Bognor and other Regises: A potted history of Britain in 100 royal places written by Caroline Taggart, publisher AA Publishing is available NOW in hardcover format.
To buy link: https://amzn.to/2IBjE1h
Most of us are fascinated by royalty, past and present. Whether glamorous or sordid, merrie or morose, our monarchs and their families have led lives very different from ours – and all too often they’ve held the Fate of the Nation in the palms of their hands. They’ve married for diplomatic reasons and created diplomatic incidents when they divorced. They’ve refused to marry and endangered the succession; they’ve borne a dozen children and still left no one to succeed them. They’ve got themselves excommunicated and created their own religions. They’ve waged war against their neighbours and their cousins; built frivolous summer palaces and formidable fortresses (and imprisoned their cousins in them). In so doing, they’ve left their mark all over Great Britain, in castles and churches, on battle fields and stained- glass windows. Their stories are written all across our landscape, if we know where to look for them. In this amusing and fast-paced tour of Britain, Caroline Taggart is our guide to all the weird and wonderful places connected with royalty over the last 1,500 years.
About the Author
Caroline Taggart worked in publishing for 30 years before writing I Used to Know That, a Sunday Times best-seller. Caroline is also author of the bestselling Her Ladyship’s Guide to the Queen’s English and Around Britain by Cake for AA Publishing. She has appeared frequently on BBC Breakfast and on national and regional radio, talking about language, grammar and Pythagoras’s theorem. Her record is 16 radio interviews in one day on the subject of exclamation marks. She lives in London.
I am so pleased to be able to share with you all an extract from the book:
The House of Hanover 1714 – 1901
George IV – Brighton Pavilion
It’s been described as looking as if the Taj Mahal had produced a litter of puppies, and certainly the Royal Pavilion’s many decorated domes and minarets are a surprising sight in a seaside town. But they have a certain symmetry and elegance, as you’d expect from the work of John Nash. It’s once you get inside the Pavilion that Nash’s royal patron’s taste for ornamentation has been allowed free rein and can leave the visitor gasping.
The royal patron in question was the Prince Regent, later George IV (he came to the throne in 1820, but had been Regent because of the madness of his father, George III, since 1811).
It’s easy to be rude about George IV – very easy – but he was a dedicated patron of the arts and made many important acquisitions for the Royal Collection. We have him to thank for the fact that we (the nation) own works by Rubens, Rembrandt and van Dyck, as well as all the major artists, sculptors, furniture makers and jewellers of his day. But you always get the feeling that George’s generosity was more to do with a desire to impress others than with any real kindliness. He wanted everything to be luxurious, not just for the sake of its beauty but to show that he had exquisite taste and that he could afford it. Except that, as it happens, he couldn’t. It was all paid for by grants from Parliament – which means, in the end, by the likes of you and me.
The Prince’s extravagance – not to mention his scandalous private life – had started long before he became Regent. While he was still in his twenties, Parliament had granted him today’s equivalent of over £18 million to pay his debts. He also went through a ceremony of marriage without asking his father’s consent. This – let’s call it an oversight – automatically invalidated the marriage, although the rigidly respectable George III would never have condoned it if he’d been asked: the bride, Maria Fitzherbert, was not only a commoner six years older than the Prince, she was twice widowed and a Catholic, ticking almost every possible box in terms of unsuitability.
What the Prince actually felt for Mrs Fitzherbert remains unclear – he is alleged to have worn her ‘eye miniature’ (an uncharacteristically discreet love token, depicting only the loved one’s eye) hidden under his lapel; it was buried with him at his request. But he was forced to renounce her publicly in order to make a politically advantageous marriage. He had agreed to marry a cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, because it meant Parliament would increase his allowance, but he found her repugnant and the couple separated as soon as they had produced an heir. Both continued to create scandals wherever they went. Having been very handsome in his youth, the Prince became obese in middle age; this, his extravagance and his unpopular political views were a rich source of inspiration for the satirical cartoonists. To go back to the Pavilion, George had a passion for Oriental art: he made full use of hand-painted Chinese wallpapers, chandeliers in the shape of lotuses and carvings of flying dragons. All of these can be seen in the Music Room, where Rossini once performed. The Long Gallery is intended to resemble a bamboo grove, although the background colour of the walls is a more flamingo-like pink. But the pièce de résistance is the Banqueting Room, where the combined effect of a spectacular chandelier, paintings covering every available wall space, a huge array of silver gilt tableware and a vast table laid for a lavish meal frankly makes you want to burst out laughing.
Although it is less extravagantly decorated, the kitchen is a worthy support to this panoply of excess. Two long tables are covered with the preparations of a meal that includes numerous forms of game bird, including a swan. Chickens roast on spits in the enormous fireplace and shelf upon shelf is laden with shining copper pans and dishes. On display is the menu for a banquet held here under the auspices of George’s French chef, the great Marie-Antoine Carême; it begins with five different sorts of soup, presumably to stop the guests getting peckish waiting for the swan to be brought in.
Shakespeare wrote about gilding refined gold, painting the lily and adding another hue unto the rainbow being ‘wasteful and ridiculous excess’. Brighton Pavilion wasn’t built for 200 years after the Bard’s death, otherwise you’d have thought it was exactly what he had in mind.