The recent Friday funny video about King George IV had me wondering, as always, Why? Why, after he died, had so very few anything good to say about him? Why during his lifetime was he so mercilessly lampooned? Why did so few defend him? Why hasn’t the view of him mellowed with time? Yes, we know all the bad stuff: the mistresses, the marriage fiascos, the drinking, gluttony, and extravagance. But he was hardly the first Prince of Wales or English monarch to behave badly. Why is he judged so harshly?
Craving a little balance, I offer today some of the more sympathetic views that Kenneth Baker, in his wonderful book, George IV: A Life in Caricature,* includes in his introduction.
The Duke of Wellington: “The most extraordinary compound of talent, wit, buffoonery, obstinacy, and good feeling—in short a medley of the most opposite qualities with a great preponderance of good—that I ever saw in any character in my life.”
The Princess Lieven: “ . . . if remembered it was only to criticize his morals. It is in the middle and lower classes especially that this side of his character has left a very unfavourable impression . . . which overshadows much that was striking and brilliant in his reign. His glory is forgotten and his vices exaggerated.”
Walter Scott: “in many respects the model of a British monarch—has little inclination to try experiments or government otherwise than through his ministers.”
J.H. Plumb (the historian): “Few kings have been so hated or so mocked or had their virtues so consistently ignored.”
We can thank him for some of London’s most beautiful architecture and that splendid fantasia, Brighton’s Royal Pavilion. He made the Royal Collection one of the world’s finest. “He was a generous patron of English literature . . . the best educated of any English monarch—his rivals being Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.” Baker has more to say about his good qualities—and for a lengthy, and very interesting defense, here’s Max Beerbohm’s 1894 essay.
Next week, I’ll have something to say about the numerous caricatures.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.