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Regency England

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"Britain has the finest trade, the finest armies, the finest Navy in the world, and what do we have for royalty? A mad Kraut sausage-sucker and a son who can't keep his own sausage to himself."

The time of simplicity, sly rebellion, and Napoléon Bonaparte.

Home of Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë heroines who assert their inner strength and independence by marrying dark, obscenely rich mercurial men. Said rich men usually wear long frock coats, tight pants, wispy hair with sideburns and live in big stone mansions which take up nearly half the planet. Women wear Groman inspired muslin gowns, which are popular from France, with high waistlines which they can actually breathe in (but which tend to look like nightgowns or maternity gear in the hands of a poor costume designer).

In a strict historical sense, the "Regency era" only encompassed the years 1811 through 1820, during which time the future King George IV held the title of Prince Regent due to his father, George III's, growing mental instability. In its broader literary sense, the term can be used to describe any period in British history ranging roughly from the end of the Seven Years War (known to the Americans as the French and Indian War) to the coronation of Queen Victoria: approx. 1760-1840.

The later years of The French Revolution (particularly the Directoire period of 1795-1799) and Napoleon's reign overlap the period, as neoclassicism stirs ideas, culture and Mediterranean revivals in full swing. Also overlapping in this period is the Federal years of the budding United States, as its territory doubled following the Louisiana purchase in 1803, the expeditions of Merriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their guide Sacagawea through the Pacific Northwest, and the socioeconomic growth and national awareness following the War of 1812 dubbed as the "Era of Good Feelings", drove the new nation westward, for good or for ill; and, following Napoleon's conquest of Spain, the Spanish American Wars of Independence, which was kickstarted by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in Mexico and led by Simón Bolívar in much of South America.

During the time of George III, the regency and the reign of George IV, public morals were a lot looser than in the Victorian age. Fortunes were won and lost at cards, dice and the races, duels were fought (that's how Alexander Hamilton died), and bare-knuckle boxing was at its height with champions like Belcher, Gull and Cribb. Many famous men openly had mistresses and/or visited brothels. For instance, George IV's mistresses—note the plural—were openly living in Whitehall Palace in adjacent rooms to his actual wife. And George III's third son William, later William IV, lived with an actress for twenty years and fathered 10 children with her, and from whom much of the British upper crust is descended (including a rather lowly fellow named David Cameron). It wasn't until twenty years after William IV's death that his liaison was considered shocking enough to be censored. When the Prince Regent's only daughter Charlotte died in childbirth, the Prince Regent's brothers promptly dumped their mistresses in search for wives to produce legitimate heirs; one such brother, Edward, Duke of Kent produced one in 1819.

The Regency is also the era in which the Industrial Revolution got into full swing (with discoveries and inventions such as the metric system, vaccinations, cotton gin, gas street lamps, counting machines, batteries, food canning, corkscrews, steam locomotives, and bicycles coming from this era), so expect a fair number of industrial parvenus to show up. Also new is modern men's fashion—the idea that a man's clothes should be dark, sober, elegant, and tasteful rather than merely expensive comes from the Prince Regent's favourite dandy, Beau Brummell. Or to put it simply: this is where the granddaddy of the three-piece suit was born.

A quote whose origin has been lost describes a tomcat as being a Regency Gentleman on the grounds that he roisters all night, enjoys rollicking love-affairs and bare-knuckle fighting but always looks elegant.

A Nostalgia Filter during the late Victorian period, particularly with The Gay '90s and The Edwardian Era. Part of the larger Georgian Era.

