When last we saw His Majesty, he had exiled himself to his bed chamber. The physical reasons were the usual, gout and rheumatism. Various other ailments. This lasted all through January and well into February of 1828. And, as usual, the physical ailments were a wonderful excuse to avoid political problems, of which he had a basket full.
Harriette Wilson made a re-appearance at this point. She had published her memoirs in Holland in four small volumes in 1825. These caused a sensation at the time. The publisher went through thirty printings to keep up with demand. His Majesty apparently paid to make sure his role in them was reduced from guest star to walk-on. But now, she was back for more. Suddenly “remembering” things that had not made it into the first edition of her memoirs, she wondered if His Majesty might have some suggestions as to how she could forget what she had suddenly remembered.
This caused the King to relapse just when he was at the point of finally getting out of bed to do more than use the bedpan. Sir William Knighton was dispatched to the Continent to deal with the matter; although it would take more than one trip to get it dealt with. How much it cost is unknown. The Prime Minister problem was solved when the Duke of Wellington finally accepted the post.
If the King was glad to have a decisive, knowledgeable and popular figure at the helm, his pleasure was short lived. The problem was that the Duke had been observing His Majesty at close range for many years now. He didn’t, for the most part, care much for what he had seen. While His Majesty had several axes to grind with the Duke, he didn’t consider for a moment that the Duke may have had a problem with him. His Majesty discovered otherwise.
Wellington had conversations with the King regarding a new government. The King had initially given the Duke a free hand in choosing a Cabinet. After all, the Duke knew these fellows better than His Majesty. This lasted until actual names were mentioned. The King objected to so and so. Lord A wouldn’t dream of serving with Lord B unless his good friend Lord C was also given a job.
While this was par for the course in that time and place, the result was less than satisfactory. According to one historian. “Wellington decided that he wished he had never agreed to form a government in the first place: he might have avoided “loads of misery.” As it was he spent his time, so he complained, “in assuaging what gentlemen call their feelings.” At the first Cabinet meeting, one of the Ministers thought that they all displayed towards each other, “the courtesy of men who had fought a duel.”
If the Duke was not happy with this turn of events, he made sure the King was even less so. The Duke was determined that the King would not enjoy the liberty of handing out patronage positions to old pals and members of his girlfriend’s family. The King “grew increasingly peevish and fretful, constantly disputing with the government about his rights of patronage, and threating to dismiss them from office as though they were his footmen.”
Wellington grew to regret that he could not be both Commander in Chief of the Army and Prime Minister. His colleagues found him domineering. The King said, with much exasperation, either “King Arthur must go to the devil, or King George to Hanover.” But the King ultimately held the upper hand because, well, because he was the King and the Duke wasn’t.
The Duke told Charles Grenville, “He would begin a conversation (to avoid an unpleasant subject) with a long history of his life, of his political sentiments, of what his father had said of him, of his honesty, his uprightness, his good temper, his firmness, etc; etc. for an hour and a half until he ran out of breath before asking “Now what have you got to say to me?”
Catholic emancipation was ever present and looming larger. The Duke had adopted a more realistic view of it, at least in Ireland. A certain degree of emancipation had to be granted in that country or the violence that was sure to erupt should it not be granted could spread unpredictably. The King, egged on by the Duke of Cumberland from Berlin, dug in his heels. Another wall for Wellington to bang his head against.
The King tried to avoid Wellington by claiming to be too ill to attend to business. He certainly wasn’t a well man. His right hand, according to Knighton, was “full of gouty inflammation and as large as two hands.” the arm was so swollen that his valet could not get it into the arm of his coat. He had hemorrhoids, bladder inflammation and “attacks of spasms.” All of which were treated with “huge doses of laudanum.”
Although he had been bedridden most of the winter he felt sufficiently recovered to go to the track when the season opened. Eventually, very eventually, the Roman Catholic Relief Act was passed. But it was rough sledding for all involved. The Duke of Cumberland, to the horror of just about everyone, returned to England to work on his brother’s resolve.
Under the Dukes malign influence, the King became almost fanatically anti-Catholic. Lady Conyngham was “dreadfully afraid of him(the Duke) and perhaps not without reason.” The Duke would, eventually, go away. What would not go away was the Kings bad health. While his Majesty would use the excuse of illness to avoid an unpleasant problem, he was really and truly ill. And it was getting worse.
– Mr. Al