William Kingdom
King of Hanover and the United Kingdom
William Kingdom
William IV was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of Hanover from 26 June 1830 until his death. William, the third son of George III and younger brother and successor to George IV, was the last king and penultimate monarch of Britain's House of Hanover. He served in the Royal Navy in his youth and was, both during his reign and afterwards, nicknamed the "Sailor King".
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    LATE_ADULTHOOD
  • 1837
    Age 71
    Queen Adelaide attended the dying William devotedly, not going to bed herself for more than ten days. William IV died in the early hours of the morning of 20 June 1837 at Windsor Castle, where he was buried.
    More Details Hide Details As he had no living legitimate issue, the Crown of the United Kingdom passed to Princess Victoria of Kent, the only child of Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, George III's fourth son. Under Salic Law, a woman could not rule Hanover, and so the Hanoverian Crown went to George III's fifth son, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. William's death thus ended the personal union of Britain and Hanover, which had persisted since 1714. The main beneficiaries of his will were his eight surviving children by Mrs. Jordan. Although William IV is not the direct ancestor of the later monarchs of the United Kingdom, he has many notable descendants through his illegitimate family with Mrs. Jordan, including Prime Minister David Cameron, TV presenter Adam Hart-Davis, author and statesman Duff Cooper, and the first Duke of Fife, who married Queen Victoria's granddaughter Louise.
    A watercolour sketch made by her during her pregnancy in early 1837 shows how frail he had become.
    More Details Hide Details William and his eldest son, George, Earl of Munster, were estranged at the time, but William hoped that a letter of condolence from Munster signalled a reconciliation. His hopes were not fulfilled and Munster, still thinking he had not been given sufficient money or patronage, remained bitter to the end.
  • 1836
    Age 70
    The King, angered at what he took to be disrespect from the Duchess to his wife, took the opportunity at what proved to be his final birthday banquet in August 1836 to settle the score.
    More Details Hide Details Speaking to those assembled at the banquet, who included the Duchess and Princess Victoria, William expressed his hope that he would survive until Princess Victoria was 18 so that the Duchess of Kent would never be regent. He said, "I trust to God that my life may be spared for nine months longer... I should then have the satisfaction of leaving the exercise of the Royal authority to the personal authority of that young lady, heiress presumptive to the Crown, and not in the hands of a person now near me, who is surrounded by evil advisers and is herself incompetent to act with propriety in the situation in which she would be placed." The speech was so shocking that Victoria burst into tears, while her mother sat in silence and was only with difficulty persuaded not to leave immediately after dinner (the two left the next day). William's outburst undoubtedly contributed to Victoria's tempered view of him as "a good old man, though eccentric and singular". William survived, though mortally ill, to the month after Victoria's coming of age. "Poor old man!", Victoria wrote as he was dying, "I feel sorry for him; he was always personally kind to me."
  • 1834
    Age 68
    In 1834, the ministry was facing increasing unpopularity and Lord Grey retired; the Home Secretary, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, replaced him.
    More Details Hide Details Lord Melbourne retained most Cabinet members, and his ministry retained an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons. Some members of the Government, however, were anathema to the King, and increasingly left-wing policies concerned him. The previous year Grey had already pushed through a bill reforming the Protestant Church of Ireland. The Church collected tithes throughout Ireland, supported multiple bishoprics and was wealthy. However, barely an eighth of the Irish population belonged to the Church of Ireland. In some parishes, there were no Church of Ireland members at all, but there was still a priest paid for by tithes collected from the local Catholics and Presbyterians, leading to charges that idle priests were living in luxury at the expense of the Irish living at the level of subsistence. Grey's bill had reduced the number of bishoprics by half, abolished some of the sinecures and overhauled the tithe system. Further measures to appropriate the surplus revenues of the Church of Ireland were mooted by the more radical members of the Government, including Lord John Russell. The King had an especial dislike for Russell, calling him "a dangerous little Radical."
