Until recently, I was never much interested in the Georgian era. It was just a stop on the way from the perennially popular Tudors and Stuarts to Queen Victoria and the Industrial Revolution. But recently I have been lent one or two choice Georgian history books by friends and my mind, as they say, has been blown!
But what did the Georgians ever do for us, I hear you ask. Well, the Georgian era saw the birth of the British Empire, the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, party politics, the newspaper, the mass middle class, the novel, professional occupations, and so much more. Oh, and there was lots and lots of syphilis and gin (but not necessarily together!)
And now I am hooked and simply cant get enough. The list of Georgian history books I want for Christmas is as long as the list of George IV’s mistresses! If you fancy learning more about the gorgeous Georgians, read on for the best Georgian history books.
Georgian History Books – Famous Personalities
Remember the 2008 film The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley? It was all about the notorious Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire – compulsive gambler, political operator, drug addict, abused wife, adulteress and all round 18th Century It Girl.
The film was inspired by this phenomenal, award-winning biography by Amanda Foreman. I’ve re-read this biography many times and its such a compelling read. It also provides an unique insight into the 18th century world of British politics and is truly hard to put down.
I picked this book up cheap from a local charity shop and quickly became hooked. It read like the 18th Century version of Heat Magazine.
Mary Robinson (nickname Perdita) was 18th Century London’s very own Kim Kardashian. She was a famous beauty, and used it (unknowingly or not) to enrapture men and became the paid mistress of several notable people in London society, including the Prince of Wales himself. Both Mary and Kim knew sex sells. Mary was also a master manipulator of the burgeoning press, and used it to her advantage (again, sound familiar?)
Can you talk about Georgian history without discussing Wellington? Not really.
The Duke of Wellington is perhaps Britain’s greatest ever military hero, famously defeating Napolean at Waterloo in 1815. But what do we really know about Wellington as a man?
Wellington has traditionally been portrayed as cold and aloof but this biography unravels a far more emotionally complex man, while still retaining enough detail to satisfy even the biggest military history buff.
Georgian History Books – Royal History
4. Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court by Lucy Worsley
This book, by one of my favourite historians Lucy Worlsey, is a comprehensive look at the early Hanovarian court of George I and George II.
I’ve recommended it because as well as looking at the actual courtiers, Lucy also studies the available evidence for l the servants that kept the court running. She does it in a really personable and illuminating way, bringing long dead people back to life for the reader. A must-read.
George III – otherwise known as Mad King George or Farmer George – is probably one of the best known British monarchs due to his mental illness. However much less is known about the lives of his six daughters. There is a reason for this. George’s daughters were bought up in a closeted and micro-managed world. Marriages were not actively sought for them, like they were for all other royal princesses. Its a sad story, and such an interesting one.
(Extracts from the book were also very helpful when writing my previous post all about my family’s role in a royal scandal involving Princess Sophia – please check it out)
Georgian History Books – The American Revolution
Naturally, one of the defining moments in 18th Century world history was the American Revolution. For some reason I’ve never been that interested in American history but all that changed when I was lucky enough to see Hamilton The Musical in January (yes, it really is as good as all the hype suggests).
Few people know that the musical is based on the authoritative biography of Hamilton by Ron Chernow, and that Hamilton creator and all round genius Lin Manuael Miranda bought Chernow in as an advisor when he was developing the musical. Could there by any better recommendation?
(P.S. Random claim to fame, but I am distantly related to Samuel Meredith, Second Treasurer of the United States of America who worked under Hamilton)
Georgian History Books – Georgian Society
Back in 2005 Hallie Rubenhold basically re-published this 18th Century bestseller. Covent Garden Ladies was an annual guidebook detailing the names and ‘special skills’ of the London’s numerous prostitutes. Any serious gentleman of pleasure would own a copy.
Understandably, this book comes with an explicit content warning as it provides an eye-opening insight into the seedier side of Georgian London. Its also inspired a spin-off TV show on ITV called Harlots – again, not for the prudish!
This book was lent to me by a friend from my yoga class and is currently on my nightstand. She explained to me that she was related to one of the Lunar Society members, John Whitehurst the clockmaker and scientist. As soon as I found out this amazing fact I knew I had to learn more!
It’s not a book I would typically pick up myself, so I’m really glad I discovered it. Growing up in Wales a lot of my education about the Industrial Revolution was focused on the iron works and coal mines of South Wales, and I feel like I’ve overlooked a lot of the key figures whose ideas truly shaped the world we live in today.
You may have heard of Dr Samuel Johnson before. If you need reminding, he published the first definitive English language dictionary in 1755.
Luckily for us, Dr Johnson was not only obsessed with words but also with the practical details of everyday life in Georgian London. His notes on everyday life provide entertaining details on everything from Georgian underwear to Georgian DIY.
Even though Dr Johnson is writing about a time nearly 300 years ago, there are remarkable parallels with the present day. For example, he writes about the growing gin craze. In 2018 we can see history repeating itself with a second wave of gin mania. He also writes about the capital’s many coffee shops. Again, we can’t move on the high street for Costas and Starbucks. Makes Georgian London seem not that far away.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my quick tour of the best Georgian history books out there. Are there any you think I’ve left off the list?