History of the World According to the Movies: Part 32 – 18th Century Georgian Great Britain

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This is from The Madness of King George from 1994 when King George III suffered from his first bout of madness (or porphyria) from 1787 to 1788. I’ve heard this is a shining example of a film from that time period with Nigel Hawthorne and Helen Mirren. However, before she became known to Americans for playing the current Queen Elizabeth II, Helen Mirren played George III’s distressed Queen Charlotte (who has a city named after her in North Carolina). Still, this movie shows that even Kings in 18th century Georgian Great Britain didn’t always get the best medical care so you could can figure out how everyone else got treated.

On the death of Queen Anne in 1714, the House of Stuart would eventually come to an end and since 56 of the Stuart heirs were Catholic, they were ultimately disqualified and the throne went to an obscure Stuart Protestant relation named Elector George of Hanover, kicking off the Hanover Dynasty, which would end with Queen Victoria (well, as far as the name goes since practically every British Monarch from King George I is technically from this House). From 1714 to 1837, this would be known as the Georgian Era since the first four Hanover monarchs were all named George. A lot happens under this time such as the Hanover-Stuart Wars with Bonnie Prince Charlie, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812. Of course other than the ones Americans participated in, the British were very much victors since the 18th century was a good time to be a Brit (well, sort of). Nevertheless, it’s around this time when Britain drastically expands its empire as well as becomes a constitutional monarchy (mainly because George I didn’t show much interest running Britain so he appointed a prime minster). In Hollywood, this is an era of men wearing tights, powdered wigs, and women donning big dresses like you like you see in movies about the American Revolution. Also, you have the gentry and aristocrats with their lovely English countryside estates. Not to mention, you even have some adaptations from Georgian literature as well. Still, there are a number of things Hollywood gets wrong of this era which I should list.

Hanover-Stuart Wars:

Rob Roy MacGregor was a heroic man of impeccable honor. (He was a murderer and a cattle thief. Also, he had an anti-Whig attitude, attacked a kirk at Arngask during a service, stealing the congregation’s bibles, and forcing its members to strip naked. Still, while Braveheart may have its historical inaccuracies, at least it manages to get good reviews, accolades, and classic status. Rob Roy gets none.)

Rob Roy MacGregor was a cuddly pacifist. (In his own words he’s quoted as saying, “never desired a more pleasant and satisfying breakfast any morning than to see a Whig’s house in flames.” Sorry, but he wasn’t like Liam Neeson portrayed him.)

Mary MacGregor was raped and impregnated by Archibald Cunningham to provoke Rob Roy. (Archibald Cunningham was a fictional character. However, there was a legend about Mary getting raped but it was by John Grahame but historians doubt that such sexual violence ever took place. Yet, if it did, she certainly didn’t get pregnant by it since she wasn’t at the time {though she would have Robin Og four years later in 1716}. So perhaps such pregnancy was possible assuming Mary MacGregor was a whale or an elephant, biologically speaking. Not to mention, Rob Roy once took Grahame prisoner but treated him well. If Grahame raped Mary, Rob Roy may not have been so friendly.)

John Grahame and Archibald Cunningham stole the £1,000 given to Rob Roy MacGregor by the Marquis de Montrose in 1712. (Montrose provided Rob Roy £1,000 annually from 1702 to 1712. As for the theft, one Rob Roy’s men may have been responsible, perhaps even Rob Roy himself despite his honest reputation.)

Bonnie Prince Charlie:

Bonnie Prince Charlie had a Scottish accent. (He grew up in France so thus, would’ve had a French accent.)

Bonnie Prince Charlie was a heroic man for Scotland. (He’s more or less seen as a hero because he was a convenient symbol for a lost cause than his actual behavior and some of his followers deserved more of a reputation than he did. He lived his life in the French court and behaved like a typical French noble. He was adulterous and drank in despair as well as was a guy who really should’ve been pitied more than anything.)

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s relationship with Clementina Walkinshaw was romantic. (Their relationship was said to be rather abusive but it’s unconfirmed, though they’d have a daughter together.)

Georgian Britain:

Dick Turpin:

Dick Turpin had a horse named Black Bess and died by a gunshot in the English countryside. (Actually he never had a horse named Black Bess and he was hung {for stealing horses} after his mailman turned him in to the authorities while he was imprisoned for stealing chickens from a farmer. Also, he was no saint by any means since he was a poacher, burglar, horse thief and murderer.)

