Our summer vacation destination this year was Europe. We started our trip in London then relied on trains to travel to the cities of Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples. To be able to fit all these cities within two weeks, our stay in each city was brief. We would not have been able to visit all these locations with the time available if not for the convenience of high-speed trains.
As a Regency romance writer, this trip brought to mind the Grand Tour of the eighteenth century. The Grand Tour was typically taken by young men to round out their education. The young man, considered to be an inexperienced cub, traveled with a bear-leader or tutor. The tour would start by boarding a boat at Dover and crossing the channel to Calais, then travelling over land to Paris. Other cities visited included Dijon, Geneva, Avignon, Rome, Florence, Venice and Naples. Although France and Italy were the highlight of many tours, itineraries and the length of travel were flexible depending on the wealth of the individual and personal preferences. The condition of the roads played a role in a location’s popularity.
Paris was considered an important city and it was included in many itineraries. Part of its popularity was that the city could be reached in three days, food was of high quality and accommodations were plentiful. Men in Paris would participate in French society and visit sites such as the Louvre. While in Italy, they would study art in Florence. They also visited architectural sites such as the Colosseum in Rome and Pompeii.
Despite traveling with a bear-leader, supervision could be lacking. There were some who engaged in sexual liaisons and return home with venereal diseases that would eventually lead to their death. There was pressure to gamble and some men lost a considerable amount while abroad.
Although, the Grand Tour was generally undertaken by men, some women did participate. Mary Wollstonecraft, known for her work A Vindication of the Rights of Women, embarked on a tour after her book’s success. During this time, women were expected to be companions and raise children. Women with a desire for independence and intellectual pursuits, such as Mary, were often ridiculed and became outcasts. Divorced women also faced censure from English society. As a result, they would travel or move to places such as Paris where they would be more accepted.
The French Revolution and Napoleonic wars put a halt to the Grand Tour in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Once the wars ended, families began traveling to Europe. The era of the young man embarking on a Grand Tour with a tutor was largely over.
I love researching and traveling to historical locations. While books and photographs are great resources, experiencing a place in person provides details that are hard to glean otherwise.
What is on your list of places to visit?
Black, Jeremy, The British Abroad: The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century (Gloucestershire, The History Press, 2009)
Dolan, Brian, Ladies of the Grand Tour (New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2001)
Laudermilk, Sharon and Hamlin, Teresa L., The Regency Companion (New York & London: Garland Publishing, 1989)
About the Author
Cynthia Capley is working on her first novel set during the Regency era. She enjoys writing stories with strong characters that triumph over challenges to achieve their happily ever after. Cynthia lives in the Pacific Northwest where the rain and numerous coffee houses make the perfect writing companions. She lives with her husband and a menagerie of pets and likes to spend time playing fetch with Natasha, a tortoiseshell colored cat with an attitude.