How much of Netflix’s Regency romp Bridgerton is historically accurate?
It was only released on Netflix on Christmas Day but Regency romp Bridgerton has already caused a stir, with viewers likening it to a Georgian Gossip Girl and others praising its vibrant extravagance as ideal escapism.
The eight part series, produced by Shonda Rhimes, follows Daphne Bridgerton (played by Coronation Street actress Sally Dynevor’s daughter Phoebe) and her seven close-knit siblings as they navigate the London marriage markey in 1813.
But the show’s representation of the Regency era has had many viewers questioning how much of it can truly be described as historically accurate, from its over-the-top costumes to casting black and biracial actors as members of high society.
The show’s costume designer Ellen Mirojnick recently said the production used ‘many modern elements’, telling Tatler: ‘The point was to take that Regency period as a foundation, and not betray it in any way, but we didn’t want to make it a history lesson.’
So, how much of the series is fact, and how much is simply fiction? Here FEMAIL fact-checks just how accurate Bridgerton really is…
Queen Charlotte had some African heritage
Queen Charlotte is played by British actress Golda Rosheuvel, 49, in the new period drama, which goes with the theory that the monarch had ‘some African background’
Who was Queen Charlotte and why do some claim she was of African descent?
Sophia Charlotte ( Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; May 19 1744 – November 17 1818) was the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg and his wife Princess Elisabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen.
Mecklenburg-Strelitz was a duchy in what is now northern Germany but was then part of the Holy Roman Empire.
The theory that she may have had African ancestry was popularised by historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom.
Sophia Charlotte ( Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; May 19 1744 – November 17 1818) was the wife of King George the III and served as Queen of England and Ireland from her wedding in 1761 until her death
He argued that portraits of her show she had African features which were also noted by her contemporaries.
Despite her German heritage, he claimed in a blog for American investigative programme PBS Frontline that she was distantly descended from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family.
He said she was related to Margarita de Castro e Souza, a 15th-Century Portuguese noblewoman whose own ancestry traces back to 13th-Century King Alfonso III and his lover Madragana.
Valdes claimed Madragana was a Moor and therefore a black African.
However, historian Kate Williams told The Guardian that ‘if we class Charlotte as black’ because of the alleged distant heritage, ‘then ergo Queen Victoria and our entire royal family, [down to Prince Harry, are also black’.
Referring to the portrait of Charlotte by Sir Allan Ramsay, Valdes wrote that it had ‘negroid characteristics’ even though ‘Artists of that period were expected to play down, soften or even obliterate undesirable features in a subject’s face.’
He adds: ‘[But] Sir Allan Ramsay was the artist responsible for the majority of the paintings of the queen, and his representations of her were the most decidedly African of all her portraits.’
Valdes suggests that Ramsay was an anti-slavery campaigner who may have stressed the true ‘African characteristics’ of Charlotte for political reasons.
But Desmond Shawe-Taylor, the Surveyor of the Queen’s pictures, previously said of the same portrait, ‘I can’t see it to be honest.’
‘We’ve got a version of the same portrait. I look at it pretty often and it’s never occurred to me that she’s got African features of any kind. It sounds like the ancestry is there and it’s not impossible it was reflected in her features, but I can’t see it.’
He added that none of the caricatures of Charlotte held at the British Museum show her as African. He said that they would likely do so if she was ‘visibly’ of African descent.
Queen Charlotte is played by British actress Golda Rosheuvel, 49, in the new period drama, which has been compared to the enormously popular Downton Abbey.
American author Julia Quinn, whose book series of the same name inspired the show, has backed the ‘colour-conscious’ casting, saying that ‘many historians’ believe Queen Charlotte had ‘some African background’.
The theory that Charlotte – who was born into an aristocratic German family and became Queen Consort in 1761 after her marriage to George III – had African ancestry is partly based on how she looks in some portraits, which some historians claim show she had stereotypical African features.
The idea that the King’s consort was black was partly popularised by historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom.
Mr De Valdes y Cocom claims to have traced her descent from a mistress of the 13th-Century Portuguese King Alfonso III, who may have been a Moor from North Africa.
However, other historians are sceptical of this theory about Charlotte. Historian Kate Williams previously said ‘if we class Charlotte as black’ because of the alleged distant heritage, ‘then ergo Queen Victoria and our entire royal family, [down] to Prince Harry, are also black’.
