The term, "Regency era", sometimes refers to a more extended time frame than the decade of the formal Regency. The period between 1795 and 1837 (the latter part of the reign of George III and the reigns of his sons George IV, as Prince Regent and King, and William IV) was characterized by distinctive trends in British architecture, literature, fashions, politics, and culture. If "Regency era" is being used to describe the transition between "Georgian" and "Victorian" eras, the focus is on the "pre-Victorian" period from 1811, when the formal Regency began, until 1837 when Queen Victoria succeeded William IV. If, however, "Regency era" is being contrasted with "the Eighteenth century", then the period includes the later French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars.
The era was a time of excess for the aristocracy: for example, it was during this time that the Prince Regent built the Brighton Pavilion. However, it was also an era of uncertainty caused by several factors including the Napoleonic wars, periodic riots, and ambivalence over whether the British people might emulate the upheavals of the French Revolution.
The Regency is noted for its elegance and achievements in the fine arts and architecture. This era encompassed a time of great social, political, and even economic change. War was waged with Napoleon and on other fronts, affecting commerce both at home and internationally as well as politics. Despite the bloodshed and warfare the Regency was also a period of great refinement and cultural achievement, shaping and altering the societal structure of Britain as a whole.
One of the greatest patrons of the arts and architecture was the Prince Regent himself (the future George IV). Upper class society flourished in a sort of mini-Renaissance of culture and refinement. As one of the greatest patrons of the arts, the Prince Regent ordered the costly building and refurbishing of the beautiful and exotic Brighton Pavilion, the ornate Carlton House, as well as many other public works and architecture (See John Nash). Naturally, this required dipping into the treasury and the Regent, and later, King's exuberance often outstripped his pocket, at the people's expense.
Society was also considerably stratified. In many ways there was a dark side to the beauty and fashion in England at this time: in the dingier, less affluent areas of London, thievery, womanizing, gambling, the existence of rookeries, and constant drinking ran rampant. The population boom—the population increased from just under a million in 1801 to one and a quarter million by 1820—created a wild, roiling, volatile, and vibrant scene. According to Robert Southey, the difference between the strata of society was vast indeed:
The squalor that existed beneath the glamour and gloss of Regency society provided sharp contrast to Prince Regent's social circle. Poverty was addressed only marginally. The formation of the Regency after the retirement of George III saw the end of a more pious and reserved society, and gave birth of a more frivolous, ostentatious one. This change was influenced by the Regent himself, who was kept entirely removed from the machinations of politics and military exploits. This did nothing to channel his energies in a more positive direction, thereby leaving him with the pursuit of pleasure as his only outlet, as well as his sole form of rebellion against what he saw as disapproval and censure in the form of his father.
It was not only money and rebellious pampered youth that fuelled these changes but also significant technological advancements. In 1814, The Times adopted steam printing thereby increasing production capabilities, along with demand tenfold (printing 1100 sheets per hour versus the previous 200 per hour). This development brought about the rise of the wildly popular fashionable novels in which publishers spread the stories, rumours, and flaunting of the rich and aristocratic, not so secretly hinting at the specific identity of these individuals. The gap in the hierarchy of society was so great that those of the upper classes could be viewed by those below as wondrous and fantastical fiction, something entirely out of reach yet tangibly there.
George Augustus Frederick, Prince of Wales begins his nine-year tenure as regent and becomes known as The Prince Regent. This sub-period of the Georgian era begins the formal Regency. The Duke of Wellington holds off the French at Fuentes d'Onoro and Albuhera in the Peninsular War. The Prince Regent holds a fete at nine p.m. June 19, 1811 at Carlton House in celebration of his assumption of the Regency. Luddite uprisings. Glasgow weavers riot.