Gateway to the Classics: Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Island Story by  H. E. Marshall

George IV.—The First Gentleman in Europe

G EORGE III. died in January 1820 A.D., and was succeeded by his son George IV. George IV. had already been reigning as Regent for ten years, for, during that time, his father had been mad and so unable to rule, and towards the end of his life he had become blind, and deaf as well.

George III. was called Farmer George, because he liked a peaceful country life, and would have been a very good farmer, although he was not a very wise King. He had reigned sixty years, including the last ten, during which he really did not rule.

George IV. was called "the first gentleman in Europe," because he was handsome, and had fine manners, very different from those of his homely father. He tried to make friends with all his people through his fine manners. Soon after he became King he went to Ireland, where the people received him with great joy. He made speeches to them, and laughed and cried with them. He wore the order of St. Patrick on his breast, and great bunches of shamrock in his cap. He told them that he loved his Irish people, and that he was Irish at heart, and altogether acted his part very well. But it was merely acting, for George IV. only cared for himself, and was not in the least a good king. The warm-hearted Irish people, however, believed in him and, when he sailed away again, some of them were so eager to catch a last glimpse of their King, that they fell into the sea, and were nearly drowned.

George next went to Hanover, for he was King of Hanover, as well as king of Britain. There he talked German, and wore a Hanoverian Order, sang German national songs, and told the people with tears in his eyes that he was truly German at heart; and perhaps the German people believed him too.

Next he went to Scotland. Since the time of Charles I. no king had visited Scotland, and the people crowded to welcome him. The road from Leith to Edinburgh was lined with gentlemen to do him honour, and as King George drove along through the lines of cheering people, it was seen that he was dressed in Stuart tartan, and that he wore the Order of the Thistle.

George had wept and laughed with his Irish subjects, yet when a chance came for him to prove that he loved them as he had said he did, he did not willingly take it.

In the fierce old days the Roman Catholics had killed and tortured the Protestants whenever they had the power and, in dread of them, an act had been passed forbidding Roman Catholics to hold any public office. Those days were long passed. No one was now killed or tortured because of his religion, yet the laws against the Roman Catholics still remained. No Catholic might be an officer in the army or navy, no Catholic might sit in Parliament, or serve his country in any way.

Yet nearly all the Irish people were Roman Catholics, and generous men for many years had felt these laws to be unjust. The younger Pitt had tried in vain to make George III. do away with them. Now wise men tried to make George IV. repeal them. But the King, who said he was Irish at heart, refused. "My father," he said, "would have laid his head on the block rather than yield, and I am equally ready to lay my head there for the same cause."

The great Duke of Wellington was Prime Minister at this time, and as he had conquered Napoleon in war, so now he conquered George IV. in peace. He stood firm, and at last the King was forced to give way. A bill called the Catholic Emancipation Act, which means "freeing" Act, was passed by Parliament. Since then Roman Catholics have been allowed to sit in Parliament, to be officers, or to hold any other post which is open to Protestants, although no king may rule in Britain unless he is a Protestant.

George IV. died in June 1830 A.D., having reigned ten years. He was an utterly selfish man, and a bad King. Yet the British nation had grown so strong that even a bad King could not do much harm, while there were great men around him to work for their country.

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