Speaking in an interview with The Times, Ms Quinn said: ‘Many historians believe she had some African background.
‘It’s a highly debated point and we can’t DNA test her so I don’t think there’ll ever be a definitive answer.’
The Netflix show also casts several other black actors, a decision which Ms Quinn said was made ‘very deliberately’.
‘It was very much a conscious choice, not a blind choice,’ she added.
There were multiple prominent black and biracial families in Regency London
The drama has been praised for its rich and diverse cast, which sees black and biracial actors portraying some of the most prominent characters.
The Duke of Hastings is played by Regé-Jean Page, a British-Zimbabwean actor, while his guardian Lady Danbury is portrayed by esteemed British-Ghanian actress Adjoa Andoh.
But race and race relations are rarely mentioned in the plot, with a brief mention occuring in episode 4.
The scene sees Simon reminded by Lady Danbury that there were once two separate societies divided by color until the king fell in love with Queen Charlotte, a Black woman.
She says: ‘Look at our Queen. Look at our King. Look at their marriage. Look at everything it is doing for us, allowing us to become.
‘We were two separate societies divided by colour, until a King fell in love with one of us. Love, Your Grace, conquers all.’
Nicola Coughlan, who plays Penelope Featherington, recently tweeted: ‘If you’re seeing Bridgerton and thinking it’s anachronistic because it’s brilliantly diverse and in glorious technicolour – you are correct.
‘We are serving you *Fantasy* Regency London. Bright, Bold, & Beautiful.’
But just how accurate is the portrayal of a diverse London in the 1700s?
In 1764, The Gentleman’s Magazine estimated the number of black people living in London to be 20,000 and growing.
Throughout the 1780s and 90’s, there was a great deal of unease over the slave trade among the middle and working classes. In response, two nationwide petitions were organised.
In 1792 the House resolved by 230 votes to 85 that the slave trade should be gradually abolished, and finally, in 1807, the trading in and capture of slaves was abolished within the British Empire.
Throughout Britain, black people started to establish communities, concentrating around the large industrial towns and ports.
They also began to make increasing numbers of the army and royal navy.
There was a trend to have young black boys act as pages, due to the contrast the dark skin provided to the whiteness of their owners.
The pages would be given classical Roman and Greek names and dressed in silks and satins.
Their job was to attend to the whims of their masters and mistresses.
The fashion passed in the early nineteenth century. However, the young black boys grew up as footmen, valets and tradesmen.
But while there are several prominent Regency black figures, it appears highly unlikely many would have been able to move seamlessly through high society in the way that characters do in Bridgerton.
Among them was Dido Elizabeth Belle, who was the daughter of Sir John Lindsay, a Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy.
She was brought up in aristocratic London society and lived in Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath.
The accounts of her relationship with the family comment on the affection with which she was held.
Another was William Davidson, who was born in Jamaica and came to Scotland at the age of 14 to study law. He went on to become a popular cabinet maker.
The Duke of Hastings, played by Regé-Jean Page, a British-Zimbabwean actor, is just one of the prominent biracial characters in Netflix’s Bridgerton (pictured, with Lady Danbury, played by esteemed British-Ghanian actress Adjoa Andoh)
Meanwhile Olaudah Equiano, who was worn in Eboe region of the Kingdom of Benin, now Nigeria, in 1745, was a prominent author and merchant.
Among those prominent black figures in Regency England was Olaudah Equiano, who wrote the successful memoir, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, which helped sway the public to favour abolition, and married a white English woman
Enslaved at age of 11, Olaudah was renamed Gustavus Vassa by one of his owners before he was sold to a merchant captain who allowed him to buy his freedom.
He spent the rest of his days an explorer and merchant before settling in England and beginning his successful memoir, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, which helped sway the public to favour abolition.
He went on to marry an English woman.
Meanwhile Colonel Edward, who was an Irish officer in the service of the British Crown, married his Jamaican wife, Catherine in 1785.
Catherine was well-educated and socialized with other English officers and their wives.
Though his family did not accept her, their marriage was not publicly challenged and she was said to be well-liked among the officers.
At the time of the Despards’ arrival in London, the virtue of openly mixed race marriages was being championed by Equiano.
