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Where did we get the term “Regency”?

Do you know where we get the term “Regency” for the period? (If you do, you can hum “God Save the Queen” while I explain.) It covers the time when the Prince of Wales, George Augustus Frederick (aka Prinny), stepped in as Regent for his father, King George III (aka the King George Americans fought against because of his taxation policies aka Mad King George), because he was, well, unable to run the country. So technically the Regency Period began in 1811 and ended in 1820, 200 years ago this month, when George III died and George IV became king. But for purposes of looking at periods in terms of their culture, fashions, ideas, etc., many people consider the Regency period to stretch from either 1783 or 1795 to 1830 or 1837 (when Victoria came to the throne). That’s why there’s such a wide range of dates in our books!

Invented Names

Several English Christian names were invented by authors. Shakespeare gave us Miranda, Jessica, Imogen, and Perdita. The poet Sir Philip Sydney gave us Pamela, and Jonathan Swift gave us Vanessa and Stella. Araminta was coined by William Congreve or Sir John Vanbrugh, who both managed to use it. From the period right before the Regency comes Fanny Burney’s Orville (trust me, I won’t be using that one anytime soon). The poet James MacPherson invented Fiona . . . and a whole series of ancient Scottish poems that were later discovered to be not so ancient (oops!). From the Regency period, we get Sir Walter Scott’s Cedric. Now that’s one I might use.

Names

Names like Minerva and Regina were popular in the Regency because of the fascination with everything classical—Greek architecture, Roman history, antiquities of all kinds. That’s why those early Regency gowns were so toga-like—they were influenced by the costumes that the English saw on Greek and Roman figures. The vertical lines, simple designs, and emphasis on white was a tribute to their love of classical sculpture.

Eugène François Vidocq

One of my favorite parts about writing What the Duke Desires was all the research I got to do into the life of Eugène François Vidocq, who appears as a character in the novel. What a fascinating fellow! Widely regarded as father of the private detective agency, he was a brilliant man who completely changed how crimes were investigated. He really did invent tamper-proof paper for banks as well as using ballistics for the first time to solve a crime. You can check out more pics of him on my Pinterest page.

The Press

The press was as powerful a force in the Regency as it is now. Caricatures featuring “celebrities” like Prinny (George IV) and actresses and other luminaries were regularly displayed in shops, and gossip columns were rife with scandalmongers. Indeed, the Duke of Wellington was discussed in great detail and caricatured savagely after he fought a duel with the Earl of Winchilsea over politics, of all things, especially since Wellington deliberately fired wide and the earl fired in the air. Even the mighty Iron Duke couldn’t escape being pilloried in the press.

Titles

Most of the time, when you see a woman called the Countess of Whatever, it’s because she’s married to the Earl of Whatever. It’s called a “courtesy title.” Women gain courtesy titles by being married to men with titles (and children gain courtesy titles on behalf of their father . . . until the sons inherit the title). But once in a while, with Scottish or Irish titles or with titles going back centuries, the patent (the legal construct, if you will) for the title will allow for a woman to inherit. In those very rare cases, the Countess of Whatever inherits the title and estate from her father, the Earl of Whatever. She doesn’t have to marry anyone to get it. I love that.