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The Rebel Who Would Be King
By Christopher Hibbert
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2007 Christopher Hibbert
All rights reserved.
Childhood and Education 1762–1778
'An extremely promising pupil'
At St James's Palace, during the late afternoon of 12 August 1762, Lord Cantelupe, Vice-Chairman to Queen Charlotte, was told that her Majesty was in labour; he was instructed to hold himself ready to notify the King immediately the baby was born. Towards six o'clock the Queen's pains increased, and it was clear that the birth was imminent. This was her first pregnancy, and it was a severe labour; but the hopeful, earnest little mother was a healthy girl of eighteen, and the midwife expected no complications. She 'scarce cried out at all,' the Duchess of Northumberland, a Lady of the Bedchamber, later recorded, 'and at twenty-four minutes past seven she was delivered'.
Forestalling Lord Cantelupe, the Earl of Huntingdon – the incompetent and soon to be dismissed Groom of the Stole – officiously hastened to the King's apartment to inform him that he was the father of a baby girl. Protesting that he was 'but little anxious as to the sex of the child', so long as the Queen was safe, the King immediately went to his wife's bedchamber where, soon after his arrival, he was shown as 'strong, large and pretty boy ... as ever was seen'.
Within a fortnight this large and pretty boy, created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester and, by right of birth, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick and Baron of Renfrew, was placed on display at St James's Palace where, on the afternoons of Drawing-Room days, between one o'clock and three, visitors were admitted to the precincts of his cradle which were separated from the rest of the room by a Chinese lattice screen. As they awaited their turn to inspect him, they were regaled in an ante-room – as the custom of his mother's family dictated – with cake and caudle, a warm gruel spiced and sweetened and mixed with wine, a beverage much favoured in both Germany and England as a tonic for women in childbed. Drawn more perhaps by the refreshments than by the Prince, so 'vast a tumult' of people came to the Palace that £500 worth of cake was given away, and about eighty gallons of caudle consumed every day that his Royal Highness was on display.
Soon after the last of these daily receptions was concluded the little Prince was christened in the Queen's drawing-room by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Queen, dressed in a white and silver gown with a richly jewelled stomacher, lay on her bed of state, the crimson velvet hangings of which were trimmed with gold, lined with satin, and adorned with gilded carving and plumes of white feathers. At the foot of her bed, on a table, was a large gilt baptismal bowl. The child was brought into the room on a white satin pillow, conducted by a procession of attendants under the leadership of the Lord Chamberlain, the Duke of Devonshire. His sponsors were his formidable grandmother, Augusta, the Princess Dowager of Wales, his maternal uncle, Adolphus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and his great-uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, whom he afterwards claimed dimly to remember – though the Duke died soon after his godson's third birthday – as an old man 'dressed in a snuff-coloured suit of clothes down to his knees'. 'He took me in his arms,' the Prince recalled, 'and placed me on his knee, where he held me a long time. The enormity of his bulk excited my wonder.'
The names chosen were George Augustus Frederick; and as these were bestowed upon the child – who cried 'most lustily' throughout the ceremony – his father, then aged twenty-four, was seen to be deeply moved, and to behave with the 'most affecting piety'.
Already the Prince had been provided with a considerable establishment, including a wet-nurse, a necessary woman, a sempstress and two rockers of the cradle who were all under the authority of the royal governess, Lady Charlotte Finch, daughter of the Earl of Pomfret, 'a woman of remarkable sense and philosophy'. Lady Charlotte's chief deputy was Mrs Henrietta Coultworth; the dry-nurse was Mrs Chapman, 'a fine active woman', affectionate and capable.
In the care of these kindly and efficient women George Augustus Frederick, Prince of Wales, grew and prospered. As he was taken out to enjoy the fresh air of Hyde Park, the crowds that followed him, so Lord Bath told a friend, called out to each other, 'God bless him, he is a lusty, jolly, young dog truly!' His mother had him painted in her arms by Francis Cotes and commissioned a model of him in wax which, side by side with numerous other portraits of her first-born baby in miniature, enamel and marble, she kept in her room on a velvet cushion under a bell-glass.
By the age of two and a half the Prince had progressed so well that he was able to pronounce a formal answer, 'with great propriety and suitableness of action', to the representatives of a charitable institution to whom he handed a donation of £100. When he was four and obliged to stay in bed with the curtains drawn after a smallpox inoculation, he answered an inquiry from his mother's Keeper of the Robes, Mrs Schwellenberg, as to whether he found the restriction unpleasantly tedious, by observing with an impressively precocious gravity, 'Not at all, I lie and make reflections.' By the age of five he had been taught to write in a neat, round hand by Mr Bulley, the royal writing master; he had also been taught the rudiments of English grammar by the 'quiet, patient, plodding, persevering' Miss Frederica Planta; and at the age of six he was reported to be making good progress with all his other lessons which began after breakfast at seven and continued till he sat down to dinner at three. It was, indeed, generally supposed that he was a highly promising child, healthy and intelligent, a little hot-tempered, perhaps, and somewhat lacking in determination – having suffered a few falls in trying to learn how to skate, he could not be induced to try again. But it was hoped that any flaws of character, or defects of physique, which might manifest themselves, would soon be eradicated by the moral and physical training to be enjoyed or endured at the Queen's House in London, and at Richmond Lodge and Kew.
