Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Regency Christmas Present

A very happy Christmas to all our readers, as they say in the most august of organs!

Here is my cyber-Christmas present to you all. It’s a gorgeous bonnet, made of finest Leghorn straw and tastefully decorated with flowery ribbons. Sorry if it doesn’t suit you, Stephen!

Compared with the other straw bonnets I have seen, this one is incredibly fine. You can barely see the weave, even at close quarters. Unfortunately for ladies of fashion, it was very difficult to get Leghorn straws during the Napoleonic Wars, so they often had to make do with much inferior, and coarser, home-grown versions. A bonnet like this, being the real thing, would have been much prized even if it had had to be smuggled into England. This one dates from about 1810 so it might possibly have been smuggled. Sadly, we’ll never know but I like to think it was. Yes, I’m an incurable romantic and one day I may find myself writing about smugglers. Alluring thought, for me at least. [If you want to see this bonnet, and quite a few more, it is in the Wade Collection at Berrington Hall, a National Trust property near Ludlow. Viewings by appointment only.]

If you fancy a different colour on your bonnet, you can of course change the trimmings. Lydia Bennet did it all the time, so you can, too.

A Christmas question: how would you decorate this bonnet? Ribbons, flowers, maybe a dead pheasant or two? Perhaps something special for Christmas, like holly? The Regency authors would love to know.

Second Christmas question: if you were a Regency lady (or gent!), what gift would you give to the loved one in your life? Embroidered slippers were very popular, I believe, though not with Mr Beaumaris. Perhaps you can think of something even better?

I hope everyone is having a wonderful and peaceful day. And now I must go and minister to my roast goose (yes, really).

Joanna Maitland

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