Belle and Davinier (a mixed race couple of the 18th century between biracial daughter of an Admiral {who was the Strom Thurmond of his day} and his slave and a French servant of her uncle, made into a movie in 2013):

Dido Elizabeth Belle married John Davinier when her uncle Lord Mansfield was still alive. (She married Davinier after Lord Mansfield died and there’s no evidence that Davinier and Mansfield ever met.)

Dido Elizabeth Belle received a generous sum of money after her father Admiral Lindsay died. (Contrary to Belle, she got nothing. Her uncle left her with a substantial sum but not with the kind of money that would attract gold-diggers. Belle just makes her much richer than she would’ve been just to have gold diggers around.)

Dido Elizabeth Belle was brought up as an aristocratic lady who wasn’t allowed to dine formally with guests. (Yes, she was treated as a member of the family but unlike what Belle shows, she was also responsible for looking after the dairy and poultry.)

John Davinier was a lawyer and apprentice to Lord Mansfield. (He was described as a servant perhaps to the second Lord Mansfield around the time he married Dido. He’d later become a gentleman with Dido’s inherited income.)

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire:

Duchess Georgiana of Devonshire was a small and skinny woman. (She was tall, big boned, and red hair. Also, she had rapid weight fluctuations throughout her life because of her wild living and poor eating habits. In The Duchess she’s played by Keira Knightley who’s small by comparison.)

Duchess Georgiana of Devonshire was a proper lady. (She was more of a party girl notorious for her reckless living, but she was also an enthusiast on politics as well as campaigner, fashion icon, chemist, talented author, and mineral scientist. She was a fierce intelligent woman, a genuine effective power broker, and her role in politics was no small achievement considering that women wouldn’t get the vote until over a century later. Still, she did have an out of wedlock daughter to a future British Prime Minister who’s associated with Earl Grey tea. Nevertheless, her worst vice was her gambling addiction which resulted in incredible debts that plagued her throughout her life and make even Wall Street investors blush. She would conceal or lie about them constantly as well as borrowed money from exasperated friends and rarely paid them back. )

Duchess Georgiana was outraged when she found out about her husband’s affair with her best friend. (She may have wanted a fairy tale marriage and might’ve been upset about the Duke sleeping with her best friend Bess Foster. Yet, she wasn’t naive about the existence or popularity of mistresses or extramarital affairs. To her, these things were normal since she grew up in nobility since they didn’t marry for love or companionship in those days {though Georgiana’s parents were an exception, however}. Besides, she was willing to let Lady Bess live with her because she was emotionally dependent on her. They would be in this one true threesome for twenty-five years {though no party was exactly faithful}. Yet, Keira Knightley’s Georgiana seems to have grown up under a rock somewhere. )

Duchess Georgiana took up with Charles Grey after she had been severely provoked by her husband and he was the only lover she had. (This wasn’t the case. Also, though Charles Grey was the love of Georgiana’s life, she also had other boyfriends before and after him. The Duke of Dorset, a notoriously handsome playboy was one of them.)

Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey:

Charles Grey was young man about to attend Cambridge in 1774 and participated in the wager among the young ladies and other young men at a foot race around that time. And this was where he met seventeen-year old Georgiana, the future Duchess of Devonshire. (Charles wouldn’t have been about to attend Cambridge in 1774 because he was ten years old. He may have been about to attend Eton instead because he was a child. So why a seventeen year old girl would be interested in a guy who’s supposed to be ten? Also, Charles and Georgiana first met each other when he was 23 and she was 30, which was after her marriage to the Duke of Devonshire and his election into Parliament.)

William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire:

William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire raped his wife Georgiana in which they conceived a son. (Despite how The Duchess would imply, this never happened since the Duke was never an abusive man. It’s very likely that Georgiana and the Duke conceived their son through consensual sex since she had been suffering from several miscarriages and two daughters prior. Not only that, but the Duke of Devonshire was 26 when he married 17-year-old Georgiana {giving them a nine year age difference like my parents} yet he’s played by Ralph Fiennes.)

Lady Bess Foster:

Lady Bess Foster hooked up with the Duke of Devonshire to get her kids back. (Her sons remained in Ireland during the majority of their childhood and adolescence but they did visit her and were on good terms with Georgiana’s children as well as their various legitimate and illegitimate half-siblings. Thus, there’s no evidence her sons lived at Devonshire as little children or that she took up with the Duke to gain custody.)

