Was the Prince Regent a Jacobite?

Absolutely, as had been both his father and his grandfather before him. Curiously, though the throne of the early Hanoverian kings of England had been severely threatened by both the son and grandson of the erstwhile King James II, the later Hanoverians seem to have harbored a certain admiration for their predecessors, the Stuart line of kings. And perhaps Prinny revered them most of all, even liked to fancy himself one of them.

The Jacobite sympathies of the Prince Regent …

The Jacobites were supporters of King James II, who was deposed by the Whigs during the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in favor of his daughter and son-in-law, William and Mary. Jacobus is the Latin for James and thus his supporters were known as Jacobites. Though his Catholic faith was one of the reasons that James II was deposed, he was also descended from the Scottish royal House of Stuart. Therefore, despite his Catholicism, there were many in Scotland who supported his right to the English throne.

The first Jacobite in the House of Hanover was Frederick, Prince of Wales, the son of George II. As was typical among the Hanoverians, fathers and sons despised one another. Frederick hated his father, so much so that he was publicaly rooting for Bonnie Prince Charlie’s victory over the king’s forces during the Jacobite Rising of 1745. Frederick’s son, the future George III was only eight years old when, at the Battle of Colloden, in April of 1746, the British army crushed the Jacobite forces and ended any further attempt by the Young Pretender to regain the throne of England. Therfore, there was no real threat to the House of Hanover from the Jacobites by the time George III succeeded his grandfather as king. In fact, the noted author Andrew Lang, in his A History of Scotland, wrote, "The friends of the fallen dynasty were to be intermittently troublesome for two generations, but never really dangerous."

There were a few Jacobites in the entourage of the young Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, when she came to England in 1761, to marry the new king. Most scholars believed that these courtiers were sent by her father, possibly at the request of George III himself, who was emulating many of his own father’s policies. It is also possible that Princess Charlotte’s Jacobite courtiers may have been requested by George III’s mother, Augusta, the Dowager Princess of Wales, to honor her deceased husband’s political allegiances. Regardless of the Jacobites in her entourage, Queen Charlotte was never overtly political and took no public stand on any political issue, including the Jacobites. Yet, in the last years of her life, a couple of the more rabid Whigs made extraordinary attacks on her in the House of Commons for her supposed Jacobite sympathies.

During the course of his reign, King George III pardoned a number of Jacobites, even honored some of them. In addition, he provided pensions to several surviving members of the House of Stuart. Part of the nostalgia which George III felt for the deposed Stuarts was due to the fact that they had been absolute monarchs, while he was a constitutional king who had to deal with Parliament and a flock of ministers, all with their own opinions on how he should govern. However, there were a number of Jacobite sympathizers in the conservative Tory party which supported the king. Despite his support of the Jacobites, King George III never met any of the Stuart pretenders. But his sixth son, the Duke of Sussex, who spent time travelling in Italy, did meet the Cardinal Duke of York, the younger brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The young English royal duke showed the last of the Stuarts every courtesy, whenever they met socially during his visit to Italy.

But of all the sons of George III, it was his eldest, the Prince of Wales, who had the strongest Jacobite sympathies. But unlike his father, the Prince’s interest in the Stuarts was much more sentimentally romantic and only somewhat political. Lost causes have always exercised a certain kind of charm and the young Prince was especially susceptible. He was intrigued by the tragic life of the Stuart matriarch, Mary, Queen of Scots, but he seems to have been particularly captivated by the equally tragic life of her grandson,King Charles I. Charles I was not the scholar and intellectual his father was, but he was a man of cultivated tastes and a passionate connoisseur of the arts. Among others, King Charles bestowed his royal patronage on the architect Inigo Jones as well as the artists Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony Van Dyck, all of whom brought the new European styles of art and architecture to Britain. The Prince of Wales had cast himself in a similar role, as a great patron of the arts and a man of refined tastes, misunderstood by his subjects, as was Charles I.

There are some ironic aspects to the Prince’s Jacobite sympathies within his own extended family. His grandfather, Frederick, Prince of Wales, had been very open in his support of Bonnie Prince Charlie, so much so that there are documents suggesting he intended to surrender the throne of England upon his succession, while retaining the holdings of the Empire and the throne of Hanover for himself. Despite Prince Frederick’s strong Jacobite leanings, his brother, Prinny’s great uncle, was the Duke of Cumberland, who led the king’s armies against the forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Cumberland was known as the "Butcher of Culloden," for his cruel treatment of the defeated Scots, especially the Highlanders, after his victory at the Battle of Culloden. Perhaps even more ironic was the Prince’s admiration for King Charles I, who was a deeply religious and moral man. To add to the irony, the Prince’s father, George III, was the first king of England since Charles I to be completely faithful to his wife and to be associated with no sexual scandal of any kind throughout his life. Not something which could ever be said of the debauched and scandal-ridden Prinny.

