- ruled over the largest empire the world has ever seen
- was an aristocratic gentleman of great taste and culture and the trendsetter of his day
- had an indulgent lifestyle that included a common law wife, huge debts, mistresses, illegitimate children, heavy eating and drinking and gambling
- had a scandalous marriage and attempted to divorce his wife with the aid of Parliament, thereby airing all his—and her—dirty laundry before the nation
- visited Scotland and created a “tartan craze” that popularized the wearing of tartan attire as we know it today
- popularized a style that we today term “Regency”
If you are English, you probably have guessed that the man is none other than King George IV of England (1762-1830). As Prince of Wales, he was first in line to the British throne, and he ruled as Prince Regent from 1811 because his father King George III was deemed insane. In 1820, the king died, and the prince then ruled in his own right until his death in 1830.
Believe me, King George IV does not sound like the sort of man you would have wanted your daughter to marry. His debauched lifestyle would be hard to beat, even by today’s standards, but he really was a news maker and trendsetter in his time. Like all of us, he was a mélange of good and bad. The Duke of Wellington said he was "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 the Duke also described him as "the most accomplished man of his age" and "a magnificent patron of the arts."
Good or bad? I will leave it for you to decide. But we must agree that King George IV was a larger than life presence in the 1780-1830 era. As such, you would expect to find a plethora of Staffordshire figures of him made in that time. Yet, until recently, I have known of only one. Yes, one. That lone little figure stands in the Willett Collection, the Brighton and Hove Museums. A delicious treasure. This past week, another seemingly identical one came up at Woolley & Wallis, and a good friend sent me these iPhone pictures, which, I think, capture the delicious glaze and enamels particularly well.
A more difficult question than the one posed at the top of this blog is WHY there are so few figures of George IV. As king and the most influential man of his time, figures of him should be a dime a dozen. I think that the answer lies in looking at the profile of the ORIGINAL buyers of early Staffordshire figures. These people, I believe, were generally decent middle and upper-middle class individuals, . The king's scandalous lifestyle made him persona non grata in their oh-so-respectable homes. In the same spirit, we find figures associated with the Red Barn are uncommon. No decent home would have displayed a figure of William Corder, Britain's notorious murderer. And figures of the boxers Tom Spring and Jack Langan are rare because by the 1820s (when these men fought for England's boxing crown), boxing was not considered a respectable sport.