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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
George IV

Prince regent from 1811 and king from 1820 of Great Britain, Ireland and Hanover (a kingdom from 1814); eldest son of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; married Maria Anne Fitzherbert (1785) and Caroline of Brunswick (1795).

His reputation as the most dissolute of Britain's monarchs was well earned. Reacting against the virtuous family life of his father and the public rectitude of *Pitt, George established at *Carlton House a court of pleasure which included Pitt's rival, Charles James *Fox, and later Beau *Brummell.

In 1785 he married Mrs Fitzherbert (1756–1837), a Roman Catholic widow and perhaps the only woman for whom he felt lasting affection. The marriage was illegal since no member of the royal family could marry under the age of 25 without the king's consent; had it been legal and therefore valid, a Roman Catholic wife would have cost George his right to the succession under the terms of the Act of *Settlement. But in any case the marriage remained a secret.

In 1795, as part of a strategy to persuade parliament to pay his debts, he married a German cousin, Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821), daughter of his father's sister Augusta. His first remark on setting eyes on her ('Harris, I am not well, pray get me a glass of brandy') suggests that the marriage was a disaster from the start. A daughter, Charlotte, was born in 1796 but in that same year the parents separated. Caroline spent much of her time travelling abroad, but when George inherited the throne in 1820 she returned to become queen.

He attempted to get a bill through parliament divorcing her on the grounds of adultery with an Italian member of her retinue, Bartolomeo Pergami (often written Bergami). The bill met such opposition that it was withdrawn, but the door of Westminster Abbey was closed against Caroline when she tried to gain admission to the coronation in 1821. An embarrassing situation was resolved by her death three weeks later. These scandalous events, together with the king's known inclination to drink, gambling and wild extravagance, did little to endear him to his subjects.

In practice he had been ruling as prince regent since 1811, when his father's mental condition came to seem irreversible. It was a period of reactionary policies. George continued his father's opposition to the emancipation of the Catholics. The example of the *French Revolution, combined with economic hardship after the *Napoleonic Wars, gave the authorities a terror of radical agitation (an attitude resulting in the *Peterloo massacre). And there were still attempts to preserve Britain's corrupt political system, soon to be swept away by the *Reform Act.

It is as a patron of architecture that George is best remembered. His decision to live on the south coast brought prosperity and elegance to *Brighton, a town which still glories in the *Royal Pavilion, the king's greatest single creation. And his employment of John *Nash in London resulted in Regent Street (now altered out of recognition) and *Regent's Park.

His only child, princess Charlotte, married Leopold of Saxe-Coburg in 1816 and died giving birth to a stillborn son the following year (her memorial is in *St George's Chapel). George was therefore succeeded by his brother as *William IV (see the *royal house).

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