GEORGE IV. AND MRS. FITZHERBERT





In the last decade of the eighteenth century England was perhaps

the most brilliant nation of the world. Other countries had been

humbled by the splendid armies of France and were destined to be

still further humbled by the emperor who came from Corsica. France

had begun to seize the scepter of power; yet to this picture there

was another side--fearful want and grievous poverty and the

horrors of the Revolution. Russia was too far away, and was still

considered too barbarous, for a brilliant court to flourish there.

Prussia had the prestige that Frederick the Great won for her, but

she was still a comparatively small state. Italy was in a

condition of political chaos; the banks of the Rhine were running

blood where the Austrian armies faced the gallant Frenchmen under

the leadership of Moreau. But England, in spite of the loss of her

American colonies, was rich and prosperous, and her invincible

fleets were extending her empire over the seven seas.



At no time in modern England has the court at London seen so much

real splendor or such fine manners. The royalist emigres who fled

from France brought with them names and pedigrees that were older

than the Crusades, and many of them were received with the

frankest, freest English hospitality. If here and there some

marquis or baron of ancient blood was perforce content to teach

music to the daughters of tradesmen in suburban schools,

nevertheless they were better off than they had been in France,

harried by the savage gaze-hounds of the guillotine. Afterward,

in the days of the Restoration, when they came back to their

estates, they had probably learned more than one lesson from the

bouledogues of Merry England, who had little tact, perhaps, but

who were at any rate kindly and willing to share their goods with

pinched and poverty-stricken foreigners.



The court, then, as has been said, was brilliant with notables

from Continental countries, and with the historic wealth of the

peerage of England. Only one cloud overspread it; and that was the

mental condition of the king. We have become accustomed to think

of George III as a dull creature, almost always hovering on the

verge of that insanity which finally swept him into a dark

obscurity; but Thackeray's picture of him is absurdly untrue to

the actual facts. George III. was by no means a dullard, nor was

he a sort of beefy country squire who roved about the palace

gardens with his unattractive spouse.



Obstinate enough he was, and ready for a combat with the rulers of

the Continent or with his self-willed sons; but he was a man of

brains and power, and Lord Rosebery has rightly described him as

the most striking constitutional figure of his time. Had he

retained his reason, and had his erratic and self-seeking son not

succeeded him during his own lifetime, Great Britain might very

possibly have entered upon other ways than those which opened to

her after the downfall of Napoleon.



The real center of fashionable England, however, was not George

III., but rather his son, subsequently George IV., who was made

Prince of Wales three days after his birth, and who became prince

regent during the insanity of the king. He was the leader of the

social world, the fit companion of Beau Brummel and of a choice

circle of rakes and fox-hunters who drank pottle-deep. Some called

him "the first gentleman of Europe." Others, who knew him better,

described him as one who never kept his word to man or woman and

who lacked the most elementary virtues.



Yet it was his good luck during the first years of his regency to

be popular as few English kings have ever been. To his people he

typified old England against revolutionary France; and his youth

and gaiety made many like him. He drank and gambled; he kept packs

of hounds and strings of horses; he ran deeply into debt that he

might patronize the sports of that uproarious day. He was a

gallant "Corinthian," a haunter of dens where there were prize-

fights and cock-fights, and there was hardly a doubtful resort in

London where his face was not familiar.



He was much given to gallantry--not so much, as it seemed, for

wantonness, but from sheer love of mirth and chivalry. For a time,

with his chosen friends, such as Fox and Sheridan, he ventured

into reckless intrigues that recalled the amours of his

predecessor, Charles II. He had by no means the wit and courage of

Charles; and, indeed, the house of Hanover lacked the outward show

of chivalry which made the Stuarts shine with external splendor.

But he was good-looking and stalwart, and when he had half a dozen

robust comrades by his side he could assume a very manly

appearance. Such was George IV. in his regency and in his prime.

He made that period famous for its card-playing, its deep

drinking, and for the dissolute conduct of its courtiers and

noblemen no less than for the gallantry of its soldiers and its

momentous victories on sea and land. It came, however, to be seen

that his true achievements were in reality only escapades, that

his wit was only folly, and his so-called "sensibility" was but

sham. He invented buckles, striped waistcoats, and flamboyant

collars, but he knew nothing of the principles of kingship or the

laws by which a state is governed.



