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A King and his closet

April 13, 2010

The Duke of Wellington went as far as to call King George IV “the worst man he ever fell in with his whole life, the most selfish, the most false, the most ill-natured, the most entirely without one redeeming quality”. But later he modified his views, and called George “a magnificent patron of the arts … the most extraordinary compound of talent, wit, buffoonery, obstinacy, and good feeling—in short a medley of the most opposite qualities, with a great preponderence of good—that I ever saw in any character in my life” (from Christopher Hibbert, George IV: Regent and King 1811–1830). The Times newspaper complained that King George IV preferred “a girl and a bottle to politics and a sermon”. But I’m sure he’s not the only English King to be guilty of that? The problem seemed to be (in a nutshell) that George was generally well meaning and fairly kindly disposed, but perhaps lacked the judgement and inclination for Kingship….

On our Easter trip to Brighton, George’s presence could still almost be felt, first in his magnificent seaside residence, and second in Brighton Musuem, where I was intrigued to come across a pair of George’s breeches. Made by Meyer, London in 1827 out of light green wool, their size says more than any newspaper or book every could about George’s inclination toward over-indulgence. The waist size is 52″.

The museum also has one of George’s shirts:

And there’s a beautiful banyan in the museum that George is reputed to have owned. (A banyan is a kind of dressing gown or informal coat worn at home over shirt and breeches- think early loungewear). If it was George’s, all I can say is that it must have been worn by him a young man, before fast living had taken its toll- it’s a much much smaller size that the breeches and shirt. But very beautiful. Quilted (by hand, naturally) in printed Indian cotton.

I love the little tassels on the button bands:

And the button detail on the cuffs:

And the beautiful sweep of the back:

In fact, I quite fancy one myself…

The Brighton Museum also has some of the outfits worn by participants in George IV’s coronation in 1821. George was attended by a Herbwoman and six attendants, including a lady named Sarah Ann Walker who wore the cream silk gauze outfit below. (It is incredibly narrow in the waist.) The tradition of the Herbwoman dates back to 1625, when herbs were thrown along King Charles I’s route to Westminster Abbey to protect against disease (presumably the Plague?).

A contemporary painting shows us how they would have looked:

An onlooker at George’s coronation, Benjamin Robert Haydon, reported that the Herbwoman’s and her attendants’ “slow movement, their white dresses were indescribably touching”. Yes, it must have seemed like a glorious event, as George slowly made his way past cheering crowds to his coronation. It certainly seemed like a promising beginning.

But nine years later on George’s death, 15 July 1830, The Times newspaper gave its verdict on George’s reign. And it was damning indeed:

There never was an individual less regretted by his fellow-creatures than this deceased king. What eye has wept for him? What heart has heaved one throb of unmercenary sorrow?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2010 12:26 am

    One of my (lucky, lucky) students is going to London (four days early, I might add) for April break, and we were chatting about England in class today. I told my students that one of the most terrific things about England and Ireland at least, if not all of the UK, is that every museum, no matter how small or casual, has a tea room–so it was funny to see your particular picture of the Brighton Museum’s, which looked very busy! Hot tea and baked goods wherever there’s a gathering place–that’s my kind of country!

    • glassoffashion permalink
      April 14, 2010 9:36 am

      Hee hee :) I hadn’t thought about that before- but you’re right. I can’t think of a single museum or visitor attraction I’ve been to that doesn’t have a tea room. Gosh. (And sometimes the tea room seems to become as big a draw as the attraction itself- Robin has been known to talk about the V&A’s costume galleries and their meringues in the same breath. And we live so close to Blenheim Palace that sometimes we just go there for scones and don’t even go in the main palace. Shameful, isn’t it?)

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