During England’s Regency period from 1811 to 1820, King George III was deemed mentally unfit, and his son instead ruled as Prince Regent until the king’s death. The period’s distinctive styles and fashion, great heights of beauty and art and cultural influence lasted through the reigns of George IV and William IV until the Victorian era that began in 1837.
Regency London was known as the most civilized place in the world. Handsome thoroughbreds trotted along the West End’s most fashionable streets, pulling elegant carriages with the city’s elite tucked inside. Households received guests in sumptuous drawing rooms and enjoyed multi-course, formal dinner parties with the finest crystal on display.
Afterward, well-dressed dandies flocked to neighborhoods like St. James’s to spend the evening playing card games like Faro and Commerce at private clubs such as White’s or Watier’s. And London’s fashionable ladies set out to plush boxes at the Royal Italian Opera House in the Haymarket.
Haymarket Theatre, 1815
But the city had a dark side. Outside the walls of London’s well-manicured and gated townhouses lay the city’s seedy underbelly, where lower-class Londoners of lesser morals made ends meet by looting warehouses, docks and ships, robbing the graves of the well-heeled for gold fillings and whiling away the night at gin shops and brothels.
The irony? While the less-fortunate were pilloried for their loose morals and excessive vice, the social set, hiding behind their finery, shared the same licentious traits that mirror some of today’s political and religious scandals.