The fact that he had promiscuous affairs with women appealed at

first to the popular sense of the romantic. It was not long,

however, before these episodes were trampled down into the mire of

vulgar scandal.



One of the first of them began when he sent a letter, signed

"Florizel," to a young actress, "Perdita" Robinson. Mrs. Robinson,

whose maiden name was Mary Darby, and who was the original of

famous portraits by Gainsborough and Reynolds, was a woman of

beauty, talent, and temperament. George, wishing in every way to

be "romantic," insisted upon clandestine meetings on the Thames at

Kew, with all the stage trappings of the popular novels--cloaks,

veils, faces hidden, and armed watchers to warn her of approaching

danger. Poor Perdita took this nonsense so seriously that she gave

up her natural vocation for the stage, and forsook her husband,

believing that the prince would never weary of her.



He did weary of her very soon, and, with the brutality of a man of

such a type, turned her away with the promise of some money; after

which he cut her in the Park and refused to speak to her again. As

for the money, he may have meant to pay it, but Perdita had a long

struggle before she succeeded in getting it. It may be assumed

that the prince had to borrow it and that this obligation formed

part of the debts which Parliament paid for him.



It is not necessary to number the other women whose heads he

turned. They are too many for remembrance here, and they have no

special significance, save one who, as is generally believed,

became his wife so far as the church could make her so. An act of

1772 had made it illegal for any member of the English royal

family to marry without the permission of the king. A marriage

contracted without the king's consent might be lawful in the eyes

of the church, but the children born of it could not inherit any

claim to the throne.



It may be remarked here that this withholding of permission was

strictly enforced. Thus William IV., who succeeded George IV., was

married, before his accession to the throne, to Mrs. Jordan

(Dorothy Bland). Afterward he lawfully married a woman of royal

birth who was known as Queen Adelaide.



There is an interesting story which tells how Queen Victoria came

to be born because her father, the Duke of Kent, was practically

forced to give up a morganatic union which he greatly preferred to

a marriage arranged for him by Parliament. Except the Duke of

Cambridge, the Duke of Kent was the only royal duke who was likely

to have children in the regular line. The only daughter of George

IV. had died in childhood. The Duke of Cumberland was for various

reasons ineligible; the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV.,

was almost too old; and therefore, to insure the succession, the

Duke of Kent was begged to marry a young and attractive woman, a

princess of the house of Saxe-Coburg, who was ready for the honor.

It was greatly to the Duke's credit that he showed deep and

sincere feeling in this matter. As he said himself in effect:



"This French lady has stood by me in hard times and in good times,

too--why should I cast her off? She has been more than a wife to

me. And what do I care for your plans in Parliament? Send over for

one of the Stuarts--they are better men than the last lot of our

fellows that you have had!"



In the end, however, he was wearied out and was persuaded to

marry, but he insisted that a generous sum should be settled on

the lady who had been so long his true companion, and to whom, no

doubt, he gave many a wistful thought in his new but unfamiliar

quarters in Kensington Palace, which was assigned as his

residence.



Again, the second Duke of Cambridge, who died only a few years

ago, greatly desired to marry a lady who was not of royal rank,

though of fine breeding and of good birth. He besought his young

cousin, as head of the family, to grant him this privilege of

marriage; but Queen Victoria stubbornly refused. The duke was

married according to the rites of the church, but he could not

make his wife a duchess. The queen never quite forgave him for his

partial defiance of her wishes, though the duke's wife--she was

usually spoken of as Mrs. FitzGeorge--was received almost

everywhere, and two of her sons hold high rank in the British army

and navy, respectively.



The one real love story in the life of George IV. is that which

tells of his marriage with a lady who might well have been the

wife of any king. This was Maria Anne Smythe, better known as Mrs.

Fitzherbert, who was six years older than the young prince when

she first met him in company with a body of gentlemen and ladies

in 1784.



Maria Fitzherbert's face was one which always displayed its best

advantages. Her eyes were peculiarly languishing, and, as she had

already been twice a widow, and was six years his senior, she had

the advantage over a less experienced lover. Likewise, she was a

Catholic, and so by another act of Parliament any marriage with

her would be illegal. Yet just because of all these different

objections the prince was doubly drawn to her, and was willing to

sacrifice even the throne if he could but win her.



