GIV: Part 1: Prince of Fools
King George IV
(1820 - 1827)
NB: A Simplified Timeline of George IV's reign can be found by clicking here.
Part One: The Prince of Fools
Unlike other properties of its type which have been transformed into National Trust landmarks, country house hotels or public schools, Haddon remains in the possession of the (albeit extended) Manners family . In days gone by, Haddon was yet another estate in the vast property portfolio of the Dukes of Rutland, first coming into their possession in the 17th century. But whilst the house itself contains many fascinating artifacts relating to Haddon’s long history and the Manners family who still call it home, there is one room in the house which inspires morbid curiosity.
The State Bedroom boasts a four poster Tudor bed with sumptuous draperies. Of all Haddon’s royal guests who have slept in this bed, only one seems to have captured the imagination of visitors to the house; so much so that in 1816, a ferocious looking wrought iron railing was installed to enclose the bed and keep curious callers at a respectful distance. However interesting the tapestries or frescoes in Haddon’s other rooms may be, every visitor seems to want to see the room (and indeed the bed) where the Prince Regent died on the 24th of June 1815.
The State Bedroom at Haddon Hall
Elizabeth, Duchess of Rutland, was one of England’s most beautiful hostesses, distinguished in society for her reputation for fine food, comfortable rooms and lavish entertainments. The châtelaine of Belvoir Castle as the wife of John Manners, the 5th Duke of Rutland, Elizabeth had stunned Leicestershire society by selling seven villages surrounding the Castle near Grantham. Much of the estate land was included raising an enormous sum which was ringfenced to fund an extravagant restoration of Belvoir which had stood since the Norman Conquest. James Wyatt, "the aristocrat’s architect", had redesigned hundreds of English country houses infusing them with romantic and eccentricity in the Gothic revival style which had become so fashionable. Following Wyatt's design for the improved Castle would cost approximately £120,000 (the equivalent of £9.25 million today) setting Belvoir on course to become one of the most impressive private houses in England.
In stark contrast to the wonders of Belvoir stood Haddon, largely ignored by its owners and rarely used for anything more than a useful overnight bolt hole for the Duke of Rutland on his frequent trips from Leicestershire to Surrey where his world-famous stud, Cheveley Park, was situated. Whilst Haddon was not exactly modern by the standards of 1815, it had one saving grace; country sports. Haddon could offer trout fishing in four rivers that crossed the estate, shooting on the neighbouring moors and hunting with the Meynell which had crossed the estate since 1793.
So it was that in June 1815, the Duke and Duchess of Rutland decided that the interior renovations at Belvoir would make it quite impossible to host even a modest house party comfortably and decided to relocate their guests to Haddon. In a moment of genius, Elizabeth Rutland engaged 22 carpenters known for their work at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to install painted scenery boards in the public rooms where the guests would dine, gamble or dance. Displays of flowers, fruits and tree branches were banked along the walls with candelabra sent from Belvoir to transform the somewhat neglected Haddon for the duration of the party.
Of the 18 invited guests, two stood out. The first was the Duke of York, Prince Frederick, with whom the Duchess had maintained an erratic intimate relationship with for over a decade. The liaison was no great secret in society and was seemingly so openly accepted that upon the Duchess of Rutland’s death, the Gentleman’s Magazine informed its readers solemnly that “a dispatch had been immediately forwarded announcing the afflicting event to His Majesty”. Whilst Elizabeth courted royalty in her boudoir, the Duke of Rutland impressed royalty at his stables. Among his most ardent admirers was the Prince Regent, the second royal guest who would join the house party at Haddon in June 1815.
The Prince Regent had been sworn into office in 1811 when his father, King George III, was finally declared unfit to rule after years of physical and mental instability. Frequent bouts of unpredictable behaviour saw the King retreat to Kew Palace for “treatment” but by 1811 it had become clear that the monarch could no longer carry out his duties. Those at court had expected such a drastic outcome for years but many had also feared it. The dynamic between the King and his eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, had been a constant clash of wills resulting in very public displays of animosity and on one occasion, a physical altercation. The King saw his eldest son and heir as nothing more than a self-righteous indulgent bon vivant with no aptitude for the duties expected of him by the Crown.