In his autobiography, he asked: ‘Why not establish intermarriage at home, and in our colonies, and encourage open, free and generous love, upon Nature’s own wide and extensive plan, subservient only to moral rectitude, without distinction of the colour of a skin?’
VERDICT: MOSTLY FALSE
Women would have a wardrobe full of racy outfits in bawdy colours and over-the-top designs
While the characters within the series wear a collection of bawdy dresses in over-the-top designs, it’s unlikely those in Regency London would have worn such vibrant garments
Throughout each episode, characters can be seen adorned in a host of colourful and glittery outfits, often changing from one garment into another for different parts of the day.
Costume designer Ellen said it was a ‘basic truth’ that the girls would ‘change their clothes a lot’, telling Harper’s Bazaar: ‘They wore a different dress to every ball, aside from the amount of dresses that would take place from morning ’til dinner.’
The design department ended up building a wardrobe of over 7,500 costume pieces for the drama.
But there is a modern twist to the way the women dress in the series, with Ellen explaining the department adopted a ‘more-is-more’ approach to costumes.
She said: ‘We have increased the amount of glitter, increased the amount of colour, increased the over embellishing. We have done things that actually can relate a little bit more to today’s point of view.’
Meanwhile she also revealed how she used see-through fabrics to ‘sex-up’ certain outfits, and added jewellery and dazzling hair pieces to give a more contemporary feel to the garments.
VERDICT: PARTLY TRUE
Noble men would avoid having children in order to let bloodline die out
One of the key plot points in the drama is Simon Basset’s insistence that he does not want to have children.
The aristocrat is determined not to become a father because he wants to allow his bloodline to die out due to his own family’s cruelty.
Yet historian’s widely regard this attitude was unlikely to have occurred at the time, with historian Amanda Vickery blasting it as one of the most implausible elements of the series.
She said: ‘A peer determined not to have children would be absurd.’
However, she added that those keen to avoid having an heir would likely use withdrawal as a method of birth control, as Simon does in the series.
One of the key plot points in the drama is Simon’s insistence that he does not want to have children, but historians argue this attitude would have been highly implausible
Women would be referred to as ‘the Right Honourable’
Within the first half hour of the opening episode, young women being introduced to the Queen are referred to as ‘the Right Honourable’.
However, this isn’t the way women would have been referred to.
While Viscounts and Earls would be introduced as ‘the Right Honourable’, women would actually be called ‘the Honourable.’
Gossipy tabloids would name and shame when reporting the business of aristocratic families
Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers acts as a gossipy tabloid which reports the scandals and secrets of the aristocratic families in the series
Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers acts as a gossipy tabloid which reports the scandals and secrets of the aristocratic families in the series.
Amanda, whose book ‘The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London’ explores the celebrity culture of the era, said it is factually accurate that the period was incredibly gossipy.
She said: ‘The newspapers were full of all kinds of saucy details about what people are getting up to.’
One publication documented the scandals of London’s upper crust with a feature called Tête-à-Tête.
However, unlike Lady Whistledown’s tabloid splashes where individuals are named and shamed, the papers of the period would have made more of an effort to disguise the identity of its subjects.
Having a stutter could make a person a social outcast
Simon’s backstory reveals he had a stutter throughout his childhood, leading his father, the Duke of Hastings, to banish him from his home
In the second episode of the series, Simon’s backstory is revealed, showing that he struggled with a stutter throughout his childhood.
When his father, the Duke of Hastings (Richard Pepple), discovered his son had a stutter, he called him an ‘imbecile’ and said he never wanted to see him again.
Lady Danbury, who was his mother’s best friend, stepped in and helped him overcome the stutter in order to help him become a man.
However, his father’s reaction is unlikely to have been as presented. Many people with learning difficulties or disabilities would have been supported by family and friends during the period.
Keeping the disabled person in a familiar setting and among people who loved them was undoubtedly the best option for families with enough money to do so, as the Hastings family did.
In fact, in the golden age of portrait painting at the end of the 18th century, three remarkable deaf miniaturists, Richard Crosse (1742-1810), Sampson Towgood Roch (1759-1847) and Charles Shirreff (1750-1831) flourished as high society artists in London and Bath. Crosse became a court painter in enamel to George III.