As a young man, the Prince of Wales had been allied with the leading Whigs of the day. But as he grew older and had achieved some measure of power as Regent, he shifted his loyalty to the conservative Tory party, which he believed offered him more support as a monarch than would the liberal Whigs. Though he was more inspired by Charles I as an enlightened patron of the arts, he did harbor some envy for the absolute power Charles I had wielded. Which was to have yet another ironic twist, for if George IV had been a more engaged and responsible monarch, it is much less likely that Parliament would have felt the need to impose greater limits on his power and that of his successor, King William IV.

The Prince of Wales seems to have felt some sense of kindred connection with the Stuart kings. The Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, died in Rome in January 1788. With the passing of The Young Pretender, there was no further Stuart claimant to the throne of England. Henry Benedict, Charles’ younger brother, had taken Holy Orders and was content to live out his life as a cardinal, never pressing his claim to English kingship. The year following Charles Edward’s death, 1789, the Prince of Wales first wore a Scottish tartan to a public social event. The political ramifications of Jacobitism had faded away, and by the end of the eighteenth century it was more a cult for romantics than a legitimate threat to the British monarchy. The Prince of Wales had begun to collect Stuart relics and memorabilia, particularly those related to Charles I. No one thought him the least bit subversive, in fact, he had some rather stiff competition from a number of English aristocrats. The Prince’s interest in Charles I relics had become known to Henry Benedict, the Cardinal Duke of York, and the last of the Stuarts. Upon his death, in July of 1807, perhaps out of gratitude for the financial support and courtesy which had been shown him by the Hanoverians, Cardinal York bequeathed to the Prince of Wales a diamond cross which had been worn by Charles I, and a ring which had once been part of the ancient royal regalia of the Stuart kings. The Prince was delighted with this bequest, especially Charles I’s diamond cross.

However, the Prince was very disappointed to have lost Charles I’s "George" to the Marquess of Wellesley. The "George" was Charles I’s jeweled insignia of the Order of the Garter. Charles pressed it into the hand of his chaplain, Bishop Juxon, on the scaffold, just moments before his execution, with one word: "Remember." The Parliamentarians seized the insignia in order to ensure it did not become a cult object related to the martyred king. When he was restored to power in 1660, Charles II recovered his father’s "George" and after his death, it became the property of his brother, James II. The deposed king took it with him when he was forced out of England during the Glorious Revolution. The insignia descended through his first-born male line to Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Upon his death, it became the property of his widow, the Countess of Albany. In need of funds in 1810, the Countess sold the "George" to the agent of the Marquess of Wellesley, who carried it back to England for the first time in over a century. Charles I’s jeweled insignia of the Order of the Garter is still in the possession of the Wellesley family.

One of the Prince of Wales most important acquisitions was accomplished in an extended adventure even more complex than Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape from Scotland after the Battle of Culloden. After years of searching, the Prince’s agent located the bulk of the papers of James II, in Rome. Even before 1800, the Prince of Wales was aware that there existed a large collection of papers which James II took with him when he left England and kept them with him throughout his life. They passed to his son, the Jacobite King James III, who eventually passed them on to his sons, Charles Edward and Henry Benedict. Having no legitimate heir at his death, Prince Charles left most of his property, including his share of the Stuart papers to his illegitimate daughter by his mistress. He had made her legitimate and ennobled her as the Duchess of Albany. Upon the death of the Duchess of Albany in 1789, the Abbé James Waters, who was her executor, took possession of the papers and kept them in his home. In 1804, when the Prince of Wales learned that the papers had been located, he authorized his agent, Sir. J. C. Hippisley, to negotiate their purchase with the Abbé. The purchase was concluded in 1805, and the papers were crated and delivered by Hippisley to Mr. Richard Bartram, the English Consul at Civita Vecchia. From there, Admiral Lord Nelson was to collect them and return them to England. However, Nelson was not able to get to Civita Vecchia before the Battle of Trafalgar, and thus, the papers remained hidden there, awaiting a new courier.

