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Thursday 13 October 2011

George IV (1762-1830)

George IV  from Huish's Memoirs of her late  royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
George IV
from Huish's Memoirs of her late
royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
The reign of George IV

George Augustus Frederick, Prince of Wales, was born on 12 August 1762 at St James’ Palace, the eldest son of George III and Queen Charlotte. He ruled for nine years as Regent, from 1811 to 1820, when his father became incapacitated due to mental instability and ill health, finally becoming King on 29 January 1820 on his father's death. He ruled for ten years until his own death in 1830. As his only legitimate issue, Princess Charlotte, had died in childbirth in 1817, he was succeeded by his brother, William IV.

The early years

Unfortunately, George did not get on with his royal parents. George III preferred his second son, Frederick, to his heir and Queen Charlotte is said to have hated her eldest son. The King and Queen had simple tastes which did not sit well with the young Prince of Wales who chafed at the restrictions put on his behaviour. He took every opportunity to annoy his father whilst the King despised his heir’s extravagant and hedonistic lifestyle. He was further alienated from his father after an abortive attempt to take power during the Regency crisis of 1788.

Unlike his brothers, George was not allowed to enter military service, but was kept at home with his sisters, who adored him, with very little to do. This lack of occupation only drove him to more excesses and increased his resentment towards his parents.

Patron of the arts
The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
George was genuinely devoted to the arts and became a great connoisseur of paintings and furniture, amassing a huge collection during his lifetime and inspiring the establishment of the National Gallery. He loved both playing and listening to music, was well versed in literature and was an ardent supporter of the theatre.

He also loved architecture and was intimately involved with the redesign of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, and, most notably, the Brighton Pavilion, which remains a lasting monument to his architectural extravagance, where his creative genius was allowed free reign. His patronage of Brighton encouraged the development of the fashionable seaside resort.

The Prince Regent's set

As a young man, George was both handsome and popular. He was considered to be 'the first gentleman of England' because of his polished manners and witty conversation. He was extravagant and entertained lavishly, moving in a set of people who shared in his excesses of gambling and drinking that included the Barrymore brothers, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Beau Brummell and Charles James Fox.

Head of statue of George IV, Brighton
Head of statue of George IV, Brighton
However, George was selfish and unfeeling and a far from faithful friend. Parissien states that: "Although he was frequently complimented on his manners, when it came to people or principle he found it all too easy to abandon them, along with consideration and politeness."

George the womaniser

George was a passionate but inconstant lover. He had many mistresses, including Maria Fitzherbert; Mary "Perdita" Robinson; Lady Melbourne; Grace Eliot; Frances, Countess of Jersey; Isabella, Marchioness of Hertford; and Lady Conyngham.

Mrs Fitzherbert  from La Belle Assemblée (1810)
Mrs Fitzherbert
from La Belle Assemblée (1810)

He reluctantly agreed to marry his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, in 1795, in order to get parliament to pay his debts. They had one daughter, Princess Charlotte, but the marriage was a disaster and the couple soon separated. George's callous treatment of his wife coupled with his extravagance lost him much of his early popularity.
Princess Caroline of Brunswick  from Huish's Memoirs of her late  royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
Princess Caroline of Brunswick
from Huish's Memoirs of her late
royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
His final years

In later life, George became vastly overweight through years of overindulgence. His health deteriorated and he spent the latter part of his reign in virtual seclusion in the Royal Lodge, Windsor. He died at Windsor on 26 June 1830, aged 67 years of age.

Windsor Castle  from Picturesque Views on the River Thames  by Samuel Ireland (1791)
Windsor Castle
from Picturesque Views on the River Thames
by Samuel Ireland (1791)
Sources used include:
Chedzoy, Alan, Seaside Sovereign - King George III at Weymouth (The Dovecote Press, 2003, Wimborne)
Fry, Plantagenet Somerset, The Kings & Queens of England & Scotland, (1990)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of her late royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
Parissien, Steven, George IV, The Grand Entertainment (John Murray, 2001)
Watson, J. Steven, Oxford History of England: The Reign of George III 1760-1815, (1960)
Photographs by Andrew Knowles -


  1. If I could travel back in history, I would love to meet and talk with "Prinny", and explore Brighton Pavilion and Carlton House - and meet all the poets, painters, writers etc.
    Regency is my favourite period in history.

    Elaine Collier

    1. As you probably guessed, I am a big fan of the Regency too. It is tragic that George IV got tired of Carlton House and had it demolished but at least we still have Brighton Pavilion.

