Regency era

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Regency era
c. 1811 – 1820 (1837)
George IV bust1.jpg
Leader(s)George, Prince Regent[1]
← Preceded by
Georgian era
Followed by →
Victorian era

The Regency era of British history officially spanned the years 1811 to 1820, though the term is commonly applied to the longer period between c. 1795 and 1837. King George III succumbed to mental illness in late 1810 and, by the Regency Act 1811, his eldest son George, Prince of Wales, was appointed Prince Regent to discharge royal functions. When George III died in 1820, the Prince Regent succeeded him as George IV. In terms of periodisation, the longer timespan is roughly the final third of the Georgian era (1714–1837), encompassing the last 25 years or so of George III's reign, including the official Regency, and the complete reigns of both George IV and his brother William IV. It ends with the accession of Queen Victoria in May 1837 and is followed by the Victorian era (1837–1901).

Although the Regency era is remembered as a time of refinement and culture, that was the preserve of the wealthy few, especially those in the Prince Regent's own social circle. For the masses, poverty was rampant and most town and city dwellers lived in slums, a state of affairs severely aggravated by the combined impact of war, economic collapse, mass unemployment, a bad harvest in 1816 (the "Year Without a Summer") and an ongoing population boom. Political response to the crisis included the Corn Laws, the Peterloo Massacre and the Representation of the People Act 1832. Led by William Wilberforce, there was increasing support for the abolitionist cause during the Regency era, culminating in passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807 and the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

The longer timespan recognises the wider social and cultural aspects of the Regency era, characterised by the distinctive fashions, architecture and style of the period. The first 20 years to 1815 were overshadowed by the Napoleonic Wars. Throughout the whole period, the Industrial Revolution gathered pace and achieved significant progress by the coming of the railways and the growth of the factory system. The Regency era overlapped with Romanticism and many of the major artists, musicians, novelists and poets of the Romantic movement were prominent Regency figures such as Jane Austen, William Blake, Lord Byron, John Constable, John Keats, John Nash, Ann Radcliffe, Walter Scott, Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, J. M. W. Turner and William Wordsworth.

Historical background[edit]

George III (1738–1820) became King of Great Britain on 25 October 1760 when he was 22 years old, succeeding his grandfather George II. George III had himself been the subject of legislation to provide for a regency when Parliament passed the Minority of Successor to Crown Act 1751 following the death of his father Frederick, Prince of Wales, on 31 March 1751. George became heir apparent at the age of 12 and he would have succeeded as a minor if his grandfather had died before 4 June 1756, George's 18th birthday. As a contingency, the Act provided for his mother, Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales, to be appointed regent and discharge most but not all royal functions.[2]

In 1761, George III married Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and they had 15 children (nine sons and six daughters). The eldest was Prince George, born on 12 August 1762 as heir apparent. He was named Prince of Wales soon after his birth. By 1765, three infant children led the order of succession and Parliament again passed a Regency Act as contingency. The Minority of Heir to the Crown Act 1765 provided for either Queen Charlotte or Princess Augusta to act as regent if necessary.[2] George III had a long episode of mental illness in the summer of 1788. Parliament proposed the Regency Bill 1789 which was passed by the House of Commons. Before the House of Lords could debate it, the King recovered and the Bill was withdrawn. Had it been passed into law, the Prince of Wales would have become the regent in 1789.[3]

The King's mental health continued to be a matter of concern but, whenever he was of sound mind, he opposed any further moves to implement a Regency Act. Finally, following the death on 2 November 1810 of his youngest daughter, Princess Amelia, he became permanently insane. Parliament passed the Care of King During his Illness, etc. Act 1811, commonly known as the Regency Act 1811. The King was suspended from his duties as head of state and the Prince of Wales assumed office as Prince Regent on 5 February 1811.[4] At first, Parliament restricted some of the Regent's powers, but the constraints expired one year after the passage of the Act.[5] The Regency ended when George III died on 29 January 1820 and the Prince Regent succeeded him as George IV.[6]

After George IV died in 1830, a further Regency Act was passed by Parliament. George IV was succeeded by his brother William IV. His wife, Queen Adelaide, was 37 and there were no surviving legitimate children. The heir apparent was Princess Victoria of Kent, aged eleven. The new Act provided for her mother, Victoria, Duchess of Kent to become regent in the event of William's death before the young Victoria reached her 18th birthday. The Act made allowance for Adelaide having another child, either before or after William's death. If the latter scenario had arisen, Victoria would have become Queen only temporarily until the new monarch was born. As it happened, Victoria reached her 18th birthday on 24 May 1837 and William died just under four weeks later on 20 June.[7]


Periodisation terminology[edit]

