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Small Details About The Regency Era That 'Bridgerton' Brought To Light

January 8, 2021 15k views14 items

Set in Regency London, Bridgerton follows the romantic adventures and misadventures of the titular aristocratic family. So, how accurate is Bridgerton and its depiction of the early 19th century? Though the show presents a reimagined, idealized version of the Regency era, many details in Netflix’s Bridgerton draw from historical reality.

The Regency period in Great Britain technically lasted from 1811 to 1820, when the Prince of Wales ruled as regent in place of his father King George III. Though officially only nine years long, the Regency as a social and cultural era extended beyond that chronology and was part of the larger Georgian period (1714-1837). It was the era of Jane Austen and Waterloo, imperialism and Romanticism, slavery and the Industrial Revolution.

Bridgerton sets its gaze on the fashionable upper classes - known as the ton - of Regency society, depicting a world governed by rules that, if broken, could ruin a family's fortunes. It imagines a period of rakes and heiresses, debauchery and virtue, glittering parties and seedy dens of vice. Though some of Bridgerton's world-building is based on the historical record, however loosely, it doesn't really present the past exactly as it was. Rather, the show plays with historical details to reinvent what the past could have been: a candied wonderland free from the harsh realities that darkened the era, a world preoccupied solely with intrigue, scandal, and beautiful people falling in and out of love.

  • Some Historians Believe The Real Queen Charlotte May Have Had African Ancestors

    One of the recurring characters on Bridgerton is Queen Charlotte, who is depicted as a Black woman. This representation actually taps into more contemporary debates about Charlotte's ancestry. Historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom has argued that Charlotte was biracial - he claims her family tree includes a Black African ancestor, via the Portuguese royal family, from the 13th century.

    Others are less convinced by Valdes's conclusions. After all, Charlotte would have been several centuries removed from her possible African ancestor. Royal historian Robert Lacey has dismissed the basis of Valdes's research as "anecdotal evidence" rather than a direct paper trail.

  • Photo: Bridgerton / Netflix

    Newspapers And Broadsheets Really Did Spread Aristocratic Gossip

    One of the most consequential characters on Bridgerton is Lady Whistledown, a mysterious writer spreading gossip through a scandal sheet that the ton devours.

    Gossip-mongers were indeed all over the Georgian period and plied their trade by publishing bawdy ballads, caricatures, satirical poems, and magazines that hawked private intrigue in the public sphere.

    Some members of the upper classes even weaponized the publishing world to settle scores or blackmail perceived wrongdoers. In 1809, for example, the courtesan Mary Anne Clarke attempted to publish a tell-all about her life as the mistress of the Duke of York after he dumped her. 

    Though Lady Whistledown never existed, she resembles another Georgian gossip writer. As historian Catherine Curzon explained to Town & Country magazine:

    [Lady Whistledown] does call to mind "Mrs. Crackenthorpe," billed as "a Lady that knows everything." Mrs. Crackenthrope was the anonymous author behind the Female Tatler, which was published from 1709 to 1710. It's a gem of satire, remarkable for being intended for women, and with a primary aim to educate - often through sharp observation - but with an eye for gossip too. Though the Female Tatler was short-lived, other magazines flourished.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Will Mondrich Is Based On Real-Life Black Boxer Bill Richmond

    Simon, Duke of Hastings, is one of the wealthiest members of the aristocracy in Bridgerton. But one of his closest friends isn't a nobleman at all - it's Will Mondrich, a successful boxer and devoted family man.

    Will Mondrich may be an invented character, but he's based on real-life boxer Bill Richmond - "Mondrich" is an anagram of "Richmond." Richmond's life is worthy of its own story. He was born into slavery in New York in 1763 but became Regency London's preeminent boxer, and his influence extended far beyond the ring. Biographer Luke Williams describes Richmond "as the first Black sportsman of national fame and international significance."

  • Photo: Bridgerton / Netflix

    The 'Marriage Market' Season Was An Actual Thing

    Bridgerton takes place over the course of a "Season" - and that doesn't refer to the weather. The Season dominated the social rhythms of Regency London: From roughly February to June, the upper classes came to the city to participate in a lively social scene of exclusive balls, parties, and entertainments.

    The social nature of the Season enabled elite families to broker marriages for their eligible sons and daughters. Roguish poet Lord Byron nicknamed the London Season the "Marriage Mart" to mark the marital brokering that happened while all the ton was in town.

    Indeed, the business of marriage was the business of reproducing familial wealth. The Season provided opportunities for young men and women of the same elite class to safely rub shoulders with one another in a highly orchestrated social whirlwind. As historian Hannah Grieg explains, marriage-brokering during the Season was all about "keep[ing] the money and the power within a fairly small circle of society by controlling the pool of suitors. That's what gives it the 'market' aspect."