Royal Tea: Another George (IV)


Valeria Velasquez

The history textbooks are filled with mentions of famous Georges. There’s good ol’ cherry-tree cutting Washington (yay, pseudohistory), the now not-as-handsome Clooney and the subject of many infamous 9/11 conspiracy theories. Royal Tea has done George before — twice! Yet the subject of today’s blogs has wound me down yet another eurocentric wormhole. On this edition of Royal Tea, I’ll be discussing the flamboyant George IV,  who was so lacking in the looks department that he compensated with elaborate costumes.
George Augustus Frederick was born on August 12, 1762 in the St. James’  Palace, where he was initially misgendered by the palace courtier than announced his birth. As a young prince he displayed various bright qualities and became fluent in French, Italian and German. However, as he ripened into adolescence, his preferred activities stemmed away from language-learning and delved deep into the art of interior design. At his personal palace, George proved  that his talents were better placed as a host in America’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition than in the monarchy. He had a special affinity for two words: extravagant and expensive. George quickly became a representative figure for the the lavish elite and a symbol of excess and arrogance for the middle and lower classes. Although his father (George III) despised his immaturity and drunken habits, George IV never stopped his pricey habits and destructive behavior, continuing the Hanover family trend of elder sons despising their fathers.
Aside from over-the-top outfits and a love of drinking, George was a hopeless (perhaps lustful is a better word?) romantic. Despite the fact that many of his affairs never lasted long, his brokenhearted (or perhaps not-so-broken hearted) conquests were always provided hefty sums of money during and after their relationships. However, George IV wasn’t simply the benevolent sugar daddy of the 18th century — he too had feelings. His most scandalous affair was with Maria Fitzherbert, a twice-widowed Catholic woman who loved playing hard-to-get. After George finally got Maria to accept his marriage proposal by channeling his inner Romeo, they got married in a forbidden wedding in 1785. Maria’s religious prospects banned her relationship with the royal prince and after months of seeking legitimacy, their relationship crumbled. A devastated George was forced to remarry in a legitimate way and was betrothed to the unattractive Caroline of Brunswick (that’s his cousin) who didn’t quite match his aesthetic standards. (Let’s just say that if Caroline Brunswick was alive today, she’d rarely use a stick of deodorant or step into a shower. Wifey material, am I right?) Drinking became even a frequent task in his new marriage: George claimed that in order to bring himself to consummate the marriage with his wife, “It required no small effort to conquer my aversion and overcome the disgust of her as a person.”It became apparent that the pressure to create an heir along with the magic of the drink were enough, when Princess Charlotte was born nine months after his wedding.
Like a soap opera star trapped in a loveless marriage, George’s efforts to separate from the wife he hated increased after the birth of his only legitimate child. His problematic union with Caroline became a popular topic in the public, causing scandal and bias against George. For most of his life George continued pining after the woman he considered his true wife, Maria Fitzherbert, but was often distracted by the allure of his other mistresses, the Marchioness of Hertford and Lady Jersey. When George IV was crowned King in 1820, he was morbidly obese, largely unpopular and rivaled by his wife, who had gained the sympathy of the people as a victim to the unpopular King’s reckless behavior. He went on to live a relatively unhappy life and fathered an entire sports team of illegitimate children. If there’s anything to learn from (yet another) George, it’s that everything should be taken in moderation.