By February 5, 1811, both houses of Parliament had passed the Regency Act, making George, Prince of Wales, the Regent for his incapacitated father, George III, who was under doctors' care at Windsor Castle. The Prince took the royal oath on February 6, 1811.
He was 48 years old. He had a legal wife, Princess Caroline, whom he despised, and from whom he had been estranged since shortly after the wedding. Their daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales, was 15 years old, and suffered from the great inconsistencies in her father’s attention and attitude. She was most often ignored by him, but occasionally she was flaunted before the public, which adored her and loathed him.
|Princess Charlotte by Richard Woodman,|
Charlotte was a lively girl who had limited contact with both her mother and father. She was often with her aunts, the Princesses, and her grandmother, Queen Charlotte, and only rarely with girls of her own age. From time to time, the Prince spent time with her, but he complained that her looks reminded him, painfully, of his wife. Little wonder she had the German/Hanoverian stamp, since her George and Caroline were first cousins, both grandchildren of Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-1751), the son of George II.
Princess Charlotte led a lonely life, though surrounded at all times by attendants and court-appointed companions.
Caroline, by 1811, had set up a separate establishment where she entertained and socialized. Some of her behavior was reported to be scandalous, and her access to her daughter was often restricted. Caroline enjoyed -- and often flaunted -- her personal popularity with the people. She resented her position as a cast-aside wife with little or no access to court and none of the honors due her. Little wonder that there were constant rumors circulating in London society.
|Caroline, Princess of Wales |
by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1798, VandA
Prince George had another wife, Maria Fitzherbert, though the union was not legal according to the requirements of the laws regarding royal marriages. Maria put up with a lot of misbehavior from George too. He left her not only for a legal wife, however temporarily, but also had numerous mistresses while he was associating with her. Like Caroline, Maria loved children; both women adopted other children on whom they poured their maternal love. One hopes that all three of these women – Maria, Caroline and Charlotte – managed some degree of happiness in their lives as they were consistently disappointed by the whims and caprices of George, Prince of Wales.
|Mrs. Fitzherbert by Gainsborough, 1787|
Prince George resided at Carlton House in London, a building he had turned into a palace filled with magnificent art works and sumptuous furnishings. Typical of his over-indulgence in all matters, as King, George IV had Carlton House demolished in 1825 for a new plan to enhance the new Regent Street. Meanwhile, he turned his Marine Pavilion in Brighton, from the tasteful building completed by Henry Holland in 1787, below, into a fantastical building in which the interior is Chinese style while the exterior is Indian-Mughal, whatever that is. Rev. Sydney Smith remarked upon seeing the Pavilion, "It looks like St. Paul’s Cathedral came down and pupped.”
|The Marine Pavilion, Brighton |
Henry Holland, Architect, 1787
Brighton Pavilion, as remodeled by John Nash, after 1811
England at the beginning of 1811 had been at war with France on and off for decades. British armies were fighting in the Peninsular Wars in Portugal and Spain. Shifting alliances among the continental European powers kept Britain’s diplomats busy negotiating and re-negotiating treaties and mutual support pacts. The Prince Regent left the hard jobs to his ministers while he concentrated on his social life, his collections, his designs for army uniforms, and other even more trivial matters. We will dip further into some of these in future posts.
But George never was very popular. Sometimes the press was full of praise, but between the essayists, satirists and artists of caricatures, the Regent took his full share of criticism.
Here is a fragment of the praiseful poem published by the Morning Post newspaper in honor of the new Prince Regent:
Adonis! In thy shape and face,
A liberal heart and Princely grace
In thee are seen combined …
But Leigh Hunt and his brother John, editor of a literary magazine called the Examiner, published a different view:
“… An Adonis of 50 … a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demi-reps, a man without a single claim to the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity …”
Though many hailed them as heroes for their position, the Hunts were sued for and convicted of libel and served time in jail. Among the visitors to Leigh Hunt in prison were the poet Lord Byron, Lord Brougham, and essayist Charles Lamb.
|Leigh Hunt, essayist and critic, 1784-1859|
"The Prince of Whales, or The Fisherman at Anchor:
George Cruikshank, 1812
We will look at the Prince, or Prinny as many called him, and his reign many times in the upcoming months. It was a time of excess in many ways, and he certainly led the pack. We will see many more caricatures -- they were in their glory in those days -- and we will look at the real achievements of the Prince, particularly in assembling his collections of art and decorative arts.
At his Pavilion in Brighton, a new exhibition is about to open: Dress for Excess, Fashion in Regency England. suitable title, don't you agree? It will include the magnificent Coronation Robe worn by the Prince as he became George IV in 1921. Below, the King's portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence (who else?).
Labels: George III, George IV, Princess Charlotte, Regency Reflections, Victoria Hinshaw