George IV (king of Great Britain and Ireland)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

George IV (king of Great Britain and Ireland)

George IV, 1762–1830, king of Great Britain and Ireland (1820–30), eldest son and successor of George III. In 1785 he married Maria Anne Fitzherbert, a Roman Catholic. The marriage was illegal, however; and in 1795, to secure parliamentary settlement of his enormous debts, he made a political marriage with Caroline of Brunswick. In constant and open opposition to his father, George associated closely with the Whigs, particularly Charles James Fox, whose friend he became in 1781. As a result, when George III had his first serious fit of insanity in 1788–89, the Tory William Pitt proposed that the regency vested in the prince be closely restricted (to prevent George bringing his Whig friends to power), while Fox, usually the opponent of royal prerogative, wanted the prince to have unlimited powers as regent. In 1811, after the king had become permanently incapacitated, George became regent on terms very similar to those proposed by Pitt in 1788. However, when the limitations on his power to make appointments and spend crown revenues were removed in 1812, the prince regent retained most of his father's ministers, breaking his connection with the Whigs. The Tories, under the leadership of the 2d earl of Liverpool for most of the period, remained entrenched in power throughout the regency and George's subsequent reign. As regent and as king, George was hated for his extravagance and dissolute habits, and he aroused particular hostility by an unsuccessful attempt, immediately after his accession (1820) to the throne, to divorce his long-estranged wife, Caroline. During his reign the monarchy lost a significant amount of power. George's only legitimate child, Charlotte Augusta, married (1816) Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (later Leopold I, king of the Belgians) but died in childbirth in 1817. George was succeeded by his brother William IV. See Regency.

See biographies by R. Fulford (rev. ed. 1949, repr. 1963) and C. Hibbert (2 vol., 1974–75); S. David, Prince of Pleasure (1999).

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