Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: George IV

George IV was king in the early 19th century, having been Prince Regent for nine years previously.

He has few, if any, rivals for the title of our most unpleasant monarch. Perhaps the nicest thing about him was his nickname "Prinny". although towards the end of his life this had changed to "Prince of Whales".

George was born at St. James`s Palace in London in 1762, the eldest son of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg.

Unlike so many of the Hanoverians, George did not have an unhappy childhood, indeed his parents doted on him. He also had a fine education, mostly at Kew Palace, and this plus the fact that he was a very spoilt child undoubtedly turned him into the confident young man who had no regard for the wellbeing or feelings of others.

In his early teens, he began drinking heavily, gambling and womanising, often in the company of Charles James Fox and the Opposition. The king complained that his behaviour was frequently detailed in the newspapers, although at this period he was generally popular.

At 16, in 1779, George embarked on his first affair, with the actress Mary "Perdita" Robinson. This lasted for a short while until George shifted his attentions to another, and his father had to pay a princely sum for Mary`s silence, and to stop her selling George`s love letters.

Over the next seven years, he ran through at least a dozen other mistresses, and the king had to pay similar sums to each of them. In the case of Madame Hardenburg, her husband was told by the king to take her abroad.

In 1785, he fell in love the twice widowed Catholic Mrs Maria Fitzherbert, who was six years older than George. Maria declined to be his mistress however, and George, ever one for tantrums, threatened to stab himself and did cause himself a minor injury. Eventually, Maria agreed to marriage, and a form of wedding took place in Park Lane, conducted by a Fleet parson.

George knew that he could not succeed to the throne if he married a Catholic, and that he needed the agreement of the King and the Privy Council to marry. But he went ahead with it anyway, even though the marriage was not valid in English law. Rumours of the marriage started to circulate, and George persuaded his friend Fox to deny it. Fox was soon embarrassed to learn that the denial was a lie.

Marriage did not stop him from having affairs, and there was a particularly torrid one with the Countess of Jersey. The king tried hard to control his son`s excesses, as he was now eating too much, drinking too much and becoming violent. His spending, especially on his new home at Carlton House, was getting out of hand and threatening to bankrupt the country.

George III insisted in 1795 that, in return for the fortunes spent on him, his son must now take a legal wife. Unfortunately, the lady chosen was Princess Caroline, daughter of Charles II, Duke of Brunswick, and George`s cousin.

Caroline had a reputation for sexual wildness, and was also careless about her personal hygiene. Indeed, she was advised to have her underclothes washed before coming to England. In addition to this, she was subject to tantrums to match George`s.

George and Caroline met three days before their wedding. George announced that the sight of her made him physically sick, and asked for a brandy, while Caroline retorted that he was fat and in no way handsome.

The two clearly deserved each other.

The wedding took place at St. James`s Palace. George was drunk throughout the ceremony and throughout the wedding night, but managed to father a daughter, Princess Charlotte.

Soon after the birth, George and Caroline separated, with George denying his wife any part in Charlotte`s upbringing. Caroline established an orphanage in Kent in 1797 and George found more mistresses. In 1800, Mrs Fitzherbert, still regarding herself as his rightful wife, returned to live with him for a while.

George felt slighted when he was not allowed to undertake military service during the Napoleonic War. But it was felt that the heir to he throne should not be put in personal danger, and anyway George had received no military training.

A dispute over Charlotte led to her being handed over to be looked after by George III. George accused Caroline of being mother to one of the children in her orphanage, and a "delicate investigation" was held by Parliament into her conduct. She had become notorious for dancing topless at parties, and although the investigation stopped short of saying it directly, her affairs were common knowledge.

George III finally became unfit to rule in 1810, and his son George was given the title Prince Regent in 1811. Although his powers were restricted, he was now closer than ever before to being the king, and he spent money lavishly. He was now very fat, was drinking heavily and was dependent on laudanum. Many worried about what would happen if the king and regent both became mentally unstable.It was during this Regency period that the Royal Pavilion at Brighton was spectacularly rebuilt by John Nash, who also designed Regents Park and Regent Street in London. The streets of London were illuminated by gas from 1814, while Waterloo Bridge was opened in 1817 and Southwark Bridge in 1819.

Napoleon was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and George lavishly entertained the King of Prussia and the Emperor of Russia to celebrate the victory.

George`s only child Charlotte, who had married in 1816, died after giving birth in 1817. George was genuinely grief stricken by this, and of course it meant that he now had no descendant to be his heir.

There was growing unrest among the working class, particularly among soldiers who had returned from the war and were unable to gain employment. This came to a head in Manchester, when a protest gathering in St. Peter`s Square was dispersed by the authorities, causing eleven deaths and four hundred injuries. This is remembered as the Peterloo Massacre.

In 1820, George III finally died after a long reign which had included years of illness. The Prince Regent now became George IV, and this was greeted by the Cato Street Conspiracy, which had assassination of Cabinet members and Government overthrow as its aims..

Caroline, now in a relationship with an Italian courtier named Bartolomeo Pergami, decided that she wished to return to England and take her place beside George as Queen. The honour involved was apparently more important to her than the 50,000 a year that George offered her to stay away from England, and she duly returned.

Another enquiry into Caroline`s behaviour was eventually dropped,which gave her friends, and the public, the opportunity to claim that she was blameless.

George`s coronation took place at Westminster Abbey in 1821. No expense was spared and it remains the most flamboyant and extravagant of all British coronations. Caroline presented herself at the abbey and was denied admittance.

Three weeks later, Caroline died, to George`s relief, from an inflammation of the bowels.

George then made a royal progress through his kingdom, during which he became the first of the Hanoverians to visit Scotland, which Sir Walter Scott had been successfully romanticising. Scott stage managed this part of the tour, during which George wore a kilt over pink tights. In spite of his corpulence and general unpopularity, George was quite well received during the tour.

George`s ten year reign , and the Regency before it, was the period of Beau Brummell, Lord Byron, Thomas Gainsborough, Leigh Hunt, John Keats, Beau Nash, John Nash, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Joshua Reynolds, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth and many more glittering personalities.

His reign did not itself sparkle, though. The one positive was the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, which allowed Catholics to hold public office. George and the Duke of Wellington, however, only reluctantly accepted this.

He was, however, a worthwhile, if extravagant, patron of the arts and a lover of fine architecture.

George died in 1830, at the age of 67, of respiratory problems, at Windsor Castle, and he was buried at St. Georges Chapel.. His dandyism, selfishness, extravagance and temper had left him an unloved lonely man. He was succeeded by his brother William IV.

Maria Fitzherbert survived George, dying in 1837 at Brighton, where she was buried at St. John the Baptist Catholic church.

Caroline died in 1821 at Hammersmith, and was buried at Brunswick.Their daughter Charlotte died at Esher in 1817 and was buried at St. George`s Chapel at Windsor.

George also had at least two illegitimate children. By Grace Dalrymple. Georgina, born 1782. By Ekizabeth Nilbanke, George. Born 1784.