George IV could not have been more different to his studious, domestic and frugal father, George III. He had many mistresses, spent ludicrous amounts of money and drank and ate to great excess.
As Prince, he secretly and illegally married the Catholic actress Maria Fitzherbert. However, he needed a legitimate heir and told his advisors to find him a bride. ‘Any damn’d German frau would do’ he said, but he had cause to regret this statement. As soon as he set eyes on Caroline of Brunswick, he was repelled: ‘I am not well’, he famously swooned at that first meeting, ‘pray get me a brandy’. However, George had no choice but to marry her. However, this was a union which would turn into an increasingly vitriolic and bitter 25-year war which ultimately damaged the reputation and popularity of both partners.
George desired whatever drew his attention, spending vast sums on his palatial homes filling them with paintings, furniture, porcelain and all manner of trinkets. With such a profligate lifestyle, George’s personal debts ballooned to extraordinary levels. Though granted the princely sum of £50,000 per year as a personal allowance, he could not be controlled and, by 1794, his debts had reached an eye-watering £552,000, prompting a general tax on powdered wigs to pay for them.
Inevitably, George’s over-indulgence caused him health problems; made worse by his liking for drink ‘excessively hot and strong’. This caused gout, hardening of the arteries and eventually, the tumours which probably killed him.
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The Glorious Georges
17 April - 30 November 2014
We are marking the 300-year anniversary of George I's accession to the British throne with The Glorious Georges, a season of events and experiences across Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace.
George IV, Thomas Lawrence (1814) © National Portrait Gallery