French fashions, in common with the French language, had been adopted by the English aristocracy as a symbol of ambition and class since the fourteenth century. The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) with France had curtailed British enthusiasm for French fashion but by 1783, when the Prince of Wales had decided to rebuild Carlton House , it was the neo-classical architecture and furnishings of the French court that provided the inspiration.
Henry Holland, the architect appointed by the Prince to oversee the project, was a staunch advocate of the emerging continental neo-classical style and he employed several leading French craftsmen and cabinet-makers to help with the project. Following an early visit to the unfinished house Horace Walpole (1785) wrote, ‘There is an August simplicity that astonished me. You cannot call it magnificent; it is the taste and propriety that strike’ he continued by adding that the decoration was ‘rather classic than French’. The furnishing of Carlton House was completed in 1796 and, although Holland had borrowed heavily from the French Empire Style, he had also established a more subdued English interpretation. This anglicised version of French neo-classical furniture design was soon categorised as the English Regency Style.
We are grateful to Clive Taylor for this contribution.