Tag Archive | horses

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion For Horses

Before the emergence of trains, cars and airplanes, horses were the mainstay of land transportation. Over and above that, however, the English were obsessed with horses. And carriages. And everything that went along with them.

The Four-in-Hand Club parading through Hyde Park

The Four-in-Hand Club parading through Hyde Park

A fashionable gentleman took just as much care to have a quality horse when he rode through Hyde Park at five o’clock in the afternoon with the crème de la crème of London society. His carriage, when he drove one, was sure to be drawn by horses that matched in size and color, and his conveyance—whether it be a high-perch phaeton or some other trendy vehicle—would be well-appointed and equipped with liveried footmen or tigers. He, of course, would be dressed to the nines himself, as Captain Gronow describes:

“The dandy’s dress consisted of a blue coat with brass buttons, leather breeches, and top boots, and it was the fashion to wear a deep, stiff white cravat, which prevented you from seeing your boots while standing…”


high-flyer phaeton

Driving clubs such as the Whip Club, which in 1809 became the Four-in-Hand Club, were all the rage. Four times a year, the Four-in-Hand Club met to drive twenty miles at a steady trot from Hanover Square to Salt Hill, where they would dine at the Windhill Inn before making the return trip. The more enthusiastic members would arrange to drive public coaches instead of or with the professional coachman sitting alongside. Imagine the thrill of the passengers to realize they were being driven by an earl or a duke!

The Four-in-Hand Club

The Four-in-Hand Club

Only the very wealthy could afford the enormous expense of keeping a stable in town, much less the carriages and horses. Townhouses had stables in the mews at the back, but less-affluent gentlemen could rent horses and carriages from Mr. Tilbury’s livery stable on Mount Street.



Tattersall’s on Hyde Park Corner was the best place to buy and sell quality horseflesh. Auctions were held twice a week, and prices for the best horses could go into thousands of pounds. Even gentlemen not in the market for a horse, could pay an annual fee to socialize with his horse-mad peers in the Subscription Room. This is where the members of the Jockey Club, the organization that regulated horse racing, would settle up their wagers every Monday. The perfect place for a gentleman to go to escape the cacophony of his fashion-obsessed wife and daughters during the London Season!

Reminiscences of Captain Gronow (free on Kindle)

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf

Philip Astley: Equestrian, Showman and Entrepreneur

Philip Astley: Equestrian, Showman and Entrepreneur


Philip Astley: Early Life

Philip Astley was born in Staffordshire (about 150 miles from London) on January 8, 1742. When he was around eleven years old, his family moved to London, where his father had a carpentry shop near Westminster Bridge. In 1759, he went to be trained in horsemanship in Wilton at Lord Pembroke’s estate, where he showed extraordinary promise. Soon after, in search of excitement, he left his family and joined a regiment of light dragoons called Eliot’s Light Horse, later the 15th Light Hussars.

Astley’s Military Service

Astley was assigned to care for and train the horses to be “bomb-proof”, i.e., not to take off in fear at the sound of gunshot. His unit was soon shipped off to Hamburg, Germany to assist the Prussians in fighting the French in the Seven Years’ War. The 15th distinguished itself by being instrumental in capturing sixteen colors (flags) from the French, and one of them was taken by Philip Astley. Losing one such flag would be considered a disaster, so losing sixteen of them was humiliating for the French. The tactics and riding skills of the 15th were too much for the French to overcome. The 15th was awarded the country’s first ever Battle Honor and nicknamed “The Fighting Fifteenth.”

That same year, Astley earned the lifelong gratitude of royalty when he single-handedly rode through enemy lines to rescue Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand, the Duke of Brunswick. A prince of the Holy Roman Empire, the duke was married to George II’s daughter and was the father of Princess Caroline, who would become the wife of George IV.

duke of brunswick

Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick

Astley continued to prove himself throughout the remainder of the Seven Years’ War. In 1766, he was discharged from the army and given a white charger called Gibraltar as a token of appreciation from his commander. Having married and become the father of John Philip Conway Astley, he took a job at a nearby riding school that demonstrated tricks as well as teaching riding skills. After a year, Astley obtained some property and started his own establishment.

Astley’s Amphitheatre: The Beginning

It was around 1768 when people would come around to watch Astley and his pupils perform equestrian tricks. A collection bucket was sent around, money started to pour in, and Astley began to hire musicians. He’d stand on his head on the back of a horse, straddle two cantering and jumping horses, and often be joined by his wife Patty, also a talented performer. Even at this early stage, Astley knew that variety was the best way to keep his audience happy, and he was never satisfied to keep performing the same tricks over and over again.

