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Fat Prinny George is one of those memorable monarchs. He may not be on par with King Henry VIII and his many wives, but Georgie Porgie certainly did cause quite as much talk as the much-married King. He was Regent over the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1811-1820 (the Regency) and became King George IV in 1820 ruling until his death in 1830.
Prince George was and is known as an unpopular Royal. He was born in 1762 to his father King George III and his mother Queen Charlotte. His father is better known for his ‘mad’ episodes which afflicted him from the late 1780s onwards. If one looks at the character rather than the illness of the Regent’s father however, one can see it is in stark contrast to his son’s. King George III was sometimes known for being censorious of others’ failings however, he was also known for his morality, devoutness, hard-work ethic and king heartedness. George the Prince Regent was known for being a womaniser, glutton and drunkard.
At 17 the Prince Regent had already begun a love-affair with a married actress and went on to marry, in secret, the infamous Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert. The Royal Marriages Act of 1772 declared that King George III and the Privy Council needed to give their approval in order for the Prince to marry, this therefore rendered his secret marriage illegal. (Did you know that there was an underground tunnel linking the Brighton Pavilion, his summer palace, to Mrs. Fitzherbert’s house close-by?)
His behaviour made him unpopular. With a stark divide between the affluent and the lower regions of Society, the Prince’s indulgent and immoral ways gained him dislike from the general public. I put it to you that perhaps this dislike was exacerbated by the difference in morality between George III and his dissolute son who began reigning whilst the King still lived.
The hope that the Regent might mend his ways following his marriage to the most appropriate Princess Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel in 1795, was unfounded. They lived together for only 1 year out of the 19 they were married and eventually Caroline, after suffering public humiliation for the last time (she had been forbidden to attend the Prince Regent’s coronation among other set-downs), returned to Brunswick.
His immoral ways coupled with his dissolute and spend-thrift lifestyle earned him even greater dislike among his people. After all, how could it be right that the Regent was spending money on lavish parties and redecorating his homes when the people were being taxed heavily for a war against the French?
What put the final spanner in the works of George’s popularity, was the influence his favourites held over him. Also known as the Carlton House Set, these were individuals who were the closest friends of George and included: the Duke of Argyll, Lord Alvanley, Lord Barrymore, Lord Bedford, the notable Beau Brummell, ‘Poodle’ Byng, Colonel the Hon. George Lionel Dawson Damer, the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Foley, Charles James Fox, the Earl of Jersey, Sir John Lade, the Duke of Norfolk, the Duke of Queensberry, the Duke of Rutland, Lord Sefton, Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour and the Duke of York among notable others. These friends along with the Regent himself were known for their wild parties and wreckless ways, garnering disrespect for the sovereign and less trust thanks to the power his friends wielded over him.
It almost seems incorrect that such a disliked sovereign could reign over such a loved period of time. Most periods are known either for the notoriety of both their sovereign and events or for the greatness of their sovereign and events. The Regency period however, was dogged by a madness afflicted King and a gluttony afflicted Regent. Was there anything good about Fat Prinny George?
I say yes. That is not to say his positive points outweigh his negatives by any means. He was an immoral, greedy, adulterer. He also had no sense of his responsibilities to his people, his wife or his country who were at war and being taxed heavily. He did however, contribute to the culture of Britain as I touched upon in my post about the Regency.
After all, was is not the Regent who started the craze for interior design? Is it not him who is responsible for the decor of many of the great houses which still line the fields of England and attract thousands of visitors every year? He brought John Nash to the forefront of architectural design with much of his work still evident today in Regent’s Street, the Royal Pavilion and Buckingham Palace to name a few.
The Regent encouraged painters whose work he commissioned, he allowed music to flourish by patronising composers including Haydn. He was the founding member of the Royal Society of Literature, a friend of Sir Walter Scott and a keen reader of Jane Austen.
In 1823, like many of his peers, the Prince, who by this time was King George IV was suffering from the dissolute ways of his youth which he still partook in. He increasingly kept away from London, years of debauchery having given him dropsy and ruined his physique. Upon visiting him at Windsor the Duke of Wellington declared that there was nothing wrong with the King save the troubles caused by ‘Strong liquors taken too frequently and in too large quantities,’ adding that George, ‘Drinks spirits morning, noon and night.’ With bladder inflammation, the need to take laundanum, perhaps the chance he, like his father suffered from Porphyria, and frequent breathlessness which sometimes left the tips of his finger black, he died at Windsor on 26th June 1830. There was, as was expected, very little mourning for the unloved King with the Times saying, There had never been, ‘An individual less regretted by his fellow creatures that his deceased King.’
It’s all rather sad really, and yes, I know, he had many a fault and probably deserved his inelegant demise, but is it not easy to imagine walking into the opulent rooms of the Royal Pavilion when he had been alive? Your gaze falling upon a portly fellow who sits in a chair with an Austen on the side table, music playing and a bountiful supply of friends about him. You see all of those present are in their cups and chortling along with the good-humoured Prince and maybe you too smile a little.
Fat Prince George is a monarch whom we hate and whom we love and whom we know as ‘The First Gentleman of England’.
Philippa Jane Keyworth – Regency Romance Author