George IV of the United Kingdom

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George IV
George IV 1821 color.jpg
Coronation portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1821
King of the United Kingdom and Hanover
Reign29 January 1820 – 26 June 1830
Coronation 19 July 1821
Predecessor George III
Successor William IV
Born(1762-08-12)12 August 1762
St James's Palace, London, England
Died26 June 1830(1830-06-26) (aged 67)
Windsor Castle, Berkshire, England
Burial15 July 1830
Caroline of Brunswick
(m. 1795;separated 1796)
Issue Princess Charlotte of Wales
Full name
George Augustus Frederick
House Hanover
Father George III of the United Kingdom
Mother Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Religion Protestant
Signature George IV Signature.svg

George IV (George Augustus Frederick; 12 August 1762 – 26 June 1830) was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and King of Hanover following the death of his father, King George III, on 29 January 1820, until his own death ten years later. From 1811 until his accession, he served as Prince Regent during his father's final mental illness.

King of Hanover head of state and hereditary ruler of the Kingdom of Hanover

The King of Hanover was the official title of the head of state and hereditary ruler of the Kingdom of Hanover, beginning with the proclamation of the King of the United Kingdom George III, as "King of Hanover" during the Congress of Vienna, on 12 October 1814 at Vienna, and ending with the kingdom's annexation by Prussia on 20 September 1866.

George III of the United Kingdom King of Great Britain and Ireland

George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of the two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death in 1820. He was concurrently Duke and prince-elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg ("Hanover") in the Holy Roman Empire before becoming King of Hanover on 12 October 1814. He was the third British monarch of the House of Hanover, but unlike his two predecessors, he was born in Great Britain, spoke English as his first language, and never visited Hanover.


George IV led an extravagant lifestyle that contributed to the fashions of the Regency era. He was a patron of new forms of leisure, style and taste. He commissioned John Nash to build the Royal Pavilion in Brighton and remodel Buckingham Palace, and Sir Jeffry Wyattville to rebuild Windsor Castle.

Regency era era in the United Kingdom

The Regency in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was a period when King George III was deemed unfit to rule due to his illness and his son ruled as his proxy as Prince Regent. On the death of George III in 1820, the Prince Regent became George IV. The term Regency can refer to various stretches of time; some are longer than the decade of the formal Regency which lasted from 1811 to 1820. The period from 1795 to 1837, which includes the latter part of the reign of George III and the reigns of his sons George IV and William IV, is sometimes regarded as the Regency era, characterised by distinctive trends in British architecture, literature, fashions, politics, and culture. It ended in 1837 when Queen Victoria succeeded William IV.

John Nash (architect) British architect

John Nash was one of the foremost British architects of the Regency and Georgian eras, during which he was responsible for the design, in the neoclassical and picturesque styles, of many important areas of London. His designs were financed by the Prince Regent, and by the era's most successful property developer, James Burton, with whose son Decimus Burton he collaborated extensively. Nash's best-known solo designs are the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, Marble Arch, and Buckingham Palace; his best known collaboration with James Burton is Regent Street; and his best-known collaborations with Decimus Burton are Regent's Park and its terraces and Carlton House Terrace. The majority of his buildings, including those to the design of which the Burtons did not contribute, were built by the company of James Burton.

Royal Pavilion former royal residence located in Brighton, England

The Royal Pavilion, also known as the Brighton Pavilion, is a Grade I listed former royal residence located in Brighton, England. Beginning in 1787, it was built in three stages as a seaside retreat for George, Prince of Wales, who became the Prince Regent in 1811. It is built in the Indo-Saracenic style prevalent in India for most of the 19th century. The current appearance of the Pavilion, with its domes and minarets, is the work of architect John Nash, who extended the building starting in 1815.

His charm and culture earned him the title "the first gentleman of England", but his dissolute way of life and poor relationships with his parents and his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, earned him the contempt of the people and dimmed the prestige of the monarchy. He forbade Caroline to attend his coronation and asked the government to introduce the unpopular Pains and Penalties Bill in a desperate, unsuccessful attempt to divorce her.

Caroline of Brunswick Queen consort of King George IV of the United Kingdom

Caroline of Brunswick was Queen of the United Kingdom as the wife of King George IV from 29 January 1820 until her death in 1821. She was the Princess of Wales from 1795 to 1820.

Pains and Penalties Bill 1820

The Pains and Penalties Bill 1820 was a bill introduced to the British Parliament in 1820, at the request of King George IV, which aimed to dissolve his marriage to Caroline of Brunswick, and deprive her of the title of Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.

George's ministers found his behaviour selfish, unreliable and irresponsible. At all times he was much under the influence of favourites. [1] He did not provide national leadership in time of crisis, nor act as a role model for his people. Taxpayers were angry at his wasteful spending during the Napoleonic Wars. For most of his regency and reign, Lord Liverpool controlled the government as Prime Minister. Liverpool's government presided over Britain's ultimate victory, negotiated the peace settlement, and attempted to deal with the social and economic malaise that followed. After Liverpool's retirement, George was forced to accept Catholic emancipation despite opposing it. His only legitimate child, Princess Charlotte, died before him in 1817 and so he was succeeded by his younger brother, William.

Napoleonic Wars Series of early 19th century European wars

The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).

Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool 18th/19th-century British politician

Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, was a British statesman and Prime Minister (1812–1827). As Prime Minister, Liverpool called for repressive measures at domestic level to maintain order after the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. He dealt smoothly with the Prince Regent when King George III was incapacitated. He also steered the country through the period of radicalism and unrest that followed the Napoleonic Wars. He favoured commercial and manufacturing interests as well as the landed interest. He sought a compromise of the heated issue of Catholic emancipation. The revival of the economy strengthened his political position. By the 1820s he was the leader of a reform faction of "Liberal Tories" who lowered the tariff, abolished the death penalty for many offences, and reformed the criminal law. By the time of his death in office, however, the Tory Party was ripping itself apart. John Derry says he was:

a capable and intelligent statesman, whose skill in building up his party, leading the country to victory in the war against Napoleon, and laying the foundations for prosperity outweighed his unpopularity in the immediate post-Waterloo years.

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Head of UK Government

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, until 1801 known as the Prime Minister of Great Britain, is the head of government of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister directs both the executive and the legislature, and together with their Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Monarch, to Parliament, to their political party and ultimately to the electorate. The office of Prime Minister is one of the Great Offices of State. The current holder of the office, Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party, was appointed by the Queen on 13 July 2016.

Early life

George (left) with his mother Queen Charlotte and younger brother Frederick. Portrait by Allan Ramsay, 1764 Allan Ramsay - Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), with her Two Eldest Sons - Google Art Project.jpg
George (left) with his mother Queen Charlotte and younger brother Frederick. Portrait by Allan Ramsay, 1764

George was born at St James's Palace, London, on 12 August 1762, the first child of the British king George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. As the eldest son of a British sovereign, he automatically became Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay at birth; he was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester a few days later. [2] On 18 September of the same year, he was baptised by Thomas Secker, Archbishop of Canterbury. [3] His godparents were the Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (his maternal uncle, for whom the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Chamberlain, stood proxy), the Duke of Cumberland (his paternal great-uncle) and the Dowager Princess of Wales (his paternal grandmother). [4] George was a talented student, and quickly learned to speak French, German and Italian, in addition to his native English. [5]

St Jamess Palace Royal palace in the United Kingdom

St James's Palace is the most senior royal palace in the United Kingdom. Located in the City of Westminster, although no longer the principal residence of the monarch, it is the ceremonial meeting place of the Accession Council and the London residence of several minor members of the royal family.

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz Queen consort of the United Kingdom as the wife of King George III

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was the wife of King George III. She served as Queen of Great Britain and Queen of Ireland from her wedding in 1761 until the union of the two kingdoms in 1801, after which she was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until her death in 1818. She was also the Electress of Hanover in the Holy Roman Empire until the promotion of her husband to King of Hanover on 12 October 1814, after which she was also queen consort of Hanover.

Duke of Cornwall title in the Peerage of England

Duke of Cornwall is a title in the Peerage of England, traditionally held by the eldest son of the reigning British monarch, previously the English monarch. The Duchy of Cornwall was the first duchy created in England and was established by royal charter in 1337. The present duke is the Prince of Wales, the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II. His wife, Camilla, is the current Duchess.

At the age of 18 he was given a separate establishment, and in dramatic contrast with his prosaic, scandal-free father, threw himself with zest into a life of dissipation and wild extravagance involving heavy drinking and numerous mistresses and escapades. He was a witty conversationalist, drunk or sober, and showed good, but grossly expensive, taste in decorating his palace. The Prince of Wales turned 21 in 1783, and obtained a grant of £60,000 (equivalent to £7,095,000 today [6] ) from Parliament and an annual income of £50,000 (equivalent to £5,913,000 today [6] ) from his father. It was far too little for his needs – the stables alone cost £31,000 a year. He then established his residence in Carlton House, where he lived a profligate life. [7] Animosity developed between the prince and his father, who desired more frugal behaviour on the part of the heir apparent. The King, a political conservative, was also alienated by the prince's adherence to Charles James Fox and other radically inclined politicians. [8]

Carlton House former mansion in London, best known as the town residence of the Prince Regent for several decades from 1783

Carlton House was a mansion in London, best known as the town residence of the Prince Regent for several decades from 1783. It faced the south side of Pall Mall, and its gardens abutted St. James's Park in the St James's district of London. The location of the house, now replaced by Carlton House Terrace, was a main reason for the creation of John Nash's ceremonial route from St James's to Regent's Park via Regent Street, Portland Place and Park Square: Lower Regent Street and Waterloo Place were originally laid out to form the approach to its front entrance.

An heir apparent or heiress apparent is a person who is first in a line of succession and cannot be displaced from inheriting by the birth of another person. An heir presumptive, by contrast, is someone who is first in line to inherit a title but who can be displaced by the birth of a more eligible heir.

Charles James Fox 18th/19th-century British statesman

Charles James Fox, styled The Honourable from 1762, was a prominent British Whig statesman whose parliamentary career spanned 38 years of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and who was the arch-rival of William Pitt the Younger. His father Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, a leading Whig of his day, had similarly been the great rival of Pitt's famous father William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. He rose to prominence in the House of Commons as a forceful and eloquent speaker with a notorious and colourful private life, though his opinions were rather conservative and conventional. However, with the coming of the American War of Independence and the influence of the Whig Edmund Burke, Fox's opinions evolved into some of the most radical ever to be aired in the Parliament of his era.

