Monday, September 19, 2016

Introductions in the Regency Era...

My guest today is none other than the woman behind the Regency Researcher, Nancy Mayer.  

Nancy is considered a person of great value to all authors of Regency era romances, as she knows a lot about that period in England’s history and shares much with the members of the Beau Monde chapter of the Romance Writers of America

Nancy’s education is in English and she has been a teacher of both grade school and college courses. But we know her as a teacher of courses on the Regency era for Romance Writers of America.

She says her interest in researching the Regency era grew out of her first attempts at writing Regency romances when she discovered she didn’t have a clue about titles or the real history of those times.

She is a member of the Beau Monde and Hearts through History chapters of RWA, the Jane Austen Society of North America and the Byron Society. She was the regional coordinator, organizer and leader of the Atlanta chapter of the Jane Austen Society for fourteen years.

In recognition of her many contributions, she had been awarded the Lady of the Realm Award of the Beau Monde chapter of RWA. Nancy says she spends most of her time studying the history and laws of the time period, especially the laws concerning marriage.

At my invitation, Nancy is sharing with us today the proper way to conduct introductions in the Regency era. 

Introductions in the Regency Era by Nancy Meyer

The people of Regency England were much more formal about introductions than we are. First names of men were not usually mentioned. Only his wife, mother, and sisters needed to know the first name of a peer. Boys were called by surnames or titles at school. Boys with titles and courtesy titles were called these from birth. One used full names and titles when introducing people. Even long time friends might not know a school friend’s first name.

The rules were few                      

As a general consideration, these rules apply to the upper gentry and higher ranks. They do not apply when dealing with innkeepers, sales men, shopkeepers and laborers. In such cases one informs the one of superior rank of the identity of the other but no one is asked permission to present anyone.           
Royalty had its own protocol and rules. Usually one didn't speak to a royal without permission and introductions were made formally at Levees and Drawing rooms. 

 But generally…

You would ask a lady if you might introduce a man to her. She could say “no.” So one needs to have an idea if the two people will be acceptable to an introduction.

One asked a superior in age or rank if one could present a person of lower rank. 
A lady didn't usually shake hands but, if she did, she was the one to initiate a handshake.

Curtseys and bows

The depth of the curtsey and the bow were different for different ranks of superiors One had to get down on one's knee before royalty, but others usually didn't require a curtsey or bow of such depth.

Children and Ladies

Children of the aristocracy were trained in such things from birth. Children curtseyed and bowed to all adults of their social standing and above and those placed in authority over them.

They were usually told “Stephen and Sarah, make your bows to the Earl and Countess of Whatever”. The guests should know what titles the children bore and there would be no need for further information.

Gentlemen bowed to equals and superiors and to all ladies. They didn't kiss the hand of any except royalty or a mother, grandmother, wife, or mistress. A young bachelor might kiss the hand of an older dowager in a flirtatious way, but to do so with a younger woman would be taken as evidence of a forthcoming proposal. [Regan's note: Regency romances often deviate from this rule for the sake of the story...]

Ladies married to peers curtseyed to high church officials like bishops and archbishops and to royalty. Peeresses did not curtsey to each other.

A very young bride of a baron might curtsey to dowager duchess as a salute to age but wives of peers didn't usually curtsey to each other. An inclination of the head and handshakes, smiles and other methods of greeting each other were used.

Outside of the nobility, women curtseyed to those of higher rank.

Using Full Titles
When people were introduced, it was considered polite to use their full titles. If the two people were at a place where they could be expected to see each other fairly often something about the person should be added. 

To illustrate:
“Grandmother, may I present the Marquess of Boston? He is engaged to Lady Anne Bolton.”

"Lord Boston, the Dowager Countess of Seeham." (This is needed because the marquess couldn't call the woman "grandmother".)

"Lady Nelson, may I present Mr. Gower? He is the son of Lord Crabapple."

When there is great disparity in rank or age, the younger or one with lower rank is presented to the one of greater age and higher status. So while the general rule is that one presents gentlemen to ladies, sometimes a young lady might be presented to an aged duke.

Dukes and Duchesses

All the peers and their wives under the rank of duke and duchess can be spoken to or about as Lord or Lady [title]. A duke and duchess are never ever addressed as Lord or Lady. Most formally a duke is “The Most Noble Duke of Somewhere”, addressed as “Your Grace”.

Archbishops of Canterbury and York

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York are also addressed as “Your Grace”. Archbishops are not peers, but take the precedence of dukes after the royal family. He is “His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

 The wife of an archbishop goes by his secular title, for example:

             “Your Grace, Mrs. Manners, may I present Captain Lord Stoval of the Royal Navy?”

Then one can say, “Lord Stovall is my brother in law.”
“Stovall, His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife, Mrs. Manners.”
            (This last can be omitted, of course, if you have told your brother in law that you would introduce him to the archbishop.)

Baronets and Knights

Baronets and Knights are both “Sir First Name”, and examples: Sir Thomas Bertram, Sir William Lucas. Their wives are Lady Bertram and Lady Lucas.

             “Sir Thomas, Lady Bertram, may I present Henry Crawford?”
But, if the wife has her own title, she is introduced by it: “Lady Catherine, Sir Louis, may I present Mr. Collins as a worthy incumbent for the living at…?”