    For the remainder of his reign, William interfered actively in politics only once, in 1834, when he became the last British sovereign to choose a prime minister contrary to the will of Parliament.
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  • 1833
    Age 67
    In 1833, William signed a new constitution for Hanover, which empowered the middle class, gave limited power to the lower classes, and expanded the role of the parliament of Hanover.
    More Details Hide Details The constitution was revoked after William's death by the new king, William's brother, Ernest Augustus.
  • 1832
    Age 66
    His reign saw several reforms: the poor law was updated, child labour restricted, slavery abolished in nearly all the British Empire, and the British electoral system refashioned by the Reform Act 1832.
    More Details Hide Details Although William did not engage in politics as much as his brother or his father, he was the last monarch to appoint a prime minister contrary to the will of Parliament. Through his brother, the Viceroy of Hanover, he granted his German kingdom a short-lived liberal constitution. At the time of his death William had no surviving legitimate children, but he was survived by eight of the ten illegitimate children he had by the actress Dorothea Jordan, with whom he cohabited for twenty years. William was succeeded in the United Kingdom by his niece, Victoria, and in Hanover by his brother, Ernest Augustus.
  • 1831
    Age 65
    The crisis saw a brief interlude for the celebration of the King's Coronation on 8 September 1831.
    More Details Hide Details At first, William wished to dispense with the coronation entirely, feeling that his wearing the crown while proroguing Parliament answered any need. He was persuaded otherwise by traditionalists. He refused, however, to celebrate the coronation in the expensive way his brother had—the 1821 coronation had cost £240,000, of which £16,000 was merely to hire the jewels. At William's instructions, the Privy Council budgeted less than £30,000 for the coronation. When traditionalist Tories threatened to boycott what they called the "Half Crown-nation", the King retorted that they should go ahead, and that he anticipated "greater convenience of room and less heat". After the rejection of the Second Reform Bill by the Upper House in October 1831, agitation for reform grew across the country; demonstrations grew violent in so-called "Reform Riots". In the face of popular excitement, the Grey ministry refused to accept defeat in the House of Lords, and re-introduced the Bill, which still faced difficulties in the House of Lords. Frustrated by the Lords' recalcitrance, Grey suggested that the King create a sufficient number of new peers to ensure the passage of the Reform Bill. The King objected—though he had the power to create an unlimited number of peers, he had already created 22 new peers in his Coronation Honours. William reluctantly agreed to the creation of the number of peers sufficient "to secure the success of the bill".
    When the House of Commons defeated the First Reform Bill in 1831, Grey's ministry urged William to dissolve Parliament, which would lead to a new general election.
    More Details Hide Details At first, William hesitated to exercise his prerogative to dissolve Parliament because elections had just been held the year before and the country was in a state of high excitement which might boil over into violence. He was, however, irritated by the conduct of the Opposition, which announced its intention to move the passage of an Address, or resolution, in the House of Lords, against dissolution. Regarding the Opposition's motion as an attack on his prerogative, and at the urgent request of Lord Grey and his ministers, William IV prepared to go in person to the House of Lords and prorogue Parliament. The monarch's arrival would stop all debate and prevent passage of the Address. When initially told that his horses could not be ready at such short notice, William is supposed to have said, "Then I will go in a hackney cab!" Coach and horses were assembled quickly and William immediately proceeded to Parliament. Said The Times of the scene before William's arrival, "It is utterly impossible to describe the scene... The violent tones and gestures of noble Lords... astonished the spectators, and affected the ladies who were present with visible alarm." Lord Londonderry brandished a whip, threatening to thrash the Government supporters, and was held back by four of his colleagues. William hastily put on the crown, entered the Chamber, and dissolved Parliament. This forced new elections for the House of Commons, which yielded a great victory for the reformers.
  • 1830
    Age 64
    When King George IV died on 26 June 1830 without surviving legitimate issue, William succeeded him as King William IV.
