Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Prince Regent, Part 1: Enter the Prince, Stage Left

When reading English history, I’ve always felt sorry for the children of kings. They have to deal with not only parental scrutiny, but the attention of an entire nation focused on them…and invariably, it seems that they disappoint for some reason or other (Edward VII comes to mind here). Even more unfortunately, it seems that a lot of royal parents and their children just haven’t gotten along—bad enough in a regular father-son relationship, but often nearly disastrous between a King and his heir. The Hanoverian kings, who ruled England beginning in 1714, were notorious for this.

King George III was quite sure matters wouldn’t work that way for him when his first child was born on August 12, 1762. Young Prince George Augustus Frederick was greeted rapturously on his arrival, and so proud of him were his parents that the new Prince of Wales was actually put on public display for several afternoons, snoozing in his cradle or being fed by his nurse while the fashionable of London filed by to gawk. Being on display eventually became something of a habit with the lad, as we shall see (that's him in Roman general costume with mom Queen Charlotte, little brother Fred, and a canine friend).

He wasn’t an only child for long; over the next 20 years he accumulated fourteen more brothers and sisters. The King and Queen were, unusual for the time, complete homebodies (or at least the King was…poor Queen Charlotte might have liked a slightly livelier life, but she didn’t get it) and were Victorian in their habits and outlook long before their grand-daughter, Victoria, was even thought of. The King preferred simple clothes, simple food, simple entertainments…which of course bored his court to tears.

This love of simplicity extended to how they raised their children. The King frequently got down onto the floor to play with his children when toddlers, and the Queen supervised their 6:00 am baths. Later on, their diets were strict (no meat on certain days of the week, and crusts to be removed from fruit tarts) and education stricter: the boys of the family were not spared the rod if they didn't learn their lessons.

So what kind of a child was little George? By all accounts, a remarkably precocious and charming one; his governess during his early years (and governess to all his siblings as well), Lady Charlotte Finch, had dozens of anecdotes about his clever sayings and doings. But alas, true to history and despite his resolutions, King George was not charmed by his eldest son, much preferring his more straightforward and manly if less clever and sensitive brother Frederick. Even thought the Queen would adore her eldest all her life and much prefer him to the rest of her brood, the stage was already set for family conflict.

Little George, of course, received an excellent education. He was good at languages, studying Greek and Latin and speaking French, German, and Italian with great fluency, enjoyed music (Johann Sebastian Bach's youngest son, Johann Christian, worked for the Royal Family), and studied history and literature extensively. He played the cello, drew, fenced with the greatest fencing master of the day, the great Henry Angelo. What he didn't learn, it seemed, was anything about real life. King George made an especial effort to keep his children secluded from from the evil influences of anyone outside the royal family and staff. What effect that had will be seen in Prince Regent, Part 2: The Most Polished Gentleman.


QNPoohBear said...

He sounds like a promising child, so what happened? You've set the stage nicely.

I hope your home safe and snug with modern power during this horrible winter storm.

Marissa Doyle said...

We're definitely getting clobbered with snow in New England today--we've got about 20 inches since last night!

He was a promising child...and watching his youth is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Sad...the next installment covers a lot of fascinating stuff.