Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 21.djvu/209

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George IV
George IV

consulting his ministers. By the end of the year 1828 dissensions had broken out in the cabinet, and Lord Goderich resigned. The Duke of Wellington was sent for and formed a strong protestant administration. The only person whom the king had refused to accept as a minister was Grey, but the duke had no difficulty in forming a tory ministry. For twelve months the king enjoyed comparative peace, though it was with reluctance that he accepted the Test and Corporation Acts; but when the ministry was compelled in 1829 to face the necessity for catholic emancipation, he offered a resistance which not even his habitual awe of the firm management of the Duke of Wellington could overcome, and he was all the less fitted for a contest by the fact that he suffered from chronic inflammation of the bladder, and his dropsical and gouty swellings were increasing, both preventing him from taking any wholesome exercise and necessitating the use of large quantities of laudanum. All through the autumn of 1828, in proportion as Peel and Wellington became favourable to emancipation, the king became more suspicious of them and more determined against it. Lord Anglesey's encouragement of the catholic association in December threw him into a fury, and early in January 1829 his agitation was so great that it was thought that the family tendency to insanity might break out in him. He talked freely of laying his head on the block rather than yield. On 26 Jan. the duke went to Windsor with a cabinet minute, stating the intentions of the ministry to introduce a Catholic Relief Bill, and the grounds on which they were acting. This he carefully got signed by his majesty. Thus pinned down, the king assented to the speech with which the session was opened, announcing that the ministry would propose a measure of catholic relief. Soon, however, influenced by the Duke of Cumberland, he began to waver. The Duke of Wellington was obliged to see him again on 26 and 27 Feb., and after an interview of five hours he was again brought to acquiesce in the policy of his ministers. But the defeat of Peel at Oxford revived his hopes. On 1 March he obstinately refused to direct his household to vote for the Relief Bill, and protested he would rather abdicate. A cabinet was then held, and he was reminded that he had signed a memorandum of his adhesion to this policy. On 4 March he sent for the duke, the chancellor, and Peel, and said he must have a clearer explanation of their policy. He was told the oaths of supremacy were to be repealed. He protested he had never understood that, and could never consent to it, and after five hours of discussion the resignation of his ministers was tendered and accepted. Next day, however, he repented, and wrote to the duke that he would yield, and the ministry was allowed to proceed with its bill. For some time he continued to complain to his visitors of the violence done to his feelings, and the injudicious provision which compelled O'Connell to undergo a second election in Clare was inserted to gratify his resentment; but his resistance to his ministers, except in a few matters of patronage, and indeed his political activity of any kind, was now at an end. His health began clearly to fail. No one but Knighton could induce him even to sign the necessary documents of state. He lay all day in bed and passed his nights in restless wakefulness. He kept his room at a high temperature and drank excessive quantities of cherry brandy. By February of 1830 he had become partially blind, and his singular delusions, such as that he had commanded a division at Waterloo and ridden a winning race at Goodwood, were in high force. On 12 April he drove out for the last time. Those about him knew, though he did not, that he was sinking. In May the Duke of Wellington caused the Bishop of Winchester to attend on him to prepare him. for his end. Though Knighton thought he might rally, Halford and Tierney had given him over. On the 23rd he signed a request to parliament that a stamp might be substituted for the sign-manual. On 8 June the physicians told him that his end was near. He bore the news with fortitude, and in the night of the 25th he suddenly died.

When his affairs came to be looked into, a curious condition of things was revealed. He seemed to have had a mania for misplaced hoarding. All the coats, boots, and pantaloons of fifty years were in his wardrobe, and to the end he carried the catalogue of them all in his head, and could call for any one of them at any moment. He had five hundred pocket-books, and all contained small sums of money laid by and forgotten; 10,000l. in all was thus collected. There were countless bundles of women's love letters, of women's gloves, of locks of women's hair. These were destroyed. In 1823 Lord Eldon had made the king's will, and the executors were Lord Gifford and Sir W. Knighton, but his private effects were of comparatively small value.

The character of George IV was a singular mixture of good talents and mean failings. Undoubtedly he was clever and versatile, and, lazy though he was, he acquired a fair dilettante knowledge of many things. When he chose he could prove himself a capable man of business, nor could a person