    Tropes associated in this period include 
  • Dance Sensation: Regency ballrooms would've been dull without the quadrille, which was the ancestor of the American square dance, and the waltz, with its smooth, romantic, and, at the time, intimate moves, only arriving in Britain during this era after it had been popular at the continent a few decades before.
  • The Dandy:
    • The era invented the term. Notably, there was Beau Brummell, who was such a fashion icon that it was considered an unprecedented honour to be invited to watch him dress (which could take hours). Incidentally, he also inspired the modern business suit.
    • In France, the Incroyables and the Merveilleuses, the children of the deposed aristocrats of the French Revolution, take the rein of being daring fashion icons of the period, wearing strange haircuts, speaking without the letter "R", walking in a slouch, and living outrageously lavish lifestyles. The Incroyables wore bicorns or top hats with floppy brims, jackets with super wide lapels, large cravats and tight breeches, all doused in strong perfumes, while the Merveilleuses wore pale pink bodysuits underneath their low cut sheer white Grecian style muslin gowns complemented with a red choker and contrasting colored shawls.
  • Gothic Horror: Often a good setting to the period.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Those popularly white, high-waisted muslin dresses and riding coats. They were often criticized as "undress" and their children tried to forget that their mothers have ever worn them during the early Victorian era, as satirized in this 1857 cartoon.
  • Hot Blooded Sideburns: A must for men during the era. If you want to be historically accurate, they were called "whiskers", as they were only called "sideburns" starting in the 1860s (as a reference to the facial hair of American Civil War General Ambrose Burnside).
  • High-Class Gloves: The Regency era was the beginning of the long stretch of history — which ended as late as the 1960s — in which gloves became a near-mandatory fashion item among upper-class women in the Western world. If you see a Jane Austen heroine depicted at a full-dress ball and she isn't wearing gloves, then quite frankly the costume designer is doing it wrong.
  • Impossibly Tacky Clothes: Unlike the columnar dresses of Napoleon's court, the English royal court retained the panniers for women at presentation. What resulted is an effect resembling a high waisted Dolly Vaden cake. Those ridiculous court dresses persisted throughout the era until the Prince Regent became king. As such, popular media hardly showed these court dresses.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Obviously, with Neoclassicism in vogue, all things Ancient Grome was at full expense of the era, and later in the era with the rise of Romanticism, other eras such as The Middle Ages and The Renaissance, and even a splash of Orientalism, were touched upon.
  • Painted-On Pants: This was is the era where tight pants first became popular for men, women, and eventually, period pieces.
  • Real Women Have Curves: The only time between the 16th century and WWI when this wasn't in full swing, as the high-waisted costumes really toned down the curves.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: This period clashed two idealistic views whether they would look onwards to a futuristic perspective or a revolutionary and simplistic life. Notably, Regency England was an age of rapid social and technological change that saw the height of the Industrial Revolution, but art was dominated by simple and idealised Roman and Greek classicism and the picturesque, a pre-impressionist art movement based on simplicity and rural and nature scenes.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: A popular myth in the period has the more daring women wearing sheer dresses who soaked themselves to cling the dress more as a way to heighten the sex appeal. Some ended up dying of pneumonia, leading to a phenomenon coined as the "muslin disease".
  • Simple, yet Opulent: From the white muslin dresses, to the dark suits, to the furniture, to the gardens and white marble architecture, everything was low-maintenance yet elegant compared to the fluffy, frilly, powdered, high-maintenance rococo stuff of a century earlier.

Examples:

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    Art 
  • The seaminess of the period is represented in the art of Thomas Rowlandson, whose watercolours and cartoons range from picturesque to quaint to ribald to pornographic.
  • The works of the late 19th century Italian genre painter Vittorio Reggianini, whose subjects are scenes of genteel people dressed in pastel Neoclassical style clothing in front of Neoclassical era architecture.
  • Other painters of the "Regency revival genre", where the themes include flirty Regency era scenes with a late Victorian/Edwardian flavor, include Adolf Hering, Edmund Blair Leighton, George Goodwin, Frederik Hendrik Kaemmerer, and Frédéric Soulacroix. Soulacroix in particular pushed the genre well into the 1920s, where he painted pieces that include women wearing high waisted sleevess dress and bobbed hair.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • Jane Austen's 6 novels, as well as the numerous film and television adaptations (including the ones with zombies and sea monsters).
  • George MacDonald Fraser's Black Ajax is a fictionalized account of the career of the first great black heavyweight, Tom Molineux, who fought in the bare-knuckle ring at this period and twice contested Cribb for the title. The Prince Regent himself makes two brief appearances.
  • Caleb Williams by William Godwin, published in 1794, takes a look at the darker side of Regency England — including corrupt hierarchies, a broken justice system, and political oppression.
  • The Comfortable Courtesan is a Regency Romance Web Serial Novel about a very high-class London courtesan and her associates, among other things seeking to depict sexual diversity in the era without Politically Correct History.
  • The Gardella Vampire Chronicles. Yup, vampires plus Regency.
  • Georgette Heyer's historical novels are almost all set during this time period.
  • In Honor Harrington, Manticore is this Recycled In Space.
  • Horatio Hornblower and its adaptations Horatio Hornblower (film) and Horatio Hornblower (TV mini-series) are set in wars during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.
  • Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn takes place in 1820 Cornwall.
  • Jane Eyre is meant to be the fictional memoir of a woman looking back at her youth; the main action is set in about 1810. In addition to the mention of Walter Scott's 1808 novel Marmion as a recently published book and the frequent mentions of politics more appropriate to Georgian than Victorian times, Jane's travels lead her to a coach house in an Expy of Leeds where a portrait of the Prince Regent is displayed prominently. Not only had the Prince Regent (or King George IV) been dead for almost twenty years by 1847, the coach houses had been closed for over fifteen years. Had Jane Eyre been set any time after 1835 or so, Jane would have taken a train, and the station would have held a portrait of Queen Victoria.
    • This of course doesn't stop writers and producers from assuming that the novel was set in Victorian times and dressing Jane in a governess's wardrobe more appropriate to the mid-Victorian era than the Regency.
  • Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a fantasy novel written as a Jane Austen pastiche and set in the same general time period. Several real life figures from the time period even provide cameos, most notably King George III and Lord Byron, with various government ministers filling an important background role, and the Duke of Wellington being a notable secondary character and the only one to be entirely unfazed when Strange apparently goes insane, dismissing it as a Drama Queen phase (as it turns out, he's right), and later getting his own side story.
  • The Julian Kestrel mysteries by Kate Ross feature the eponymous dandy and his valet solving murders. Sadly cut short by Ross's death.
  • Kat, Incorrigible takes place in an alternate Regency, with magic.
  • Both the Master and Commander film and the books that inspired it tend to look like this, especially in the film, where Stephen Maturin has the sideburns distinctive to the period. This is likely partly due to the Frozen in Time nature of the installments following seven, where 1813 went on for the next ten books. Justified in that the Napoleonic War ended in 1815, which would have made him unable to write the later books.
  • The Matthew Hawkwood novels are set squarely in this era. The ongoing war with Napoleon forms an important part of the backstory and drives several of the plots.
  • The Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries follow Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy as they solve a series of crimes and meet the characters from other Austen novels.
  • Two entire genres of Romance Novels. "Regency romances" (or "traditional Regencies") are cerebral comedies of manners, usually rather brief, with scarcely a hint of sex (see: Jane Austen, as listed above). "Regency historicals" are bodice rippers that just happen to be set during the period.note 
  • Shades of Milk and Honey, a gentle Regency fantasy by Mary Robinette Kowal offers a much less intrusive but perhaps more thoroughly integrated view of magic in early 19th century English society.
  • The various Sharpe works fit broadly within this era, with the stories extending from 1799 to 1821. Given the fact that it's historical fiction, a number of real-life figures appear.
    • First among them the Duke of Wellington who a) made Sharpe an officer for saving his life, and b) is just about the only person who can actually control him (given that he's the one man who scares Sharpe). He occasionally acts as Sharpe's patron/primary senior officer, because Sharpe is conveniently marooned in the Peninsular free of his regiment, he is exceptionally competent, and he can be trusted to get the job done. This neatly explains how Sharpe can pop up in all sorts of odd places, and be entrusted with all sorts of missions, because Wellington's treating him as a mixture of special ops (which, to be fair, the 95th Rifles were precursors of) and a proto-cruise missile. While he treats Sharpe as expendable, he doesn't do so lightly, and he tries to give Sharpe a leg-up when he can, being frustrated when his captaincy is refused. At the end of the series, he finally gives battlefield command of the South Essex to Sharpe at Waterloo after the previous Colonel came down with an inconvenient case of dead, before, in Sharpe's Assassin, revealing that he's used his newfound eminence post-Waterloo to confirm Sharpe as a Lieutenant-Colonel so that when he retires he'll get the retirement pay of a Colonel, not a Lieutenant (having only received Brevet ranks for his Captaincy and Majority).