Portrait miniature by Richard Cosway, c. 1780-82 GeorgeIV1780.jpg
Portrait miniature by Richard Cosway, c. 1780–82

Soon after he reached the age of 21, the prince became infatuated with Maria Fitzherbert. She was a commoner, six years his elder, twice widowed, and a Roman Catholic. [9] Nevertheless, the prince was determined to marry her. This was in spite of the Act of Settlement 1701, which barred the spouse of a Catholic from succeeding to the throne, and the Royal Marriages Act 1772, which prohibited his marriage without the King's consent. [10]

Nevertheless, the couple went through a marriage ceremony on 15 December 1785 at her house in Park Street, Mayfair. Legally the union was void, as the King's consent was not granted (and never even requested). [11] However, Fitzherbert believed that she was the prince's canonical and true wife, holding the law of the Church to be superior to the law of the State. For political reasons, the union remained secret and Fitzherbert promised not to reveal it. [12]

The prince was plunged into debt by his exorbitant lifestyle. His father refused to assist him, forcing him to quit Carlton House and live at Fitzherbert's residence. In 1787, the prince's political allies proposed to relieve his debts with a parliamentary grant. The prince's relationship with Fitzherbert was suspected, and revelation of the illegal marriage would have scandalised the nation and doomed any parliamentary proposal to aid him. Acting on the prince's authority, the Whig leader Charles James Fox declared that the story was a calumny. [13] Fitzherbert was not pleased with the public denial of the marriage in such vehement terms and contemplated severing her ties to the prince. He appeased her by asking another Whig, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, to restate Fox's forceful declaration in more careful words. Parliament, meanwhile, granted the prince £161,000 (equivalent to £20,095,000 today [6] ) to pay his debts and £60,000 (equivalent to £7,489,000 today [6] ) for improvements to Carlton House. [5] [14] [15]

Regency crisis of 1788

Portrait published by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1785 GeorgeIV1785.jpg
Portrait published by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1785

In the summer of 1788 the King's mental health deteriorated, possibly as the result of the hereditary disease porphyria. [16] [17] He was nonetheless able to discharge some of his duties and to declare Parliament prorogued from 25 September to 20 November. During the prorogation he became deranged, posing a threat to his own life, and when Parliament reconvened in November the King could not deliver the customary speech from the throne during the State Opening of Parliament. Parliament found itself in an untenable position: according to long-established law it could not proceed to any business until the delivery of the King's Speech at a State Opening. [13] [18]

Although arguably barred from doing so, Parliament began debating a regency. In the House of Commons, Charles James Fox declared his opinion that the Prince of Wales was automatically entitled to exercise sovereignty during the King's incapacity. A contrasting opinion was held by the prime minister, William Pitt the Younger, who argued that, in the absence of a statute to the contrary, the right to choose a regent belonged to Parliament alone. [19] He even stated that, without parliamentary authority "the Prince of Wales had no more right ... to assume the government, than any other individual subject of the country." [20] Though disagreeing on the principle underlying a regency, Pitt agreed with Fox that the Prince of Wales would be the most convenient choice for a regent. [13] [18]

Miniature by Richard Cosway, 1792 GeorgeIV1792.jpg
Miniature by Richard Cosway, 1792

The Prince of Wales—though offended by Pitt's boldness—did not lend his full support to Fox's approach. The Prince of Wales's brother, Prince Frederick, Duke of York, declared that George would not attempt to exercise any power without previously obtaining the consent of Parliament. [21] Following the passage of preliminary resolutions Pitt outlined a formal plan for the regency, suggesting that the powers of the Prince of Wales be greatly limited. Among other things, the Prince of Wales would not be able either to sell the King's property or to grant a peerage to anyone other than a child of the King. The Prince of Wales denounced Pitt's scheme, declaring it a "project for producing weakness, disorder, and insecurity in every branch of the administration of affairs." [22] In the interests of the nation, both factions agreed to compromise. [18]

A significant technical impediment to any Regency Bill involved the lack of a speech from the throne, which was necessary before Parliament could proceed to any debates or votes. The speech was normally delivered by the King, but could also be delivered by royal representatives known as Lords Commissioners; but no document could empower the Lords Commissioners to act unless the Great Seal of the Realm was affixed to it. The seal could not be legally affixed without the prior authorisation of the sovereign. Pitt and his fellow ministers ignored the last requirement and instructed the Lord Chancellor to affix the Great Seal without the King's consent, as the act of affixing the Great Seal in itself gave legal force to the bill. This legal fiction was denounced by Edmund Burke as "forgery, fraud", [23] a "glaring falsehood", [24] and as a "palpable absurdity". [24] The Duke of York described the plan as "unconstitutional and illegal." [22] Nevertheless, others in Parliament felt that such a scheme was necessary to preserve an effective government. Consequently, on 3 February 1789, more than two months after it had convened, Parliament was formally opened by an "illegal" group of Lords Commissioners. The Regency Bill was introduced, but before it could be passed the King recovered. The King declared retroactively that the instrument authorising the Lords Commissioners to act was valid. [13] [18]

Marriage and mistresses

Portrait after Sir William Beechey, 1798 GeorgeIV1798.jpg
Portrait after Sir William Beechey, 1798

The Prince of Wales's debts continued to climb, and his father refused to aid him unless he married his cousin Princess Caroline of Brunswick. [25] In 1795, the prince acquiesced; and they were married on 8 April 1795 at the Chapel Royal, St James's Palace. The marriage, however, was disastrous; each party was unsuited to the other. The two were formally separated after the birth of their only child, Princess Charlotte, in 1796, and remained separated thereafter. The Prince remained attached to Maria Fitzherbert for the rest of his life, despite several periods of estrangement. [26]

