WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Wife in Water Colours

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Wife in Water Colours

They are often written as a foil to the heroine: vain, overblown, and vengeful. They often have some skeevy characteristic such as malice, possessiveness, or extreme avarice that only manifests itself (or seems unattractive and potentially problematic) to the hero after he meets and/or falls for the heroine. In nearly half the novels in which they make an appearance, they don’t take dismissal by the hero with a thank you, but rather use it as kindling in the formation of a plot to harm the heroine.

Beware the ides of Mistress.

The Amorous Courtesan by Pierre Subleyras, 1735, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Wife in Water Colours (noun)

A mistress, or concubine; water colours being, like their engagements, easily effaced, or dissolved.

I know many Regency gentlemen kept mistresses, and I have no problem reading of their accounts in contemporaneous resources and historical texts. I don’t, however, want to read about them in flagrante delicto with the hero in my historical romance. The hero may visit her off-page, give her her congé, or even offer assistance toward a more respectable direction; I don’t want to read about them engaging in energetic discourse of a horizontal nature.

The Jersey Smuggler Detected; – or – Good cause for (separation) Discontent by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 24 May 1796.

Once a male character in a novel becomes clearly identifiable as the hero, I want him to remain committed to the heroine. He may fight with her and against his attraction for three-fourths of the story, but he may not visit another’s bed. Author Susana Ellis wrote several posts about what she called “Historical Romance Deal Breakers,” and adultery was number two. I concur.

Now, turn the mistress into the heroine … well, I’m all for that. I like a good underdog story.


  • Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
  • Want to learn more about courtesans and mistresses in Regency England? Head to The Culture Concept Circle.
  • Someone else agrees with me about adultery being a no-no in historical romance. Read what Susana Ellis has to say about it.
WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Pig Running

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Pig Running

In case the post-holiday and winter doldrums have taken root in your soul, here’s a bit of summertime entertainment to banish the blahs. But first, how did I pick this week’s word?

Glad you asked.

In true stream of consciousness form, this phrase came to me. I always watch and read Pride and Prejudice over the Christmas holiday. I have a lovely leather-bound copy to read, and I watch all the versions I have access to – the 1940 film (purely for Laurence Olivier, Greer Garson, and Edna Mae Oliver), the 1980 and 1995 miniseries, and the 2005 film. There’s a scene in the latter that is not taken from the book but completely fits the character and the action. That led me to wondering if it was an anachronistic inclusion or if such practices really occurred, which led me to research.

That’s how I roll.

Pig Running

A piece of game frequently practised at fairs, wakes, &c. A large pig, whose tail is cut short, and both soaped and greased, being turned out, is hunted by the young men and boys, and becomes the property of him who can catch and hold him by the tail, above the height of his head.

Actress Kelly Reilly as Caroline Bingley, Pride and Prejudice, 2005, Focus Features.

Actress Kelly Reilly as Caroline Bingley, Pride and Prejudice, 2005, Focus Features.

And yes, Virginia, they really chased pigs at fairs back in the day (and still do every summer at fairs all over the United States). The largest of these exhibitions was the one held in London – the Bartholomew Fair. It began by charter of King Henry I when he allowed the Prior of Smithfield to hold a market in September near St. Bartholomew hospital. It grew in popularity each year, eventually lengthening to fourteen days, and was the event to see exotic animals, wrestlers and strong men, acrobats, puppetry, musicians and dancers, and to buy all manner of food, drink, and textiles.

By the early 1800s, the fair had shortened to just four days in length, and authorities railed against the lewd behavior, bawdy entertainments, drunkenness, and general atmosphere of exhibitionism that accompanied the fair. Regency visitors would have witnessed all manner of shocking spectacles, including a full-blown pig running. But it was the theatrical performances that especially vexed the strait-laced; they were prohibited from the Fair in the early 1840s. By 1852, no shows were enacted and in 1855, the charter expired.

Bartholomew Fair by Thomas Rowlandson, published in Rudolph Ackermann's Microcosm of London, 1808-10, British Library.

Bartholomew Fair by Thomas Rowlandson, published in Rudolph Ackermann’s Microcosm of London, 1808-10, British Library.

I’ve blogged about the fair before here, and author Susana Ellis offers up a fine examination of it in her Romance of London Series: Bartholomew Fair. But I did find something new in my pokings and proddings of the internet. London Metropolitan Archives Artist in Residence Nick Field discusses the famous print of the fair as part of the LMA’s Streetlife London series. It’s broken into two parts, each less than five minutes. It’s a fascinating analysis of both the artwork and its subject.


WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Cokes

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Cokes

COKES (noun)

The fool in the play of Bartholomew Fair. Perhaps a contraction of the word COXCOMB.

