Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Prince Regent, Part 2: The Most Accomplished Gentleman?

At the age of eight, like most other well-born lads of the age, George left the nursery and the kindly and sensible Lady Charlotte, and was set up in a separate household where his brothers would eventually join him. There they would be taught to be humble, virtuous, devoted and obedient to their parents and to their religion, and fond of simple living.

It didn’t work out that way.

As I said in the last part, George was intelligent and seems to have worked hard at his studies. Unfortunately, he was also a high-spirited boy, and his tutors had been commanded by the King not to tolerate any laziness or schoolboy silliness on the part of George or his brothers. Any of that met with immediate—and generally harsh—punishment. King George became concerned by the reports of his son’s governor Lord Holdernesse, who seems to have been as earnest and as ineffectual and clueless as the King. This resulted in a steady diet of parental lectures and thrashings, administered in the presence of George’s younger sisters—hardly treatment for a warm-hearted but highly-strung boy.

To make matters worse, in-fighting among young George’s various tutors led to a high turn-over and a lack of continuity. And to top it off, the King continued to make no secret of the fact that he was much fonder of George’s younger brother Fred. It was something of a miracle that the two boys remained devoted to each other, when any scrapes the pair got into were always blamed on the elder.

All of George’s younger brothers eventually got shipped off to join the army (or navy, in William’s case) and therefore had something to do, some focus and outlet. That route was not open to the heir to the throne—yet the King refused to start tutoring George in how to be a king and thereby give him some purpose in life. George had so little knowledge of his future kingly duties that when be became Prince Regent, he even had to be shown how to sign royal documents.

Is there really any wonder, then, that pretty soon there was a full-scale rebellion in the palace?

Though George was forced to remain living with his parents until he was 21, by age 16 he was already figuring out how to sneak out to go partying and how to get other people to cover for him. At 17 he became violently infatuated with the actress Mary Robinson, whom he called “Perdita” after the Shakespearean role in which he first saw her. Affairs with other women soon followed, to his parents’ dismay (and to the cost of their purses, buying these women off). Nor was womanizing the only problem; according to his (almost) lifelong friend, the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, George spend most of the 1780s “frequently drunk”, and his friendship with the rather disreputable Sir John Lade led to daredevil exploits in his phaeton, including driving to Brighton from London and back in under ten hours. Other boon companions in partying too hard were the Dukes of Cumberland and Gloucester, George’s uncles and the King’s brothers, who had also suffered from too much restriction at the King’s hands.

Georgiana, the famous Duchess of Devonshire, left a perceptive word portrait of the twenty-year-old George:

“The Prince of Wales is rather tall, and has a figure which, although striking is not perfect. He is inclined to be too fat and looks too much like a woman in men’s clothes, but the gracefulness of his manner and his height certainly make him a pleasing figure. His face is very handsome, and he is fond of dress even to a tawdry degree, which young as he is will soon wear off. His person, his dress and the admiration he has met with…take up his thoughts chiefly. He is good-natur’d and rather extravagant…but he certainly does not want for understanding, and his jokes sometimes have the appearance of wit….”

So here we have it…a son who turned out to be the exact opposite of what his parents intended. The King tried to curb George by keeping him on a tight allowance; in retaliation, George became an outrageous spendthrift. Once he turned 21, the King could no longer force him to stay living at home, and George acquired his own homes—Carlton House in London (that's it at right), and a seaside villa in the village of Brighton. If the King had been despondent before, George’s next action would push him beyond despair.

Young George got married.

Stay tuned for The Prince Regent, Part 3: Mrs. Fitzherbert


QNPoohBear said...

by age 16he was already figuring out how to sneak out to go partying and how to get other people to cover for him.

Teenagers haven't changed much, have they? What did the young ladies think of Prince George? He sounds like the handsome, charming bad boy girls love to crush on in high school.

Marissa Doyle said...

George had no trouble finding female companionship. Whether that female companionship was received in polite company is another question! He didn't break many hearts among the daughters of the nobility, though, because it was always assumed he'd be marrying a foreign princess, so his flirtations there were minimal.