CollectionGeorge IV Calendar as Prince, Regent and King
ReferenceGEO/MAIN/17513-24917, 38043-41696
Record TypeCorrespondence
TitleGeorge IV Calendar as Prince, Regent and King
DescriptionThis collection contains the official correspondence and papers of George IV, as Prince of Wales, Prince Regent and as King
Many letters are addressed to Captain John Willett Payne (1752-1803), the Prince's close friend and advisor, who was his Private Secretary from 1785-1795, and his Keeper of the Privy Seal until 1796. Thomas Tyrwhitt succeeded as Private Secretary to the Prince in 1795, and was in turn succeeded by Captain John McMahon in 1803. Tyrwhitt and McMahon both sat in the House of Commons and represented the Prince's interest, and many letters in the collection are addressed to or written by these figures.
Extent20 boxes (6293 documents), 1 volume
Admin HistoryGeorge IV was born on 12 August 1762, the first child of George III and his consort Queen Charlotte. As a young adult, the Prince of Wales began to rebel against his strict upbringing and education, and developed a reputation for wild and extravagant behaviour, and accumulated significant debts. The Prince frequently appealed for parliamentary assistance with his debts, and sought the support of his friends in the Whig party, including Charles James Fox and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. On the 15 December 1785 the Prince undertook a secret marriage ceremony with Maria Fitzherbert, a Catholic widow, in contravention of the Act of Settlement (1701) and the Royal Marriages Act (1772). In 1788 George III suffered a period of mental illness, which created the prospect of the Prince becoming Regent. William Pitt and the Administration expected that if Regent, the Prince would replace them with his own supporters from the Whig party, and they therefore sought to set conditions on the regency which would restrict the Prince's control over patronage. The idea of a 'restricted Regency' was rejected by the Prince, and the King began to show signs of recovery in February 1789, which postponed the question, and made the Prince anxious to show his behaviour during this crisis in a positive light.
The Prince would become Prince Regent in 1811 during the King's final period of illness, but until this date the Prince did not have an official role. After being made a Colonel of the 10th Regiment of Dragoons in 1793, the Prince was denied any further military promotion, or prospect of engaging in the fighting taking place during the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802). George III's determination that the Prince would not pursue a military career, and his reluctance to give the Prince any official role, was a consistent source of tension between them.
On 18 April 1795, motivated by the prospect of parliamentary assistance in paying his debts, the Prince married his first cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. Although a legitimate heir Princess Charlotte was born 7 January 1796, the marriage was a disaster, and the pair separated unofficially in 1796. The separation was a cause of public scandal, especially with the instigation of the 'delicate investigation' in May 1806 which sought to determine claims of Princess Caroline's adultery. To explore the legitimacy of the allegations a cabinet committee was established which acquitted the Princess the following July but denounced her indiscreet conduct.
Caroline's indiscreet behaviour was not the Prince's only grievance with his wife, as by 1809 she had amassed an unmanageable amount of debt which he was obliged to pay in addition to his own escalating expenses.
During the final months of 1810, due to George III's declining health, the Regency once again became a tangible possibility, and on the final day of December 1810 the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, presented the five resolutions of a restricted regency to the House of Commons. The restrictions upon the Prince's power included, amongst others, the appointment of a Queen's Council (to manage the care of the King and his household) and the inability to appoint peers or bestow Crown property. These restrictions were only to be in place for twelve months and although the Prince maintained his previous opinion in regard to the restrictions he accepted the conditions. The Regency Act of 1811, with restrictions, passed on 2 February 1811 and the Prince was sworn in the following day, hailing the beginning of his almost nine years as Prince Regent.
The restricted Regency instigated a period of uncertainty particularly as it was thought The King could recover, but by July 1811 a report from George III's physicians caused this hope to be abandoned. However it was still The King's government and the Prince Regent felt that drastic changes should wait until he possessed the crown in his own right. The Tory government, led by the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, continued in power after the regency restrictions were lifted, and Perceval served as Prime Minster until his assassination at the Houses of Parliament in May 1812. Another period of uncertainty followed until the Tory Lord Liverpool became Prime Minister in June 1812, a position he held until 1827.
During the first half of the Regency war continued on the continent until Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated in April 1814 and sent to Elba. However, Napoleon's escape in 1815 recommenced the Napoleonic Wars until his defeat at Waterloo, after which he was sent to St. Helena to avoid a repeat escape.
The Prince Regent's unpopularity increased throughout the Regency this was in part due to public perception that he was responsible for the government's strict measures to counter outbreaks of violence, such as St. Peter's Field.
In addition to war and public opinion Princess Charlotte of Wales, the Prince's only daughter, presented further issues during the Regency, including the arrangement of a suitable marriage for the future queen. After a failed engagement to William, Hereditary Prince of Orange in 1814, she wed Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in May 1816. However, in November in 1817 the sudden death of Princess Charlotte in childbirth, along with her stillborn son, would present another concern for The Prince Regent, that of a successor. Not desiring anymore children of his own, he passed this responsibility to his numerous brothers, who scrambled to marry and produce legitimate heirs.
The Regency ended on 29 January 1820 with the death of George III, and although George IV was now king his powers did not alter drastically from those as Regent. However, becoming king led to the re-emergence of difficulties with his estranged wife, Caroline, who had been on the continent since 1814. Wishing to claim her rights as Queen Caroline returned to Britain, but The King, refusing to acknowledge her as consort, hoped to gain a divorce. This hope was eventually deemed undesirable as it would bring to light, not only her offences, but George IV's own discretions. Instead a Bill of Pains and Penalties was drawn up and presented to the House of Lords on 7 August 1820. After the Bill's hearing it was withdrawn as, with a vote of 70-71, it was feared it would not pass through the House of Commons, especially as sympathetic crowds gathered outside cheering for the Queen. This left George IV married but unwilling to acknowledge his wife as Queen. His Coronation on 19 July 1821 at Westminster Abbey demonstrated his determination to exclude Caroline from his life, as her entry to the ceremony was barred and she was turned away amidst jeering crowds. Caroline died a few weeks later on 7 August removing the issue of her claim for the remainder of George IV's reign.
Custodial HistoryThe majority of these records are believed to have been part of the original acquisition from Apsley House, with the exception of GEO/MAIN/41428-41429 purchased in 1934.
ArrangementThese letters have previously been arranged chronologically following their accession into the Royal Archives. This chronological order has been kept, and documents are arranged by year following 1781. Fully catalogued 2017-2019 From autumn 2019 these documents have been listed only and their contents not catalogued in detail.
Reference number GEO/MAIN/41655 is not in use
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