Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 21.djvu/200

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
George IV
George IV
194

at all, he lost thousands of pounds a night. His I O U's became a speculative security among usurers. To add to these follies, he began in 1784 to build his costly absurdity, the Brighton Pavilion, decorated in the oriental, especially the Chinese, style. He had taken a fancy to Brighton since his first visit in 1782, and soon made it equally fashionable and dissolute. It was from Brighton that he was summoned post haste to Windsor in November 1788 by the news of the king's insanity.

The king's madness was in part brought on by distress at the prince's irregularities. On catching sight of his son, the unhappy father flew at him, clutched him by the collar, and threw him against the wall. The prince was overcome, and could only shed tears. Next day, however, he recovered himself, and assumed the direction of affairs in the castle. It was thought the king would die, and already Thurlow, the chancellor, began to ingratiate himself with the prince. The prince accepted his overtures, but also made overtures of his own through Payne to Lord Loughborough. Soon, however, it became plain that a regency would have to be provided for, and a warfare of intrigue between the prince and the queen, the whigs and the Pittites, began, first for the regency, and then for the custody of the king's person. Finding that the ministry proposed to fetter the regent with many restrictions to be imposed by parliament, the whigs put forward on behalf of the prince a claim to an indefeasible title in right of his birth to a regency without any restrictions at all. On Lord Loughborough's advice a plan was prepared by which the prince was to assume power and summon parliament by a sort of coup d'├ętat. When parliament met on 20 Nov. 1788, the day to which it had been prorogued, an adjournment took place for a fortnight. The arrival of Fox from the continent gave greater consistency to the policy of the whigs, and on his advice the prince became reconciled to the Duke of Portland. By 29 Nov. matters had so far progressed that Loughborough was prevailed upon to waive his claims to the great seal in favour of Thurlow, and the prince was in a fair way to have his new ministry settled. Parliament met on 4 Dec., and a series of debates followed, in which Pitt easily exposed the inconsistency and unconstitutionally of the whig theory of the prince's right to the regency. The prince wrote to the chancellor complaining of Pitt for want of respect to him in general, and in particular for settling his proposals for the regency without any communication to himself. On 16 Dec. Pitt introduced his three resolutions as a preliminary to bills to provide for the exercise of the powers of the crown. Though the prince had openly canvassed for votes against them, the second was carried by 288 to 204, and the others were passed also. They were carried in the House of Lords by 99 to 66, and a bill was prepared. Meantime the dissensions between the queen and the prince had grown very grave. He was charged with exhibiting his mad father to visitors in the most unfeeling manner, and with insulting the queen by sealing up the king's papers and jewels which had been left at Windsor on his removal to Kew. The prince retaliated with bitter complaints of the queen, and permitted his henchmen to speak of her in his presence in a ribald manner. On 30 Dec. Pitt communicated to him the heads of the bill: the queen was to have the custody of the king and the control of his household, and although the prince, as regent, was to exercise the royal powers generally, he was not to create peerages, except in the case of his brothers as they came of age, or to convey away the king's real or personal property, or to grant pensions or offices, except during pleasure. The prince, having consulted Burke and Fox, replied on 2 Jan. 1789 in a letter, which was also revised by Loughborough and Sheridan, complaining of the restrictions as a plan for dividing the royal family, and for dislocating all the royal powers. On 16 Jan. Pitt's proposals were brought forward in the form of resolutions, and these having been passed by both houses the bill was introduced. It passed the commons on 12 Feb., and reached the lords, but in the beginning of February the king's health had begun to improve, and the progress of the bill was now suspended. Meantime the Irish parliament, on Grattan's motion on 11 Feb., had agreed to an address to the prince praying him to assume the royal powers unrestricted, and despatched a deputation of six members to London to offer him the regency in Ireland entirely unfettered. It arrived on 25 Feb., only to find the king all but restored to health. By the end of the month the king was tolerably sane again. The prince, suspecting that his recovery was exaggerated, desired to see him; but the queen, in spite of long written remonstrances, excluded him from the king's presence, so that the meeting did not take place till 23 Feb. The conversation at this interview was guarded and general, and the king suffered no relapse; but the queen contrived to prevent further interviews, and on 7 March the king was induced practically to decline to see his son. On 23 April, when the king returned thanks at St. Paul's for his recovery, the prince attended the service, but his indecorous levity on the occa-