Monday, February 6, 2012

On this day in history...

On this day in history, 06 February 1811, the Prince of Wales was sworn in as Regent, officially marking the beginning of the period we know---and love---as the Regency. The Prince was forty-eight years old. (The portrait at right was painted in 1815 by an unknown artist in the style of Sir Thomas Lawrence.)

A Regent was needed because King George III was no longer mentally competent to rule (i.e., the king was mad and not expected to recover). The Regency lasted until 1820, when the king died and the Prince Regent became King George IV.

The Regency was an era of elegance and upheaval, which saw great changes politically, socially, militarily, and technologically. It was also a period of significant industrial and technological changes, agricultural reform, and a general movement of much of the populace from the countryside to the cities. Also during this period, hints of the development of social consciousness and women’s rights could be seen.

As a setting for romance novels, the Regency is appealing in part due to the rich dichotomy of history vs. Society, the real world vs. the apparently oblivious aristocratic world. That small, elegant, glittering world, seemingly insulated from the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars and from all types of reform, provides a real yet complex backdrop for the novels set in the period.

During the first half of the Regency, the Napoleonic War ravaged the Continent, and most British families lost husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, and uncles. During the latter half of the period, returning soldiers starved and the Luddites rioted against industrialization. Throughout it all, Society persevered in its pleasures, wearing silks, satins, velvets, and lace to balls, routs, soirees, and every type of party imaginable.

At the apex of fashionable Society stood the Prince Regent, a fat, fifty-ish, pleasure-seeking womanizer who was self-indulgent almost to the point of hedonism. He was also one of the best educated monarchs England ever had. He was a major supporter of the arts, and the scope of his interests---and his unrestrained spending---included architecture, painting, music, and fashion.

Beset by debts and profligate, the Prince was never popular with his subjects. But his collections formed the basis of the Royal Collection and the National Portrait Gallery, and he transformed Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace.

George IV died in 1830 at the age of sixty-seven.

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