The Regency male belonged to the last era when gentlemen and aristocrats did not work. If fact it was considered shameful to do so. You were expected to live on the income from your estates, farmed by your tenants who worked very hard indeed. This meant a whole generation of red-blooded young men spent their days, drinking, hunting and shooting in the season, boxing, fencing, whoring, duelling and gambling – always gambling, sometimes betting over the most ridiculous outcomes and for eye-watering stakes.
It was a secret male world kept very much from women’s eyes and interference. This is why it was such a joy to write An Unsuitable Heiress (published 22 May) when my heroine Corinna, dresses as a male in order to travel safely to London alone, and she and I enter this world clandestinely, and much fun and games ensue.
This illustration is of one of the main gambling rooms in the famous gentlemen’s club, Brooks’s in St James’s Street. Gambling was not fun, it was obsessive, lasting many days and nights without rest, and for many a cruel addiction which robbed men of their great estates and honour, sometimes ended in a duel or suicide.
There were more light-hearted bets too. In Brooks’s Betting Book at the end of the 18th century was an official wager; one nobleman offered another 500 guineas (£55,000 today) ‘whenever his lordship f—s a woman in a balloon over one thousand yards from the Earth.’ It was the Georgian version of the Mile-High Club and the blunt Anglo-Saxon word was fully spelt out without demur. Regency men had to behave with strict decorum when in the company of ladies of their own class but in masculine company, or the company of women from the demi-monde, or ‘fallen sisterhood’, they were as ribald, licentious and drunken as their Georgian ancestors.
If their gambling didn’t ruin them then their tailors might. In An Unsuitable Heiress, Corinna is given a home by very rich, kind-hearted Ferdy Shilton, a self-confessed dandy. She is fitted out in his outgrown clothes; according to Beau Brummell a well-dressed Regency gentleman needed the equivalent of £80,000 a year for his clothes. Corinna loved the freedom these clothes gave her but her disguise brought embarrassment too. Most of all how to tell her friends she was really a woman. Of course love and honour prevail in the end.