Of Jehus and Jarvies

Readers of Regency romance novels are familiar with the ubiquitous figures of the jarvey and the Jehu on the box of one kind of vehicle or another. These two words are commonly used in modern writing interchangeably, as though they were synonymous. Yet, my reading of various Regency documents such as books, letters, diaries, newspapers and other periodicals over the years has led me to the conclusion that in actual fact these two words are quite antonymous. A jarvey is not a Jehu, nor is a Jehu a jarvey. Not to mention that a jarvey is not a coachman, but a Jehu might be.

So what is the difference between a Jehu and a jarvey?

Primarily, speed. Or the lack thereof.

But first, we must examine the origin and history of these two words and determine when they entered our lexicon as appellations for those who drove horse-drawn vehicles and the precise meaning of each. "Jehu" was the first to enter the language, it was in use more than a century before "jarvey" became common.

The Oxford English Dictionary Online (paid subscription required) records the first written use of Jehu in 1682, in the writings of John Dryden. This was a biblical allusion, from II Kings 9:20, which says " … the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi, for he driveth furiously … ." This is not precisely correct, as in actual fact, Jehu was the grandson of Nimshi. But scholars generally agree that in the biblical sense, "son" simply meant "descended in the line of … ."

Jehu was a military commander in the army of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He was noted for driving his chariot wildly, at high speeds, with little regard for those in his path. It is this behavior which was recorded in the Bible in II Kings. Jehu eventually received a message from a prophet that God had anointed him King of Israel. In his campaign to seize the throne he was responsible for the deaths of many in Israel, including Jezebel. His campaign was eventually successful and he ruled as King of Israel for twenty-eight years. But it is as a recklessly speeding charioteer that Jehu (pronounced yay hoo) has come down in history.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary Online (paid subscription required), jarvey first appeared in writing in 1796, in Francis Grose’s A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. In this dictionary, "jarvey" was listed as a hackney-coach driver. There are multiple theories as to how this word came to be used for this meaning. Some say that there was a hackney driver named Jarvis who was hanged, and his brother drivers took the name in his memory. Others say he was hanged as a thief and the public then applied this name to all hackney drivers. Another theory is that it is a contraction of Geoffrey, because these hackney drivers called to their horses "gee-o" or "Ge’o." But the name George was also often contracted in this way.

I find the most plausible explanation to be that the name comes from St. Gervase, a saint martyred in the 2nd Century AD. He was said to have been beaten to death with a lead-tipped whip. Thus, his attribute, when he was depicted in most images, was the whip. He was also the patron saint of thieves, and as noted above, there were many who considered most jarvies dishonest.

By the years of the Regency, the word jarvey was used to refer to the hackney coach as well as the man who drove it. And yet, I wrote above that a jarvey was not a coachmen. How could that be, since he drove a coach? Because a coachman, from the eighteenth century through the Regency, was a very specialized profession. Coachmen were those men who drove the Royal Mail and the stage coaches. They were highly skilled and drove superior vehicles drawn by well-bred horses. In this same fraternity were those private coachmen who worked for the aristocracy. Not only did all of these coachmen drive first-class vehicles and blood stock, they also dressed well in the livery of their employers, either public or private. If you wished to insult a coachman, you would call him a driver. A driver was a man who drove inferior vehicles pulled by inferior horses, like carts, drays or hackney coaches.

The men of the coaching fraternity all took great pride in their work, in their appearance and that of their coaches and horses. Jarvies most certainly did not. Their vehicles were almost always second-hand, an old coach or carriage sold by someone who could afford a newer model. Their horses were certainly not blood stock. There was no uniform or livery for those who drove hackney coaches. They wore ordinary clothing, whatever they could afford, and most could not afford very much. The only garment jarvies had in common was their benjamin. This was a sturdy greatcoat in drab colors which typically had many capes. It is believed to have taken its name from the tailor who designed the first one.

