George IV became king in 1820 and died in 1830. His statue in Trafalgar Square is a bronze by Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey, completed in 1828, in which (at his own request) George IV is “dressed in ancient Roman attire riding bareback.” King George funded at least a portion of the cost of the statue himself. When he died in 1830, the Observer, Jun 27, 1830, p. 2 printed a lengthy memoir:
…it becomes an imperative, though a very painful duty on our part to take a retrospect of his Majesty’s life, in order that the public may form an accurate estimate of his private and political character.
The young prince had tutors until 1776 when his formal education terminated. Lord Holderness, the first Governor of the Prince,
…found his Royal Pupil in the habit of reading books calculated to infuse arbitrary and tyrannical principle of government, and despotic habits of behaviour. In vain he remonstrated with his Majesty, and addressed himself to the Queen, and still finding such political poison to be continued to be poured into the ears of his Royal Pupil, he resigned his office…
There were several subsequent preceptors until the termination of his formal education at the age of 14. An account of later reported the Prince was “extremely ignorant of all useful knowledge” and kept secluded. “…It is not a matter of surprise with us that, with the ardour of youth, he plunged into the felicities of life, and committed foibles for which his inexerpeince may be charitably received as an apology.” He patronized the prize ring, sports such as bull-baiting, and horse-racing. At age 18, he “engaged in an amour with a beautiful and accomplished actress, the wife of an attorney named Robinson.” This understandably caused much scandal, bringing “great uneasiness to the Royal Family” and “much pain to the lover” and “finally terminated in the early death of his mistress in poverty and obscurity.”
He lost at cards as well as horses due to his style of living said to be “splendid beyond precedent” and he was indebted for between two and three hundred thousand pounds. By 1792 he was advised to “retire from public life for a time, and appropriate the greater part of his income to the liquidation of his debts.” The Prince had married a widow, Mrs. Fitzherbert, in an “illegal ceremony” (changes in the law had forbid royalty to marry without approval of the King, and to a Papist, and George had neither his father’s approval and Mrs. Fitzherbert was Catholic) and yet in 1795, announced to marry Princess Caroline Louisa of Brunswick, presumably for her money as he was heavily indebted. The Prince was at that time “notoriously attached” to Mrs. Fitzherbert and Lady Jersey, another paramour. Princess Caroline was dejected as she was in love with another, and the Prince “bore his fate with very little grace.” Following the birth of their daughter, Princess Charlotte Augusta in 1796, the prince and princess separated. Princess Charlotte died in childbirth while Princess Caroline was living abroad, and she learned of it by chance as George did not tell her. When George III died in 1820 and George IV became king, Princess Caroline returned to London to establish her rights as Queen, but was banned from the coronation. People took Caroline’s side and she was popular amongst them to King George IV’s annoyance.
Finally, the Observer concluded after a lengthy summary of his political, financial, personal, and domestic actions:
Much, however, as we may be disposed to speak, with pain or with respect, of the qualities of his Majesty in private life, it is with regret we must admit that we can find little in his public or political to satisfy our feeling of what was demanded from him, to justify an opinion that he was a wise Sovereign, or to induce us to point out his course as worthy of the imitation of a successor. ..no disguise or cant can conceal the truth, that all reforms, and all meritorious public exertions, were force on him by the progress of the age, not adopted from an ardent wish to signalize his reign; and that, although a scholar, a gentleman, and a patron of arts, our Sovereign, however worthy of being regretted, was neither a great King, and enlightened statesman, nor a national benefactor. (p. 4)
Nonetheless, the statue of George IV on horseback was placed on an empty plinth in Trafalgar Square 1843, and it has been there since. In 2008, Gerald Warner of the Telegraph wrote of a possible decision to permanently occupy the vacant fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square with an equestrian statue of the Queen, in recognition of her dedicated public service. Warner stated her statue would also:
…do her capital a further service in banishing the trash that sporadically clutters the plinth in the name of modern art, to the bankruptcy of which it is a monument. The charade began with a sculpture of a naked, pregnant, disabled woman, supposedly intended as a salute to disability; but there was already a disabled, one-armed, one-eyed hero atop the first plinth–Nelson’s Column. (Of course the Queen should take her place in Trafalgar Square, Aug. 7, 2008)
While it is true Admiral Nelson lost the sight in one eye during a battle (the siege of Calvi) and an arm due to a severed artery which necessitated immediate amputation (Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife), he was like many of our historical statues, a ‘war hero.’ Personally, I find the sculpture of Alison Lapper a salute to ability, not disability. Alison Lapper’s statue was described by the sculptor Marc Quinn “as a ‘monument to the future, celebrating someone who has conquered their own circumstances, rather than someone who has conquered the outside world.” You can read Alison Lapper’s story at the link above, the first post I made about the London visit. Ms. Lapper represents to me the most indomitable woman–one who did not allow severe birth defects to dictate the kind of life she would live, including to become a mother and care for her child. She is someone I see as admirable far more than I do someone whose strategy on the battle field is what earned the title hero and is seen as worthy of admiration.
Admiral Nelson shared a lot in common with Prince George/King George IV. Nelson had been married for ten years when he began an affair with a married woman. When Nelson traveled to London with her and her husband, she was pregnant with Nelson’s child. Nelson “married” her by sharing Holy Communion and the exchange of rings prior to his departure for battle, but after his death she still died in poverty and destitution, have become addicted to alcohol. I imagine plenty were willing to blame her for that, too. We are willing to overlook those transgressions in men, and in fact, sometimes defend them, laugh at them, or even envy them–but judge women more harshly as evidenced by Warner’s description of Lapper’s statue on the fourth plinth as a charade, unworthy of being celebrated for her accomplishments when dealt a heavy load through no fault of her own, and yet still chose to live as fully as she could.
Apparently at the time, King George’s ‘transgressions’ were fodder for the British papers as I found many references and a large number of pages devoted to the stories of his trysts with women from the time he was 18 until his death, because “men require female companionship.” It is also true that George IV commissioned his own statue, and paid for at least a portion of it; quite possibly the fact that his extravagant lifestyle and gambling debts tied up the statue for 13 years after the King’s death had some bearing on the matter.
A leader who incurs heavy debt, does not always pay his bills, has numerous trysts with women whilst married himself, treats his wife poorly, and fails to actually govern with greatness, statesmanship, and beneficence for the people he is sworn to lead…yet a story honored with public recognition.