British History 2:
From the French Revolution to World War II
Topic: "Majesties and Royal Highnesses"

by Laura Cenicola & Mareike Aumann

3) Malcontent Princes

The term 'Malcontent Princes' refers to George IV ('Prinny') and Edward VII ('Bertie'). Both of them faced the long reign of their parents (George III and Victoria) and endured cold and hatred realtionships to them before finally becoming kings at a rather old age. Learn more about their way of coping with the given situation and about the consequences resulting from it below:

George IV









(left: 'Prinny'; right: 'Bertie')


George IV 

Marriage and Public Affairs

Following the tradition of bad relationships between Hanoverian monarchs and their children the one between George IV and his father George III was no exception. Prince George, also affectionately called 'Prinny' by his intimates was an impulsive, pleasure loving man, given to extravagances and excess.
At the age of 18 Prinny, who spent about 10,000 pounds on clothing annually (estimated number), finally broke free from the domination exerted by his father. He began an affair with the actress Mrs. Robinson. Starting at that point the prince had lots of affairs and mistresses. Have a look at his various affairs here:

He secretly married the Roman Catholic Maria Fitzherbert without his fathers permission. The marriage however was not legal for he was underage and the Catholic ceremony was not valid under English law. The king regarded his sons extravagant lifestyle with contempt. After Maria had been removed from court Prince George started getting involved with mistresses again until he finally submitted to his fathers wishes and officially married the Princess Caroline of Brunswick so her Parliament would cover his deeps (which had built to 630,000 pounds by the time he was 33 years old). Prince George was furious when the parliament reduced his payment to 60,000 pounds annually because his bachelor income had been 78,000 pounds. His marriage was a disaster but could not be ended by divorce. The Duke of Wellington once stated Prince George was 'The damnedest millstones about the neck of any Government that can be imagined.'



George IV was an important artistic patron and acquired an impressive art patronizing architect and designers over the years.

'The Prince would fall under the sway of first one enthusiasm then another, always tiring quickly of them and moving on to another. Whether it was begging his Father for a military commission, then abandoning the army camp at Brighton to return to the comforts of his Pavilion or embracing French cuisine and clothes under the influence of the Duce d' Orleans then joining Norfolk in the anti-French cuisine Beef-steak Society, or decisively ending his relationship with Mrs. Fitzherbert to marry another, then taking up with her again within five years time; the Prince's actions showed a selfish person without direction. He would develop a passion for a faddish new style. No sooner was the building built or redecorated then he would be off on another fad. Some of his excesses have become national treasures, such as the Brighton Pavilion, a ludicrously appealing taste of the Far East on the Channel coast.'

At the age of 21 Prince George visited Brighton for the first time. Though being only a village George grew rather fond of it for it had delighted him with assemblies, balls, gambling, and promenading by the sands of the English Channel. Brighton was the ideal place to escape the stodgy royal father who so disliked him, and to be with people of wit, beauty, and style.  George became George IV after his father was declared insane in 1820 after having been one of the two longest reigning monarchs in Britain.


The Coronation

At that time George was 59 years old and already in bad physical condition. Nevertheless his coronation was an extraordinary event on which he spend a huge amount of money. This quote gives a brief insight in the extravagant coronation:

'The appearance of the Abbey during the ceremony of the coronation, was a scene of grandeur of which description can convey but a faint idea. The King was seated on his throne, dressed in a robe of a most splendid and sumptuous description. Around him stood, on one side the Bishops, with their copes of gold, and robes of black velvet - and close by them the Heralds, with their gorgeous and many-colored vestments.'

Also have a look at this extract from the Anecdotes of John Manders:

'July 19th, 1821 was a hot summer day and the King began to suffer from his heavy robes and wig during the five-hour Coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey. George IV was according to Lady Cowper "distressed almost to fainting" and had to be revived with sal volatile.
Following the ceremony in Westminster Abbey the Coronation procession of King George IV now wearing his crown wended its way to Westminster Hall on the raised and canopied processional way. "The awning over the platform on which the Coronation procession is to pass, is of Russia duck, and 2,000,000 yds. will be required to complete it." Crowds lined the streets to watch the parade pass. Wealthy spectators could book seats on platforms erected for the occasion." Ten thousand Guineas were given by a person for the fronts of four houses, in Palace-yard, to hire for seeing the Coronation. He must have lost considerably, as places were to be had on the day so low as ten shillings and sixpence and even seven shillings and Sixpence." Soldiers both on foot and on horseback lined the route.'

