It’s a great pleasure to welcome my friend, Shereen Vedam.
If a crime’s committed during the Regency, who you gonna call?
In the early 1800s, Bow Street runners were as familiar as Ghostbusters1 are now. This was a time before Scotland Yard2 (created in 1829) and before being a constable was a full-time, paid position. It was an intriguing period in history when England was on the verge of becoming industrialized.
In 1811, Prince George IV (pictured in the portrait) became Regent of England because his father, King George III, due to a malady, was declared incapable of performing the necessary royal functions. This was also the year Jane Austen released her first novel, Sense and Sensibility.
To accurately depict a hero and/or heroine solving crimes during the Regency, we need a spell that will convince a reader s/he has been transported back in time to the Regency era to meet a Bow Street Runner, to solve a crime, and perhaps to catch a killer.
On with the spell casting!
To successfully cast any enchantment, we need three things:
1) The right ingredients
2) A clever spell caster
3) A pinch of magic
THE RIGHT INGREDIENTS (aka tools of the trade)
Picking the proper ingredients for this spell is essential because our crime detection tools during the Regency were severely limited. There was no police force, per se, and the men who did this type of work were untrained and only rewarded if a case against an accused was successfully prosecuted. Not surprisingly, considering the pay scale, corruption was rife. Since our crime fighters were often men from the lower classes, they could not easily interrogate suspects from the upper classes, especially a peer (without risking getting thrown off the property).
A peer was a person with a title bestowed on him by the monarch, and one of the privileges of his peerage4 stated that he and his wife did not have to participate in criminal investigations. A peer could not be called as witness to a crime, and even if he gave a statement in court, he did not have to take an oath, he could not be arrested even for taking more than one or two of the king’s deer. The only thing he could be arrested for (if caught red-handed) was if he committed a high crime, such as murder or treason. Even so, if a peer were accused of a crime, he would then be tried by his peers in the House of Lords, not in the commoners’ courts.
Yes, fighting crime within Jane Austen’s society was tough and our crime solving tools were indeed thin. A good detective5 (don’t use that word) investigator worth his/her salt, however, would make use of whatever was at hand to ensure justice was done. So, what was at hand to help solve a crime?
Our Crime Fighters
There were four main types:
- Night Watchman and Parish Watchman (watchmen/constables worked for various parishes and vestries. If they worked for an affluent parish, they might even be paid a little, but all were restricted from pursuing criminals outside their jurisdiction)
- City of London Police (wore blue coats and trousers, did not appreciate anyone interfering within their tiny but important jurisdiction: about one square mile of the old city)
- Thames River Police (patrolled the river merchants’ warehouses and ships on the Thames River to guard against theft and fight smuggling)
- Runners/Officers (plain clothed and working for a Magistrate, these men were authorized by the Home Office to cross boundaries between London’s various parishes)
- The elite of this group were, of course, the Bow Street Runners6 (they preferred to be called “Principal Officer”). They were authorized to pursue criminals not only anywhere within London, but in all of Britain as well.
- A runner handed out a magistrate’s warrants for arrests and searches, hunted for murder weapons, investigated crime scenes, questioned witnesses and brought in suspects. As a means to call on the public’s assistance with a case, they also published information on wanted criminals and stolen property in journals and Broadsheets like the Hue and Cry.
- Best of all, by the Regency period, in addition to rewards for successful prosecutions, and charging fees for their services from private citizens, the runners were also paid a regular salary by the Home Office.
- Bow Street Horse Patrols guarded the roads leading up to London to protect the public from highwaymen.
Criminal Prosecution and Incarceration
Coroner – the purpose of a coroner was to determine cause of death. If the cause of death was in doubt, he could call a jury (an inquest) to make that determination.
Attorney7 (solicitor, prepared the case and barrister, presented the case in high court)
Prosecutor – often the victim himself, but sometimes, if he could afford the funds, he could hire a solicitor, who would then procure a barrister to present the case in court.
Defender – No such thing during the Regency era. Anyone standing trial for a crime could ask people to speak on their behalf, but they could not cross examine witnesses. Proper criminal defense was not born until the Victorian era.
Prison System8 – In London, depending on the type of crime, there were several prisons where criminals could be taken. Below are a few of them:
- Fleet Prison and King’s Bench (debtor’s prisons)
- Hulks (for prisoners sentenced to transportation to another country). While the prisoners were still in England, they could be put to hard labor improving the River Thames waterway.
- Ludgate (for debtors and petty offenders)
- Newgate (for serious offences like murder).
o Newgate was conveniently located near the Old Bailey, where trials (for cases from London and Middlesex) were conducted and executions carried out.
For our Crime Fighters
- Wooden staves / Truncheon / Walking sticks
- Pistol and Sabre (issued to Bow Street Horse Patrols)9
Wielded by the Criminals
- Anything at hand during the early 1800s, including, but not limited to, fist, cudgel, sword, flintlock pistol, blunderbuss, poison
There you have it. These were the available ingredients during the Regency era to help an investigator solve a crime. Choose wisely, for this decision can make or break the spell.
