Throughout history, kings and queens have always acted as dedicated patrons of the arts. Providing wealth and prestige to their chosen causes, they have also invested an awful lot into various forms of entertainment, from the theatre through to horse racing and gaming.
Wherever they chose to spend their time and money, the rest of the world followed suit, and many monarchs have been determined in their pursuit of pleasure. As thrill seekers of the highest order, it’s little wonder that plenty of history’s rulers had an affinity for gambling in particular.
While lots of well-known king and queens have dabbled, however, some have taken it to another level, going down in history as some of the most extravagant spenders of all time. Here are three of the most famous.
King Henry VIII
If there’s one monarch whose name every school child knows, it’s the many-times-married Henry VIII. Charismatic, powerful, and unafraid to rock the boat, he spent his reign implementing many momentous changes, but he still found lots of time for less-serious pursuits, including gambling.
Known as a profligate spender, this flame-haired king was a dedicated player of a game known as ‘tables’ (an early version of backgammon), as well as a medieval form of poker known as ‘brag’. He not only played against members of his own court, but a number of visiting monarchs too, despite the fact he was notoriously unlucky. Indeed, in the space of just two years, he lost £3,250, which is equivalent to £1.58 million in today’s money.
He also once hanged an opponent after losing against him.
King George IV
Come the 18th century, Britain would once again have a king who loved to gamble, this time in the form of King George IV. Following in the line of succession behind his sober and dutiful (although later mad) father, this King George couldn’t have been more different.
His life’s ambition seems to have been to enjoy himself, but this made him a truly terrible ruler with little care as to the affairs of his kingdom. He used much of the money raised through taxation to fund his various extravagant pursuits, including gambling.
As George IV was not a particularly skilled player, he soon ran up debts, and was forced by his father to marry in exchange for receiving a bailout. This condition saw him wed Princess Caroline of Brunswick in 1795, although the marriage was far from successful, and the couple lived separately until her death in 1821.
King Edward VII
Many monarchs throughout history (and perhaps contemporaneously too) have been fans of rolling the dice and seeing how they fall. Indeed, it’s very much possible that our current Queen Elizabeth sits at home enjoying the occasional online game, given how easy it now is to enjoy pursuits such as online bingo and slots from the privacy of our front rooms.
While the modern royals’ gambling habits remain very much under wraps though, someone who was not so subtle about his affinity for gaming is King Edward VII. A committed baccarat player, he refused to travel anywhere without a specially made set of leather counters.
However, Edward didn’t always play fairly, and was involved in a national scandal in 1890, when he was accused of cheating another player during a game. A dedicated patron of many modern forms of gambling, those who still enjoy the pastime today may well have him to thank for its enduring popularity.
Tell us, which of these famous royals would you crown as the greatest gambler of them all?