Why the Regency?

Just over two years I started writing a trilogy of novels set in the Regency period. This was partly because I had been reading some books set at that time and found myself enjoying the setting and partly because I read a review of a historical romance about Regency spies that suggested that something was impossible since it had never been accomplished in any book that the reviewer had read. I thought about it for a while and realised that it wasn’t impossible and it wasn’t even that difficult, so I started The Heart that Lies to demonstrate to myself that it was easy. Even before I finished it I knew that there would have to be a second book to tell the story of the earl’s friend and then it occurred to me that a trilogy would make more sense, because the story had to continue past the Battle of Waterloo.

Then I had to do the research; it turns out it’s not enough to have read the complete works of Jane Austen a couple (or more) times. It was the research that showed me that the Regency was a much more interesting time than all those TV adaptations of Austen’s works had led me to believe. It wasn’t just about girls in pretty gowns meeting young men with impeccable manners in elegant rooms. It was also about a constant fear of invasion or revolution, whichever came first; it was the beginning of the last hurrah of the landed aristocracy whose place was rapidly being taken by industrialists and capitalists; it was a very violent society where life was cheap; and it was a time when wealthy Britons, no longer able to travel on the continent, came to appreciate the beauty of their own countries.

Like the fourteenth century it was a time of uncertainty. No one knew how the seemingly never-ending war against Napoleon’s France was going to end and it often looked as if there was going to be a violent revolution in Britain before either side could declare victory anyway. There were frequent riots and the Luddites took actions against factories in the Midlands and the North that were, if not taking their jobs, changing the nature of them.

It was a time of change with the industrial revolution taking manufacturing out of the home and into the factory. On the one hand the variety of goods available for purchase increased and the cost of buying them decreased, so people started to own more things, many of which made their lives easier. On the other hand, labour moved from the home into factories and people who had been able to work at their own pace had to work at the pace of a machine.

As in our own time a much-loved monarch was ending a lengthy reign. The Prince of Wales was much less respected and the butt of salacious jokes and cartoons. Although many benefited from his society during his regency, few looked forward to his succession.

The Regency was a very short period of time from 1811 to 1820 and, until I started doing the research, it had always felt like an anomaly between the Georgian and Victorian eras. The people of the Georgian era have always seemed to me, wrongly, as very lumpen, bawdy, without a shred of sympathy for their fellow man and either drunk or recovering from being drunk. The Regency seemed like a sudden burst of elegance that was swept away by what seemed to be a century of mourning and quiet hysteria (if you were a woman) under Victoria.

It is the constant sense that anything might have happened that makes it such a good setting for romances. And the frocks are lovely.

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