His wife Caroline came back from Italy where she had moved with their daughter but George denied her the queenship. In fact the doors of the Westminster Abbey was slammed shut in her face on George's behalf when she tried to take part in his coronation ceremony.
As the king, he was never really interested in governmental affairs. Though George had supported Whig politicians in his youth, this had mainly been to annoy his father. During his time in office he became increasingly pro-Tory. He never gained much popularity which was partly due to the scandals his affairs cause but also because of the money wasted on them which would have helped the British people instead.

The Enigma

George IV truly was an enigma. He was bright, witty and very able on the one hand but idolent, spoiled, and lazy on the other hand. He was described by the Duke of Wellington as follows: 'He was the most extraordinary compound of talent, wit, buffoonery, obstinacy, and good feelings, in short a medly of the most opposite qualities, with a great preponderance of good - that I ever saw in any character in my life.'



"A Voluptuary Under The Horrors of Digestion," a caricature by James Gillray:


Edward VII


Victoria and Edward continued down the road paved of bad relationship between Hanoverian monarchs and their children as well. Throughout his childhood Edward, who was called 'Bertie' by his family, had to endure the strict regime of his parents. It was clear to him that he would never be able to measure up to ideal set by his parents. 'None of you can ever be proud enough of being the child of such a Father who has not his equal in this world - so great, so good, so faultless,'  his mother Victoria would explain to him in a typical letter. Edward always fell the standard of perfection and as a matter of fact at some point stopped bother trying. He proved to be resistant and resentful, acting petulant, disobedient and rude, having lots of tantrums throughout his youth. Queen Victoria would describe her son 'idle and weak'. According to his tutor Edward was very friendly and loved company. Further he was loyal and observant and had a keen sense of something being right or wrong, as well as a marvellous memory.However nobody was actually interested in his qualities. Edward went to Oxford and Cambridge and also briefly joined the army.

Albert's death

His affair with an actress caused a considerable scandal. Prince Albert visited his son to bring him back to common sense. When Albert died two weeks later Queen Victoria blamed her son for his fathers death. For the rest of his life Edward struggled with the double burden of knowing his mother blamed him and the feeling of injustice for her doing so.

Marriage and public affairs

His marriage to Princess Alexandra of Denmark brought a certain extend of relief into the tense relationship to his mother, but Victoria stayed consistent in denying her son any official governmental role. She considered him incompetent and indiscreet and was afraid of him 'competing' with her for the affections of her subjects. As a consequence Edward rebelled by indulging himself in women, food, drink, gambling, sport and travel.Though Alexandra was beautiful she did not exactly meet the qualities Edward appreciated in women. Therefore she was rather limited to child-bearing and attractive appearances on states occasioned. She turned a blind eye on his antics which continued well up to his sixties and were the reason for many divorce cases and public affairs. Twice Edward appeared in court: the first time perjuring himself for having had an affair with a young woman who's husband wanted to divorce her for adultery. The second time testifying on a case concerning a friend of his said to have cheated at baccarat, an illegal card game the Prince adored. This case was also known as the Tranby Croft affair. One of his long term mistresses was Lily Langtry others were Frances Brooke, Countess of Warwick, Alice Keppel (Greatgrandmother of Camilla Parker Bowls) and Sarah Bernhart.

The coronation

Edward took the throne after Victoria's death in 1901 at the age of 59. while accompanying her body back to mainland he noticed the royal yacht's standard flying at half-mast. When he asked why, the captain said, 'The Queen is dead, sir'. 'But the King lives', came the royal response. This short conversation indicates that Edward was not willing to let his mother's memory overshade his reign for which he had waited so long. In his assession speech he announced he would reign as King Edward VII, not as Albert I, as his mother had wished, for he 'desire(ed) that Alberts name should stand alone!' That was only the start of Edward's rejection of his parents and their past. He gave Osborne House, which he detested to the nation and redecorated Buckingham Palace in the style of the Edwardian grand hotels. Even the memorial to Victoria was used as an excuse to redesign the palace and the Mall to become the setting for the grand state ceremonies that the queen had so disliked. He soon proved his risqué reputation to be wrong and was a very engaged and vital king. He was able to restore a bit of sparkle to the British monarchy, which had immensely suffered by the gloomy years after the death of his father and ruled very peacefully. His sexual indiscretion, his manners and style left him seen a slight bit suspicious but nevertheless he was a very popular king who had great social skills. Due to his talent to build foreign relations he became the 'Uncle of Europe'.



Caricature of Edward VII in "Le Chabanais", published 1903 in L'indiscret:

Edward VII and the women