O’Brien Coin Guide: The Irish ‘Regal’ Coinage of George IV


Introduction

The short reign George IV was of huge numismatic importance to Ireland. George III’s Act of Union in 1801 had abolished the Irish Parliament in Dublin and extended direct rule over Ireland by the English Parliament in London. George IV went further :-

  • The Assimilation of Currencies Act, 1825 provided for the abolition of the separate Irish currency altogether on 6 January 1826.
    • Thereafter only English Sterling circulated in Ireland.
    • Prior to this, the gold standard was re-established on 1 May 1821.
  • George IV then issued two official coins for Ireland – a penny and a halfpenny.
    • They would be the last coins to be issued for Ireland before independence
    • No new Irish coins would be issued until 1928, when the newly independent Irish Free State issued the so-called ‘farmyard’ set in that year

George IV’s Irish Pennies

Pennies were only struck for two years (1822 and 1823) and copper proofs + bronzed copper proofs are known to exist for both of these years. In addition, there are the so-called Ionian hybrids (mules) but these are extremely rare.

1822 Ireland copper penny (George IV), Laureate and draped bust facing left

1822 Ireland copper penny (George IV), Laureate and draped bust facing left

  • 1822 Regular issue
    • Copper Proof
    • Bronzed Copper Proof
      • Ionian Hybrid
  • 1823 Regular issue
    • Copper Proof
    • Bronzed Copper Proof
      • Ionian Hybrid

George IV’s Irish Halfpennies

Halfpennies, like the pennies, were only struck for two years (1822 and 1823) and copper proofs are known to exist for both years.

1822 Ireland copper halfpenny (George IV), Laureate and draped bust facing left

1822 Ireland copper penny (George IV), Laureate and draped bust

  • 1822 Regular issue
    • Copper Proof
    • Ionian Hybrid
  • 1823 Regular issue
    • Copper Proof
    • Ionian Hybrid

George IV’s Irish Farthing

George IV’s Irish farthing did not circulate and, therefore, is not listed in many coin catalogues. As such, it is extremely rare and is only known as a proof / pattern. Examples are seldom offered for sale at auction, or privately.

  • 1822 Copper Proof (Pattern)

Who was King George IV ?

George IV, 1762–1830, reigned as King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1820 to 1830.  He was the eldest son and successor to the long-lived George III.  George proved to be a stubborn monarch, often interfering in politics – especially in the matter of Catholic Emancipation which would not have pleased many people in Ireland.  As Prince of Wales, he had a troubled and controversial life :-

  • Soon after he reached the age of twenty-one years, the Prince of Wales fell in love with a Roman Catholic, Maria Anne Fitzherbert.
    • Mrs Fitzherbert (previously Weld, née Smythe) was a widow twice over
      • In 1775, Maria married Edward Weld, 16 years her senior, a rich Catholic landowner of Lulworth Castle
        • Weld died just three months later after a fall from his horse and having failed to sign his new will.
        • His estate went to his younger brother Thomas, father of Cardinal Weld
        • She was left effectively destitute, with little or no financial support from the Weld family
        • As such, she was obliged to remarry as soon as she could.
      • In 1778, Maria married a second time, to Thomas Fitzherbert of Swynnerton, Staffordshire.
        • She was ten years younger than Fitzherbert and they had a son who died young
        • She was widowed again on 7 May 1781 but was left an annuity of £1000 and a town house in Park Street, Mayfair
      • In 1785, she secretly married the then Prince of Wales in a private ceremony
        • An official and public marriage between the two was impeded by the Act of Settlement 1701, which declared those who married Roman Catholics ineligible to succeed to the Throne.
        • Furthermore, the Royal Marriages Act 1772, under which the Prince of Wales could not marry without the consent of the King, which, unquestionably, would have never been granted.
        • Legally the union was void, as the King’s assent was never requested and received.
        • Some scholars have suggested that Maria Fitzherbert had one, possibly two, children by her marriage to the future king
        • Mrs Fitzherbert believed that she was the Prince of Wales’s canonical and true wife, holding the law of the Church to be superior to the law of the State but, for political reasons, the union remained secret, and Mrs Fitzherbert promised not to publish any evidence relating to it.

The exhorbitant lifestyle & scandals of George IV 

The Prince of Wales’ exorbitant lifestyle resulted in high levels of personal debt and his father (King George III) refused to assist him, thereby forcing him to quit Carlton House and live in Mrs Fitzherbert’s residence in Mayfair.

