views updated May 14 2018


REGENCY. A regent took the place of a monarch when the latter departed the realm, suffered incapacity, or succeeded to the throne at an age too young to rule. In the best circumstances, the king himself, prior to his final illness or on the eve of a departure, designated the regent, ordinarily favoring his mother or his queen or another close relative. In medieval England, however, even a high administrator or esteemed noble could serve. Although barons and royal councils in England and France, the most developed monarchies, might temper the regents' powers, tradition and precedent eventually accorded them the same powers as a king, no matter that they ruled temporarily. In early modern Europe, France experienced the most, and the most consequential, regencies, starting with the reign of Francis I (ruled 15151547). Preparing to wage war in Italy, Francis assigned the regency to his mother, Louise of Savoy, in keeping with what was then a long tradition. Louise served longer than Francis anticipated, because after his defeat at Pavia (1525), the king underwent captivity in Italy and Spain. Despite the ensuing pressure, Louise governed capably in 15251526, defending the realm against military threats and scoring diplomatic successes.

Catherine de Médicis, queen of France by virtue of her marriage to Henry II (ruled 15471559), became regent in 1560 when their son, and Henry's successor, Francis II (ruled 15591560), fell ill and died. Serving until 1564, when her second surviving son, Charles IX (ruled 15601574), came of age, she experienced a turbulent regency, marked by a deepening religious crisis, intensified by the court struggles between such great families as the Catholic Guise and the Calvinist Bourbons. But she at least preserved the fullness of royal power during a difficult time.

Henry IV (ruled 15891610) named his queen, Marie de Médicis, as regent just before his planned departure for a military campaign in 1610. Her regency began almost at once, however, because Henry died unexpectedly at the hands of an assassin. Once again, domestic and international pressures threatened the kingdom, if not the monarchy itself. But Marie and her councillors improved relations with Spain, the strongest European power, gaining a respite from war; conciliated and bought off the great nobles, without yielding to their larger ambitions; and preserved royal power intact during the Estates-General of 16141615. The coup d'état of 1617 by which her son Louis XIII (ruled 16101643) terminated, and thus tarnished, her government, obscured her achievements among historians for some time.

As his death approached, Louis XIII established his queen, Anne of Austria, as the regent apparent. Her regency lasted from 1643 to 1651, although her son Louis XIV (ruled 16431715) left her and her first minister, Jules Mazarin, in charge of affairs until 1661. This regency, the most troubled in French history, coincided with the final stages of the Thirty Years' War (16181648) and then the domestic upheaval and civil war known as the Fronde (16481653), when the absolute monarchy teetered on the verge of collapse. But, once again, the resolution of the queen regent, and this time the cunning of Mazarin, brought the monarchy through another crisis.

Louis XIV outlived his queen, Marie-Thérèsa, by thirty-two years and at his death in 1715 left the regency to his nephew, Philippe, duke of Orléans (16741723). In French history, this regency (17151723) stands out as the most successful and Philippe II as the regent par excellence. Philippe was articulate, affable, even irresistibly charming, and intellectually gifted. He was a discriminating connoisseur of painting and music and experimented with chemistry. Although physically unimpressive and acutely nearsighted, he proved his courage on the battlefield. Along with his gifts, however, Philippe suffered from the defect of irresolution that, more than his sexual appetite, which he indulged to the point of debauchery, threatened his regency.

At the death of Louis XIV, France had just emerged from more than twenty years of ruinous war; and it remained to be seen if the recent peace was merely a truce. Because of the wars, Philippe inherited a depleted treasury and a mountain of debt. The Parlement of Paris, along with its provincial counterparts, had grown restless under the repression of Louis XIV and hoped for a political comeback. Religious tensions now centered upon Jansenism, a version of Catholicism that church authorities deemed heretical. Philippe himself, despite his personal charm, had over the years antagonized some very important people. Many of these, especially his great rival, Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, the duke of Maine, the natural son of Louis XIV, now sat on the regency council, where Philippe had to cope with factions arrayed against him.

Louis de Rouvroy Saint-Simon, his lifelong friend, whose memoirs of the late reign and ensuing regency retain their literary and historical value, at first feared that Philippe, uncertain and anxious to avoid conflict, underestimated the perils that he, and France, faced. In fact, the regent, rising early and working late, was supremely dedicated to his duties and to the five-year-old Louis XV. He soon displayed a resolution that shocked enemies and friends alike.

