Here is a fantastic review of a book about the Regency Era in Britain, which serves as a contrasting backdrop to the gracefully aristocratic setting of Regency romances with which we may be more familiar today.
It also serves as a great antidote to the somewhat common feeling that Today Is The Worst Of All Possible Ages.
Crime was both a cause and symptom of the discontent. Under the notorious “Bloody Code,” more than 200 major and minor crimes carried the death penalty. … A child, from the age of 7, could be hanged for poaching a rabbit, stealing lace or cutting down a tree. The philosopher and legal theorist Jeremy Bentham argued that the country’s capricious system, in which legal outcomes depended on the whims of judges, united “violence to feebleness” and undermined public confidence in the rule of law. …
Homosexuality evoked extreme intolerance in Regency Britain. … The punishment for sodomy was the pillory then public hanging. (The term “sodomy” was broadly used to cover all forms of non-procreative sex.) Byron’s interest in boys was one of the reasons he moved abroad.
Yet another of the historical periods that makes a wonderful setting for novels, but which I’m so grateful to have missed in person. Hanging a seven-year-old for poaching a rabbit!
The book in question is Robert Morrison’s The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern. That’s quite the subtitle. I don’t know that I’m inclined to read it, but if I do, it’ll be because of that subtitle.
I will note, as an aside, because I’ve been posting about Sharon Shinn’s books so much lately, that if SHE had written the history of the Regency era, it would have been a kinder, gentler Regency. In fact, it is. The Echoes books are Regency-ish, as I said in a previous post, and although there’s a fair bit of inequality and injustice, there’s no hint of the brutality that lay just under the surface — or, often, well above the surface — of real-world Regency Britain.