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Georgie, Porgie, Pudding and Pie : The Visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822.

Updated on December 28, 2013

Georgie, Porgie, Pudding and Pie : The Visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822.

As the capital city of Scotland Edinburgh has enjoyed many royal visits from its reigning monarch in modern times.

But probably none so remarkable than that of the state occasion of the arrival of King George IV to the city in 1822.

It was an event instigated by the famous Scottish author and public figure Sir Walter Scott. An ardent Unionist and British patriot Scott was concerned that the Scottish people were weakening in their enthusiasm for the British ideal.

The economic depression of the post-Napoleonic War period had unsettled the population. There were even working people becoming more active in radical politics.

Coming soon after the American and French Revolutions was the so-called 'Radical War' in Scotland in 1820. This was actually more of a period of social unrest and workers protest as people demanded reform of the government.

Thus it was in this climate that Sir Walter decided to organise a grand occasion for the people of Edinburgh. He invited King George IV to come to the city as a morale booster for the population and to cement Scottish-English relations.

For the first time in over 170 years a reigning monarch was coming to the city and it was also hoped this would quell any nascent revolutionary fervour among the populace.

The special tartan effect

The news caused quite a stir among Edinburgh society and even greater excitement was generated when the Scots people were told that the king would be wearing a kilt of Stuart tartan.

This was momentous news because tartan had actually been banned in Scotland after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. In fact a Highland gathering was organised to promote the wearing of tartan and all things Scottish became fashionable amongst the higher classes.

It was a romanticised atmosphere inspired by Scott's dreamy depictions of the north of Scotland in the likes of the Waverley novels. In fact the reality was that the Gaelic culture was actually being dismantled and it's people cleared from the lands.Therefore the 'Highlandism' of the royal visit was largely cosmetic but hugely effective nonetheless.

However when people gazed their eyes on the king at the Palace of Holyrood House they could not believe what they saw. Certainly King George was indeed wearing a kilt but incredibly it was so short that it ran up his thighs to a few inches above his knees. It was like an 18th century version of the mini-kilt worn by ladies nowadays in these modern times.

Not only that but the king also wore pink stockings which just added to the sartorial disaster of his clothing. With legs that is said would have graced a billiard table it was a sight to behold. In fact the whole sight of King George may have come as a shock to the Edinburgh folk.

The reason was that as a lover of high living and a connoisseur of good food and fine wine the king was remarkably rotund. Standing at only 5 feet 2 inches and with a girth of around 56 inches he was almost as wide as he was tall.

There is a statue in his honour with pride of place in the city's George Street to commemorate the 1822 visit. Incidentally the street is actually named after his father King George III and the statue bears little resemblance to his son.

Francis Chantry's sculpture of 1832 depicts a towering figure, tall in height and of lean proportions. It is very much an idealised portrayal of the portly king.

The statue in George Street

The Caledonian Ball

All the great and the good of Edinburgh high society were then invited to the Assembly Rooms in George Street for the 'Caledonian Ball'.

It was here that over 200 ladies were required to line-up and receive a kiss from King George.

The process took around an hour and a half and was hardly the glorious moment that the ladies might have expected.

King George suffered from halitosis so the meet and greet was quite an ordeal for the genteel and refined female set of the higher classes.

The bad breath of the King took some of the shine away from the esteemed occasion.

Georgie Porgie

Many childrens' nursery rhymes and playground songs are hard to provenance for their origins arising as they do from informal beginnings in popular culture. Therefore you can find several claims of origin for the same rhyme.

Such is the case with the famous 'Georgie Porgie' poem as you will find a few different versions of how it came about.

Edinburgh claims it as its own and deriving from King George's historic visit to the city. With his obese frame and his bad breath we have the opening couplet of the rhyme

"Georgie Porgie pudding and pie,

Kissed the girls and made them cry"

Of course there are another two lines to the rhyme and again the Edinburgh folk claim it comes from King George IV.

"When the boys came out to play,

Georgie Porgie ran away"

After conferring all his attentions on the ladies the menfolk attending the Caledonian Ball were justifiably angry at being ignored. They therefore gathered to complain but discovered that the king was unavailable to hear their gripes. Thus we have the second couplet.

A more perfect union

Nevertheless the royal visit and the pageantry which accompanied it proved to have been an outstanding success.

It lent popularity to the naming of the clan and family tartans and had the full effect that Sir Walter Scott had originally intended. The strength of the Union of Scotland and England was more assured after the 1822 visit.

It was not only a morale booster for the people of Edinburgh but also for the King himself who was said to have enjoyed the visit immensely.

He was quoted as having proclaimed "I had no conception there was such a fine scene in the world; and to find it in my own dominions" as he gazed down at the crowds from his lofty position on the Half-Moon Battery at Edinburgh Castle.

Otherwise however he was a deeply unpopular monarch and despised by many in the establishment. His death in 1830 followed years of indulgence in rich food, alcohol and licentious living causing him to decline into appalling health in his later years.

Therefore it is no surprise that the adulation of the Edinburgh crowds impressed upon him so much at that momentous visit of 1822.


Satirical depiction of King George's royal visit


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