After a period of compromise and deference, which only emboldened the parlement, Philippe asserted his authority over the tribunal and frightened it back into political submission. At the same time, he drove Maine out of the regency council and overcame the opposition factions there. He restored the late king's unitary council, discarding his experiment with multiple councils (polysynodie) staffed by great nobles. After administering a near-bankruptcy, the regent gave control of finances and the economy to the Scottish financier John Law of Lauriston (16711729), whose experiment with paper currency and banking reform, despite its ultimate failure, lightened the debt load and prepared the way for the commercial prosperity of the new century. The regent, tolerant in matters of religion, dampened the Jansenist dispute. While he did fight a brief (and successful) war against Spain, he also arrayed France diplomatically with the maritime powers Great Britain and the Dutch Republic, a new orientation.

Philippe died in 1723, leaving to Louis XV (17151774) a France in better condition than in 1715, as historians came to see. In addition to maintaining royal authority, Philippe's regency embraced economic and political ideas that pointed distinctly to the future. These achievements, in addition to the cultural glories symbolized by the mature work of the painter Antoine Watteau and the plays and poetry of the emerging Voltaire, best mark his regency.

See also Catherine de Médicis ; France ; Fronde ; Henry IV (France) ; Louis XIII (France) ; Louis XIV (France) ; Louis XV (France) ; Marie de Médicis ; Mazarin, Jules ; Saint-Simon, Louis de Rouvroy .


Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel, and Jean-François Fitou. Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago and London, 2001.

Leclercq, Henri. Histoire de la régence pendant la minorité de Louis XV. 3 vols. Paris, 19211922.

Meyer, Jean. Le régent, 16741723. Paris, 1985.

Petitfils, Jean-Christian. Le régent. Paris, 1986.

Saint-Simon, Louis de Rouvroy. Mémoires de Saint-Simon. Edited by Arthur André Gabriel Michel de Boislisle. 41 vols, plus index. Paris, 18791928.

Shennan, J. H. Philippe, Duke of Orléans: Regent of France, 17151723. London, 1979.

John J. Hurt


views updated May 14 2018

Regency. Though there have been several regencies in British history, the term is usually confined to the period 1810–20 when George, prince of Wales, acted as regent on behalf of George III, who had gone mad. The Whigs confidently expected that the regent would bring in his old friends and began cabinet-making. He did not, and the Tories remained in office throughout the period. It was a time of acute contrasts. Until Waterloo in 1815 the country was still at war, with bread shortages, Luddite riots, and severe distress. The post-war years were no better: agricultural depression, widespread unemployment, and the dislocation of early industrialization fuelled radical protest, exemplified at Peterloo. The fashionable world retained its poise. Beau Brummell, the prince's friend, was the arbiter of elegance. Harriette, Amy, and Fanny Wilson entertained the gentlemen. The prince regent pressed on with his Pavilion at Brighton until the prime minister, Lord Liverpool, pointed out what offence it gave at a time of national distress and warned that the cabinet would not find a penny more. The radicals—Cobbett, Hunt, Hazlitt, and Shelley—and the caricaturists—Cruikshank and Rowlandson—had plenty to aim at. The prevailing taste in architecture, costume, and furniture was severely classical, aiming at balance and restraint, and rarely lapsing into extravagance. The finest monument to the period is the Regent Street and Regent's Park complex, built by John Nash.

J. A. Cannon


views updated Jun 11 2018

Regency. Strictly speaking, the style of English architecture and decoration fashionable during the illness of King George III (1810–20), when George, Prince of Wales (1762–1830), was Regent, but loosely applied to the period from the late 1790s to the accession of King William IV (1830–7). It was essentially Neo-Classical, embracing Egyptian, Greek, and Pompeian motifs, and was much influenced by the Empire style of France. Regency taste was showy, eclectic, and opulent, uninhibitedly drawing on Oriental themes such as Chinoiserie and the Hindoo style, Gothick, and many diverting styles. It was particularly associated with the Picturesque and with the architecture of Nash.


Lampugnani (ed.) & Dinsmoor (1986);
Morley (1993);
H. Osborne (1975);
Parissien (1992a)


views updated May 11 2018

re·gen·cy / ˈrējənsē/ • n. (pl. -cies) the office or period of government by a regent. ∎  a commission acting as regent. ∎  (the Regency) the particular period of a regency, esp. (in Britain) from 1811 to 1820 and (in France) from 1715 to 1723.• adj. (Regency) relating to or denoting British architecture, clothing, and furniture of the Regency or, more widely, of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Regency style was contemporary with the Empire style and shares many of its features: elaborate and ornate, it is generally neoclassical, with a generous borrowing of Greek and Egyptian motifs.


views updated Jun 27 2018

Regency in the UK, the period from 1811–20 when, during the incapacity of George III, the country was ruled by his eldest son as Regent; in particular, relating to or denoting British architecture, clothing, and furniture of the period (1811–20) or, more widely, of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Regency style is generally neoclassical, with a generous borrowing of Greek and Egyptian motifs.

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