The Regency era was marked by the rule of George IV, the eldest son of King George III and Queen Charlotte.
When King George III was proclaimed unfit to rule due to mental instability, his son, the Prince Regent, took over in 1811. He ruled until 1820 when his father died. During his governance, he was often tossed and turned by whatever notion took his fancy, whether political or personal.
(comic by George Cruikshank/historytoday.com)
Even before taking over the throne, the Prince Regent was an interesting sort. I say “interesting” with my tongue snugly fitted into my cheek. He was actually considered a bit of a national joke. A notorious “ladies’ man,” he had a long list of scandals and intrigues associated with his name early on. He dressed in fashion considered ostentatious and flamboyant. Some of the nobility even went so far as to call his manner of dress “tawdry.” He also appreciated bright, lush interior decorations within his palaces (many of which still exist in Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle).
He had a fetish for older, matronly women and in 1785 he secretly married a Catholic widow, Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert. Under British law, this union was considered illegitimate. (A. She was Catholic and that would never do; B. She was widowed not once, but twice). Finally, his family persuaded him to marry a suitable match—a Protestant German princess, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. George had exorbitant debts and in making this match, the debts would be paid off by parliament. In fact, George IV was often in debt during the course of his life—gambling and profligate spending were some of his favorite pastimes. The marriage seemed ill-fated from the starting point of his drunk arrival to their wedding (drinking and drugging would prove to be another one of his favorite pastimes). Other than to try for conception of an heir, the couple spent very little time together. Their only daughter, Princess Charlotte, died at birth and afterwards their marriage completely came apart.
With manufactured complaints and accusations to add credence to his claims, George IV attempted to divorce Caroline in 1820. The request was not honored, and turned him into the butt of every national joke. The country had never liked him and now they found him ridiculous.
George IV loved excess of every kind. Immoral, self-important, neglectful of his responsibilities, yet charming and good natured, George IV stands out as a ruler with some 21st century habits, tastes, and sensibilities. From his era of rule we inherited the wonderful novels of Jane Austen and the poetry of Byron; the fashion of Beau Brummell and the wonderful Georgian architecture. There is a legacy of culture from this period that we celebrate and recreate in our own century.
In the minds of many, however, he broke down the hard-won sexual integrity of built within the 1760s and 1770s, and in the words of Robert Huish, author of George IV’s biography (1830), he did more for “the demoralisation of society than any prince recorded in the pages of history.”
What is your favorite legacy from the Regency period?
Parissien, Steve. George IV: The Royal Joke. BBC History.
King George IV. The World of Royalty.nu