Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Triumphal Visit of King George IV to Scotland, 1822


Holyrood Palace Edinburgh as pictured in a period lithograph.
 From a drawing by Thos. H. Shepherd and engraved by T. Barber, 1829.
[From my own collection]

1822 marked a momentous year for Scotland, the first visit of a reigning British Monarch to the ancient Kingdom since 1650. Many reasons probably lay behind this intervening gap of 177 years. Transport was still slow, uncomfortable and inconvenient and successive sovereigns naturally felt settled in the south, being closer to their seat of power. But the effects of the Jacobite Stuart uprising of 1745-46 in Scotland, which had been brutally put down by English forces, would naturally have left feelings of insecurity in the minds of more than one succeeding Hanoverian Monarch and exactly how they would be received "north of the border".


King George IV, an engraving by G. Cruickshank, 1820
[Source : The Victorian Web

Upon the urging of the British Parliament, but quietly to keep the newly crowned King George IV's mind away from the 'political manipulation' he was then involving himself in, it was suggested that a visit to Scotland would be opportune. It was also believed that a visit from the reigning Sovereign of Great Britain would calm lingering unrest. Thankfully George took to the idea with enthusiasm.

A Medallion commemorating the Visit of
King George IV to Scotland, August 1822.
[Source : Scottish Tartans Authority]

The advice of the Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet Sir Walter Scott (knighted in 1820) was sought to plan and manage this theatrical extravaganza. It was Scott who had recovered the long lost "Honours of Scotland", being the Scottish Royal Regalia in 1818, which had been lost and forgotten since the "Act of Union" with England in 1707. Scott had just three weeks to plan a spectacular Royal pageant to impress not only King George IV but also  to attempt to heal the lingering rifts in Scotland.


A sketch of King George IV in Tartan dress
by Sir David Wilkie, 1822
[Source : Tartan's Authority]

King George was also busy, equipping himself with "an appropriate array of fine costumes". The Edinburgh Outfitters "George Hunter" supplied the King with "a magnificent equipage" as diverse as "a goatskin Highland purse with massive gold spring top" to his bonnet, "consisting of the Royal Scots crown in miniature set with diamonds, pearls, rubies and emeralds." The King also received "Sixty-one yards of royal satin plaid [tartan]; thirty-one yards of Royal velvet; [and] seventeen and a half yards of royal plaid cashmere." The total cost of of this outfit alone came to £1,354 and 18 shillings (£110,000 pounds today).


HMS Royal George at Leith 1822, by Thomas Butterworth
[Source : Wikipedia)

With his outfits safely packed in a variety of trunks, George departed Greenwich on the Thames aboard "HMS Royal George" on the 10th August 1822. Dropping anchor at Leith Docks in torrential rain at 2 o'clock in the afternoon four days later, the King's welcome, despite the rain, was "noisy and ebullient". Sir Walter Scott came aboard to welcome the King, apologising for the appalling weather. The King in turn greeted Scott as "The man in Scotland... he most wished to see."


The entry of King George IV into Edinburgh on the 15th August 1822,
 as viewed from Calton Hill. A painting by John Wilson Ewbank
[Source : Museum of Edinburgh]

Next morning, the King, in naval uniform and in sunshine, made his triumphal entry into Edinburgh, being driven in state to the Palace of Holyrood. His welcome delighted the King, with cheering crowds and magnificently decorated streets. George remarked more than once, "They are a nation of gentlemen". Upon the King's arrival at Holyrood Palace he was presented with the keys to the Palace by the Duke of Hamilton, the Hereditary Keeper of the Palace. In the Throne Room he was then formally presented with the Honours of Scotland, being the ancient Regalia of Scotland which Sir Walter Scott had located in 1818.
   

The Duke of Hamilton presenting the keys of the Palace of Holyrood to
King George IV in 1822, by Sir David Wilkie, 1828.
[Source : National Galleries of Scotland

As the long neglected Holyrood Palace was not in a sufficient state of repair for full time Royal use, King George IV stayed at Dalkeith Palace south of Edinburgh, enjoying the hospitality of the the sixteen year old Duke of Buccleugh.


Dalkeith Palace, seat of the Dukes of Buccleugh.
[Source : familypedia.wikia.com]

From Dalkeith, George was taken out in his carriage to "Drawing Rooms", "Levees" (both forms of receptions), a command performance of Sir Walter Scott's "Rob Roy" in The Assembly Rooms, to the Caledonian Ball (where he insisted that only Scottish reels were played), to a Presbyterian Service at St Giles' Cathedral, to a civic banquet in Parliament House, to a military review of 3,000 cavalrymen at Portobello, and to a levee attended by 2,000 members of the Scottish aristocracy at the ancient Palace of Hollyrood on the 19th August. For a gout ridden and portly man of sixty, he displayed remarkable zest and stamina. But standing at only 5 feet 2 inches and with a girth of around 56 inches the King was observed to be almost as wide as he was tall.


