On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff
QUEEN ELIZABETH II spoke of her Annus Horribilis of 1992, but it pales in comparison with the goings-on of George, Prince of Wales, prior to his becoming King George IV in 1820. True, in her horrible year the queen had two royal divorces and a royal separation, these three spiced by tabloid photos of one ex having her feet kissed, a son’s Camillagate, a daughter-in-law’s tell-all book and Squidgygate, a Windsor Castle fire and Inland Revenue hitting up Her Majesty for taxes on income and capital gains.
By comparison, it would be impossible to describe George Augustus Frederick’s activities in a mere sentence of any length. In fact, I find it impossible to summarize them in less than three separate entries here at SimanaitisSays.
Today, Part I is a bio. Soon, in Part II we’ll celebrate the English Golden Age of Caricature, an art form that profited richly from George’s excesses. And, in time, in Part III we’ll visit one of George’s great boondoggles, the Royal Pavilion at Brighton.
As a lagniappe, I will eventually offer a possibly apocryphal link with auto enthusiasts attending the Monterey Historics.
Let us begin Part I:
George’s father, King George III, had to contend with the American Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and, later in life, only occasional periods of lucidity. Son George, as Prince of Wales, served as Regent during the worst of his father’s travails, ironically some of which were directly the son’s doings.
The Prince of Wales was a high-living spendthrift womanizer who accumulated a debt of £630,000 (more than £58 million in today’s money) by 1795. He was 33 that year and had already complicated matters a decade earlier by (illegally) marrying Maria Fitzherbert, a twice-widowed commoner and a Roman Catholic to boot.
To the end of her days, Mrs. F felt that Church law overruled the Royal Marriage Act of the Realm. She bolstered this opinion through her nephew by a previous marriage, Thomas Cardinal Weld, persuading Pope Pius VII to validate the marriage. On and off, George referred to Mrs. F as his wife, though the union was kept secret. Yeah, sure.
In the meantime, George was also having his way with, in order, actress Mary “Perdita” Robinson (the original Mrs. Robinson?), Scottish socialite Grace Dalrymple Elliot (ex-mistress of the French Duc d’Orléans, cousin of King Louis XVI), Frances Villiers the Countess of Jersey (née Twysden, whose father the Bishop of Raphoe was shot allegedly robbing a stagecoach), and later in life, the Marchionesses of Hertford and Conyngham, respectively.
Say this for George, he was an imaginative serial wife-cheater.
At the height of his debts (an odd phrase, that), George was offered opportunity to clear them by Parliamentary decree—provided he marry (legally, this time) cousin Princess Caroline of Brunswick. In 1795 he did. Within a year they grew to loathe each other, had a daughter, Charlotte, and separated.
A few years later, Caroline ended up in Como, Italy, where she bought the old Gallio estate (her realtor, Alessandro Volta!) and renamed the place Villa d’Este.
George III died in 1820, the Prince Regent becoming George IV. Caroline returned from Italy with thoughts—and assertions—of being the queen consort. George, having other things on his mind, excluded her from the July 19, 1821, coronation. Caroline promptly fell ill and died on August 7. She made claims along the way of poisoning.
George’s elevation from Prince Regent was no big deal (except to the late Charlotte and to Mrs. F). The new king was in an off period in his on-and-off relationship with Mrs. F. In a disagreement about her annuity, she threatened to go public with documents in her possession.
Yet, in 1830 as George lay dying, he seized one of her letters, a “get well soon” one, and placed it under his pillow. He asked to be buried with a “lover’s eye” of Mrs. F (a miniature portrait of her eye) around his neck, which was done.
When later confronted with Mrs. F’s documents, George’s successor, his brother King William IV, offered her a dukedom. She refused, asking only permission to wear widow’s weeds and dress her servants in royal livery.
Now that’s style. Maria Fitzherbert died seven years later, in 1837, at the age of 80. She is buried in the Kemp Town area of Brighton.
In Part II, we’ll view George, Prince of Wales, through the lens of English caricature. In Part III, we’ll visit Brighton. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015