When George III was declared mad in 1811 his eldest son became prince regent. The future George IV celebrated by inviting 2,000 guests to a banquet that cost a quarter of a million pounds — at least £20 million in today’s money.
It was a spectacular inauguration to his career as Britain’s most reviled and hated monarch ever — some achievement, considering the rival contenders.
The prince reacted against his father’s dull and homely values by staking his right to an unbridled life of pleasure. He gambled excessively, and often drank three bottles of claret before sitting down to an enormous dinner.
For working people the useless, wasteful life of the king’s eldest son contrasted sharply with the hardships of early industrial society. When the famines of the 1790s lowered their deathly shroud over workers, when laws against basic freedoms were signed by the king, a cartoon of his son being taken home drunk from a brothel expressed the indignation felt by the poor.
The rich, in contrast, united behind the monarchy after the French Revolution broke out in 1789. Expenditure on royal palaces shot up. The prince’s fantasy of oriental splendour materialised as the Brighton Pavillion, while his London home, Carlton House, was filled with mementos of the French monarchy.
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