King George IV, known as George Augustus Frederick, reigned as the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the King of Hanover from January 29, 1820, until his death on June 26, 1830.
Before ascending the throne, he acted as the prince regent for his mentally ill father, King George III, starting from February 5, 1811. George IV was born on August 12, 1762, as the eldest child of King George III and Queen Charlotte. This article delves into the extravagant lifestyle of George IV, his contributions to the Regency era, his strained relationships, and the scandalous controversies that marred his rule.
The Regency Lifestyle and Contributions
George IV led a lavish lifestyle that greatly influenced the fashions and trends of the Regency era. Known as “the first gentleman of England,” he patronized new forms of leisure, style, and taste. The king commissioned prominent architects, such as John Nash and Jeffry Wyatville, to construct and remodel prestigious landmarks like the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, Buckingham Palace, and Windsor Castle.
These architectural projects showcased George IV’s charm and cultivated persona, which earned him the admiration of many. However, his extravagant way of life, strained relationships with his parents, and troubled marriage to Caroline of Brunswick tarnished the monarchy’s reputation and led to widespread contempt among the people.
Scandal and Financial Extravagance
During his reign, George IV faced numerous scandals and financial difficulties. His ministers often criticized his selfish, unreliable, and irresponsible behaviour, as he surrounded himself with favourites who held great influence over him. These scandals and the king’s excessive spending greatly impacted his rule. Despite these challenges, Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, controlled the government during most of George IV’s regency and reign.
Liverpool’s government achieved significant victories against Napoleon and successfully negotiated a peace settlement with the French. After Liverpool’s retirement, George IV reluctantly accepted Catholic emancipation, even though he had initially opposed it. The king’s legitimate heirs, Princess Charlotte and Prince Frederick, both passed away before him, leading to his succession by his younger brother, William IV.
Early Life and Controversial Marriages
George IV was born on August 12, 1762, at St James’s Palace in London, as the first child of King George III and Queen Charlotte. As the eldest son of a British sovereign, he automatically became the Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay at birth, followed shortly by the titles of Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester. George IV received an excellent education and became fluent in French, German, Italian, and English.
As a young man, George embraced a life of dissipation and indulgence, marked by heavy drinking, numerous mistresses, and scandalous escapades. Despite his father’s disapproval, George’s extravagant lifestyle continued, leading to mounting debts. His father refused to assist him unless he married his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. In 1795, George reluctantly married Caroline, but their relationship quickly deteriorated.
They lived separately from 1796 onwards, and their only child, Princess Charlotte, was born in 1796. George maintained relationships with various mistresses, including Mary Robinson, Grace Elliott, and Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, who played significant roles in his life. His relationship with Maria Fitzherbert, in particular, endured throughout his life.
Regency Crisis of 1788 and Political Intrigues
In 1788, George III’s mental health began to decline, possibly due to porphyria, a hereditary disease. During this time, George IV was a proponent of assuming sovereignty automatically in his father’s incapacity, while Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger argued that Parliament alone held the right to choose a regent.
Ultimately, a compromise was reached, and the Regency Act of 1811 designated George IV as the prince regent. Throughout his regency, he delegated government affairs to his ministers, playing a minimal role compared to his father. The principle that the prime minister’s authority depended on the majority support in the House of Commons was firmly established during this period.
Reign and Troublesome Relationships
Upon his accession to the throne in 1820, George IV’s strained relationship with his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, continued to deteriorate. He adamantly refused to recognize her as queen and sought a divorce. George IV proposed the Pains and Penalties Bill in an attempt to annul their marriage and strip Caroline of her title, but this unpopular move backfired. The bill was withdrawn from Parliament, and the king’s decision to exclude Caroline from his coronation further diminished the monarchy’s prestige. Caroline fell ill and passed away in 1821, shortly after the coronation.
Despite the controversies surrounding his personal life, George IV’s reign witnessed significant events. He embarked on state visits to Ireland and Scotland, the first by a reigning monarch since the 17th century. In Ireland, he aimed to foster positive relations and promote unity. Additionally, the king took a keen interest in matters of style and taste, influencing the Regency style alongside notable figures like Beau Brummell and John Nash.
Declining Health and Legacy
In his later years, George IV’s health declined significantly due to his excessive drinking and unhealthy lifestyle. His weight increased drastically, and he suffered from various health issues, including gout, arteriosclerosis, peripheral edema, and possibly porphyria. Despite his physical and mental deterioration, the king remained resilient and continued to cling to life.
George IV became increasingly devout and expressed remorse for his dissolute life. On June 26, 1830, he passed away at Windsor Castle, leaving behind a legacy of scandal, extravagance, and controversial relationships. George IV was buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on July 15, 1830.
King George IV’s reign was marked by his extravagant lifestyle, scandalous affairs, and strained relationships. Although he made significant contributions to the Regency era’s architecture and style, his personal controversies and financial extravagance tarnished the monarchy’s reputation.
George IV’s reign was characterized by political challenges, including Catholic emancipation and the regency crisis of 1788. Despite his troubled rule, he left an indelible mark on British history as a king whose personal life often overshadowed his political achievements.
*Feature Image: Thomas Lawrence, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons