The Haut Ton
The haut ton referred to the members of some three hundred families who owned large estates that supplied their primary income. Sometimes they were called “the upper ten thousand.” Not all were titled, but they were usually at least well-connected and wealthy enough to stand the enormous expenses of socializing with the crème de la crème of English society, which included:
- owning or renting a suitable residence in a fashionable area of London (in addition to a great country home on their estate), along with the requisite servants, stables, etc.
- extensive wardrobes in the first stare of fashion for all members of the family who participated in the Season
- food, drink, decorations, musicians, etc. required to provide entertainment for other members of the ton in grand style
- costs of renting theatre boxes, purchasing entrance tickets to public entertainments, such as the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, Astley’s Amphitheatre, etc.
- allowance or pin money for wives, sons or daughters.
What was the London Season?
The London Season evolved from the legislative sessions of Parliament, which would run roughly from January/February to June. Generally, a peer would bring his family to London sometime after the holidays, which provided a perfect opportunity for their families to socialize and seek suitable spouses for their children. The Season didn’t heat up until spring, though, and by the end of June, most of the first families escaped the odiferous heat of London for the fresh air of their country estates or perhaps a seaside resort.
Many families would return to London in September for the “Little Season,” which was much less prestigious, but few were left in Town by the end of November.
Essentially, anyone who was anyone would participate in the London Season, even if they had to run up enormous debts to do it.
In Treasuring Theresa, an earl’s daughter such as Lady Theresa would be expected to have a London Season and make a suitable marriage. Unfortunately, however, her first Season was unsuccessful, and later, there was no money for it, so when childhood sweetheart Reese Bromfield broke her heart by betrothing himself to another, Lady Theresa’s options for marriage were limited. Incidentally, Reese Bromfield, as the son of a squire, was not highly-connected, but as the son of a wealthy member of the gentry, he would have been welcomed to participate in the ton, although not, perhaps, in the highest circles.
What did people do in the London Season?
London offered—and still does to this day—an endless number of delights for visitors, regardless of status. In the early 19th century, one could walk or ride through the park (Hyde Park or Green Park were quite popular), visit the British Museum or any number of museums or galleries, attend a circus performance at Astley’s Amphitheatre, visit the Pleasure Gardens of Vauxhall with its nightly fireworks, and attend the theatre or opera. The best shopping in the world could be had on Bond Street, and for the gentlemen there was racing, boxing, gaming, and all sorts of attractions that couldn’t be found on a remote country estate.
For the haut ton, there were balls and parties, soirées, routs, musical evenings, Venetian breakfasts, al fresco teas, extravagant dinners…all sorts of opportunities to hobnob with wealthy aristocrats and politicians and make connections that could potentially lead to even higher status and prestige.
It was all great fun—but very expensive, especially for those who succumbed to the gambling fever. Entire fortunes were won and lost in this period—and not just by the gentlemen either. Before she died in 1806, Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, had lost what amounts today to a billion dollars. (See Lady P’s insights on that here.)
What did people do the rest of the year?
Whatever they wished! Many spent the summer on their country estates, which generally sported expansive mansions with huge ballrooms that could be used for house parties, during which they would entertain their friends from other parts of England for a week or more. Sometimes gentlemen took a personal interest in their estates, but often the management was left to a steward or estate manager so that the owner was free to participate in local society, or travel to the seaside, or take the waters at a spa resort, such as Bath. Hunting and fishing were popular sports for the gentlemen.
In Treasuring Theresa, Damian Ashby was a society dandy who despised the country, except for the income it provided him. Lady Theresa despised the superficiality of the ton and preferred life on her country estate, where she counted among her friends villagers and commoners, as well as the local gentry. How will these two seemingly complete opposites manage to bear each other’s company for an extended period of time as her dying father wishes?
About Treasuring Theresa (a sweet Regency short story)
At the betrothal ball of the man she had expected to marry herself, Lady Theresa latches on to Damian Ashby, hoping to divert attention from her own humiliating situation. Of course, she’s not seriously interested because he’s a useless London fribble, in her opinion. He is not favorably impressed with her either.
Still, she’s the daughter of an earl, and he’s the heir to her father’s title and estate, so they are destined to spend more time in each other’s company…sooner rather than later. And who knew that the two of them would develop an unlikely attraction to one another?
But can a London swell and a country lady ever make their diverse lives and interests work together?
Note: Excerpts and additional reads—including an epilogue to this story—are available here.