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King George IV: A Re-appraisal, Part I

Among Victorian writers King George IV acquired an unenviable reputation; John Raymond re-interprets his personality.

It would be fair to say that no British sovereign, since 1688, has suffered so bad a press, in general literature or in history proper, as George IV.

His unenviable reputation was acquired during a period in which the moral or nursery-schoolroom version of English history was crystallizing fast.

Thrift, uxoriousness and hard work were the cardinal admirations of the mid-nineteenth century and it must be admitted that the Prince Regent excelled in none of them. His extravagance was proverbial, his treatment of his wife an historic scandal; he toiled not, neither did he spin.

He was an unbounded liar, a heartless father, a fashionable corpulence in stays, an unconscionable imbiber of cherry brandy. He was the First Cad in Europe, a Turveydrop Major whom Dr. Keate would have lashed purple, but whom Dr. Arnold, so it was felt, would have expelled on the spot.

Thackeray, in his lecture, summed up the mid-Victorian attitude when he told his audience that,

“Madame Tussaud has got King George’s coronation robes; is there any man alive that would kiss the hem of that trumpery?

...He must have had an individuality: the dancing-master whom he emulated, nay, surpassed—the wig-maker who curled his toupee for him—the tailor who cut his coats, had that.

But, about George, we can get at nothing actual... We cannot get at the character no doubt never shall. Will men of the future have nothing better to do than to unswathe and interpret that royal old mummy?”

Thus the reproachful voice of the 1850’s. In his bicentenary year an attempt to re-interpret George IV’s individuality is perhaps allowable.

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