George IV, better known as the Prince Regent, gives his name to an elegant style of architecture and design and a period of British history still noted for its extravagance, political upheaval and moral decadence. George was larger than life and a man of contrasts. He was a gambler, drunkard and womaniser but also highly cultured, able to speak French and German fluently, an accomplished musician and a great reader of contemporary literature.
He was arguably London's best town-planner, with projects that include Regent's Park, Regent Street, Waterloo Place, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, and, outside London, the Brighton Pavilion and a modernised Windsor Castle. George also acquired, for the Royal Collection, works by all the best artists of the day, such as George Stubbs and Sir Thomas Lawrence. He obtained Old Master paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and other Dutch and Flemish painters and purchased whole sets of porcelain and furniture from recently exiled French aristocrats after the 1789 revolution in France.
George's legacy to the British people today is the quality of the Royal Collection, one of the finest collections in the world and the architectural grandeur of those cities that have whole areas built in the Regency style.
However, George amassed fantastic levels of personal debt, for which time and again Parliament was called upon to bail him out. He would often claim funds for supposedly legitimate purposes (such as setting up appropriate accommodation and a household for his marriage to Caroline of Brunswick in 1795) yet spending the money on what were seen publicly as wanton and wasteful extravagances. The construction of the Brighton Pavilion is the most well-known example of this. Yet, in many ways, the rebuilding, decoration and final demolishing of Carlton House in London was the most outrageous misuse of public funds by George IV.
Using a range of illustrations including many contemporary satirical prints, this lecture discusses the extent to which George IV was either the conman who swindled the British taxpayer or the connoisseur whose legacy is such an important part of our nation's cultural heritage.