Mr. Astley, Sergeant-Major in His Majesty’s Royal Regiment of Light Dragoons. Nearly twenty different attitudes will be performed on one, two, and three horses, every evening during the summer, at his riding school. Doors to be open at four, and he will mount at five. Seats, one shilling; standing places, sixpence.


It wasn’t long before Astley mysteriously found a diamond ring on Westminster Bridge and was able to lease (and then acquire) a piece of property south of the bridge. He cut down the timber and constructed the first Astley’s Amphitheatre, although it was first called The British Riding School. The fenced-in compound was in open-air, but had a covered standing area for visitors and a central viewing platform. Eventually, a dome-shaped roof covered the entire ring, and there was a room above the horses’ stables where wealthy visitors could sit.

The Licensing Act of 1737

Censorship was alive and well in England for more than two centuries due to this law that gave the Lord Chamberlain the power to approve or ban public performances. The only two theaters authorized to perform plays were Covent Garden and Drury Lane. Any other performances could get raided and their employees thrown into prison. Astley fought public officials trying to shut him down for many years, often using his upstanding military background and royal connections to keep his business going. At one point, George III himself came to his defense, perhaps because a dozen years earlier Astley had saved him from injury on Westminster Bridge when a horse pulling his carriage became uncontrollable. It didn’t hurt that Astley celebrated the King’s birthday on June 4th every year with a fireworks demonstration over the Thames either.

Astley’s Goes on Tour

As other performers—jugglers, rope-walkers, tumblers, clowns, etc.—were added, Astley’s role became more producer, artistic director, marketer, and business manager.

In the autumn, Astley used his army training to take his show on tour, where he would perform at fairs and gardens, in fields, and borrowed theaters, with staging and fencing loaded on wagons, as far away as Edinburgh.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that he would conquer the French with his extraordinary show. He charmed Marie-Antoinette, who called him “le plus bel homme d’Europe”, and in 1802, during a brief period of peace with the French, he achieved an audience with Napoleon and was granted reparations for the theater that was appropriated by the republican army during the revolution. Brussels, Vienna, and Belgrade were among the European capitals he captivated prior to the French Revolution

Astley’s After Astley

Rendell, Mike. Astley's Circus: The Story of an English Hussar. 2014
Rendell, Mike. Astley’s Circus: The Story of an English Hussar. 2014. Amazon

Following Philip Astley’s death in 1814, his son John managed the circus. After he died in 1821, Andrew Ducrow, son of the “Flemish Hercules” took over management of the Amphitheatre. Ducrow was the first performer to ride six horses at once. After Ducrow died (following a devastating fire—the third in its history—the property was rebuilt by William Batty. After Batty came a long a long line of new owners, but by the second half of Queen Victoria’s reign, Astley’s was long-since its prime. It was closed in 1893 and demolished two years later.

Astley’s Accomplishments

  • The first ringmaster. Astley went around in military costume announcing the acts in his booming voice, cracking the whip, and generally serving as Master of Ceremonies.
  • Pioneered the idea of the circus parade to create enthusiasm for his performances
  • Astley propagated the idea of a ring with a diameter of 42 feet as the optimal for circus acts.
  • Although he is often called the “Father of the Modern Circus,” he never called his venue a circus.

“…everything was delightful, splendid, and surprising!”

Charles Dickens, Master Humphrey’s Clock

For a detailed list of some of the “attitudes” offered in Astley’s performances, click here.

Elf Ahearn and “Lord Monroe’s Dark Tower”

Susana, I’m so pleased to be invited to post on your blog today. You do great service to us Regency romance writers and readers.

The first thing I heard when I set out to become an author was, “Write what you know.”  Tough to do since the Regency occurred about 200 years ago, but I’ve always been accused of having an old soul. I feel most comfortable around antique things – furniture that shows the dents and cracks of use, books marred by the crayon scrawls of children. Signs of life thrill me. So the challenge I set myself when I wrote Lord Monroe’s Dark Tower was to make it seem “lived in.” To this end, my heroine, Claire was inspired by my sister Jenny, and the book’s hero, Flavian, by a feline who was everything she ever wanted in a man (except shedding).

Flavian was a striped tabby who walked like a truck driver but meowed like a soprano – all high and tweety. You will not find these character traits in the book, but you will find other similarities.

We always had a running tab of two to three dogs and four to five cats in the house along with four excitable girls and my excitable parents. At dinner the whole mess of us would crowd into the kitchen. My mother would feed us the human food and the animals would square off over their bowls. Dogs growled, cats hissed—but Flavian was unflappable. If he wanted Friskies, he just walked up to the bowl, nudged whoever was in the way, and got it. No fuss, no buss. All the animals respected Flavian, not because they were afraid, but because he exuded that kind of authority.

