This week Hearing International continues to honor the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 and presents the third article in the series investigating if the War of 1812 could have been caused by the Deafness of King George III of Great Britain. The saga continues with an investigation of his successor, King George IV. As is the custom, George III’s eldest son became George IV and had much to do with the War of 1812. Since he was the Regent, or Acting King, during the War of 1812, let’s take a look at him.
Young Prince of Wales
Born as George Frederick Augustus, the Prince of Wales rebelled against his very strict father. At 17, after attending Shakespeare’s play A Winter Tale, he had a major romantic affair with a Mrs. Robinson–Mary Robinson, to be precise. She was a famous 18th century English actress [who surely advised him to go into “plastics”]. George III did not approve of this relationship, as Mrs. Robinson was a married woman. Two years later, George III paid a reported £5,000 to retrieve his son’s amorous letters to avoid scandal and embarrassment to the Crown.
As a young man, the Prince of Wales became a leading figure in fashionable society and was known as the first gentleman of Europe for his polished and refined manners. By the 1780s, he had also become a gambler, a womanizer, and a heavy drinker. He was deeply in debt, and when Parliament agreed to increase his allowance, George III remarked that it was “a shameful squandering of public money to gratify the passions of an ill-advised young man.” His censorious father strongly disapproved of his extravagance, mounting debts, and Whig political associates.
In the early 1780s, young George met and fell in love with Maria Anne Fitzherbert, an older woman, a widow, and a Roman Catholic. As Prince of Wales and heir-apparent to the British throne, both British law and politics barred him from wedding a Catholic. Nevertheless, the two contracted a marriage of sorts in 1785. This illegal marriage did not stop the Prince from continuing to overspend, and by 1795 he had debts of £650,000. In an effort to persuade Parliament to pay off his debts, George married his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick. After the birth of a daughter, Princess Charlotte, in January 1796, the couple lived apart. George and Maria Anne would stay together for the next 26 years, even after he was legally married to Caroline, and despite his numerous other affairs.
Not only did the Prince rebel against his father’s social and disciplinary rules, he also rebelled against his political views. Whereas George III preferred Tory ministers, his son was friendly with the Whigs. Throughout the 18th century the Tories and Whigs were in opposite camps of influence. Later renamed the Conservative Party, the 18th century Tories were politicians who favored royal authority and the established Church of England, and sought to preserve the traditional political structure while opposing parliamentary reform. On the other side, the Whigs believed that the elected Parliament should have more influence and, they came to embrace not only the supremacy of Parliament over the monarch and support for free trade, but also Catholic emancipation, the abolition of slavery, and expansion of the franchise (suffrage).
By the time young George, was maturing and developing his political beliefs, the Tory view was considered old and outdated, while the Whig philosophy was perceived as innovative and progressive. Thus, the Prince, who opposed his father on many personal issues, now considered his father’s Tory views as an outdated method of governing. Yet later, as Regent, he reverted to his father’s conservative views on governing.
In 1810, King George III was again stricken by his disease, never to recover. Although there had been other episodes, this time Parliament signed the Regency Act of 1811 into law. This act created the post of Prince Regent and appointed the Prince of Wales (later George IV) to fill this role. Although initially the powers of the Prince Regent were limited, the restrictions expired after a year, as it became apparent that the King would not be recovering.
The main issue facing the British government at the time was that of Catholic Emancipation. Many political and social restrictions had been placed on Roman Catholics living in Britain during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, but now there was talk of repealing these restrictions. Though George had been friendly with the more liberal Whig politicians up to this point and though he was illegally married to a Catholic himself, he became much more conservative upon assuming power. To George IV, almost everything revolved around his own whims and caprices; when these changed, he expected the attitudes and actions of his friends, his household, and his government to follow suit. Notwithstanding the King’s incontrovertible charm, this attitude exasperated even his political supporters.
George IV’s undoubted charm, his wit, his innate esthetic sense, his enthusiasm, and his imagination still left him ill-equipped to rise to the challenge of a nation daily growing in self-confidence and wealth. His self-indulgence and short attention span, as well as his tendency to abandon political principles and to forget friendships with barely a backward glance, won him little praise.
In early 1812, the government, heavily involved in the Napoleonic Wars and domestic chaos, suffered the withdrawal of various key members. On 17 January, Wellesley, who had openly supported the Prince Regent, offered his resignation as Foreign Secretary. On 31 January Charles Yorke resigned from the Admiralty on the grounds of ill health but in reality had an aversion to serving the Prince Regent. On 7 February Perceval had an audience with the Prince to discuss offering Opposition leaders places in a coalition government. Their acceptance of this coalition government was so unlikely that Spencer Perceval was confirmed as Prime Minister being the best candidate available to bring the group together. Perceval was assassinated in May 1812 and succeeded by the heavy handed Robert Banks, the 2nd Earl of Liverpool. The Prince Regent’s Government was chaotic at best!
Lets See………… crazy King George III. A self indulgent, spendthrift Prince Regent that was more interested in art, alcohol, laudanum, and women, than governing. A Parliament preoccupied with Napoleonic Wars, European Blockades, and domestic issues, that had just lost influential and knowledgeable leaders to a r0und of resignations and assassination? Next Week Hearing International will discuss how all these issues relate to the the DEAFNESS of George III and the War of 1812.