Generally clergymen are introduced by their names, such as “Mr. Austen” or “Mr. Smith”. One can add, “He is rector of the parish”, or “rector of St. Anne's”, or “the local vicar”. One does not addresses him as “reverend”.

Naval and Military Officers

Naval and military officers are usually introduced by their rank. If a man also has a peerage or courtesy title, his naval or military title comes first: “Colonel, the Earl of Someplace” or “Major Lord Blackwell. 

In Pride and Prejudice, Wickham was introduced to Mrs. Bennet and her daughters:

            “Mrs. Bennet, may I present Mr. Wickham who is here with the —shire Militia. "

Mrs. Bennet would have the choice of introducing her daughters or not.

            “Mr. Wickham, my daughters, Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Mary, Miss Kitty, and Miss Lydia.”

If she didn't want her daughters to be known to him she would give a cool nod, recognizing his presence but no more. If she wished to give him the “cut direct” she could either tell the one making the introduction "No" or simply pretend nothing had been said and walk away. That would be a drastic response and embarrassing for all.        
Making mistakes…

How one introduced someone could show one's own lack of breeding or one's less than friendly opinion of a person. A curt repeat of the names or an exquisitely polite exchange or more fulsome one. We all remember the scene from Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Collins rudely introduced himself.

While gentlemen usually introduced themselves to each other, it was usually the privilege of the superior in rank to initiate the introduction. In Pride and Prejudice, it was the privilege of Mr. Darcy to introduce himself to Mr. Collins and not for Collins to introduce himself. Mr. Collins stepped right into it, which horrified Elizabeth.

Third persons introducing…

By introducing two people to each other, one stands surety for each as being an honorable person. In the situation with Mr. Collins, a third person might have introduced them:

“Mr. Darcy, may I make Mr. Collins known to you? He has the living at Rosings.”

Also in Pride and Prejudice, Darcy’s good friend introduces Mrs. Bennet to Mr. Darcy:
     “May I present my friend, Mr. Darcy?”

At a ball, the host or hostess usually would not ask the lady's permission to introduce a person as suitable for a partner. A man couldn’t ask a lady to dance at a public assembly if they had not been introduced, but these rules were not so strict at private balls where the roof is supposed to be an introduction.

When a man and a woman are guests in a house and find themselves in company with each other without a third person to introduce them, they could introduce themselves. However, they could also have a conversation without exchanging names. If they do give names, the man gives his title or surname. He might add that he was the Vicar at St. Stephen’s Church, or a cousin of their host. If he is in the army or navy he should give his rank.
Introductions were generally made under a roof and not on the street or in a garden. If a man and lady met another man and lady on the street they would not stop to exchange identities. And finally, a well-bred young unmarried lady shouldn’t be walking down the street with a man not her father or brother.

Feel free to ask Nancy a question about introductions in the comments!


  1. Great information. Thank you Nancy and Regan.

    1. So glad you stopped by, Tricia! It's helpful to me, too!

  2. You are welcome, Tricia. Feel free to ask for more information. Thanks to Regan for the opportunity .

    1. You are most welcome, Nancy. It's my pleasure to have you on Historical Romance Review.

  3. How interesting. It makes me wonder if the earliest settlers came to America from England to get away from such formalities. We have always been a very independent people. :-)

    1. Oh, Janice, they came for much more than that... freedom to worship, adventure, lands of their own and to get out from under the monarchy I don't wonder. Thanks for commenting!

  4. I guess it all seems to be so complicated and formal to us because it's unfamiliar. If you were born into the system (well-born!)you learned it as a very young child with the embellishments added as you grew older and your social life became more complicated. They certainly didn't have charts and examples to study: if you were of gentle birth, you were learning it bit by bit. Fledgling servants had to be taught, I would think, but otherwise it would be like a child now being taught not to put your elbows on the table or talk with your mouth full.

  5. I didn't realize that people at a ball did not need to be introduced because the "roof" introduced them. I thought they all still needed introductions. So if a gentleman wants to dance with a lady, he can simply walk up to her, present himself, and ask for a dance? Or did you mean, the introductions were simply more like: "Miss Jones, this is Mr. Smith" and not say "May I present Mr. Smith?"

  6. Donna, to be exquisitely polite, even at a ball , the gentleman asks to be introduced to the lady. Usually a single never married young lady would be standing by her chaperone or parent. If the gentleman can't get hold of the host or hostess or a mutual friend, he can just go up and introduce himself to the parent -- or chaperone -- who would then make the introduction. Again, under the assumption that their host wouldn't invite someone you wouldn't want your daughter to know. At a private, ball if two people happen to be standing near each other they can speak without introducing themselves. If he then invites her to dance she can give her name and he give his. For instance, if a chaperone/parent goes off to play cards or to flirt or just to talk to friends leaving the charge alone. There are various ways in which a girl could become separated from her mother. It is hoped that the hostess hasn't invited anyone with whom her female guests shouldn't associate.
    One considers the roof an introduction more when visiting people in the country for several days. At a houseparty situation, girls often are separated from chaperones and it is possible for her and a gentleman to meet but be unknown to each other. They can talk to each other whether or not they introduce themselves. The rule that men and women do not speak to each other unless introduced is for public assemblies and public places like the street, the theatre, Vauxhall etc. At Almacks' assemblies the rule was for the man to ask the patroness to make the introduction if he didn't know the family. That place had its own rules.