  2. George IV was an extravagant collector of many works of art, which adorn the walls of royal collections. He built many well known buildings including the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, but his love for the wrong type of women expected by the monarchy was not his choice.

    I loved the article and I love your site, it is always a pleasure to come and have a read.

    1. Thanks very much for your comments. I think that I would have more sympathy with George if he had more loyalty. One of the things I most dislike about him is the way he cast people off - friends and lovers alike - when he no longer wanted/needed them. Not a very likeable characteristic!

    2. I am a Direct Lineal Descendent of William M Miller SR "Frederick"(Great Great Great Grandfather) Born 1816-1891 “Pugwash/Oxford” area of Cumberland N.S
      "We Might just be the bustard line of King George IV" King George IV was probably suffering from clinical depression. I've notice Particular personality traits in the males in the miller family and in myself. We all share the same personality traits. I Have a strong Belief in "Genetic Memory". My family and I don't speak often, we are all very distant from each other... We like our solitude, but we still maintain a connection. I am the most open of the males. My Parents were never really together. I know I suffer from mental Illness, I recently tried committing suicide, not the first time though. I may be The last "Miller" Frederick to carry on this Hidden bloodline.

      WILLIAM M. MILLER, SR.: There is little known information on the life and times of William M. Miller, Sr. He was born about 1816 and lived in the Pugwash or Oxford area of Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. There is an old tale about him, but no one can be certain that it is true or false. It was told by the elders of the Miller family and has been past down from one generation to the next. It seems in the early days, there was this young girl who worked as a chambermaid in this inn at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. In those days the young Prince of Wales made many trips to P.E.I. On these trips they always had a number of ladies available for his entertainment and pleasure. On one of these trips he took a fancy to this young chambermaid. Arrangements were made for him to meet with her. After a period of time the poor young girl became pregnant with the Prince of Wales's child. In order to save any embarrassment, the young girl was moved to the mainland (Nova Scotia) to have her baby. On the journey to Halifax, the boat ran into a storm and became stranded on the ice off the shores of Pugwash. Help came from Pugwash to save her and the others. She later gave birth to two twin boys in the Pugwash area. These twin boys were then put up for adoption by two different families. It was said that William M. Miller was one of these boys. The Prince of Wales was George, son of King George the 3rd. He later became King and was known to the world as King George the 4th. He married twice and had only one daughter who died as an infant

      "Food for thought"

  3. My name is Lady Iveta and I started investigate Sonet writen by Lord Byron "Sonet to George The Forth" (On repeal of Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s Forfeiture) in which he expesing wories about Kings lads called sire's been sway by kingdom less I found meaning of word sway it's means - "To exert influence on or control over: His speech swayd the voters." for Byron probabaly it meaned somebody took control over country with no knowledge from Government and particular Lords but Byron was 6th Baron called Lord. There no sence to me in Parliamnets Archive no documents about it at all.
    Where something could be?

    1. Byron wrote the Sonnet to George the Fourth in response to the property of Lord Edward Fitzgerald being restored to his family, due to George's actions. It had been confiscated by the crown on Lord Edward's death in 1798 as he had died after being arrested for treason. Byron praised George for his benevolence, encouraging mercy as a means of winning the favour of his people. In a letter to his publisher he said: "It was a very noble piece of principality."

  4. I know it's unfair to judge people of another era by our standards. But was George IV a racist? An anecdote published in the 'Brighton Chronicle' and re-published in 'The Times' (23 January 1823) says he had 'an unconquerable antipathy to blacks being near his person', and this was the reason he wouldn't allow a black drummer in the royal band. I do recall a report about his coronation procession, also in The Times, which says several pugilists were hired to walk in it, as security (was he that scared of his wife?), and that one of these was Bill Richmond, an African American.

    1. This is not something I have come across before, but it would seem to be evidence of a racist attitude if he really said that. A single report is not enough to convince me that these were deeply rooted feelings though. George IV was very changeable and I would want to look at his attitude over his adult life before deciding whether this was a long-term prejudice or a passing whim.

    2. The anecdote describes the bandleader Cramer using a dark-skinned European as drummer instead, and the King looking displeased at first, then joking to Cramer "I see, Sir, you wish to accustom me to a black drummer by degrees." Is there much available on racial attitudes in the Regency era?

    3. My Twitter contact Tricia Matthews has suggested "Identifying Foreign Bodies: New Philosophers and Hottentots in Elizabeth Hamilton's Memoirs of Modern Philosophers" by Claire Grogan - link to PDF here: and the introduction to The Woman of Colour, A Tale (1808) reviewed by her here: Hope this helps. :)

    4. Thanks, I'll follow them up.