Officially, the Regency began on 5 February 1811 and ended on 29 January 1820 but the "Regency Era", as such, is generally perceived to have been much longer. The term is commonly, though loosely, applied to the period from c. 1795 until the accession of Queen Victoria on 20 June 1837.[8] The Regency Era is a sub-period of the longer Georgian Era (1714–1837), both of which were followed by the Victorian Era (1837–1901). The latter term had contemporaneous usage although some historians give it an earlier startpoint, typically the enactment of the Great Reform Act on 7 June 1832.[9][10][11]

Social, economic and political counterpoints[edit]

The Prince Regent himself was one of the leading patrons of the arts and architecture. He ordered the costly building and refurbishing of the exotic Brighton Pavilion, the ornate Carlton House, and many other public works and architecture. This all required considerable expense which neither the Regent himself nor HM Treasury could afford. The Regent's extravagance was pursued at the expense of the common people.[12]

While the Regency is noted for its elegance and achievements in the fine arts and architecture, there was a concurrent need for social, political and economic change. The country was enveloped in the Napoleonic Wars until June 1815 and the conflict heavily impacted commerce at home and internationally. There was mass unemployment and, in 1816, an exceptionally bad harvest. In addition, the country underwent a population boom and the combination of these factors resulted in rampant poverty. Apart from the national unity government led by William Grenville from February 1806 to March 1807, all governments from December 1783 to November 1830 were formed and led by Tories. Their responses to the national crisis included the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 and the various Corn Laws. The Whig government of Earl Grey passed the Great Reform Act in 1832.[11][13]

Essentially, England during the Regency era was a stratified society in which political power and influence lay in the hands of the landed class. Their fashionable locales were worlds apart from the slums in which the majority of people existed. The slum districts were known as rookeries, a notorious example being St Giles in London. These were places where alcoholism, gambling, prostitution, thievery and violence prevailed.[14] The population boom, comprising an increase from just under a million in 1801 to one and a quarter million by 1820, heightened the crisis.[14] Robert Southey drew a comparison between the squalor of the slums and the glamour of the Regent's circle:[15]

The squalor that existed beneath the glamour and gloss of Regency society provided sharp contrast to the Prince Regent's social circle. Poverty was addressed only marginally. The formation of the Regency after the retirement of George III saw the end of a more pious and reserved society, and gave birth of a more frivolous, ostentatious one. This change was influenced by the Regent himself, who was kept entirely removed from the machinations of politics and military exploits. This did nothing to channel his energies in a more positive direction, thereby leaving him with the pursuit of pleasure as his only outlet, as well as his sole form of rebellion against what he saw as disapproval and censure in the form of his father.

Regent's Park and London Zoo[edit]

In the 1810s, the Prince Regent proposed the conversion of crown land in Marylebone and St Pancras into a pleasure garden. The design work was initially assigned to the architect John Nash but it was the father and son partnership of James and Decimus Burton who had the majority of input to the project.[16] Landscaping continued through the 1820s and Regent's Park was finally opened to the public in 1841.[17]

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) was founded in 1826 by Sir Stamford Raffles and Sir Humphry Davy. They obtained land on the northern perimeter of Regent's Park alongside the route of the Regent's Canal between the City of Westminster and the London Borough of Camden.

Science and technology[edit]

In 1814, The Times adopted steam printing. Using this method, it could print 1,100 sheets every hour, five and a half times the prior rate of 200 per hour.[18] The faster speed of printing enabled the rise of the "silver fork novels" which depicted the lives of the rich and aristocratic. Publishers used these as a way of spreading gossip and scandal, often clearly hinting at identities. The novels were popular during the later years of the Regency era.[19]


During the Regency era and well into the succeeding Victorian era, society women were discouraged from exertion although many did take the opportunity to pursue activities such as walking and riding that were recreational rather than competitive. In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennett sisters are frequently out walking. There was a contemporary belief that people had limited energy levels and women, as the "weaker sex", were most at risk of over-exertion because their menstruation cycles caused periodic energy reductions.[20]

Some male sports were popular although football remained a disorganised activity until the second half of the 19th century. Sports like boxing, cricket, horse racing and rowing were competitive.[citation needed] The Boat Race, between the Cambridge University Boat Club and the Oxford University Boat Club, was first held in 1829. It eventually became an annual event on the River Thames in London.[21]


Among the popular newspapers, pamphlets and other publications of the era were:[citation needed]