This was a view shared not only by the King’s wife, Queen Charlotte, but by many in government, in the church, in high society and (most worryingly for George III) among the wider public. Whilst the King was respected as pious and reserved, academic and studious, his eldest son was regarded as frivolous and ostentatious. It was said that when a courtier announced the arrival of the Prince of Wales one evening, the King scoffed and bellowed “No Prince of Wales he Sir, that man is the Prince of Fools!”
The Prince Regent (as Prince George would become in 1811) seemed not to care about his public image to any serious degree. His pursuit of pleasure was driven by an insatiable appetite for sex, gambling and high spending which continues to promote the image of the Regency period as one of glamour and romance. In reality, millions were stuck in extreme poverty with little hope of improvement in their daily lives. Inconveniently for public figures, steam printing had enabled the mass circulation of printed material in which publishers gleefully shared the latest gossip from court with thinly veiled attacks on the rich and powerful. The Prince Regent and his coterie of mistresses proved the most popular muse.
George's popularity had reached an all time low by 1815. Just six months earlier, his wife Caroline of Brunswick had finally grown tired of being humiliated and ignored and returned to her homeland for a few weeks before taking a tour of Switzerland and Italy. Popular with the people but despised by her husband, she had been forbidden from all but limited contact with her only child, Princess Charlotte of Wales, until she could take no more. Caroline struck a deal with her estranged husband; for an annuity of £35,000, she would leave Britain. The Prince Regent reveled in his new found freedom and with the power the Regency Bill had given him, he felt emboldened in his behaviour. The public however, had never loathed him more.
News of the Duke of Wellington's triumph at Waterloo brought some respite as patriotism surged and celebrations had erupted throughout London when the news came on the 20th that “the little corporal” had finally been smashed once and for all. According to the London Gazette, Major Henry Percy, son of the Duke of Northumberland, was given the task of relaying the news to the Prince Regent. George was dining with friends in London when Percy was said to have “brought in Napoleon’s eagles before the Prince who blessed God, wept for the dead and promoted Percy”. Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, suggested that the Prince Regent might attend a special service of celebration at St Paul’s Cathedral. The Prince declined. He had accepted the invitation to attend the Rutlands house party at Haddon Hall and would begin his journey to Derbyshire the following morning. Lord Liverpool then asked if the Duke of York might deputise for the Prince but York also declined. His excuse was not so self-absorbed as that of the Prince Regent however. He would not be going to Haddon because an attack of gout prevented him from leaving his bed. 
Elizabeth, Duchess of Rutland
The Prince Regent arrived at Haddon with the Marchioness of Hertford, his mistress de jour. Isabella Ingram-Seymour-Conway had entered the Prince’s affections in 1807 and was still in favour with the Prince even if the rest of his inner circle where a little wary of her. To the Tories, she was “Britain’s Guardian Angel”, known for her cunning and ability to change the Prince Regent’s mind, seemingly on a whim. The Duchess of Rutland had no great affection for the Marchioness but her dyed-in-the-wool Tory husband held no such objections. Accommodated in the State Bedroom, the Prince asked that Isabella be given rooms adjoining his. This proved difficult because the medieval layout of Haddon meant that most guests were forced out into the courtyard with no direct access to the adjoining rooms. His Royal Highness complained bitterly about this upon his arrival, as did Lady Hertford but his personal staff travelling with him had bigger worries in the servant's quarters. One of the Prince’s manservants later remarked that there was “more water on the floor of the bed chamber than in the river running by”.
