In honour of little Prince George’s christening yesterday, here is an excerpt from an article about another English Prince, George IV, who has a reputation of being obsessively self-interested. Enjoy!
George IV: The Royal Joke? by Dr. Steven Parissien
George’s notorious treatment of his legion of mistresses is easy to censure. His first serious affair was at the age of 17, and by the time he came of age in 1783 he was well-known as an inveterate ladies man who would woo his targets ardently, promise them his eternal love – and a sizeable pension – and then brusquely drop them when he tired of their charms. The whole royal edifice of sexual respectability and family values which George III had worked so hard to create in the 1760s and 70s was rapidly demolished by his son and heir, brick by brick. And, significantly, as he grew older George’s marked preference was not for younger, libidinous lovers but for older, motherly mistresses who were able to offer a degree of sympathy and understanding which had never received from his own, coldly calculating mother, Queen Charlotte.
The most famous and long lasting of these older women was the twice-widowed Catholic, Maria Fitzherbert, whom George actually married – in an illegal ceremony – in 1785. His attachment to Maria was predictably fitful; cast aside for the scheming Countess of Jersey in 1794, she was reconciled to the royal bosom in 1800 only to be rejected once more a decade later. In the meantime, however, George was forced to agree to a proper marriage to a suitably Protestant German princess in order to have his immense debts paid off by parliament – by no means the last time that such a solution would be necessary.
Somewhat inevitably, the subsequent marriage to Princess Caroline of Brunswick was an unmitigated disaster. The Prince was blind drunk at his wedding, and the couple only cohabited long enough to beget an heir: the ill-fated Princess Charlotte, who tragically died in childbirth in 1817. When, in his letter to Queen Caroline of 30 April 1796, the Prince of Wales piously expressed the hope that ‘the rest of our lives will be passed in uninterrupted tranquillity’, he actually had no intention of fulfilling this lofty aim, and had indeed already parted from her. Almost from the moment that Princess Charlotte was born, the Prince exaggerated or simply invented slights perpetrated by his wife against himself, and as the years progressed his demands and complaints became increasingly unreasonable and hysterical. The climax came with his attempted divorce of 1820 – an act which only served to unite the whole nation against him, which as quickly dropped by the government, and which provided even further ammunition for the scurrilous satires of the day.
Women were not George’s only passion. Flamboyant and extravagant costumes were another significant and lifelong preoccupation. From his earliest years he enjoyed the feel, colour and sheer thrill of expensive and well-cut new outfits. As early as 1782 George’s friend the Duchess of Devonshire admitted that the Prince of Wales ‘is fond of dress even to a tawdry degree’ and that ‘his person, his dress and the admiration he has met… from women take up his thoughts chiefly’. Her prediction, however, that his fascination with clothes, ‘young as he is, will soon wear off’, was to prove very optimistic. Indeed, as he grew older, the images which fashion could create – whether of the ‘First Gentleman of Europe’, an Admiral of the Fleet or an Elizabethan sovereign – became one of George’s primary obsessions. Guided by the arbiter of fashion George ‘Beau’ Brummell, the Prince’s day-to-day wear did indeed become an important standard for British and continental contemporaries. The memory of the subtlety and exemplary tailoring of such outfits was, however, soon erased by George’s increasing girth – his waist measured 50 inches on his death – and by his growing penchant for outrageous, pseudo-historical fancy dress.
Read the complete article here