The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51
Chapter XI. — German Royalty
"Farmer George" and "the First Gentleman in Europe."
Let us speak plain. There is more in names
Than most men dream of; and a lie may keep
Its throne a whole age longer if it skulk
Behind the shield of some fair-seeming name,
George III. (1760-1820.)
To George II. succeeded his grandson, George III.—Farmer George, of pious memory. This man reigned longer—nearly sixty years—and possibly did more harm than any of his predecessors on the throne. His intellect resembled in its narrow bigotry that of James II., aggravated by intermittent madness. If James "threw away three kingdoms for a mass," George threw away a virgin continent for a tyrannical caprice.
If George had remained a lunatic the whole of his reign it would have been well for the country. As it was, his sanity was far more to be dreaded than his insanity. His education had been wretched, and the few erroneous ideas that had found their way into his barren brain he pursued with incredible obstinacy. His pliant ministers yielded to him rather than yield up their places. And so it came to pass that this contemptible creature wielded a power for evil far greater than any of his contemptible race. He hated men of talent. Pitt, the elder, was "a trumpet of sedition," and when he died George inveighed against the proposal to erect a public monument to his memory as "an offensive measure page 89 to me personally." Fox's name he struck off the list of privy councillors with his own hand. In the plenitude of his critical judgment, he triumphantly asked, "Was there ever such stuff as Shakespeare?" Only once was he known to have stumbled on a choice remark. With regard to a treatise on Biblical apologetics, he sagaciously observed that "he had never understood that the Bible required an apology."
George's mother, the Princess Dowager of Wales, and her alleged paramour, the Earl of Bute, were the king's earliest mentors, and worse he could scarce have had. Their influence induced him systematically to deceive his ministers, and to display so many other royal gifts and graces, that Philli-more does not hesitate to describe him as an "ignorant, dishonest, obstinate, narrow-minded boy, at that very moment the tool of an adulteress and her paramour."
George's own life was held up by the bishops and other shepherds of souls of his day as a pattern of all the Christian virtues. As Queen Victoria is lauded now for her exemplary morality, so was George III. lauded then. But the fact of the matter was, Farmer George was all the while guilty of an offence not merely against public decency, but against the law of the land, which in the case of a less highly placed criminal would have landed him in Newgate.
In 1759 he married Hannah Lightfoot, a Quakeress, in Curzon Street Chapel, Mayfair, and in 1761, in the lifetime of the said Hannah, he led to the altar the Princess Charlotte Sophia ("snuffy Charlotte ") of Mecklenburgh Strelitz. In other words, George III. was a bigamist. In 1762, George, Prince of Wales, "the first gentleman in Europe" that was to be, was born. In 1764, Hannah Lightfoot died, leaving issue whose fate is uncertain. There is, however, an honest couple, well-known in certain circles in London, who claim, and probably with good reason, to be King and Queen of England in virtue of descent from the fair Quakeress. Shortly after Hannah's death, as if to set at rest any doubt as to the legality of the first marriage, George and Charlotte were privately remarried at Kew. Of the illegitimacy of George IV. there can scarcely, therefore, be a doubt. At all events, when the "first gentleman" was impecunious—his normal condition—he did not fail to threaten page 90 his royal parents with an exposure as a means of extorting money. Still, for a Guelph, George III.'s conduct was reasonably decorous.
His chief faults lay in other directions even more disastrous to the nation. He insisted on being his own prime minister and dictating the national policy. And such a policy! He found the national debt some £146,000,000 in amount; he raised it to £900,000,000.
His wars had but one object—to crush liberty, which he hated with a rancour undistinguishable from insanity. For resisting the tea-tax—a notoriously illegal impost—Massa-chussets was deprived of its chartered rights of self-government, and royalist functionaries superseded the colonial administrators. Political offenders were ordered to be sent home to England for trial. These acts of despotism, against which both Chatham and Burke inveighed, were the result of the king's personal intervention. Members of parliament voting in favour of the repeal of the tea-tax were declared not to be "king's friends." George kept lists of the divisions, and put a stigma against the name of every advocate of liberty.
