Caroline Linden | Five Things about Gaming in Regency London
February 28, 2018
In Regency England, gaming was The Thing. It was Snapchat and Tindr and the
cinnamon challenge rolled into one, bold and daring and personally risky. My new
series, The Wagers of
Sin, features a dangerous wager in each novel, with the characters'
lives changed by the consequences. To make it come to life, I had to brush up on
my research about gambling and wagers in the era.
Gambling was everywhere. In the streets, men challenged each other to
personal feats, with money riding on who could outdo the other. After dinner
parties, hostesses set up card tables for entertainment. Rakehells in London
went to coffee houses and gaming hells. As a result, all sorts of establishments
sprang up to offer places to play, including clubs in the swank heart of Mayfair
like Crockford's, reputed to be as splendid as Versailles. These were my model
for the Vega Club: elegant, elite, and no-limit. As for the name, Vega is one of
the brightest stars in the northern celestial hemisphere—and also because "What
happens at Vega's, stays at Vega's," is one of the club's rules.
At a gaming hell there would be specific games to play, or course: hazard
was very popular. It's a dice game, almost entirely luck and chance; winning
(and losing) depends on rolls of the dice. My hero, Jack, and heroine, Sophie,
meet in MY ONCE AND FUTURE
DUKE over a tense game of hazard. She's calculated the odds, while he
doesn't gamble at all. Needless to say, he gets lucky and wins…
Card games were also popular, and these admitted for some element of skill.
Faro, piquet and whist were all popular during the Regency. Whist could be quite
respectable, played at genteel house parties (it's played in Jane Austen's
Mansfield Park). Faro was more like poker, both in style and in its
more dashing reputation, and endured as a popular game in America, too, until
the early 20th century. Piquet was a game of skill simply because
there were so many rules to remember. Late in the book, Sophie sits down to a
hand of piquet—where the stakes could rise very quickly—because she wants to
distract herself from potential heartbreak. The amount of money at risk focuses
People really did bet the farm at the card tables. They wagered their pay,
their clothes, their entire estates. Charles Fox's debts topped £140,000 and had
to be paid by his father, Lord Holland. Scrope Davies, as associate of Lord
Byron, lost £20,000 at the Newmarket races and had to flee the country.
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was allegedly £3,720,000 in debt at her death.
In MY ONCE AND FUTURE
DUKE, I kept the wagers in the more moderate realm of a few hundred or
thousand pounds, but not because larger wagers were unrealistic.
Women were just as into gambling as the men were. The Duchess of Devonshire
was infamous for her gambling debts, and her descendants in the Regency weren't
much different. While respectable lades could play for penny stakes at private
parties, only the more notorious women risked significant sums. But that's why I
made the Vega Club welcoming to both male and female members, with a code of
conduct taking that into account. My club owner, Mr Dashwood, insists on two
rules in his club: Tell no gossip about Vega's, and pay your debts. Sophie is an
orphan, supporting herself and surviving on her (significant) skill at cards. Of
course, when she agrees to a scandalous wager with Jack, she has to meet the
terms to keep her membership.
Because no subject was off-limits. People bet on horse races, card
games, and dice. They placed wagers on political events, which grand dame of
society would die first, and who could eat the most oysters. One wager, broken
up by a magistrate in the nick of time, was between two men who agreed that the
winner of the dice game could hang the loser from a lamppost. The famous clubs,
such as White's, kept records in their famous betting books of the wagers
members placed, and in a search for new ways to risk their fortunes (or, if they
had none, to win one). When Jack challenges Sophie at hazard, he's initially
motivated by the belief that she's fleecing his younger brother Philip. But the
scandalous wager he finally proposes is one week of her company against five
thousand pounds, because he's strongly attracted to her. It causes a stir, but
since 1713 there had been accusations that women paid gambling debts with sexual
favors. The Regency was a licentious era, after all!
Sophie Campbell is determined to be mistress of her own fate. Surviving on
her skill at cards, she never risks what she can't afford to lose. Yet when the
Duke of Ware proposes a scandalous wager that's too extravagant to refuse, she
can't resist. If she wins, she'll get five thousand pounds, enough to secure her
Stays at the Vega Club . . .
Jack Lindeville, Duke of Ware, tells himself he's at the Vega Club merely to
save his reckless brother from losing everything, but he knows it's a lie. He
can't keep his eyes off Sophie, and to get her he breaks his ironclad rule
against gambling. If he wins, he wants her—for a week.
A week with Jack could ruin what's left of Sophie's reputation. It might even
cost her her heart. But when it comes to love, all bets are off . . .
[Avon, On Sale: February 27, 2018, Mass Market
Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780062672926 / eISBN: 9780062672933]
Caroline Linden knew from an early age she was a reader, but not a
writer. Despite an addiction to Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, she studied
physics and dreamed of being an astronaut. She earned a math degree from Harvard
College and then wrote software for a financial services firm, all the while
reading everything in sight but especially romance. Only after she had children,
and found herself with only picture books to read, did she begin to make up a
story of her own. To her immense surprise, it turned out to be an entire
novel--and it was much more fun than writing computer code. Now the author of
five books, she lives with her family in New England.