VIRTUAL TOUR: The Twelfth Night Wager by Regan Walker


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It was a dull day at White’s, the day he agreed to the wager: seduce bed and walk away from the lovely Lady Leisterfield, all by Twelfth Night. This holiday season, Christopher St. Ives, Viscount Eustace, planned to give himself a gift.


She was too proper by half—or so was the accusation of her friends, which was why her father had to find her a husband. But Lord Leisterfield was now gone a year, and Grace was at last shedding the drab colors of mourning. The house felt empty, more so during the coming Christmastide, and so tonight her coming out would begin with a scandalous piece of theater. The play would attract rogues, or so promised her friend the dowager countess. It would indeed. The night would bring about the greatest danger—and the greatest happiness—that Grace had ever known.


To mark the release of THE TWELFTH NIGHT WAGER, author REGAN WALKER is stopping by Romantic Historical Reviews to tell us all about –


Christmas in Regency England, 1811-1820, when Prince George ruled as in his father’s place, was a more subtle celebration than the one we observe today. To my way of thinking, perhaps it was better for it. Christmastide, as they called the season, began with Christmas Eve and continued to Twelfth Night, or January 5th, followed by the Feast of the Epiphany the next day, the official end of the Yule season.

Regency Christmas
In country homes and estates where Christmas was typically celebrated, decorations went up on Christmas Eve and stayed up until Epiphany when the greens would be burned in the fireplace. Evergreens were the central part of the decorations, with boughs of holly, ivy, hawthorn, rosemary, and Christmas Rose (hellebore), depending on where you were in England.




Christmas rose
Of course, there was also mistletoe, although it grows mostly in the western and southwestern parts of Britain. Friends or relatives in other parts of the country might send you some by the mail coach. The mistletoe would more likely have been a “kissing bough”—a hanging structure of evergreens, apples, paper flowers, and dolls representing Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. Most of the traditions were steeped in the Christian faith.




Kissing bough

Christmas Eve might also find folks sipping cups of hot wassail (spiced cider) or eggnog as they watched a performance by traveling actors, called “mummers.” The actors would parade the streets and ask at almost every door if the mummers were wanted. Dressed in the most outrageous fashions with gilt and spangled caps and ribbons of various colors on their bodies, they performed plays, ending with a song, and a collection of coins. The play these groups performed was often Alexander and the King of Egypt, featured in my story The Holly & The Thistle.




Mummers on Christmas Eve
Christmas Day would, typically, begin with a trip to church. Afterward, there would be a grand dinner of roast goose, boar’s head (really the head of a pig, as wild boars became extinct in England as of 1185), and perhaps turkey (brought to England from the New World in 1550). Vegetables such as potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts and carrots were also served, along with stuffing for the fowl.

Wonderful desserts ended the meal, including marchpane (what we call marzipan), and gingerbread. Another favorite dessert was Christmas plum pudding, a mixture of 13 ingredients (representing Christ and the twelve apostles): suet, brown sugar, raisins, currants, citron, lemon and orange peels, spices, crumbs, flour, eggs, milk and brandy. All this was boiled in a pudding cloth. Very tasty.

There was always Mince pie, too. While recipes varied by region, ingredients usually included beef, suet, sugar, raisins, lemons, spices, orange peel, goose, tongue, fowls, eggs, apples and brandy. This was also called Twelfth Night Pie because it was originally made with the leftovers of the Christmas dinner. The pies were eaten every day during Christmastide to ensure good luck for the twelve months of the New Year.

Wine would be served with the meal. For the heartier, there was the wassail bowl, which often included sherry or brandy. Men would have their port and cigars after dinner and women their tea, separately taken.

But together again, the men and women might sing carols around the piano including Deck the Halls, Here We Come a-Wassailing, and While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks. Joy to the World, though first published by Isaac Watts in 1719, wasn’t in the modern version until 1836. Hark the Harold Angels Sing was first written in 1739 by Charles Wesley, and amended in 1753 by George Whitfield. However, Mendelssohn didn’t write the modern version we sing today until 1840. Silent Night was written in 1816 by Joseph Mohr, but wasn’t translated into English until 1863.

Christmas Day was also the day on which a gift or tithe was given to the landowner. It was not a widespread tradition to give each other gifts, though a small toy might be given to children in the family.

Another Regency Christmas tradition was the Christmas pantomime. The pantomime usually opened on Boxing Day. Joseph Grimaldi, the famous clown who lived from 1779 to 1837 regularly performed at the Drury Lane theatre.

The day after Christmas was Boxing Day, on which you gave presents or “boxes” to those who had given you good service during the previous year. It was also a traditional day for fox hunting.

You did not necessarily have to worry about snow near Christmas, despite the story of Good King Wenceslaus. According to several sources, weather in most parts of England was often warm and damp. The winter of 1818, the year in which my novella The Twelfth Night Wager and my short story The Holly & The Thistle are set, was a particularly warm one.