Lady Bess Foster was a loving and faithful mistress to the Duke of Devonshire. (True, she probably did love him but he wasn’t the only guy she slept with. She was banging all kinds of guys while she was supposed to be tutoring the Duke’s illegitimate daughter Charlotte, which led to their break up and her affair with the Duke of Richmond, hoping he’d marry her. However, it’s not until after Richmond dumped her and Georgiana’s death do she and the Duke of Devonshire get back together. Still, their short marriage did scandalize the town back in the early 1800s.)

Lady Bess Foster was a romantic, self-sacrificing woman wronged by fate who lived devoting herself to Georgiana and ultimately her true love the Duke of Devonshire. (From what Amanda Foreman says in her biography of Georgiana, Lady Bess was a calculating, affective, insincere woman who only cared about herself. She may have cared about the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire but her affections would only last as far as her financial security did {meaning she was a gold digger, folks}. Oh, and she was more or less wronged by the consequences of her own actions.)

John Thomas Foster:

John Thomas Foster beat his wife with a stick. (He was an asshole but he was never a wife beater. What John Foster did to his wife Lady Bess was take away their kids, desert her, and leave her without a penny.)

King George III:

King George III managed to mysteriously recover from his madness in 1789. (Yes, but he would later suffer madness episodes in 1804 and is said to become permanently insane by 1811 which did lead to his son becoming regent and him spending the rest of his life at Windsor Castle. It also destroyed his family. Unlike the end of The Madness of King George, the story of his madness doesn’t really have a happy ending.)

King George III suffered from mental illness. (He went nuts later in life. He might have suffered from the genetic blood disorder porphyria or just plain dementia. Still, whatever it was, his doctors weren’t much help.)

King George III was a tyrant king. (Contrary to what American Revolutionary films say, he wasn’t nor was he responsible for all those bad policies which led to the American Revolution {except maybe the military response to the Boston Tea Party}. Rather they were the work of the British Parliament who basically ran the government because George III was a constitutional monarch. But the colonists usually blamed him because he was head of state at the time and they probably didn’t know who the prime minister was anyway {making him a convenient scapegoat}. Nevertheless, the British see him as one of the country’s better monarchs since he didn’t do anything embarrassing {unlike his son George IV} and was a fundamentally decent man. Not to mention, Britain was probably better off keeping him on the throne even after he went nuts within the last decade of his life. Still, American school children seemed to be lied to about George III’s so-called tyranny to this day despite for saying this to John Adams: “I was the last person to consent to the separation [of America and Britain], but I will be the first to accept the friendship of the United States as an independent power.” He was also a great admirer of George Washington and was reputed to say after the war that if Washington retired, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”)

Queen Charlotte:

Queen Charlotte was determined to do what it took to make George III well. (She was a submissive and obedient wife who became despondent and depressed at the first signs of her husband’s illness. Still, Charlotte, North Carolina is named after her.)

King George IV:

Robert Burt married George IV and Maria Fitzherbert in secret was only paid £10 for it. (He received £500 and a never-fulfilled promise of appointment as royal chaplain. George IV’s marriage was invalid because he married without his dad’s consent and Maria was Catholic {and British royals still can’t marry Catholics to this day}.)

George IV was a dirt bag prince who was reveled in his dad’s deteriorating mental state that he did what he could to connive politicians into becoming regent and rule in his dad’s place. (Yes, he wanted to be regent as well as didn’t get along with his dad. Yet, he also had genuine concern for his father despite his ardent desire to finally exercise some real power.)

King George IV was a universally beloved if not particularly intellectual figure. (He’s actually a highly controversial figure seen as a principal liar, cad, and scoundrel by many Englishmen. Also, he wasn’t Prince Regent during the French Revolution, but between 1811-1820 contrary to what’s seen in The Scarlet Pimpernel films. Still, he wasn’t stupid. Yet, this is what a friend said about him, “A more contemptible, cowardly, selfish, unfeeling dog does not exist….There have been good and wise kings but not many of them…and this I believe to be one of the worst.” )

King William IV:

Prince William, Duke of Clarence was a member of the House of Commons. (He wouldn’t have been allowed to serve but he was a member of the House of Lords starting 1789 where he did speak against the abolition of the slave trade. Also, he was King George III’s son and would become King William IV after his father and brother had passed. However, he did threaten his dad that he’d run for the House of Commons though in order to become a duke like his brothers.)

Prince William, Duke of Clarence wagered his black coachman against William Wilberforce at a card game in 1782. (It’s unlikely he owned any domestic servants at the time since slavery was virtually eliminated in England with Somerset’s Case of 1772. Also, he was serving in the Royal Navy at the time {interestingly, George Washington had endorsed a plot to capture him in New York}.)

