Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Prince Regent, Part 4: The Most Accomplished Blackguard?

When we last left our Prinny, he was happily settled with Mrs. Fitzherbert…but as I hinted, this happy state of affairs did not last long. George’s eye was, alas, prone to wandering, and his attention was at best erratic. While Mrs. Fitzherbert was always gracious, amiable, and discreet, even she couldn’t help being upset when George publicly denied their marriage to Parliament in 1787, and their relationship suffered. George eventually resumed his partying ways much to her disapproval, having a short dalliance with an actress named Mrs. Crouch in 1788. 1788 was a difficult year in other ways; late that year saw King George III’s first period of incapacity. Prinny agitated hard for a Regency—perhaps a little too hard, as many felt his behavior unfilial. The problem was solved when in 1789 the King regained his faculties, but it cast a shadow on Prinny’s relationship with his father.

Life trickled along; while most of England watched the Revolution across the Channel in France with growing horror, George continued in his path of being a patron of the arts and the nation’s “First Consumer”, racking up further outrageous debt. Then in 1794 a more serious breach occurred between him and Mrs. Fitzherbert, thanks to a 41-year-old grandmother.

Lady Frances Jersey set out very deliberately to ensnare the Prince, and succeeded. She played on his feelings of impatience and resentment at the quiet life Mrs. Fitzherbert preferred to lead, and seems to have been one of the leading proponents of the idea that the Prince should marry.

Yes, marry. Remember that according to English law, George was still a single man. Lady Jersey suggested that he find a compliant German princess to marry in order to guarantee the succession…doing so would mean that Parliament would probably vote him sufficient funds to pay off his debts and raise his annual allowance. She even had a suggestion in mind: George’s cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, eldest daughter of the King’s sister and her husband, the Duke of Brunswick. Lady Jersey did not plan to step aside after the marriage, however; instead, she got herself appointed the new Princess’s chief lady-in-waiting.

Caroline of Brunswick probably couldn’t have been a worse choice for George. Gauche and uneducated and boisterous, she was also reportedly not fond of bathing and already had a less-than-spotless reputation when it came to modesty. On their meeting George is reported to have demanded a stiff drink, and spent his wedding day (and night) extremely inebriated. Caroline herself was not terribly impressed by him either—his chubbiness and drunkenness were probably just as off-putting. The marriage seemed—and was—doomed from the start, just as Lady Jersey had foreseen. And to top it off, George did not get all the money he’d expected from Parliament.

However, he managed to maintain sufficiently cordial relations with his new wife that they produced an heir—or heiress—to the throne exactly nine months after their wedding (see my posts on Princess Charlotte). After this, things between them broke down irretrievably, and Lady Jersey remained in power…sort of. By 1796 George was writing desperate letters to Mrs. Fitzherbert asking her to forgive him and take him back. Maria had been appalled at his treatment of Caroline, and held him off…but again, persistence paid off. Once again George threatened that he would die unless his Maria came back to him, and by 1800 they were once again together.

Maria called the next eleven years the happiest of their lives: George was happy, and even the King and Queen began to regard her with approbation because of the good effect she had on George. But (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) these happy years would not last.


QNPoohBear said...

Poor Mrs. Fitzherbert. The story of George and Caroline's ill-fated wedding is told in acute detail in Ian Kelly's Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style. Prinny's behavior was pretty shocking.

Marissa Doyle said...

The whole story around his marriage is just so over-the-top crazy that no novelist could have gotten away with it.

TheBookHour said...

Cool post! Thanks.

I'd looked a little at his father when reading up on the abolition of the slave trade, but I never knew the prince was such an interesting character before now!