WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Knight of the Rainbow

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Knight of the Rainbow

The Flower must not blame the Bee —
That seeketh his felicity
Too often at her door —

But teach the Footman from Vevay —
Mistress is “not at home” — to say —
To people — any more!
~Emily Dickinson, 206

They were to be tall, handsome, young, strong, and silent. They were to be seen and admired, but not heard. They were there for the heavy lifting (of tea trays, trunks, and whatnot).

They were there to pester the maids.

The Jealous Maids by John Collett, published by Robert Sayer and engraved by Robert Lowery L.aurie on 2 March 1772, Victoria and Albert Museum.

Observe the elaborate livery worn by the male servant, a froth of lace at his throat, his waistcoat  and facings festooned with gold. Even his buttons are gold!

Knight of the Rainbow

A footman: from the variety of colours in the liveries and trimming of gentlemen of that cloth.

Many others have gone into great detail on the lives, both personal and professional, of male domestic servants. I won’t rehash the particulars, but will include links below for those of a researching mind. Instead, I propose to show some prime examples of those noble Knights of the Rainbow.

Unlike female domestics, males were arrayed in a variety of fabrics and colors, with no shortage of embellishments and gee-gaws to ornament their costumes. The more public the servant, the more ostentatious and ornate his livery. Colors and style were as distinctive to families as was the crest on their carriage.

Footman Livery, made for the attendants of the 3rd Earl of Ashburnham of Ashburnham Place, Sussex, in 1829 for his installation as Knight of the Garter, at Manchester Art Gallery.

From the Manchester Art Gallery label:

Coat: Light blue-green cloth trimmed with red cloth and wool braid with uncut pile woven with coat of arms and coronet in red, yellow and black on white; lined with red glazed twilled wool; high standing collar; fronts each in one section, fastening at chest with 2 hooks and eyes, 17 metal buttons on right edge from neck to hem, cord imitating buttonholes on left, pocket at waist each side with shaped flap over three buttons; back in two shaped sections with centre back vent; long sleeves in two sections lined with white cotton, collar and turned-back cuffs of red cloth, strip of red cloth each side of front and centre back opening; braid on all edges and seams, outlining pockets and in chevrons down outside of sleeves; two loops white, red and yellow silk cord with metal points attached to right shoulder under crest embroidered in coloured silks on red cloth;
Breeches: Red cloth; shaped waistband lacing over gusset at centre back, fastening at centre front with 3 plain buttons under flap fastening with two buttons on waistband and one of centre front buttons; pocket each side with small button at corner on hip; narrow pocket in waistband on right of centre front; horn buttons for braces each side front and back; legs fastening at outer knee with four buttons and coloured silk braid kneeband with slot for buckle.
Waistcoat: red cloth lined with white cotton; front and skirt faced with red glazed wool; fronts each in one section fastening to waist with small metal buttons, buttons continue above and below fastening, high standing collar, fronts cut away at angle below waist, pocket each side of waist with shaped flap over three buttons; back in two sections, centre back vent; two pairs of linen tape ties at waist; collar, fronts and pockets edged with same braid as coat.

Footman’s Livery Uniform circa 1840-1860, via Manchester Art Gallery.

From the Manchester Art Gallery label:

Coat; Made from a dark blue cloth. Front edge curved out over chest fastening with hook and eye, slit pocket inside left front. Six brass buttons with crest of rampant lion on right edge, braid imitating buttonholes on left. Low standing collar of yellow cloth. Centre sections extending to form centre back skirt, open at centre below waist. Side sections padded and lined black cotton satin. Long sleeves with turned-back cuffs of yellow cloth. Edges outlined wool braid with uncut pile with geometric pattern in blue and yellow. Collar and cuffs trimmed smaller button.
Breeches: Made from yellow wool plush, partly lined twilled cotton. Straight waistband lacing at CB over gusset. Fastening at CF with three plain buttons under flap the whole width of front fastening with four buttons on waistband. Slit pocket each side of fastening under flap. Long narrow pocket in right front waistband. Buttons for braces at side front and CB. Legs fastening at outer knee with three brass buttons and kneeband with small brass buckle.
Waistcoat: Made from yellow cloth, unbleached linen back, lined with cream twilled cotton. High neck with low standing collar. Fastening with five brass buttons. Pocket shaped flap each side of waist.

Livery Coat circa 1875-1890, via Manchester Art Gallery.

From the Manchester Art Gallery label:

Coat: Blue wool, embroidered with braid and frogging. Purple blue cloth, braid-embroidered, lined dark blue twilled wool; fronts each in one section to waist extending to side back, fastening edge to edge at centre front with 6 hooks and eyes to v-neck with high standing collar; converging row of 6 silk-covered buttons each side of front; skirt fronts in one flared section extending to side back, side back edge stitched down onto back section under stitched-down pleat headed with button; false pocket each side of waist with shaped flap over three buttons; back in two shaped sections extending below waist to form centre back skirt, open below waist at centre; long sleeves in two sections, separate cuff sections, lined glazed linen; all edges, collar, cuffs, and side back seams outlined with wool braid in two shades of blue with diamond pattern in uncut pile; narrow blue silk braid in elaborate scrolling designs forming borders round the wider braid and frogging round buttons from neck to waist; lining padded and quilted on shoulders and under arms; pockets in lining each side of skirt and left breast.

