Whilst we'll be visiting many stately homes during the upcoming Duke of Wellington Tour in September, one of the highlights will surely be our visit to the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Built as George IV's pleasure palace by the sea, the Pavilion continues to astonish visitors, just as it did during the 19th century. One of the most astonished first time visitors was the Duke of Wellington - Princess Lieven took the time to record the Duke's reaction, writing from to her husband from Brighton on January 26, 1822: "I wish you were here to laugh. You cannot imagine how astonished the Duke of Wellington is. He had not been here before, and I thoroughly enjoy noting the kind of remark and the kind of surprise that the whole household evokes in a new-comer. I do not believe that, since the days of Heliogabalus, there have been such magnificence and such luxury. There is something effeminate in it which is disgusting. One spends the evening half-lying on cushions; the lights are dazzling; there are perfumes, music, liquers – “Devil take me, I think I must have got into bad company.” You can guess who said that, and the tone in which it was said. . . . "
Astonished as Wellington may have been, he revisited the Pavilion, as he visited all of the royal residences, numerous times to fulfill his many official appointments - state, governmental or personal - during the reigns of four British monarchs. Typically, the Duke had nothing more annoying to deal with than the demands of the Prince of Wales, but on another occasion whilst in Brighton, the Duke found himself confronted with the dreaded Lady Caroline Lamb. He recorded the encounter as follows:
Stratfield Saye, 6 April 1823 To Mrs. Arbuthnot . . . . . . . I saw Calantha (Lady C. Lamb) at Brighton, as mad as a March Hare. She jumped out of her Carriage to come to me on the East Cliffe, and did not wait to have the steps let down! She has written another book, called I don't know what; but she is to send it to me and you shall have it. She says it is doubtful whether it was written by Lord Byron or Thomas Hope!! . . . . . .
Whilst the Pavilion was not a favourite stopping place of the Duke's, it seems that, like it or not, the Duke had a strong influence upon its interiors, as The History of Brighton and Environs by Henry Martin (1871) explains:
There was formerly in one of the rooms of the Pavilion a Chinese lanthorn, 12ft. by 8ft., and which, on all particular occasions, was brilliantly illuminated on the exterior, thus exhibiting its transparency and producing an effect too exquisite to be described. A small apartment adjacent, called Tippoo Saib's room, was fitted up with ivory chairs, sofas, etc, part of the spoils brought from Seringapatam, after the overthrow of that eastern potentate. All the fittings and embellishments were of a gorgeous character, and in strict harmony throughout the whole of this remarkable building; on occasions, such as State Balls, etc, it must have been a splendid spectacle, the uniforms of the Foreign Ambassadors, General Officers, representatives of various orders, all uniting to make the "coup d'oeil" particularly striking.
After the death of the Prince Regent, his brother, King William IV, and, afterwards, Queen Victoria both used the Pavilion from time to time. You perhaps won't be surprised to learn that Queen Victoria didn't like it very much - in fact, she felt much the same way about the Pavilion as the Duke of Wellington had, and so sold the Pavilion to the town of Brighton for £50,000 in 1850, taking quite a bit of the furniture and the décor back to Buckingham Palace. Many of those pieces have subsequently been returned to the Pavilion, on loan from the present Queen.
Here is what the Duke of Wellington wrote to Angela Burdett-Coutts on 23 January 1850 about the sale of the Pavilion: . . . . . I am not surprised that the purchase of the Pavillion at Brighton should be such in that town! The Queen disliked the Residents of Brighton; and Her Majesty is not in a position, I am afraid, to keep up a Palace of that kind at Her Private expense to please the Publick at Brighton! It now belongs to the Crown; and the Publick dislike Palaces to such a degree that it is desirable to get rid of any one at which the Sovereign does not desire to reside . . . . . .