What is the English Regency?
Do you ever wonder why so many things
are “Regency”? Regency romance, Regency china, Regency furniture,
Regency dance, Regency architecture -- so what is the Regency, and why
is it so special?
There was a French Regency, but the Regency most people mean is the
English Regency -- the period from 1811 to 1820 when King George III
went permanently mad, and his son (the Prince of Wales, also named
George) became Regent in his place. In other words, King George
III was still king, but he didn’t do anything anymore. Okay, I
hear he talked to trees, and things like that, but politically he was no longer in
power. The Prince Regent, also known simply as the Regent, was
the one who ruled (for most intents and purposes.)
Yeah, I can hear you muttering, “So? Why the china? Why the
romances?” Well, let’s put it like this: the Prince Regent,
nicknamed Prinny (also spelled Prinney), knew how to have a good
time. He ate (a lot), he drank (a lot), he had two wives at the
same time, and he drove the nation into debt by buying way too much
stuff (like an astounding art collection, and a plethora of
palaces). Prinny was a huge man in more ways than
one. He made Beau Brummell famous, and Brummell made
bathing fashionable. Prinny and Brummell set the tone for the
Regency: extreme elegance, plus vast self-indulgence.
Basically, the Regency was party time. The rich people hadn’t yet
figured out they were supposed to feel guilty about being rich, so they
got to enjoy it all with clear consciences. Even better -- they
were no longer wearing silly wigs! They had servants to do the
dirty work, their clothes were often comfortable, they had newspapers
and silk and novels and oranges and plays and a thousand types of
alcoholic beverages, and they even had the beginnings of indoor
plumbing. England wasn’t yet overrun by factories and reformers,
so there was nothing to mar the fun had by Lord EverythingIsMine.
So is that it? Well, no. The extended Regency period
(approximately 1780 to 1830) brought us the romantic movement, and
along with it a literary renaissance that included wicked Lord Byron,
dreamy Shelley, hallucinating Coleridge, haunted Blake, witty Jane
Austen, and epic Sir Walter Scott. The Regency was also the time
of the Napoleonic Wars, which created heroes like the Duke of
Wellington and Lord Nelson. But during the Regency, war didn’t
mean you had to sit at home and watch CNN all day. Nope -- still
party time. To the music of Mozart and Beethoven, the aristocracy
flirted and schemed and learned the licentious waltz.
There are also a lot of famous fictional people who lived during the
extended Regency period. These include the Scarlet Pimpernel, who
was first invented in fiction by Baroness Orczy, and popularized by
many film and television adaptations. Horatio Hornblower, Aubrey
and Maturin, and Richard Sharpe are all famous fictional Regency
denizens. And Georgette Heyer set most of her ever-popular
historical romances during the Regency.
The Regency still holds the imagination nowadays. There are
Regency mysteries, Regency fantasies, and many kinds of Regency
romances -- not to mention plenty of movies and television shows set
during the Regency! (For more information on them, go to my Regency Movie page.) There are also
Regency dance groups throughout several countries. The Regency is
alive and well, and likely to stay that way!
Books What's the Regency? Regency Info Movies Bio
Last updated 18 August 2005.
All text and images copyright 2005 by Cara King