The Prince Regent, an illustration by George Cruickshank, 1816
In 1811, King George III descended into madness and was deemed unfit to rule. Parliament appointed his son George, the Prince of Wales, to act as regent in his place. Thus began the Regency, a time that has been characterized as a mix of high fashion and low morals.
The Prince Regent was at the heart of the contradictions of the era. He sponsored the arts and supported great architectural achievements, but he also married illegally, accumulated debts and mistresses, and drank to excess. The capital also reflected this dichotomy: culture flourished in London, as did extreme poverty and corruption.
The novels of Jane Austen give us a window into life in Regency England, creating a world of country retreats, London townhouses, balls, fashionable finery, and romantic (if sometimes-rocky) courtships. It is a more complex one than is sometimes recognized: Though the majority of her characters are members of the gentry, the realities of war, poverty, and society’s ills rumble through the novels, threatening to disrupt family reputations and elegantly lived lives.
Join popular speaker Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger, former manager of visitor education at the Folger Shakespeare Library, on a journey to Regency England as seen through the eyes of Jane Austen and her novels. She provides fans of Austen added insight into the characters and their lives, and aficionados of history with the details and dramas that made this one of the most fascinating eras in England.