In July of 1806, Lord Collingwood attempted to complete Nelson’s mission and sent a brig under the command of Captain Raitt to Civita Vecchia to collect the crates of Stuart papers. But the Napoleonic Wars intervened. Less that two weeks before Captain Raitt arrived, the French had occupied the town, and the British brig was not allowed to land. It was denied again after a second attempt in September of that year. Soon after the French occupation, Mr. Bartram was arrested, imprisoned in a dungeon and threatened with death if he did not reveal any Englishmen or any English property in the town. Bartram had hidden the crates of papers almost as soon as they had come into his possession and he never betrayed their existence to the French. In the end, Bartram kept the papers safely hidden away for some years, at great personal risk. Eventually, with the assistance of Mr. Macpherson in Rome, the crates were shipped to Leghorn, where they were loaded on a Tunisian vessel bound for Tunis. From Tunis, the crates were sent on to Malta, where they were taken aboard a British vessel and were finally delivered to the Prince of Wales, in London, in 1810. The Prince had them stored in his library at Carlton House. In 1822, George IV was finally able to locate and purchase the portion of James II’s papers which had been in the possession of Cardinal York. Those crates of papers came to England by a much less circuitous route than had the portion acquired in 1805. All of these papers are now part of the British Royal Collection and are housed in Windsor Castle.

One of George IV’s most notable acquisitions was the famous triple portrait of Charles I, by Van Dyck. The portrait had been commissioned by King Charles as a study for a bust of himself to be sculpted by the Italian artist, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The bust, which was on display in Whitehall Palace, was destroyed during the English Civil War. The portrait survived the war and was sold off in the dispersal of the royal collections after Charles I was defeated and executed by Cromwell. It took some time, but the king’s agents finally located the triple portrait in 1822, and were able to acquire it for George IV, for £1,000, a truly exorbitant sum at the time. That portrait remains in the British royal collection to this day. Like the Stuart papers, it is usually kept at Windsor Castle.

But it was not only Jacobite relics which the Prince Regent collected. He also had several friends who were known Jacobites who, as he was, were enthralled by the romance of the lost Stuart cause. The closest of his Jacobite friends was the author, Walter Scott, whom the Prince had specifically request to meet. Scott had come to the Regent’s attention due to his series of Waverley novels, the first of which was published in 1814. All of the novels in this series were written to further enhance and romanticize the mythic past of the Scottish Highlander. Especially ironic, since Scott was a lowlander and had practically no knowledge of Highland history. Scott was very flattered by the Regent’s attention and took every opportunity to exploit it to his benefit.

Not long after he came into possession of the first part of the papers of James II, the Regent ordered his Librarian and Historiographer, James Stanier Clarke, to edit them and prepare them for publication. Once he had become friendly with the Prince Regent, Walter Scott also became involved in the project. In 1816, The Life of James the Second King of England, in four volumes, was published, with a effusive dedication to the Prince Regent from Reverend Clarke. The Regent was very pleased with this biography of James II, which he believed would provide a more balanced and honest view of the last Stuart king to rule in England, and lift the universal prejudice against him.

In 1819, when the Prince Regent learned that a monument had been commissioned in Rome as a memorial to the last of the Stuarts, he subscribed a substantial sum for its completion. The marble monument was erected in St. Peter’s Basilica and was carved by the famous sculptor, Antonio Canova. It is inscribed with the names of the son and grandsons of James II and is ornamented with a pair of weeping angels. The Canova monument is not a grave marker, as the three Stuarts to which it is inscribed are buried below, in the crypt of the basilica.

But the most intense Jacobite experience which King George IV was to enjoy came in August of 1822, when Sir Walter Scott orchestrated his fortnight-long royal visit to Scotland. George was the first king of England to set foot in Scotland since Charles I had gone there, in 1633, to introduce his new edition of the English Book of Common Prayer. Scott completely ignored the historic feud between the Highlanders and the Lowlanders and stage-managed a grand pageant of a mythic, but fictional, Scottish past. As Master of Ceremonies, Scott presented George IV to the Scots as a monarch who was the spiritual, if not the literal, descendant of the Stuart kings. The novelist proclaimed that the Scots are "THE CLAN, and our King is THE CHIEF."

The King appeared in full Highland dress, as did Scott. George IV wore the "Stuart" tartan, while Scott wore the "Campbell" tartan of the clan of a very distant relative. Never mind that those distinctive clan tartans had only been invented in 1819, by the members of the Highland Society of London, in preparation for the King’s trip north. George IV was treated to vast array of events, some traditional, some fictional, all organized by Scott. The King traveled to Scotland in his royal yacht and Scott staged a ceremonial landing at Leith. There were also royal balls, a grand review of both horse and foot troops, as well as a royal levee and a drawing room at Holyrood House. A "Gathering of the Clans" in loyal allegiance to their Chief, was staged by Scott, attended by a wide array of men in Highland dress. The King, delighted with the spectacle of it all, won the hearts of the majority of his Scottish subjects.