The Bridgerton family were the centre of London’s aristocratic scene in 1813
The premise for the series is based on Julia Quinn’s best-selling novels, and the main Bridgerton family (pictured) are completely fictional
The premise of the series is based on Julia Quinn’s best-selling novels, and the main Bridgerton family is completely fictional.
Meanwhile Dame Julie Andrews’ Lady Whistledown, as well as all the dukes and lords, were also made up by Quinn.
In an interview with Goodreads.com, the author confessed she had initially planned to only write three children into the Bridgerton family, adding: ‘For the life of me, I can’t remember why I gave Daphne seven brothers and sisters.’
Corsets were so uncomfortable that women developed blisters from the undergarment
Comfort ‘didn’t come into the conversation’ for actors while they were tugged into tight corsets, according to the series’ costume designer
Women in the series can be seen gasping for air when they are pulled tightly into corsets, as well as struggling with blistering around the edges of their under garments.
Ellen told Harper’s Bazaar that comfort didn’t ‘come into the conversation’ when it came to corsets, adding: ‘It isn’t as comfortable as wearing a sports bra – no how, no way.’
The garments for the programme were created by famous corset maker Mr Pearl, who is fashion’s most notorious corset maker.
However, the costume department mainly dressed the women in half corsets, which extend to the top of the ribs, rather than full-body corsets, which extend down to the waist and feel more restrictive.
True to the period, the focus of the silhouettes was the bosom, with the corsets acting as a ‘push-up’ for each woman’s chest.
Eligible men and women took part in a six-month social season to find life-long partners
As depicted in the series, each year a group of blue-blooded British families travelled to London for social season, which would last for around six months
As depicted in the series, each year a group of blue-blooded British families travelled to London for social season.
The six-month period would start when the young women from noble families, usually in their late teenage years, would be presented before Queen Charlotte at a ball.
The rest of the season would be packed with balls, concerts, dinners and lavish parties to bring together eligible young men and women.
The show’s historical consultant Hannah Greig told the LA Times the purpose was to ‘control the pool of suitors’ in order to keep ‘power and money’ within a ‘small circle of society’.
And, while women like Daphne would have some control over who they courted publicly and danced with, there would have been huge pressure to secure a marriage within a single season.
Women had little to no knowledge of sex education
Women in the Regency era would have had ‘nothing in the way of a formal sex education’ and would have to conceal any knowledge they had in order to appear pure
Women in the series are shown to have very little knowledge of sex, with Eloise and Penelope even embarking on a discussion to learn how babies are made.
In the second episode, Eloise (Claudia Jessie) is baffled to hear of an unmarried maid who has become pregnant.
She later discusses the experience with her mother, who uses vague metaphors about rain to try to explain the birds and the bees.
And during one of the more shocking scenes in the series, Daphne is shown how to masturbate by her faux-lover Simon Basset (Rege-Jean Page).
She later turns to her maid, Rose (Molly McGlynn) to ask for some more intimate details about sex.
Lesley A. Hall, a historian of gender and sexuality, said there would have been ‘nothing in the way of a formal sex education’, telling LA Times that mothers were unlikely to have provided any ‘illuminating’ information about sex.
She added: ‘Doubtless her mother would have tutored her on the importance of submitting to her husband and producing an heir and a spare.’
Meanwhile she said sisters or friends could have provided ‘some information’ to hapless brides. But Lesley explained any knowledge a women had about sex would have to be concealed on a wedding night in order to ensure the bride appeared pure.
Maids would create blush and other make-up to help their mistresses prepare for soirées
Obvious make-up was not the done thing during the Regency period, however rouge was tolerated (pictured, Daphne with a light rouge on her cheeks)
During the early episodes of the series, Daphne’s maid Rose assists her in getting ready by applying rouge to her cheeks.
Obvious make-up was not the done thing during the Regency period, however rouge was tolerated.
Women would not have been permitted to attend university
Daphne’s sister Eloise speaks desperately of wanting to go to university and educate herself
TRUE OR FALSE? TRUE
In the second episode of the series, Daphne’s sister Eloise speaks desperately of wanting to go to university and educate herself.
While schools for young ladies were available, many of them in and around Bath, and others would educate their daughters at home or hire a governess to do so, it’s highly likely that women would not have been permitted to attend university, as Eloise dreams of doing.
