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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

19 January 2009

The Truth About My Research

Here it is the: the truth about my research. Research comes in two big waves for me. When I am planning a story I consider the elements that are still in the “unknown zone” and, with each book, discover exactly how much I don’t know about the Regency. At the end of the book I fill in the gaps that come up in the process of writing.


As I began my WIP I needed some very basic information on Parliament. In the process of my research, and thanks to Regina Scott’s website (ReginaScott.com), I learned some useful and surprising details: that Parliament met Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 3:45, that the session ran until late at night, which still left everyone time to party.


I still don’t know how often Lords and Commons met in joint session and am still looking. It is also unclear if the Regency was a period when spectators were allowed in the gallery. I have managed without those details, but would love it if someone could tell me or tell me where to find it.


True confession: I have finally learned what the Whigs and Tories stood for, but still have to check my notes to remember which is which. Has everyone heard the joke about the Navy Admiral who would go to his safe each day, look at a piece of paper and then close and lock the safe. When he died, his staff rushed to the safe to see what was on the paper – six words: Port is Left, Starboard is Right. Well, there is a little note on my desk reminding me that Whigs were more liberal than the Tories!


In 1818 the end of the regency was two years away and the Regent was not a popular man. The picture above is not flattering but is an accurate reflection of his lifestyle at this point in his life. Liverpool was the Prime Minister and there are two disparate schools of thought about the work he did. I still wonder why habeas corpus was suspended in 1817 and then reinstated very early in the session of 1818. Surely they realized that the problem had not evaporated. Or was it an the suspension an overreaction to the attack on the Regent at the opening of Parliament in 1817? The cartoon at the right is Cruikshank's Death of Liberty, his interpretation of the suspension of habeas corpus.


It took longer for the Seditious Meeting Acts to be dropped – until the end of the session. The Seditious Meetings Act (aka The Gag Acts) prohibited gatherings of more than fifty people without permission of a magistrate. In addition seven local householders had to be advised of the place, nature and time of the meeting. Even lawfully convened meetings could be dispersed if considered seditious by the magistrates.


What I want to know is how much of this is news to you, as reader, writer and historian. I have avoided Parliament for years but now that I have a hero who is a Duke I find him so responsible I can ignore Parliament no longer. Surprisingly the subject is more interesting to me than I thought it would be. What areas of your period do you love and what would you just as soon ignore?

14 Comments:

Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Food for thought, Mary! I have to confess that I, too, don't have the political/Parliamentary arcana bubbling on the front burner of my brain; that's the sort of thing I would look up, or review on an "as needed" basis. Ditto for the order of precedence of the nobility and the various forms of address.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

What a relief, Amanda. Thanks for the honesty. I think I could pass a test on forms of address -- not necessarily with an A+ but better than a C. Now there's a future blog post idea.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I'm one of those people who learns things better when they're placed in context, as opposed to retaining a rote memorization of disconnected facts. It's why I can learn lines quickly if I've got the blocking to go with them, rather than staring at a script at home expecting to learn them by osmosis. I've never written anything where, for example, I needed to know the minutiae of the stuff I cited above, which is why I don't know much of it off the top of my head.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Re habeas corpus, Mary -- my husband/research guy tells me that suspensions were always temporary and would lapse unless resuspended. Without having details to look up right now -- I'm in Mexico at the moment, poking my head online but soon to log off and make my way to the beach ;-) -- I'm going to hazard that public outrage at the government dirty dealing I wrote about in The Slightest Provocation would have made a resuspension somewhat unpopular in early 1818...

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Regina Scott said...

Thank you, Mary! Very interesting post. Glad the website was useful. FYI--from what I can tell, the only time there was a spectator's gallery was for the trial of Caroline. But, like you, I'm still looking for the definitive answer!

4:19 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Pam -- thanks to both of you for the clarification. And yes to the outrage as a reason that it was not renewed. My duke has an eye opening experience when he is caught up in a illegal gathering -- was lots of fun to write about.

Regina, thanks for that bit re the trial of Caroline. Someone else told me that the Duchess of Devonshire was in the gallery on one occasion but they were speaking of Georgianna and that was well before the Regency.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Evangeline said...

Hi Mary, I began to start a series of posts devoted to Parliament, but put them on hiatus to blog about Washington D.C. But I still have the info at hand. Shoot me an email at edwardian.gaiety@gmail.com with your questions.

11:40 PM  
Anonymous Joanna Waugh said...

I can't help you with vistor's gallery information, Mary, but I can steer you in the direction of the ceremony by which a peer was/is introduced into the House of Lords. Check out http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199798/ldselect/ldcerint/078/cere01.htm

(If the URL doesn't work, go to my website at www.joannawaugh.com where I have a link to it on my front page under "Introduction to the House of Lords Ceremony."

6:29 AM  
Anonymous Lauren Willig said...

Hi, Mary! My problem has always been the opposite-- I trained as a political historian, so I'm very comfortable going through Hansard (the compendium of Parliamentary debates) and hanging out with the Whigs and Tories, but material history (what people wore/ate/etc) gives me nightmares every time I sit down to research a book.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

I know enough to know I am just getting started when it comes to learning everything I need to know about my chosen period - the Regency. I am amassing a great collection of research books and I am actually getting through them, though slowly. Your information on Parliament is fascinating and I know there is a lot more for me to learn. There is just so much to learn and I really want to know as much as I possibly can about every aspect of the Regency and even the years after it.

Back to the research books for me!

5:12 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Lauren -- there something for everybody, isn't there. I could do houses and clothes all day...

Thanks to both Joanna and Evangeline, I'll be in touch and check out websites as suggested.

Louisa -- I so wish I could time travel and take it all in visually -- which is why I love good period movies. Which reminds me that in AMAZING GRACE there was a gallery -- when Commons and Lords met together. And that was early nineteenth century....

6:05 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

I love Amazing Grace and I tend to watch it and other period movies over and over to get a good "feel" for the period before I sit down to write. Of course I know there are things in these films that are not period so I try very hard to double check things, which is also a great learning tool.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Susan Wilbanks said...

For some reason I have this weird mental block about, of all things, the geography of London. And I've BEEN there, multiple times! But that didn't give me any kind of mental picture, because I always just popped aboveground at the tube stop for wherever I was going and never gained any sense of the big picture. So now when I'm trying to write a scene where my character is staying, in hiding, in a seedy but not quite scary part of the city and then needs to sneak out to visit his brother in the posh West End (I do know that much--it's just ALL that I know!), I have no idea where the seedy neighborhood should be, nor how to go about finding out. Sigh.

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is my first time here, but Susan I've recently done a lot of research on London in the mid - late 19th Century I can maybe help with your problem. Feel free to email me on Pixiedots08@aol.co.uk my names Laura.

9:53 AM  

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