Why were Regency clergymen so popular? Why is Lydia appalled at Mr. Collins’ choice to read Fordyce’s Sermons? Just how were ladies presented to the monarchy? Find out the answers to these questions and more, in this episode of My Cousin Jane.
Note: Some of the links on this page may be affiliate links. This means that every time you click on one and then buy something, I get paid billions of pounds by a secret organization trying to bring back the Regency period…or I get a few fractions of a cent from a company like Amazon, one or the other.
Note: Transcripts on this site are the scripts I used when preparing to record the show. They may or may not be a 100% faithful representation of the final recording. Audio clips of Pride & Prejudice come from Karen Savage’s narration of Pride & Prejudice, courtesy of LibriVox.org.
Welcome to My Cousin Jane, a podcast about Jane Austen and her works. With your host, Lee Falin.
Welcome back to another episode of My Cousin Jane. Each week, we look at what you might think of as the behind the scenes featurettes or deleted scenes of a particular chapter in Austen’s books.
This week, we’re going to talk about Pride & Prejudice Chapter 13.
Chapter 14 picks up right as dinner with Mr. Collins ends. Mr. Bennet invites Mr. Collins to discuss his patroness, Mrs. Bennet asks some further questions about Lady Catherine and her daughter, and towards the end of the chapter, Mr. Collins is invited to read the ladies.
Even though one of the best parts of this chapter is listening to Mr. Collins be absurd, there is also a lot of interesting history around what is said, so this week’s episode will be a bit longer than usual.
At the start of the chapter, Mr. Bennet asks Mr. Collins about his patroness, Lady Catherine. Let’s listen to a clip of his response. As always, our audio clips come courtesy of Karen Savage and Librivox.org:
The subject elevated him to more than usual solemnity of manner; and with a most important aspect he protested that he had never in his life witnessed such behaviour in a person of rank—such affability and condescension, as he had himself experienced from Lady Catherine. She had been graciously pleased to approve of both the discourses which he had already had the honour of preaching before her.Pride & Prejudice – Chapter 14
Sermons were the TikTok of the Regency Era. According to The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon,
The period 1689 — 1901 was “the golden age” of the sermon in Britain. It was the best selling printed work and dominated the print trade until the mid-nineteenth century.The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon
While many sermons were discourses on worship, personal religious conviction, and morality, sermons during this time period weren’t confined to these topics.
Sermons were often given on politics, science, culture, civil rights, and patriotism. Historians have pointed out numerous examples in British history where a particularly popular sermon could sway the votes of an entire village, change the outcome of a trial, or even exert a strong enough influence over parliament to affect change at the national level.
And sermons during this time period weren’t the exclusive venue of the clergy either. Laymen and women also preached popular sermons which were often distributed in written form.
Some of the more popular ministers could attract crowds in the thousands, sometimes renting large venues to accommodate their listeners. In addition, traveling preachers carried these sermons across the British Empire.
The most popular sermon of the time was “The Perils of False Brethren”, a sermon given by Anglican clergyman Henry Sacheverell on the dangers posed by any church leader or member of parliament who would alter Church of England doctrine.
Conservative estimates are that there were at least 100,000 copies of this sermon in circulation during the height of its popularity.
Mr. Collins also mentions this invitation from her ladyship:
She had also asked him twice to dine at Rosings, and had sent for him only the Saturday before, to make up her pool of quadrille in the evening.Pride & Prejudice – Chapter 14
I mentioned previously that I hoped to never have to describe the rules of another card game. And unfortunately, quadrille is quite possibly the worst game to try and describe over a podcast. One of the reasons Whist became so popular in the mid nineteenth century was because quadrille was just too complicated.
Descriptions of Quadrille in the early 1800s vary quite a bit, as there were many variations and different styles. In addition, books published during that time period that described the game, assumed that the reader was already familiar with the rules.
In fact, an 1822 book on the Quadrille written under the pseudonym “Quanti”, remarks:
I have known it happen, that a party, being desirous to play at Quadrille, has been obliged to forego the pleasure of the entertainment, for want of some one to regulate the various payments.Quadrille by Quanta
David Parlett, author of A History of Card Games has an original copy of Quanti and notes that it is 96 pages long. Parlett does a good job of summarizing the rules though, and I advise you to check out his book if you are curious about the rules.