If the Duchess of Rutland was disappointed in the Duke of York’s absence, she did not show it. Reflecting the victory at Waterloo, she served the finest wines and encouraged the guests to eat more than their fill of the rich food on offer. There were frequent toasts to the King, the Prince Regent and the Duke of Wellington in the Banqueting Hall that night with the Prince said to be “in gay spirits, quite jolly and with no trace of temper or sulking which he was often taken by after drinking brandy”. Well fed and looking forward to a day’s hunting the following morning, the house party broke up at around 3am and the Prince went to his room to be undressed and put to bed.
The following morning, two of the guests did not appear for breakfast. The first, Edward Sacheverell Wilmot-Sitwell, had arrived from neighbouring Stainsby three days earlier. He was acting as the land agent for the Rutlands at Haddon, his own family being gentry in all but name and now living in reduced circumstances. The second was Major General Benjamin Bloomfield, the former Member of Parliament for Plymouth, and Aide-de-Camp to the Prince of Wales. It was around 10.30 in the morning of the 21st of June 1815 that a local doctor, William Pencell, was woken by his wife at their home in the tiny hamlet of Alport. Pencell took a pony and trap to Haddon where he examined the two gentlemen confined to their beds. Both were suffering from colic, he counselled, no doubt the consequences of the banquet the night before. Pencell later said, “I did not like to accuse gentlemen of taking too much strong drink but it was in my mind that both the agent and the Major General could attribute their malaise to that”
Pencell left Haddon and returned home. Meanwhile, the remaining guests, amused by their fellow revelers laid low by excess, set out for a day’s hunting. The ladies remained at the house before being led through a tour of the Elizabeth Walled Garden by the Duchess. The scene was much as it might be at any country house party in the early 19th century until the peace of the garden was broken by the clattering of horses hooves. The Prince Regent had also fallen ill and wished to rest. The Duchess sent a message to Dr Pencell to return to Haddon immediately whilst Lady Hertford dispatched a note to London asking for Sir Gilbert Blane, the Prince’s personal physician to attend him.
Dr Pencell advised the Duchess to break up her house party immediately. He feared that Mr Wilmot was showing the early symptoms of typhus. It was not an uncommon disease and epidemics had occurred with alarming regularity in England for decades. Yet there was no epidemic at the time and so the Duchess dismissed Pencell, sending a messenger for a different doctor from Bakewell to attend Haddon immediately. At 9.30 in the morning of the 22nd of June, Dr Philip Strudley found the Prince Regent in a stable condition “but with a most definite fever”. He did not agree with Pencell that the mystery ailment was typhus and thought Lady Hertford’s dispatch to London “somewhat premature”.
It took two days for Gilbert Blane to reach Haddon, a horse journey of 14 hours broken by a night’s rest at an inn near Northampton. It was therefore Strudley who attended to the Prince. The Rutlands sent their remaining guests’ home, those remaining at Haddon being those taken already ill, the Prince’s staff, the Marchioness of Hertford and the two local doctors. At 8pm on the 22nd of June, Mr Wilmot died. Major General Bloomfield however showed some signs of improvement. Both Pencell and Strudley were baffled. The latter examined the Prince once more who was, according to Lady Hertford, “half mad with fever, babbling and screaming in a most frightening way”.
News of the Prince’s illness finally reached Buckingham House and Kensington Palace. The King was not informed, his own state of health so precarious that he probably would not have registered the news even if it had been passed on to him. At Kew, Queen Charlotte showed “indifference”. Her Lady of the Bedchamber, the Countess of Cork, later remarked; “Her Majesty seemed totally unmoved; indeed, she made no comment at all. She simply stood up and walked out into the gardens. When I attempted to follow, she waved a hand at me and I fell back, uncertain of what I should be about"
Whilst the Prince Regent’s brothers were all informed immediately, Princess Charlotte was told nothing of her father’s condition. Lord Liverpool asked the Duke of York to remain in London but the Dukes of Clarence and Cumberland set off for Derbyshire attended by the Bishop of London, William Howley, at the Prime Minister’s insistence. Meanwhile, Liverpool asked the Duke of York, the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker of the House of Commons to attend him at Fife House in Whitehall. The situation now seemed serious and the Prime Minister, with the lack of any real indication of how grave the Prince's condition actually was, sought advice from those at the very top of government.