Nor was this the worst. The means taken to crush the colonists were such as only the most brutal of tyrants would have had recourse to. Even Frederick of Prussia expressed his unqualified disgust. The Czarina of Russia was appealed to in vain to supply 20,000 Muscovite troops to re-establish the royal authority in New England. Recourse was then had to the Duke of Brunswick, the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, and other German princelings accustomed to kidnap and sell their subjects as mercenaries to the highest bidder. In this way 17,000 Germans were conveyed to the scene of action, while the Creek and Cherokee Indians were encouraged to do their worst on the scalps of the descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers.
In vain Chatham and Fox with their matchless eloquence denounced the royal methods of conquest; crown patronage and royal bribery did their work. The war went on, and the upshot was "the Free and Independent States" of America. After charging George with an evident design to establish an absolute despotism, the famous Declaration of Independence runs:—"In every stage of these oppressions wo have peti- page 91 tioned for redress in the most humble terms. Our petitions have been answered only by repeated injuries. A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people." George III. was the father—the involuntary father—of the American Republic, the mightiest and most enlightened commonwealth that the world has ever seen.
For He, who flung the bright blue fold
O'ermantling land and sea,
One third part of the sky unfurl'd
For the banner of the free!
Truly the crazy tyrant builded more wisely than he knew!
The war cost England well nigh £140,000,000! And so little was George satisfied with these trifling sacrifices of honour, blood, and treasure, that he threatened to resign his sceptre by reason of their insufficiency.
A wise people would have taken the maniac at his word, and following the illustrious example of our kin beyond sea, have established a sister Federal Republic, giving self-government to Ireland, and laying the basis of a true and lasting union with the United States. It is not too much to say that monarchy has ever acted on the grand possibilities of the English race like an extinguisher.
Nor did George confine his malignant detestation of justice and good government to America. He put forth all his strength to defeat Fox's statesmanlike India Bill, and succeeded. He canvassed the peers, many of whom he had created for reasons other than their deserts, and induced them to reject the measure. "Thank God!" he cried, "it is all over, so there is an end to Mr. Fox." That brave and tenacious friend of freedom was accordingly driven from power.
Almost as a matter of course, the influence of the Court was exercised on behalf of the culprit during the long impeachment of Warren Hastings, who was eventually acquitted. Hastings, it was alleged and firmly believed, judiciously conveyed to the king certain priceless diamonds, which perhaps were not needed to secure the royal countenance for so great an oppressor of his kind.
The part which George took in the iniquitous attempt to restore the Bourbons to the throne of France has been cloaked page 92 in a great measure, by the misdeeds of delinquents—so much more responsible—like the younger Pitt and Edmund Burke. Yet from first to last the king and the "king's friends" fanned the flame with might and main. To say that England which had expelled the Stuarts, should have abortively squandered more than £1,000,000,000, not to speak of the hecatombs of slain, to restore the Bourbons at the behest of a mad Guelph is really to question the sanity of the entire British nation. But so it was. Of the handful of discerning men who tried to stem the torrent of folly and wickedness some were exiled, some imprisoned, some slaughtered, and all calumniated.
In January, 1820, the king died, deeply lamented by all who did not know him. Previous to his decease he had been repeatedly stark-mad, quite obviously "physically and morally incapable of government." The "first gentleman in Europe" had in these unhappy circumstances acted as regent, discharging the royal functions as only the first gentleman could.
The Regent and his amiable brothers exerted themselves with true filial piety to relieve the sufferings of their miserable parent. But occasionally they took a method of testifying their sympathy which would perhaps occur to none but royal minds. They tied the paternal leg to a bed-post, and played bait the bear" with their august sire, who would run at them with demoniacal shrieks and jabber as far as his tether would permit.
And so entertaining was the sport that these amiable uncles of Queen Victoria would roar with laughter at a spectacle so comical. Nor did the entertainment cease in the sick chamber. The Prince had a talent for mimicry, and when he and the Duke of York went to Brooks's would convulse the company with close imitations of the insane parental gestures and ravings. But it is put on record by Jesse that "the brutality of that stupid sot (York) disgusted even the most profligate of his associates." Singularly enough a loyal parliament bestowed £10,000 a year on the said sot for paying two weekly visits to his afflicted father!
