Whereas nowadays we are used to carefully stage-managed royal visits, in the early nineteenth century the sovereign's involvement in public life was virtually nil and the Hanoverian monarchs were deeply unpopular, being the subject of frequent savage caricature by London cartoonists. When therefore Edinburgh's Lord Provost Arbuthnott received just three weeks' notice on 22 July 1822 of a visit by King George IV to Edinburgh, the reaction was one of panic : apart from Bonnie Prince Charlie's passage through the city in 1745, no king had been here since the visit of the fugitive Charles II in 1650. Fortunately the City could turn to the man who had inspired the visit, lawyer turned poet turned novelist Sir Walter Scott who as a child had first come to attention as the only person who knew the poem which was the origin of a painting showing a dead soldier in the snow that during a visit to Edinburgh had moved Robert Burns to tears. This meeting took place in Sciennes House, home of Professor Adam Ferguson in the winter of 1786/87.
Eric Melvin who delivered a fascinating talk on George IV
At 5 foot two inches in height but with a 51 inch waist and nearly 20 stones in weight, scarcely able to walk through gout, George IV was one of the most detested men in his Kingdom. He had secretly married the twice divorced Catholic Mrs Fitzherbert but had been forced to divorce her in return for the payment of his debts. George specialised in fat mistresses, one of whom, Elizabeth, Marchioness Conyngham, was described as having an “enormous balcony” to bear her pearls. As Prince Regent during the madness (illness?) of King George III he had spent a fortune on the Brighton Pavilion whose appearance would so horrify Victoria that she gave it away in 1837, and the Keeper of the Privy Purse also consumed much public money buying up copies of derogatory cartoons so as to avoid the public seeing them. Persuaded of the need to produce an heir, he married Caroline of Brunswick, a cousin whom he had never met. She was foul-mouthed, not very clean in her personal habits, drank, and after sleeping together twice they so disgusted each other as to separate, and having produced a daughter Charlotte she was paid to leave the country, taking up with an Italian adventurer Bartolomeo Pergami, while her private affairs were explored at a private Parliamentary inquiry where she was defended by Francis Brougham QC. On George III's death in 1820 there was an expensive coronation from which having expected to be crowned Queen she was excluded from Westminster Abbey and paraded her resentment round London but was dead in three weeks.
Back in 1815 Scott had invited the then Prince Regent to visit Edinburgh during a drinking party at publisher John Murray's home in London, but it was agreed that a date must await his succession to the throne. By 1822 James Craig's New Town was largely complete, with George Street lacking only setts and Princes Street largely residential. Spoil was being laid to create The Mound, work had begun on the Royal Institution at its foot and with Charlotte Square well advanced a start had been made on the Moray and Heriot Estates. Scott moved rapidly to devise a tartan dress code to be worn at the planned functions for the royal visit. He wrote to the Higland chiefs encouraging them to bring their men to Edinburgh. The Sutherland clansmen had to borrow Black Watch tartan outfits from Stirling Castle.The Earl of Errol claimed the right to carry the Sword of State, the Theatre Royal manager William Murray was charged with preparing venues and fiddler Nathanial Gow, Niall Gow's son was put in charge of the music – but the role of one Ebenezer Scroggie whose “mean merchant” tombstone inspired Dickens may have been a myth. Holyrood Palace was unsuitable as the King's residence so Dalkeith Palace was used instead. When Sir Thomas Mash the Controller of Accounts arrived from the Lord Chamberlain's office, he was given short shrift by Scott, who ordered £5000 of building repairs, three hundred gas lamps to line the route from Dalkeith to Holyrood and a new approach from Abbeyhill to the Palace. The King arrived by sea in his yacht, bringing one hundred cases of plate, and having rediscovered the Honours of Scotland mislaid since the Union of the Crowns Scott had these brought down to Holyrood, three onlookers being killed in a stampede on the Esplanade. The Butter Tron at the foot of the Castlehill was demolished to improve access to the Castle. With crowds converging from all over Scotland, bonfires burned on the Bass Rock and Arthur's Seat, but a storm delayed by a day George's landing at Leith on Thursday 15th August where a kilted MacDonald of Glengarry provided an unscripted interruption and Jane Grant of Rothiemurchus recorded people clinging onto rooves and squeezing between chimneys to get a sight of their monarch.
During 16-28 August he attended three levees at Holyrood Palace, two balls in the Assembly Rooms, a visit to Edinburgh Castle, a church service and a banquet. Three Bow Street Runners led by John Townshend were on hand to protect him (the crowds) against pickpockets. His companions including former Lord Mayor of London Sir William Curtis who had made a fortune supplying biscuits to the Navy during the Napoleonic War also appeared in tartan, giving the cartoonists a field day. Carried into the Castle on a litter, George who had never before encountered such public adulation was determined to give cheer to the people from the Half moon battery in pouring rain. On Friday 23rd August he attended a review on Portobello Sands of the regular dragoons and the Highland Clan Regiments he clapped and cheered during a ball at the Assembly Rooms and turned up at 8 pm for a dinner which had started at 4.30 in the restored Parliament Hall for which Murray had hired chandeliers, staying just an hour and a half during the 17 courses and 33 toasts but finding time to knight the Lord Provost. The next day's Caledonian Hunt ball left him too tired to lay the foundation stone of the National Monument, a task which fell instead to the Duke of Hamilton, but a performance of Rob Roy at the Theatre Royal was graced with a new verse also composed by Scott to the National Anthem. The Breadalbane Highlanders entertained him during a visit to the Marquess of Lothian at Newbattle Abbey, the Royal Company of Archers reformed by Scott from a drinking club did their stuff and then it was time for the final breakfast at Hopetoun House where the King took only wine but spoke to the ten Hopetoun children before embarking on the Royal Yacht at Port Hopetoun. He borrowed a sword from the Earl of Hopetoun to knight Henry Raeburn.
Wilkie's portrait of the King presenting him as a svelte six-foot tartan-clad figure took seven years to complete – no wonder it earned the painter a knighthood. The similarly improbable statue on George Street by Francis Chantrey was completed after George’s death in 1830. George and his brother were the only sibling monarchs to inspire nursery rhymes, and more Edinburgh streets are named after George than after any other person. Tartan already in revival received huge acclaim as a result of his visit, but did the people really take him to their hearts or were they just showing how different Edinburgh was from London?