George's mistresses included Mary Robinson, an actress who was bought off with a generous pension when she threatened to sell his letters to the newspapers; [27] Grace Elliott, the divorced wife of a physician; [28] [29] and Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, who dominated his life for some years. [26] In later life, his mistresses were the Marchioness of Hertford and the Marchioness Conyngham, who were both married to aristocrats. [30]

George was rumoured to have fathered several illegitimate children. James Ord (born 1786)—who moved to the United States and became a Jesuit priest—was reportedly his son by Fitzherbert. [31] The King, late in life, told a friend that he had a son who was a naval officer in the West Indies, whose identity has been tentatively established as Captain Henry A. F. Hervey (1786–1824), reportedly George's child by the songwriter Lady Anne Lindsay (later Barnard), a daughter of the 5th Earl of Balcarres. [32] Other reported offspring include Major George Seymour Crole, the son of theatre manager's daughter Eliza Crole; William Hampshire, the son of publican's daughter Sarah Brown; and Charles "Beau" Candy, the son of a Frenchwoman with that surname. [33] Anthony Camp, Director of Research at the Society of Genealogists, has dismissed the claims that George IV was the father of Ord, Hervey, Hampshire and Candy as fictitious. [34]

The problem of the Prince of Wales's debts, which amounted to the extraordinary sum of £630,000 (equivalent to £63,934,000 today [6] ) in 1795, [35] was solved (at least temporarily) by Parliament. Being unwilling to make an outright grant to relieve these debts, it provided him an additional sum of £65,000 (equivalent to £6,596,000 today [6] ) per annum. [36] In 1803, a further £60,000 (equivalent to £5,382,000 today [6] ) was added, and George's debts of 1795 were finally cleared in 1806, although the debts he had incurred since 1795 remained. [15]

In 1804, a dispute arose over the custody of Princess Charlotte, which led to her being placed in the care of the King, George III. It also led to a Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry into Princess Caroline's conduct after the Prince of Wales accused her of having an illegitimate son. The investigation cleared Caroline of the charge but still revealed her behaviour to have been extraordinarily indiscreet. [37]


Profile by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c. 1814 George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence.jpg
Profile by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c. 1814
Portrait in Garter robes by Lawrence, 1816 George IV van het Verenigd Koninkrijk.jpg
Portrait in Garter robes by Lawrence, 1816

In late 1810, George III was once again overcome by his malady following the death of his youngest daughter, Princess Amelia. Parliament agreed to follow the precedent of 1788; without the King's consent, the Lord Chancellor affixed the Great Seal of the Realm to letters patent naming Lords Commissioners. The letters patent lacked the Royal Sign Manual, but were sealed by request of resolutions passed by both Houses of Parliament. The Lords Commissioners appointed by the letters patent, in the name of the King, then signified the granting of Royal Assent to a bill that became the Regency Act 1811. Parliament restricted some of the powers of the Prince Regent (as the Prince of Wales became known). The constraints expired one year after the passage of the Act. [38] The Prince of Wales became Prince Regent on 5 February 1811. [39]

The Regent let his ministers take full charge of government affairs, playing a far lesser role than his father. The principle that the prime minister was the person supported by a majority in the House of Commons, whether the king personally favoured him or not, became established. [40] His governments, with little help from the Regent, presided over British policy. One of the most important political conflicts facing the country concerned Catholic emancipation, the movement to relieve Roman Catholics of various political disabilities. The Tories, led by the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, were opposed to Catholic emancipation, while the Whigs supported it. At the beginning of the Regency, the Prince of Wales was expected to support the Whig leader, William Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville. He did not, however, immediately put Lord Grenville and the Whigs into office. Influenced by his mother, he claimed that a sudden dismissal of the Tory government would exact too great a toll on the health of the King (a steadfast supporter of the Tories), thereby eliminating any chance of a recovery. [41]

In 1812, when it appeared highly unlikely that the King would recover, the Prince of Wales again failed to appoint a new Whig administration. Instead, he asked the Whigs to join the existing ministry under Perceval. The Whigs, however, refused to co-operate because of disagreements over Catholic emancipation. Grudgingly, the Prince of Wales allowed Perceval to continue as Prime Minister. [42]

On 11 May 1812, Perceval was assassinated by John Bellingham. The Prince Regent was prepared to reappoint all the members of the Perceval ministry under a new leader. The House of Commons formally declared its desire for a "strong and efficient administration", [43] so the Prince Regent then offered leadership of the government to Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, and afterwards to Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 2nd Earl of Moira. He doomed the attempts of both to failure, however, by forcing each to construct an all party ministry at a time when neither party wished to share power with the other. Possibly using the failure of the two peers as a pretext, the Prince Regent immediately reappointed the Perceval administration, with Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, as Prime Minister. [44]

The Tories, unlike Whigs such as Earl Grey, sought to continue the vigorous prosecution of the war in Continental Europe against the powerful and aggressive Emperor of the French, Napoleon I. [45] An anti-French alliance, which included Russia, Prussia, Austria, Britain and several smaller countries, defeated Napoleon in 1814. In the subsequent Congress of Vienna, it was decided that the Electorate of Hanover, a state that had shared a monarch with Britain since 1714, would be raised to a kingdom, known as the Kingdom of Hanover. Napoleon returned from exile in 1815, but was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, brother of Marquess Wellesley. [46]

During this period George took an active interest in matters of style and taste, 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. [47]


