The End of the Regency

The Regency Era, that age of conflict, caricature, and couture, formally ended today in 1820 with the death of George III; as the King had been unable to rule from (at least) 1811 his son, the future George IV, served as Prince Regent. In terms of cultural history, the era really extends up to the accession of Victoria in 1837, but I’m being strictly historical here as I want to write about poor George III. Few monarchs in English history have been so maligned; I’ve always felt a bit sorry for him. In part it is because of the sheer length of his reign (he is the third-longest-reigning British monarch, after Victoria and Elizabeth II, including the regency decade) but his depictions and representations are more a consequence of what happened in that long period: war with France and America, the loss of the latter, conflict with Parliament, a huge public debt, and his own insanity–which has received the retrospective diagnosis of porphyria, a hereditary disease of the nervous system. But more than all these factors, I think the increasing freedom of the British periodical press is primarily responsible for the public perception of the King, as its appropriation of the public sphere corresponds with his realm, along with the proliferation of satire and caricature. George was a perfect subject/target–chubby, gouty, and incapacitated at his worst, a rather unsophisticated “Farmer George” at his best. He is often portrayed as tyrannical and always as greedy–and these are the works of British subjects, not American or French citizens!

A Portfolio of George III Images:  even when they are not supposed to be satirical (like the last two Jubilee prints), they somehow are:

George III BM

George 2 Farmer

George 1786 Diamonds

George as Nero BM

George 1805 BM

George III 1810

George III Jubilee 1810 BM

Anonymous contemporary etching of King George III; “Farmer George & his Wife”, pub. by William Holland, 1786; Anonymous hand-colored etching of the “King of Diamonds”/George III, 1786; George III as Nero, anonymous etching, c. 1760-1780; George III as a gouty “dreamer (while his son catches his crown), pub. by William McCleary, c. 1805; Jubilee (1810) prints of George III by Robert Dighton and I.G. Parry.  All, British Museum.

8 responses to “The End of the Regency

  • Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    It’s rather astonishing to consider that between George I, George II and George III, who ruled successively, the three officially sat on the throne for something like 106 years. The latter two alone were king for more than 90 years combined, even if there was a regent for the last years of George III’s rule. And, yes, George III did get pretty shabby treatment from the press. Consider how differently Charles I, for example, would have responded to such mockery.

  • Roger

    He had the virtue of inspiring fine comic verse- most notably Byron’s A Vision of Judgment- and shorter verses from Landor:

    George the First was always reckoned
    Vile, but viler George the Second;
    And what mortal ever heard
    Any good of George the Third?
    When from earth the Fourth descended
    (God be praised!) the Georges ended.

    and Bentley:

    George the Third
    Ought never to have occurred.
    One can only wonder
    At so grotesque a blunder.

  • cecilia

    I have to wonder if this particular george must have been in possession of very big lips, or maybe this was a comment on his love of food.. or maybe that was a veiled insult? He was on the throne for an awfully long time though when all is said and done.

  • Rachel

    He wasn’t always treated badly by the press or the public. At the time of his recovery from his first serious bout of illness, there were massive public celebrations across the country including fireworks, illuminations and public assemblies. It was his so who was reviled at this time for being too keen to establish a regency and finally get his hands on the royal powers.

    The lips are a Hanovarian trait along with slightly protrubant eyes. If you look at his portraits all through his life the lips were there, even as a very young man. He was actually very sparing in his diet, preferring simple food and taking a lot of exercise, mostly walking and riding.

  • lanceleuven

    I had no idea he was the third longest on the throne. In light of that, it’s surprsing how much he’s overlooked. Most people, when offered the name, would probably just ask “Was that the mad one?” and not know much else. Interesting, thanks for sharing.

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