George IV, the son of George III, became Prince Regent in 1811 as his father became ill. He inherited the throne in 1820. As a young man, George became an leading figure in fashionable society and was known as the first gentleman of Europe for his polished and refined manners. His censorious father strongly disapproved of his extravagance, mounting debts and political associates. George in turn loathed his father and the typical Hanoverian fractious pattern between the King and his eldest son was established early on in their relationship.
George IV was larger than life and a man of contrasts. He was a gambler, drunkard and womaniser but also highly cultured, able to speak French and German fluently, an accomplished musician and a great reader of contemporary literature. He adored Sir Walter Scott’s poems and the Waverley novels; it was indeed by the King’s insistence that Scott was offered a baronetcy. More remarkably, he read and admired Jane Austen’s novels, and was far ahead of fashion in doing so. He was also, when in the mood, a brilliant conversationalist and a splendid mimic, especially of politicians – another reason why so many of them detested him.
George’s indulgent lifestyle seriously damaged his health. By the 1820s he was extremely overweight and was addicted to both alcohol and laudanum. George IV also began showing signs of insanity. He told people that he had been a soldier and insisted he had fought at the Battle of Waterloo. The king became more and more a recluse at Windsor Castle and eventually died in 1830.
The First Gentleman of Europe