Childhood & Early Life
King George IV was born on 12 August 1762 at St James's Palace, London, and was christened, George Augustus Frederick. At that time, his father, King George III, the third British monarch from the House of Hanover, was the King of Great Britain and Ireland and the Prince-Elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg.
His mother, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, belonged to the House of Mecklenburg, a north German dynasty that ruled in the Mecklenburg region until 1918. Although George shared a strained relationship with his father from the very beginning, he was always close to his mother.
Born eldest of his parents’ thirteen surviving children, he had six brothers and six sisters. Two more brothers, Prince Octavius and Prince Alfred died in childhood. His sisters were Princess Charlotte, Queen of Württemberg; Princess Elizabeth; Princess Augusta Sophia; Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh and Princess Amelia.
Among his surviving brothers, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, predeceased him while Prince William Henry succeeded him as King William IV. Others were Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn; Ernest Augustus I of Hanover; Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex and Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge.
At birth, George Augustus Frederick automatically became Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay due to his position as the eldest son of the monarch. Five days later, he was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester. Then on 18 September, he was baptized by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In 1762, King George III acquired Buckingham House and the family moved to the new address although the James Palace remained their official address. Consequently, young George spent a lot of time here.
Having been made the Knight of the Garter at the age of three, George IV was naturally introduced to ceremonial functions at an early age. At the same time, he was insulated from the outside world and was raised under strict discipline in accordance to royal tradition of those days.
In 1771, Princes George and Prince Frederick began their education at Kew Palace under the guardianship of Robert Darcy, 4th Earl of Holderness, remaining in his charge until 1776. Also from 1771 to 1776, the princes studied with William Markham, Bishop of Chester, one the most learned men of that time.
Holderness was not at all suitable for his job, being referred to as ‘solemn phantom’ by Horace Walpole. Moreover, in spite of their young age, they were required to spend eight hours a day studying with their tutor. Therefore, the time was not very pleasant for the princes.
In 1776, William Markham was replaced by Richard Hurd, who was the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry at that time. It is possible that the Prince of Wales studied under him until 1781.
As a young boy, George was handsome and intelligent, quickly mastering German, French and Italian. He liked Shakespeare and had some musical ability. However, his spellings were reported to be poor.
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In 1783, as the Prince of Wales turned twenty-one, he obtained a grant of £60,000 from the Parliament and an annual income of £50,000 from his father. He now set up his own establishment at Carlton House and immediately jumped into an extravagant lifestyle.
Immediately upon acquiring the property, he started rebuilding the Carlton House. In 1780s, even before the work was finished, it began to function as a glittering court, alternate to his father’s at St James Palace and Buckingham House.
While he was never close to his father, their relationship became almost hostile with the king expecting a more frugal behavior from his heir apparent. Politically conservative, he also disapproved of his son’s closeness to more radical politicians such as Charles James Fox.
Also in 1783, he was afflicted with gout and went to Brighton on the advice of his physician. There, he lodged with his uncle, Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland at Grove House, sharing Henry’s taste for fast living, delicate cuisine, gambling and theatre.
He also began liking Brighton because here he could freely carry on his affair with Maria Fitzherbert, whom he had met in 1784. In 1786, he rented a modest farmhouse and started transforming it into today’s Royal Pavilion.
By 1787, his extravagant lifestyle and his passion for art and architecture plunged him into a huge debt, amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds. When the King refused to help, his friends in the House of Commons introduced a proposal to relieve his debts with a parliamentary grant.
In the summer of 1788, King George III lost his mental equilibrium and could not carry on his duties. While the parliament was debating whether to make the Prince of Wales the Regent, the king recovered and the prince was left to pay off his debt all by himself.
By 1795, his debt rose to £630,000. His father agreed to help him only if he married his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. Seeing no other way out, he agreed to the proposal.
After his marriage, the parliament provided him an additional income of £65,000, which helped him to clear his debt incurred up until 1795 by 1806. However, the debts he had incurred after 1795 remained. Meanwhile In 1801, King George III became the King of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
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By late 1810, King George III once again lost his mental equilibrium and was deemed unfit to rule. Eventually, the Parliament passed the Regency Act 1811 and on 5 February, the Prince of Wales was appointed as the Prince Regent.
