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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Jane Austen and the Prince of Whales

Although Jane Austen is often linked to the Regency period, she was not actually a product of the Regency. Jane Austen was born in 1775, when George III had reigned England for 15 years.


George III (from Wikipedia at

George III was of German lineage, but had British interests at heart. He was described as being modest and kind, with a genuine interest in the world around him. In 1810, the King who suffered from stress had a severe attack of mental illness, and was never to recover. The state was was in national mourning, and even Jane Austen dressed in black, although the King would live for another 9 years in seclusion.

During the King’s illness, from 1811 to 1820, the heir to the throne, the Prince of Wales – George Augustus Frederick – became the Prince Regent who would reign the country in lieu of the King. On the one hand, the Prince was considered handsome, witty and intelligent, and became an enthusiastic patron of literature and the arts. On the other hand, he was extravagant and irresponsible, lavishing money on women and clothes and huge building projects for his residence at Carlton House. 


The Prince Regent (from Wikipedia at

Known for his gluttony, drunkenness and vulgar lifestyle, the overindulging  Prince Regent became an object of ridicule. Cartoonists would depict him as the Prince of Whales!


“A Voluptuary under the Horrors of Digestion”  (From Wikipedia at

The Prince Regent also gained fame for his womanising. In 1785, the Prince had married Maria Fitzherbert without the King’s consent. 10 years later, in order to have his debts paid off, he bigamously married his cousin, Princess Caroline, but the marriage was unsuccessful from the start. The couple drifted apart and the Prince spent more and more time with his mistresses. They soon separated, but the public sided with Caroline, feeling that she was the innocent party who had been wronged.


Princess Caroline (from Wikipedia at

In February 1813, Jane Austen wrote to her friend Martha Lloyd as follows:

"I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales's Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband -- but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself ``attached & affectionate'' to a Man whom she must detest -- & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad -- I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. --"

So when Jane Austen was approached by the Prince’s librarian, Rev. Clarke, for Emma’s dedication to the Prince Regent, we can only imagine how she would have felt about the suggestion. She  highly disapproved of the Prince’s profligate lifestyle, and the request must have placed her in a difficult position. However, in 1815, just before the publication of Emma, she added a dedication to the Prince Regent and sent a special copy to Carlton House.

The Regency era ended in 1820, 3 years after Jane Austen’s death, when George III died and the Prince became King.

Jane Austen was, in essence, a Georgian, brought up with Georgian values, morals and manners. It is in the fashions and style of her later characters that we get a taste of the Regency world.



Chapman, R.W. /Austen, J. (1985) Jane Austen – Selected Letters. OUP.

Le Faye, D. (2002) Jane Austen – The World of Her Novels. Frances Lincoln.


  1. Very interesting article. Thanks for posting! I should get to know more about the Georgian period. Is it very different from Regency?

  2. @Renate: Thanks for visiting! Well, the Regency period was certainly a lot shorter than the Georgian period and what they say is that the Regent taught the English people to party! The Georgian society was more pious and reserved, and the new looser values of the Prince Regent must have had an effect on society overall. While the Regency period of considered to be an era of elegance, it is also remembered for the existence of womanising, heavy drinking, gambling etc... the Regent and his people lived for pleasure.

  3. Thanks for explaining it so fully. ;) And I'm glad you enjoyed my story. I used to be a re-enactor of the Regency period so it's a passion of mine and I'll certainly continue writing scenes and stories in that period. Excellence can only be attained through constant practise, after all. I'm considering writing a P&P novel as well. Perhaps from Anne the Bourgh's POV. The girl desperately needs a husband!

  4. Anna,

    Is it possible you are not aware of the following? If so, I think you will find it extraordinarily interesting!:

    Arnie Perlstein

  5. @Arnie: Wow! I agree that things are not always what they seem, and it would certainly be fascinating to find Jane Austen disguising her political opinions, hidden behind subtle remarks and riddles. Very clever!


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