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George IV
George IV

At length his difficulties cleared away. The Princess Charlotte was allowed to become betrothed to Prince Leopold in January 1816. In the previous August the Princess of Wales had finally left England. The regent, whose excesses had impaired even his constitution, and brought him to the verge of death in September 1816, obtained an opportunity of recruiting his health and his reputation by living a quiet life, and attracting as little public attention as possible.

Unfortunately, he continued to come before the public in the most unpopular way. Tierney brought to light the enormous extravagance of his expenditure since he had become regent. The 100,000l. then provided by Perceval as his outfit had been diverted to the payment of pressing debts. 160,000l. had since been lavished on furniture for Carlton House. His silversmith's bill was 130,000l., and, in spite of the scheme for liquidating his debts which had now been many years in operation, they still amounted to 339,000l. It is hardly surprising that after these revelations a populace, impoverished and almost starving after so long a war, wrote ominously upon his walls, 'Bread, or the Regent's head.' He had retired to the less conspicuous publicity of Brighton; but his very unpopularity made residence in London important, and Lord Liverpool strongly insisted upon the inconvenience and even danger of his absence. He appeared in public surrounded by troops, and in vain attempted to elude the hatred of the crowd by stealing across the park to the Chapel Royal in a private carriage. The mob hung hissing upon his carriage-wheels. As he returned from opening parliament in January 1817 they stoned his coach, and were said to have fired on him with air-guns. For his protection the act of 1795, for the security of the king's person, was extended to cover the person of the regent. His unpopularity increased, and his hold on the people diminished, after the death of the Princess Charlotte on 6 Nov. 1817, an event by which he was himself as a father so deeply affected that he sought relief for his feelings by being cupped and bled. He diverted himself by yachting and attending regattas; and as soon as, by his mother's death on 17 Nov. 1818, Buckingham House, the old 'Queen's House,' fell into his hands, he threw himself with ardour into the congenial extravagance of reconstructing it. Nash, the architect, was taken under his patronage, and the quarter of London about the Regent's Park, together with Regent Street, the Quadrant, and Waterloo Place, was erected during the regency with his sanction and encouragement.

George III died on 29 Jan. 1820. The new king nearly died in the hour of his accession to the throne. He had been too ill to attend his father's deathbed, and the inflammation, due to a chill, from which he suffered was, on the night of 1 Feb., so acute that he was in danger of suffocation, and was saved only by a bleeding so severe that it alone almost killed him. No less than 130 oz. of blood was taken from him (Colchester, Diary, iii. 111). On recovering his first step was, on 6 Feb., to consider how to deal with the prayer in the Book of Common Prayer which prays for 'our most Gracious Queen' (Croker Papers). His next was to employ the servant whom he most relied upon, Sir William Knighton, to compromise, buy up, or pay off his outstanding and long-overdue debts, bonds, and notes of hand, and during the next ten years Knighton was constantly and successfully engaged indelicate and secret negotiations with this object. He then pressed his ministry to attack the queen, against whom he had since 1818 been collecting evidence; and now, upon her determination to return to England and assert her claims, he resolved to take steps for a divorce. His ministers were at first loth to assist him, and in a cabinet minute of 10 Feb. 1820 recorded their opinion that the evidence was inadequate. 'The cabinet,' writes Croker, 'offer all but divorce. The king will have divorce or nothing.' As the queen drew nearer to England, George urged Lord Liverpool to endeavour to come to some compromise with Brougham, by which she would be induced to remain on the continent; but the queen reached England in the first days of June. On the 6th the king sent to the House of Lords a message recommending to their attention the evidence which had been collected against her, and the divorce proceedings began. During the remainder of the year, though the king remained inexorably resolved that they should go on to the end, his hand did not openly appear in the matter. The Divorce Bill was a ministerial bill, and the proceedings went on in the House of Lords without the king's intervention. Even after it had been withdrawn he bore himself with outward indifference to its failure.

In the spring of 1821 he was engrossed with the preparations for his coronation, the outlay on which was on the most profuse and elaborate scale. Sheltered by his ministers he was able to refuse the queen's request to be present at the ceremony, and even carried this affectation of indifference so far as to return her letters unopened to Lord Liverpool (1 May 1821), 'in conformity to a resolution adopted more than twenty years ago, and since invariably adhered to by the king, that