His friends in the Whig Party had hoped that on becoming the Prince Regent, he would support them and put the Whig leader, William Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville, into office. It was also expected that he would support the Catholic Emancipation Bill. However, they were highly disappointed.
As Regent, George IV allowed the then Prime Minister Spencer Perceval to take full charge of the government, interfering very little in his work. Thus, he helped to establish the principle that the prime minister, who was supported by the majority in the House, should be allowed to work freely.
When Spencer Perceval was murdered in May 1812, the Prince Regent appointed Tory leader Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, as the next prime minister. His decision benefitted the nation as Lord Liverpool was a skilled politician, who was able to hold together the different sections within the party.
While Lord Liverpool successfully managed the affairs of the State, defeating France in 1815, the Prince Regent started taking an active interest in art and architecture. It led to the evolution of Regency style of architecture with architect John Nash designing Regency terraces in Regent's Park and Regent Street.
By 1815, he also had the Royal Pavilion in Brighton developed into a magnificent seaside palace, with Nash basing it on an ‘Indian Gothic’ style of architecture. He also collected Old Master pictures, providing the Royal Collection with some of its greatest treasures.
An admirer of contemporary art, he also patronized several modern artists and sculptors. When Napoleon was defeated in 1815, he commissioned Thomas Lawrence to make portraits of all the allied leaders involved in the victory and peace process.
King George IV
On 29 January 1820, his father King George III passed away, and George IV ascended the throne as the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as well as the King of Hanover. He was then fifty-seven years old, obese and addicted to laudanum.
His coronation was held on 19 July 1821 at Westminster Abbey. In the same year, the king paid a visit to Hanover. In 1821, he became the first monarch to pay a state visit to Ireland since the fourteenth century.
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In 1822, he visited Scotland, also becoming the first monarch to visit the country since the visit of Charles II in 1650. There, he wore full Highland regalia, leading to the revival of the dress, which was banned after the Jacobite rebellion.
Sometime in early 1820s, George IV persuaded the Parliament to grant him £300,000 for restoration of the Windsor Castle. The work, which began in 1824 under the guidance of architect Jeffry Wyatville, remained incomplete in his lifetime. Yet, he chose to spend his last years in isolation in this castle.
Although he generally lived in seclusion, he continued to exercise his prerogatives where he thought fit, initially refusing to support the Catholic Relief Act. He also chose George Canning as the prime minister after Lord Liverpool retired in 1827. But after that, he ceased to have much personal influence.
Family & Personal Life
On April, 1795, persuaded by King George III, George IV married his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick. The marriage was a disaster and the two separated shortly after the birth of their only child, Princess Charlotte, on 7 January 1976. The princess was raised in the custody of the king.
In 1814, the queen moved to the continent, spending the later part of her stay in Italy, supposedly with her lover. She returned for her husband’s coronation, asserting her right as the Queen Consort. However, she was not allowed to attend the coronation and died on 7 August 1821.
He also had several mistresses; most significant among them was Maria Anne Fitzherbert, whom he met in 1784. She was twice divorced and six years his senior. On 15 December 1785, they went through a form of marriage. Since the King’s approval was not sought, the marriage remained legally invalid.
Although the marriage was invalid by the law of the land, he always considered Mrs. Fitzherbert his wife. In 1796, he wrote a will, bequeathing all his "worldly property . . . to my Maria Fitzherbert, my wife….” Later, however, he broke off with her and took several other mistresses.
By late 1820s, George’s indulgent lifestyle took a toll on his health. Obese since his youth, his waist measured fifty inches by 1824 and by 1829; he looked "like a great sausage stuffed into the covering.” He also suffered from various diseases, such as gout, arteriosclerosis, peripheral edema and porphyria.
In June 1830, King George IV suffered from rupturing of a blood vessel in his stomach, resulting in upper gastrointestinal bleeding, and he succumbed to it in the early morning of 26 June. He was then 67 years, 10 months, and 12 days old.
On 15 July, he was buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. Since his only daughter predeceased him, he was succeeded by his next surviving brother, Prince William, Duke of Clarence, who reigned as William IV.
Although nobody lamented him at his death, England is indebted to him for several magnificent buildings, such as the Royal Palace, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Several statues, including one in the Trafalgar Squire, carry his legacy to this day.