On 12 August 1762, in a room in St. James’s Palace, George Augustus Frederick, the first child of King George III and Queen Charlotte was born. And boy, did his parents learn to rue that day.
George, who was created Prince of Wales a few days after his birth, didn’t start off too badly–he was said to be a good student who mastered languages early, but as soon as he was given his own establishment at the age of 18 he revealed himself to be dissipated, pleasure-seeking, and spendthrift. His heavy drinking and many mistresses shocked his morally upright parents, and his extravagance in dress and decoration was seen as fairly tacky at a time when many Londoners lived in extreme poverty. Still, at the age of 21 he obtained a grant of £60,000 from Parliament (worth more than £5 million today) and an annual income of £50,000 from his father. It still wasn’t enough to meet his needs, and he began to run into debt, bringing him into conflict with his father.
The prince became infatuated with a twice-widowed Roman Catholic woman named Maria Fitzherbert and decided to ignore two pieces of legislation that barred the spouses of Roman Catholics from ascending to the throne and prohibited marriages of those in the direct line of succession without the consent of the king. He married Mrs. Fitzherbert on 15 December 1785, though they prudently kept the (invalid, as it turns out) union a secret.
The prince’s debts became so large he went to the king for help. George refused to give it, so George was forced to go to Parliament, which, for some reason, gave him £161,000 (nearly £17 million in today’s money) to pay the debts, as well as £60,000 to improve his home, Carlton House. And people complain about the extravagance of the monarchy today!
Still, the debts accumulated. Fed up, his father told him he’d only help him out if the prince married Caroline of Brunswick, perhaps the most ill-suited mate he could have possibly chosen. Nonetheless, George agreed and they were married on 8 April 1795 at St. James’s Palace. George loathed his wife and they separated after the birth of their only child, Princess Charlotte, in 1796. George went back to Mrs. Fitzherbert, though he also had several mistresses over the years.
As a reward for his marriage, Parliament gave him yet more money to cover his extraordinary debts of £630,000 (around £49,820,000 today). Even though he was given an additional £65,000 per annum in 1795 and another £60,000 per annum in 1803, it wasn’t until 1806 that his debts as of 1795 were paid off. The debts he had incurred in the decade between those times, however, remained to be paid.
In 1810, King George III fell ill from what is believed to be porphyria. George was named Regent by the Regency Act of 1811, though some of his powers were restricted. George was a fairly hands-off regent, preferring to let his ministers do as they wished while he focused more on dictating style. During his tenure, his associate John Nash created what is known as the Regency Style of architecture, which can still be seen in London and other UK cities. George also popularized trips to the seaside when he built a grand palace in Brighton.
George finally became king in 1820, at the age of 57. His estranged wife, Caroline, caused a ruckus at his coronation (an enormously extravagant affair, as you can imagine) by showing up and demanding to be admitted and crowned at her husband’s side. George would have none of it and she was turned away at the door. As king, George became the first monarch since Richard II to pay a state visit to Ireland. He also became the first reigning monarch since the mid-17th century to visit Scotland when he dropped by Edinburgh for 21 days in 1822. He started intervening more in politics, especially when the question of Catholic emancipation arose (he opposed it). His refusal to support the emancipation caused the entire Cabinet to resign in 1829, putting the king under enough pressure to accept the bill and grant royal assent to the Catholic Relief Act.
George was not a healthy man — a lifetime of partying and drinking will take its toll, and he was obese and possibly addicted to laudanum. He’s said to have suffered from gout, arteriosclerosis, dropsy, and maybe porphyria, like his father. On 26 June 1830, he died at Windsor Castle and was buried in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor on 15 July. His daughter having predeceased him, his younger brother, Prince Frederick, succeeded, followed by yet another brother, Prince William. The petering line of the House of Hanover set off the marital scramble that would eventually result in the birth of Princess Victoria.