After dinner, ladies would retire to a different room, leaving the men alone to drink, and talk politics. Compared to the glittering exuberance of the Banqueting Room, the Banqueting Room Gallery where you are now was calmer and more sedate.
The men would join the ladies a little later, and the evening’s entertainment would continue with cards, music or dancing. George was very sociable, and preferred conversation to cards, although he was happy for others to play. More guests might be invited to join the party, and later, at around eleven, a cold supper would be served, either here or in one of the other drawing rooms.
George was very much a night owl, and parties would often go on until two or three in the morning. The following day guests could either breakfast in their rooms or share a meal hosted by his Private Secretary in the South Gallery, upstairs. George himself would rise late and stay in his rooms, before spending the morning indulging one of his great passions, riding.
The women in George IV’s life
Caricature print showing George IV tossed in the air by Caroline of Brunswick and former mistresses, 1820
George’s parents did not meet until the day of their wedding. Nevertheless, their marriage was a happy one, in stark contrast to George’s own marriage, in similar circumstances. Given George’s difficult relationship with his father, it is unsurprising that his relationship with his mother was complicated, and throughout his life she found herself caught between husband and son. In later life their relationship improved, and while George never really showed her the affection she perhaps deserved, they grew reasonably close. George was at his mother’s side when she died, and was deeply affected by her death.
The great love of George’s life was Maria Fitzherbert.. Born Mary Ann Smyth, she was six years older than George. Not only had she been married twice before – and twice widowed – but she was a Roman Catholic. She was charming and graceful, and if not especially attractive, was said to be liked by everyone who knew her. The Prince was smitten. However she refused to become his mistress. Instead, and with some difficulty, George eventually persuaded her to marry him, and in 1785 he arranged a clandestine wedding ceremony. Their marriage was an open secret, particularly in Brighton, where George spent much of his time in her company.
By 1788, however, the relationship began to cool, though it continued until 1794 when Lady Jersey became the Prince’s mistress. Later, a brief reconciliation took place, even though George continued to enjoy a string of lovers.
Given George’s love for Maria Fitzherbert, and his various other lovers and mistresses, it was inevitable that his official marriage to Princess Caroline would fail.
In 1814 Princess Caroline went to live abroad, where she was rumoured to have had an affair with one of her servants. This lead to another salacious inquiry into her private life. By now George had broken off all contact with his wife, and it was only by chance that she learned of the devastating news that their daughter’s had died giving birth in 1817. When George became king in 1820, Caroline returned to England. She was forcibly refused entry to his coronation the following year, and died a few weeks later.
Elizabeth, Marchioness Conyngham, was the last mistress of George IV. She wielded great influence over George and was known as the Vice Queen. She became infamous for receiving lavish gifts from the King and encouraged him to give presents to her daughter. Through her influence with the King her husband was made Lord Steward of the Household. Princess Lieven wrote of her: ‘Not an idea in her head , nor a word to say for herself; nothing but a hand to accept pearls and diamonds with, and an enormous balcony to wear them on’. She died aged 91 in 1861.