It seems to me that if you were going to the theatre in the Eighteenth Century, you probably wouldn’t want to take your wife with you! This view is reinforced by an interesting Rowlandson print, shown courtesy of the British Museum, entitled “The Lobby Loungers” showing people gathered in the foyer at Covent Garden theatre. The year: 1786.
The girl next to him has a sexy, laced-up bodice and a daring amount of cleavage. She wears a polonaise gown and a fine feathered hat, and the point of her fan is directed towards the “lunch box” of Naughty Georgie, who was no doubt hoping to “Buy One – Get one Free.”
On the right, there is a scene of misunderstanding and consternation, with a man, quizzing glass in hand, seeking to importune a “respectable lady” – well, she may or may not have been respectable, but she was already spoken for and has a much younger companion to her side.
Who then was George Hanger? A bit of a lad really, often featured by Gillray in his caricatures. Hanger was the third of seven children born to an M.P. in Gloucester. Never likely to inherit his father’s estates, he followed the well-worn route for third sons i.e. into the Army. Indeed he bought a commission and served with Tarleton in the American Revolutionary War. When Tarleton was indisposed due to illness, he led the British troops in an attack on Charlotte (North Carolina) but was ambushed, and his men took something of a a mauling. Hanger was injured, but not seriously.
When he returned to England he became a close friend of the Prince of Wales, being made Equerry in 1791. He was great company, a great gambler and womaniser, and eventually succeeded to his father’s title having outlived both his elder brothers to become 4th Baron Coleraine. Women seemed to slip through his fingers – he reputedly married once, to a gypsy girl, but she ran off with a passing tinker….some you win, some you lose!
Gillray, in one of twenty etchings featuring Hanger held by the National Portrait Gallery, showed him riding a horse down Grosvenor Street, in “Georgey a’ Cockhorse”:
He also features in one of the best-known Gillray prints, “The Royal Joke – or Black Jack’s Delight” shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery. The scene is at the home of the Prince of Wales (Carlton House). In the foreground The Prince of Wales holds the rather stout Mrs. Sawbridge across his knees and prepares to spank her; she holds out her arms imploringly. Her husband is shown enthusiastically playing a fiddle and dancing. On the left Lady Archer, dressed in her usual red riding habit, holds a driving-whip, and points angrily at Mrs Sawbridge. Next to her a little girl, the daughter of Mrs Sawbridge, looks on in horror at the way her mother is being treated. Various onlookers are in the background, including Mrs Fitzherbert who seems to have the politician Fox draped amorously around her. Next to Fox, George Hanger stands in profile, looking to the left and wearing his military uniform.
One of the more curious aspects of his life was that when he got into serious financial difficulties – on account of his gambling – he showed that he was far from afraid to get his hands dirty. He became a coal merchant! Gillray shows him lugging a sack of coal in this caricature from 1800, entitled “Georgey in the coal-hole” and shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.
Hanger died in 1824 at the age of 73 – the title died out with him. Speaking of his experiences in life, he apparently stated “I was early introduced into life, and often kept both good and bad company; associated with men both good and bad, and with lewd women, and women not lewd, wicked and not wicked; — in short, with men and women of every description, and of every rank, from the highest to the lowest, from St. James’s to St. Giles’s; in palaces and night cellars; from the drawing-room to the dust cart….Human nature is in general frail, and mine I confess has been wonderfully so.”
That’s all very well, but I still don’t think I will allow him to accompany my wife to the theatre….! He does however get a mention in my book “In bed with the Georgians: Sex, Scandal & Satire” as being one of those rakish, lovable, rogues who drifted in and out of the story of the Prince Regent. Farewell General George, the randiest coal merchant I have ever encountered!