George Augustus Frederick Hanover was the first-born (1762) son of England’s King George III and his wife, Queen Charlotte. His two middle names were later assigned to younger brothers, but I guess if you have thirteen children, suitable names aren’t just hanging on the trees in the castle garden! Extravagant might have been a more suitable middle name for him, however!
Young George lived a life of indulgence as a handsome, happy-go-lucky young man – after all, he would be the next King, so who was to say him nay. Other than his prudish father, that is. No matter how hard the older man tried, he was unable – even with the help of Parliament – to keep his successor from running wild. On the other hand, what was there for a handsome young prince to do with himself, if his father refused to share any of his kingly duties – or even devise a plan to educate his son as to those same kingly duties.
Busy with such difficulties as finding suitable mates for all those children (at which he was notoriously unsuccessful!) the king had also to worry about those pesky colonies far across the ocean. Independence, they wanted! What on earth for? He was the best possible ruler for them, whatever they thought. And if that rebellion wasn’t enough, just look across the channel to France. Of course, they never did know what was best for them. If that monarchy should fall, his own would be in great jeopardy.
And if truth be told, the king wasn’t always in the best of health. Even with the best doctors available, there was never a firm diagnosis as to what was causing his physical—and mental—problems. And every time he fell under the grip of this illness, his oldest son again started pestering to be appointed Regent. Not likely!
In 1779, at the age of 17, the handsome young man known as ‘Prinny’ first saw Mary Robinson on stage as she was playing Perdita in The Winter's Tale. She was at the time, 21, and possibly responsible for his life-long attraction to older women. He promptly styled himself as her Florizel, until he met up with Maria FitzHerbert, who was probably his life-long first and best love. She, however was Catholic, and he could not legally marry her. So, he did it anyway! In 1785, they were married, and stayed more-or-less-together until 1795, when the old king coerced his son into marriage with Princess Caroline of Brunswick. Several years later, the Prince sued Caroline for a divorce, which was sort of granted, but he never married again. He went back to Maria, and stayed with her until he became regent in 1811. Subsequently, he dallied with Lady Jersey (from 1794 to 1798), and lastly with Lady Hertford from about 1812 to 1819.
painted by John Hoppner, 1782 | painted by Richard Cosway, 1781
At least there was to be a child from his disastrous marriage. Caroline delivered a healthy daughter, but the prince flat out refused to try again. So, all the hopes of the country were placed on the tender shoulders of the Princess Charlotte.
And then, disaster fell. King George III had become more ill by the day, and finally, in 1811, the Prince achieved his goal – he was named as Prince Regent, to serve in lieu of his father who was declared mentally incompetent to rule. After all those years of waiting, it’s a wonder he didn’t bankrupt the country! ‘Lavish’ didn’t begin to describe his style of living. Look at photos of the Brighton Pavilion as an example.
Among his dearest friends were Beau Brummel, and some pretty high flyers! Not one of them was a good example of thrift and sensibility: William Arderne, 2nd Baron Alvanley; Richard Barry, 7th Earl of Barrymore; Francis Russell, 5th duke of Bedford; ‘Poodle’ Byng, Hon. Frederick Gerald Byng; William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire; Charles James Fox, Foreign Secretary three times, also proposed Abolition bill passed in 1807; Francis Seymour-Ingram, 2nd Marquis of Hertford; Edward ‘Golden Ball’ Hughes, who inherited 40,000 pounds a year, but died in poverty, George Bussey Villiers, 4th Earl of Jersey; Henry Mildmay, Baronet; and last but by no means least! - Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk and Earl of Surrey. This Dukedom has two additional special titles: Premier Duke, conferred in 1483 by King Richard III and the hereditary office of Earl Marshal of England. (For more information about any of the above, go here: http://www.georgianindex.net/Prinny/prinnys_set.html )
Prinny wanted desperately to participate in the Napoleonic wars, and had several showy regimental uniforms made to his specifications – just in case. Of course, he couldn’t do that! No king had led his troops into battle since Richard III at Bosworth in 1485. And we all know how that turned out, don’t we?
As his daughter approached her majority, he found a suitable prince for her. But wouldn’t you just know – she proved to be entirely her father’s daughter. She refused this first suitor, and promptly fell head over heels in love with that upstart Leopold Coberg! There was no choice but to give in and the country rejoiced in the lavish wedding and happiness of the newlyweds.
Charlotte was almost immediately pregnant, but before the year of 1817 was over, the country was devastated as both she and the baby died during the birthing process. The widowed Leopold went back to Europe and was subsequently the Uncle of Queen Victoria and also the King of Belgium.
In 1820, the old ‘Mad King’ George III died, and the 58 year old Prince George became King George IV. He’d always loved older women, but by time he became King there weren’t too many of them available to him. He continually fought with his six brothers, and although he generally tolerated his sisters, he didn’t allow them much more freedom than his father had. Which wasn’t much. Even so, there were rumors that at least one of them disregarded his edicts by contracting a secret marriage and an even more secret child.
And so, King George IV bumbled along in his own way for the next ten years. He was succeeded by his next brother William. The sad king died alone – without wife or child, or even true friends.
George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence after his coronation.
-- Hetty St. James