A CLEVER SPELL CASTER
The spell caster is not the writer, but rather the hero/heroine of our story. As such, s/he should be someone who is both appealing and clever enough to work within the societal restrictions of Jane Austen’s world. This person will need to interrogate witnesses from a wide swath of the public, from dukes and earls, to butchers, bakers, maybe even a candlestick maker. Our spell caster must be someone with whom any one of Jane Austen’s characters would be comfortable conversing. Often, this has meant that s/he was a member of the Ton10(rich, well born, well educated, part of the fashionable crowd).
In A Beastly Scandal, I have two spell casters (the hero, an earl, and the heroine, a daughter of a Marquis, each working separately to solve the same crime). Since this tale was inspired by the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, my beastly hero, Rufus, is not always likeable but he is counterbalanced by the loveable beauty. In the excerpt below, see Rufus question a poor, out of work farmer who has lost his wife and children. Notice how this clever spell caster adjusts his language in order to better communicate with a possible witness.
ADD A PINCH OF MAGIC
Before we get to the excerpt, there is still the matter of that pinch of magic. How else but with magic could we hope to convince a perfectly sensible reader that she has stepped outside her everyday world of cell phones, rapid transit and online shopping and into a realm where missives are hand-written, horse drawn carriages take couples through Hyde Park, where a lady might enjoy an excursion to a haberdashery shop in order to purchase the perfect material that her maid can fashion into a scrumptious ball gown in the current style (as seen in an Ackerman’s Repository fashion plate)?
To accomplish this feat of enchantment – to procure that pinch of magic – a writer (the spell caster’s assistant) must:
o have passion for our work (comes from working at craft every day)
o revere authenticity (take history courses, join Regency specialty groups, and read widely)
o write with flare (develop a unique style/author voice, which comes from practice, practice, practice)
Cultivate the above, and that pinch of magic will appear of its own accord, because as every good spell caster’s assistant knows, magic can never be controlled, it can only ever be enticed closer.
Excerpt from A Beastly Scandal
His guest [possible witness] ordered ale, and Rufus [our spell caster] paid for it and waited. Once the drink arrived, Brindle abandoned his cap on his lap and grabbed the sweating mug with large, coarse hands. He downed the contents. Dribbles slid along the sides of his mouth while he swallowed in rapid succession. He returned his empty mug to the scarred wooden tabletop.
Rufus ordered the mug be replenished. Slowly, he sipped his own whiskey, enjoying its sharp, dry bite. As the chatter about the room rose, the man’s tight shoulders loosened.
“The innkeeper tells me you are an avid source of village gossip,” Rufus said. At his guest’s blank stare, he rephrased. “You know a lot about what happens around the village?”
“I knows some, milord.”
“Do you remember the last time my father came to Terrance?”
“All knew whenever the Black Ter, um, his late lordship, were here.”
The man’s gaze swung to the doorway as if he were considering bolting for the exit. Brindle’s fear and his hesitation over Rufus’s father’s name would have to wait for later consideration. He must be careful, or he would lose the man’s cooperation.
“Do you remember what my father did the last time he visited?”
Brindle’s attention returned to him, and a light appeared in his dull brown eyes. He straightened his shoulders, and his face changed from slack and lifeless to alert, with a hint of optimism. The man lifted his mug and emptied the remnants. Though his hands still shook, this time Rufus suspected it was more from excitement than fear. With care, Brindle laid the empty mug down with a soft thunk. He leaned forward, bringing with him a nauseating odor of stale sweat and horse droppings.
Holding his breath, Rufus also leaned forward.
“I might knows something about something, milord.”
Rufus reclined and let his breath gush out in relief. Before the day ended, he might know who killed his father. He hid his excitement behind a bland face, like the ones Phillip wore in polite circles. A flick of his finger again brought the innkeeper to replenish his guest’s mug.
Links to Buy
- Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-beastly-scandal-shereen-vedam/1114890793?ean=9781610261241
- Chapters Indigo: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/a-beastly-scandal/9781610261241-item.html
- Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/Beastly-Scandal-Shereen-Vedam/9781610261241
- Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/A-
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1 Ghostbusters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKbg7CfG7i4
2 A Brief History of Scotland Yard: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-brief-history-of-scotland-yard-172669755/?no-ist
3 The Regency Period of Jane Austen’s time: http://www.janeausten.org/regency-period.asp
The Regency Read: http://dbschaefer.com/the-regency-read/
4 Peerage Law: http://www.regencyresearcher.com/pages/peer1.html
Privilege of Peer: http://historyhoydens.blogspot.ca/2012/04/privileges-of-peer.html
5 The Oxford Universal Dictionary attributes the first use of the word “Detective” to 1843.
A Note on the word “Detective”: http://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=5701
6 Bow Street Runners: http://www.janeausten.co.uk/bow-street-runners-and-the-marine-police/
8 Prisons and Lockups: http://www.londonlives.org/static/Prisons.jsp#NewPrison
9 Henry & John Fielding: https://suite.io/joseph-allen-mccullough/v7r27g
10 Regency Language: A Primer: http://www.likesbooks.com/regencyspeak.html
Shereen Vedam is the author of fairytale-inspired Regency romances. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and SF Canada. Visit her website at http://www.shereenvedam.com/ or keep track of her upcoming books by liking her Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/ShereenVedam or subscribing to her newsletter: http://eepurl.com/vuU_b.