When I first started reading Regency Romances, one of the first terms I ran across that made me pause was “the ton”. I’m the type of person who enjoys researching things so I searched the internet for the meaning. After I published The Secret Lives of the Ton series, I began to get questions from my family and friends who were also confused by the term. And now that Bridgerton is out, I imagine more of you have questions. So here is the definition, and it doesn’t have to do with a measurement of weight.
During the early 19th century, people used “the ton” to refer to British High Society. It comes from the French le bon ton which means good manners and etiquette. Another phrase used for this group was “the beau monde” which translated from French means beautiful people. In my novels, I usually use “Society” (with a capital S), which was also used to refer to British High Society. I find it’s less confusing for new readers of historical romance and that’s why I prefer it.
Setting themselves apart from the rest of the British population was important to the ton, and they had strict codes of conduct for what was acceptable behavior within polite Society. One could be shunned from Society if you didn’t play by their rules. However, if you were a person who had a high enough title, like a duke or duchess, people would generally look the other way if you bent the rules. The gossip columns of the day had fun pointing out Society scandals. The papers wouldn’t use the name of the person they were outing, they would just use their first initial. Can you imagine the gossiping going on in the drawing rooms around London when people were trying to guess the identity of who was involved in the latest scandal?