Taking a Break: Burning Questions that No Amount of Research Seems to Tackle

Friends of mine all over these United States—well, all over the world, really—are coping with the most awful weather patterns imaginable. Mother Nature is certainly letting us know she does not take too kindly to people messing with the climate, and we all know it’s not nice to fool Mother nature! 

The sole exception seems to be right here in good Old Baltimore. Since the early part of July, the forecast seems to be serene, unchanging, and delightful: Lows at night in the mid-sixties. Highs in the afternoon somewhere in the eighties, usually the low eighties. We’ve had a couple of days hit 90. The weather is sunny, and then about every 10 days we will have a day or two of thunderstorms or rain showers. You could not ask for lovelier weather, and I don’t ever want it to end. 

So where have I been during all this climate delight? Chained to my desk doing research for “The Mudlark,” my latest expedition into the world of Jane Austen fan fiction. I have always tried to do meticulous research, and I have a list of what I call “reliable sources.” I also have a list of what I will term “suspicious sources,” because it seems fatally easy in this fandom to repeat dubious opinions as the truth, usually innocently and third or fourth hand, when the real truth has eluded you. I used to correct people. Now I just keep quiet. 

I’m happy to report I’ve had a good summer of research so far, and that reading about my topics on Facebook seems to have purified my timeline and lists of pages and groups. If I’m going to keep this up, I can turn to some of what I call my Perennial Questions, issues for which I have no answers and have not been able to find any. 

Today, I decided to take it easy and to present all you Gentle Readers with a sort of contest. Here is how it will work: 

I will present you with my Number One Perennial Question. I’ll try to include as much detail as possible. 

One of you, hopefully, will provide me with the right answer. However, there are caveats: You can’t just have heard, seen, or read it somewhere. I want a source and hopefully a citation. This could be a book (a scholarly book, please), a magazine or journal, or a blog post that provides the information in a manner that includes the citations and sources. Just somebody’s blog post won’t work unless he’s retired from the British Navy or somebody we can be equally impressed by. If you’re serving or have served in somebody else’s military, and you know something about this, speak right up. I’m going to assume this is not some deep, dark, state secret. If you’re a scholar of the literature of that era, or of military history, great. If you’re connected to somebody who actually went out dressed that way, fine. Don’t hesitate to advance your credentials. 

Answer the question in the comments section. 

I will weed through for any obviously dodgy answers, and when I get a good, solid core of answers, I will assign a number to each one. I will use a random number generator to choose the final winner. If we have a tie of some sort—unlikely—there will be two winners. 

The prize will of course be fabulous: Please make a choice between the paperback versions of my three published novels and it will be on its way to you. If you’d prefer the Kindle version, that’s fine. 

The fortunate winner will be notified in my blog post of September 22, 2023.

Awright, Already! What’s the question? 

I thought you’d never ask! 

Army and Navy officers figure prominently in a number of Jane Austen’s works. We have the ____ Militia, cause of such consternation around Meryton and home of the despised Mr. Wickham. Of course, Darcy’s favorite cousin is Colonel Fitzwilliam, but not much is said about his time in the military beyond the fact that he’s going to have to marry a rich woman. On the side of the good, we have Persuasion with the Admiral and three stalwart captains—Harville, Benwick, and Wentworth himself. Things are a little less flattering in Mansfield Park, as Fanny Price’s own father, a wounded lieutenant retired at half pay does not set a very good example. 

There are many more that we could choose to look at, but this will be enough. The Burning Question of the Post is, 

When we see these gentlemen depicted in film, why are they sometimes wearing one epaulette and sometimes two? 

That’s it, couldn’t be simpler. 

This laid quietly in the back of my mind until I (temporarily) betrayed JAFF to catch up on the season’s greatest hit, the next-to-last season of Outlander. There is Jamie’s unacknowledged son, a lieutenant in the British Army, in the run-up to the fateful second Battle of Saratoga, with one shoulder nicely complete, the other bare. This led me to believe there was something to this strange question.

Ready, Set, Go!

So, you have a month. I cannot wait to see what you come up with. 

I am dedicating this oddball post to my own father, whose sky-blue US Infantry shoulder boards were a source of continuing delight to me as a child on those occasions when he would don his “dress blues,” now a relic of the last century. Nobody’s dad was handsomer, and he never wore more, or less, than two shoulder boards. 

8 responses to “Taking a Break: Burning Questions that No Amount of Research Seems to Tackle”

  1. Susan Kaye Avatar
    Susan Kaye

    “A flag officer’s full dress blue coat had one row of gold lace round the lapels, buttonholes, tails, pockets and pocket flaps. There was an extra row on the cuffs, in addition to the distinction lace. It had a white lining and was worn with a gold laced hat, white waistcoat and breeches. The buttons remained those introduced in 1787. The undress uniform was similar but without lace on the lapels, pockets, buttonholes and the extra row on the cuff.

    Captains’ dress uniform was similar to that of flag officers but without laced buttonholes and with two rows of lace on cuffs. Epaulettes were plain.

    With undress uniform, captains wore a plain hat, and epaulettes only some of the time. Captains with less than three years seniority wore only one epaulette on the right shoulder.

    Commanders wore one epaulette on the left shoulder. Lieutenants wore the uniform with white lapels introduced in 1787 until 1812. Warrant officers’ uniform was unchanged from 1787 until 1807 (this rank included pursers, gunners, boatswains, carpenters and, until 1805, surgeons). Midshipmen’s uniform also remained unchanged from 1787.”

    Royal Museums Greenwich: https://www.rmg.co.uk/collections/research-guides/research-guide-u1-uniforms-national-maritime-museum-collection

    What a pathetic soul I am. I got out of bed to find this. When the BEST naval movie in the world, Master and Commander came out there were a lot more independent websites trading in RN history.

    1. Susan Kaye Avatar

      I responded to this before knowing there was a prize. I’m just a smartie pants who has to show off her esoteric knowledge.

    2. Anne Madison Avatar

      And I, for one, am grateful that you staggered out of bed to look it up.

  2. Glynis Avatar

    I see you have had an answer luckily as I must say I haven’t a clue. My Dad was in Pathfinders, Bomber Command in the RAF in WW2 and would probably have known as would an uncle in the Durham Light Infantry, alas I never asked these questions when I had the opportunity! Good luck with your intensive research.

    1. Anne Madison Avatar

      There are so many questions I wish I had asked my father!!

  3. Regina Jeffers Avatar

    I am not looking to be part of the giveaway, but I thought this conversation was worth the read: https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/297685-cuff-and-epaulette-ranks/

    1. CE Avatar
    2. Anne Madison Avatar

      Indeed it does!

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