On July 8th 1788, George, the Prince of Wales, was involved in a bizarre incident at Newmarket Races, which almost caused a breach with the French Royal Family. Having posted this image from the British Museum on Twitter earlier today, and received a number of responses, I decided to dig a little deeper discover why George had make haste to escape a horsewhipping, and also to try to identify the protagonists.
I can now confirm that the Prince of Wales is being chased by Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans (1747-1793), who at that time was second in line to the French throne after Louis XVI’s younger brother the Compe d’Artois (later King Charles X, who reigned 1824-1830). In this year prior to the French Revolution Orléans was on a Royal Visit to London, and had spent the previous days inspecting troops at Blackheath and taking the waters at Cheltenham in the company of King George III and his retinue.
Today was George’s turn to entertain his French guest, so he arranged a day at Newmarket. According to the Morning Chronicle the day’s racing passed off well, until at some point in the afternoon the party retired to a coffee house for dinner and refreshments
His Royal Highness dined with the duke de Orléans, his brother the Abbé de Saint-Albin, and several other English and French nobility. After dinner, when walking in the garden, The Abbé offered a bet to the Prince of Wales that he would ‘tickle’ a fish in the pond, til it suffered him to take it out
Fish tickling, was an art traced back to Medieval times, involving rubbing the underbelly of a trout until it went into a temporary trance and could then be thrown out of the pond onto dry land. Mentioned in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night this skill was obviously also practiced in France. The Morning Chronicle continues
The bet was accepted, and the Abbé knelt down, and began tickling the fish. The exalted personage (George) then came behind, and shoved him in over his head. The Duke de Orléans immediately ran after the Prince of Wales with a horse whip, but he escaped back into the coffee room. The Abbé was taken to his lodgings and obliged to strip.
At this point one can imagine that French tempers were high, a cleric booted into the pond and the perpetrator beyond reach inside a coffee-room. Diplomacy was urgently needed…
The Dukes of Queensberry, Grafton and Bedford undertook to settle the business, which they did by making an apology, declaring that his Royal Highness meant no harm, and was rather in liquor. The apology was accepted and the Prince and Abbé the next day rode together, and walked arm in arm through the Town.
It must have been hilarious to watch George, heir to the throne, line the Abbé up in his sights and then send him crashing into the pond, before sprinting like mad to avoid the lash of his angry brother. No wonder King George III was so worried about the future path of the English monarchy, when he has this scandalous behavior from his son and heir to contend with.
Sad to say that the Duke of Orléans, despite changing his name to Philippe Égalité and advocating constitutional monarchy as a means of embracing the French Revolution (1792), was himself guillotined in November 1793 during the Reign of Terror. His son Louis Philippe did eventually become King of France in July 1830 – ironically just a month after the death of his father’s tormentor at Newmarket Races all those years ago, George IV
The pleasure of this satire, and the story behind it, has caused me to stray from London in this post. However, if you are keen to learn more about George; who was Prince of Wales, Prince Regent and finally King George IV you might like to see how he restored his damaged reputation via Ascot Races. Alternatively if you too want to get out of London and see a bit of Regency Britain, why not consult this handy guide to coaching inns and their destinations.