Lord Eldon, the Lord Chancellor, was asked to consider two very realistic possibilities. The first was what stipulation the Regency Act of 1811 (known as the Care of the King During His Illness Act etc) made should the Prince Regent also succumb to a long period of illness or even die before his father. The second was how the Act might be amended urgently to make new provision for “His Majesty’s care” if the government felt the existing arrangements were not satisfactory. Eldon’s advice was simple. The Regency Act did not require a Council of Regency as required by previous legislation. It had been felt in 1811 that as the Prince Regent was heir apparent, he would assume full powers upon his father’s death. It was clear to Eldon at least that such a council must now be appointed and convened at the earliest opportunity.
To affect this, Eldon suggested that the Prime Minister follow the precedent set in late 1810 for the passage of the Regency Act. Without the Kings consent, the Lord Chancellor had affixed the Great Seal of the Realm to letters patent naming Lords Commissioners. Their resolution (to provide a regent for the King in the person of the Prince of Wales) was not debated by both Houses of Parliament, rather they were simply approved by a majority vote of both houses. The Lords Commissioners, appointed in the name of the King, granted Royal Assent to the 1811 bill which discharged functions in the name of the King to the Prince of Wales and named him regent.
Liverpool proposed that new Lords Commissioners should be appointed and a new bill introduced to parliament the following morning. The Duke of York would succeed his brother as regent until a regency council would be established. Even then, it was agreed that the Duke should act as the head of this council. The Speaker of the House of Commons, Charles Abbott insisted that the Privy Council be consulted before any such appointments were made, something the Duke of York agreed with. Who the Commissioners should be, let alone who should be appointed to the Regency Council, was a matter for another hour. The meeting at Fife House concluded, Liverpool began to receive parliamentarians in groups of four or five to advise them of the ongoing situation. Only now was a bulletin published informing the public that the Prince Regent was seriously ill.
At Kew Palace, Queen Charlotte was informed of the Fife House meeting and elected to return to Buckingham House to consult her son, the Duke of York, personally. Whilst it was no secret that the Queen despised her eldest son, especially given his treatment of her husband and enforcing their separation some years earlier, she doted on the Duke of York. Whilst the Prince Regent was invariably “the son” or “the monster”, the Duke of York was “the baby” or “the beloved one”. The Countess of Cork accompanied Queen Charlotte to Buckingham House where she was attended by her daughters, Princess Augusta Sophia and Princess Elizabeth. Whilst the latter paced nervously and seemed genuinely grieved, Lady Cork noted “something akin to boredom in the Queen, almost as if she simply wished to know one way or the other if her eldest child was dead or alive”.
At the Queen's insistence, no member of the Royal Family was permitted to travel to Derbyshire. But when the royal doctors attending the King forbad any possibility of the Prince Regent being brought to London, Her Majesty relented and agreed that it might be prudent for his elder brothers to travel to Haddon. Whilst nobody dared state the obvious, it was felt better than they be present to accompany the coffin back to London if the worst happened. Meanwhile, Lord Liverpool requested an audience with the Queen to discuss the arrangements laid out at Fife House. For someone frozen out of decision making since her husband’s illness became permanent, the Queen found “a new fortitude and bore all with stillness and calm”.
Blane arrived at Haddon at around 10pm on the 23rd of June. He was briefed on the Prince’s condition by Pencell and Strudley and was then admitted to the State Bedroom. He immediately diagnosed cholera. An inspection of the kitchens, water closets and the eastern courtyard told Blane all he needed to know. Haddon’s neglect had led to pools of stagnant water in which cholera thrived. In his view, “it was a small mercy so few had contracted the disease”. Blane’s report was sent back to London by urgent message. The Prince was administered large doses of calomel and opium but Blane feared the worst. The following morning, the Dukes of Clarence and Cumberland arrived at Haddon with the Bishop of London. The Duke of Clarence asked for Blane’s honest assessment of the outcome; “With regret Sir”, Blane said quietly, “I believe the Prince will die”.