George Augustus Frederick, Prince of Wales,[22] began his nine-year tenure as regent and became known as The Prince Regent. This sub-period of the Georgian era began the formal Regency. The Duke of Wellington held off the French at Fuentes de Oñoro and Albuhera in the Peninsular War. The Prince Regent held a fête at 9:00 p.m. 19 June 1811, at Carlton House in celebration of his assumption of the Regency. Luddite uprisings. Glasgow weavers riot.
Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was assassinated in the House of Commons. The final shipment of the Elgin Marbles arrived in England. Sarah Siddons retired from the stage. Shipping and territory disputes started the War of 1812 between the United Kingdom and the United States. The British were victorious over French armies at the Battle of Salamanca. Gas company (Gas Light and Coke Company) founded. Charles Dickens, English writer and social critic of the Victorian era, was born on 7 February 1812.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was published. William Hedley's Puffing Billy, an early steam locomotive, ran on smooth rails. Quaker prison reformer Elizabeth Fry started her ministry at Newgate Prison. Robert Southey became Poet Laureate.
Invasion of France by allies led to the Treaty of Paris, ended one of the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to Elba. The Duke of Wellington was honoured at Burlington House in London. British soldiers burn the White House. Last River Thames Frost Fair was held, which was the last time the river froze. Gas lighting introduced in London streets.
Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo
Napoleon I of France defeated by the Seventh Coalition at the Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena. The English Corn Laws restricted corn imports. Sir Humphry Davy patented the miners' safety lamp. John Loudon Macadam's road construction method adopted.
Income tax abolished. A "year without a summer" followed a volcanic eruption in Indonesia. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. William Cobbett published his newspaper as a pamphlet. The British returned Indonesia to the Dutch. Regent's Canal, London, phase one of construction. Beau Brummell escaped his creditors by fleeing to France.
Antonin Carême created a spectacular feast for the Prince Regent at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. The death of Princess Charlotte (the Prince Regent's daughter) from complications of childbirth changed obstetrical practices. Elgin Marbles shown at the British Museum. Captain Bligh died.
Queen Charlotte died at Kew. Manchester cotton spinners went on strike. Riot in Stanhope, County Durham between lead miners and the Bishop of Durham's men over Weardale game rights. Piccadilly Circus constructed in London. Frankenstein published. Emily Brontë born.
Peterloo Massacre. Princess Alexandrina Victoria (future Queen Victoria) was christened in Kensington Palace. Ivanhoe by Walter Scott was published. Sir Stamford Raffles, a British administrator, founded Singapore. First steam-propelled vessel (the SS Savannah) crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Liverpool from Savannah, Georgia.
Death of George III and the accession of The Prince Regent as George IV. The House of Lords passed a bill to grant George IV a divorce from Queen Caroline, but because of public pressure, the bill was dropped. John Constable began work on The Hay Wain. Cato Street Conspiracy failed. Royal Astronomical Society founded. Venus de Milo discovered.


The following is a list of places associated with the Regency era:[23]

Change in Bond Street, James Gillray

Notable people[edit]

