I recently saw the question “What is Regency?” My reaction was, “Do you mean people don’t know?” Since Dangerous Works and its soon to follow sequels are set in the era this is a question of some interest to me.
Writers chat easily among themselves about what is Regency and what is Georgian and what is Victorian. Readers may guess the last one but don’t always understand the first two.
The Victorian Era refers, of course, to the years in which Victoria ruled Britannia. The Georgian Era refers to the period between 1714 to 1830, when Britain had four kings in a row named George. Americans are most familiar with the third one. George III is the
king to which the Declaration of Independence is addressed. Sometime writers stretch the Georgian Era to 1837 to cover the reign of William IV, George III’s last son and the last ruler before Victoria, his niece.
An era is also used to define style, arts, literature, and architecture. Georgian Architecture for example dominated not only new building in England but also in colonial and early Federal United States. It was characterized by a move away from more ornate tastes in the past toward cleaner, simpler lines. Public buildings tended to use Palladian or neo-classical, based on Roman and Greek models.
The arts flowered during the Georgian period. Authors included Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, the poets Wordsworth, Blake and Coleridge, and later Byron, Keats and Shelley. Artists included Gainsborough, Turner, Reynolds and Constable.
The social and political upheavals of the era make it particularly rich for writers of fiction. The Industrial Revolution, agricultural changes, and sharpening of class divisions led to increased emigration (both voluntary and not) to American, Canada, and Australia.
So what is Regency? It is a relatively brief sub-set of the lengthy Georgian Era. In 1811 George III was deemed incapable of ruling after recurrent bouts of physical mental illness. He was confined to Windsor Castle until his death in 1820. The Regency Act of 1811 appointed his son the Prince of Wales (later George IV) to rule in his place. While
George III had been popular earlier, the Prince Regent (as he was designated) was not. Obese, dissipated and father of many illegitimate children, the prince was widely mocked.
The nine years of the Regency saw the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Waterloo, the Congress of Vienna (which in many ways set the course for Europe for a century). They also saw political upheaval and public demands for greater parliamentary representation by the common people. The Peterloo Massacre took place at such a public demonstration. The era saw the beginnings of gas lights, steam engines, and the income tax. One characteristic of this era is familiar to all viewers of movies and TV based on Jane Austen’s novels, the style of dress. Women in Britain adopted the empire style of Napoleons court with its clean straight silhouette, fitted bodice, and high waist. Men followed such style leaders as Beau Brummell and moved to more modern style with darker plainer colors, elaborate neck ties, and longer pants, unlike the powdered wigs and knee britches of the earlier Georgian style.
Why so many romance novels set in this era? Perhaps Waterloo. Perhaps the dresses. Perhaps the change and upheaval. Blame it on Georgette Heyer! She started the genre eighty years ago.
4 thoughts on “What is Regency?”
Very interesting blog on a question that I’ve thought a lot about, too, since I write novels that take place during the Regency period, but in Ireland. So they are Regency time period, but not exactly what I think most readers expect of a Regency novel. I worry about that sometimes!
But I think your website is one of the loveliest I’ve seen.
Thank you, Beppie. I think the topic of the conventions of the regency novel, per se, is a topic for another day. I am delighted you like my Web site.
Interesting post, Caroline, and very useful, I think. The term Regency gets tossed around so loosely that I sometimes think people use it to mean Historical Romance in general. It doesn’t bother me when “Regency” is used for the whole Georgian period, but I’ve had reviewers of my Victorian refer to it as a Regency!
Thank you for a neat history review.
Thanks for the encouragement. I agree about the confusion. This piece is somewhat technical about the history of the term. I think perhaps another one on the conventions of the “regency novel,” might be in order also.