George IV and His Friends

This selection of caricatures focuses on George IV in his roles as Prince of Wales, Prince Regent and King.

An Excursion to Brighton, 1820, FA209028
An Excursion to Brighton, 1820, FA209028

George IV’s extravagant lifestyle and portly physique made him a magnet for caricaturists during the golden age of political satire (1780-1830). Contemporary caricaturists such as James Gillray and George Cruikshank portrayed him and his ministers, his family, friends and mistresses, with savage wit. The flowering of caricature in 18th century Britain was helped by the general absence of censorship, which allowed for great press and political freedom. The majority of prints were produced as hand-coloured etchings in editions of 300-1500. This speedy process resulted in a quick response to issues of the day. Political parties could use caricatures to promote their views and causes, and caricaturists changed their political angle according to market demand.

Le Mort, FA209100

Le Mort, FA209100
Le Mort, FA209100

George IV and his mistress Lady Conyngham weep over a dead giraffe lying on its back with its legs wrapped in bandages. The former Lord Chancellor Lord Eldon joins them in their sorrow, playing a lament on the bagpipes. He may also be lamenting his own exclusion from government. George had received the giraffe as a diplomatic gift from the Pasha of Egypt. The animal was kept in his menagerie at Sandpit Gate in Windsor Park, but died only a couple of years after its arrival. The two African caretakers who arrived with the animal can be seen grieving in the background. This rare animal (for the time) came to symbolise George’s vanity and love of the exotic. The giraffe was mounted by a taxidermist, and its skeleton was preserved and displayed at Windsor.

Royal Embarkation or bearing Brittannia’s Hope from a Bathing Machine to the Royal Barge, FA208997

Royal Embarkation or bearing Brittannia’s Hope from a Bathing Machine to the Royal Barge, FA208997
Royal Embarkation or bearing Brittannia’s Hope from a Bathing Machine to the Royal Barge, FA208997

This print shows the Prince Regent at Brighton being carried through the shallows by two strong bathing-women, out of his barge, the Royal George. He is about to set sail for the Regatta at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The regent wears an admiral’s full dress uniform, which he is finding insufferably hot. Despite the discomfort and the fact that George is suffering with gout, he has been amusing himself with two naked girls in the bathing machine on the beach. The print was published at a time when much of Britain was in a state of industrial unrest. The Peterloo Massacre had taken place in Manchester three days before the print was issued. This situation must have made George seem particularly out of touch.

Women

The Lovers Leap, 1786,  FA208897
The Lovers Leap, 1786, FA208897

George IV’s love life provided rich material for Regency caricaturists. Their satires focus on George’s libido and show him seducing married women, servants and kitchen maids, or even paying off prostitutes. James Gillray represented George as a goat, a classic symbol of lust. Satirists underlined the scandals by including crude or witty symbols such as a piece of meat in a butcher’s window or a roasting spit. Some prints suggest that the women and their cuckolded husbands (symbolised by antlers) blackmailed George for personal promotion, financial gain and political power. In 1785 the 23 year-old Prince George secretly married the 29 year-old Catholic widow Mrs Maria Fitzherbert. The marriage challenged the constitution since English law excluded Catholics from the throne. George IV’s official marriage to Caroline of Brunswick took place in the Chapel Royal at St James Palace on 8 April 1795. George agreed to marry in order to settle his debts and the marriage had failed by the time their only daughter, Charlotte was born in 1796. Frances Villiers, Lady Jersey, was George’s mistress from 1793 to 1799. George also had a relationship with Isabella, 2nd Marchioness of Hertford, who was ousted by his last mistress, Elisabeth Conyngham.

Fashionable Jockeyship, FA208925

Fashionable Jockeyship, FA208925
Fashionable Jockeyship, FA208925

After his disastrous marriage to Princess Caroline of Brunswick, George returned to Lady Jersey, who had been his mistress since 1794. Gillray shows George riding Lord Jersey, the Master of the Horse, to Lady Jersey’s bed. Lady Jersey was a handsome woman in her early forties, but Gillray shows her as a leering, wizened old crone. The insult is reinforced by the painting on the wall showing Cupid playing his pipes to an old sow.  George was infatuated with Lady Jersey. He dismissed several long-serving members of his household who dared to criticise her and, with an astonishing lack of sensitivity, appointed her as Princess Caroline’s Lady of the Bedchamber. On the insistence of King George III, Lady Jersey was dismissed from the post.

