As an educational organisation, we feel it is our duty, gentle readers, to enlighten you on the realities behind the Netflix show. So with that in mind, scroll down to learn a little more about the real-life people behind the characters, the society of the time, and if there really were gossip papers...

The ton 

Set during the Regency era (1811 – 1820), Bridgerton follows the lavish lives of families within ‘the ton’ and the opulent social seasons they attempt to navigate. But who were the ton and were they really that extravagant? While it may not be quite to Netflix-level standards, the upper classes did lead extremely extravagant lifestyles.  

French for ‘good manners’, the bon ton existed at a time when fashionable society and aristocracy flourished. They consisted of a few hundred wealthy families whose social manners, style choices and codes of conduct filtered down through society and set the tone. This high class of individuals were the celebrities and influencers of their time.  

However, it was not all gilded glasses and embroidered silks. Following Britain’s victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 (marking the end of the Napoleonic Wars) the country experienced a number of social conflicts. This was exasperated by industrialisation, the rising population, and the resulting cycle of prosperity and depression that the country experienced. It was also a time when class identification became more apparent and the terms ‘working class’ and ‘middle class’ were frequently used. However, credit where credit’s due, Shonda Rimes, Bridgerton's executive producer, does touch upon this aspect of society – more so within Eloise’s storyline of Season 2. And who knows, this might be further delved into in the upcoming series?

Bridgerton WEA blog

King George III 

While King George III may only make passing appearances in Bridgerton (with the main attention being on Queen Charlotte), the implication of his mental illness is well-founded. Born in 1735, King George ascended the throne in 1760 and married Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz the following year. The couple has 15 children, and he was noted to be ‘a good man and devoted to his wife’. 

While King, he founded the Royal Academy of Arts and was especially interested in science and agriculture, earning him the name of ‘Farmer George’ by the royal family. It was in the later part of his life that the regent had recurrent and what became permanent mental illness in 1810. This incapacitation lead to his son, George IV, being named Prince Regent in 1811. Historians and medical experts suggest that the behaviours and symptoms point towards bipolar disorder or porphyria, however, these are only suggestions and can not be confirmed. King George III lived until 1820, having reigned for 59 years and 96 days; this makes him the longest-reigning male monarch in Britain's history.   

Queen Charlotte  

Played by the fabulous Golda Rosheuval, Queen Charlotte is a central character within Bridgerton. But who was the woman? Born and raised in Germany, Charlotte wed King George III when she was just 17. Their union lasted for 57 years and was referred to as an ‘unusually happy marriage’. However, as his illness became more prevalent, Charlotte took to sleeping in separate bedrooms, having meals apart and generally avoiding seeing him alone. She also developed a temper and sank into periods of depression. Scenes throughout Bridgerton do hint at Charlotte’s withdrawal from her husband. There is debate between historians as to whether Queen Charlotte was Black. Research has found that she was a descendant of Margarita de Castro y Sousa, ‘a Black branch of the Portuguese royal house’, however most historians reject this theory. 

Things that Bridgerton got correct? She did meet Mozart! Something mentioned offhand on the show, Queen Charlotte met and sang alongside Wolfgang Mozart when he was only 8. He even dedicated his Opus 3 to her and dedicated 6 sonatas to her. And yes, she really did keep zebras. Given to her as a wedding present, Charlotte kept a zebra in Buckingham House (later to become Buckingham Palace) which paid host to a regular influx of crowds who came to see the animal.  

Something the show got wrong? Following King George III’s incapacitation, it was the King’s son George IV who took over the throne, rather than Queen Charlotte. Indeed, it was an initial source of conflict between her and her son, before their eventual reconciliation. Both mother and son enjoyed the arts and together they brought about an era of cultural achievement and refinement in the country. Queen Charlotte died in 1818 having served for 57 years and 70 days. 

Fun fact: During her time as Queen, she founded a number of orphanages and introduced the Christmas tree to Britain!

Bridgerton blog WEA

Gossip papers 

Gossip papers did actually exist! There was a little more anonymity surrounding the subjects as shown in the series, however these were loosely disguised (for instance ‘Lady D’ instead of ‘Lady Danbury’) meaning most people could discern the character in question. Just like in Bridgerton, these papers could seriously affect a person's social standing, and could result in a person’s temporary exile, or removal to the countryside while rumours quietened down... 

Interested in learning more about amazing periods and people throughout time? Explore our range of online and local history courses and join us as we delve back in time!

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About the author

Kay Field

Digital Marketing Officer

Kay is the Digital Marketing Officer at the WEA.