Secrets & Scandals in Regency Britain: Sex, Drugs & Proxy Rule
Pen & Sword Books (2022)
An entertaining compendium of some of the eras’ most scandalous events. From the unorthodox lifestyles of Lord Byron, the Shelley’s and the Ladies of Llangollen to public events such as executions, visits to Bedlam and the Peterloo massacre, Fenn has compiled a host of headline making scandals and news events that shocked Georgian and Regency England.
Some of the stories included are well known, others are not, and the tales in this collection can be by turns heart-breaking, amusing or horrific, often highlighting the perilous nature of daily life during the period, especially where women were concerned. As an example, it was common practice for local authorities and the law to rid themselves of undesirables within their precincts by transporting convicts to Botany Bay. Women were particularly vulnerable and often found themselves convicted of petty crimes that brought with them the sentence of deportation. Firstly, however, they were kept aboard prison hulks while waiting to sail. One of these ships, the Lady Juliana, provides a host of stories concerning her passengers, much of which Fenn relates via touching first-hand accounts. Conversely, rather than being transported, Saartjie ‘Sara’ Baartman, a woman from South Africa, was imported to Britain, where her ample measurements made her a wonderous addition to sideshows. She was afterwards sold to a Parisian animal trainer and displayed alongside the beasts until her health broke down and she died in December 1815. Those who gained their knowledge of Georgian and Regency England by watching Bridgerton will no doubt have their eyes opened by these glimpses into the underside of polite society.
While the subjects and people covered in this book – highwaymen, celebrities such as Brummell and Byron, the Godwin Girls and the Grand Old Duke of York – all belong to the past, the tales surrounding them still have the ability to resonate with the modern reader via Fenn’s narrative style and her use of newspaper reports and eyewitness accounts. A thoroughly enjoyable read for those interested in the social history of the era.