George IV's coronation, 19 July 1821 Coronation of George IV.jpg
George IV's coronation, 19 July 1821
George IV at Holyhead en route to Ireland on 7 August 1821, the day of his wife's death The landing of his Majesty, George the Fourth, at Holyhead, August 7th 1821.jpeg
George IV at Holyhead en route to Ireland on 7 August 1821, the day of his wife's death

When George III died in 1820, the Prince Regent, then aged 57, ascended the throne as George IV, with no real change in his powers. [48] By the time of his accession, he was obese and possibly addicted to laudanum. [5]

George IV's relationship with his wife Caroline had deteriorated by the time of his accession. They had lived separately since 1796, and both were having affairs. In 1814, Caroline left the United Kingdom for continental Europe, but she chose to return for her husband's coronation, and to publicly assert her rights as queen consort. However, George IV refused to recognise Caroline as Queen, and commanded British ambassadors to ensure that monarchs in foreign courts did the same. By royal command, Caroline's name was omitted from the Book of Common Prayer, the liturgy of the Church of England. [49]

The King sought a divorce, but his advisors suggested that any divorce proceedings might involve the publication of details relating to the King's own adulterous relationships. Therefore, he requested and ensured the introduction of the Pains and Penalties Bill, under which Parliament could have imposed legal penalties without a trial in a court of law. The bill would have annulled the marriage and stripped Caroline of the title of Queen. The bill proved extremely unpopular with the public, and was withdrawn from Parliament. George IV decided, nonetheless, to exclude his wife from his coronation at Westminster Abbey, on 19 July 1821. Caroline fell ill that day and died on 7 August; during her final illness she often stated that she thought she had been poisoned. [50]

Half-crown of George IV, 1821 George4coin.jpg
Half-crown of George IV, 1821
Portrait by Sir David Wilkie depicting the King during his 1822 trip to Scotland George IV in kilt, by Wilkie.jpg
Portrait by Sir David Wilkie depicting the King during his 1822 trip to Scotland

George's coronation was a magnificent and expensive affair, costing about £243,000 (approximately £21,751,000 in 2019; [6] for comparison, his father's coronation had only cost about £10,000, less than a twentieth of George IV's). Despite the enormous cost, it was a popular event. [5] In 1821 the King became the first monarch to pay a state visit to Ireland since Richard II of England. [51] The following year he visited Edinburgh for "one and twenty daft days". [52] His visit to Scotland, organised by Sir Walter Scott, was the first by a reigning monarch since the mid-17th century. [53]

George IV spent most of his later reign in seclusion at Windsor Castle, [54] but he continued to intervene in politics. At first it was believed that he would support Catholic emancipation, as he had proposed a Catholic Emancipation Bill for Ireland in 1797, but his anti-Catholic views became clear in 1813 when he privately canvassed against the ultimately defeated Catholic Relief Bill of 1813. By 1824 he was denouncing Catholic emancipation in public. [55] Having taken the coronation oath on his accession, George now argued that he had sworn to uphold the Protestant faith, and could not support any pro-Catholic measures. [56] The influence of the Crown was so great, and the will of the Tories under Prime Minister Lord Liverpool so strong, that Catholic emancipation seemed hopeless. In 1827, however, Lord Liverpool retired, to be replaced by the pro-emancipation Tory George Canning. When Canning entered office, the King, hitherto content with privately instructing his ministers on the Catholic Question, thought it fit to make a public declaration to the effect that his sentiments on the question were those of his revered father, George III. [57]

Canning's views on the Catholic Question were not well received by the most conservative Tories, including the Duke of Wellington. As a result, the ministry was forced to include Whigs. [58] Canning died later in that year, leaving Frederick Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich, to lead the tenuous Tory-Whig coalition. Lord Goderich left office in 1828, to be succeeded by the Duke of Wellington, who had by that time accepted that the denial of some measure of relief to Roman Catholics was politically untenable. [59] [60] George was never as friendly with Wellington as he had been with Canning and chose to annoy the Duke by pretending to have fought at Waterloo disguised as a German general. With great difficulty Wellington obtained the King's consent to the introduction of a Catholic Relief Bill on 29 January 1829. Under pressure from his fanatically anti-Catholic brother, the Duke of Cumberland, the King withdrew his approval and in protest the Cabinet resigned en masse on 4 March. The next day the King, now under intense political pressure, reluctantly agreed to the Bill and the ministry remained in power. [5] Royal Assent was finally granted to the Catholic Relief Act on 13 April. [61]

Decline and death

Lithograph of George IV in profile, by George Atkinson, printed by C. Hullmandel, 1821 His Most Excellent Majesty George the Fourth, lithograph by T.C.P., from the original by George Atkinson, profile artist to His Majesty, printed by C. Hullmandel, published by G. Atkinson, Brighton, November 15, 1821.jpg
Lithograph of George IV in profile, by George Atkinson, printed by C. Hullmandel, 1821

George's heavy drinking and indulgent lifestyle had taken their toll on his health by the late 1820s. While still Prince of Wales, he had become obese through his huge banquets and copious consumption of alcohol, making him the target of ridicule on the rare occasions that he appeared in public; [62] by 1797 his weight had reached 17 stone 7 pounds (111 kg; 245 lb). [63] By 1824, his corset was made for a waist of 50 inches (130 cm). [64] He suffered from gout, arteriosclerosis, peripheral edema ("dropsy"), and possibly porphyria. In his last years, he spent whole days in bed and suffered spasms of breathlessness that would leave him half-asphyxiated. [5]

