Room 1: Royalty

Temperance enjoying a frugal meal
James Gillray, 28 July 1792

Here, Gillray takes us behind the closed doors of the royal palace, where King George and Queen Charlotte enjoy their breakfast. Yet this is hardly an image of majesty. Rather, building upon rumours of the day, the royal couple are presented as miserly and frugal, and as a result, the palace has become shabby.

George has taken every measure to prevent wear and tear: he’s tucked the end of the tablecloth into his collar to protect his clothing. He sits on a grand chair, but it’s covered in sheets to protect it from spillages. The room is decorated with a beautiful carpet, but a mat is placed under the King’s feet to protect the fibres. Even the bell pull is covered in a bag to protect it from greasy fingers.

Instead of a roaring fire, the grate is filled with foliage of the season: snowdrops, holly and mistletoe. It’s so chilly that the carved figure in the fireplace has sprung to life, warming his hands in a muff. In the foreground is a grand silver flagon, decorated with royal arms and labelled ‘Aqua Regis’: royal water. The King’s breakfast is a boiled egg and some salad leaves. A frugal meal indeed!


A voluptuary under the horrors of digestion
James Gillray, 2 July 1792

In this print, Gillray turns his attention to the 29-year-old Prince George, the future King George IV. Here he is in his grand rooms, the unfinished colonnade of Carlton House just visible through the half-opened sash window. He reclines in true Hogarthian style, surrounded by the remnants of his latest feast. Clean bones are strewn across the table, decanters of port and brandy are almost empty and wine bottles roll around the floor.

To hammer home his indulgence, Gillray redesigned the Prince’s coat of arms in the candle sconce on the wall. Below the traditional Prince of Wales ostrich feathers, the coat of arms has been altered. It shows the tools this prince holds most dear: a crossed knife and fork. And look closely at the golden candle holders: one is shaped as a glass, the other a bottle.

Behind the prince is a tower of medical bottles, with labels including ‘For the Piles,’ and ‘Drops for a Stinking Breath’.  Pinned beneath his overflowing chamber pot is evidence of financial affairs: ‘Poulterers Bill … unpaid,’ ‘Butcher’s Bill … unpaid,’ ‘Baker’s Bill … unpaid.’ A horror indeed!