By Philippa Jane Keyworth
Flanked between the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, the British Regency can be so easily eclipsed. It becomes an Age between Ages, a mere stepping-stone to brighter and better things. To be quite frank, I think this is a very sad thing, not least because this is one of my favourite periods (who can say no to all those dashingly dressed Regency bucks?), but because of its essentiality to British history.
In fact, remark upon the period to almost anyone and you will get the vague reply that Jane Austen inhabited those times. That is what that Age between Ages is remembered for, nothing more. Should one be happy with that? Was she not a brilliant social commentator creating some of Britain’s best-loved literary works? Yes, but that hardly does justice to the nine short years that Prinny presided over England as just that: a Prince Regent.
So, what else has it to offer apart from its literary merits? Perhaps we can assign some art? Reynolds, he was a fine painter, at least now we can call it an Age for the Arts?
Can it not be so much more? Those short nine years, where Britain balanced between the development and progress of the eighteenth century and the industrial explosion that would define the later nineteenth century? When looking at it on its own, it seems a mere blip on the historical radar, so what two things can one pull out as large historical factors worth remembering that Age between Ages for?
Firstly, the continuation of the monarchy.
Secondly, the cessation of the Napoleonic wars.
The first might seem bizarre to some, but to those familiar with the period, the verbal attacks launched at the Prince Regent are both vicious and unceasing. He was fat, he was gluttonous, he did not even lead his men into battle, he was hated, and he was useless. All these vices and faults are thrown mercilessly at his door, and they are not unwarranted, but what we must remember when viewing the Regency is the continuation of the monarchy.
America, in 1775, had revolted against its colonial parents to form a nation of its own without aristocracy or monarchy. France had erupted into revolution in 1789, affecting many surrounding countries and beheading the French King and Queen, not to mention some 40,000 other aristos. What better time for England, whose fat, useless Prince was universally hated, to rise up and depose the 52-inch waist-lined man? Well, none other really. Why not jump upon the revolutionary bandwagon, why not do what they had done before, what the French had just done, and cut off his greedy head?
One could argue the constitutionalisation of the British monarchy from 1688 meant that the monarch had less power so why would the people care? The Prince Regent did not have the power to subject his people to his every whim as the medieval monarchs had done. However, one could also argue that the hatred, shown through the caricatures and unflattering descriptions of the Prince, would be enough to throw him off that Regent’s chair and get rid of his mad-old father who had become useless in his dotage.
However, the Regency showed resilience in the British people through their desire to continue the monarchy. For this, the Age between Ages at least deserves the name, the Regency.
Equally as important was the halting of the Napoleonic wars. Before World War I, the Napoleonic wars held the highest number of casualties and was one of the most notable wars for its encompassing so many of the European countries.
The British troops and the allies, headed by Wellington, halted the tirade of destruction and tyranny that had been launched across Europe. Without the channel for protection it is almost too much to imagine what would have happened to our tiny isle. However, as that channel has done countless times before in British history, it protected Britain from Napoleon’s invading forces and we eventually managed to harry him back, exile him and occupy Paris.
It is easy in the present day to belittle the Napoleonic Wars’ importance along with the importance of their cessation. When looked at in perspective it is a magnificent feat that the British and their allies managed to win against the emperor. For that great event, perhaps the Age between Ages deserves the name the British Regency.
The British Regency really was as dynamic as those ages that stand around it. It cannot be belittled until it is nothing more than the origin of some fine BBC period dramas. Not that I don’t enjoy those lovely period dramas…I do, but it is also good to see that the Regency is more than just them. Those nine years between 1811-1820 can no longer be overlooked. They were the years that saw Britain define itself as a proud monarchical country and a force to be reckoned with. It was an age when its people sat on the mountain of progress viewing the future ahead with undiluted enthusiasm.
Philippa Jane Keyworth, known to her friends as Pip, has been writing since she was twelve in every notebook she could find. Whilst she dabbles in a variety of genres, it was the encouragement of a friend to watch a film adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that would start the beginning of her love affair with the British Regency. Her debut novel, The Widow's Redeemer (Madison Street Publishing, 2012), is a traditional Regency romance bringing to life the romance between a young widow with an indomitable spirit and a wealthy viscount with an unsavory reputation.