Perhaps the high point of the King’s visit to Scotland was when he was able to see the display of the ancient Stuart royal regalia, which Walter Scott had recently found locked away in Edinburgh Castle. Until Scott’s discovery, it had always been believed that the royal regalia had been destroyed. During George IV’s visit, there was a solemn procession in which the regalia, known as "the Honours of Scotland," was carried from the Castle to the Royal Palace. Yet another ritual by which the Hanoverian George was symbolically aligned with the ancient House of Stuart. With the last of the Stuart claimants to the English throne having died more than fifteen years before, there was no real impediment to this fantasy.

There were a number of benefits to Scotland due to the King’s visit. He lifted the prohibition against the wearing of traditional Highland dress, which had been in place since 1745. At the request of Sir Walter Scott, the King also restored Jacobite peerages which had been attainted after the Jacobite Uprising. After some urging by Scott and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, George IV also had the great medieval gun, Mons Meg, located and returned to Edinburgh. The huge, old-fashioned cannon had been confiscated and taken to the Tower of London after the Scottish defeat in 1746. But perhaps the greatest benefit of the King’s visit for Scotland was that it quickly became a fashionable tourist destination, which brought a much needed infusion of funds into a region desperately in need of an economic boost.

Dear Regency Authors, how might you employ the Prince Regent’s Jacobite sympathies in one of your upcoming novels? Perhaps your hero needs a special favor from the Regent and is able to persuade him to provide it by offering some real or fictional Stuart relic which he knows that Prinny will be unable to resist. Mayhap the story is a tale of the search and recovery of some important Stuart relic, similar to the jeweled "George" of Charles I, the Stuart papers, the triple portrait of Charles I, or some other real or fictional bit of memorabilia of the House of Stuart. The hero might be the searcher, or perhaps he is trying to outwit someone who hopes to grab the prize, in order to deny it to the Regent, or raise its price to line his own pockets. What other Jacobite wrinkles might you use to embellish one of your stories?

Almost exactly two hundred years ago, a macabre event occurred in the afterlife of Charles I, in which the Prince Regent played an important part. Next week, the curious case of the head of Charles I.

About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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9 Responses to Was the Prince Regent a Jacobite?

  1. The thought that immediately came into my head when I read the header was ‘Walter Scott and ‘Waverley” – between the Regent and Scott, this ensured the arrival of tartan as a fashion accessory, which reached its zenith with the Victorian obsession with things Scottish and Victoria’s love of Balmoral. There are touches of plaid in fashion plates from as early as 1801 though it didn’t really take off until Prinny was George IV in the 20’s. It’s an irony that much of what has become accepted as the Scots culture was invented by Walter Scott. However, at least it meant a bloodless end to what had been a very acrimonious national rivalry right back to James IV of Scotland and Henry VIII, the Jacobean kings of England notwithstanding. Wouldn’t it be nice if all national rivalries might be resolved as thoroughly by mad romantics and fashion accessories…

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      I agree with you completely!!! Maybe we need more mad romantics and ethnic fashion accessories in the world!!!! Better that than more nuts with guns!!!!

      Victoria and Albert certainly did take the royal love for all things Scottish much farther than had George IV. I read that though Prince Albert wore kilts when he was in Scotland, there were those who made fun of him behind his back because he had very skinny legs.

      Now, here is a question for you: Since George IV apparently referred to Bonnie Prince Charlie from time to time as Charles III, does that constitute royal acknowledgement of his claim and, if so, will the current Prince Charles become King Charles III or Charles IV when he succeeds to the throne?



  2. Charles Bazalgette says:

    Filled in a lot of gaps for me. Thank you. It helps to explain the obsession with highland costume.
    One thing though: “Butcher” Cumberland lived from 26 April 1721 – 31 October 1765. Prinny’s uncle was Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn (Henry Frederick; 7 November 1745 – 18 September 1790).

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      Shame on me for not double-checking my sources!!! Thanks for the clarification about the respective Dukes of Cumberland. I will straighten things out.

      Thanks for stopping by!



  3. Charlotte Frost says:

    Fills in lots of gaps for me too. And the thrilling tale of the Stuart papers!
    Thank you, Kat.

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      My pleasure! Most people think that libraries are quiet, rather boring places, and yet, many things in their collections, like the Stuart papers, may have had quite exciting adventures before coming to rest in the safety of a library.



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