George IV. (1820-1830).
The reign of George IV. is crammed with little but adulteries, lies, and debts. The former are too filthy, and the page 93 latter too monotonous, for detailed narration. Like his father, George IV. was a bigamist. In December, 1785, he married Mrs. Fitzherbert with whom he openly lived as his wife. He, of course, denied the contract when it suited his purpose; but after his death his executors, the Duke of Wellington and Sir William Knighton, admitted the validity of the proofs.
In April, 1794, he led to the altar Caroline of Brunswick. "Led to the altar" is here used in a metaphorical sense, for George was in a condition to be led, not to lead. He was so drunk that his two royal brothers could scarce keep him on his feet. He fairly astonished his grace of Canterbury by rising from his knees before the ceremony was half over. Caroline in after life may not have been a pattern of matronly virtue, but the English people with a correct instinct stood by her, holding that she was more sinned against than sinning. To procure evidence in the famous divorce suit against her, the Secret Service Money of the State was freely drawn upon.
The First Gentleman was, in fact, as expert a wife-beater as any coal-heaver, and his language habitually smacked of the brothel. When Napoleon's death was announced to him in the words, "Your majesty's bitterest enemy is dead," George jumped to the hasty conclusion that Caroline was no more, and joyfully exclaimed, "Is she, by God!" He was in Ireland, where he had arrived "in the last stage of beastly intoxication," when the news of the poor lady's actual demise reached him. "This is one of the happiest days in my life," he soon afterwards remarked. Nor was he less heartless to the women he "protected" than to those he married. Lady Jersey, Lady Conyngham, Lady Hertford. "Perdita" Robinson, and a host of others discovered, by bitter experience, that Thackeray was right when he affirmed that George owed everything to his tailor.
As a gambler, he repudiated his debts of honour, because honour he had none, and if he was not a turf swindler, his contemporaries in the affair of his horse Escape slandered him most foully. He professed to present George III.'s library to the nation, was secretly paid for it, and then received the effusive thanks of parliament for his munificence! With regard to so vile a creature as "the first gentleman in Europe" it is page 94 abundantly safe to reverse the ordinary legal maxim, and hold him guilty of everything till he is proved innocent. "He leads," says Greville, "a most extraordinary life—never gets up till six in the afternoon. They come to him and open the window curtains at six or seven in the morning; he breakfasts in bed; does whatever business he can be brought to transact in bed too; he reads every newspaper quite through, dozes three or four hours; gets up in time for dinner, and goes to bed between ten and eleven. He sleeps very ill, and rings his bell forty times in the night; if he wants to know the hour, though a watch hangs close to him, he will have his valet de chambre down rather than turn his head to look at it. The same thing if he wants a glass of water; he won't stretch out his hand to get it. His valets are nearly destroyed, and at last Lady Conyngham prevailed on him to agree to an arrangement by which they wait on him on alternate days. The service is still most severe, as on the days they are waiting their labours are incessant, and they cannot take off their clothes at night and hardly lie down. He is in good health but irritable." And these be your Gods, O Israel!
The only thing he left behind him which was worth "anything was his old clothes, which realised £15,000—a miserable asset for a sovereign who, though his reign was brief, must have cost the country some twenty millions sterling.
The political harm which he did was comparatively small, but what time he could spare from the more congenial pursuits of fiddling, tailoring, dancing, drinking, gambling, and worse things was chiefly devoted to mischief.
The best thing that can be said of him is that he was not worse than his brothers, York and Clarence, and that, like his father, he suffered from occasional lunacy. He had heard so much about Waterloo that he ultimately convinced himself that he had led a murderous charge of cavalry on that decisive battle-field under the name of General Brock. "Did I not do so, Arthur?" he would on occcasion demand of the Duke of Wellington." I have often heard your majesty relate the incident," was the diplomatic reply.
George the First was reckoned vile—viler George the Second;
And what mortal ever heard any good of George the Third?
When from earth the Fourth descended, Heaven be praised, the Georges ended.