    More Details Hide Details Aged 64, he was the oldest person yet to assume the British throne. Unlike his extravagant brother, William was unassuming, discouraging pomp and ceremony. In contrast to George IV, who tended to spend most of his time in Windsor Castle, William was known, especially early in his reign, to walk, unaccompanied, through London or Brighton. Until the Reform Crisis eroded his standing, he was very popular among the people, who saw him as more approachable and down-to-earth than his brother. The King immediately proved himself a conscientious worker. His first Prime Minister Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, stated that he had done more business with King William in ten minutes than he had with George IV in as many days. Lord Brougham described him as an excellent man of business, asking enough questions to help him understand the matter—whereas George IV feared to ask questions lest he display his ignorance and George III would ask too many and then not wait for a response.
    George IV's health was increasingly bad; it was obvious by early 1830 that he was near death.
    More Details Hide Details The King took his leave of his younger brother at the end of May, stating, "God's will be done. I have injured no man. It will all rest on you then." William's genuine affection for his older brother could not mask his rising anticipation that he would soon be king.
  • 1828
    Age 62
    Things finally came to a head in 1828 when, as Lord High Admiral, he put to sea with a squadron of ships, leaving no word of where they were going, and remaining away for ten days.
    More Details Hide Details The King, through the Prime Minister, by now Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, requested his resignation; he complied. Despite the difficulties William experienced, he did considerable good as Lord High Admiral. He abolished the cat o' nine tails for most offences other than mutiny, attempted to improve the standard of naval gunnery and required regular reports of the condition and preparedness of each ship. He commissioned the first steam warship and advocated more. Holding the office permitted him to make mistakes and learn from them—a process that might have been far more costly had he not learnt before becoming King that he should act only with the advice of his councillors. William spent the remaining time during his brother's reign in the House of Lords. He supported the Catholic Emancipation Bill against the opposition of his younger brother, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, describing the latter's position on the Bill as "infamous", to the Duke of Cumberland's outrage.
  • 1827
    Age 61
    When the Duke of York died in 1827, William, then more than 60 years old, became heir presumptive.
    More Details Hide Details Later that year, the incoming Prime Minister, George Canning, appointed him to the office of Lord High Admiral, which had been in commission (that is, exercised by a board rather than by a single individual) since 1709. While in office, William had repeated conflicts with his Council, which was composed of Admiralty officers.
  • FIFTIES
  • 1818
    Age 52
    At Kew on 11 July 1818, William married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, the daughter of George I, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen.
    More Details Hide Details At 25, Adelaide was half William's age. Their marriage, which lasted almost twenty years until William's death, was a happy one. Adelaide took both William and his finances in hand. For their first year of marriage, the couple lived in economical fashion in Germany, and William's debts were soon on the way to being paid, especially since Parliament had voted him an increased allowance, which he reluctantly accepted after his requests to have it increased further were refused. William is not known to have had mistresses after his marriage. The couple had two short-lived daughters and Adelaide suffered three miscarriages. Despite this, false rumours that Adelaide was pregnant persisted into William's reign—he dismissed them as "damned stuff". William's elder brother, the Prince of Wales, had been Prince Regent since 1811 because of the mental illness of their father, George III. In 1820, the King died, leaving the Crown to the Prince Regent, who became George IV. William, Duke of Clarence, was now second in the line of succession, preceded only by his brother, Frederick, Duke of York. Reformed since his marriage, William walked for hours, ate relatively frugally, and the only drink he imbibed in quantity was barley water flavoured with lemon. Both of his older brothers were unhealthy, and it was considered only a matter of time before he became king.
  • 1817
    Age 51
    Following the death of William's niece Princess Charlotte of Wales, then second-in-line to the British throne, in 1817, the king was left with twelve children, but no legitimate grandchildren.