In these two royal country residences the Prince spent his earliest years. They had been chosen by his father as the most suitable background for the kind of quiet, regular, domestic, country family life which he and his wife, though both so young, preferred to the glitter of St James's. The King, indeed, had little choice. Richmond Palace, which had been used as a nursery by King James II, had fallen into decay; so had Windsor Castle, neglected since the death of Queen Anne and now partially occupied by families with real or pretended claims upon royal favour. Hampton Court was in relatively good order, having been a favourite palace of the King's grandfather King George II; but, as it brought him unwelcome memories of an unhappy childhood, the King did not like it and declined to live in it.
So, there being no other country retreats convenient to London and available to him, the King was obliged to use Richmond Lodge, formerly the Keeper's Lodge in the large park to the north of Richmond Palace, which had been allotted to Queen Charlotte as part of her marriage settlement. But it was a small house, and as the Queen gave birth to new babies with seasonal regularity it became so excessively overcrowded that a larger one became essential. In 1771 the family's problems were solved by the death of the King's mother: the White House at Kew, where she had lived since the death of her husband, became vacant and the King and Queen moved in.
By then, although she was not yet twenty-eight, the Queen already had eight children, five boys and three girls. Frederick, later Duke of York, the Prince of Wales's eldest brother, had been born in 1763; Prince William in 1765; Princess Charlotte in 1766; Prince Edward in 1767; Princess Augusta in 1768; Princess Elizabeth in 1770 and Prince Ernest in 1771. Since the White House, commodious as it was, was not extensive enough for all these children and their various attendants, the two eldest sons, the Prince of Wales, aged eleven, and Prince Frederick, aged ten, were placed under tutors at the Dutch House nearby.
The Dutch House – now known as Kew Palace, since the White House, apart from the Kitchen Wing, was demolished in 1802 – had been built in 1631 by a rich London merchant of Dutch descent. A substantial red-brick gabled house of three storeys, with attics and a basement, it was one of a number of houses at Kew which were leased or owned by the royal family, or by various members of the Court whose numerous liveried servants could be seen on summer evenings strolling about amidst the cattle grazing on the Green.
At the Dutch House a more rigorous stage of the Prince of Wales's education began under the direction of Robert D'Arcy, fourth Earl of Holdernesse, his Governor. Holdernesse was, in Horace Walpole's opinion, a 'formal piece of dullness' who had proved himself, when in office in various administrations, 'an unthinking and unparliamentary minister'. His duties as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Lord Lieutenant of the North Riding of Yorkshire, combined with increasing ill health which drove him to live abroad in 1774, did not allow him time to give much personal attention to the problems of his charges. He was obliged to leave most of the details of their education to the Princes' Sub-Governor, Leonard Smelt, and their Preceptor, Dr William Markham, Bishop of Chester.
Smelt was a talented and versatile officer in the Royal Engineers, experienced in the art of military sketching andplan drawing, yet having at the same time a deep love and knowledge of literature and art. He had served at the battles of Dettingen and Fontenoy, had been sent out to survey and report on the defences of Newfoundland, and had returned to become the friend not only of George III but of Joshua Reynolds, Fanny Burney, and several other members of Dr Johnson's circle.
William Markham was also a remarkable man. Of humble parentage, he had gained a place at Westminster School and a studentship at Christ Church, Oxford. At the age of thirty-four he had been appointed Headmaster of Westminster School; in 1767 he had been nominated Dean of Christ Church; and in 1771, two months before he became – on the recommendation of Lord Mansfield – the Prince's Preceptor, he had been consecrated Bishop of Chester. A tall and portly man, inclined to be both pompous and short-tempered, though not unkindly, he combined an 'almost martial bearing' with a deep fund of learning. Jeremy Bentham, who was a pupil at Westminster when he was headmaster, said that 'his business was rather in courting the great than in attending to the school. He had a great deal of pomp, especially when he lifted his hand, waved it, and repeated Latin verses ... We stood prodigiously in awe of him'. He had a very rich wife, the daughter of an English merchant of Rotterdam, who provided him with thirteen children. Destined one day to become Archbishop of York, at the time of his appointment as director of the 'religious and learned part of the young Prince's education', he was fifty-two years old, the same age as Leonard Smelt.
