The era we call the Regency was an exciting historical time. This was the threshold of the modern age, when the Industrial Revolution had begun its march forward. The supremacy of the old aristocracy and its reliance on the land had to make way for a new era, where manufacture replaced agriculture as the dominant source of income. Improved communications through the building of canals, better road construction and, toward the end of the period, the invention of steam engines and railroads, escalated the process. Regency people traveled more and faster than their predecessors could have dreamt of.
At this time two men as diverse as the age they lived in dominated society. One was the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV - the Prince Regent who lent his name to the era - the product of centuries old royal bloodlines, and the other Beau Brummell, the grandson of a servant and the son of a self-made man. Money and genius became the new equalizers and Brummell the archetype for the cult of the celebrity; his power came from being The Beau rather than from his birth or any specific talents he was endowed with. His influence waned and other personages took his place, yet his fame lived on as the first and greatest of modern celebrities.
It's impossible to talk about the Regency without mentioning the Napoleonic Wars that raged nearly constantly from 1792 to 1815. Beginning at sea with romantic Lord Nelson at the helm and ending on land by the master strategist Wellington, the British saw a total of above 300,000 casualties – nearly 1 in 3 of every serving man – with many more wounded. War is costly and the working class suffered under not only unsanitary conditions but poor wages, high taxes and rampant inflation. After the war ended, the returning veterans added another burden to the already strained resources and unemployment was at an all time high. Not that the Prince Regent helped with his incessant demands for more money to meet his insatiable thirst for building, gaming and the arts. Yet it was the wars that wrecked the British economy, which took decades to recover.
Indeed it was a time of revolution in every sphere – political as well as domestic. Social reform was in its infancy, but would soon become the catch-phrase of the Victorians. On other fronts, a religious revival had begun to kick with the rise of the middle classes, a stricter morality, or at least the appearance of it. And fashion changed with the times, from the simplest of white muslin gowns of the Directoire to the elaborate embroidered, flounced and trimmed toilettes that were the forerunners of the even more ornate Victorian era. It is against this backdrop of war and technical advancement, over consumption and poverty, we are to see those times; the true beginning of our modern times.