Carlton House behind the Mall Screen

The Regency Fete

On 19 June 1811, the Prince Regent gave a fete ostensibly in honor of the exiled royal family of France. With King George III so very ill, decorum called for no outward celebration on the Prince's part, so the magnificent entertainment celebrating the Regent's rise to power was politely named a fete for the French Royal Family. Two thousand invitations were dispatched announcing a fete at nine p.m. June 19, 1811 at Carlton House.

Matting had been laid over the lawns between the wall on the Mall and Carlton House forming a temporary courtyard. The band of the Guards played beneath Henry Holland's Corinthian portico. The Regent's servants in dark blue liveries trimmed with gold lace attended on the guests. Covered walks decorated with painted trellises, flowers, and mirrors had been built in the Gardens at Carlton house as promenades and supper galleries. Various members of the Regent's household received the guests in the hall. The forty-eight year-old Prince Regent, well corseted and in his new field-marshal's uniform with the star of the Order of the Garter on his chest, awaited the French royal family in a Carlton House reception room hung with blue silk decorated with the fleur-de-lis. George III had long barred the Prince from the rank of field-marshal on the grounds that his brother's could only pursue military careers while he was the heir. Now that George was Regent, he could grant himself the honor. The Regent graciously welcomed the Comte de Lisle and the Comte d'Artois (younger brothers of the executed King Louis XVI) and his sons the Duc de Berri and the Duc d'Angouleme and his wife, the only surviving child of Louis XVI, and the Prince de Conde.

The guests were served hot and cold soups, roasts, and fruits including peaches, grapes, and pineapples. There was iced champagne between every third or fourth person and fine wines besides. Everything from tureens to plates were silver. That so many could be served in such style amazed a number of guests. A Grand Silver Service made for the Prince of Wales had been displayed at Rundell & Bridge's Ludgate Hill showroom in 1807.

Interior of Gothic Conservatory at Carlton House

A long table for two hundred of the most honored guests was set up in the Gothic conservatory designed by Thomas Hopper. The vault of the conservatory was hung with lanterns and an illuminated crown with the letters GR hung above the Regent's chair. The Gentleman's Magazine gave an account of the scene in the Gothic conservatory. "Along the centre of the table about six inches above the surface, a canal of pure water continued flowing from a silver fountain beautifully constructed at the head of the table. Its banks were covered with green moss aquatic flowers; gold and silver fish swam and sported through the bubbling current, which produced a pleasing murmur where it fell, and formed a cascade at the outlet. At the head of the table, above the fountain, sat his Royal Highness...on a plain mahogany chair with a feather back. The most particular friends of the Prince were arranged on each side. They were attended by sixty servitors; seven waited on the Prince, besides six of the King's and six of the Queen's footmen, in their state liveries, with one man in a complete suit of ancient armour. At the back of the Prince's seat appeared aureola tables, covered with crimson drapery, constructed to exhibit with the greatest effect, a profusion of the most exquisitely wrought silver-gilt plate, consisting of fountains, tripods, epergnes, dishes, and other ornaments..."

The Duchesse d'Angouleme sat on the Regent's right. The Duchess of York, the wife of his eldest brother, Frederick, was seated on his left. The Regent's mother did not attend because she thought it unseemly to hold a party while the King was so ill. The Prince Regent's estranged wife, Caroline, was not invited nor was his fifteen-year-old daughter, Charlotte. Mrs. Fitzherbert did not attend when she found she would not be seated at the head table with the Regent. The Regent was free to enjoy the party and the company of his new mistress Lady Hertford. The fete was a triumphant success with the Regent's guests. The fete costing 120,000 pounds came under great criticism by the public and parliament as another excess of a man already deeply in debt.

Exterior of Gothic Conservatory at Carlton House

Read more about Prince George and his regency: Prince of Pleasure: The Prince of Wales and the Making of the Regency by Saul David

The book Arabella by Georgette Heyer has a scene set in the Gothic Conservatory.

Watch a movie about George III's illness: The Madness of King George

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