    • His counterpart, Napoleon, also gets passing cameos in Sharpe's Revenge, when he dispatches Calvet to retrieve his treasury (which Sharpe is after because he was framed for nicking it), and Sharpe's Waterloo, before finally appearing in Sharpe's Devil, when he's pleased to meet a legendary former soldier like Sharpe (who as a "mongrel" from the gutter is the type of soldier he loves), finds him much more interesting than most visitors (especially because he now lives in France), and is quite interested to find out that Sharpe helped Calvet retrieve most of his treasury. He also tricks Sharpe into acting as a mule for a letter to Cochrane that would have assented to rescue and conquering a new Empire. Sharpe finds him engaging, but is horrified by the idea of him escaping St Helena, because with Napoleon's relative youth and ability, that's at least another 20 years of campaigning and bloodshed that would draw in the whole world. This is rendered a moot point by the fact that he's dead at the end of the book.
    • Sharpe also meets the Tipu Sultan in Sharpe's Tiger, describing him as "a fat little bugger." Sharpe considered him a sadist, but also remarked that he died like a man, without showing any fear - which Sharpe would know, as he killed him and robbed his heavily bejeweled corpse.
    • During Sharpe's Trafalgar, Sharpe meets none other than Lord Nelson before the battle, and is absolutely starstruck by the man's charisma, being genuinely saddened when he hears of his death.
    • During Sharpe's Fury, Henry Wellesley, Wellington's younger brother, is an important secondary character and takes over as the Big Good, having requested Sharpe's services from his brother to scotch a plot in Cadiz. He's depicted as nicer than his cold older brother, with Sharpe taking a distinct liking to him and going out of his way to prevent him being blackmailed in the future by one of his subordinates, who's technically one of Sharpe's friends. The book also makes mention of the fact that Wellesley's wife, Charlotte, had eloped with Harry Paget not long before.
    • William, Prince of Orange, the future William II of the Netherlands, appears in Sharpe's Waterloo as an excitable young Prince who fancies himself as a great military commander and who recruits a retired Sharpe to his staff as a Lieutenant-Colonel to that end - despite being warned by Wellington that Sharpe is "an insubordinate rogue". The two do not get on, and the Prince's military ineptitude and Never My Fault syndrome get several battalions killed, and Sharpe resigns in outrage. Then it happens again, and Sharpe responds by attempting to assassinate him, being the source of William's Real Life shoulder injury at Waterloo. Sharpe's Assassin reveals that it's more or less an Open Secret among certain parts of the army command that Sharpe was responsible - at the very least, Baron Rebecque, Orange's chief advisor suspects, and Wellington knows. However, no one can prove it, and since it was non-lethal and got him out the way, Wellington a) tacitly approves, calling it a good shot, b) finds it Actually Pretty Funny.
    • Lord Cochrane pops up in Sharpe's Devil, and was every bit as much of a lunatic Blood Knight in real life (though it's unclear whether he really was involved in a scheme to free Napoleon from St Helena and set him up in South America).
    • The Prince of Wales becomes Sharpe's patron in Sharpe's Enemy, promoting him to brevet Major essentially because he's a fan, then more so in Sharpe's Regiment and is quite amenable to the gutter-born rifleman, even trying to help him get to the bottom of the crimping scandal that's stripped the South Essex of its second battalion, and being delighted when Sharpe publicly puts the South Essex under his patronage with three white feathers in each soldier's shako (the feathers of the Prince of Wales). Thereafter, they go by the Prince of Wales' Own Volunteers, and it's indicated that he wouldn't be averse to knighting Sharpe if Sharpe had any interest in a title. A nice chap, all in all. Pity about the mild delusions.
    • Frederick, Duke of York, appears briefly in Sharpe's Regiment, and is characterised as less good-humoured but considerably saner and more practical than his brother, with Cornwell's historical note observing that while he was a terrible military commander, he was actually a very capable administrator.
  • The last Sherlock Holmes short story features a character Holmes claims was Born Inthe Wrong Century — specifically, Holmes stories are set at the end of the 19th century, and this man would have been much more at home among the courting and duelling days of the Regency.
  • Sorcery and Cecelia is a Historical Fantasy that tells the story of two cousins of the gentleman class as they navigate the social scene of the Ton and the politics of the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.
  • By one of the same authors, Mairelon the Magician is set in a similar Regency England with magic, telling the story of a street urchin who is adopted by a wizard.
  • The Temeraire novels by Naomi Novik are set in the early 19th century, though the main characters are British and travel all over the place. What if the Napoleonic Wars were fought with dragons?
  • Also in the broad literary sense, Anne Brontë's novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall takes place in the 1820s.
  • Speaking of Regency England in the broad literary sense, this also encompasses Wuthering Heights, which spans from the 1770s to 1801.
  • The Woman Of Colour, by an anonymous author, was published in 1808 (shortly after the British Empire abolished the slave trade) and set around the same time. It focuses heavily on the racism that pervaded English society in the period.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blackadder the Third. It's actually about the Prince Regent (specifically his butler), but it's not exactly a costume drama. It also includes many events that happened before the Regency era.
    • Well, the first episode only referred to George as the Prince of Wales, implying that the regency hadn't happened yet. By the final episode, for sure, though, the Regency has begun, as a mad George III betrothed his son to a potted plant and did not realize he switched places with his butler.
  • Bridgerton is set in 1813 London, although an alternate version where racism is no longer a problem.
  • Doctor Who: "Thin Ice" is set in London, 1814, at the last of the great frost fairs of the Little Ice Age.
  • Gentleman Jack is set in the 1830s and features real-world Regency-era lesbian Anne Lister.
  • Ghosts (UK)
    • The episode Free Pass involves an Regency era Period drama being filmed in Button House.
    • The flashbacks in the episode The Thomas Thorne Affair are set in this era
  • In the Legends of Tomorrow episode "Séance and Sensibility", the Legends travel to this time period to try to keep Jane Austen from quitting writing before she publishes her famous novels. Mona turns out to be a huge Jane Austen Fangirl. The problem? A Hindu deity is removing people's impulse control, wreaking havoc in the small town. The climax of the episode has the entire town break out in a Bollywood song and dance number.
  • Poldark is (mostly) set in (broadly) Regency-period Cornwall.
  • Taboo: Set in 1814, near the end of The War of 1812

    Theatre 

    Video Games 
  • Rose & Camellia is an Affectionate Parody of the genre in which the protagonist is a common-born widow attempting to establish her role in her late husband's family by bitch-slapping her way to the top. While the setting is clearly inspired by Regency-era dramas, the characters are all Japanese.

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