Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Monarch Profile: King George IV of Great Britain & Ireland
Probably more out of an urge to rebel and assert his independence from his father rather than genuine ideological agreement, the Prince of Wales openly associated himself with the very leftist and even anti-monarchial opposition leader Charles James Fox. During the American War for Independence, Fox and his clique openly took the side of the rebels, condemning the King and parading about in the blue and buff colors of the continental army. If the Prince of Wales only associated with Fox as a way to annoy his father, Fox likewise had little genuine use for the Prince as well. He disliked monarchy altogether but saw in the Prince of Wales someone he could use to gain power and who could be duped into helping him wreck the political establishment in Britain. However, the Prince of Wales was not the dupe Fox thought he was, as would be proven in due time. First, however, the Prince had to get through his first, really serious, scandal which arose from his love life. Yet, it was not because of the succession of mistresses he had but rather one woman who was actually one of the best things to ever happen to him and who just might have changed the course of his life.
When the Prince of Wales did legally marry it came about not because of romance but because of his mounting debts. The King was absolutely opposed to any increase in his allowance because of his lavish spending. However, Parliament finally agreed to cover his debts if he would settle down and get married. So, in 1795, he agreed to marry his cousin Caroline of Brunswick. It was hardly a match made in Heaven. Bride and groom were repulsed by the other and the Prince was drunk at his own wedding (perhaps the only way he could go through with it). After the birth of their first child early the following year, a daughter, the two lived apart. Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales was becoming more critical to national life as King George III began to show signs of madness, actually the first symptoms of porphyria. As the behavior of the King became more erratic, more looked to the Prince of Wales for leadership. Yet, for some, the Prince seemed all too eager to snatch power from his father. He did himself no favors by associating with the opposition, mocking the King, spreading embarrassing stories about him and even speaking (though surely not seriously) about a sort of palace coup to seize the royal powers for himself. Despite rallying for a time, eventually the mental state of the King became such that he had to be set aside and the Prince of Wales was appointed regent to act on his behalf in 1811.
There was plenty of criticism during the rather short ten-year reign of King George IV for his personal habits, his spending and his interference in politics. That, however, should be kept in perspective. The criticism of his personal life was mostly accurate but his political meddling was mostly due to incorrect assumptions based on his previous association with the Whigs. In fact, he largely stayed out of politics and the era of royal involvement in government seen during the reign of his father stopped and the era of royal non-interference had begun with George IV (or resumed from the first two Georges). However, that fact alone meant that when he did involve himself in political matters, particularly to carry on certain policies of his father (such as blocking Catholic emancipation) caused it to stand out more than it should have. There was also more to the man than the drunken glutton portrayed in the press. Many consider him the most intelligent of the Hanoverian monarchs and, when he was sober, he could demonstrate his knowledge, wit and uncanny memory.
During his reign, King George IV moved considerably to the right from where he had been in his rebellious youth when aligned with Fox. Once the responsibility of royal leadership was fully on his shoulders, George IV realized that the type of ideas espoused by Fox would lead to anarchy and the sort of revolutionary chaos seen in France. Because of this, the Whigs viewed him as a traitor to their cause and would never forgive him for it. However, he was not the sort of man to put up much of a fight in the political arena. By the time he was actually King, with a lifestyle that had aged him beyond his years, he preferred to avoid confrontation whenever possible. As a result, he often promised one group his support on a certain issue only to fail to give it when it seemed there would be resistance. This left him with an untrustworthy reputation that caused most to try to avoid him. He was secluded most of the time but when he did make public appearances he could still awe a crowd with his magnificent fashion sense and showed that he could still display the regal bearing and dignity of his youth, despite his increased years and even more increased waistline. He could still win people over and, while often discounted, his highly choreographed visit to Scotland (the first such royal visit since the Stuart era) did help bring the United Kingdom more closely together.