The Regency Era: Splendid Facts About Pop Culture’s Favorite Period

The Regency Era: Splendid Facts About Pop Culture’s Favorite Period

Larry Holzwarth - January 22, 2021

Dearest Readers,

It’s abundantly clear that the Regency Era is all the fad thanks to the hit Netflix series, ‘Bridgerton.’ But there is so much that the show does not cover. In 1811, with the Napoleonic Wars at their height and the French Empire stretching from Spain to the borders of Russia, England’s King George III became unfit to rule. For the next nine years, until George III’s death in 1820, the heir to the throne, George Augustus, Prince of Wales, ruled as Prince Regent. The Prince of Wales held a well-deserved reputation as a profligate spender and gambler. Several times his debts placed him in serious legal jeopardy, and his father refused to provide aid to his undisciplined son, leading to intercession by Parliament to avoid political embarrassment. In other words, the British taxpayers bailed out the future King, though they were not made aware of their gesture by Parliament.

The Regency Era: Splendid Facts About Pop Culture’s Favorite Period
The future Prince Regent and King George IV as Prince of Wales. Wikimedia

Some historians continue the Regency Era to cover the ensuing reign of George Augustus as George IV, which ended with his death in June 1830. Others extend it to cover the reign of his brother, William, who succeeded him as William IV, and reigned until his death in 1837. His niece succeeded him as Victoria, and the Victorian Era thus succeeded the Regency Era in terms of fashion, literature, industry, and other aspects of British history. The Regency Era saw the end of the First French Empire and the growth of the global British Empire, as well as the beginnings of industrialization in Great Britain and around the world. Here are some notable events and facts from the Regency Era.

The Regency Era: Splendid Facts About Pop Culture’s Favorite Period
Profligate spending and heavy debts were two features of the Prince of Wales at the outset of the Regency. Wikimedia

1. The Prince Regent enjoyed luxury and spent money lavishly

George III enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as a sober-minded, quiet, and devoted family man, who preferred his farms to his royal palaces and houses. At age 18 his eldest son, George Augustus, Prince of Wales, received his own palace and court. The younger George quickly exhibited his tastes for heavy drinking, expensive dining, and gambling. In 1783, George began receiving an annual grant of £60,000 from Parliament and an annual salary from his father of £50,000. For a time he lived in Carlton House, and in violation of British law and his father’s wishes married Maria Fitzherbert, six years older than he, twice widowed, and Roman Catholic. Under British law, the marriage was invalid because it took place without the King’s consent.

In order to relieve his indebtedness, the Prince of Wales accepted a statement by the leader of the Whig Party denying the wedding had taken place. In return, he received a grant of an additional £161,000, plus another £60,000 for maintenance of Carlton House in 1787. By 1795 the Prince was again heavily in debt, due to profligate spending and heavy gambling in London’s notorious gentlemen’s clubs. A frustrated King George refused to help him financially unless the Prince agreed to marry his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. They were married in 1795, separated in 1796, and maintained separate residences for the rest of her life. His debts were relieved by his father, after which the Prince promptly ran them up again.