  • In 1787, the Prince of Wales’s allies in the House of Commons introduced a proposal to relieve his debts with a parliamentary grant.
  • The Prince of Wales’s personal relationship with Mrs Fitzherbert was suspected, but revelation of the illegal marriage would have scandalised the nation and doomed any parliamentary proposal to aid him.
    • Acting on the Prince’s authority, the Whig leader Charles James Fox declared that the story was a calumny.
    • Mrs Fitzherbert was not pleased with the public denial of the marriage in such vehement terms and contemplated severing her ties to the Prince.
    • He appeased her by asking another Whig, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, to restate Fox’s forceful declaration in more careful words.
    • Parliament, meanwhile, was sufficiently pleased to grant the Prince of Wales £161,000 for the payment of his debts.
    • in addition to £20,000 for improvements to Carlton House, the King also agreed to increase the Prince of Wales’s annual allowance by £10,000.

Despite having his debts paid off, plus an additional £10,000 per annum, the Prince’s debts continued to climb and his father refused to aid him unless he married his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick.  In 1795, the Prince of Wales acquiesced.

  • The marriage, however, was disastrous; each party was unsuited to the other.
  • The two were formally separated after the birth of their only child — Princess Charlotte — in 1796
  • They remained separated for the rest of their lives
  • The Prince of Wales remained attached to Mrs Fitzherbert for the remainder of his life, despite several periods of estrangement.

Meanwhile, the problem of the Prince of Wales’s debts (which then amounted to the huge sum of £660,000 in 1796) was solved by Parliament via providing him an additional sum of £65,000 per annum.  In 1803, a further £60,000 was added, and the Prince of Wales’s debts were finally paid.

In constant and open opposition to his father, George associated closely with the Whigs and as a result, when George III had his first serious fit of insanity in 1788–89, the Tory William Pitt proposed that the regency vested in the prince be closely restricted (to prevent George bringing his Whig friends to power).  The Whigs, usually the opponent of royal prerogative, wanted the prince to have unlimited powers as regent.

In 1811, after the King had become permanently incapacitated, George became regent on terms very similar to those proposed by Pitt in 1788.  However, when the limitations on his power to make appointments and spend crown revenues were removed in 1812, the prince regent retained most of his father’s ministers, breaking his connection with the Whigs.  The Tories, under the leadership of the 2nd Earl of Liverpool for most of the period, remained entrenched in power throughout the regency and George’s subsequent reign.

As regent and as King, George was hated for his extravagance and dissolute habits, and he aroused particular hostility by an unsuccessful attempt, immediately after his accession (1820) to the throne, to divorce his long-estranged wife, Caroline.  During his reign the monarchy lost a significant amount of power.  George’s only legitimate child, Charlotte Augusta, married (1816) Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (later Leopold I, King of the Belgians) but died in childbirth in 1817.  George was succeeded by his brother William IV.

The dis-inherited

Even before meeting Mrs Fitzherbert, the Prince of Wales had notoriously fathered several illegitimate children. His mistresses included :-

  • Mary Robinson, an actress who got revenge for her rejection by selling his letters to the newspapers
    • She was an English actress, poet, dramatist, novelist, and celebrity figure
    • The young Prince of Wales allegedly offered her twenty thousand pounds to become his mistress
    • With her new social prominence, Robinson became a trend-setter in London
    • Their affair ended when the Prince refused to pay the agreed sum
  • Grace Dalrymple Elliott, a Scottish socialite and divorced ex-wife of a sought-after London physician.
    • In 1782, she had a quiet and short intrigue with the Prince of Wales and gave birth on 30 March 1782, to a daughter who used the name Georgina Seymour (1782–1813), but was baptised at St Marylebone as Georgiana Augusta Frederica Seymour
    • In 1784, the Prince of Wales introduced her to the French Duke of Orleans – cousin to King Louis XVI
      • Grace (and the Duke) settled in Paris and she remained there throughout the revolution.
      • Her lover then sided with the revolutionaries, took the name Philippe Égalité, voted for the execution of his cousin, the King and whipped up hatred against Louis’s wife, Marie Antoinette.
      • Grace, however, supported the monarchy and became a devoted follower of Louis XVI and his family.
        • His execution in 1793 devastated her. France was plunged into a reign of terror and paranoia gripped the people.
        • She was arrested and held awaiting death by guillotine but released after the death of Robespierre
        • She was resident in Paris throughout the French Revolution and an eyewitness to events.
        • She wrote an autobiographical account of her experiences,Ma Vie Sous La Révolution, published posthumously in 1859.
  • Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey (née Twysden, second and posthumous daughter of the Rev. Dr Philip Twysden, Bishop of Raphoe who died notoriously – allegedly shot while attempting to rob a stagecoach in London.
    • The future George IV began his affair with Lady Jersey, then a 40 year-old grandmother and mother of ten, in 1793
    • Lady Jersey enjoyed the favour of Queen Charlotte she effectively ran the Prince of Wales’ life and household until 1803, when her previously undisputed place as senior mistress to the Prince of Wales was challenged by his infatuation with Lady Hertford
  • Isabella Anne Seymour-Conway, Marchioness of Hertford was an English courtier and married to Francis Seymour-Conway, the second Marquess of Hertford in 1776, at age sixteen.  Tall, handsome and elegant, she soon caught the attention of the Prince of Wales. His attentions were not welcomed by her husband, who took her to Ireland to keep her from the Prince.
    • This only increased his passion for Lady Hertford, and she became George’s mistress in 1807.  As a result, the Prince was a regular guest at Hertford House, Hertford’s London residence, and Ragley Hall in Warwickshire.
    • A Tory herself, she was influential in turning the Prince toward the Tories, and used her London residence as the headquarters for Tory sympathizers
    • Lady Hertford’s relationship with the Prince, now Prince Regent, ended in 1819, when he turned his attentions to Elizabeth Conyngham
Elizabeth Conyngham, Countess of Conyngham - the Conynghams were not well connected  and her liaison with the King benefited her family.

