George the Fourth, born 12 August 1762, is known as one of the worst monarchs that has reigned over Britain. He reigned as Prince Regent from 5 February 1811 and then King from 29 January 1820 to 26 June 1830. He is not known for possessing any redeeming qualities, rather for being profligate, a bigamist, a glutton, a drug addict and louche.
Is this a fair judgement?
Let’s look at the facts.
His good side:
- He (eventually) did his duty and married his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick and produced one heir.
- He was instrumental in building the Royal Collection and searched for many items across Napoleonic Europe.
- He championed design and architecture and had Henry Holland re-design his ‘modest villa’ into the Marine Pavilion.
- In 1815 John Nash began to transform the Marine Pavilion into Brighton Pavilion in the new oriental style with influences of Mughal splendour from India. The transformation took eight years, however, once completed George only made two visits in 1824 and 1827.
- He enlisted John Nash to build Regent Street, London, as a direct route to his home Carlton House – although he lost interest as Buckingham House was ripe for transformation.
- He re-imagined Buckingham House and turned it into a royal palace, again with John Nash as chief architect.
- George IV was also instrumental in renovating Windsor Castle.
- He was the first monarch to visit Scotland (1822) since Charles II in 1651.
His not so good side:
- In 1787 the House of Commons agreed to pay off his extensive debts and increase his income – it would not be the last time.
- He had a secret marriage to Catholic widow Maria Fitzherbert. There were 3 things wrong with this: she was twice-widowed and the wife of the future king should be pure. She was Catholic and the Act of Settlement 1701 barred members of the royal family from marrying Catholics for they would lose their line in succession. George’s marriage to Maria Fitzherbert should have removed him as heir (hence the secrecy). Furthermore, George had also failed to get permission from his father which contravened the Royal Marriages Act of 1772.
- He married his cousin Caroline of Brunswick in 1795 – the marriage was a disaster.
- He spent his (second) wedding night drunk and slept on the floor by the fireplace. Somehow George and Caroline managed to consummate the marriage and Princess Charlotte was born. The marriage was essentially over at this point and the rest of his romantic life was spent with mistresses.
- He restricted his wife’s access to their daughter.
- He tried to divorce his wife and failed.
- He refused to invite his estranged wife to his coronation – she was locked outside.
- He was addicted to Laudanum – tincture of opium – and drank copious amounts of alcohol.
George IV was a paradox, he loved preening and fashion and yet was grossly overweight, later morbidly obese, giving much fodder to the cruel Georgian caricaturists and was unable to look as he wished in the fashions worn by his friend Beau Brummell. He wore and was painted in a Field Marshall’s uniform but never fought in battle except in his fantasies warring with Napoleon. He was desperate to be Regent and King and pushed for it more than once when George III became ill and yet his illegal marriage and then failure to observe his legal marriage vows to Caroline, Princess of Wales, contradicted the office that he longed for.
If you’d like to read more about George IV’s father click here.
If you’d like to read more about George IV’s daughter Princess Charlotte click here.
Images: Wikimedia Commons