Jenny was mad for Flavian and he was mad for her. If he needed a warm lap she was there; if the night were cold, her bed was where he’d find warmth; should he need a treat, she’d give it to him, and when she required a dead mouse, he would provide it.

In the early stages of writing Lord Monroe’s Dark Tower, I thought, what would it be like if Jenny could have her ideal love without four legs and a tail? What would that man be like and how would my sweet, quiet sister, who, like Claire, is a healer, react to such a person? And so, the love story was born.

Now that I’ve confessed the origins of Lord Monroe’s main characters, for a chance at winning a free download of the novel, I’d like to know, have you ever had a pet you wished were human?

About Lord Monroe’s Dark Tower

roses2Two years of bewildering silence have passed since Claire Albright’s passions were first inflamed by powerful, brooding, Lord Flavian Monroe. On the brink of her London debut he unexpectedly summons her, asking for help to cure his ward’s hoarding. Embroiled in a desperate attempt to curb the child’s destructive madness, Claire struggles to understand why Flavian’s kisses veer from burning desire to icy rejection. Can she reach his heart before the child’s insanity undoes their chance at love?

When he was fourteen, Flavian made a mistake so devastating it ruined all hope for happiness. Years later, he’s still paying for his sin. But before his ward’s troubled mind destroys his home and family, he must see Claire once more. Vowing to keep their relationship professional—she the healer, he the guardian—he finds the bonds of his resolve snapping. Somehow, he must content himself with the love that could have been, but he cannot resist . . . one final embrace . . .

Available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble

A Snippet From Lord Monroe’s Dark Tower

“Claire!” Half way around the lake, he finally heard her answering call. His heart lurched when he caught sight of her. Dressed in pale green, she stood surrounded by a sea of yellow flowers. A straw bonnet shaded the perfect oval of her face. His eyes scrolled down her bodice. Between her breasts, she’d tucked a tiny bouquet of wild flowers: purple, pink, yellow, and white. He swallowed.

As he strode toward her, she said, “This spot has enough St. John’s wort to supply…” He crushed the end of her sentence with a kiss.  All the frustration, all the passion he’d whipped back since she’d come to Bingham Hall, broke free the instant his mouth met hers. He tipped her till her bonnet came off and dangled by the string around her throat. His tongue parted her reluctance and demanded her participation while he explored the wet grotto of her mouth.

On the verge of lowering her to the ground, she put both hands to his shoulders and pushed. “Flavian, wait.” Her cool fingers went to each side of his face, and her gaze burrowed into the furthest recesses of his mind. He felt the question in her body, the beseeching touch of her fingertips: ‘I am the lamb, you, the lion. What will you do with me?’ He understood the question, but couldn’t bring himself to answer. Valencia’s eyes, like black bottomless pools, flickered in his thoughts. So many years ago, he’d asked that same question of her. Being a lion, she consumed him. And then, when she so desperately needed his help, he’d been powerless . . . worse, he’d been reluctant. He stepped out of Claire’s grasp. “I wasn’t thinking.”

Fire leapt in her eyes. “Not thinking?” She ran several paces away. Pointing at him, she cried, “You make a mockery of my heart. One moment your lips burn against mine, the next, you ignore me.”

“I . . . I’m sorry.”

Doubled over with frustration, she yanked on the skirts of her dress. “I don’t want your apology. I want your love.”

“You have it.” Before he could retract the words, they hovered in the air between them. All went still. Even the birds ceased their song. Claire clutched her heart. “Why would you say that?”

“I love you.” He stepped toward her, though his chest ached and his throat went dry. “God help you, but I love you.” At her feet he dropped to his knees, hat in hand. “I love you.”

About the Author

Elf CloseupElf Ahearn, yes, that is her real name, lives in New York with her wonderful husband and a pesky (yet irresistible) cat. She came to romance late in life because she had to meet the right guy before any of that love stuff made sense. Before meeting the man of her dreams, Elf was a journalist, a corporate communications specialist, an actor, an insurance underwriter (which amuses her friends because she can’t add two numbers together to save her life), and a Lithuanian vampiress. (Not really but if you’re still reading I wanted to give you a thrill.) Like many romance authors, Elf was nuts for horses, though now she’s turned to cats. (They’re not as easy to ride, but they eat less hay.) In fact, the temptation to write a horse story is what lured her into romance writing in the first place. (See A Rogue in Sheep’s Clothing, the first book in the Albright Sisters series; there’s a really hot stallion in it.) Thanks for taking the time to read this post, and I hope you win the free download of Lord Monroe’s Dark Tower!

Elf’s Previous Post on Susana’s Parlour:

Regency Romance With a Gothic Twist:

Elf Ahearn and “A Rogue in Sheep’s Clothing”