    More Details Hide Details The race was on among the royal dukes to marry and produce an heir. William had great advantages in this race—his two older brothers were both childless and estranged from their wives, who were both beyond childbearing age anyway, and William was the healthiest of the three. If he lived long enough, he would almost certainly ascend the British and Hanoverian thrones, and have the opportunity to sire the next monarch. William's initial choices of potential wives either met with the disapproval of his eldest brother, the Prince of Wales, or turned him down. William's younger brother Adolphus, the Duke of Cambridge, was sent to Germany to scout out the available Protestant princesses; he came up with Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel, but her father Frederick declined the match. Two months later, the Duke of Cambridge married Augusta himself. Eventually, a princess was found who was amiable, home-loving, and was willing to accept, even enthusiastically welcoming William's nine surviving children, several of whom had not yet reached adulthood.
  • FORTIES
  • 1813
    Age 47
    In 1813, he came nearest to any actual fighting, when he visited the British troops fighting in the Low Countries.
    More Details Hide Details Watching the bombardment of Antwerp from a church steeple, he came under fire, and a bullet pierced his coat. Instead of serving at sea, he spent time in the House of Lords, where he spoke in opposition to the abolition of slavery, which although not legal in the United Kingdom still existed in the British colonies. Freedom would do the slaves little good, he argued. He had travelled widely and, in his eyes, the living standard among freemen in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland was worse than that among slaves in the West Indies. His experience in the West Indies lent weight to his position, which was perceived as well-argued and just by some of his contemporaries. Others thought it "shocking that so young a man, under no bias of interest, should be earnest in continuance of the slave trade". In his speech to the House of Lords, Wiliam insulted William Wilberforce, the leading abolitionist, saying: "the proponents of the abolition are either fanatics or hypocrites, and in one of those classes I rank Mr. Wilberforce". On other issues he was more liberal, such as supporting moves to abolish penal laws against dissenting Christians. He also opposed efforts to bar those found guilty of adultery from remarriage.
  • 1811
    Age 45
    The couple had ten illegitimate children—five sons and five daughters—nine of whom were named after William's siblings; each was given the surname "FitzClarence". Their affair lasted for twenty years before ending in 1811.
    More Details Hide Details After Mrs. Jordan's acting career began to fail, she fled to France to escape her creditors, and died, impoverished, near Paris in 1816. Before he met Mrs. Jordan, William had an illegitimate son whose mother is unknown; the son, also called William, drowned off Madagascar in HMS Blenheim in February 1807. Caroline von Linsingen, whose father was a general in the Hanoverian infantry, claimed to have had a son, Heinrich, by William in around 1790 but William was not in Hanover at the time that she claims and the story is considered implausible by historians. Deeply in debt, William made multiple attempts at marrying a wealthy heiress, but his suits were unsuccessful.
    In 1811, he was appointed to the honorary position of Admiral of the Fleet.
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  • THIRTIES
  • 1798
    Age 32
    In 1798 he was made an admiral, but the rank was purely nominal.
    More Details Hide Details Despite repeated petitions, he was never given a command throughout the Napoleonic Wars.
  • 1797
    Age 31
    George III was accepting of his son's relationship with the actress (though recommending that he halve her allowance); in 1797, he created William Ranger of Bushy Park, which included a large residence, Bushy House, for William's growing family.
    More Details Hide Details William used Bushy as his principal residence until he became king. His London residence, Clarence House, was constructed to the designs of John Nash between 1825 and 1827.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1793
    Age 27
    When Britain declared war on France in 1793, he was anxious to serve his country and expected a command, but was not given a ship, perhaps at first because he had broken his arm by falling down some stairs drunk, but later perhaps because he gave a speech in the House of Lords opposing the war.
    More Details Hide Details The following year he spoke in favour of the war, expecting a command after his change of heart; none came. The Admiralty did not reply to his request. He did not lose hope of being appointed to an active post.