Now you can see why during the years of the Regency, a jarvey was considered to be a slow and inelegant driver. A driver, not a coachman, regardless of the fact that the vehicle he drove was called a hackney coach. Nor was a jarvey a Jehu, as the defining factor of a Jehu was speed. Few jarvies could get any degree of speed out of their lumbering old vehicles or their usually tired and low-bred horses. In fact, a common joke during the Regency was about a jarvey offering his services to a man passing by. "No thank you," the man replied. "I am in a hurry. I will walk."

However, either a professional coachman on the box or a private gentleman tooling his own vehicle could very easily be a Jehu. The Royal Mail and stage coaches were expected to run on time, and many coachmen were known to spring their teams on the open road. Private coachmen might do the same if they had the ribbons and their employers in the coach were in a hurry to reach their destination. This might bring any of these coachmen into conflict with sporting gentlemen out springing their own blood stock. Jehus all around. And many a Regency novel has opened with the near-miss or full-on collision of some combination of these vehicles which often first brings the heroine and the hero together.

Now you know why a jarvey was neither a coachman or a Jehu, but a Jehu could be a coachman. The Prince Regent was a Jehu in his younger days, as were many other gentlemen who tooled their high-perch phaetons or racing curricles drawn by their high-stepping cattle though the streets of London or along the roads of England. Many young gentlemen aspired to the skill of a coachman and would do their best to wangle the opportunity to take the reins of a Royal Mail or stage coach. And given that opportunity, many would spring the team, thus becoming Jehus. But no self-respecting, aspiring Corinthian had any desire to take the reins of a hackney coach. There was no sport or glory in handling the ribbons of a tired, ill-bred horse while on the box of an old, lumbering hackney. It was fashionable to be a Jehu, but not to be a jarvey during the Regency.

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About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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8 Responses to Of Jehus and Jarvies

  1. Very interesting. Thank you for pointing me to this!

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      My pleasure. As you can see, the more things change, the more they stay the same. For the Four-in-Handers, in fact for most of the Corinthians, it was all about power and speed. Just like it is for many young men today.

      At that time, it had to have been a rush to take the reins of a fresh team of blood stock hitched to a Royal Mail coach on the open road. There wasn’t much that could match it in the early nineteenth century. It was probably as close as they got to the muscle car.

