The “Romantic” Regency

The true Regency lasted only nine years. It began on 5 February 1811 when George, Prince of Wales, was officially sworn in as Regent and ended on 31 January 1820 when he was proclaimed King George IV. Yet the term ‘Regency’ is frequently used to describe the period of English history between the years 1780 and 1830, because the society and culture during these years were undeniably marked by the influence of the man who would become George IV. With the final years of the Napoleonic Wars and the enormous impact of industrialisation the Regency was an era of change and unrest as well as one off glittering social occasions, celebrations and extraordinary achievement in art and literature. Artists such as Thomas Lawrence, John Constable and Joseph Turner created iconic paintings which today constitute a tangible record of some of the people and places of the period, while many of England’s greatest writers produced some of their most enduring works during the Regency. The writings of Jane Austen, Walter Scott, John Keats, Mary Shelley, Samuel Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley continue to stand as a testament to the romance, colour and vitality of the times. In many ways the Regency period was also a reflection of the character and personality of the Prince Regent himself who was one of the most flamboyant and cultured of all English monarchs. His passion for art, architecture, music, literature and hedonistic living set the tone for the era and caused his Regency to be for ever linked with the high-living, mayfly class that was the ton.

The Regency world was highly structured and the conventions attached to Regency life were so numerous and intricate that usually only those born and bred into upper-class circles knew and understood them. Above all, it was intensely class-conscious: the ton (from the French phrase le bon ton, meaning ‘in the fashionable mode’ and also known as Polite Society or the Upper Ten Thousand) lived a privileged, self-indulgent life; birth and family were vital to social acceptance, and social behaviour was determined by a complex set of rules of varying flexibility, with different codes of behavious for men and women. … By contrast the middle class was more interested in morality than manners.

Jennifer Kloester

You know how much I love Georgette Heyer, I hope. She was the queen of Regency romances. This passage was transcribed by me from pages 1–3 of my paperback copy of Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, © 2008, Arrow Books.

Tweet: How romantic was the Regency period, really?
Tweet: “The true Regency lasted only nine years.” And yet all those novels!

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