Born a royal heir into the very lap of luxury, King George IV somehow managed to push the envelope of excess even further. Never was a king so depraved, so cruel, or so obscene—and we’re talking about the English monarchy here. From his dark family secrets to his mega embarrassing end, you’re going to want to pour a jumbo glass out for this one.
Born on August 12, 1762, George was the eldest child of King George III and his queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Quite obviously, little George’s childhood was a charmed one, full of royal appointments and plush dinners. Yet behind the gilded veneer of all this opulence, the royal family had a dark, rotten core.
George’s father King George III is now infamous as “The Mad King”. Throughout much of his life, the old king suffered from bouts of insanity.
It got so bad that George even had to take over as Prince Regent, producing what we now call “The Regency Period”. It was a hefty responsibility…which might explain why he screwed it up so spectacularly.
At the end of the rollercoaster ride that was his reign, George IV’s own senior aide wrote about the king in his private diary: "A more contemptible, cowardly, selfish, unfeeling dog does not exist...There have been good and wise kings but not many of them.
..and this I believe to be one of the worst”. What I’m saying is: buckle up, guys.
From a young age, it was clear that Prince George was an absolute scoundrel. His bevy of mistresses could probably have filled several royal bedrooms, and he loved nothing more than to drink and carouse all through the night alongside these beauties.
As one commenter put it, George always preferred “a girl and a bottle to politics and a sermon”. Yet no one could have predicted just how bad it would get.
Another of George’s greatest loves was gambling, but it didn’t love him back—in fact, it almost brought him to ruin. Even with his mind-blowing royal endowments, George still somehow managed to get into enormous debt from his extravagant betting on cards, ponies, and basically anything you could put a price on.
Eventually, the consequences caught up with him.
As any college freshman can tell you, pounding back the brandies might be good for your social life, but it’s super bad for your belt buckle. George was always a bit of a pudgy boy, and his exorbitant tastes quickly ballooned him into epic proportions.
Soon enough, his gourmet womanizing earned him an impressive (and hilarious) title: “The Fat Adonis”. Incidentally, this is also my nom de guerre.
George’s father was going out of his wits (no pun intended) to keep his son in line, and he came up with a disturbing solution. Before he would forgive any of Prince George’s debts, the king insisted that he marry his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. If that sounds like a risky and horrible plan—it really, really was.
Caroline was in her mid-20s, an unusually “over the hill” age for women to marry at the time. Some blamed it on her strict parents, who refused to let her attend balls or, God forbid, dance at any of those galas, and even bizarrely banned her standing near windows. But according to others, there was an even darker reason for Caroline’s delayed development.
A persistent and infamous rumor claimed Princess Caroline of Brunswick was an old-ish maid because she was actually a super freak.
Well, for the time. People whispered that when Caroline was in her teens, she got herself pregnant by a—gasp—peasant. In order to keep the baby secret, Caroline’s parents turned down a series of proposals before finally foisting her off. Well, maybe George heard that rumor too…
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Prince George and Caroline of Brunswick had never laid eyes on each other before they agreed to wed.
This ended horrifically. Reportedly, when Prince George finally came face-to-face with his bride-to-be, he had an incredibly snide response. The future monarch simply asked for a bigger glass of drink to soothe his disappointment. Ouch—but that wasn’t even the worst part.
When Caroline first arrived in England, George did the “honorable” thing and appointed her a lady-in-waiting, Frances Villiers. Just kidding, this was actually a cruel power move:
Villiers was one of George’s favorite mistresses, and by making her Caroline’s “Lady of the Bedchamber,” he sent his new wife a loud and clear message about his priorities. It didn’t end there, either.
George was horrible at ruling a country, but he was really good at fashion. He introduced a number of styles to England, many of them ploys to mask his obesity.
Instead of the previously popular “knee breeches,” he took up wearing looser trousers. He also popularized dark colors—to make him look slimmer—and high collars to hide his double chin.
The royal nuptials happened on April 9, 1795, but the fairy-tale wedding quickly turned into a total nightmare. Prince George started on his drinking so early that he was three sheets to the wind by the time the ceremony rolled around.
He also loudly proclaimed to friends that Caroline was gross and unhygienic. And they still had the wedding night to go…
When Prince George took Caroline to the bedchamber that night, he made a “horrific” discovery. After surveying the goods, he strongly suspected the blushing bride wasn’t a virgin. Though this gives credence to those nasty pregnancy rumors surrounding Caroline, it’s not like George spent his youth handing out purity rings, either.
George and Caroline’s bedroom chemistry was as dismal as the rest of their relations. The prince later claimed they only consummated their union a paltry three times:
two times on the wedding night, once the next evening, and after that, never again. Despite his womanizing ways, George later wrote, "it required no small [effort] to conquer my aversion and overcome the disgust of her person". Sometimes, though, three times is all it takes…
Almost exactly nine months after their ill-fated wedding night, Caroline gave birth to a little girl, Princess Charlotte.