Boxing was a popular past-time
TRUE OR FALSE? TRUE
Boxing is displayed as a popular past-time throughout the series, with characters including Simon and Anthony hopping into the ring to practice the sport.
Meanwhile during the fourth episode, the characters watch a boxing match, with Daphne attending with Prince Frederick.
The era of Regency England is widely considered the peak of British boxing, when the champion of bare-knuckle boxing in Britain was considered to be the world champion as well.
From 1780 the sport became both fashionable and popular, with the support of the Prince of Wales and the Dukes of York and Clarence.
The Mirror of the Graces: Or, The English Lady’s Costume (first published in 1811) illustrates the point: ‘Good sense must so preside over its application, that its tint on the cheek may always be fainter than what nature’s pallet would have painted.
‘A violently rouged woman is one of the most disgusting objects to the eye.’
Homemade make-up, as Rose uses on Daphne, was very popular in the Regency period, with many magazines and housekeeping books offering advice on crafting make-up.
An aristocrat would not have been allowed to marry an opera singer
Within moments of the first episode, Daphne’s eldest brother Anthony is seen secretly having sex with a opera singer, Siena (Sabrina Bartlett).
He even rents her an apartment on the other side of town.
He insists that he doesn’t want to marry and says he relies on one of his brothers to have an heir to carry on their family name.
It’s quickly revealed that Lady Violet Bridgerton knows about his love affair, and she tells him that in order to act like the leader of the family, he must break up with Siena.
Anthony goes on to break off their romance.
In real Regency Britain, societal rules would have prevented Siena from marrying into the aristocracy.
The Young Husband’s Book (1839) cautioned young men to avoid women of bad reputation, low status, those who loved money, or were stupid.
Duelling was illegal
After catching Simon kissing his sister Daphne in the fourth episode of the series, Anthony challenges Simon to a duel.
However, if he isn’t killed in the duel, Anthony will be required to flee the country because duels are illegal.
At the duel the next morning, Simon and Anthony are preparing to shoot when Daphne rides a horse right into the centre of their fight and stops it.
Duelling had largely fallen out of favour in England by the mid-19th century and the last duel between British men on English soil was in 1845.
This meant there wasn’t any need for a specific new law to stop duelling, as existing legislation to do with violence, manslaughter and murder already covered all aspects of the practice.
The largest group of duellists were military officers, and so in 1844 Prince Albert implemented a change to the Articles of War, which meant the sending and accepting of challenges was banned.
This means that while duelling itself was not technically illegal, Anthony would have been breaking the law if he had taken part in the duel.
Queen Charlotte enjoyed indulging in snuff
Throughout the drama, the Queen is seen sniffing snuff, which was a form of dried tobacco, which users could grind into a fine, powdery substance and sniff for a similar high to smoking
The Queen is first seen sniffing the substance during episode two, entitled Shock and Delight, during a scene with Daphne’s mother.
She takes out out a snuff box and proceeds to snort the substance off the back of her hand, with the habit continuing throughout the drama.
Snuff is a form of dried tobacco, which users could grind into a fine, powdery substance and sniff for a similar high to smoking.
Queen Charlotte was certainly addicted to snuff, which was extremely popular during the 1800s among all social classes – with a ‘snuff box’ becoming the height of fashion.
The wife of King George III was even known as ‘Snuffy Charlotte’ and had an entire room at Windsor Castle devoted to her stock of the dried tobacco.
Following her death in 1818 her vast stock of the powdered tobacco was sold by auction at Christies. Both King George and their son George IV also bought large quantities of snuff.
Fireworks were a popular way to mark social occasions
In the first episode of the show Anthony announces to Daphne that she’s to marry Nigel Berbrooke as he fits the criteria for a good husband.
After storming off to a secluded section of the garden in a rage, Berbrooke finds her there and tries to pursue her despite her objections, with Anthony rushing to Daphne’s defence.
Simon proposes a courtship and they head to the dance floor with fireworks in the background.
Fireworks are thought to have been used in the UK from the late 13th century onwards, gaining mass popularity 200 years later with the first documented use of fireworks in the UK at the wedding of King Henry VII in 1486.
Royals had always been fond of firework displays, with Elizabeth I such a lover of them she appointed her own ‘Fire Master’ to oversee royal displays.
During the first episode of the series, Simon and Daphne are seen dancing at a lavish evening event with fireworks exploding around them