Privileged children were born at home, typically with the aid of a midwife, and immediately handed over to a wet nurse, since upper class ladies did not nurse their own children. Brought up by servants or dependent relatives, children saw their parents rarely, always accompanied by servants.
Later, a young gentleman might be tutored by a local clergyman or by a hired tutor or governess. When he could read and write, he would be sent off to public school, such as Eton, Rugby, Harrow, Westminster, Winchester and Charterhouse. The course of study centered on the classics, the French language (used often in polite society when servants were present), drawing and fencing. However, life at public schools could be traumatic.
In spite of the outlandish fees charged by these exclusive schools, the accommodations were abominable. Sleeping chambers were cold and damp, food barely edible and scant, and the older boys bullied the younger ones unmercifully. The older—and bigger—boys forced the younger ones as servants—a system known as fagging—and often such treatment resulted in revenge against a headmaster who allowed such brutal bullying to occur. Headmasters, too, were known to cane a boy’s bare buttocks until it bled.
The idea was that a boy who could survive public school and learned the meaning of obedience could be trusted to command—servants or regiments— or succeed in whatever place in Regency society he was fated to take.
Following public school, our young man could go on to Oxford or Cambridge, although he could devote himself to other pleasures—eating, drinking and wenching—as well. Most university students did a fair amount of both.
On the Town
Prior to the Napoleonic Wars, a young man would go on a tour of Europe with a tutor (“bear-leader”) to sample the pleasures of Europe. During the Regency, a young man was more likely to take up a commission in the army (particularly if he was a younger son) or simply learn his way around London, therefore earning his “town bronze.”
A young gentleman was expected to be skilled in fighting with fists, swords, and firearms, as well as gaming. Coolness, courage, and a “stiff, upper lip” were essential for a young man about town. He was also expected to be stylish enough to be accepted into gentlemen’s clubs and ballrooms, including Almack’s Assembly Rooms. Gentlemen, too, were scrutinized by the patronesses before being issued the coveted vouchers.
Other frequent amusements by young bucks might be parading up and down Bond Street and “accidentally” tripping people with their canes, catching the edge of a lace gown with their spurs, or quizzing people with their quizzing glasses. These young men “raising Cain” were the scourge of the night watchmen with their tricks on unwary passers-by.
And then there were their “bits of muslin” or wenches. A young man was expected to marry for money or connections, make sure his heir was his, and then proceed to find passion with a series of mistresses. While discretion was expected, most of society turned a blind eye to these foibles, at least on the part of gentlemen. Ladies’ behavior was much more closely scrutinized.
Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.