The Regency (1811–1820) began when the profligate Prince of Wales―the future king George IV―replaced his insane father, George III, as Britain’s ruler. This is a history of an overlooked era that brought the modern world of art, culture, and science decisively into view.
Morrison probes the era’s passion for gambling, horse-racing, boxing and opium ... He thrillingly describes the Battle of Waterloo, tracks the War of 1812 in North America and offers a global tour d’horizon of Britain’s colonies in Canada, India and Australia. But he doesn’t neglect the arts and sciences, devoting several pages to the painters John Constable and J.M.W. Turner, the chemist Sir Humphry Davy, the visionary computer-scientist Charles Babbage and the engineer who pioneered the steam locomotive, George Stephenson. Not least, he regularly turns for insight to the era’s two most famous novels: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Given such plenty, what more could one ask from a work of cultural history?
The historical mirror that The Regency Years holds up to contemporary Britain is disturbing ... [The Prince Regent] ruled over a period of extraordinary creativity and it is that progressive cultural legacy that Mr. Morrison commends to contemporary Britain and the rest of the world.
... spirited and wide-ranging ... While Morrison fails to rescue the image of England’s ruler as the portly, self-indulgent lecher waggishly created by the poets and cartoonists of Regency times, he does well to remind readers how much George and his pet architect, John Nash, contributed to transforming London into an elegant and supremely modern metropolis ... While Morrison’s tales of high society lack the spice of novelty, he does a splendid job of exposing the grubby underbelly of Georgian life ... Sex in Regency times offers Morrison a field day in salacious details. The reader is not stinted ... can be enjoyed without accepting all of Morrison’s theories ... Although elegant, entertaining and frequently surprising, The Regency Years nevertheless failed to convince this reader that 19th-century England’s post-Waterloo emergence as the world’s most powerful nation had much to do with its capricious and pleasure-loving ruler. Having a handsome street and a splendid park named in the regent’s honor seems just about right for George’s epitaph.