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Regency Era Facts That Seem Surprisingly Unsophisticated To Us

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures via MovieStillsDB & Netflix/Shondaland via MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures via MovieStillsDB & Netflix/Shondaland via MovieStillsDB

Since its release in 2020, Netflix’s Bridgerton has renewed our love of the incredible fashion, heroic viscounts, and romance of the Regency Era. While many of us fans of the show consider the Regency period to be a time of opulence, intense social norms, and vain endeavors, these wacky Regency era customs and facts just might leave you reconsidering your definition of sophistication.

Regency Era people shared a bed with many others

Sharing a bed
Sharing beds in the 1971 film ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ (Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures via MovieStillsDB)

When you think of an overnight trip in Regency England, usually grand estates with sprawling gardens and opulent suites come to mind. In reality, the majority of Regency society spent the night in coaching inns. Located along popular roadways, coaching inns offered travelers a cheap place to sleep – but at a cost: privacy.

Inns were usually overcrowded and with limited beds available, that meant sharing with a total stranger. While this sounds like an absolutely horrible way to spend the night, Regency folks knew enough bed-sharing etiquette to make the whole ordeal as peaceful as possible.

Rotting pineapples were a status symbol

Left: portrait of the Duke of Wellington. Right: Pineapple
Left: Notice the pineapple on the table of the Duke of Wellington, 1828. (Photo by Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images). Right: A pineapple painted in 1790. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/Imagno via. Getty Images)

In Regency England, the greatest status symbol wasn’t diamonds or large houses – it was pineapples! Since they were discovered by colonists in South America, growers began to plant pineapple trees throughout British colonies. Only the wealthiest and most well-to-do families would be able to afford to import pineapples from faraway plantations. Usually, the journey took so long that the pineapples would be rotten, but that didn’t stop Regency folks from displaying their most prized produce on the dinner table.

Bathing machines made trips to the beach tricky

A painting depicts bathing machines by the sea side
A huddle of bathing machines trundle into the sea. Original Artwork by J Green from Ackermann’s ‘Poetical Sketches of Scarborough’. (Photo Credit: Rischgitz/Getty Images).

When it came to warm summer days, one of the only times Regency people could relax and let loose was at the seaside. Men were permitted to swim in breeches and dive off of small boats, but women in their bathing costumes were forbidden to show themselves to the opposite sex. Beaches were separated into a men’s and women’s section, but even that didn’t fully deter onlookers from possibly ruining a young lady’s modesty.

To help provide as much privacy as possible, women throughout the early 19th century used bathing machines – a large wooden box with only a small window at the top, pulled with horses like a carriage. Ladies would change into their bathing costumes inside the box, which would protect them from view and also keep their clothing and valuables dry. Once the ladies were dressed, the bathing machine would take them to the edge of the water where ladies could swim without prying eyes.

Murder scenes were entertainment

Two men engage in a duel
Regency Era entertainment: the Duel in the Snow Frontispiece, circa 1888. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

Before television, movies, and the Internet, options for entertainment in the Regency era were slim. Many people were fascinated by death, which slowly began to take a morbid hold over society in the later Victorian era through seances, ouija boards, and peculiar death rituals.

Whenever a murder occurred, flocks of tourists would appear at the crime scene to take in the gore – usually trampling over any evidence that could help solve the case. Some even held live auctions of crime scene evidence for tourists to purchase. Thank goodness we have true crime podcasts today!

Regency Era ladies went commando and wet their shirts

Left: getting Regency ready. Right: women's pantaloons.
Left: Elizabeth Bennet (Kiera Knightley) and her sister Jane (Rosamund Pike) get dressed in Regency style in the 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. (Photo Credit: Universal Pictures/Focus Features via. MovieStillsDB). Right: Women’s drawers. ((Photo Credit: Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

As dress silhouettes changed from voluptuous to slim during the Regency period, one’s undergarments also had to change to ensure they remained unseen. Traditionally, ladies wore layers of petticoats and chemises under their gowns. Sometimes, ladies wore pink stockings to simulate the look of bare skin, while others dampened their chemises to give them a see-through look – tsk tsk!

Perhaps the strangest way Regency women wore undergarments was the fact that they didn’t wear any at all! Around this time, pantaloons became a popular undergarment for women as they took up less valuable real estate underneath well-fitted, “column” style Regency dresses.

Pantaloons covered the legs but left the groin area exposed, making trips to the lady’s room a breeze (no pun intended). Princess Charlotte, George III’s daughter, was especially fond of the pantaloons trend!

Wacky caricatures were all the rage

A cartoon shows the evolution of King George IV as Prince regent.
“The Prince Regent” cartoon, Published by T. Tegg, circa 1816. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain).

Unlike the later 19th century attitudes of the Victorians, Regency folks didn’t take themselves too seriously. Caricatures and cartoons of the period reveal the eccentric side of Regency politics and affairs. Caricatures published in newspapers and pamphlets often depicted politicians, royalty, and nobility in hilarious and sometimes crude situations at the expense of a good laugh.

While cartoons provided comedic relief, they were also an accessible way to inform the public about newsworthy events in the community – even if they depicted the Prince Regent’s backside or the hilariously self-indulgent “dandy” trend.

Opium was the trendy party drug

Opium pods
A view of opium poppy growing in a field in Kashmir, India. (Photo Credit: Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Drug use wasn’t uncommon in Regency England. In fact, both upper and lower classes were known to enjoy illicit substances. Opium was especially popular at the time, known to help you relax or inhibit creativity it was often advertised to the social elite as gold-coated pills or powder mixed with expensive spices.

If opium wasn’t your thing, other popular powders like snuff – smokeless, finely ground tobacco – were used by royalty and commoners alike.

The Prince Regent was an obese alcoholic

George IV and his wife Caroline as two large green bags during the Regency Era
Regency Era cartoon depicts George IV and his wife Caroline as “two green bags”. (Photo Credit: George Cruikshank/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

As a young man, the Prince Regent George IV was the most desirable bachelor in the country, but he soon became remembered for his overindulgent eating patterns, long list of ailments, and wide waistline. The Prince Regent supposedly began each day with two pigeons, three steaks, three parts of a bottle of white wine, a glass of dry champagne, two glasses of port, and a glass of brandy to wash it all down.

Some accounts claim it took three hours to squeeze the Prince into a girdle and whalebone corset. He soon developed gout and blindness, dying in 1830 at 67 years old after only ten years as the official King of England. At the time of his death, he weighed over 300 pounds, and the walls of the palace had to be lined with wood panels to prevent his coffin from wrecking valuable architecture should the weight overtake the pallbearers.

Parmesan ice cream, anyone?

Parmesan cheese
Parmesan cheese ice cream was popular in the Regency Era. (Photo Credit: Art Images via Getty Images)

More from us: The Biggest Historical Mistakes Found In ‘Bridgerton’

Ice cream was a popular dessert in the Regency era, with flavors like hazelnut, lemon, burnt sugar, lavender, elderflower, rum, and – there’s no way you could guess this one – Parmesan cheese. We aren’t entirely sure why this flavor gained popularity at the time, but we’re glad to leave it in the past.

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

The Digital Dust Podcast