Brighton was a popular spa and resort of Regency England. An invitation to the Royal Pavilion was supposed to be an honor–a coveted opportunity to be in the company of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. Over the years, however, the place developed a reputation for jokes and untoward incidents perpetrated by the Prince who gave his name to the era.
These antics, conducted by the heir-apparent to the British throne, were generally looked upon with grave disapproval:
“..childish practical jokes..continued to amuse him long after the age at which at which such pastimes cease to be excusable.”
The Prince’s residence in Brighton necessitated the stationing of dragoons in barracks about a mile and half north of the town. They were to protect His Royal Highness in the event of invasion or some other circumstance threatening his safety. During the course of a late evening entertainment, the Prince inquired whether the dragoons might be summoned at a moment’s notice.
He encouraged their commander to demonstrate such readiness.
In the dead of night, the regiment’s trumpeter was roused to bugle the alarm. Taken completely by surprise and overwhelmed by the prospect of going into battle to protect his sovereign from an unknown enemy already on the attack, he couldn’t find the breath to blow into the horn.
Another bugler was found, blasting the soldiers from a dead sleep. They hastily scrambled into their uniforms and struggled to tack up mounts spooked by the general disorder. Weapons had to be assembled and flying artillery wagons had to be hitched to plunging teams of horses. Passing a hurried inspection, the dragoons pounded down the road toward Brighton, leaving panicked townspeople and howling dogs in their wake. They were at their Prince’s side within fifteen minutes of the bugle call.
Imagine their disgruntlement when they arrived.
The premier peer of the realm was the old Duke of Norfolk. He probably wished he’d declined the Prince’s invitation to stay overnight at the Pavilion. At dinner, His Royal Highness, with the aid of his royal brothers, attempted to get the duke drunk. Realizing their intentions, His Grace got up to leave:
‘And now I request that my carriage may be ordered out; I mean to go home, and shall never set foot within these doors again.’
Unfortunately, he passed out soon after he entered his carriage. Obliged by Royal command, his coachman drove the ducal equipage around the Pavilion several times, returning his employer to the front door of the palace. The Regent’s servants carried his lordship inside and put him to bed.
Insensible to the entire proceeding, the duke woke up the next morning, confounded he was still ‘under the Prince’s roof.’
The Prince delighted Sir Edmund Nagle, vice-admiral of the Royal Navy and frequent visitor to the Royal Pavilion, with the gift of a specially-bred Hanoverian horse the color of cream. Although it was raining heavily, Sir Edmund insisted on riding his prize along the Steine in front of the Prince’s palace. He returned on a very dark bay horse, dismayed by the streaks of white running down the animal’s hide. In a paroxysm of laughter, the Prince explained he’d had the steed painted as a joke.
Sir Edmund being a good sport, Prinny presented him with a Hanoverian of the right color.
By now, word got around that the royal host at the Royal Pavilion liked to prank his guests.
Upon his arrival at the Pavilion for a reception, the Reverend Sydney Smith was well-prepared for the Prince’s humor. Someone among His Highness’ guests asked the clergyman to identify the world’s most wicked man. The noted Regency wag obliged and shot his mouth off. He named the Duc d’Orleans, for ‘he was a prince!”
No, the Prince retorted, he should be Dubois, for ‘he was a priest!’
William Wilberforce was especially wary of the repeated invitations to the Pavilion he’d received, particularly because everyone knew he strongly disapproved of His Royal Highness’ conduct. He finally accepted a royal request to dine. To his surprise, he was treated very cordially and with profound respect. This encouraged him to accept a second invitation.
The Prince, perhaps feeling he’d come to an understanding with his detractor, teased Wilberforce over how much they’d both changed over the years. The evangelist agreed with this assessment. He added, however, that one hoped his sovereign had taken the opportunity during those years to improve himself (!)
Wilberforce’s opinion of the Pavilion at Brighton was also unsparing:
“St. Paul’s had gone down to the sea and left behind a litter of cupolas.”
All quotes are from Social hours with celebrities; being the third and fourth volumes of “Gossip of the century,” by Mrs. William Pitt Byrne (1898)