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Thursday, 26 March 2015

George IV of of the United Kingdom

George was born at St James's Palace, London, on August 12, 1762, the first child of King George III of the United Kingdom and Queen Charlotte.

George (left) with his mother & younger brother Frederick, Allan Ramsay, 1764

George was highly educated with an appreciation of the arts and sciences. He was a talented student, quickly learning to speak not only English but also French, German and Italian.

George IV was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of Hanover following the death of his father, George III, on January 29, 1820, until his own death ten years later. From 1811 until his accession, he served as Prince Regent during his father's final mental illness.

Prince George employed the celebrated chef Marie-Antoine CarĂªme. The sumptuous food cooked for him gave the prince almost permanent indigestion. The gargantuan excesses of Prince George greatly exceed any other royals.

George suffered from gout due to his highly spiced diet. For many years he bathed in the Brighton sea to try to cure this.

By 1797 George's weight had reached 17 stone 7 pounds and by 1824 his corset was made for a waist of 50 inches.

George was partial to cherry brandy, which he liked to sit up late at night drinking. A heavy drinker, the phrase "drunk as a Lord” is said to have originally referred to the prince.

He was addicted to liquid opium, taking 100 drops to calm himself before appearances.

For years George covered himself in leeches to give himself an interesting pallor.

Prince George agreed to marry his first cousin Princess Caroline of Brunswick in return for payment of his gambling debts.

On seeing the ugly, obese and vulgar Princess Caroline for the first time the day before their wedding and kissing her George said "Harris, I am not well: pray get me a glass of brandy." Caroline rasped in French to an aide "I think he's very fat and he's nothing like as handsome as his portrait."

Caroline, Princess of Wales by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1798

Prince George and Princess Caroline married on April 8, 1795 at the Chapel Royal, St James's Palace (see below). The German bride wore a elaborate dress of silver tissue and lace and a velvet robe lined with ermine. The prince got so drunk on his wedding night he passed out on the floor in front of the fireplace.


Following the birth of Princess Charlotte (1796-1817),  a separation was arranged and George returned to his mistress Mrs Fitzherbert.

When George was told of the death of Napoleon - "Sir, your bitterest enemy is dead," George replied, thinking of Caroline, "Is she by God."

George became Prince Regent on February 5, 1811 as a result of his father, George III's insanity. George let his ministers take full charge of government affairs, playing a far lesser role than his father. The principle that the prime minister was the person supported by a majority in the House of Commons, whether the king personally favored him or not, became established. His governments, with little help from the Regent, presided over British policy.

Portrait in Garter robes by Lawrence, 1816

The Prince Regent was so enamored of his friend Beau Brummell that he blindly copied his dress sense: blue coat, light-blue waistcoat, buff trousers, kid gloves.

George became the first person to own a pair of shoes made to fit two feet, when he ordered a pair of fitted boots in 1818. Previously all shoes were made to fit either foot.

When George III died in 1820, the Prince Regent, then aged 57, ascended the throne as George IV. By the time of his accession, he was obese and possibly addicted to laudanum.

His coronation on July 19, 1821 was a magnificent and expensive affair, costing about £243,000 (approximately £19,321,000 in 2015)  The crown he wore at his coronation cost £100,000.

The coronation of King George IV on 19 July 1821.

George IV still had a poor relationship with his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, and he forbade her from attending his coronation.

Carlton House was the palace in which the future George IV lived in lavish style when Prince Regent.  On inheriting the crown he commissioned John Nash to improve Buckingham Palace and to build the present Carlton House Terrace (1827–32), on the site of Carlton House.

For years George's habit of cavorting around in Highland Dress did not endear himself to the English public. However his 1822 visit to Edinburgh in full Highland rig was stage managed by Walter Scott to portray the English king as an overweight reincarnation of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The spectacular pageantry that took place helped make tartans and kilts fashionable and was an important step in the romantic stereotype of "bonnie Scotland."

Portrait by Sir David Wilkie depicting the King during his 1822 trip to Scotland

A week after his father's death, George went sick with a life threatening attack of pneumonia. A hypochondriac, he frequently complained to his court doctors that he was dying but this time he truly appeared to be.

George IV's heavy drinking and indulgent lifestyle had taken their toll on his health by the late 1820s. He passed away aged 67 at about half-past three in the morning of June 26, 1830 at Windsor Castle; The dying George reportedly called out "Good God, what is this?" clasped his page's hand and said "my boy, this is death," after which he expired. He was England's fattest king and most profligate.

Sources Radio Times, Food For Thought, Historyworld.net

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