  • 1791
    Age 25
    From 1791 William lived with an Irish actress, Dorothea Bland, better known by her stage name, Mrs. Jordan, the title "Mrs." being assumed at the start of her stage career to explain an inconvenient pregnancy and "Jordan" because she had "crossed the water" from Ireland to Britain.
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  • 1790
    Age 24
    William ceased his active service in the Royal Navy in 1790.
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  • 1789
    Age 23
    Appalled at the prospect of his son making his case to the voters, George III created him Duke of Clarence and St Andrews and Earl of Munster on 16 May 1789, supposedly saying: "I well know it is another vote added to the Opposition."
    More Details Hide Details William's political record was inconsistent and, like many politicians of the time, cannot be certainly ascribed to a single party. He allied himself publicly with the Whigs as well as his elder brothers George, Prince of Wales, and Frederick, Duke of York, who were known to be in conflict with the political positions of their father.
  • 1788
    Age 22
    He was given command of the frigate in 1788, and was promoted to rear-admiral in command of the following year.
    More Details Hide Details William sought to be made a duke like his elder brothers, and to receive a similar parliamentary grant, but his father was reluctant. To put pressure on him, William threatened to stand for the House of Commons for the constituency of Totnes in Devon.
  • 1786
    Age 20
    In late 1786, he was stationed in the West Indies under Horatio Nelson, who wrote of William: "In his professional line, he is superior to two-thirds, I am sure, of the Naval list; and in attention to orders, and respect to his superior officer, I hardly know his equal."
    More Details Hide Details The two were great friends, and dined together almost nightly. At Nelson's wedding, William insisted on giving the bride away.
  • TEENAGE
  • 1785
    Age 19
    He became a lieutenant in 1785 and captain of the following year.
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  • 1780
    Age 14
    At the age of thirteen, he joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman, and was present at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1780.
    More Details Hide Details His experiences in the navy seem to have been little different from those of other midshipmen, though in contrast to other sailors he was accompanied on board ships by a tutor. He did his share of the cooking and got arrested with his shipmates after a drunken brawl in Gibraltar; he was hastily released from custody after his identity became known. He served in New York during the American War of Independence. While William was in America, George Washington approved a plot to kidnap him, writing: "The spirit of enterprise so conspicuous in your plan for surprising in their quarters and bringing off the Prince William Henry and Admiral Digby merits applause; and you have my authority to make the attempt in any manner, and at such a time, as your judgment may direct. I am fully persuaded, that it is unnecessary to caution you against offering insult or indignity to the persons of the Prince or Admiral " The plot did not come to fruition; the British heard of it and assigned guards to William, who had up till then walked around New York unescorted.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1772
    Age 6
    William was part of the first generation to grow to maturity under the Royal Marriages Act 1772, which forbade descendants of George II from marrying unless they either obtained the monarch's consent or, if over the age of 25, gave twelve months' notice to the Privy Council.
    More Details Hide Details Several of George III's sons, including William, chose to cohabit with the women they loved, rather than seek a wife. Having legitimate issue was not a primary concern for William, as he was one of the younger sons of George III, he was not expected to figure in the succession, which was considered secure once the Prince of Wales married and had a daughter, Princess Charlotte, second-in-line to the throne. William appeared to enjoy the domesticity of his life with Mrs. Jordan, remarking to a friend: "Mrs. Jordan is a very good creature, very domestic and careful of her children. To be sure she is absurd sometimes and has her humours. But there are such things more or less in all families." The couple, while living quietly, enjoyed entertaining, with Mrs. Jordan writing in late 1809: "We shall have a full and merry house this Christmas, 'tis what the dear Duke delights in."
  • 1765
    Born
    He was baptised in the Great Council Chamber of St James's Palace on 20 September 1765.
    More Details Hide Details His godparents were his paternal uncles, the Duke of Gloucester and Prince Henry (later Duke of Cumberland), and his paternal aunt, Princess Augusta, then hereditary duchess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. He spent most of his early life in Richmond and at Kew Palace, where he was educated by private tutors.
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