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.
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.
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.