Above image: King George IV’s landing at Leith Scotland, by William Lizar, August 1822
Next Tuesday marks the 201st anniversary of King George IV’s, known to Regency readers as Prinny, visit to Edinburgh, Scotland – the first official visit of Great Britain’s monarch since the exiled King Charles II’s Scottish coronation in January 1651 amidst an invasion by Oliver Cromwell. Prinny’s 1822 visit, which sparked the every-clan-had-a-unique-tartan craze, was orchestrated by none other than that fan of our dear Jane: Sir Walter Scott.
By 1822, the poetry and novels of Scott, James MacPherson, Robert Burns, and others; the reels and musical ballads published by Magdalene Stirling and William Marshall (Lizzy’s fiddle master in Mistaken Premise); and the ideas and advancements born of the Scottish Enlightenment had achieved their aim of making Scottish culture acceptable to the fashionable set in England. However, in Scotland, the economic depression following the Battle of Waterloo, exacerbated by the poor crops of 1815-17 (The Year Without A Summer), had led to unrest amongst the Scottish populace – and rumours of another Scottish rebellion were in the wind.
As firm a disciple of the union of Scotland and England as King James VI/I ever was, Walter Scott – now a baronet after finding the Honours of Scotland in 1818 at Prinny’s request – hit upon the idea of strengthening the bond of Scotland’s people by hosting the new monarch with all the pomp and ceremony necessary for King George IV to officially receive the newly recovered Honours.
Delighted at the idea, King George IV scheduled the visit to Edinburgh, and Scotland – from Highland duke to Lowland drudge – busily prepared to receive their monarch: beautifying the city, building barges to accommodate his landing at Leith, and organising official appearances, a dinner in the Scottish Parliament, a Caledonian Ball, a levée, and all manner of celebrations of the reigning monarch’s return to Scotland. An estimated 300,000 people watched the king’s landing, and at least that many cheered his address from Halfmoon Battery at Edinburgh Castle. Buying into Sir Walter Scott’s romanticised portrayals of Scottish culture, King George insisted the highland and lowland lairds appear in Highland dress complete with kilts, even as His Majesty – who was as wide around as he was tall – created quite an amusing display in his ‘Royal Stuart Tartan’ worn entirely too short and with pink stockings to cover his less than aesthetically appealing legs.
(David Wilkie’s portrait of King George IV in the Royal Stuart Tartan, 1829. This painting – sans the pink stockings – has been criticised as a romanticisation of the overweight monarch.)
And in the end, King George’s visit to Edinburgh played out exactly as the wily Scott had hoped.
The visit not only boosted the pride of the Scottish people, it strengthened their allegiance to England. It likewise boosted the morale of the indolent, vain, and wildly unpopular king, and established the precedent of regular royal visits to Scotland. This Scottish visit may have been the highlight of King George IV’s ten-year reign, saying of it, “I had no conception there was such a fine scene in the world; and to find it in my own dominions.”
There is even an amusing story which comes out of this visit. According to some, King George’s remarkable halitosis as he insisted the ladies queue up to receive a kiss from their sovereign at the Caledonian Ball – then immediately left once the last lady was kissed, disregarding their husbands – is the origin for the child’s rhyme:
Georgie Porgie pudding and pie
Kissed the girls and made them cry
When the boys came out to play
Georgie Porgie ran away!
So remember to give a small applause for Sir Walter Scott and King George’s historic visit to Edinburgh next week – and have a great week!
Landing at Lieth: https://blog.historicenvironment.scot/2022/08/a-royal-landing-in-leith/
Edinburgh Castle: https://blog.edinburghcastle.scot/george-iv-visits-edinburgh-castle/