His father, the king, called him into the royal presence and said:



"George, it is time that you should settle down and insure the

succession to the throne."



"Sir," replied the prince, "I prefer to resign the succession and

let my brother have it, and that I should live as a private

English gentleman."



Mrs. Fitzherbert was not the sort of woman to give herself up

readily to a morganatic connection. Moreover, she soon came to

love Prince George too well to entangle him in a doubtful alliance

with one of another faith than his. Not long after he first met

her the prince, who was always given to private theatricals, sent

messengers riding in hot haste to her house to tell her that he

had stabbed himself, that he begged to see her, and that unless

she came he would repeat the act. The lady yielded, and hurried to

Carlton House, the prince's residence; but she was prudent enough

to take with her the Duchess of Devonshire, who was a reigning

beauty of the court.



The scene which followed was theatrical rather than impressive.--

The prince was found in his sleeping-chamber, pale and with his

ruffles blood-stained. He played the part of a youthful and love-

stricken wooer, vowing that he would marry the woman of his heart

or stab himself again. In the presence of his messengers, who,

with the duchess, were witnesses, he formally took the lady as his

wife, while Lady Devonshire's wedding-ring sealed the troth. The

prince also acknowledged it in a document.



Mrs. Fitzherbert was, in fact, a woman of sound sense. Shortly

after this scene of melodramatic intensity her wits came back to

her, and she recognized that she had merely gone through a

meaningless farce. So she sent back the prince's document and the

ring and hastened to the Continent, where he could not reach her,

although his detectives followed her steps for a year.



At the last she yielded, however, and came home to marry the

prince in such fashion as she could--a marriage of love, and

surely one of morality, though not of parliamentary law. The

ceremony was performed "in her own drawing-room in her house in

London, in the presence of the officiating Protestant clergyman

and two of her own nearest relatives."



Such is the serious statement of Lord Stourton, who was Mrs.

Fitzherbert's cousin and confidant. The truth of it was never

denied, and Mrs. Fitzherbert was always treated with respect, and

even regarded as a person of great distinction. Nevertheless, on

more than one occasion the prince had his friends in Parliament

deny the marriage in order that his debts might be paid and new

allowances issued to him by the Treasury.



George certainly felt himself a husband. Like any other married

prince, he set himself to build a palace for his country home.

While in search of some suitable spot he chanced to visit the

"pretty fishing-village" of Brighton to see his uncle, the Duke of

Cumberland. Doubtless he found it an attractive place, yet this

may have been not so much because of its view of the sea as for

the reason that Mrs. Fitzherbert had previously lived there.



However, in 1784 the prince sent down his chief cook to make

arrangements for the next royal visit. The cook engaged a house on

the spot where the Pavilion now stands, and from that time

Brighton began to be an extremely fashionable place. The court

doctors, giving advice that was agreeable, recommended their royal

patient to take sea-bathing at Brighton. At once the place sprang

into popularity.



At first the gentry were crowded into lodging-houses and the

accommodations were primitive to a degree. But soon handsome

villas arose on every side; hotels appeared; places of amusement

were opened. The prince himself began to build a tasteless but

showy structure, partly Chinese and partly Indian in style, on the

fashionable promenade of the Steyne.



During his life with Mrs. Fitzherbert at Brighton the prince held

what was practically a court. Hundreds of the aristocracy came

down from London and made their temporary dwellings there; while

thousands who were by no means of the court made the place what is

now popularly called "London by the Sea." There were the Duc de

Chartres, of France; statesmen and rakes, like Fox, Sheridan, and

the Earl of Barrymore; a very beautiful woman, named Mrs. Couch, a

favorite singer at the opera, to whom the prince gave at one time

jewels worth ten thousand pounds; and a sister of the Earl of

Barrymore, who was as notorious as her brother. She often took the

president's chair at a club which George's friends had organized

and which she had christened the Hell Fire Club.



Such persons were not the only visitors at Brighton. Men of much

more serious demeanor came down to visit the prince and brought

with them quieter society. Nevertheless, for a considerable time

the place was most noted for its wild scenes of revelry, into

which George frequently entered, though his home life with Mrs.

