Those of us who regularly “study” the period know as the Regency are well aware of the hedonistic nature of George IV, but many are unaware of the extent of the Prince Regent’s decadent ways.
In truth, George IV, the Prince of Wales, possessed his charms. He was a man of enormous charm, gentlemanly manners, high intelligence, and elegance of address. He was often referred to as “The First Gentleman of Europe.” Yet, he was also a drunkard and a lecher.
The Prince lived at Carlton House, a massive structure off Pall Mall. His circle of friends were notorious for their actions. The group included politicians, scholars, courtesans, and society hostesses. Among the most powerful of the group was Charles James Fox (renown for his opposition to George III), Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and King of the Dandies, Beau Brummell.
However, there were more eccentric member of the Prince’s entourage. Colonel George Hanger married a gypsy girl, who was dubbed “the lovely Aegypta of Norwood.” In the end, the girl deserted Hanger for a bandy-legged tinker. The colonel gambled away his fortune and was imprisoned for his debts. Lady Lade, the wife of Sir John Lade, and the reputed mistress of the Duke of York, had early on been employed as a servant in a brothel. She was reportedly the mistress of “sixteen-string Jack,” a well known highwayman. Sir John had his own eccentricities. He liked to dress and speak like a groom. Considering he managed the Prince’s stables, I suppose this most appropriate.
On a whim, the Prince ignored rules of etiquette. For example, at one of the Duke of Clarence’s famous parties, George IV gave precedence to his brother’s mistress Mrs. Jordan over a Duchess at dinner. The Prince Regent refused to invited his wife Princess Caroline to a fest celebrating the beginning of his Regency. George’s sisters freely welcomed many of his mistresses, most notably the Ladies Hereford and Jersey, but they refused to acknowledge his last mistress, Lady Conyngham.
George once wrote to Mrs. Fitzherbert, the woman most identify as the Prince Regent’s “great love,” a forty-two page letter in which he begged her to be his mistress. He even staged an attempted suicide to convince the lady.
George IV’s brothers were equally as decadent (except possibly the Duke of Kent). The Duke of Clarence had ten illegitimate children by the before-mentioned Mrs. Jordan. The Duke of Cumberland was rumored to have been guilty of incest. The Duke of York had an infamous affair with Mary Anne Clarke, which involved the sale of army commissions.
Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, shared her home with her husband’s mistress, Lady Elizabeth Foster. The Duke fathered three children by his wife and two by his mistress. Meanwhile, Georgiana gave Lord Grey two children.
Lord Melbourne (the future Prime Minister) was reportedly fathered by Lord Egrement. Lady Melborne’s six children were rumored to have a variety of fathers. “Harleian Miscellany” was the term used to describe the Countess of Oxford, Lady Harley’s many children.