Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Credit Crunch - Regency Style

Living beyond one's means is nothing new. In fact betting and gaming was a major preoccupation during the Regency period. Upper-class women mostly confined their gaming to cards - loo, faro, marcao, whist and the like. Men also gambled at cards, often wagering vast sums on a hand in the clubs and hells of Pall Mall, or risking their fortunes on the roll of the dice.
Almost any kind of bet was acceptable but once entered into was held as binding. Although gambling debts were not enforceable through the law they where considered to be debts of honour and it was understood amongst the upper classes that a wager undertaken between them took precedence over just about anything else - even if it meant the gentleman incurring the debt forfeited his entire estate as a consequence. A man of honour would not dream of defaulting, even if it meant keeping his tailor, and other tradesmen, waiting for payment.
Vowels - or IOU's - are commonly referred to in historical fiction. Their name is derived from the vowels - i,o and u which they represented. Incurring a debt of honour was taken so seriously that borrowing from a woman or even resorting to a moneylender were considered more honourable alternatives than defaulting.
Women did not view their gaming debts quite so seriously as men but were still obliged to pay. This often resulted in the sale of jewellery or other valuable personal items in order to honour their commitments. But such was the lure of the card table that the share of pawning their diamonds didn't prevent them from presenting themselves for more punishment, convinced that their luck must be due to change, the very next night.


Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Fascinating, Wendy, and so useful for novelists - when our hero/heroine has to marry to save the family's fortunes!

sexy said...
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