Clarence dispatched another rider to London by stagecoach with two letters; one for the Prime Minister and one for Queen Charlotte.
“Georgie nears the end of his life and I believe we cannot place much hope in the treatment administered by Dr Blane, though I beg you understand that he is a most competent physician and he approaches Geo. [sic] with the utmost care still. I fear we must ready ourselves for the worst and I pray that I may impart more joyful news in the days to come. These sentiments expressed however, I urge the arrangements discussed in London these past nights to be put into place with expediency for regardless of the outcome of this horror, my dear brother can no longer deputise for His Majesty for some time even if his condition improves in the coming days”
By the time the Duke of Clarence’s letter arrived in London, the Prince Regent was dead. He died at 4pm on the 24th of June 1815. Of the six members of the Rutlands’ house party who contracted cholera, only Major General Bloomfield survived though he was left with “permanent sickness” for the rest of his life. Lady Hertford was at the Prince Regent’s bedside in the last hours, something the Bishop of London protested but which the Duke of Cumberland said would bring his brother comfort. The Duke of Rutland sent word to the local constable who rallied volunteers to guard Haddon's gates should public anger paint the Rutlands as responsible for the Prince’s death before the Prince’s body was removed from Haddon and the Rutlands could safely return to Leicestershire.
With no word from London on what should happen next, the Dukes of Clarence and Cumberland took control. A local undertaker who had already collected two bodies from Haddon was called in to dress the Prince and place him in a coffin of English oak. Fearing deterioration of the corpse on the journey, he was covered in blankets on which chunks of ice from the Haddon icehouse were laid and sprinkled liberally with rock salt. The coffin was closed and at 10.30pm when darkness had settled, the royal princes accompanied the coffin in their stagecoaches as it was removed to the church at St James’ Church at Bonsall. Here the coffin waited with the Dukes standing vigil until London sent a reply with further instructions.
At Buckingham House, a flurry of letters arrived within the space of a few hours. The first informed the waiting parties that the Prince had cholera. The last informed them he had died. Queen Charlotte “said little and withdrew with Lord Liverpool, remaining secluded for some time before the Duke of York was summoned to join them”. Word was sent to Kensington Palace to inform other members of the Royal Family of the Prince Regent’s death. Princess Charlotte, until now deliberately kept in ignorance of her father’s illness, was taken into the gardens of the palace by her aunt Princess Augusta Sophia. The young princess broke down and wept. In a letter to Prince Leopold of Saxe Coburg Saalfeld, the young man she had settled to marry against the wishes of her father, she wrote; “I feel quite alone for now I should be no better than an orphaned child. My father is gone and poor dear Mama is kept so far away”. Within the hour, a coach arrived at Kensington to bring the Princess to her grandmother, the Queen, at Buckingham House.
The London Gazette was the first printed publication to inform the public of the Prince Regent’s death. It came as a total shock to the people of London given that they had only learned of the Prince’s illness the previous evening. In spite of the widespread animosity felt towards him, London “surprised herself” with shops closing their shutters and with garlands of white carnations and black crepe ribbons appearing on the facades of galleries, churches, museums and other civic buildings. Public houses closed, all theatrical performances were cancelled and crowds (albeit not very large ones) settled in churches or outside the royal residences to express their sorrow at the Prince Regent’s death.
The public mood proved fickle. Perhaps inspired by the newspapers (who were not exactly glowing in their praise in their praise of the deceased prince), it seemed that permission had been given to simply ignore what had happened and carry on with life as usual. Whilst there were signs of public mourning in other areas of the country, the establishment seemed united in its indifference. One London newspaper suggested that the Prince Regent was “mourned as a son of His Majesty the King but not as a great wit, academic or orator for he was undoubtedly none of those things”. Another went so far as to print a spoof obituary notice which closed with the lines; “For were his love of his duty and his people greater than that of his love for his courtesans and silly fashions, more may feel sadness at his loss. As the former was deficient, so too is our grief”. 
