Are you excited for Netflix's new series, Bridgerton, opens a new window? Then you're in the right place to learn more about what the "Regency" period is, plus what to read and watch next.
A brief history lesson
The Regency was a nine year period from 1811–1820, though historians generally look at the years 1780–1830 as the Regency period because those years were influenced by the role of the Prince Regent. The Prince Regent ruled as proxy as his father, King George III, was unable to rule due to his illness and mental instability.
- The American colonies gained their independence from England during the rule of George III.
- In 1789, the French Revolution began with the storming of the Bastille. Louis XVI was executed in 1793. The Reign of Terror begins and Napoleon begins to rise in power and influence, setting off the Napoleonic Wars in 1803. He's defeated by the Duke of Wellington during the Battle of Waterloo (1815) and is banished.
- Mary Wollstonecraft publishes A Vindication of the Rights of Women, arguing that women should receive more education than just in domestic matters.
- The death of beloved (and legitimate) Princess Charlotte left George IV without a direct heir, setting off a succession crisis. George IV's son Prince Edward would father the eventual queen, Victoria, in 1819.
- England's textile industry boomed. The Industrial Revolution exploded with new inventions and rapid urbanization, which improved the standard of living for upper and middle classes, but working class conditions were often miserable and dangerous.
- And on the horizon was the the Slavery Abolition Act (1833), which abolished slavery in the British Empire (with some exceptions).
- Check out Belle, the (mostly) true story of an illegitimate mixed race daughter of an admiral, and the court case about the Zong massacre, when slaves were thrown overboard from a slave ship and the owner wanted to be paid for his losses.
Upper class society, known as the ton (from the French le bon ton, meaning "in the fashionable mode"), became particularly refined and elegant, further widening the gap between the elite and the common man. The ton operated on a complex set of rules and behavior that dictated every (and I mean every) aspect of their lives, from socially acceptable calling hours to fashion, appropriate dances, manners, acceptable places to be seen and when and who could speak first to whom. Most importantly, the ton operated on a very rigid social ladder.
The Regency is often characterized by extraordinary excess and indulgence, but opulence is not the same as elegance (as those a part of the ton understood best). The Prince Regent spent lavishly on the arts, from architecture to music, and lived an extremely comfortable and privileged life while he did little to help run the country. While the outward appearance of the Regency was manners and decorum, extramarital affairs and scandals were often gossiped about by members of the ton and published in papers and gossip columns read by everyone else.
You see firsthand how the ton works in Bridgerton. Check out more shows like Bridgerton that focus on society, smart women, chemistry and some smoldering moments.
- Learn about the novelist Georgette Heyer, who is credited with developing the Regency romance genre that is so popular today. Check out Georgette Heyer's Regency World too.
- In Jane Austen, discover the woman that most people associate with Regency England, author Jane Austen and her enduring themes of social classes, politics, domestic life, love and marriage.
- If you are a Jane Austen fan, learn more about her and her work.
- If you like history and social history, check out Jane Austen's England or Jane Austen at Home.
- If you enjoy poetry, listen to Great Poets of the Romantic Age, which focuses on Romanticism, a literary movement which Jane Austen references in her work.
- 2020 was also the 250th anniversary of famed poet, William Wordsworth. Or check out the "female Byron," Letitia Elizabeth Landon.
- Flip through 18th-century Fashion in Detail or Dress in the Age of Jane Austen.
Not sure what to read next? Ask us for a recommendation.