Eccentric military man the prince’s father wished to hang

Return from Brighton, by William Dent, 1789
Return from Brighton, by William Dent, 1789

Three years separate this 1789 cartoon from the one that illustrated my last article.

Three years separate this 1789 cartoon from the one by the same artist that illustrated my article last week. The mood is transformed.

George Hanger, 4th Baron Coleraine, 1791

George Hanger, 4th Baron Coleraine, 1791

The prince’s crest is now right-way up, four spirited horses speed his carriage along, fresh game and produce are loaded on the roof - and an infant is seen inside with Prinny and Mrs Fitzherbert. Weltje, now astride the lead horse, again wields the whip, while the Whig politician Charles Fox rides behind him. (In point of historical fact, from 1784 Prinny travelled in a specially-designed phaeton, drawn by three horses, one behind the other, a postilion on the first, “the other two managed by himself”, a footman at the rear.)

This time, we focus in on the figure perched on the front of the carriage.

The shillelagh - blackthorn cudgel - tucked under his arm signals the Irish origins of Major (later Colonel) George Hanger (1751-1824), one of the prince’s weirder cronies.

After Eton, Hanger attended the university of Göttingen, where he acquired a fluency in German oaths, an infinite capacity for beer, and skill with the sabre, fighting three duels before he was 20.

His first appearance at court, in 1782, in eccentric Hessian costume, dancing a minuet in a huge plumed hat, convulsed the prince and everyone else, resulting in yet another duel, against the dramatist Sheridan. (After the exchange of pistol fire, Sheridan fell dead and was stretchered away - only to reappear, ghostlike, at dinner: Prinny’s little joke - the shots were blanks. George III, despairing of the influence of the pair of them on his son, once exclaimed: “Damn Sherry, and I must hang - hang - Hanger, for they will break my heart, and ruin the hopes of my country”.)

Beaky-nosed, satirical, libidinous, Hanger was equally at home in palace or pub. The reputed author of the song “Kitty of Coleraine”, he was nicknamed “Honest” for declining the aristocratic title on the death of his brother, Lord Coleraine.

He proved a good batsman, during cricket on The Level, and a good shot, when he and the prince amused themselves firing at the Brighton chimneypots. A compulsive gambler and initiator of bizarre games, in 1784 he organised a foot race on the Steine between his black servant and Scutt, the Horsham carrier, while in 1786 he himself, “ridden by a jockey, booted and spurred, ran with a fat bullock, unmounted”, across the Steine for 100 guineas.

Another time, Hanger proposed a 10-mile race between 20 turkeys and 20 geese. After three hours, the turkeys were well ahead, but as dusk fell, they started to roost in trees. “In vain Hanger dislodged one from its roosting-place, before he saw three or four others comfortably perching among the branches. In the meantime, the geese came waddling on …” Hanger and the prince, who had backed the turkeys, lost thousands of pounds on the outcome.

Then there was the bathing beauty, one Charlotte Fortescue, whom Prinny fell for in 1784. (She is the supposed original for the Spirit of Brighton in Rex Whistler’s painting.) This illiterate but devious creature, it transpired - Prinny and Hanger were chatting one evening before dinner at the Pavilion - was two-timing the prince. With Hanger.

So the prince, who had arranged for her to be waiting at the roadside, in footman’s dress, when he returned to London that night, designed a little surprise for her. The three-horse phaeton duly drew up, she climbed onto the dicky at the back, and sped away - but not, as she supposed, to live in a palace. The figure on the box was not the prince, but Hanger wrapped in the prince’s coat, who bore her to London and dumped her.