Austen Authors June 22, 2020: Comparing Regency Tea Time to Victorian

If you follow my blog, you know that I began what was intended to be a short story in which Darcy and Lizzy don’t meet until they’re in their 50’s. The story has grown out of the short story category and into the novelette one. By the time it’s finished, it may end up being a novella. LOL

The story is set early in the Victorian Era, in 1840, and Lizzy serves tea to her visitors, as do her neighbors when she makes her return visits. I thought it might be interesting to see how tea time changed from Regency to Victorian, if it changed at all. As you will see, Lizzy is on the cutting edge of fashion with her afternoon tea, because she serves sandwiches and cakes with it.

Let me start by saying circumstances occurred such that I had to write this post last Friday. This is the second attempt at it. I had the first one really muddled up, and to be honest, I have more questions at this point than answers.

What I can tell you is this: serving tea to callers was a common thing in Regency England. Serving tea with meals was also common, as was “having tea” in the drawing room after dinner.

I can also tell you that I and every other author who has made afternoon tea a thing in their Regency-era stories is probably wrong. Here’s why …

The introduction of “afternoon tea” as a snack or small meal did not occur until at least 1840, well into the Victorian era. The person given credit for beginning the tradition is the seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna Russell. As the story goes, she got hungry in the afternoon and dinner was not until 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening. So, she had the cook send up some tea, some bread and butter sandwiches, some small cakes and other sweets, and she ate. She liked her afternoon snack so much that she continued the practice, soon inviting her friends to join her. The rest is pretty much history.

Compliments of Wikipedia

My conclusion is that, while tea was definitely big in the Regency era, afternoon tea was not and would not be until the 1840’s.

Another interesting thing I learned is that what the wealthy served was not called high tea like I always thought. It was referred to as afternoon tea or low tea and was served around four in the afternoon.

High tea was actually what the lower classes and middle classes served. It was more like a meal with meat, fish, jellies, tarts, and cheeses. The name was also, apparently, referring to the height of the table on which it was served. High tea would have been served on a higher-sitting table like a dinner table and low tea on what we would call a coffee table, which is low to the floor.

I confess to being a bit disappointed that afternoon tea wasn’t a thing in the Regency. I like to use it in my stories but I’ll have to stop now, since it’s not accurate to the period.

Now I’d like to share a bit of my Thursday’s 300 story. I actually finished it today (Friday), but have quite a bit of editing and polishing to do on it. I know that not all of you follow my blog and you may not have heard of this story. I plan to continue posting over the next few weeks, and get it all up on the blog before I publish. Please enjoy the excerpt below, and feel free to tell me what you think!


Longbourn, Hertfordshire


Elizabeth Bennet leaned toward the mirror and added a last touch of balm to her lips. Rolling them together, she leaned back again and examined her reflection.

Time had treated Elizabeth well. Her chestnut curls only had a few streaks of silver in them. There were some creases around her eyes, but her cheeks were as smooth as ever. Her figure had matured a bit, but she still walked every day and so had not run to fat. She stood to examine the fit of her gown.

Fashion had changed quite a bit since Elizabeth’s come-out more than thirty years ago. Waistlines had fallen from just under the bust to the natural waist, which had meant longer corsets. Elizabeth hated them. She hated being constricted so much. However, if she wished to look her best, not to mention keep from causing a scandal, she must wear the devilish devices.

Skirts had transformed, too, from long, straight lines to bell shapes. Elizabeth turned to the tall, free-standing mirror to the left of her dressing table. She tilted her head as she looked critically at her reflection. While she disliked the style, she did look well in it. A knock on the door of her bedchamber brought her out of her reverie.


Garden tea party. Photo compliments of

“The carriage is ready, ma’am. Mr. Dalrymple is waiting in the drawing room.” The housekeeper, Mrs. Cower, called through the door.

Elizabeth strode to the portal and opened it. “Tell my nephew I will be down directly.” She smiled at the servant, who curtseyed and hastened back down the hallway.

Elizabeth looked around the room. Seeing her reticule and shawl laid out on the end of the bed, she picked them up, draping the latter over her arm and looping the former over the wrist of the same hand. Then, she stepped into the hall and pulled the door closed behind her.

Elizabeth gracefully made her way down the stairs. Reaching the ground floor of the house, she turned left and entered the door to her father’s book room. Mr. Bennet, now eighty years of age, was too frail to walk up and down the steps. He lived in this room, by his own preference. Elizabeth often tried to entice him to spend time with her elsewhere in the house, but he refused.

“Ah, Elizabeth. Come to see your old Papa before you go to the ball?” Bennet’s eyes gleamed at the sight of his only unmarried daughter. He lifted his cheek for her to kiss.

“I am.” Elizabeth obliged him, before glancing around the room, then at the desk behind which her father sat. “Did you eat? Is there anything I can get you before I leave?”

“I did. Finished the entire plate, too. You can ask Mrs. Cower if you don’t believe me.” Bennet nodded once and grinned. “I heard voices a bit ago.”

“Yes, Mary sent Neville to escort me to the assembly. I told her I was plenty old enough to not need a chaperone, but you know Mary.” Elizabeth winked at her father.

Bennet chuckled. “Indeed.” He patted Elizabeth’s hand, where it rested on his shoulder. “I am happy she did. Even a nephew is better than none. You enjoy yourself tonight. Do not sit there worrying about me. I have the Cowers if I need anything.”

“Promise me you will not give that sweet woman a hard time.”

With a wink and a grin, Bennet replied. “Would I do that?” When Elizabeth rolled her eyes, he patted her hand again. “I will do my best. Go, now, and tell young Neville I expect him to pay his respects when he drops you off in the morning.”

“I will.” Elizabeth kissed Bennet’s cheek again, then took a moment to straighten the blanket over his shoulders. “I will see you later. I love you.” With another sweeping, sharp-eyed glance over the contents of the room, she walked to the door and out, closing it behind her.

Neville must have heard the book room door shut, because Elizabeth was only halfway across the entry hall when he popped his head out of the drawing room. “There you are, Aunt Lizzy. Is Grandpapa well?”

Elizabeth accepted a kiss to the cheek from her sister’s youngest child. “He is. He said to tell you he expects a visit when you drop me off after the ball.”

“I knew I could not sneak in here and back out without him noticing. Sharp as a tack he is, despite his age. He likely intends to demand the shilling I owe him.”

“You and your grandfather are gambling again?” Elizabeth’s left brow rose.

Neville blushed. “He bet me I couldn’t recite a section of Virgil’s Aeneid in Latin. I couldn’t.”

Elizabeth grinned and rolled her eyes. “I am surprised you allowed him to goad you into that.”

With a sheepish grin and a laugh, Neville agreed. He took Elizabeth’s shawl and draped it over her shoulders. “Shall we go? Mama will wonder what is taking so long.”




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