An unflattering portrait of the early-19th-century British monarch.
George, son of the Hanoverian king George III, was “witty, foppish and extravagant,” devoting his considerable energies to affairs of the bedroom rather than to affairs of state, firmly convinced of his brilliance and infallibility—and, royal-watcher Parissien writes, perhaps not a little loony, the victim of the porphyritic illness that had stricken his father (and inspired Alan Bennett’s play The Madness of King George). For his troubles, writes Parissien (Paul Mellon Center for the Study of British Art/Yale Univ.), George IV earned a place as “the most caricatured monarch in British history.” Satirists had much to work with: George was fond of second-tier Northern European art; collected castles and palaces, spending whole fortunes on restoring and redecorating them; liked to dress up in military garb and, furthermore, believed himself to have been present at battles against Napoleon when he in fact had been safe at home. Though his faults may have been forgivable and, considering the history of the British monarchy, not so terrible, George’s biggest offense may have been to believe his own press and to have offended English sensibilities with “blatant self-promotion.” Mostly he emerges from Parissien’s pages as clueless, not evil; readers may themselves be forgiven for extending to the poor man a few sympathies, especially after seeing how the likes of Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and even Jane Austen rebuffed his offers of patronage (in exchange, one assumes, for a few nice words said about him). Despite his own sympathetic approach, Parissien closes by observing, “George merely succeeded in rendering the monarchy increasingly superfluous to the process of government and the life of the nation.”
A worthy entry to the literature devoted to the Regency.