Attending the theatre in Jane Austen’s life-time

In my Regency period novels I often set scenes in theatre boxes, and for some that may seem a strange place when there would be little conversation between characters, yet, for the 19th Century that wasn’t true. As I learned from descriptions in the diary of a courtesan, Harriette Wilson.

Writings that talk about the every day life in that era are rarer, and I usually search this information out in letters between family members, but it was Harriette’s diary that helped me visualise what going to the theatre meant at the time. For the middle and upper class, it was a place to meet people, to see people and be seen, in the same way we might use a night club now. The rich paid to retain a box for months. Though, if they were not using the box they may let others hire their seat for an evening. The owner of the box often saw entertainments numerous times, and so they had no desire to listen, or men may pop in to listen to one particular element of a performance that they loved most and leave again. Those with no interest in the performance often talked through a whole performance. Something Harriette laughed about when someone became annoyed with her, because talking was why people used the boxes. She told the couple they should have sat in the seats below. For Harriette, the theatre was also part of her shop window. It was one of the best places where she and her fellow courtesans could meet new men, they clubbed together to rent a box and dressed up to be admired and deliberately laughed and conversed loudly to sell themselves as good company. They needed to be admired because the more men who were interested in them the higher price they could charge the men they agreed to enter into a relationship with.

So then, with all of these comings and goings, and the continual conversation, and I’m sure the actors shouting to be heard, the theatre would have been a very different place than it is today, and it’s one of those regency ways of life that fascinates me. I was, therefore, thrilled when I saw these prints hiding high up on the stairway of a 17th Century pub in the Lake District which depicted exactly what I have imagined from Harriette’s descriptions.

The Interior of the Royal ~ as it appeared on the night – New Theatre Hay Market – of it’s opening night 4th July 1821, published London 1 January 1823

This first print, which is contemporary to the time, shows exactly what I have read described, look at how many people in the boxes are seated with their backs to the stage, and are clearly talking, it displays how much of a social event theatre going was for those with money. While in the pit, we see those who may have their one and only opportunity to see the entertainment facing forward and concentrating on the stage.

The image of the second theatre, The Royal Theatre Cobourg Surrey dated as the opening night in 1818 published 1 January 1819, is not anywhere near as busy a picture, and yet again it portrays that the people attending are talking, some with their backs turned on the stage. Both images portraying the theatre was a social hub.

A wonderful insight, so, if you love insights into history as I do, keep your eyes peeled for those interesting wall-filling prints in old hotels and pubs. I always have a walk around and a good look.

For more information on the history of theatres take a look at the UK’s National Archives here

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The Lost Love of a Soldier out July 17th

Spoiler Alert


If you have not read The Illicit Love of a Courtesan and The Scandalous Love of a Duke you may NOT want to read this post! I am sharing some of the story of the prequel which was told in The Illicit Love of a Courtesan, it will spoil the twists in the first book if you read this!


The lost love of a Soldier 300dbi


I know there was one review posted on from someone who did not enjoy John’s soul searching in The Scandalous Love of a Duke, but if you read my books, you really need to expect to meet raw and realistic characters, in the same way no courtesan would have breezed through their life without bitter regrets and anger, as I shared in Harriette Wilson real life story on this blog. Harriette’s record of life in Regency times is one of the things I use as an inspiration for developing my authentic stories, so that may help you to guess what you will get. The inspiration for the Scandalous Love of a Duke came from the soul searching journeys  of two princes Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales (1707-1751) who was separated form his parents in his youth and grew up angry and hating his father, and the current Prince of Wales, William, who  underwent his soul searching over his mother’s death much more quietly, and expressed it with a desire to avoid state life and live a normal life, which he has found with Katherine.

So in The Scandalous Love of a Duke, I think it is absolutely true to the character’s situation that John battles with an extreme desire to understand his past, his mother’s absence and discover the father he has never known…

The Scandalous Love of a Duke

John’s Katherine says to him…

“…I had no parents, as you had no father. There are things in your life I can understand more than anyone else, John.”

He sighed, and then suddenly there was that soul-deep window in his eyes again. “I had no mother either, Katherine, not until I was ten, and no one will tell me where she was.” But then, almost instantly, as though he regretted saying it, his gaze shuttered and his body stiffened, and he sucked on his cigar before rising and turning and throwing the thing out into the darkness.

“You can trust me, John,” she whispered. “I promise.”


Once the ladies had left the table, John decided to progress that aim and he leaned towards his uncle, Richard, “I was recently asked something about my past which I couldn’t answer. I know my mother is closer to Aunt Penny than anyone else. Do you know how I came to live with my grandfather? I cannot recall, I was obviously too young to remember.”

His voice had been as nonchalant as he could make it and yet he saw his hand shaking when he moved to lift the glass of port Finch had poured.

Richard’s eyes widened as he looked back at John and there was a hint of wariness in his expression.

How many of the family knew John’s mother’s secret? He would guess Richard did.

“You know your mother and father eloped?”

No, he had not even known that.

“You did not,” Richard clarified, looking harder at John as John felt his stomach fall like a heavy stone.

He had not locked his expression hard enough, Richard had seen the response. All John’s facial muscles stiffened.

“It is not my place to tell you,” Richard continued, sounding uncomfortable. “The story must come from your mother not me, John.”

But Richard knew it. Who else then?

John’s eyes scanned the men left in the room as Richard progressed. “But I will tell you that your grandfather disowned her when she ran away to marry your father. Of course, it was before I married your aunt, but I know the Duke went to fetch you after your birth. He wished to protect you, John.”

“From what?”

“I cannot say. This is your mother’s story. Ask her.”

John’s gaze fell to his glass of port. “I have done. She will not speak.”

“Well, that is her choice. But remind her you are not a child anymore.”

When John looked at his uncle, Richard continued, “It was not a good time, John. It will take courage for her to recall it. And you will have to show her some understanding if you expect her to talk to you about it, and that is a quality I do not think comes naturally to you now.”


With his glass of dessert wine half covering his lips so no one else could see his words, John asked, “Why did you not tell me that you and my father eloped?”

Her gaze flew up to his, and her skin paled, if that were possible, because it was already alabaster.

“Who told you that?”

“Richard. There is no harm in me knowing it, surely?”

“No, John, there is no harm, but it is also unimportant. What difference does it make?”

“Then why not tell me?”


“Richard also told me Grandfather took me from you after I was born. Why would he do that?”

Her gaze skimmed across John’s face. “John…” She took a breath.

“Why did you never tell me?”

“Because you knew it, you were with him and you knew I wanted you with me.”

“Did I?”

Her forehead furrowed. “John? I loved you. Do you not remember me writing to you? I wanted you back but your grandfather would not let you go…”


Her expression fell.

“Let it be, John,” she whispered after a moment. “Please. It does not matter. It is in the past.”

“It matters to me…” 

I am such a complete sad case, I want John to be able to read his father’s story… Yep, these characters really live in my mind, they are real there 😉  absolutely!

Click on the cover in the side bar to buy The Lost Love of a Soldier


Go to the index


  • the story of the real courtesan who inspired                                                 The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
  • another free short story, about characters from book #2,                              A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
  • the prequel excerpts for book #3                                                                   The Scandalous Love of a Duke

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.

Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback