An in-depth look at the Georgian age

In their last term, Year 8 students undertook an in-depth look at the Georgian age, comically referred to as the era of the “Four fat Georges”! While the first two Georges were not very prepossessing figures, being largely unable to speak English or understand much about English laws and customs, and were more concerned with spending time in Hanover, George III and his son George IV (Prinny) were rather more likeable characters. George III, nicknamed “Farmer George”, presided over important changes in agriculture (which we will be looking at in more detail next term) which would allow the population to continue to grow and thus provide a ready workforce for the new industrial age, enabling Britain to survive the many years of war against Napoleonic France. George IV, like his predecessors Charles I and Charles II, was a notable art collector and was of course the man responsible for that strange, exotic, oriental creation, Brighton pavilion.

“The Morning Walk” (1785) by Thomas Gainsborough
(National Gallery, London)

The Georgian era, the period from roughly 1714 to 1830, was renowned as an age of fashion, wealth, exuberance, rich in art, architecture, and literature. It was the age of dandys and rakes like Beau Brummel and Beau Nash. It was a literary age of playwrights, essayists, and political theorists: Congreve, Wycherley, Oliver Goldsmith, David Garrick, Jonathan Swift, and Lawrence Sterne. An age of poets such as Pope, Shelley, Keats Coleridge and Byron, and novelists including Mary Shelley and Jane Austen. It boasted celebrated artists and engravers, like Hogarth, Gainsborough, and Reynolds. Its architecture, renowned for its elegance, symmetry and proportion, and interior decoration, is regarded as the finest of any period of British history, the work of architects, carvers and stuccoists like Vanbrugh, Burlington, James Gibbs, Robert and James Adam, Grinling Gibbons, and Joseph Cortese. Gardens too enjoyed a complete makeover, with the landscape being transformed by famous gardeners such as Shenstone, Repton, and Capability Brown. Cartoonists, caricaturists, and satirists, like James Gillray and Rowlandson, lampooned the excesses of the aristocratic classes, the political corruption of figures such as Robert Walpole, the excesses of the “Macaroni”, and even the new discoveries and inventions of the age such as steam power and vaccination.

It was in the Georgian era that the foundations of the British empire were laid, slavery was abolished, and the first railways, the Stockton and Darlington and the Liverpool and Manchester, were built. In due course the succeeding Victorian era would greatly develop and benefit from these developments (although not everyone benefited equally), a phenomenon which we will also be examining in greater detail next term.

The Georgian period also witnessed a surprising amount of political upheaval, with the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745, which commanded a much greater degree of support in England Scotland and France than has hitherto been assumed, and which in the case of the second came much closer to toppling the Hanoverian regime than has previously been reckoned. Year 8 have greatly enjoyed producing pro-Jacobite posters and offering toasts to the king across the water! During this era the first political parties emerged, the Whigs and Tories, and the only British Prime Minister to be killed while in office, Spencer Perceval, was assassinated; politics were often turbulent with increasing demand for parliamentary reform, and end to corruption, and greater religious toleration, culminating in the 1832 Great Reform Act and the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829.

Odds Bud! That’s a mighty fine collar! Georgian Fashion from Lord Fairfax to Sir Percy Blakeney!
Georgian fashion and Georgian rakes!

The Georgian age also witnessed a revolution in fashion. This was partly the result of increased international trade and the introduction of new materials, with cotton and muslins replacing the older heavier fabrics such as silk brocade and lace trimmed velvet, but was also the result of political and patriotic choices! Gentlemen in the period wore cut-away frock coats with elaborate waistcoats, knee breeches, stockings, shirts with lace at the cuffs and starched lace collars. Powdered wigs, tied with a black bow, were of course de rigueur, until the latter part of the era when it became more fashionable for men to wear their own hair. Women meanwhile were attired in corsets, stays, sackback dresses, panniers, petticoats and Mantuas, all in bright colours until white and pastel shades became more popular towards the end of the era and the Regency period. Both men and women enjoyed an elaborate array of accessories, including reticules, fans, snuff boxes, eyeglasses, watch chains, card cases, vinaigrettes, gloves, parasols and dress swords, which may have been mostly for show but which were still quite deadly!

Our Year 8s truly enjoyed our in-depth look at the Georgian age, and I hope you did as well. As the school year progresses, keep tuned for the introduction of a new little character . . . the Georgian History detective, Sir Francis, to match his Victorian counterpart, Fyling of the Stackyard

Victoria Harrington, Teacher of History