Lady Elizabeth Conyngham

  • Elizabeth Conyngham (née Denison), Marchioness Conyngham was an English courtier and the last mistress of George IV.
    • Her father was Joseph Denison, who had made a fortune in banking and her mother was Elizabeth Butler.
    • On 5 July 1794, Elizabeth married Henry Conyngham, Viscount Conyngham (an Irish peer) but, despite her beauty, she was considered vulgar, shrewd, greedy, and a voluptuous woman by aristocratic society, on account of her common background
    • Her lovers and admirers, included the Tsarevitch of Russia, the future Nicholas I
    • Lady Conyngham’s liaison with the King benefited her family.
      • Her husband was raised to the rank of a marquess in the Peerage of the United Kingdom and was sworn to the Privy Council
      • He was also given several other offices, including Lord Steward of the Household and the Lieutenantcy of Windsor Castle.
      • Her second son was Master of the Robes and First Groom of the Chamber
        • However, when she requested that her son’s tutor be made Canon of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, the British Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool threatened to resign.
        • Arguments with Lady Castlereagh further worsened the relationship between the King and government.
        • The relationship came to an end with George’s sudden death in 1830; she immediately moved from Windsor Castle to Paris.

George IV and Ireland

The first English king to visit Ireland without an accompanying army was George IV who arrived on August 17, 1821 but he had also come here in 1816 when he was regent. On the same day the press was reporting his arrival at Dunleary, it was also reporting the death of his wife, Queen Caroline.

  • There had been no love lost between them for some years.
  • He had her banned from the coronation and had tried to divorce her for alleged infidelity.
  • He remained in Dublin while her funeral was played out in England, amid rioting in which two people lost their lives.

Although George IV would be remembered as one of the less popular kings by the English, he received a warm welcome in Dublin. Although George IV was a staunch opponent of Catholic emancipation, he reluctantly allowed it to pass when the Duke of Wellington (his Prime Minister at the time) threatened to resign if he did not sign the bill.

1821 "Public Entry Into the City of Dublin" of George IV. After J. Haverty engraved by R. Havell & Son, Chapel Street, Tottenham Court Road. The Royal procession on Sackville Street, 17th August 1821.

1821 “Public Entry Into the City of Dublin” of George IV. After J. Haverty engraved by R. Havell & Son, Chapel Street, Tottenham Court Road. The Royal procession on Sackville Street, 17th August 1821.

  • Daniel O’Connell decorated his home in Dublin and displayed a bright transparency on the drawing room window, inscribed: “George IV, the only king that declared the Crown was held in trust for the good of the people. Erin go Bragh.”

Before the king left Dunleary, which was renamed Kingstown in his honour, Daniel O’Connell presented him with a laurel crown and is quoted as saying “He’s a real king, and asks us how we are.”

Another footnote in the historical geography of Ireland is that ‘the straight road from Dublin to Slane’ was supposedly built to allow a straight run for his highness to see his new lover the Marchioness of Conyngham.

George IV, apparently, made quite an impression on the people of Dublin during his 18-day stay. He greeted people in a familiar style. It was also reported that he “frequently showed himself in the streets of Dublin, where he made friends with the populace, shook rough followers by the hand and called them ‘Jack’.”

  • Other foreigners called Irish people Paddy or Mick, but King George IV called everybody in Dublin Jack. Thence forward, the people of Dublin would be called “the Jacks” or “Jackeens” by future generations.

 

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