James Maclaine and William Plunket (highwaymen):

James Maclaine was rescued in a Knightsbridge jail by William Plunket during a robbery but they ended up in Newgate Prison in which they bought their way out with a ruby Plunkett swallowed. (Actually the two got started after Maclaine lost his fortune at a gaming table during a masquerade in which he and Plunket donned Venetian masks and held up a farmer. Before that, Irishman Maclaine only managed patchy career as a grocer while Plunket was an apothecary.)

James Maclaine was captured while trying to save a noblewoman. (He was caught while selling stolen clothes in which he accidentally gave his real name and address to the shopkeeper.)

William Plunket rode up at the last minute to save his pale James Maclaine before he was hung. (This didn’t happen since Maclaine was hanged in 1750. Also, Plunket probably knew such effort would’ve been for naught since the authorities would’ve apprehended him on the spot. Plunket was never apprehended. Of course, you can’t have Plunket leave his pal alone to hang, would you?)

Other:

William Pitt the Younger was an atheist. (He was a member of the Church of England and his affiliation wasn’t just in name only.)

Barbara Spooner was William Wilberforce’s passionate intellectual equal. (Maybe, but she was timid and a poor hostess yet Wilberforce was kind of an introvert so they were a love match despite their eighteen year age difference.)

The Earl of Rochester was a young, flamboyant, and mischievous man in the 1740s. (The Earl of Rochester at the time was Henry Hyde who was a former Tory MP in his 70s with an interest in opera. Still, he wouldn’t look like a young Alan Cumming at the time.)

Miscellaneous:

British officers toasted the King while sitting at the beginning of a meal. (They always stood to toast the king until William IV’s ascension in 1830.)

Most non-whites in 18th century London were slaves. (There was a long-established non-white presence in London during the 18th century which consisted of 3% of the city’s population with many well-integrated and free.)

18th century English aristocratic men were openly homosexual. (Some maybe, but not all of them. Also, all of the Georgian kings were exclusively straight as far as the historical record goes. Still, even if a male 18th century aristocrat was gay, he wouldn’t be open about it.)

18th century England was an idyllic place with immaculately clean homes. (It was a smelly, grubby, and uncomfortable place where even the grandest homes were not too far from squalor. Also, the people inside of them weren’t too clean themselves.)

George Fox lived in the late 18th century. (His dates are 1624-1691.)

Criminals could escape the London sewers in the 18th century. (London didn’t have a sewer system at this time.)

Early 18th century British troops used socket bayonets. (They used plug types.)

18th century Highland cattle were brown. (They would’ve been black at the time.)

British soldiers were referred to as “redcoats” during the 18th century. (They wouldn’t be referred to this until 1870.)

It wasn’t uncommon for British troops to run free-for-all across the battlefield. (The British had a highly disciplined and well trained army at this time when cohesion of troops was important. Also, a bayonet charge would consist of slowly marching toward the enemy in a double time quick step {like a jog} until a few yards away. Then they would go full speed ahead.)

Higher ranked British officers would stand in the front lines with the full battalion during battle. (Any British officer above a captain would’ve been on horseback and were definitely on the front lines during an attack.)

People in 18th century Great Britain had representation in Parliament. (Little did the colonists know that many of the British in their own country had taxation without representation {or at least adequate compared to what was laid out in the US constitution}. This is the case because there were plenty of people in the country that couldn’t vote or hold office {property owning white Protestant males} or had parliamentary districts which didn’t reflect to population changes {which is where “rotten borough” comes in}.)

Banastre Tarleton was in the House of Commons in 1782. (He was on parole after a disastrous performance in Virginia so he couldn’t have debated negotiations with Americans. Also, he entered the House of Commons in 1784. Also, Tarleton was never a lord but a baronet.)

The Duke of Cumberland was on the House of Commons. (He was a duke and a king’s son, so no.)

William Pitt the Younger and Charles Fox sided with each other after the French Revolution. (They were both Whigs but Fox supported it while Pitt was against it. Also unlike in Amazing Grace, Fox was ten years older than Pitt and was in his mid-thirties when the latter became prime minister.)

John Newton was aged blind man who confessed about his involvement to William Wilberforce shortly after the latter got married in 1797. (He had already written about it in a book published 9 years earlier.)

Maria Fitzherbert was a divorcee. (She was a widow when she met George IV. The biggest strike against her was that she was Catholic.)

William Pitt the Younger arranged the marriage between George IV and Caroline of Brunswick. (He probably helped but it was more or less the idea of George’s family.)

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