Goin’ Courtin’ Regency Style

Goin’ Courtin’ Regency Style

One of my MOST favorite movies is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I always dearly loved Howard Keel, and Jane Powell was the perfect foil for his Alpha male persona in the film. There is one song sequence in which Jane Powell, as Milly, teaches the six younger brothers the protocol of “Goin’ Courtin’.” seven-brides-for-seven-brothers-screenshot

Goin’ courtin’, goin’ courtin’
Oh it sets your senses in a whirl.
Goin’ courtin’, goin’ courtin’
Dudin’ up to go and see your gal.
Oh, it’s fun to hunt and shoot a gun,
Or to catch a rabbit on the run
But you’ll find it’s twice as sportin’ goin’ courtin’.
Now there’s lots o’ things you gotta know
Be sure the parlor light is low
Y’ sidle up and squeeze her hand
Let me tell you fella’s that is grand.
You hem and haw a little while
She gives you kinda half a smile.
You cuddle up she moves away
Then the strategy comes into play.

But of “courting” in the Regency Period? 

Society during the Regency era expected strict propriety from its young people. Sometimes the rules were strict and unreasonable, but somehow the youth of Jane Austen’s time managed to come together.

Young men of the time were often older than the women they courted. Men were expected to establish themselves before seeking a wife. They were expected to have sound financial prospects, especially if they were not the eldest son and expected to inherit the family property. Men often sought wives straight from the schoolroom, meaning ages 16 and 17 because childbirth was difficult for a woman of the era. It was thought that a younger wife could withstand those difficulties more easily than a “woman on the shelf” (women of 25+ years of age). An heir and a spare was expected of the marriage. In addition, the woman was expected to secure her financial future with her marriage.

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At age 16 a girl of the gentry made her Come Out, which was a formal introduction of the girl to Society. It was the “signal” that she was prepared to become a bride. New dresses and jewelry and riding habits and… were required for the young lady’s debut. She would be “on display” at all times, and people would be evaluating her elegance and manners. The Season in London involved balls, soirees, the theatre, assemblies, trips to the museum, etc. Finally, the young lady could participate in conversation with adults and her suitors.

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine De Bourgh is flabbergasted by the news that all five Bennet sisters are Out at the same time “The younger ones out before the elder are married!” Of course, Elizabeth Bennet defends her mother’s lax sense of propriety by saying, “I think it would be very hard upon younger sisters, that they shouldn’t have their share of society and amusement because the elder may not have the means or inclination to marry early.” When Charlotte Lucas finally marries at age 27, her sisters her happy because “hopes of coming out a year or two sooner than they might otherwise have done” arise.

A proper young lady was to have a chaperone in tow at all times. Often, a chaperone traveled with the husband and his new bride on their “honeymoon.” Eligible gentlemen were only to give their attentions to the young ladies who had made their Society debut. A young woman who was Out could engage in conversation with eligible gentlemen, could attend formal dances and social outings, and could walk out with a gentleman, if she was properly chaperoned. Girls, who were not Out, could not engage in conversation until a parent or other familial adult asked her a question. She could only walk out with a male relative (again with a chaperone). Many girls wore what is known as a “close bonnet.” This was a hat with a deep brim, which hid most of the girl’s countenance from view.


imagesTom Bertram in Austen’s Mansfield Park relates a story of a young lady who did not practice decorum. The girl approached Tom at a party, claiming him an acquaintance and “talked and laughed till [he] did not know which way to look.” In sharp contrast is the novel’s heroine, Fanny Price. At Fanny’s Come Out, the guests note that Fanny is “attractive…modest…Sir Thomas’s niece…and soon to be admired by Mr. Crawford. It was enough to give her general favour.”

11 Responses to Goin’ Courtin’ Regency Style

  1. This was so interesting regarding courtship. The movie Seven Brides…is one of my all-time favorites. Keel’s courting skills were as finely honed as Darcy’s. He saw a woman, liked what he saw, wanted her, short-cut courted her, wedded her and brought her home to the family. His influence and example set his younger brothers on a course to go after what they wanted. The ensuing mayhem made for a funny and hilarious adventure and conclusion.

    In the 1942 movie, with Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth, a wealthy Argentine family had a gaggle of daughters and each had a beau except the oldest. They all desperately wanted to get married, but their parents wouldn’t let go of the family tradition of them marrying in order of birth. The rest of the movie was the family trying to marry off the oldest daughter so the other girls could marry. It is a universal theme. I’m glad I did not live under those strictures.

  2. I’ve always wanted to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers but I always manage to miss it when its on tv. I know now for sure that I’m glad I wasn’t born in Regency time. I would have ended up making a major fool of myself if I was, I’m sure of it.

  3. Seven Brides! Yes, definitely an all-time favourite. Esp Russ Tamblyn jumping over the axe handle. Wow! (Goin’ Courtin’ is on Youtube for anyone who’s never seen one of the most joyful dance sequences in filmdom.) Anyway, back to the topic 😉 . Fascinating details here … in many ways courting was much simpler in Jane’s time — the rules were very clear and they left little to one’s possibly mistaken discretion. Were the courting rules the same for the lower classes too? Also: The “close bonnet” you refer to; is that also called a “poke bonnet?” Many thanks for posting this, Regina.

    • A “close” bonnet simply had a longer brim. I place several images on my Facebook page of closed and poke bonnets so you can see the difference. A poke bonnet (sometimes also referred to as a Neapolitan bonnet) is a women’s bonnet, featuring a small crown and wide and rounded front brim. Typically this extends beyond the face. It has been suggested that the name came about because the bonnet was designed in such a way that the wearer’s hair could be contained within the bonnet. Poke may also refer to the brim itself, which jutted out beyond the wearer’s face.
      Many of the trade classes copied the gentry and aristocracy, especially toward the end of the Regency for the Industrial Revolution was on the brink of exploding.
      Classes lower than that were not as strict in the lines of propriety.

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