Kissing and Voting in the Regency Era
by Elizabeth Boyce
In election years, I frequently become misty-eyed about the work of suffragettes whose valiant efforts finally culminated in women being granted the right to vote in the UK in 1918, and in the USA in 1920.
It’s easy to imagine that prior to having the franchise, women were not involved in politics. It’s particularly easy to imagine Regency-era ladies were too constrained by social etiquette and gender roles to hold a political opinion, much less express one, but friend, we would be wrong. So very, very wrong.
Women did not have the right to vote in the UK during the Regency era, but they played a vital role in the political life of the nation. Lady Holland was an ardent supporter of the Whig party in the during the Regency, and her home, Holland House, became unofficial headquarters for the Whigs. She and other political hostesses worked on behalf of their favored party by hosting suppers and salons for politicians after Parliament had let out for the day. Debates continued over a meal and caucuses were held in drawing rooms. Women were expected to be present at such events; in fact, a political evening only attended by men—a “man dinner,” it was uningeniously called—was quite a letdown for guests.
But the political work of women during the Regency was not contained to the domestic sphere. The female family members of a man running for political office were expected to help get him elected. Women canvassed their communities, going door to door to speak to voters and, maybe more importantly, those voters’ wives. You see, even though only men could vote, his vote was often regarded as the common property of his household, and wives could absolutely influence how that vote was cast (Remember, this was before secret ballots; a husband who voted against his family’s wishes might have had to answer for it at home!).
This canvassing was not limited to voters of their own class. During an election, ladies of the upper echelons mingled with the public of all social orders. It wasn’t unheard of for a duchess to call upon a butcher in an effort to win his vote.
In addition to knocking on doors, women bestowed little gifts upon the electorate, such as preserves, candles, or lengths of fabric. Such treating was not seen as bribery at that time. Regency-era voters expected to be wooed!
Speaking of wooing, sometimes canvassing became a little more… personal… than jams and ribbons. Remember the duchess and the butcher I mentioned a moment ago? In the election of 1784, the Duchess of Devonshire, while canvassing on behalf of James Fox, a Whig, was said to have kissed voters to win their support—including a butcher. The incident was the subject of political cartoons, and Fox’s Tory opponents attempted to smear Fox through his association with the duchess, but the Whigs were unfazed by the scandal. The party called upon the duchess to continue her work, and Fox retained his seat in Parliament.
My latest release, Valor Under Siege (The Honorables, book 3), features a small town Parliamentary election. It was lots of fun to pit my Whig hero, Norman Wynford-Scott, against Lady Elsa Fay, a former Tory political hostess who runs circles around Norman when it comes to canvassing. It was wonderful, too, to learn about the political system of the era I enjoy so much, and gain a greater appreciation for women’s roles in that world.
Giveaway: To win an e-book copy of Honor Among Thieves (The Honorables, book 1), please leave a comment sharing your own thoughts or memories about women getting involved in a man’s world–be it politics, the workplace, academia, etc. Contest closes 11:59 PM EDT on Wednesday, September 14, 2016. One winner will be chosen at random from all eligible commenters.
About Valor Under Siege
All’s fair in love and politics . . .
When ambitious solicitor Norman Wynford-Scott is ousted from his legal studies due to a holiday revel spun out of control, he adapts a new plan of running for the Parliament seat of a local village. Only trouble is, the same irresistible woman who ruined his good name is thwarting his campaign at every turn.
Widowed and drink-addicted, Lady Elsa Fay has retreated to the family village of Fleck to regain her sobriety. She’s distracting herself from her troubles – and her memories of the one passionate night she shared with Norman – by organizing the Parliament campaign of her husband’s cousin. Until Norman arrives intent on winning the seat for himself.
Shamed and determined, Elsa will do all she can to send her former friend and now adversary packing – even if it means breaking her own heart in the process.
About the Author
Elizabeth Boyce’s first taste of writing glory was when she won a gift basket in the local newspaper’s Mother’s Day “Why my Mom is the Best” essay competition at age eight. From that moment, she knew she was destined for bigger and better gift baskets. With visions of hard salamis and tiny crackers dancing in her head, she has authored seven Regency novels and novellas, resulting, thus far, in two gift baskets from adoring fans (AKA amazing friends).
Elizabeth lives in South Carolina and shares her artisanal cheeses with her husband and three children. She sneaks some to the cat when no one else is looking.