King George IV of Great Britain, whose reign began this week (Jan. 29) in 1820 upon the death of his father, King George III (America’s last king), was not your usual monarch. Oh, sure, like many of them, as a young man he was a glutton, an alcoholic, a drug addict, a womanizer and a profligate who ran up so much debt that he had to agree to marry to get Parliament to pay off the 650,000 pounds he owed creditors. But unlike most other English kings, George IV remained a glutton, drunk, addict, gambler and wastrel, dying in 1830 from a combination of those diseases.
George IV was different in other ways, too. For example, most English kings fancied themselves great warriors and usually squandered the national treasury on prolonged wars. King George IV fancied himself a great special events planner and squandered the national treasury on parties and ceremonies.
Take his Coronation, which occurred in July of 1821, and which he planned himself down to the last detail. Sparing no expense, George spent 24,000 pounds on his Coronation robe, which was crimson velvet with gold stars and ermine trim, and included a train that stretched 27 feet. During the official Coronation Procession to Westminster Hall the 27-foot train was held by pages, who were ordered by George to spread it wide so that his subjects could admire the intricate embroidery. Also during that procession, attendants strewed herbs and flowers along the path he traveled, and following the king were the officers of state, holding the crown, the orb, the scepter and the sword of state. And following them were the various religious and political leaders — a host of barons, bishops, peers, coronets and dignitaries — all dressed in their finest ceremonial robes and flashing the chains and emblems of the offices they held.
Talk about “bling.” During the Coronation, George wore a ring featuring a magnificent blue diamond that he bought with state funds — a diamond many believe later became the Hope Diamond. The crown he wore was adorned with 12,314 diamonds, and as the Archbishop of Canterbury placed it upon his head, loud shouts of “God Save the King” echoed the hall, while trumpets blared, drums pounded, guns fired in salute, and a chorus sang the anthem, “The King Shall Rejoice in thy Strength.”
George professed to be most pleased and surprised by this outpouring of affection, which was mostly staged and, in any event, didn’t last long. Indeed, when he died, The Times of London commented, “There never was an individual [whose death was] less regretted by his fellow creatures than this deceased king. What eye has wept for him? What heart has heaved even one throb of unmercenary sorrow?”
The answer would seem to be, not one.