Biography

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The Prince Regent - George IV

George, Prince of Wales was Prince Regent - because of the incapacity of George III to rule - from 1811 to 1820, when George III died. In 1820, he became George IV. The Prince Regent was extravagant, a dandy and the self-styled 'the first gentleman of Europe'. George probably married Maria Fitzherbert, a Catholic widow. The marriage was void on two counts: he did not have his father's permission as required by the Royal Marriages Act (text here) and the Bill of Rights stated that no monarch could be, or could marry a Catholic. His immorality was scandalous and notorious. He proved to be a reactionary, die-hard Tory. In 1812, Charles Lamb wrote the following verse:

The Prince of Whales

Not a fatter fish than he
Flounders round the polar sea.
See his blubbers - at his gills
What a world of drink he swills ...
Every fish of generous kind
Scuds aside or shrinks behind;
But about his presence keep
All the monsters of the deep...
Name or title what has he? ...
Is he Regent of the sea?
By his bulk and by his size,
By his oily qualities,
This (or else my eyesight fails),
This should be the Prince of Whales.

The Prince Regent - and later, as George IV - proved to be one of the major problems for Lord Liverpool's ministry. Often, he opposed government measures. A contemporary wrote:

He had few public virtues to compensate for the offensiveness of his private example. His duties to the State - the mere routine of the Kingly office - were invariably performed with tardiness and reluctance. Without any strength of character but that which proceeded from his irresistible craving for ease and indulgence, his best qualities were distorted into effeminate vices. The constitutional bravery of his house forsook him, and he became a moral coward, whom his official servants had to govern as a petted child. [Harriet Martineau, A History of the Thirty Years Peace, 1816-46, Vol 1 (1858).

Brighton Pavilion was costly and George had huge debts: his extravagance proved to be an embarrassment to the government because the electorate wanted to see tax cuts and reduced expenditure during the economic depression that followed the end of the French Wars. One MP hoped the House

would hear no more of that squanderous and lavish profusion which in a certain quarter resembled more the pomp and magnificence of a Persian satrap seated in all the splendour of oriental state, than the sober dignity of a British prince, seated in the bosom of his subjects. He hoped, too, that they should hear no more of expenditure on thatched cottages [the Royal Lodge at Windsor] that were hardly fit for princes. [CD Yonge, The Life of Lord Liverpool, Vol 2 (Macmillan, 1868) p.268]

George IV influenced the composition of the Cabinet for many years; he refused to accept George Canning as a Cabinet member until 1822, for example. It was only then that the suicide of Castlereagh required that the ministry be strengthened by the addition of Canning.

Liverpool fell victim to the new king's anger over the failure of George IV's attempt to divorce his wife Caroline in 1820. Liverpool was unable to persuade parliament to pass the Bill of Pains and Penalties: it was thought that George IV's behaviour was as bad as that of his wife. Even the next PM, the Duke of Wellington, had problems in persuading the king to pass essential legislation such as Catholic Emancipation (1829):

The King talked for six hours. The Duke says he never witnessed a more painful scene. He was so evidently insane . . . . The King objected to every part of the Bill. He would not hear it. . .. A quarter of an hour after he [the Duke] got home . . . he received a letter from the King declaring that to avoid the mischief of having no Administration he consented to the Bill proceeding as a measure of Government, but with infinite pain. [Lord Colchester (ed.), Lord Ellenborough's Political Diary, vol. 1: 1828-1830 (Bentley, 1881) pp.376-379.


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