By December 1828, like his father, George was almost completely blind from cataracts, and was suffering from such severe gout in his right hand and arm that he could no longer sign documents. [65] In mid-1829, Sir David Wilkie reported the King "was wasting away frightfully day after day", and had become so obese that he looked "like a great sausage stuffed into the covering". [65] The King took laudanum to counteract severe bladder pains, which left him in a drugged and mentally handicapped state for days on end. [66] He underwent surgery to remove a cataract in September 1829, by which time he was regularly taking over 100 drops of laudanum before state occasions. [67]

By the spring of 1830, George's imminent end was apparent. Now largely confined to his bedchambers, having completely lost sight in one eye and describing himself "as blind as a beetle", he was forced to approve legislation with a stamp of his signature in the presence of witnesses. [68] His weight was recorded to be 20 stone (130 kg; 280 lb). [69] Attacks of breathlessness due to dropsy forced him to sleep upright in a chair, and doctors frequently tapped his abdomen to drain excess fluid. [66] Despite his obvious decline, George was admired for clinging doggedly to life. [70] His will to live and still-prodigious appetite astonished observers; in April 1830, the Duke of Wellington wrote the King had consumed for breakfast "a Pidgeon and Beef Steak Pye...Three parts of a bottle of Mozelle, a Glass of Dry Champagne, two Glasses of Port [and] a Glass of Brandy", followed by a large dose of laudanum. [68] Writing to Maria Fitzherbert in June, the King's doctor, Sir Henry Halford, noted "His Majesty's constitution is a gigantic one, and his elasticity under the most severe pressure exceeds what I have ever witnessed in thirty-eight years' experience." [71] Though George had been under Halford's care since the time of the Regency, the doctor's social ambitions and perceived lack of competence were strongly criticised, with The Lancet labelling Halford's bulletins on the King's health as "utterly and entirely destitute of information", subsequently characterising Halford's treatment of George, which involved administering both opium and laudanum as sedatives, as appearing to lack sense or direction. [72]

George dictated his will in May and became very devout in his final months, confessing to an archdeacon that he repented of his dissolute life, but hoped mercy would be shown to him as he had always tried to do the best for his subjects. [66] By June, he was unable to lie down, and received the Sacrament on 14 June in the presence of Lady Conyngham, Halford and a clergyman. [71] While Halford only informed the Cabinet on 24 June that "the King's cough continues with considerable expectoration," he privately told his wife that "things are coming to a conclusion...I shall be released about Monday." [73]

At about three in the morning of 26 June 1830 at Windsor Castle, George awoke and passed a bowel movement – "a large evacuation mix'd with blood." [73] He then sent for Halford, allegedly calling to his servants "Sir Henry! Sir Henry! Fetch him; this is death!" [73] Accounts of George's final moments and last words vary. According to Halford, following his arrival and that of Sir William Knighton, the King's "lips grew livid, and he dropped his head on the page's shoulder...I was up the stairs in five minutes, and he died but eight minutes afterwards." [73] Other accounts state the King placed his hands on his stomach and said "Surely, this must be death," or that he called out "Good God, what is this?", clasped his page's hand, said "my boy, this is death", and died. [74] George died at 3:15 a.m. [73] An autopsy conducted by his physicians revealed George had died from upper gastrointestinal bleeding resulting from the rupture of a blood vessel in his stomach. [75] A large tumour "the size of an orange" was found attached to his bladder; his heart was enlarged, had heavily calcified valves and was surrounded by a large fat deposit. [75]

The King was buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 15 July. [76] His only legitimate child, Princess Charlotte of Wales, had died from post-partum complications in 1817, after delivering a stillborn son. His oldest brother, George III's second son Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, had died childless in 1827, so the succession passed to the third son of George III, Prince William, Duke of Clarence, who reigned as William IV. [77]


"A Voluptuary Under The Horrors of Digestion": 1792 caricature by James Gillray from George's time as Prince of Wales A-voluptuary.jpg
"A Voluptuary Under The Horrors of Digestion": 1792 caricature by James Gillray from George's time as Prince of Wales

George's last years were marked by increasing physical and mental decay and withdrawal from public affairs. Privately a senior aide to the King confided to his diary: "A more contemptible, cowardly, selfish, unfeeling dog does not exist ... There have been good and wise kings but not many of them ... and this I believe to be one of the worst." [1] On his death The Times captured elite opinion succinctly: "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." [78] George IV was described as the "First Gentleman of England" on account of his style and manners. [79] He possessed many good qualities; he was bright, clever, and knowledgeable. However, his laziness and gluttony led him to squander much of his talent. The Times wrote, he would always prefer "a girl and a bottle to politics and a sermon". [80]

The Regency period saw a shift in fashion that was largely determined by George. After political opponents put a tax on wig powder, he abandoned wearing a powdered wig in favour of natural hair. [81] He wore darker colours than had been previously fashionable as they helped to disguise his size, favoured pantaloons and trousers over knee breeches because they were looser, and popularised a high collar with neck cloth because it hid his double chin. [82] His visit to Scotland in 1822 led to the revival, if not the creation, of Scottish tartan dress as it is known today. [83]

During the political crisis caused by Catholic emancipation, the Duke of Wellington said that George was "the worst man he ever fell in with his whole life, the most selfish, the most false, the most ill-natured, the most entirely without one redeeming quality", [84] but his eulogy delivered in the House of Lords called George "the most accomplished man of his age" and praised his knowledge and talent. [85] Wellington's true feelings probably lie somewhere between these two extremes; as he said later, George was "a magnificent patron of the arts ... the most extraordinary compound of talent, wit, buffoonery, obstinacy, and good feeling—in short a medley of the most opposite qualities, with a great preponderance of good—that I ever saw in any character in my life." [85]

