Friday, March 19, 2010

Carlton House - The Prince Regent's Abandoned Palace

Carlton House—for the Regency buff, the very name is redolent of luxury, excess and mystery. It is lost, you see, that great palace created, furnished and maintained at immense expense by the Prince Regent.

Carlton House became the home of George Frederick Augustus, Prince of Wales, in 1783 at his coming of age. It had been a rather ordinary London townhouse to that point, architecturally undistinguished with numerous additions. The Prince was awarded 60,000£ to pay for refurbishing the building; he began work and expenditures immediately, and by 1785 even Horace Walpole was impressed. “There is an August simplicity that astonished me. ...it is the taste and propriety that strike.”

The Prince and his architects had chosen a French neoclassical style to build upon, and they did an admirable job. But they spared no expense and in only two years there were huge unpaid debts—something over 200,000£.

Nevertheless, Carlton House was a show-place, a fit setting for a beauty -and-pleasure-loving prince. There were over 450 fine paintings in the house, it contained arguably ‘the finest armoury in the world’, and the plate-room ‘collection [chiefly gilt plate] occupies the three sides of a large room,” and included the remains of King Charles’ plate (silver and gold dishes) and other early pieces.

The furnishing and decoration was exquisite. Fortunately we have a record of its appearance in The History of the Royal Residences by William Henry Pyne (1819). The entrance hall illustrates the quiet restraint,


The blue velvet room exhibits the undeniable luxury.


Carlton House has made its way into contemporary literature. The Circular Room is used in C. S. Harris' recent Sebastian St. Cyr mystery What Remains of Heaven: “The Circular Room at Carlton House was an inner sanctum reserved for the most intimate friends of His Royal Highness George, Prince Regent. Here, amidst the glitter of crystal chandeliers and the glories of blue silk draped in imitation of a Roman tent, those with the privilege of entree gathered late into the night to drink wine and listen to music and bask in all the benefits of being in the royal favour.” Here is the Circular Room without the later tent:


In later years, the Prince Regent’s love of diversity overcame the elegant simplicity of the neoclassical design. A chinoiserie drawing room, a Gothic conservatory and a Gothic dining room were added in the early 1800s.

The ‘Carlton House set’, the ‘Carlton House desk’, and of course ‘Carlton House Terrace’ which succeeded the palace ensure that the name will never be forgotten. Thank heavens we did not lose the Brighton Pavilion (it was a near run thing) in the same manner as Carlton House was disposed of.

It was the Prince himself who tired of Carlton House and when he succeeded in 1820 he decided it was an inadequate palace for his new monarchy—along with St. James Palace, and Buckingham House, his father’s favourite. In the end it was Buckingham House that was rebuilt as a palace and most of the furnishings and contents of Carlton House were, thankfully, transferred to it.

Carlton House was the palace that Jane Austen visited, when it was indicated she might dedicate a book to the Prince Regency. For that alone it deserves to live in our memories, but no doubt it will always glitter in Regency fiction and romance.

Next week, Jude Glad, romance author and Uncial Press publisher will visit to talk about one of her favourite periods, The Regency, and maps. Visit Judith's webpage at http://www.judithbglad.com/ to learn more about her books. While you're there, take some side trips to view early 20th century picture postcards, read about 5,000 ways to earn a living, and see what a Mentzelia really is.

Please join Jude next week! I’ll be back in two weeks.

'Till then,

Lesley-Anne

2 comments:

Patrick Baty said...

Isn't Carlton House fascinating! A few years ago I discovered two pairs of doors in a house on Dartmoor that had originally come from Carlton House. Here is the story.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

That is remarkable! Thanks for sharing, Patrick.