The 10 Dos and Don'ts of Etiquette to Become a Lady in Regency England

Married ladies of the Regency period were allowed to take lovers, so long as they kept it quiet. Pinterest.

DO keep quiet about any extra-marital affairs

The Regency Era wasn’t as stuffy as some accounts might portray it as being. The big cities of England, and in particular London, were growing and modernizing quickly. And this, of course, meant that there were many vices for a gentleman to enjoy, including drinking, gambling and meeting with women of ‘ill repute’. A lady was not only expected to steer well clear of such decadent activities, but was, moreover, fully expected to pretend they didn’t even exist. As strange as it might sound, women of the time were to feign ignorance about all ‘male activities’, however much this might hurt her, or simply inconvenience her.

For instance, ladies were, as a rule, to avoid walking or driving their carriages down certain streets in London. St James’s Street, home to several gentleman’s clubs, was strictly off limits. Similarly, Piccadilly was seen as potentially corrupting for delicate ladies, so the ‘fairer sex’ was advised to stay away. Any woman seen walking down either thoroughfare without a male chaperone accompanying her should expect to be the subject of much malicious gossip, with her character called into question.

But it wasn’t all bad. For their part, husbands were expected to ensure that his extra-curricular activities remained completely separate from his marriage. To bring scandal upon a lady was the height of ungentlemanly behaviour in Regency England. Furthermore, for their part, a lady could take a gentleman lover, so long as she had first given birth to a child – and thus, provided her husband with an heir (and, ideally, with two children, or ‘an heir and a spare’). It goes without saying, however, that any affairs should be conducted completely discreetly, so a lady should choose her extra-marital lovers extremely carefully indeed.

Where did we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

“A Day in the Life of a Regency Lady”. The BBC, May 2013.

“Jane Austen’s fiction: an accurate portrayal of life in Georgian England?”. BBC History Magazine, May 2017.

“Regency Dinner Parties and Etiquette”. The Jane Austen Centre, June 2017.

“Ballroom Etiquette”. RegencyDances.org, 2018.

“The middle classes: etiquette and upward mobility”. Kathryn Hughes, The British Library, May 2014.

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