One thing I will note though is that during the time period, quadrille was extremely popular in France, and particularly amongst women of the court. So it was considered something of an “upper-class lady’s game”.
Phaeton & Ponies
Let’s transition away from lady’s card games to lady’s modes of conveyance
“She is a most charming young lady, indeed. Lady Catherine herself says that, in point of true beauty, Miss de Bourgh is far superior to the handsomest of her sex; because there is that in her features which marks the young woman of distinguished birth. She is unfortunately of a sickly constitution, which has prevented her making that progress in many accomplishments which she could not otherwise have failed of, as I am informed by the lady who superintended her education, and who still resides with them. But she is perfectly amiable, and often condescends to drive by my humble abode in her little phaeton and ponies.”Pride & Prejudice – Chapter 14
Back in Episode 12 of Season 1, we had a long discussion about Regency transportation and different types of vehicles, so make sure you listen to that episode if you haven’t already.
But there were a couple I mentioned that I was purposefully leaving out of the discussion for the sake of future episodes. One of those is the Phaeton.
Phaetons are open carriages, typically with oversized wheels and high suspensions that made them relatively dangerous at high speeds. It wasn’t uncommon for people to be thrown out of phaetons, especially the springier models, which were often called “High Flyers”.
In fact, in the 1995 movie adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby mentions that one of the reasons he doesn’t like Colonel Brandon was that he had found fault with the balance of his high flyer. Which, when I first saw that movie, I thought was a special kind of kite.
But as we mentioned a high flyer is a particularly high riding and dangerous model of phaeton. You can catch a glimpse of Willoughby’s high flyer in the movie as he and Marianne race through town.
Though in the book, Willoughby actually says that Brandon “found fault with the hanging of my curricle”.
As we mentioned in our previous discussion of vehicles, the curricle had two wheels instead of four, and was considered the sports car of Regency-era vehicles. Which I think actually suits Willoughby’s character better.
Speaking of character, let’s listen to this exchange between Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins:
“Has she been presented? I do not remember her name among the ladies at court.”
“Her indifferent state of health unhappily prevents her being in town; and by that means, as I told Lady Catherine myself one day, has deprived the British Court of its brightest ornament.Pride & Prejudice – Chapter 14
Being presented at court was what Daniel Poole calls “A major ritual” of British society.
While the exact procedure and qualifications for “presentation to the monarch” has changed over the years, there’s a great children’s book written in 1805 called “The Book of Ranks and Dignities of British Society” that outlines exactly how this process worked during the Regency era.
As a side note, while this book was published anonymously, many people believe it was written by Charles Lamb, who alluded to it in a letter he wrote to his friend Thomas Manning. However other scholars dispute this, claiming that the book shows none of the usual characteristics of Lamb’s writings.
Regardless of who wrote it, since it was written in 1805, it serves as a great source of information on various aspects of British noble society. So if you need to know the minutia of how someone in the Regency era would address a letter to a Baron, or how an Alderman of London took office, it is a great source of information.
According to the text, both men and women were presented to the monarchy to mark significant events. Men were presented to the king in royal reception, which was also called a levee, then to the queen in the adjacent drawing room.
Women were often presented to the queen first. If the king happened to be present during these presentations, they were then presented to the king as well. But usually what happened was that select women were invited by the queen to Windsor for a subsequent presentation to the king.
The actual presentation of both men and women generally proceeded in the same fashion. A card with the presentee’s name, rank, and reason for presentation was given to a steward. In the case of men this was the “Lord of the Bedchamber” (during the time Pride & Prejudice takes place, this would have been William Fortescue, 1st Earl of Clermont); while for women the card was given to the Lord Chamberlain. It’s difficult to say who this would have been, because the dates of Pride and Prejudice are a bit fuzzy and there was a vacancy in the office between 1810 and 1812. But if we assume that had Lady Catherine’s daughter been healthy enough to be presented, she probably would have been presented to the court just prior to that time, so the man who announced her to the queen would have been George Legge, 3rd Earl of Dartmouth.
