Georgette Heyer's Regency World
by Dr Jennifer Kloester
Chapter 8: Rules and Etiquette
Rules and etiquette were particularly prevalent among the upper classes
with some kind of protocol laid down for every social situation. Very
few of these rules were written down, however, and variations could apply
depending on the circumstance. The most rigid protocol was applied at Almack's club under the beady eye of its patronesses. Attendees had to enter the
rooms before eleven o-clock or be barred from the door. Formal evening
dress was essential: the ladies in their most beautiful gowns and jewels
and the men in long tail-coats, white cravats, knee-breeches and stockings,
and carrying a chapeau-bras. As Mrs Scattergood sternly told
Perry in Regency Buck, under no circumstances were men to be
admitted wearing ordinary breeches, trousers or pantaloons. Once the waltz
was introduced into the clubrooms a young lady could only participate in it
with the patronesses' approval and on their presenting her with a suitable
In society there were a great many other rules and points of etiquette
which were understood and generally observed. In addition to the more
deep-seated social structures that dictated the mating game, the choice of
spouse and the conduct of married couples, many of the rules governed
the behaviour between men and women and between the various ranks in th e
- Social connections were usually formed through a series of meetings,
usually beginning with morning calls to the homes of those in fashionable
- Morning calls were generally undertaken in the afternoon.
- A morning call did not usually exceed half an hour.
- In London, a woman paid morning calls to her social equals or
inferiors but not to her social superiors until they had called on her
or left a card.
- A person new to the city or country area waited for calls of ceremony
to be made to them by those already established before they made a
call of their own.
- In the country it was acceptable for a man to make a call or leave
a card with someone of higher social standing if they were new to the
- A gentleman calling on a family asked for the mistress of the house
if the visit was a social one, and the master if it was a business call.
- A card was left if the lady of the house was indisposed or not at
home. It was acceptable for a gentleman to call on a daughter of the
house if she were well above marriageable age or a long-standing friend.
- Callers were received by men in their business room or library, by
women in the morning room or in their drawing-room.
- A lady, either married or single, did not call at a man's lodging.
- A lady was permitted to drive her own carriage, but only about the town
attended by a groom, or by herself on the family estate.
- A lady never drove on he open road or engaged in any kind of public
contest or race.
- It was acceptable to go out riding or driving with a man as long as
a groom or other chaperone was in attendance.
- It was acceptable to go out driving or riding with a man without a
chaperone if he was a relative of close family friend.
- Galloping in Hyde Park was prohibited.
- During the season it was essential to be seen in Hyde Park during
the promenade hour of 5.00 to 6.00 pm.
- Servants and social inferiors were always kept at a proper distance
but without arrogance, pride or aloofness.
- Servants were spoken to with exactly the right degree of civility
and never with the casual informality with which a person would speak
to an equal.
- Neither a lady nor a gentleman discussed private business in the
presence of servants.
- Servants were generally ignored at mealtimes.
- It was essential to dress for dinner.
- When going in to dinner, the man of the house always escorted the
highest-ranking lady present. The remaining dinner guests also
paired up and entered the dining room in order of rank.
- Dinner guests were seated according to rank, with the highest-ranking
lady sitting on the right-hand side of the host, who always sat at the
head of the table.
- When dining informally it was acceptable to talk across or round the
- At a formal dinner one did not talk across the dinner table but
confined conversation to those on one's left and right.
- Ladies were expected to retire to the withdrawing room after dinner,
leaving the men to their port and their 'male' talk.
- A hostess should never give the signal to rise from the table until
everyone at the table had finished.
- It was acceptable to offer one's snuff-box to the company but not to
ask for a pinch of snuff from anyone else.
- Overt displays of emotion were generally considered ill-bred.
- Laughter was usually moderated in polite company, particularly
- Men could give themselves up to unrestrained mirth, provided they
were in the company of other men or among women of low repute.
- Well-bred persons controlled their features, their physical bodies
and their speech when in company.
- A lady always spoke, sat and moved with elegance and propriety.
- A bow or curtsy was always made when meeting or speaking to royalty.
- Children always bowed or curtsied on meeting their parents
for the first time each day.
- A bow or curtsy was executed according to the status and
relationship of the person encountered and with regard to the
- A bow was made on entering or leaving a room, at the beginning and
end of a dance, and on encountering any person one wished to
- Debutantes did not stand up for more than two consecutive dances
with the same partner.
- Only those young ladies who were 'out' danced the waltz and then only
with an acceptable partner, usually someone she already knew, or to whom
she had been formally introduced.
- Full mourning dress was worn for an appropriate period, which
varied depending on the mourner's relationship to the deceased. A
person did not go into society while in full mourning. Half
mourning (usually grey or lilac) could be worn after an acceptable period
of mourning had been observed and the mourner could choose to attend
social functions but not fully particpate in them.
Every well-born lady and gentleman also knew the unwritten rules and
understood the social niceties that set them apart from the less
'cultured' masses. These were often the tiny details and nuances of
socially acceptable behaviour that were instilled from an early age and
which were often only discussed in private.
- To be thought 'fast' or to show a want of conduct was the worst
possible social stigma.
- A lady never forced herself upon a man's notice.
- No lady was to be seen driving or walking down St James's Street
where several of the gentlemen's clubs were located.
- No lady was to walk or drive unattended down Piccadilly.
- No female was to refer to any of those male activities about which
a lady should feign ignorance.
- A husband was expected to keep his indecorous activities and less
cultured friends separate from his marriage.
- A wife was expected to be blind to her husband's affairs.
- A married woman could take a lover once she had presented her
husband with an heir and so long as she was discreet about her
- Women were expected to be ignorant of any proposed duel.
- A lady did not engage in any activity that might give rise to gossip.
- Subjects of an intimate nature such as childbirth were never
- When out socially a lady did not wear a shawl for warmth no matter
how cold the weather.
- A gentleman was expected to immediately pay his gambling debts,
or any debt of honour.
- It was unacceptable to owe money to a stranger.
- It was acceptable to owe money to a tradesperson.
- It was considered bad form to borrow money from a woman.
- A female did not engage in finance or commerce if she had a man,
such as a husband, father or brother, to do it for her.
- A lady did not visit a moneylender or a pawnbroker.
- Extremes of emotion and public outbursts were unacceptable, although
it could be acceptable for a woman to have the vapours, faint, or suffer
from hysteria if confronted by vulgarity or an unpleasant scene.
- A well-bred person behaved with courteous dignity to acquaintance and
stranger alike, but kept at arm's length any who presumed too great a
familiarity. Icy politeness was a well-bred man's or woman's best weapon
in putting 'vulgar mushrooms' in their place.
- A well-bred person maintained an elegance of manners and
- A well-bred person walked upright, stood and moved with grace and ease.
- A well-bred person was never awkward in either manner or behaviour
and could respond to any social situation with calm assurance.
- A well-bred person was never pretentious or ostentatious.
- Vulgarity was unacceptable in any form and was to be continually
- Indiscretions, liaisons and outrageous behaviour were forgivable
but vulgarity never was.
Copyright © Jennifer Kloester 2005