Margie Lawson

Changing your Writing World

Law and Order Regency Style

As a historical fiction author, I have researched for years on legal issues my characters have encountered in their stories. In talking to readers of historical fiction, particularly regency romance, I’ve learned that many people have questions about some of the issues addressed in novels, as well as misunderstandings about inheritance and marriage laws (yes, women could inherit property, but they seldom did). But despite all my research, I’ve never been able to find a comprehensive treatment of the legal structure of certain historical periods, so I decided to create one, starting with the Regency era.  

This class is designed to answer many of the questions you may have had either reading historical works or writing your own historical fiction. We’ll explore some of the common legal issues of the day, and provide resources for finding more information.  

What we’ll cover: 

  1. What is Common Law?: A quick and dirty summary of English Common Law and the political structure in place at the start of the Regency period. We’ll also talk about some of the events that shaped the era.  
  2. The Peerage: What are the ranks of the British peerage? Which titles could be passed down? What happened to titles that died out?  
  3. The “Silly Willy-nilliness” of Inheritance and Property Laws: What are fee tails and entails, and why did they matter so much? What is primogeniture? Could women inherit property? 
  4. Sex, Marriage, and Divorce: What were the laws regarding engagements, marriage, adultery, and divorce? Why did couples have to run off to Gretna Green? Could a woman divorce her husband?  
  5. In loco parentis: Ever wonder why so many aristocrats in romance novels had young wards? And what it really meant for a gorgeous rake to be a bastard? We’ll talk about guardianship, adoption, illegitimacy, and orphanages. 
  6. Crime and Punishment: What were common crimes of the period, and what were the penalties? How was someone accused of a crime—were they arrested and read their Miranda rights? (Spoiler alert: no!) Were there medical examiners? How important was evidence? 
  7. The Court System: How did trials work? Were there juries? Why did (do) judges and lawyers wear wigs? And what the heck is the difference between a barrister and a solicitor, anyway?  
  8. Wrap-up: Assuming I can figure out the technology, I’m hoping to do an online chat or video where we can talk about lingering questions, quote Jane Austen, or just have a nice conversation over cups of tea or glasses of sherry.  


Marin McGinnis

A lawyer by day, Marin McGinnis feeds the more creative part of her soul by writing romance and mystery. She's spent almost half her life in a tree-lined, unabashedly liberal suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She's been married to the same guy for 25 years, and has one teenage son and three standard poodles.

Marin has dabbled in writing ever since she was in her 20s, but she didn’t finish anything until she hit her 40s. While her very first completed manuscript will forever languish under the bed, Marin subsequently published four Victorian-era romances. She is currently at work on a new historical romance series, a historical mystery series set in the English Lake District, a contemporary cozy mystery series, and a screenplay (because why write one thing when you can write four at once?). In a never-ending quest to ditch the day job, Marin also works as a freelance copy editor and lectures on various writing topics.

When she’s not writing, editing, or lawyering, she’s cooking for family and friends, learning how to (and how not to) bake bread, and spending far too much time watching superhero movies.

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