A Pretty Conceit, and worth the finding! I ha’ such luck to spin out these fine things still, and like a Silk-worm, out of my self. Here’s Master Bartholomew Cokes, of Harrow o’ th’ Hill, i’ th’ County of Middlesex, Esquire, takes forth his Licence to marry Mistress Grace Well-born, of the said Place and County: And when do’s he take it forth? to day! the Four and Twentieth of August! Bartholmew-day! Bartholmew upon Bartholmew! there’s the Device! who would have mark’d such a Leap-Frog Chance now? ~Bartholomew Fair, Ben Jonson, Act 1, Scene 1.

The fool part I get. But what is a “Bartholomew Fair?”

It was one of the first Charter fairs – those street celebrations established by Royal Decree. King Henry I granted the land of West Smithfield in London to his former jester and courtier Rahère who, after falling violently ill, had repudiated his sins and made a pilgrimage to Rome, pledging to found a hospital and church for poor men should his health improve. Upon his return to England as a healthy and newly-ordained priest, Rahère established the Priory of the Hospital of St. Bartholomew in 1123, and its resultant fair in 1133.

Rahère, Bouffon de Henry I et de la Reine Matilda (Rahèrem herald to King Henry I), debut 1100, artist unknown.

Rahère, Bouffon de Henry I et de la Reine Matilda (Rahèrem herald to King Henry I), debut 1100, artist unknown.

The original Charter stipulated a three-day event, but by the 17th century it had stretched to a full two weeks; the end of that century saw the time span again altered, shortened to four days. The Fair commenced on August 24th until 1753, when the calendar was changed and the start date moved to September 3.

Bartholomew Fair 1721, publication date estimated 1824, Wellcome Library, London.

Bartholomew Fair 1721, publication date estimated 1824, Wellcome Library, London.

The fair was was both a trading market and entertainment festival. Cloth, food, livestock, and sundry craft items were available for barter or outright purchase. The accompanying displays ranged from the diverting (prize fights, musicians, acrobats, and puppets) to the exploitative (sideshows, freaks, and wild animals).

Advertisement for John Harris's Puppetry Booth, Bartholomew Fair, ca 1700, courtesy Houghton Library at Harvard University.

Advertisement for John Harris’s Puppetry Booth, Bartholomew Fair, ca 1700, courtesy Houghton Library at Harvard University.

Bartholomew fair bill, 1790, courtesy City of London.

Bartholomew fair bill, 1790, courtesy City of London.

Going to Bartholomew Fair sounds as common an occurrence as for those of us in the United States who attend their annual State Fair, or perhaps visit Coney Island in New York. When the appointed time comes, going to the fair is simply what one does – to see and be seen, to witness the extraordinary, to be entertained. Samuel Pepys documented his observations in a diary entry on Saturday the 31st of August, 1667:

… and I to Bartholomew fayre, to walk up and down; and there, among other things, find my Lady Castlemayne at a puppet-play, “Patient Grizill,” and the street full of people expecting her coming out. I confess I did wonder at her courage to come abroad, thinking the people would abuse her; but they, silly people! do not know her work she makes, and therefore suffered her with great respect to take coach, and she away, without any trouble at all, which I wondered at, I confess. I only walked up and down, and, among others, saw Tom Pepys, the turner, who hath a shop, and I think lives in the fair when the fair is not. I only asked how he did as he stood in the street, and so up and down sauntering till late and then home, and there discoursed with my wife of our bad entertainment to-day, and so to bed.

By the middle 19th century, the Bartholomew Fair had become less business expo and more carnival. In 1855 the City of London and Lord Mayor had had enough, and the Bartholomew Fair ended forever, done in by the unruly crowds and rampant crime. It seems the Fair had something for everyone, of every age, and of every walk of life … both legal and illegal.

We could wish, seriously, to caution all young people against a habit of attending fairs. They constitute an assemblage of idle people, where are indiscriminately mixed thieves and pick-pockets, who go from fair to fair; loose women, strolling players, and vagabonds of every description, waiting to plunder the honest part of the people. St. Bartholomew’s fair, from its long continuance, is a school of vice which has initiated more youth into the habits of villainy than even Newgate itself. ~The Newgate Calendar, Comprising Interesting Memoirs of the Most Notorious Characters Who Have Been Convicted of Outrages on the Laws of England Since the Commencement of the Eighteenth Century With Occasional Annecdotes and Observations, Speeches, Confessions, and Last Exclamations of Sufferers, Volume II, by Andrew Knapp and William Baldwin, attorneys at law, 1825.

"Bartholomew Fair" from Microcosm of London, 1808-10, Thomas Rowlandson for Rudolph Ackermann, British Library.

“Bartholomew Fair” from Microcosm of London, 1808-10, Thomas Rowlandson for Rudolph Ackermann, British Library.