Statue of George IV in Trafalgar Square, London Statue of King George IV in Trafalgar Square, London (cropped).jpg
Statue of George IV in Trafalgar Square, London

There are many statues of George IV, a large number of which were erected during his reign. In the United Kingdom, they include a bronze statue of him on horseback by Sir Francis Chantrey in Trafalgar Square. [86]

In Edinburgh, "George IV Bridge" is a main street linking the Old Town High Street to the north over the ravine of the Cowgate, designed by the architect Thomas Hamilton in 1829 and completed in 1835. King's Cross, now a major transport hub sitting on the border of Camden and Islington in north London, takes its name from a short-lived monument erected to George IV in the early 1830s. [87] A square and a neighbouring park in St Luke's, Islington, are also named after George IV. [88]

Titles, styles, honours, and arms

An unflattering 1819 caricature by George Cruikshank, illustrating "The Political House that Jack Built" by William Hone 1819 Prince Regent G Cruikshank caricature.png
An unflattering 1819 caricature by George Cruikshank, illustrating "The Political House that Jack Built" by William Hone

Titles and styles

At birth, he was also entitled to the dignities Prince of Great Britain and Ireland, Electoral Prince of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Duke of Rothesay. [89] Under the Act of Parliament that instituted the regency, the prince's formal title as regent was "Regent of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". [90]


British honours

Foreign honours

Military appointments


George's coat of arms as the Prince of Wales was the royal arms (with an inescutcheon of Gules plain in the Hanoverian quarter), differenced by a label of three points Argent. [93] The arms included the royal crest and supporters but with the single arched coronet of his rank, all charged on the shoulder with a similar label. His arms followed the change in the royal arms in 1801, when the Hanoverian quarter became an inescutcheon and the French quarter was dropped altogether. [94] The 1816 alteration did not affect him as it only applied to the arms of the King. [95]

As king his arms were those of his two kingdoms, the United Kingdom and Hanover, superimposed: Quarterly, I and IV Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II Or a lion rampant within a double tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland); overall an escutcheon tierced in pall reversed (for Hanover), I Gules two lions passant guardant Or (for Brunswick), II Or a semy of hearts Gules a lion rampant Azure (for Lüneburg), III Gules a horse courant Argent (for Westphalia), overall an inescutcheon Gules charged with the crown of Charlemagne Or, the whole escutcheon surmounted by a crown. [96]


