The Regency seems to be the era for dashing men! Jane Austen’s novels are stuffed full of hunks riding up on horseback to perform acts of gallantry. But then, of course, beware of Regency rakes such as Mr Wickham who are gorgeous but feckless.
My forthcoming book The Angel and the Cad is a true story featuring some of the most delectable men of the period – the Duke of Wellington, Lord Byron and Beau Brummel to name a few. These men are significant because they were hugely influential public figures that helped to shape the era as well as the way we live today.
Mass produced newspapers enabled celebrity culture
The Regency was a seminal time of innovation and ingenuity, when ideas and ideals were changing rapidly. Inventions such as the steam powered press enabled London to emerge as the first truly modern metropolis with booming consumerism, a buoyant fashion industry, mass media and celebrity culture.
So here’s the low-down on some of the earliest celebrity heartthrobs…
- William Wellesley Pole – ‘the CAD’ in my book – was considered ‘the finest young dandy’ of the Regency era. He epitomised male desirability. Even Jane Austen was intrigued by him. William was a brilliant athlete, famous for his waltzing, equestrian skills and beautifully sculpted physique. If he was around today he would probably be modelling underwear for Calvin Klein.
- Pros: He’d make you laugh. He’s exciting and utterly gorgeous. He was nicknamed Mr Long Pole – I’m sure you can work out why!
- Cons: He’d make you cry. He’s reckless. There’d always be other women.
- Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington – the great military commander led forces that liberated Spain and Portugal and ended years of conflict in Europe. He was the epitome of a knight in shining armour – valiant, gallant and honourable.
- Pros: He’s so dashing in uniform (swoon). He was so mesmerising that he was always surrounded by a throng of women. One observer noted, ‘the adoration of the ladies for the Duke was given the name “la nouvelle religion”’.
- Cons: Too much competition! He’d hardly ever be home – too busy being heroic.
- George, Lord Byron is regarded as one of Britain’s greatest poets. His work remains widely read and influential, including his romantic short lyric:
She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies…
- Pros: The poet was brilliant, handsome and passionate.
- Cons: He was ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know’.
- George, ‘Beau’ Brummel revolutionized the British fashion industry with his sharply cut Savile Row suits. He created the definitive style of the English gentleman – the tailored suit – which remains popular today worldwide. A statue of him now stands in Jermyn Street, in the heart of London’s most select menswear boutiques.
- Pros: His acid wit and sharp observations were legendry. He was a trendsetter, much admired and copied. He transformed male grooming by persuading men that they should wash every day (hurrah).
- Cons: Too critical and high maintenance. He’d be too busy preening to pay you any attention.
- The Prince Regent (later George IV) – he presided over society, influencing British style, taste and culture. He helped to establish the National Gallery and Kings College London and was instrumental in shaping the landscape of modern London. His favourite architect John Nash designed and laid out public spaces and ceremonial thoroughfares: Pall Mall, Piccadilly Circus, Regent’s Street and Regent’s Park.
- Pros: Thomas Lawrence’s official portrait implies that he was rather debonair.
- Cons: The reality was rather different (see below) – a bit like turning up for a date and finding the guy is nothing like his profile picture!
- Fitzwilliam Darcy – Okay, maybe this is stretching it slightly! But William Wellesley Pole was hot news when Jane Austen was writing Pride and Prejudice – it is possible that the fictional Mr Darcy is based on the image of William that was built up in the press.
- Pros: This picture says it all
- Cons: Occasionally he’s haughty and proud (but it’s a small price to pay).
Mr Darcy is probably the most compelling romantic hero of all time, and he continues to epitomise male desirability. However, I hope that the real life characters in my book will show why the Regency really was the golden age of dashing men.
The countdown has started – it is now just three months to publication of The Angel and the Cad. I’m very proud that the launch date coincides with the bi-centennial of Waterloo – 18 June 2015. Various talks and books signings are being arranged. I will post a schedule of events in the coming weeks.