Which is the Dirtiest – So foul the Stains will be Indelible, FA209003

Which is the Dirtiest – So foul the Stains will be Indelible, FA209003
Which is the Dirtiest – So foul the Stains will be Indelible, FA209003

The feud between Prince George and Princess Caroline became a public issue. Here, George pelts his wife with ‘Italian Filth’, referring to Caroline’s adulterous affair with her Italian lover Bergami. Caroline counterattacks by flinging dirt at George from a bucket inscribed with London addresses, including that of Lady Conyngham. Both George and Caroline used the press to discredit one another and to win support for themselves. At one point, George tried to bribe a newspaper editor to switch alliance from Caroline to him. As Caroline was the more popular of the two, the editor reckoned changing sides would not be in the interest of his paper. He turned down George’s offer of £300 a year

Politics

The Rats at Work or how to get Out of the Bag, 1820, FA209018
The Rats at Work or how to get Out of the Bag, 1820, FA209018

Caricatures played a significant role in promoting opposition to King George IV and his ministers. The prints often poked fun at George’s habit of squandering public money on over-ambitious building projects and extravagant parties. This was a time when Britain faced huge debts from funding a war against France and many people were living in poverty. The prints exposed George IV’s tense relationship with his father, King George III, who was ashamed of his son’s self-indulgence and publicly criticised his unrestrained use of money. Caricaturists also targeted some of the prince’s friends, including the politicians Charles James Fox and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (also a famous playwright). Fox led the opposition against the Tory government appointed by George III, and supported the French Revolution. Fox is usually shown as a stocky figure with a dark complexion. Sheridan was a heavy drinker and is often represented with a large red nose and flushed face.

The Funeral Procession of Miss Regency, FA208911

The Funeral Procession of Miss Regency, FA208911
The Funeral Procession of Miss Regency, FA208911

When King George III became ill, a bill was proposed to allow George IV to act as regent, but the king recovered before the bill was passed. Gillray imagines the funeral of the bill. The coffin is topped by the prince’s coronet, his empty purse and a pair of dice. Mrs Fitzherbert is principal mourner, lamenting that she will not be queen. Behind her are the Whig politicians Richard Sheridan and Charles James Fox. They had hoped to gain power when George IV became regent. In front, appearing as a Jesuit, is the philosopher and politician Edmund Burke, who supported Catholic emancipation. A devil playing the violin brings up the rear. The identities of the mourners are inscribed below the procession. As supporters of the prince, they all shed copious tears as they realise their hopes are dashed.

The Prince of Whales or the Fisherman at Anchor, FA208951

The Prince of Whales or the Fisherman at Anchor, FA208951
The Prince of Whales or the Fisherman at Anchor, FA208951

The print celebrates the Prince Regent’s rejection of the Whigs. He confounded expectations by keeping the existing Tory government in power rather than giving power to his old Whig friends. Portrayed as a whale in a ‘Sea of Politics’ George spouts the ‘Liquor of Oblivion’ on playwright and Whig supporter Richard Sheridan, and blows the ‘Dew of favour’ on Spencer Perceval the Tory Prime Minister. The prince ignores his former lover, Mrs Fitzherbert, and looks lovingly at his mistress Lady Hertford, who is shown next to her cuckold husband. Cruikshank was inspired by Charles Lamb’s satirical poem about the prince The Triumph of the Whale published in the radical journal The Examiner on 15 March 1812.

Patronage

Intended Statues for Wellington Place, 1821, FA209056
Intended Statues for Wellington Place, 1821, FA209056

George IV was a great patron of the arts. He undertook several large architectural projects and constantly altered and refurnished his existing residences. He collected paintings by European masters, such as Rembrandt and van Dyck, as well as contemporary British painters such as Joshua Reynolds, George Stubbs and Thomas Lawrence. He was also a dandy who loved to keep up with the latest fashions and even designed exotic military uniforms for his Light Dragoon Guards.

All the World’s a Stage — And one man in his time plays many parts, &c &c, FA209078

All the World’s a Stage — And one man in his time plays many parts, &c &c, FA209078
All the World’s a Stage — And one man in his time plays many parts, &c &c, FA209078

Grossly overweight and suffering from gout, King George IV sits in an armchair looking like a washed-up dandy. Beside him is a mirror, covered with a cloth, and behind is a sequence of images portraying him in fashionable costume, from his youth to his coronation. The pictures emphasise George’s obsession with fashion, especially fancy uniforms, and trace his increasing girth. The title highlights that the monarch is a performer. Heath lifted the line from William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. George holds open a book entitled Diversions of Purley. This is a reference to a work by John Horne Tooke, a philologist and radical politician. In his trial for treason Tooke had won over the crown prosecutors. The inclusion of the book is probably meant as a joke since it is unlikely that George would have enjoyed writings by a radical on such specialised subject matter.

The Great Joss and his Playthings, FA209098

The Great Joss and his Playthings, FA209098
The Great Joss and his Playthings, FA209098

The print satirises the king’s extravagant hobbies, particularly his many building projects and his love for Chinoiserie. King George IV is shown as a Chinese figure sitting on top of a teapot, labelled ‘Treasury’, that spouts coins. He pets a giraffe while surrounded by other expensive ‘playthings’. The C-shaped hookah pipe refers to Lady Conyngham, his latest lover. Architectural models represent his extensive building projects. They include John Nash’s Royal Pavilion and Buckingham Palace, and Decimus Burton’s screen and gate for Hyde Park Corner. A Chinese servant holds a note that reads ‘Plan of Intended Improvements at Windsor’, referring to the plan for the architect Jeffry Wyattville to build an extension to the medieval castle. On the top shelf is a clutter of partly built church models, a reference to the 1818 Act for Building New Churches. George’s beloved Life Guards, for whom he designed uniforms, are shown processing up a plank, led by the Duke of Wellington in the guise of a cockerel.

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