Random specimens of livery

There is often a glut of information (and mis-information) on the internet, and the following costumes came without descriptors. But they were too pretty to pass.

Livery, early 19th Century, Italian, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Livery, early 19th Century, Italian, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sleeved livery waistcoat, early 19th century.

Ceremonial livery, Court Footman, late 19th Century, Hermitage Museum.

Ceremonial uniform of the Chief Chamberlain, late 19th Century, Hermitage Museum.

Not everyone was impressed by the finery and frippery, however.

Country Characters. No. 4: Footman by Thomas Rowlandson 30 August 1799, Royal Collection Trust.

Thomas Rowlandson and his well-honed satire: A conceited and “dandy-fied” Town footman stands admiring himself in a mirror, much to the disapproval of the country housemaid and butler. He is sure his charms and posy of flowers will win him the admiration of the country chits at the local pub; the monkey on a chain, imitating the footman, is certainly awed.


WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Black Spy

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Black Spy

Last week’s term – Dandy Grey Russet – introduced me to the concept of the Devil’s Nutting Bag. Never heard of it before, needed to know more, so must write post 🙂

Black Spy

The Devil.

According to Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics. Myths, Superstitions, and Folk-Lore of the Plant Kingdom by Richard Folkard, the Devil is on the lookout for those who go nutting on a Sunday. Children were warned that to do such meant the Devil, disguised as a gentleman, would hold down the branches for them.

Nutting Party, 1832.

The tradition of a Nutting Day dates back to 1560 Eton, when boys were given a half-holiday to gather nuts, creating the phrase “gone a-nutting.” Consequently, as one might suspect from a tradition associated with young boys, going “a-nutting” soon became a euphemism for sex and seduction, giving rise to its own saying, “a good year for nuts, a good year for babies.”

The 17th Century play Grim, the Collier of Croyden addresses those devil nuts – in both literal and seductive sense – in verse.

Excerpt from Grim, the Collier of Croyden.

After a run-in with the Devil, minds are changed about the seductive pull of going a-nutting.

Excerpt from Grim, The Collier of Croyden.

The worst day of the year to gather nuts is September 14th, according to a letter written by Northamptonshire poet John Clare to his friend, William Hone,  in 1825.

On Holy Rood Day it is faithfully and confidently believed by both old and young that the Devil goes a-nutting on that day and I have heard many people affirm that they once thought it a tale till they ventured to the woods on that day when they smelt such a strong smell of brimstone as nearly stifled them before they could escape out again…

Oh dear.

The safest day to gather nuts is September 21st, when legend has it the Devil was out gathering nuts and ran smack into the Virgin Mary. In his fright, he dropped his bag and fled. The dropped bag of nuts formed a hill in Alcester, Warwickshire, which has henceforth been known as The Devil’s Nightcap.

So not only is the devil busy spitting on blackberries in September, he’s also out tormenting nut gatherers. Fusty Old Scratch.

Folklore is fascinating.


WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Dandy Grey Russet

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Dandy Grey Russet

Spring has sprung here in Texas, and the colors are phenomenal this year. We’ve had enough early season rain to make everything go supernova on the color spectrum.

Colors during the Regency period were no less fantastic, and had the names to match. From the pale watercolors of the young misses to the vibrant primaries of waistcoats and married ladies gowns, there was no shortage of shades and hues to drape the beau monde (although this term was likely not use in Regency England, but it sounds pretty and fits the context, so I’m going for it).

1807 Le Beau Monde plate

Dandy Grey Russet (noun)

A dirty brown. His coat’s dandy grey russet, the colour of the Devil’s nutting bag.

A few years ago, author Collette Cameron penned A Regency Palette – Colors of the Regency Era, a definitive list of fabric tints and pigments of the Regency, at Embracing Romance. Names like Jonquil and Cameleopard are far more evocative than mere yellow and beige. Even the dirty brown of the Word of the Week sounds spiffy when given the thieves’ slang treatment.

Behold the colors of the Regency.

Jonquil: yellow (daffodil)
Primrose and Evening Primrose: shades of yellow
Puce: a purplish pink (for some reason I always think puce is green)
Pomona Green: a cheery apple green

1816 Gothic-influence, via Ackermann’s Repository.

Coquelicot: sort of a poppy red
Emerald Green: a bluish-green, almost aqua
Cerulean Blue: a muted, almost grayish blue – but not popular during the Regency era (ack!)
Blossom: a light pink
Bottle Green: just like it sounds
Mazurine Blue: a mixture of indigo and violet
Slate: a mix between gray and lavender

London, June 1799 fashions, plate no. 16, printed for R. Phillips

Other Popular Regency Colors

Apollo: bright gold (1823)
Aurora: chili-colored (1809)

1805-6 Pelisses, via Ackermann’s Repository.

