Of course most authors bring a lot of themselves into a story. However, Georgette brings one omission that many subsequent writers have overlooked – religion.
I’m not going to talk about beliefs, or the developments of the new kinds of Christianity, but about how the religious year affected high society. We are, to a great extent, a secular society, and religion is a matter of personal choice, but back then religion made up a large part of the social year. Not to mention the legal one (a subject for another post!) Everybody attended church every Sunday, or they faced a fine for not doing so, and most households started with family prayers, often led by the householder. Every village had its church, and churches abounded in the burgeoning cities, so they inevitably became centres of society, where people met and gossiped after the service.
Heyer assumed that the Season, the part of the year that roughly covers the spring, was the only one that mattered for the aristocracy. We known now that wasn’t true, and while the “little season” in the autumn didn’t exist by name, it did in reality. The aristocracy came to town in the autumn for the opening of Parliament and to conduct parliamentary business. Of course their families often accompanied them! Important politicians might base most of their year in London, and go to their country houses in the summer, when Parliament was not in session. Back in the spring, when Parliament came back.
But there was more to it than that. Add in another component and the Regency year makes a lot more sense. The religious component.
In the Regency people observed two other seasons – Lent and Advent. The forty days between Shrove Tuesday and Easter and the three weeks before Christmas Day were for fasting, sacrifice and contemplation. Perhaps more importantly for society, churches were not allowed to be decorated, clerics wore relatively simple robes, and celebratory events like weddings were not held.
What was the point of landing a duke if you couldn’t celebrate the union? While marriages were relatively private affairs, especially when compared to today’s shindigs, the wedding breakfast and the balls afterwards more than made up for it. And many clerics were loath to conduct wedding ceremonies during these periods. Most refused to conduct them at all, and they were certainly deterred or ordered not to hold them, by order of the bishops.
Society would not hold grand balls and great displays during Lent or Advent either. It would be considered shockingly disrespectful. They might have smaller gatherings like dinners, but these periods of the year might also provide useful breathers. Theatres were closed, as were other places of entertainment, and there were no Drawing Rooms at court.
So now we have a clearer idea of the seasons. Society might come to town any time after the end of September, when the shooting season was fading. Then they’d retire during Lent, probably to their country houses, and return (weather permitting) in January. Not all of society came to London in the early part of the year, but would wait until after Lent, at the end of March to mid-April, depending on the moveable feast that was Easter. Then, after Easter Monday, it was all go, with balls and presentations at court, and the rest of the merry-go-round, until the summer house parties began at the end of June, and the aristocracy moved out.
Some families preferred to use their power bases in the country for the majority of the year, and this is evinced by the closing of the huge London mansions, and the consequent aggrandisements of the country estate. But a few others stayed in London.
But by ignoring the religious year, an important component is missing.