Blackadder The Third: Truth Vs Fiction

The third series sees Blackadder reduced to the status of a mere servant – albeit to the Prince Regent himself. How historically accurate is it all, though?

Blackadder and the Prince Regent

GEORGE'S PERSONALITY

IN THE SHOW:

George, the Prince Regent, is a complete and utter dunce who can barely put his own trousers on in the morning, and leads a pampered life of wine, women and indulgence.

IN REALITY:

To be fair to the real Prince Regent, he wasn't quite the nincompoop portrayed by Hugh Laurie. He was a passionate patron of the arts for one thing, and is known as one of the best-read monarchs ever to reign in Britain, being a particular fan of Jane Austen. On the other hand, he WAS famously decadent and self-indulgent, with an uncontrollable taste for rich food and strong alcohol. Indeed, he was rather larger than the rail-thin Hugh Laurie, with his obesity a source of much mirth and ridicule.

As a journalist wrote, the Regent preferred "a girl and a bottle to politics and a sermon", and a typical breakfast could include "two pigeons and three beefsteaks, three parts of a bottle of Mozelle, a glass of dry Champagne, two glasses of Port and a glass of Brandy". He was also a rampant womaniser with a string of mistresses to his name.

GEORGE'S DEBTS

IN THE SHOW:

Despite being a prince and presumably not short of a few bob, the Prince Regent is revealed to be dead broke thanks to his reckless, spendthrift ways.

IN REALITY:

Blackadder gets this one absolutely right. According to contemporary records, George amassed a deficit of around £630,000 - which in today's money would be almost £60 million. A quite flabbergasting sum, which required the timely intervention of Parliament to help relieve his financial woes.

It also meant he had to agree to marry his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick (in Blackadder, she is merely mentioned as a possible match). It was one of the most disastrous marriages in royal history - on setting eyes on his bride for the first time, George apparently said "I am not well, pray get me a glass of brandy." He spent the wedding night drunk and unconscious by a fireplace.

DR JOHNSON'S DICTIONARY

IN THE SHOW:

Renowned writer Dr Samuel Johnson proudly unveils his Dictionary, which he has written single-handedly. His adoring groupies include the Romantic poets Byron, Shelley and Coleridge.

IN REALITY:

Dr Johnson, despite being declared a pompous cretin by Blackadder, was indeed the greatest literary figure of his age, still worshipped by critics and readers today. He also did write his Dictionary single-handedly: an immense achievement which took him almost a decade and has been hailed as "one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship" in history. Some of the definitions are also rather witty, with "oats" defined as "a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people".

There are a few glaring historical errors in Blackadder's version of events, however. For one thing, Dr Johnson published the Dictionary decades before the era of the Prince Regent. Indeed, Johnson died before George was even born. On top of that, the poets Coleridge, Byron and Shelley came to prominence many years after Johnson's heyday, and they would never have met.

THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL

IN THE SHOW:

London is excited about the Scarlet Pimpernel, a daring and mysterious outlaw who rescues French aristocrats from the guillotine.

IN REALITY:

The Scarlet Pimpernel never existed, and was the creation of a writer from the early 20th Century, who set the template for the modern superhero. The Pimpernel even has a Clark Kent-like alter-ego: an apparently ordinary English fop and aristocrat called Sir Percy. However, even if we think of the Pimpernel as a real historical figure, he would actually have been active during the Reign of Terror, during the darkest days of the French Revolution, which was many years before the Regency period.

THE LUDDITES

IN THE SHOW:

While attending a play, the Prince Regent is threatened by an anarchist terrorist who shouts "Smash the spinning Jenny! Burn the rolling Rosalind! Destroy the going-up-and-down-a-bit-and-then-moving-along Gertrude!"

IN REALITY:

The Regency era did in fact witness mass uprisings by angry labourers and craftsmen who were enraged by the advent of technology which threatened to make them obsolete. These protestors were known as the Luddites, and they destroyed machinery such as the "spinning Jenny" textile machine referenced in Blackadder. The Luddites were eventually met by force, with many shot or executed before the movement died away. That said, the word "Luddite" is still used to describe technophobes today.