It’s almost as if Caroline’s whole biology was screaming “One and done” about her trainwreck of a marriage. In the end, Charlotte was the only legitimate child George would ever have. Sadly, this makes her tragedy all the more poignant (more on that later).
Though you wouldn’t know it from his baser interests, George IV was actually an incredibly witty and bright man, and had been ever since he was a child. Even the people who despised him had to admit that he could be a brilliant conversationalist when he wasn’t too in his cups. But this biting wit could cut the wrong way…
Alright, strap in:
The tale of George IV is about to get even wilder. You see, George and Caroline of Brunswick had a miserable marriage to begin with—but she didn’t even know his darkest secret. On the day they said their sweet “I dos,” the Prince was already married. And it was even more scandalous than that sounds.
Before Princess Caroline became his Royal Debt Forgiveness Plan, George IV was already madly in love with Maria Fitzherbert, a—double gasp—widowed, Catholic commoner who was six years his senior. George was so smitten, he swore he would marry none but her. Aw, it might be romantic if it didn’t become so twisted.
George secretly married Maria on December 15, 1785 in a quiet ceremony at the bride’s humble adobe. If that sounds a little sketchy, it’s because it was. Decades before, parliament had passed a series of acts that made it impossible for a royal heir to marry a Catholic and required him to get the king’s permission to wed anyone at all. In other words:
George and Maria were screwed. But that didn’t stop them…
George IV kept his sham marriage a secret for years, knowing that if the truth got out it would ruin him with both parliament and his father, and maybe even lose him the throne. Nonetheless, both he and Maria considered the union legitimate, and she remained a central figure in his life for the rest of his days.
As Caroline soon found out, a little too central.
When it came to his many mistresses, George IV definitely had a type: grown women. Maria Fitzherbert was a mature woman, but even she had nothing on George's other side piece. Frances Villiers was 40 and already a grandmother ()!
when George started an affair with her in his early 30s.
In fact, most of George's mistresses were witty, sassy women many years older than him. The guy had his faults, but he was no Leo DiCaprio.
Prince George couldn’t even get a handle on his love life, so it’s no wonder his political life was a mess, too. With King George III’s mental illness becoming ever more apparent, members of parliament pushed for Prince George to become Regent as early as 1788, when he was still in his 20s. But “for some reason,” most of them didn’t trust the royal rake—and he would only come to power with great tragedy.
In 1810, a cruel blow hit the royal family. That year, Prince George’s baby sister Amelia passed at the age of 27. She had been King George III’s favorite daughter, and the loss put him into “melancholy beyond description". Heartbreakingly, it also threw the king into the last stage of his crippling mental illness.
By that point, parliament had no choice but make his son regent at last.
Surprising exactly zero people, Caroline and Prince George all but broke up after the birth of their compulsory heir Princess Charlotte. But George’s nightmare was just beginning. To his astonishment, Caroline was incredibly popular with the people, and when the papers got wind of their marital troubles, they depicted her as a “wronged wife,” which…well, she was. After that, the gloves came off.
The short period when Caroline and George were actually together felt like years of endless torment. Frances Villiers, George’s mistress du jour at the time, did not take her “Lady of the Bedchamber” duties lightly. She rifled through Caroline’s private mail and helped George control his new wife; the Prince wouldn’t even let Caroline go on a trip without his permission. And it was about to get so much worse.
By 1797, Caroline was living separately in her own residence far away from George—until scandal struck. Rumors began circulating that the king's wife was “entertaining” gentlemen callers with her newfound freedom, leading parliament to conduct the so-called “Delicate Investigation” into her bedroom habits. Its results were anything but delicate.
George surrounded himself with the best English society had to offer, and took his leisure as seriously as if it were his actual job (which it wasn’t). Under his regency and reign, the idea of a seaside vacation became the thing, partly because George IV himself built his own seaside spa and palace in the Brighton Pavilion.
Although the “Delicate Investigation” couldn’t actually prove anything against Caroline, they found a metric ton of dirt on her, including insinuations that she’d had another secret love child during her time away from George. It was enough for George to enact a brutal revenge. Forever after, he restricted Caroline’s contact with her daughter Charlotte to once-a-week visits.
So why the heck didn’t Prince George pull a King Henry VIII and just divorce Caroline? Well, he sure tried.
But he was at least as guilty as her of infidelity, and any divorce proceedings would air his dirty laundry too. Ever the gentleman, George still attempted to push through a bill that would let him split from Caroline without any investigation…but it fell flat on its face because everyone in parliament hated him.
Prince George was friendly with the smartest sets in the Regency period, including famed dandy Beau Brummell.
With a rapier sharp wit and an even sharper tailor, the fun-loving Brummell helped keep the Prince Regent at the height of both fashion and drunkenness. But their friendship soon came to a bitter end.
One day at a ball, the Prince Regent was feeling tetchy and, in a cruel snub, only stared at Brummell without speaking.
In response, Brummell took it to the next level. Right in front of George, the dandy turned to one of his companions and sneered, “Who’s your fat friend”? That was it for the kind and warm-hearted playmates.