The Quadrangle of Holyrood Palace, as pictured in a period lithograph.
From a drawing by Thos. H. Shepherd and engraved by T. Barber, 1829
[Source : Wikipedia]

On one occasion, dressed in his Field-Marshal's uniform, George proceeded in state by closed carriage from Holyrood up The Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle as cannons were fired in his honour. Despite rain, fog and wind, the King stood for 15 minutes beneath the Royal Standard on the Castle's half moon battery smiling and waving his hat to acknowlede the "huzzas" of the crowds below. He is quoted as saying :

"Good God! What a fine sight. I had no conception there was such a fine scene in the world; and to find it in my own dominions; and the people are as beautiful and as extraordinary as the scene. And Rain? I feel no rain. Never mind, I must cheer the people."


King George IV waving his hat from the Edinburgh Castle Battery, 1822
[Source : Wikipedia]

Dressed in Highland costume, the portly King did not look his best. Flesh coloured pantaloons under his kilt did not improve the effect. When someone complained that the kilt had been made too short for modesty, Lady Hamilton-Dalrymple wittily responded "Since he is to be among us for so short a time, the more we see of him the better."


Sir David Wilkie's "flattering" portrait
of King George IV in a tartan kilt at
Hollyrood (minus the pink tights).
[Source : The Royal Collection]


But credit must be given to the King for his willingness to throw himself wholeheartedly into the various activities planned for him. Although often executed in a rather theatrical manner they earned him the overwhelmingly support of his Scottish subjects. King George only wore a kilt once to greet guests at Holyrood but his newly found love of plaid and his urging that others wear it lead to a strong resurgence in tartan.

The wearing of Clan tartans had been officially banned from 1746 to 1782 because it generally demonstrated Highland clan and Jacobite (Stuart) support. Septs, which had not been aligned with any Highland Clan, now clamoured to align themselves to a clan - and tartan - of their choice. Additionally the somewhat comical situation also arose where lowland and border families willingly took on tartan as if it had been part of their own heritage, having never previously been allied to any Highland clan or sept whatsoever.


"The First Laird in Aw Scotia - or a View at Edinburgh in August 1822"
 - a satirical cartoon of King George IV during his visit to Scotland.
To the right of the King is the comically depicted Sir William Curtis.
[Source : National Galleries of Scotland

The appearance at a levee of the King's "jovial, loud and uninhibited" personal friend, 70 year old ex-Lord Mayor of London Sir William Curtis as depicted above, "a portentious [pompous] apparition" wearing Highland uniform complete with a kilt of Jacobite Stuart tartan (later somewhat incomplete) was however widely ridiculed by those present, being considered quite inappropriate; "And who is he, that sleek and smart... pot-bellied pyramid of Tartan?". It was his appearance and not that of the King that "cast an air of ridicule and caricature over the whole of Sir Walter Scott's Celtified pageantry."


The Lord Provost's Banquet in the Main Hall of Parliament House,
Edinburgh 1822, an unfinished painting by JWM Turner.
The Scottish Parliament met here until The Union in 1707.
[Source :  Tate]

Addressing a banquet hosted by the Lord Provost in the Main Hall of Parliament House, King George IV expressed his great pleasure and heart felt thanks to the people of Scotland :

"I am quite unable to express my sense of gratitude which I owe to the people of this country; but I beg to assure them that I shall ever remember as one of the proudest moments of my life the day I came among them, and the gratifying reception which they gave me.... I can assure you with truth, with earnestness and sincerity that I shall never forget your dutiful attention to me on my visit to Scotland....".


Mary Queen of Scots Bedroom at Holyrood Palace, as viewed in 1885
prior to "restoration" of the furnishings in the early 20th century.
[Source : ScotlandsPlaces

Although redecorated for his visit, King George IV made two private inspections of Holyrood Palace and later recommended that a Government grant for further essential repairs be granted. He was also adamant that the historic apartments of Mary Queen of Scots should be preserved and maintained for posterity. Old faded and disintegrating fabrics lent an air of age and neglect to her rooms until later "restoration" of the (apparently not all authentic) furnishings took place.

Sir Walter Scott,
as painted by Sir Henry Raeburn, 1822
[Source : Wikipaintings]

Before departing Edinburgh at the end of August, the King ensured that a suitably grateful letter was written to his capable friend Sir Walter Scott. The King's visit could simply not have been better planned or executed, nor his welcome to Scotland so sincere.


The arrival of King George IV at Hopetoun House on the 29th August.
Elaborate arrangements had been made to welcome the King, guests
and military waiting in the rain. This was to be his last public
appearance before departing Scotland.
[Source : Wikipedia] 

After a brief visit to Hopetoun House (12 miles distant of Edinburgh) on the 29th August 1822, being the seat of the Earls of Hopetoun, King George IV bid his farewells and joined his ship at South Queensferry and departed Scotland. He left well satisfied, the strength of the Union of Scotland and England was more secure than ever and his own popularity and support "north of the border" was assured.


Bibliography :

- "George IV" by Christopher Hibbert, Penguin Books, 1988
- Wikipedia
- Image(s) are only from my own collection where specifically noted and may be freely copied provided a link is given back to this page.

Note : Since writing this Blog, I have noted a detailed publication from 1822 available on-line entitled "Narrative of the Visit of George IV to Scotland in August 1822". 


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