Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dead King Watch: George IV

One French Romantic painter, Gericault's, portrait of young George.

Another portrayal of the Prince Regent with his loyal servants...

King George IV died on the 26 June 1830, which meant the 176th anniversary of his death took place a couple of days ago.

George, the eldest son of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, was born in St. James's Palace in 1762. At the time of his birth, he automatically became Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay, which doubtless made the people of Cornwall and Rothesay very happy. George, who also became the Prince of Wales, was a talented student, quickly learning to speak not only English but also French, German and Italian. This highlights the effect of inbreeding on the Royal Family - Prince Harry for example had to cheat in order to pass 'A-level' Art, let alone manage a foreign language.

The Prince of Wales turned 21 in 1783, when he obtained a grant of £60,000 from Parliament and an annual income of £50,000 from his father. He then established his residence in Carlton House, where he lived a profligate life of luxury annoying his father who thought more frugal behaviour on the part of the heir-apparent might look better. Yet as Prince Regent he continued to amass enormous debts - for example inn 1796 reaching the extraordinary sum of £660,000 - and Parliament (ie. the British taxpayer) had to bail him out. Being unwilling to make an outright grant to relieve these debts, Parliament provided him an additional sum of £65,000 per annum. In 1803, a further £60,000 was added, and the Prince of Wales's debts were finally paid. See Blackadder III - picture above - for more on his greed.

In 1811, his father's illness got so bad, George had to become Prince Regent. While the Napoleonic wars raged, George took an active interest in clothes. He took matters of style and taste very importantly, and his associates such as the dandy Beau Brummell and the architect John Nash created the 'Regency style'. In London Nash designed the Regency terraces of Regent's Park and Regent Street. George took up the new idea of the seaside spa and had the Brighton Pavilion developed as a fantastical seaside palace, adapted by Nash in the "Indian Gothic" style inspired loosely by the Taj Mahal, with extravagant "Indian" and "Chinese" interiors. Again see Blackadder III for his love of socks.

When George III died in 1820, the Prince Regent ascended the throne as George IV, with no real change in his powers. George's coronation was a magnificent and expensive affair, costing about £943,000. By the time of his accession, he was obese and utterly useless for anything except buying clothes. He was also showing signs of having inherited his father's mental illness.

On George's death in 1830 - having done nothing to improve the lives of his subjects - even the establishment paper The Times commented unfavourably: There never was an individual less regretted by his fellow creatures than this deceased king. What eye has wept for him? What heart has heaved one throb of unmercenary sorrow? [...] If he ever had a friend - a devoted friend in any rank of life - we protest that the name of him or her never reached us.



At 3:52 pm, Blogger Philip said...

He was also a loving husband, carrying on an affair with a Mrs Fitzherbowles and saying of his wife Caroline of Brunswick, "I would rather see toads and vipers crawling over my victuals than sit at the same table with her." It is possible the feeling was mutual.

At 10:09 am, Blogger Snowball said...

Thanks philip. Isn't Camilla Parker-Bowles - or whatever her title is now - related to Mrs Fitzerbowles? I think this is right - the 'Bowles' family history seems to be one of conducting 'liasons' with married heirs to the throne.


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