Aetherial: sky blue (1820)
Azure: sky blue (1820)
Barbel: sky blue (1820)
Cameleopard: French beige (1825)
Clarence: sky blue (1820)

1804 Walking Dress with Pelisse, via Ackermann’s Repository.

Devonshire Brown: mastic (1812)
Dust of Ruins: squirrel (1822)
Egyptian Brown: mace (1809)
Esterhazy: silver grey (1822)
Isabella: cream (1822)
Lavender: between heliotrope and parma (1824)
Marie Louise: calamine blue (1812)

1812 Pelisse and Carriage/Walking Coat, via Ackermann’s Repository.

Mexican: steel blue (1817)
Morone: peony red (1811)
Princess Elizabeth Lilac: Alice blue (1812)
Russia Flame: pale mastic (1811)
Spring: Cossack green (1810)
Terre D’Egypte: brick red (1824)
Parma Violet: violet (1811)

1809, Half-dress, via Ackermann’s Repository.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ To Couch a Hogshead

This week’s word (or rather, phrase) is the second post brought to you by my incessant fascination with James Gillray. Like I mentioned last week, I love to look at James Gillray prints, and the National Portrait Gallery has 881 items on file.

It’s a huge time suck and and I highly recommend it.

So this week I took inspiration from the second in his two-part series from 1806, Fast-Asleep.

Fast-Asleep by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 1 November 1806, National Portrait Gallery.

This gentleman is out, spirits and tobacco forgotten, puffing a snore as his periwig flies at half-mast. Some have coined the phrases “sleep like a baby” or “sleep like the dead,” but perhaps this painting conjures a new expression: “sleep like a Regency gentleman.”

To Couch a Hogshead

To lie down to sleep. Cant.

Gillray’s painting made me wonder at slang terms for sleeping, and To Couch a Hogshead was too evocative to pass up. And because my granddaddy was Scottish, I know a hogshead is a type of barrel used to age scotch. Like Sherlock, this made me retreat to my mind palace and surmise that the cant phrase likely represented those who climbed into a barrel to catch some winks after a long hard day (and night’s) worth of disreputable behavior. And as the engraving below shows, a Hogshead held just about anything, including sugar and unruly children.

The Sugar Hogshead From the Original Picture in the Possession of M.W. Collins, 1846, British Museum.

The Hogshead, or “hoggie,” actually refers to the size of the barrel, meaning it holds 53 Imperial Gallons. The Scots age their elixir in oak that is preferably between 100-150 years of age, which makes the barrels rather as precious as their cargo. When casks begin to leak or need repair, coopers break them down into individual planks and reassemble the stalwart ones into new Hogsheads.

It’s a beautiful thing.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Betwattaled

James Gillray really is all that and a bag of chips.

I was minding my own business in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery when I stumbled upon a two-part series of Gillray’s from 1806. The first just screams, “Go forth and find a Regency slang term that describes my expression.”

So I did.

Wide-Awake by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 1 November 1806, National Portrait Gallery.


Surprised, confounded, out of one’s senses; also betrayed.

Also when I saw the Gillray picture above, I thought about how much he looked like Mr. Bennet in form but how his expression resembled that of Mrs. Bennet. So off to the interwebs I went in search of the betwattled looks of Pride and Prejudice circa 1995.

And the pièce de résistance of surprised looks …


Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

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 ~ Hobberdehoy

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Hobberdehoy

I think we all know someone who needs to act their age rather than their shoe size (to paraphrase Prince). This week’s word may be more a literal reference to age rather than behavior, but it’s easier to illustrate the latter, so I beg your indulgence of my interpretation.

Hobberdehoy (noun)

Half a man and half a boy, a lad between both.

For the ultimate Regency boy-man, I of course thought of the Prince Regent, the patron saint of leisure, fashion, and food, and extravagance in all three. He was criticized as selfish, careless, and inconstant, offering no direction to the country during his father’s incapacitation or the wars with Napoleon and America. His legacy is self-aggrandizement for all things frivolous and profligate.

George IV by Thomas Lawrence, 1822, Chatsworth House Chintz Bedroom.

George IV by Thomas Lawrence, 1822, Chatsworth House Chintz Bedroom.

The remaining behavioral visual aids for Hobberdehoys may be fictional – but they fit my thematic rendering rather well. And of course they came from the inspired mind of Jane Austen. Upon examination, I found a Hobberdehoy in each of her novels.

Do you agree with my choices?

Allesandro Nivola as Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park, 1999.

Allesandro Nivola as Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park, 1999.

Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill in Emma.

Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill in Emma, 2009.

William Beck as John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey, 2007.

William Beck as John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey, 2007.

Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion, 2007.

Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion, 2007.

Greg Wise as Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, 1995.

Greg Wise as Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, 1995.

Adrian Lukis as George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

Adrian Lukis as George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, 1995.


Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.