Now, once the lady’s name was read, if the king happened to be there, they would courtesy to his majesty who would then salute them. They would have removed their right glove, just in case the king wanted to kiss her hand, but this rarely happened. Instead, he would usually just salute.
When they were presented to the queen, the ceremony differed depending on the lady’s rank. Those whose rank was gave them a formal address of “right honorable” or higher, would approach the queen with the glove of their right hand removed, as if to receive a kiss. They would then courtesy before her majesty, who would then salute them.
Those of lower ranks would leave their gloves on, courtesy so low as to almost be kneeling, and kiss the queen’s hand.
Now, just who warranted the title of address “Right Honorable” or higher is a bit complicated. It depended on a combination of your parent’s rank and, if you were married, the rank of your husband.
For example, if you were the wife of a duke, your title of formal address would be “Most Honorable”, which is higher than “High Honorable”. Sort of like Summa cum Laude instead of Magna cum Laude in academics.
However the daughter of a Duke would be announced as “The Lady”, which is lower ranked than “Right Honorable”. If that daughter married say, the eldest son of an Earl, she would be addressed as “Right Honorable”, but if she married a younger son of an Earl, her address would remain “The Lady”. This is one more reason why some women like Miss Crawford in Mansfield Park were more interested in marrying an eldest son.
The rules are complicated, and as I mentioned back in Season 1 when we discussed the ranks and forms of address for Sir Walter and Lady Dalrymple, if you’re interested in the nuances of getting forms of address correct, I highly recommend Laura Ann Wallace’s website on “Peerage Basics”.
Now that we know more about how presentations worked, there remains the question of who actually got to be presented and why.
Women of rank, that is the wife or daughter of a knight or higher, could be presented upon entering society. This usually occurred when they were seventeen or eighteen years old.
Women could also be presented when they got married, or if their name changed for some other reason (such as their husband being appointed to a new rank in the peerage), if they were traveling abroad (even to Ireland), or if they had been appointed to some special position or to carry out a service by the monarchy.
Men were presented upon obtaining a commission in the army, being promoted as an officer within the army or navy, or if they had been appointed to a position in the government or the church.
Before we wrap up, one more quick note on a book mentioned in this chapter. Mr. Bennet grows tired of entertaining his guest and suggests he reads to the ladies:
Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library) he started back, and, begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed. Other books were produced, and after some deliberation he chose “Fordyce’s Sermons.” Lydia gaped as he opened the volume;Pride & Prejudice – Chapter 14
Fordyce’s Sermons was a very popular two-volume collection of sermons, written by a Scottish clergyman named James Fordyce. They are sometimes referred to as “Sermons to Young Women”.
I mentioned earlier how preachers were the social media influencers of the Regency era, and Fordyce was one of the most popular preachers in London in the late 1700s. But by the turn of the century, some women had begun to feel that his strictures on the proper role and behavior of young women were a bit old-fashioned, as evidenced by Lydia’s reaction here.
While I don’t like to get into deeper literary analysis on this podcast, Fordyce’s Sermons deserves a bit of a special mention.
While many people claim that Austen would have taken offense at Fordyce’s views on women, some Austen scholars consider Lydia’s reaction to Fordyce to be a foreshadowing of her fate in the novel.
Many of the warnings that Elizabeth later gives to her father about Lydia and Kitty’s behaviors, the subsequent discussions she has with Jane and her aunt about Lydia, Wickham’s behaviors and attractions, and Lydia’s ultimate fate are all in line with many of the warnings espoused by Fordyce.
Based on this, and the fact that Austen was the daughter of a clergyman, some scholars believe that Austen was in agreement with much of what Fordyce wrote.
If you’re interested in learning more about this, I recommend the paper Intertextuality and Ideology: Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and James Fordyce’s ‘Sermons to Young Women’ by Dr. Laura Vorachek, Professor of English at the University of Dayton.
Thanks so much for tuning in today. If you would like to help support the My Cousin Jane podcast, please head over to mycousinjane.com and sign up for our newsletter, or click on the little donate button.
Thanks for listening.
Subscribe to the My Cousin Jane Newsletter
“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.”