George IV- buffoon or tragic figure?
The eldest son of the thrice-mad George III (1760-1820), this playboy Prince of Wales had an awkward relationship with his father (as did all Hanovers with their fathers), was vital and handsome in his youth, but idle and a spoilt rake, yet intelligent.
But in his middle age he had ballooned to morbid obesity (over 25 stone), of which he was ashamed. As he faded this way, he still tried to make appearances in public, aides squeezing him into huge corsets and trouse, but his colossal bulk, fashionable make-up and wigs only made him look ridiculous, and he was lampooned mercilessly by the press, satirists and the people, which only made him more reclusive.
The causes were mainly his two great loves- mass-eating and drinking of cherry brandy (said to disguise the flavour of his cocktails of daily opium, to which he was addicted), the amounts of which were astounding and frequent, especially comfort eating (today's phrase) as he gained weight in later life.
He was also addicted to a variety of prescribed drugs, including the opium compound laudanum which gave his skin a deep coppery hue.
He spent gigantically too- the Pavilion he built at Brighton is perhaps the most splendid example of his taste for excess. His own treasurer declared that his debts were 'beyond all kind of calculation whatever'. But worst of all was his disastrous marriage.
It began hopefully as part of the closing of ranks within the royal family in the wake of the French Revolution. In return for the settling of his gambling debts, the prince agreed to George III's urgent wish that he should marry and father an heir. He had only dallied with his lover, Maria Fitzherbert (and many others)- a Catholic commoner.
German custom, however, dictated that his bride should be royal, too. The best of a bad bunch of available Protestant princesses seemed to be his cousin Caroline of Brunswick, but when she arrived in England, it was loathing at first sight. She was short, plump, lewd in manner and had body odour)
After the reluctant wedding in the Chapel Royal at St James's Palace, George knocked himself out with brandy and spent the night with his head in the hearth. The following morning, he recovered sufficiently to get Caroline pregnant, and a daughter, christened Charlotte, was born in January 1796. It was the first and last time the couple slept together, and they quickly separated. Sadly, Charlotte would die in a horrific childbirth in 1817, the doctor later committed suicide.
George IV's relationship with his wife had deteriorated by the time of his accession in 1820. They had lived separately since 1796, and both were having affairs.
Therefore, he requested and ensured the introduction of the Pains and Penalties Bill 1820, under which Parliament could have imposed legal penalties without a trial in a court of law.
The bill would have annulled the marriage and stripped Caroline of the title of Queen. The bill proved extremely unpopular with the public, and was withdrawn from Parliament.
George IV decided, nonetheless, to exclude his wife from his coronation at Westminster Abbey, on 19 July 1821, costing a colossal sum of £243,000 (his father's coronation had only cost about £10,000), and she was seen banging on the doors at Westminster and weeping on the steps. Caroline fell ill that day and died on 7 August, during her final illness she often stated that she thought she had been poisoned.