New College of the Humanities

George IV and Posterity

Steve Parissien looks at the posthumous assessments of George IV and his reign - and finds the king's historical reputation falls short of the image he sought to project.

Never in modern times has a sovereign died so unlamented, nor the person of the monarch retained so little respect after death, as George IV. Robert Huish’s venomous biography of 1830-31 declared of the late king, who had died in June 1830, that ‘with a personal income exceeding the national revenue of a third-rate power, there appeared to be no limit to his desires, nor any restraint to his profusion’. Rejecting the argument that ‘his example was too secluded to operate dangerously on the manners of the people’, Huish claimed instead that George IV had contributed more ‘to the demoralisation of society than any prince recorded in the pages of history’.

This is surely, however, to overrate the increasingly reclusive king’s importance. George’s relevance to British society and British politics had by 1830 become peripheral. The Prince Regent had clearly not, as J.B. Trotter piously hoped in 1811, metamorphosed into ‘a great king – the lover of his people – the protector of liberty and defender of the laws – as bright, if not brighter, than any of his predecessors’. Nor, on the other hand, was he popularly regarded as a menace to the nation’s constitutional equanimity – as was, for example, his former friend Charles X of France, ejected from his throne two months after George’s demise. Instead, George IV was, by the time of his death, generally viewed by his subjects as little more than an entertaining sideshow – if a somewhat expensive one.

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