Notes and sources

  1. 1 2 Baker, Kenneth (2005). "George IV: a Sketch". History Today. 55 (10): 30–36.
  2. Smith, E. A., p. 1
  3. Smith, E. A., p. 2
  4. Hibbert, George IV: Prince of Wales 1762–1811, p. 2
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hibbert, Christopher (2004). "George IV (1762–1830)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  7. Smith, E. A., pp. 25–28
  8. Smith, E. A., p. 48
  9. Smith, E. A., p. 33
  10. Parissien, p. 64
  11. Smith, E. A., pp. 36–38
  12. David, pp. 57–91
  13. 1 2 3 4 Innes, Arthur Donald (1914). A History of England and the British Empire, Vol. 3. The MacMillan Company. pp. 396–397.
  14. De-la-Noy, p. 31
  15. 1 2 Marilyn Morris, "Princely Debt, Public Credit, and Commercial Values in Late Georgian Britain." Journal of British Studies 2004 43(3): 339–365
  16. Röhl, J. C. G.; Warren, M.; Hunt, D. (1998). Purple Secret. Bantam Press.
  17. Peters, T. J.; Wilkinson, D. (2010). "King George III and porphyria: a clinical re-examination of the historical evidence". History of Psychiatry. 21 (81 Pt 1): 3–19. doi:10.1177/0957154X09102616. PMID   21877427.
  18. 1 2 3 4 David, pp. 92–119
  19. Smith, E. A., p. 54
  20. Derry, p. 71
  21. Derry, p. 91
  22. 1 2 May, Thomas Erskine (1896). The Constitutional History of England Since the Accession of George the Third, 1760–1860 (11th ed.). London: Longmans, Green and Co. chapter III pp. 184–195.
  23. Derry, p. 181
  24. 1 2 Derry, p. 109
  25. Smith, E. A., p. 70
  26. 1 2 David, pp. 150–205
  27. Parissien, p. 60
  28. Major, Joanne; Murden, Sarah (2016), An infamous mistress : the life, loves and family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Pen & Sword History, ISBN   1473844835
  29. Hibbert, George IV: Prince of Wales 1762–1811, p. 18
  30. Hibbert, George IV: Regent and King 1811–1830, p. 214
  31. David, pp. 76–78
  32. David, p. 78
  33. David, p. 80
  34. Camp, Anthony J. (2007) Royal Mistresses and Bastards: Fact and Fiction 1714–1936, ISBN   978-0-9503308-2-2
  35. De-la-Noy, p. 55
  36. Smith, E. A., p. 97
  37. Ashley, Mike (1998). The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens. London: Robinson. p. 684. ISBN   1-84119-096-9.
  38. Innes, Arthur Donald (1915). A History of England and the British Empire, Vol. 4. The MacMillan Company. p. 50.
  39. "No. 16451". The London Gazette . 5 February 1811. p. 227.
  40. Bagehot, Walter (1872) The English constitution, p. 247
  41. Parissien, p. 185
  42. Smith, E. A., pp. 141–142
  43. Smith, E. A., p. 144
  44. Smith, E. A., p. 145
  45. Smith, E. A., p.146
  46. Parissien, pp. 264–281
  47. Rutherford, Jessica M. F. (1995). The Royal Pavilion: The Palace of George IV. Brighton Borough Council. p. 81. ISBN   0-948723-21-1.
  48. Innes, Arthur Donald (1915). A History of England and the British Empire, Vol. 4. The MacMillan Company. p. 81.
  49. Parissien, pp. 209–224
  50. Innes, Arthur Donald (1915). A History of England and the British Empire, Vol. 4. The MacMillan Company. p. 82.
  51. De-la-Noy, p. 95
  52. Prebble, John (2000). The King's Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, 1822. Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited. ISBN   1-84158-068-6.
  53. Parissien, pp. 316–323
  54. "King George IV". Official website of the British monarchy. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  55. Parissien, p. 189
  56. Smith, E. A., p. 238
  57. Hibbert, George IV: Regent and King 1811–1830, p. 292
  58. Smith, E. A., pp. 231–234
  59. Parissien, p. 190
  60. Smith, E. A., p. 237
  61. Parissien, p. 381
  62. Parissien, p. 355
  63. De-la-Noy, p. 43
  64. Parissien, p. 171
  65. 1 2 Smith, E. A., pp. 266–267
  66. 1 2 3 Smith, E. A., p. 269
  67. Parissien, p. 4
  68. 1 2 Parissien, p. 3
  69. Baker, Kenneth (2005). George IV: a life in caricature. Hudson and Thames. p. 202. ISBN   978-0-500-25127-0.
  70. Smith, E. A., p. 270
  71. 1 2 Parissien, p. 6
  72. Parissien, pp. 5–6
  73. 1 2 3 4 5 Parissien, pp. 7–8
  74. De-la-Noy, p. 103; Parissien, pp. 7–8; Smith, E. A., p. 271
  75. 1 2 Smith, E. A., p. 275
  76. Hibbert, George IV: Regent and King 1811–1830, p. 336
  77. Innes, Arthur Donald (1915). A History of England and the British Empire, Vol. 4. The MacMillan Company. p. 105.
  78. The Times (London) 15 July 1830 quoted in Hibbert, George IV: Regent and King 1811–1830, p. 342
  79. The Diary of Prince Pückler-Muskau (May 1828). Quoted in Parissien, p.420
  80. Clarke, John (1975). "George IV". The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England. Knopf: 225.
  81. Parissien, p. 112
  82. Parissien, p. 114
  83. Parissien, pp. 324–326
  84. Hibbert, George IV: Regent and King 1811–1830, p. 310
  85. 1 2 Hibbert, George IV: Regent and King 1811–1830, p. 344
  86. Parissien, pp. 14, 162–163, 201, 277
  87. "Camden's history". Camden Council. Archived from the original on 6 March 2007. Retrieved 5 March 2007.
  88. "History". St Clement's Church, King Square. Archived from the original on 24 February 2015. Retrieved 3 April 2015.
  89. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Cokayne, G. E. (1910), Gibbs, Vicary (ed.), The complete peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, 4, London: St Catherine's Press, pp. 450–451
  90. Hibbert, George IV: Prince of Wales 1762–1811, p. 280
  91. Jørgen Pedersen (2009). Riddere af Elefantordenen, 1559–2009 (in Danish). Syddansk Universitetsforlag. p. 207. ISBN   978-87-7674-434-2.
  92. "Militaire Willems-Orde: Wales, George Augustus Frederick, Prince of" [Military William Order: Wales, George Augustus Frederick, Prince of] (in Dutch). Ministerie van Defensie. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  93. Francois R. Velde. "Heraldica – British Royalty Cadency". Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  94. "No. 15324". The London Gazette . 30 December 1800. p. 2.
  95. Pinches, John Harvey; Pinches, Rosemary (1974). The Royal Heraldry of England. Heraldry Today. Slough, Buckinghamshire: Hollen Street Press. pp. 228–229. ISBN   0-900455-25-X.
  96. "No. 17149". The London Gazette . 29 June 1816. p. 1237.
  97. Genealogie ascendante jusqu'au quatrieme degre inclusivement de tous les Rois et Princes de maisons souveraines de l'Europe actuellement vivans [Genealogy up to the fourth degree inclusive of all the Kings and Princes of sovereign houses of Europe currently living] (in French). Bourdeaux: Frederic Guillaume Birnstiel. 1768. p. 5.

References and further reading

George IV of the United Kingdom
Cadet branch of the House of Welf
Born: 12 August 1762 Died: 26 June 1830
Regnal titles
Preceded by
George III
King of the United Kingdom and Hanover
29 January 1820 – 26 June 1830
Succeeded by
William IV
British royalty
Title last held by
Prince George, Duke of Edinburgh
later became King George III
Prince of Wales
Title next held by
Prince Albert Edward
later became King Edward VII
Title last held by
Frederick, Prince of Wales
Duke of Cornwall
Duke of Rothesay

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir William Augustus Pitt
Colonel of the 10th (The Prince of Wales's Own)
Royal Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars)

Succeeded by
The Lord Stewart
Masonic offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Cumberland
Grand Master of the Premier
Grand Lodge of England

Succeeded by
The Duke of Sussex
Other offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Portland
President of the Foundling Hospital
Succeeded by
The Duke of York

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