Guest post by Laurie Benson – ‘From a spark to a flame’

What was the Georgian equivalent to today’s disposable lighter?  Well, back today with us is the lovely Laurie Benson, host of the fascinating blog  The Cozy Drawing Room which you may wish to check out. Laurie is also a recently published author  which you can find out more about at the end of this post. So, in the meantime we’ll hand you over to Laurie to find out the answer to the question above.

There are times when you’re writing historical fiction that it becomes obvious your characters will need to do things differently than you do in the twenty-first century. I had one of those moments recently when I was writing An Unexpected Countess, which is set in London during the Regency era.

Early 19th century solid silver pocket tinder box. Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane

In the story my hero, the Earl of Hartwick, is out in the middle of the night searching for a clue that will lead him to the location of a piece of the missing French Crown Jewels. It’s dark in the building he is in. If this was a contemporary story, Hart would pull out his flashlight (or torch as the British call it) and he would have sufficient enough light to thoroughly search the building. But Hart lives in 1819, so instead of a flashlight he would have used something like this small folding pocket candle lantern.

An 18th Century French Pocket Candle Lantern. Photo courtesy of Prices 4 Antiques

It’s really handy, right? Here is the part where the author in me rubs my head in frustration. How would he have lit it? There were no lighters. Did they even have matches back then? I’d heard of matchstick girls, but were they around in the early 19th century and did they sell the same kind of matches we use today?

Selling matches for tinderboxes in London c. 1821. Photo courtesy of

It’s times like this I’m especially grateful for my friends who own antique shops because they can often help point me in the right direction and this time one of them did by telling me about tinderboxes.

Tinderboxes were used in the Georgian era to create fire. They could be small enough to fit inside a pocket and were made of wood or metal and contained flint, steel, tinder, and sulfur-tipped matches. The tinder that was used would generally have been char cloth, which is a small piece of cloth made from linen, jute, or cotton that would ignite easily from a spark.

Antique Pocket Size Tinderbox

To start a fire you would strike the piece of steel against the flint close to the char cloth that was nestled in the bottom of the tinderbox. The spark from that action would ignite the char cloth. You then could light your sulfur-tipped match off the burning tinder to light a candle or your pipe. To extinguish the char cloth, you would simply close the box. This would preserve the remaining tinder for future use.

Any card matches or SaveallsTitle (series)The Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life A young match seller walking to right with basket over her right arm and her wares held in both hands, looking over her shoulder to left; from late series of the Cries of London, the plate reworked. 1688, reworked and published after c.1750. Etching and engraving Courtesy of British Museum

Tinderboxes were used throughout the Georgian era but gradually were replaced by friction matches, which were invented around 1827.

514wnuoigzl-_sx298_bo1204203200_Laurie Benson is an award-winning author of historical romances published by Harper Collins. Her current series, The Secret Lives of the Ton, takes place in London during the Regency era and are available from Amazon and all good book sellers. When she’s not at her laptop avoiding laundry, she can often be found browsing museums or heading for the summit on a ridiculously long hike. You can also catch up with Laurie on Twitter and Facebook.



















‘Mother M.’ at the Ridotto in 1777

We are thrilled to have been asked to write a guest blog  by the lovely Laurie Benson and so, we’ll hand you over to her exceptionally cozy drawing room where amongst other things you’ll be able to find out more about one of Grace’s relatives by clicking here.

Like us, Laurie is a lover of all things Georgian and Regency and her new book An Unsuitable Duchess will be available later this year.

If you haven’t visited Laurie’s site before, we’re certain you’ll find lots of fascinating things to enjoy and we hope you enjoy our blog post.

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden.

Looks Can be Deceiving – The Cross-dressing Nobleman in Georgian England

We are delighted to have persuaded the lovely Laurie Benson out from her cozy drawing room as a guest writer so without further ado we will hand the post over to her to tell us about her findings.

Sometimes while I’m checking historical facts for one of my stories, I get sidetracked by some bit of information that I stumble upon. This blog post is the result of one of those instances, and I thought I’d share it with you.

When I came across this painting by Alexandre-Auguste Robineau, the sight of a fencing match between a man and a woman was too intriguing to pass by. Who was she? What prompted this scene? And why was it in the collection of the Prince Regent? Down the rabbit hole of research I went, to get some answers.

I discovered this fencing match took place at Carlton House on April 9, 1787, in the presence of the Prince of Wales and his friends. The Prince can be observed among the group of spectators, wearing the Star of the Garter. The main subjects of the painting are the Chevalier de Saint-George and the Chevalier d’Eon. Chevalier de Saint-George appears to the left of the viewer, not faring too well in this encounter. The Chevalier d’Eon appears to the right. However, that bit of information raised even more questions about the painting. Now I needed to find out what I could about the unusually dressed Chevalier d’Eon.

The Fencing-Match between the Chevalier de Saint-George and the Chevalier d’Eon c. 1787-9

The Chevalier d’Eon was born Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d’Eon de Beaumont on October 5, 1728, to a noble family in France. At the age of 28, his life changed forever, when he joined the Secret du Roi. This was a secret network of spies employed by King Louis XV without the knowledge of the French government.

In addition to his work as a spy, d’Eon also served as a soldier and fought in the Seven Years’ War. He came to London in 1762 as part of the French embassy and helped to negotiate the Peace of Paris, which ended the war between France and Britain. For this work, he was awarded the Croix de St Louis.

There is some inconsistency about what happened next. In some accounts, it says d’Eon was passed up for a promotion at the embassy and was insulted. Other accounts say he simply did not want to return to France when he was recalled. Either way, all accounts agree that in 1775 he blackmailed the French King by threatening to disclose secret information about French invasion plans. To silence him, Louis XVI offered him an official pension under the unusual condition that he should dress as a woman for the remainder of his days.

By 1785, d’Eon was back in England and had begun a new career performing fencing demonstrations. During these matches, he would dress in a black dress and wear his Crojx de St. Louis medal. Since there were stories of women who dressed as men to join the army and follow their sweethearts, it was accepted by most that d’Eon was a woman. However, there were those who constantly speculated and made wagers about d’Eon’s sex. There even was a court trial that declared d’Eon a woman.

A disgusting fight was exhibited on Friday Evening last, at the Richmond Theatre – the Chevalier D’Eon fencing with a gentleman. Her merit, as a fencer, is great; but we were hurt to see her displaying that merit on a publick stage, and in a dress that was scarcely decent. She seemed to have but one petticoat on, while a pair of immense pockets dangled on the outside. If she deems it prudent to make a publick display of her fencing abilities, would it not be better to reassume the dress of a man?

(St James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, 27 August 1793)

In 1792, the French Revolutionary government stopped paying d’Eon’s pension. He supported himself with fencing performances, selling his extensive library, and eventually selling his Crojx de St. Louis medal. He struggled with debt for the remainder of his life. When he died in 1810, his body was examined. Many people were shocked to hear d’Eon had the anatomy of a male.

This formal portrait of the Chevalier hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. It was painted by Thomas Stewart in 1792 and is a copy of one painted by Jean-Laurent Mosnier in 1791. In the portrait, d’Eon is shown wearing the full cockade of a supporter of the French Revolution. His sympathy for the new regime in France ended with the execution of the French royal family.

NPG 6937; Chevalier d'Eon by Thomas Stewart, after Jean Laurent Mosnier
NPG 6937; Chevalier d’Eon by Thomas Stewart, after Jean Laurent Mosnier

Who says history is boring?