Friday, February 27, 2009

What's Regency???

When I tell people what I write, their response is usually one of two things; “Regency? Oh, I love Regency!” Or “What is Regency?”

To those who ask that second question, Regency is a specific time period in England. It officially began when King George III, who had frequent periods of madness, was finally declared mad. His son, the Prince of Wales, was officially name Regent in his father’s stead, although most historians agree the queen really ran the country. This happened in 1811 and the Prince, sometimes referred to as “Prinny” was Regency until 1820 when King George III died and the prince was crowned King George IV.
The expanded Regency era is often thought of as the time of Jane Austen and the Napoleonic War, until the time Queen Victoria ascended the throne. Some historians believe the growing influence of the non-Anglican churches had more to do with the changing values that became the Victorian ideals. Victoria also had a very serious, possibly even prudish husband who probably affected society.

Clothing fashions underwent a dramatic change. The influence of the charismatic Beau Brummel took men out of bright colors, satins and ruffles that make one think of a peacock, and put them into more subdued colors and styles that evolved into the modern day tuxedo. People lost the powdered wigs and began bathing on a regular basis. The wealthy even had indoor plumbing. Josephine Bonaparte, who was influential in France, created the simpler women’s fashions of flowing, empire-style gowns reminiscent of Greek gowns, which were quickly adopted by the English who, no doubt, were grateful to rid themselves of corsets, panniers, and laughable headdresses.

While images of hedonistic pleasures often come to mind, the Regency era was also steeped in manners, honor, and duty. If a girl was discovered to have been alone with a man, she was instantly considered ruined. The family expected the man to marry her, thus saving her from such a terrible fate. No one considered a ruined girl a good match. People shuddered at the thought of addressing a person to whom they had not yet been properly introduced. It was always best to be introduced by someone who knew them both. And ladies who walked up to a gentleman and addressed him was considered ill-mannered.

The Regency era was also a time of great change. The Industrial revolution was making commoners wealthier than some aristocrats, education became more readily available to the average person, and new churches preached morality to the lower classes. The nobility feared a repeat of the French Revolution because of the riots and the American revolution and, more recently, the War of 1812.

I love Regencies because I love the way they spoke so eloquently. Reading Jane Austen is almost like ready poetry. Each word was carefully chosen for its beautiful wording, imagery and cadence. There was no mauling the language by the upper classes. They also had a great deal of wit. Indeed, wit was prized and they excelled in using the understatement.

Women had more freedom than in the Victorian era. Women, particularly widows, had money, power and fun unlike the Victorian era which turned widows into black-clad hermits expected to mourn all their lives. In the Regency era, men did not keep their wives under their thumb. In fact, they each had their own interests, hobbies, and friends.

Regency men were educated and were taught to dance, read and recite poetry from a young age. They were athletic; they hunted, raced, fenced, rode horses. They were manly. Strong. Noble. Resolute. Honorable. And that is why I love them.

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