Fitzherbert at the Pavilion was a decorous one.



No one felt any doubt as to the marriage of the two persons, who

seemed so much like a prince and a princess. Some of the people of

the place addressed Mrs. Fitzherbert as "Mrs. Prince." The old

king and his wife, however, much deplored their son's relation

with her. This was partly due to the fact that Mrs. Fitzherbert

was a Catholic and that she had received a number of French nuns

who had been driven out of France at the time of the Revolution.

But no less displeasure was caused by the prince's racing and

dicing, which swelled his debts to almost a million pounds, so

that Parliament and, indeed, the sober part of England were set

against him.



Of course, his marriage to Mrs. Fitzherbert had no legal status;

nor is there any reason for believing that she ever became a

mother. She had no children by her former two husbands, and Lord

Stourton testified positively that she never had either son or

daughter by Prince George. Nevertheless, more than one American

claimant has risen to advance some utterly visionary claim to the

English throne by reason of alleged descent from Prince George and

Mrs. Fitzherbert.



Neither William IV. nor Queen Victoria ever spent much time at

Brighton. In King William's case it was explained that the

dampness of the Pavilion did not suit him; and as to Queen

Victoria, it was said that she disliked the fact that buildings

had been erected so as to cut off the view of the sea. It is quite

likely, however, that the queen objected to the associations of

the place, and did not care to be reminded of the time when her

uncle had lived there so long in a morganatic state of marriage.



At length the time came when the king, Parliament, and the people

at large insisted that the Prince of Wales should make a legal

marriage, and a wife was selected for him in the person of

Caroline, daughter of the Duke of Brunswick. This marriage took

place exactly ten years after his wedding with the beautiful and

gentle-mannered Mrs. Fitzherbert. With the latter he had known

many days and hours of happiness. With Princess Caroline he had no

happiness at all.



Prince George met her at the pier to greet her. It is said that as

he took her hand he kissed her, and then, suddenly recoiling, he

whispered to one of his friends:



"For God's sake, George, give me a glass of brandy!"



Such an utterance was more brutal and barbaric than anything his

bride could have conceived of, though it is probable, fortunately,

that she did not understand him by reason of her ignorance of

English.



We need not go through the unhappy story of this unsympathetic,

neglected, rebellious wife. Her life with the prince soon became

one of open warfare; but instead of leaving England she remained

to set the kingdom in an uproar. As soon as his father died and he

became king, George sued her for divorce. Half the people sided

with the queen, while the rest regarded her as a vulgar creature

who made love to her attendants and brought dishonor on the

English throne. It was a sorry, sordid contrast between the young

Prince George who had posed as a sort of cavalier and this now

furious gray old man wrangling with his furious German wife.



Well might he look back to the time when he met Perdita in the

moonlight on the Thames, or when he played the part of Florizel,

or, better still, when he enjoyed the sincere and disinterested

love of the gentle woman who was his wife in all but legal status.

Caroline of Brunswick was thrust away from the king's coronation.

She took a house within sight of Westminster Abbey, so that she

might make hag-like screeches to the mob and to the king as he

passed by. Presently, in August, 1821, only a month after the

coronation, she died, and her body was taken back to Brunswick for

burial.



George himself reigned for nine years longer. When he died in 1830

his executor was the Duke of Wellington. The duke, in examining

the late king's private papers, found that he had kept with the

greatest care every letter written to him by his morganatic wife.

During his last illness she had sent him an affectionate missive

which it is said George "read eagerly." Mrs. Fitzherbert wished

the duke to give up her letters; but he would do so only in return

for those which he had written to her.



It was finally decided that it would be best to burn both his and

hers. This work was carried out in Mrs. Fitzherbert's own house by

the lady, the duke, and the Earl of Albemarle.



Of George it may be said that he has left as memories behind him

only three things that will be remembered. The first is the

Pavilion at Brighton, with its absurdly oriental decorations, its

minarets and flimsy towers. The second is the buckle which he

invented and which Thackeray has immortalized with his biting

satire. The last is the story of his marriage to Maria

Fitzherbert, and of the influence exercised upon him by the

affection of a good woman.





George Frederick Handel George Peabody facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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