      =^..^=

  2. Pingback: Of Jehus and Jarvies | The Beau Monde

  3. DAVID COWAN JEHU says:

    DEAR MISS KATHRYN KANE,
    MIGHT I DIRECT YOU TO THE ARCHIVED RESEARCH OF THE LATE DR. JOHN PAUL JEHU WHOSE FAMILY MIGHT BE CONTACTABLE VIA THE NATIONAL WELSH-AMERICAN FOUNDATION, C/O P.O. BOX 485 LEHIGHTON, PA 18235. IN HIS STUDY OF THE SURNAME JEHU (A COPY ONLY AVAILABLE FOR PENCIL NOTES AT THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF WALES) DR JOHN PAUL JEHU HAS HIS ANECDOTAL THEORY, THAT A MILLER JEHU JEHU OF LLANFAIR CAEREINION WALES PREDATES ANY DICTIONARY ENTRY AS TO SPEED IN A HORSE AND CART AS A DELIVERER OF MELIN-YDDOL AND DOLGOCH MILLS AS OWNED BY THE QUERIED AS RELATED TO ANNA JEHU WHO MARRIED JOOST DE SMETH IN ANTWERP IN 1555 AS ON GOOGLE – JEHU FAMILY OF LLANFAIR CAEREINION , MONTGYMRYSHIRE WALES . APPARENTLY, TO COMMEMORATE THEIR JEHU JEHU THE ACTUAL FIRST AND SECOND NAME OF A LLANFAIR CAEREINION JEHU FAMILY MEMBER, JEHU JEHU DID GET CHOSEN BY ONE BRANCH OF THE LLANFAIR CAEREINION JEHUS AS THE NAME OF A JEHU OFFSPRING , FOR A PERIOD OF 300 YEARS TO COMMEMORATE THE SPEEDY “JEHU THE MILL” THE DELIVERY MAN, JEHU JEHU.
    DO SPEND A COUPLE OF DAYS IN ABERYSTWYTH CEREDIGION WALES, WHERE THE MARVELLOUS RESEARCH OF DR JOHN P. JEHU’S STUDY OF THE SURNAME JEHU IS ARCHIVED AT THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF WALES, IF COMING BY CAR, WHY NOT TAKE A LOOK AT POWIS CASTLE THE JEHUS HAVING BOUGHT PROPERTY OFF THE VISCOUNT MONTGOMERY AND HAVING CONGRATULATED HIM IN A LETTER OFFICIALLY ON HIS TITLE,AS ON FILE AT THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF WALES, MOREOVER THE CIRCA £40 A NIGHT ROOM AT THE GOAT HOTEL IN LLANFAIR CAEREINION , -ORIGINALLY A COACHING INN DURING THE 17TH CENTURY- (THE GREAT FIRE OF 1758 HAVING DESTROYED THE THEN THATCHED COTTAGES OF THE TOWN) – WOULD ALLOW YOU TO LOOK AROUND THE VILLAGE AND VISIT THE BLACK LION PUBLIC HOUSE AS BUILT BY THE JEHUS IN PREVIOUS CENTURIES .A LEO C. DERRICK JEHU OBE, FHG AS REMARKED ABOUT BY KING GEORGE THE VI, “COLONEL , YOU HAD AN OFFICER WITH THE EXTRAORDINARY NAME “JEHU” IN YOUR REGIMENT” LEO WAS PHOTOGRAPHED WITH THE DALAI LAMA IN TIBET BEFORE THE WAR. HIS COUSIN IVOR JEHU CIE WAS THE LAST EDITOR IN CHIEF OF THE TIMES IN INDIA UNTIL IT CHANGED OWNERSHIP UPON INDEPENDENCE IN 1947.
    LEO & JOHN PAUL JEHU HAD THEIR PICTURE TAKEN OUTSIDE THE JEHU RD SIGN IN WELSHPOOL AS OPPOSITE SAINSBURY’S SUPERMARKET TODAY A COPY OF WHICH WAS SENT TO THE MAYOR OF WELSHPOOL.
    ENJOY YOUR JEHU STUDIES!
    I REMAIN,
    YOURS FAITHFULLY,
    DAVID COWAN JEHU.

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      Thank you very much for your comment. I had no idea there were any people living in the British Isles with either the surname or the last name of Jehu. Obviously, the family of Jehu deserves closer study.

      Regards,

      Kat

      • jordomane@gmail.com says:

        Dear Kathryn,
        Do consider Jehmarc Gilli-Petir on rootsweb.ancestry.com
        Work out how Malcolm III Ceann Mor King of Scotland derives a Jehu Jehain Belgium (Google Jehay Hu(y) Hu Wallonian) – name group title ,if anything Ghent Jent being Welsh Wallonian as to origin, as to the Invers and the Abers of Scotland, I should place the title with the culture that did bring the Aber (mouth of river) culture to Scotland as opposed to the Inver (mouth of river in Gaelic) culture from Ireland.
        As we Jehus have possibly been Continental Wallonian Cambrais- compare with the Roman name for Wales ‘Cambria’ Welsh speakers since ancient times the Omri in the adjective of King Jehu suggestive of having enjoyed the prefix C / K in earler. philology, making a Kimbroi Comri Cymbric, Cambrian Simonite even through a sound shift, link.
        Write on Malcolm III Ceann Mor The King of Scotland’s family today’s dignity as to the King Jehu group of titles title ‘ JEHMARC’
        I remain,
        Yours faithfully,
        David Cowan Jehu.

        Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

    • Myfanwy Jehu says:

      I would just like to comment on what David Cowan Jehu wrote about Leo Derrick Jehu and Ivor Jehu and to tell you that his points were rather inaccurate. Neither of them met the Dalai Lama at all. In fact, it was Ivor Jehu’s wife JoanMary Jehu who met the 13th and the 14th Dalai Lama. They were my parents. I also knew Leo who worked for many years on the Jehu family tree long before the computer age, which is lodged in the National Library of Wales. He was fairly distant cousin.

      Best wishes, Myfanwy Jehu

  4. Pingback: Regency Bicentennial:   Sir John Lade Liberated | The Regency Redingote

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