In 1820, Mad King George kicked the bucket, meaning that at the ripe old age of 57, Prince George finally took the throne.
It was finally his time to shine, so he spared no expense on his lavish coronation. Actually, “lavish” doesn’t cut it: Party George’s big bash cost 20 TIMES more money than his father’s coronation, which already came in at a whopping 10,000 British pounds. And you wonder why America got peeved about taxes.
Let it not be said that George IV didn’t have good taste, even if it was ruinously expensive. For the coronation, he demanded that all his guests come in “old-timey” Tudor and Stuart period dress, and George even custom-made his own decadent, red velvet gown. It was a big hit:
It’s now been used in every crowning since George V. But his special day also came with some high drama.
George IV’s pettiness knew no bounds, and he absolutely refused to involve Caroline in the coronation. When she returned to London to assert her right as consort, George dealt her a brutal blow. Caroline arrived right up to the doors of Westminster Abbey—only to have the guards place bayonets under THE QUEEN’s chin and slam the doors. And that wasn’t all.
Just to rub more salt in Caroline’s royal wound, King George IV issued an official decree to have her name removed from the Common Book of Prayer at the coronation ceremony. To George, it must have seemed like his petty revenge against Caroline was complete at long last.
Only he couldn’t have known what was coming…
Despite the allegations of infidelity that followed Caroline of Brunswick wherever she went, she claimed she had only committed adultery once in her life: “With the husband of Mrs. Fitzherbert, the king”. Drag him, Caroline.
On the day of coronation, a mortified “Queen” Caroline went home and immediately fell ill. Her condition slowly worsened—then, three weeks later, she was dead at the age of 53. Her doctors thought she suffered from an intestinal obstruction, though modern experts think it might have been cancer.
Caroline, however, had a much darker theory.
According to sources near her for her final days, Caroline often raved that she had been poisoned. This rumor reached the general populace as well, with many reading between the lines and assuming George had a hand in his wife’s demise. There isn’t any evidence for this, but you know, the spirit of it is true.
By the time he became king in 1820, George was hiding his most disturbing behavior yet.
According to many historians, the monarch was likely addicted to the sedative laudanum when he came to the throne. One thing was for sure, though. The extravagant king was now morbidly obese, a condition that would contribute to his super awkward downfall.
Near the end of his life, George suffered from a rogue’s gallery of maladies, including dropsy, gout, arteriosclerosis, and cataracts that were so severe he was practically blind. All but incapacitated, George had to sign bills with a stamp of his signature in front of a room full of witnesses.
Not exactly absolute power.
In the final years of his life, the people finally began admiring King George IV—but for all the wrong reasons. He had an astonishing will to live, and never even slowed his appetite in the worst of his illnesses. In one last supper, he had a pigeon, a beef pie, more than a bottle of wine, a glass of champagne, and a glass of brandy.
One of George’s only fully complimentary nicknames was “The First Gentleman of England,” which people used to sum up his charm, his wit, and his culture—and to hide all those less savory parts of his personality, natch.
On June 26, 1830, the end came for George IV, and he did not go gently into that good night.
At three in the morning, George suddenly woke up knowing he had to pass a huge bowel movement, resulting in “a large evacuation mix’d with blood”. The king understood immediately that this was very bad…but it was worse than he could have imagined.
George called for his doctor, screaming, “Fetch him; this is death”! but the physician barely had time to enter the room before the king passed.
As the doctor later recalled, “I was up the stairs in five minutes, and he died but eight minutes afterwards”. It all happened so fast, no one really understood what was going on. But the autopsy revealed the chilling truth.
An examination showed that the king had passed from a ruptured blood vessel in his stomach that had, super embarrassingly, popped when he was pooping.
But that wasn’t all that the autopsy revealed. The king also had an enlarged heart, a tumor “the size of an orange” in his bladder, and dangerously congested heart valves.
I’d love to tell you that the nation mourned King George IV, but it was actually the exact opposite. As one commenter put it, “There never was an individual less regretted by his fellow-creatures than this deceased king. What eye has wept for him?
What heart has heaved one throb of unmercenary sorrow”? Well, thanks, now I actually feel bad for the guy. Or do I…
George may have barred Queen Caroline from his coronation, but this wasn’t even his cruellest act. In 1817, the couple’s only daughter Princess Charlotte perished in childbirth—and George purposely neglected to tell his estranged wife. Horrifically, Caroline had to find out the terrible news by accident via a passing courier.
Wow, just wow.
Once George’s daughter Princess Charlotte was born, he immediately changed his last will and testament—and left his royal wife a disturbing “gift”. Three days after Charlotte came into the world, George updated his will to give all his possessions to "Maria Fitzherbert, my wife," while leaving Caroline...a single shilling.
Now that’s a push present.
Because of George’s spending, seducing, and slurping, his regency and reign was an unmitigated disaster. Yet historians suggest a more disturbing reason for his failures. According to some, George may have suffered from the same illness that drove his father mad, porphyria.
Whatever the cause, the last years of his reign were not pretty.
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