The day and night of the 5th was a time for masks and playacting. Cakes were part of this day, not Christmas. Twelfth day cakes were light and covered with colored sugar, and they contained a bean and a pea.

12th Night Cake
The man who found the bean would become king for the night; the woman who found the pea would become queen. Another similar Twelfth Night tradition was for the ladies to pick a man’s name from a hat, and he would be her partner for the evening. The day after Twelfth Night was Epiphany. All the decorations would be taken down and the greenery burned, or the house risked bad luck.

The things that would be missing from Christmas in the Regency would be the Christmas tree and stockings hung by the fire. Christmas trees were a German tradition that while brought to George III’s home by his German wife Charlotte, was not incorporated into the people’s traditions until Queen Victoria’s time.

Instead, Christmas in Regency England contained the simple traditions of holly and candles and roaring fires in the hearth, the smell of wassail steaming in a large bowl over the grate, and the pungent aroma of the Christmas pudding and roast goose making the mouth water. Children home from school might add the typical noise to the family gatherings, but the emphasis was on social interaction that is, unfortunately, so often missing in our celebration today.


01_The Twelfth Night Wager CoverThey rode into Hyde Park and soon were on the broad path of Rotten Row, the King’s Road. Ahead of them, the path was clear and the trees on either side shielded them from view. The bays picked up speed in response to Eustace’s commands. Grace observed how adroitly he handled the reins, expending little effort in controlling the powerful horses.

“You are very good at this. And the bays are performing wonderfully to your hand.”

He turned to look at her for only a moment. “Do you know something about horses, my lady?”

“A little. Well, actually, I should say I love to ride. When he was alive, my father Sir Richard kept a good stable at our estate in Oxfordshire. Young David, the new Lord Leisterfield, or Leister, as his school chums call him, loves to visit Ashdown.”
“Do I detect a fondness for the lad in your voice?”

“You might,” she admitted. “Though he is my stepson, I care deeply for him and he has honored me with his affection. He’s such a splendid young man, and with so much promise.” A promise Grace wanted to see fulfilled untainted by scandal. For a moment she was tempted to confide in the man sitting beside her. He might have a thought as to what she could do about Lord Pickard. But her spirit urged caution. She did not know Eustace well and was reluctant to bring them closer by such a confession when he had in mind to seduce her.

Eustace began to drive the horses like the wind, racing down the path as if straining to gain a lead on some unseen competitor. He was definitely in his element. The horses, as if sensing a master, responded to his touch. Grace watched his gloved hands on the reins, powerfully gripping the leather, and there was something very masculine about them so that she shivered at the thought of them touching her.

As Eustace let the pair have their heads, she braced herself with one hand on the side of the carriage and one on the seat beside her to keep from being jostled. He was laughing, and Grace found herself laughing with him. This was exhilarating and so unlike her life in the last few years. She felt more alive being with this dangerous man and his fast ways; she was once again the young girl she had been racing over the hills of Oxfordshire with her long hair streaming out behind her. What had happened to that girl?

After some time, he slowed the horses and guided the phaeton to the side of the path. Holding the reins in one hand, he turned to face her. His eyes seemed to glow in the dim light. “I never would have thought the serene Lady Leisterfield would be so stimulated by a ride in the park. You are flushed and your eyes bright. I do think you enjoyed our dash through the Row.”

“Yes, I quite liked it,” she said, breathless. “Though you must admit, the ride was more like a race.”

He looked at her lips and then her neck. “I can see your pulse jumping. Perhaps you like to race as much as I do.”

Grace wondered if he was still speaking of horses or something else. Her heart sped as he leaned toward her and brushed his lips across hers. After only a moment, she pulled back.

“Too soon?” he asked.

“That question implies such is inevitable, my lord. I can assure you it is not.”


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03_Regan Walker
Bestselling author Regan Walker loved to write stories as a child, particularly those about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors encouraged her to pursue the profession of law, which she did. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding sovereign who taps his subjects for “special assignments.” And in each of her novels, there is always real history and real historic figures. Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses. For more information please visit Regan Walker’s website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


11 Responses

  1. Heather, I’m so glad you did! And if you like the story, you’ll see it continues with Lady Emily Picton in The Holly & The Thistle, a short story.

  2. Hello Regan,
    Interesting comments… love to hear about how it was celebrated back then. As you know, I’ve already bought and read (and reviewed) The Twelfth Night Wager… and believe me, it is a book I will certainly read again later. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Congrats again on the release of this book.

  3. I love holiday themed Regency novels. This will be so fun for the holiday season. Thanks for the information on Regency holiday traditions. I would love to incorporate many of them into my own. Best wishes for the success of the book, LA

    • Hi, Laurel Ann. I agree with you. Their simple traditions spoke to me as I was writing my two Regency Christmas stories. Simpler times but very meaningful.

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