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Regency Period Primer

Jane Austen | Regency Period

The Regency Period of Jane Austen's time provided a picture of England that differed greatly from that of today.

The Regency Period officially began when the Prince of Wales (later King George IV) assumed the role of Prince Regent after his father, King George III, was declared unfit to rule in 1811.  King George III is believed to have suffered from porphyria, a disorder affecting the production of hemoglobin (a component of blood cells).  Symptoms include abdominal pain, sensitivity to light and nervous system issues.  Problems with the nervous system can affect both muscle control as well and cognition.  After his behavior became erratic and unpredictable, King George III surrendered rule to his son.  An example of his ‘madness’ occurred when he addressed his court as “My Lords and Peacocks” instead of “My Lords and Ladies”.  George IV, his son, became Prince Regent – not quite King as George III was still alive, but wielding the power of the king when his father became debilitated and lost focus of reality.

While King George III is best remembered for going mad at the end of his life, he is also remembered for being king while the American colonies revolted against British rule in the 1770’s.  He did not create the taxing policies which led the American colonists to seek independence; those were passed through British Parliament.  He opposed the independence of the American colonies however, and the eventual loss of them greatly affected his popularity.

In the 1780’s Parliament agreed to increase the young Prince’s allowance even though his then-coherent father stated that it was "a shameful squandering of public money to gratify the passions of an ill-advised young man.”  It was a foreshadowing of what was to come once the Prince took the throne

Once in power in 1811, the Prince Regent was discouraged from making decisions regarding official governing business and issues involving war.  Instead, the Prince Regent spent his time indulging in excesses.  He spent more money than the Treasury could cover on building projects and lavish parties, thus leaving the burden of restocking the coffers to the people he ruled.  He was a great patron of the arts and literature and created Regent’s Park, but was extravagant in fashion and indulgent with food, becoming quite obese.  This reputation of excesses and self-indulgence likely led to Jane Austen’s dislike of him.

Upon finishing her novel, Emma, the Prince Regent gave her 'the honor' of dedicating it to him.  Unable to disregard a royal charge, Jane used her words in the dedication to show her disdain:

'To His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, this work is, by His Royal Highness's permission, most respectfully dedicated to His Royal Highness by His dutiful and obedient humble servant, the Author.'

After nine years as Prince Regent, George IV assumed the throne upon the death of his father in 1820, becoming King George IV. As king, all the promises he made to his friends in the Whig party were reneged and King George IV became a staunch supporter of the Tory party and its initiatives, just like his father.  He eventually died in 1830, ten years after his father, but left such a legacy as to have a period of history named after him: the Regency.


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