotional expression. Passion was seen as dangerous to life and liberty.  At its most extreme, political passion
resulted in revolution. So it was time to stiffen the upper lip and reject the
display of emotion. Jane Austen’s heroes reflect this change. They have admirable self-control and seldom express their feelings. When they do, what
they say is concise, heartfelt but not flamboyant: Mr Darcy, for example, only expresses his admiration for Elizabeth Bennett when goaded into it by Miss Bingley. Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey is determinedly unsentimental, rejecting the heroine's wild flights of imagination. Even Frederick Wentworth, possibly the most open of Jane Austen's heroes is still a model of military restraint, resourcefulness and fortitude. As for the heroines, Elinor, representing sense, is favoured over Marianne, representing Sensibility.

WellingtonLord Byron was another man who simply could not resist
indulging his emotions. In contrast, the Duke of Wellington came to exemplify all
that was admired in stoicism and self-control. The “Iron Duke” was emotionally
restrained. One could not imagine him asking his best friend to kiss him under any circumstances. The
story of his exchange with Lord Uxbridge at the Battle of Waterloo demonstrates this. When Uxbridge had his leg shattered by a cannonball he declared: “By God,
Sir, I’ve lost my leg!” “By God, sir, so you have,” Wellington replied calmly.

The Doughty Victorians

The Victorian era enshrined
the stiff upper lip as a virtue throughout all classes of society. Britons’
Florentia Sale
inclination to express passion was suppressed, beaten out of young men at
public school and repressed by the Church. 
Explorers and soldiers were models of cool self-control and so were the
women who supported them. Florentia, Lady Sale, during the disastrous British
retreat from Kabul in the First Afghan War wrote in her diary: "Today we
fought our way through the Jugdulluk Pass. Fortunately, I was only wounded

Much of the literature of the
Victorian period reflected this cool stoicism. Invictus by WE Henley, Vitai
Lampada by Henry Newbolt and If by Rudyard Kipling all praise the quality of
the stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. However, the flip side to such fortutide could be a lack of imagination and empathy. There was a strong backlash against the stiff upper lip at the start of the 20th century from those who felt it ironed out all sensitivity.

Is there still a place for the stiff upper lip?

Andy Murray cryingThese days there is a general
consensus that the stiff upper lip is quivering too much with
sentimentality. We Brits cry regularly – even tennis player Andy Murray, the dour Scot, gets emotional. We get
passionate for the things we care about. And yet some of the British classic
understatement and stiff upper lip does survive. In my family the enquiry “How
are you?” is always greeted with the answer “fine, thank you” regardless of
circumstances. When my other half and I were driving through the African bush
and got stuck in deep sand we took turns in digging the Land Rover out whilst
the other one kept watch for a lion attack. We needed all our reserves of calmness and fortitude then. 

I’m not suggesting that the
qualities of coolness in the face of danger, resilience and restraint are
exclusive to the Brits. Far from it. I don’t see them as the preserve of one
particular nation over another. During the Victoran period there was in fact a fear that the Americans in particular were going to overtake the British in terms of their coollness under pressure and their positive attitude. Other races were also acknowledged to possess the stiff upper lip: The Germans were renowned for their discipline, the Australians for their resilience and resourcefulness and the Nordic races for their calm.

I have to confess that I do find many of the qualities associated with the stiff upper lip to be attractive, in real life as well as in my fiction. I suppose ideally I would like a
hero who possesses some restraint and a great line in understatement, but who is still
emotionally literate enough to declare his love to the heroine. I also love strong heroines who are clever and resourceful. 

What about you?
Do you prefer the strong silent type of hero who suppresses his passion or the sort of
man like Nelson or Byron who isn’t ashamed to show his emotions in public? Or a
hero somewhere between the two? Are there any particular examples of restraint
and self-control you admire in real life or in novels? And what about the heroines? After all, the stiff upper lip isn't the sole prerogative of the male of the species!