For more names see Newman (1997).[33]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pryde, E. B. (23 February 1996). Handbook of British Chronology. Cambridge University Press. p. 47. ISBN 978-0-5215-6350-5.
  2. ^ a b Royal Central. The Regency before the 20th century by Lydia Starbuck. 10 March 2021.
  3. ^ Herman, N. (2001). Henry Grattan, the Regency Crisis and the Emergence of a Whig Party in Ireland, 1788-9. Irish Historical Studies, 32(128), 478–497. [1].
  4. ^ "No. 16451". The London Gazette. 5 February 1811. p. 227.
  5. ^ Innes (1915), p. 50.
  6. ^ Innes (1915), p. 81.
  7. ^ Royal Central. The primogeniture paradox: the posthumous heir. 3 October 2015.
  8. ^ Dabundo, Laura; Mazzeno, Laurence W.; Norton, Sue (2021). Jane Austen: A Companion. McFarland. pp. 177–179. ISBN 978-1-4766-4238-3.
  9. ^ Plunkett, John; et al., eds. (2012). Victorian Literature: A Sourcebook. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 2.
  10. ^ Sadleir, Michael (1927). Trollope: A Commentary. Constable & Co. pp. 17–30.
  11. ^ a b Hewitt, Martin (Spring 2006). "Why the Notion of Victorian Britain Does Make Sense". Victorian Studies. 48 (3): 395–438. doi:10.2979/VIC.2006.48.3.395. Archived from the original on 30 October 2017. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  12. ^ Parissien, Steven. (2001). George IV: Inspiration of the Regency, p. 117. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  13. ^ May, Thomas Erskine (1895). The Constitutional History of England Since the Accession of George the Third, 1760–1860. Vol. 1. pp. 263–364.
  14. ^ a b Low, Donald A. (1999). The Regency Underworld, page x. Gloucestershire: Sutton.
  15. ^ Smith, E. A., George IV, page 14. Yale University Press (1999).
  16. ^ Williams, Guy (1990). Augustus Pugin Versus Decimus Burton: A Victorian Architectural Duel. London: Cassell Publishers Ltd. pp. 11–12. ISBN 978-0-3043-1561-1.
  17. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  18. ^ Morgan, Marjorie. (1994). Manners, Morals, and Class in England, 1774–1859, p. 34. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  19. ^ Wu, Duncan (29 October 1999). A Companion to Romanticism. John Wiley & Sons. p. 338. ISBN 978-0-6312-1877-7.
  20. ^ A History of Women in Sport Prior to Title IX. Richard C. Bell (2018). The Sport Journal. United States Sports Academy.
  21. ^ "The Boat Race origins". The Boat Race Limited. Archived from the original on 7 October 2014. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
  22. ^ "George IV (r. 1820–1830)". The Royal Household. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  23. ^ * Gerald Newman, ed. (1997). Britain in the Hanoverian Age, 1714-1837: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-8153-0396-1.
  24. ^ Nelson, Alfred L.; Cross, Gilbert B. "The Adelphi Theatre, 1806–1900". Archived from the original on 8 June 2007.
  25. ^ "Attingham Park: History". National Trust. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  26. ^ "Roman, Regency and really nearby". 14 April 2006. Archived from the original on 11 January 2022 – via
  27. ^ StephanieSanders (6 December 2013). "Explore the Regency spa town of Cheltenham".
  28. ^ "Circulating Libraries, 1801–1825". Library History Database. Archived from the original on 14 April 2008. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  29. ^ "Jane Austen: Sports". Jane's Bureau of Information. Archived from the original on 9 May 2008. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  30. ^ a b "Jane Austen: Places". Jane's Bureau of Information. Archived from the original on 8 May 2008. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  31. ^ a b "Jane Austen: Gardens". Jane's Bureau of Information. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  32. ^ a b "Jane Austen: Theatre". Jane's Bureau of Information. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  33. ^ Gerald Newman, ed. (1997). Britain in the Hanoverian Age, 1714-1837: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-8153-0396-1.


  • Bowman, Peter James. The Fortune Hunter: A German Prince in Regency England. Oxford: Signal Books, 2010.
  • David, Saul. Prince of Pleasure The Prince of Wales and the Making of the Regency. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998.
  • Innes, Arthur Donald (1914). A History of England and the British Empire. Vol. 3. The MacMillan Company.
  • Innes, Arthur Donald (1915). A History of England and the British Empire. Vol. 4. The MacMillan Company.
  • Knafla, David, Crime, punishment, and reform in Europe, Greenwood Publishing, 2003
  • Lapp, Robert Keith. Contest for Cultural Authority – Hazlitt, Coleridge, and the Distresses of the Regency. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1999.
  • Marriott, J. A. R. England Since Waterloo (1913) online
  • Morgan, Marjorie. Manners, Morals, and Class in England, 1774–1859. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.
  • Morrison, Robert. The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern. 2019, New York: W. W. Norton, London: Atlantic Books online review
  • Newman, Gerald, ed. (1997). Britain in the Hanoverian Age, 1714-1837: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-8153-0396-1. online review; 904pp; 1121 short articles on Britain by 250 experts.
  • Parissien, Steven. George IV Inspiration of the Regency. New York: St. Martin's P, 2001.
  • Pilcher, Donald. The Regency Style: 1800–1830 (London: Batsford, 1947).
  • Rendell, Jane. The pursuit of pleasure: gender, space & architecture in Regency London (Bloomsbury, 2002).
  • Webb, R.K. Modern England: from the 18th century to the present (1968) online widely recommended university textbook
  • Wellesley, Lord Gerald. "Regency Furniture", The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 70, no. 410 (1937): 233–41.
  • White, R.J. Life in Regency England (Batsford, 1963).

Crime and punishment[edit]

  • Emsley, Clive. Crime and society in England: 1750-1900 (2013).
  • Innes, Joanna and John Styles. "The Crime Wave: Recent Writing on Crime and Criminal Justice in Eighteenth-Century England" Journal of British Studies 25#4 (1986), pp. 380–435 [ online.
  • Low, Donald A. The Regency Underworld. Gloucestershire: Sutton, 1999.
  • Morgan, Gwenda, and Peter Rushton. Rogues, Thieves And the Rule of Law: The Problem Of Law Enforcement In North-East England, 1718-1820 (2005).

Primary sources[edit]

  • Simond, Louis. Journal of a tour and residence in Great Britain, during the years 1810 and 1811 online

External links[edit]