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History

The Controversial King: The Rise of George IV


By Thomas Lawrence - Public Domain, WIki Commons

On 29 January 1820, George IV ascended the throne to become the King of Great Britain. The oldest child of King George III and Queen Charlotte, George IV is remembered for his role as Regent and style setter rather than his reign as King. 

George IV’s lasting legacy was the Regency period, as the Regent in question. The Regency is known for a flourishing of arts and literature, the resurgence of Classical architecture, and great social and political change.

As the Prince of Wales, George was one of the greatest patrons and supporters of architecture and the arts. He commissioned the Brighton Pavilion and Carlton House. He was a fan of author Jane Austen, and her novel Emma was actually (grudingly) dedicated to the Prince Regent. In the Regency period, Bath was one of the Prince’s favourite cities. Taste-maker and society host Beau Brummell and architect John Nash, largely responsible for the growth of Bath, were both George’s close associates.

George IV was the exact opposite of his quiet and dedicated father. He was addicted to gambling, drank to excess, and kept several mistresses. He continued to spend wildly, and his debts spiraled. Parliament gave him a one time grant of £60,000 when he reached 21, and agree to an annual income of£50,000. This came nowhere near to covering his debts. 

Shortly after turning 21, George fell in love with Maria Fitzherbert. Fitzherbert was a 27 year old, Catholic widow, and could never be recognised as the Princess of Wales. Nevertheless, George married her in 1785, though the marriage was void without the consent of George III. In order to receive needed money from Parliament and his father, he married a royal relative, Caroline of Brunswick, in 1795. It was a famously unhappy marriage and they separated permanently after the birth of their daughter Princess Charlotte of Wales in 1796.

When George III became seriously ill with mental health problems in 1788, the government struggled with who should open Parliament and fulfil the King’s duties while he was unable. Whig leader James Charles Fox felt that as Prince of Wales, George was the best person to hold that role. When George III’s mental health deteriorated again in 1810, his doctors and advisers felt he would never recover. The Prince of Wales served as Prince Regent from 1810 until he ascended the throne in 1820. 

George IV held a lavish coronation on 19 July 1821, costing roughly £243,000 (which would be nearly £22,000,000 in today’s money). He famously excluded his estranged wife from Westminster Abbey, opening him to ridicule. By the time of his ascension, George was obese and probably addicted to laudenum. He spent much of his reign at Windsor Castle, though still had significant influence in the political sphere. He would eventually be succeeded by his younger brother, King William IV.

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Historian and blogger at AnHistorianAboutTown.com