Under their watchful care, the Prince and his brother, Frederick, were kept hard at work or at some form of supervised recreation from early in the morning until eight o'clock at night, in accordance with the strict commands of the King, who strongly believed that no change for the better could be expected in the 'unprincipled days' in which they lived except by 'an early attention to the education of the rising generation'. They were instructed in the classics, of course, learned French, German and Italian; and the Prince of Wales, at least, acquired a fair grasp of all these languages, though he became fluent only in French. His hand-writing, trained by laborious transcription of the wise words of Pliny and Bacon in his copy-book, was neat and legible; he found 'great facility' in getting Greek epigrams by heart; and if his spelling was – and always remained – highly idiosyncratic, it was a good deal less eccentric than that of the Earl of Holdernesse, his Governor. Shortly after his tenth birthday, his great-aunt Amelia had cause to thank him for a 'very fine wrote letter'. 'It is far beyond what I could have expected of a prince of your age,' she told him. 'I cannot say enough, Sir, how charmed I am at seeing you so forward in every proper qualification for your rank. I hope you will not dislike a little ball about Christmas when the young gentlemen that have the honour to be liked by you have holy days.'
The Prince received constant moral guidance. His father warned him, 'little dependence can be placed on any thing in this world and the best method of continually pursuing your duty is the continually placing before your eyes that the Supreme Being has put you in an exalted station; and that you are therefore accountable to Him for your conduct'. Nothing must distract the Prince from the path of dutiful conduct nor from the way of truth.
The Earl of Holdernesse, who was, despite Horace Walpole's unfavourable opinion, conscientious and sensible, also urged the Prince of Wales to be truthful: 'Truth is the first quality of a man; the higher the rank the more to be adhered to.' Lord Holdernesse further advised him to be moderate in his diet and to beware of those who poured that species of poison in the ear which was 'the more dangerous as it is pleasing in the first sensation, tho' followed by ruin and destruction'; for the Prince, at the age of twelve, was already threatening to become excessively fond of both food and flattery.
His mother, though she seemed more concerned that hisbodily constitution should remain unimpaired, also urged him to 'disdain all flattery' and 'abhor all vice', to 'fear God', to do 'justice unto everybody and avoid partiality', above all to display 'the highest love, affection and duty towards the King'.
This last injunction the Prince of Wales found it increasingly difficult to obey. His father had seemed to love him when he was a baby – as, indeed, the King obviously loved all his children when they were babies – but the older the Prince grew the further he felt removed from his affection. It was as though his father had wanted him to remain a baby for ever and resented, even recoiled from, his progress towards puberty. He was made to wear babies' cambric frocks with hemstitched tucks and hems and Valenciennes lace cuffs long after other children of his age had been given more suitable clothes; it was said of him that he caught hold of his frilled collar one day and exclaimed in exasperation to a servant, 'See how I am treated!'
Apart from that of his brother Frederick, he was denied the close companionship of any other children, just as he was constantly and carefully sheltered from any adult who might fill his mind with thoughts about the wonders and excitements of the outside world. That world must be veiled from him, his father repeatedly insisted, by those who 'cirrounded' him. He must be taught the virtues of rigorous simplicity, hard work, punctuality and regularity, and, at the first sign of laziness, laxness or untruthfulness, he must be beaten. And beaten he was. One of his sisters later recalled how she had seen him and Prince Frederick 'held by their tutors to be flogged like dogs with a long whip'.
Occasionally the Prince went to a concert or an opera; sometimes there were fireworks displays and country dances on family birthdays; on Thursdays, when the royal gardens were open to the public, carriages came into the drives, and boats with musicians aboard were rowed up the Thames to the little islands opposite the Dutch House; in the evenings when the Queen gave commerce parties, the Prince was allowed into her drawing-room up till ten o'clock; once or twice an artist, Zoffany or Gainsborough, came to paint his portrait. But these were rare breaks in the tedium of his days, rare glimpses of the world beyond the garden walls of Kew and of his mother's house in London.
In May 1776, when the Prince was thirteen, Lord Holdernesse resigned in consequence of a 'nursery revolution' which also led to the dismissal of the Sub-Preceptor, Cyril Jackson, whom the Governor blamed for the Princes' increasingly contemptuous treatment of him since his return from the Continent. Holdernesse's place was at first taken by Lord Bruce, 'a formal, dull man, totally ignorant of and unversed in the world'; then by Bruce's eldest brother, the Duke of Montagu, 'one of the weakest and most ignorant men living', who possessed, however, a 'formal coldness of character' that was said to make him 'uncommonly well fitted' for the post. At the same time Dr Markham, having supported the Sub-Preceptor in his quarrel with the Governor, was replaced by Richard Hurd, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, who was expected by the King to impose upon his eldest sons an even more exacting regime than they had already grown accustomed to. Hurd was 'a stiff and cold, butcorrect gentleman', with a courtly, decorous manner which 'endeared him highly to devout old ladies', and which, in combination with a high, though questionable, reputation as a literary critic and philosopher, had recommended him to the King. The Bishop's chaplain, the Rev. William Arnold, replaced Jackson as Sub-Preceptor, and Lieutenant-Colonel George Hotham became Sub-Governor in place of Smelt. At the same time, to complete the 'nursery revolution', all the Prince's servants were replaced by men of sterner mettle.
Excerpted from George IV by Christopher Hibbert. Copyright © 2007 Christopher Hibbert. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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