Last week Senior Research Fellow on the House of Lords 1715-90 project, Dr Stuart Handley, headed off on a field trip to the University of Nottingham to view Manuscripts and Special Collections’ current exhibition about life during the reign of George IV. Here he reports on what you can expect from the exhibition…
Georgian Delights: Life during the Reign of George IV (1820-1830) is the title of the exhibition jointly curated by the department of Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham and Dr. Richard Gaunt, Associate Professor in History at the same university, and one of the editors of the journal Parliamentary History. The exhibition is located in the Weston Gallery of the D.H. Lawrence Pavilion at the Lakeside Arts Centre in the University Park. It is free to attend, as are the other exhibitions, and a walk around the Lake is to be recommended to round off a visit. The exhibition closes on 29 March.
Our primary interest in exploring this exhibition is on account of our forthcoming activities to mark the bicentenary of the trial of Queen Caroline, during which the newly invested King attempted to divorce her. There is a case dedicated to Queen Caroline, “The Unruly Queen”, telling the story of matrimonial conflict between the couple. Public support for Caroline was overwhelming and was credited with securing the failure of a bill of pains and penalties against her that King George IV had introduced to the House of Lords. The bill narrowly passed the Lords, but was then allowed to lapse. Nevertheless, King George debarred her from the Coronation on 20 July 1821. Their enmity given further force by the story that when a courtier informed the king of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte by saying “your greatest enemy is dead”, King George apparently replied, “By God, is she?
The exhibition, however, is mainly concerned with show-casing the university’s manuscript collections, such as the papers of the dukes of Portland, along with pictorial evidence such as “The Cradle Hymn”, a satirical cartoon of George IV as a baby. It provides documentary evidence on certain themes with contemporary artefacts. The exhibition cases are interspersed with wall hangings, such as an elaborate chart of the peerage in 1821, with the names of the bishops along the bottom.
Thus, the case devoted to “Popular Radicalism” includes a George IV “door-knocker”, and ties in with a planned talk by Dr. Gaunt on “The Diabolical Cato Street Plot”. Fashion is catered for by a special showing of the 1954 film, Beau Brummell, starring Stewart Granger in the title role, Elizabeth Taylor, and Peter Ustinov as the Prince of Wales. Other interesting facts emerge, such as the expense of the Coronation, which totalled £230,000 (£21 million at today’s prices).
The display case in the centre of the room is given over to other prominent figures in George IV’s life. It represents the King and Queen Caroline’s only child, Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), as well as George IV’s brothers. Frederick, duke of York (1763-1827), was an army officer famous for marching his men up and down a hill and the subject of the well-known children’s nursery rhyme. William, duke of Clarence (1765-1837) was an admiral, who later became the sailor king, William IV.
Another theme represented is Catholic Emancipation with the display case being supplemented by a large television screen showing Dr. Gaunt conducting an interview with Lady Antonia Fraser on the subject of her book, The King and the Catholics: The Fight for Rights 1829. Once the viewer has got over the incredibly deep sofa upon which both interviewer and interviewee lounge, Lady Antonia gives her views on the King, Catholic Emancipation, the duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel and Daniel O’Connell.
For the more scholarly inclined, a computer terminal is set up for people to explore the Georgian Papers online, a veritable treasure trove of material placed online from the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle.
Full details about how to visit can found here. We highly recommend it if you are in the area!