Nowhere was this more clear than on the route the Prince’s coffin took on it’s way from Derby to Windsor. The procession took two days with stops arranged at Peterborough Cathedral and then at Oxford. The route was lined with a smattering of mourners, mostly elderly women, who stood silently as the cortege moved past them. The Duke of Clarence noted in his diary that “there was genuine grief but I fear Georgie had exhausted the people of their goodwill”. Just outside Windsor, a small demonstration had to be moved on by the local constables. A group of drunken labourers shouted and jeered at the procession and one threw a large rock at the coach carrying the Prince’s coffin.
The Prince’s widow, now the Dowager Princess of Wales, was informed of her husband’s death whilst at her villa at Lake Como. Her response is not recorded but in the same month, she and her household left Italy for Germany. If she made any attempt to return to England for the funeral, it is not documented, though some months later she was invited by her mother-in-law to visit Princess Charlotte. Unlike visits of the recent past, this was unsupervised and mother and daughter were able to build a relationship free of the jealousy that had constrained them during the Prince Regent’s lifetime.
Frederick, Duke of York and Albany
Prince George’s funeral was held at St George’s Chapel, Windsor on the 2nd July after three days of lying-in state. During this time, members of the public were allowed in to pay their respects to the Prince Regent. There was no great rush but a steady trickle of mourners passed by his coffin, presumably more intrigued by the royal chapel itself or the chance of seeing members of the Royal Family. They were mostly disappointed. Whilst the Prince’s surviving siblings all attended the lying-in-state, they did so hidden from the public behind a screen. The King did not attend; indeed, he was not informed of his eldest son’s death on the strict instructions of the Queen and with the eager approval of his doctors. Queen Charlotte attended only briefly, just after midnight on the 27th. According to the Countess of Cork; “She did not linger, nor did she shed a tear. She laid a small posy of flowers upon the coffin and then withdrew from the chapel”.
Seated in St George’s as his brother’s funeral oration was read, the Duke of York wept openly for a brother he had felt a true affinity with. Despite their differences, they had enjoyed a close friendship. An announcement that evening in the London Gazette confirmed what his fellow mourners in the chapel knew that day but which had been kept confined to the corridors of Whitehall since the Fife House meeting. Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, would succeed his brother as Prince Regent. He was now second in line to the throne after his niece Princess Charlotte but time would soon show Frederick’s future to be far from certain.
 Haddon is now leased to the present Duke of Rutland's brother and his wife, Lord Edward Manners.
 Wyatt's most famous work was Fonthill Abbey. He died in 1813 but as the redevelopment of Belvoir under the 5th Duke began in 1799, he would have been the ideal candidate to redesign the so-called "fourth castle" even if he never saw the work completed.
 This may be gossip I've butterflied for the TL but I found it interesting that this obit of the Duchess from 1825 mentions the Duke of York specifically: http://numberonelondon.net/2017/11/the-death-of-elizabeth-5th-duchess-of-rutland/
 I confess to using Alan Bennett's The Madness of King George for this one!
 This allows for the Duke of York to live and the Prince Regent to exit as per the original POD.
 I wanted to broaden out the regency a little to lay some groundwork for the next phase of the timeline.
 I modeled this on real obituaries of King George IV as the Prince Regent actually became in 1820. They were not exactly obsequious!
[Note] With the Prince Regent out of the way, Princess Charlotte's death in 1817 will push Frederick to the front of the line. George III dies in 1820 making Frederick the new King who honours both his father and late brother by taking the name of George IV. The next installment will deal with the death of Charlotte, the marriages of Frederick's siblings and a butterfly (or two) to give Frederick a new wife ahead of his reign.