xxxxxWhen the Prince Regent finally became king following the death of his father, George III, his reign as monarch began with a public scandal. His estranged wife, Caroline, returned to England to claim her rights as Queen, and in July 1821 was prevented from attending her Coronation ceremony, being literally turned away from the doors of Westminster Abbey. This action, taken by a man who had already gained a well-earned reputation as a womaniser, drunkard and impulsive gambler, caused a public outcry, and there were numerous demonstrations against the new monarch. His subsequent attempts to have his marriage dissolved ended in failure, and - despite her own indiscretions - the British parliament promptly awarded the Queen an annuity of £50,000. In fact, it proved a gesture in kind only, because she died suddenly in August of that year. (The portrait, detail only, is by the English artist Thomas Lawrence, painted some years earlier.)

xxxxxAs we have seen, both as the Prince of Wales and the Prince Regent (1811 G3c) the new king, George IV, had hardly endeared himself to the British public. Indeed, his degenerate lifestyle, his illegal marriage to the Roman Catholic widow Maria Fitzherbert, and his personal extravagance, was to make him one of the most disliked of all British monarchs. At the age of 58 he was bloated by self-indulgence - at a time of widespread deprivation - and his liking for alcohol and the drug laudanum (ostensibly taken for his gout) had already brought lapses into mild insanity. Eventually, entering into a fanciful world - he often claimed to have fought at Waterloo - he became a virtual recluse at Windsor Castle and died there in 1830.

xxxxxHis passing was not mourned and that is hardly surprising. His rebellious nature might well have been a reaction against his strict upbringing, but that could in no way be a total excuse for his dissipated life style, his open antagonism towards his father - highly popular in his declining years - and the despicable way in which he treated his wife, Caroline of Brunswick-Luneburg. And whilst he possessed some redeeming features, these were born of his extravagant life-style, and were not regarded as laudable in his day. For example, he was genuinely interested in literature and the arts. He admired the works of Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen, and he gave his support to the founding of the National Gallery, now in Trafalgar Square. He encouraged British artists and added paintings by Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable to the royal collection. And, above all, he was responsible for the Regency period in architecture, due in the main to the extensive work carried out by the architect John Nash. Among his creations were Regent Street, Regent’s Park and its environs, and the exotic Royal Pavilion at Brighton. In addition, Windsor Castle was given a bold and imaginative new exterior, and the interior was transformed into one of the finest palaces in Europe. Unfortunately, whilst the nation was the long term beneficiary of such grandiose schemes, at a time of extreme social hardship these architectural projects were seen as wildly extravagant and wholly unjustified. It is perhaps not surprising that an attempt was made upon his life in 1817, and that public discontent should spill over in the so-called Massacre of Peterloo two years later.


xxxxxAs far as the government of the nation was concerned, his reign saw a moderate move towards social and legal reform. Under prime minister Robert Peel - famed for his establishment of London’s first regular police force in 1829 - certain issues were resolved. In that same year, for example, the Catholic Emancipation Bill proved an important step in the right direction, giving Catholics the right to vote, hold public office, and be Members of Parliament. The Bill was eventually passed but, it was delayed for some time by the king’s opposition, despite his general apathy towards all things political.


xxxxxAnd by now a move was also afoot to bring about electoral reform, long overdue. A legacy from the past, for example, was the existence of “pocket boroughs”, where members of Parliament were simply nominated to a seat in the House. And there were, too, “rotten boroughs”, phantom constituencies which represented few if any electors. By such methods there was little difficulty in the wealthy buying a seat in parliament. It was to bring about change in this direction that the so-called Cato Street Conspiracy was hatched. An ambitious plot which planned to assassinate the entire cabinet, it was unearthed in May 1820 before it got under way. Its extremism lost moderate support for revision, but it played a part in bringing about the reform bill of 1832 (W4).

xxxxxMeanwhile, on the continent, the movement for social and political reform which had been ignited by the French Revolution lay simmering beneath the surface. The settlement at Vienna in 1815 had managed to put the clock back, and by the Congress System and the Holy Alliance the forces of reaction hoped to keep it that way. But they did not succeed in South America, and, as we shall see, changes were also afoot in France by 1830 (W4). These were to prove but a prelude to the Year of Revolutions which was to engulf the continent in 1848 (Va). The Congress of Vienna managed to save Europe from a major conflagration for close on a hundred years, but, in the long term, it could not prevent the march towards liberalisation - in some quarters.

xxxxxIncidentally, the novelist Jane Austen strongly condemned the king’s treatment of his wife. Of the Queen she wrote: “Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, and because I hate her Husband…. a Man whom she must detest.” Nor was the Duke of Wellington, prime minister for the period 1828-1830, any less complimentary. He spoke of the king and his two brothers as “the damndest millstones that can be imagined around the neck of any Government”.

GEORGE IV 1820 - 1830  (G4)  Lived 1762 - 1830


The Cato Street Conspiracy, aimed at killing members of the British cabinet and bringing down the government, is discovered. Its leader, Arthur Thistlewood, is hanged for treason.

Muhammad Ali of Egypt, having seized most of Arabia, occupies northern Sudan. Later, in a dispute with the Sultan, he takes over the Turkish state of Syria in 1831 (W4).

The Danish scientist Hans Christian Oersted discovers a direct relationship between electricity and magnetism. His research is carried much further by the French physicist André Marie Ampère.

The beautiful part-nude sculpture, known today as the Venus de Milo and dating from around 130 BC, is discovered on the Greek island of Melos. It is now in the Louvre, Paris.

Following popular revolts in Spain, Naples and Portugal, the Congress of Troppau, led by Austria, Russia and Prussia, plans to use force if necessary to maintain the old order.

The English writer Charles Lamb begins writing his famous Essays of Elia. Also a literary critic, he numbered among his friends the essayist William Hazlitt and the poet John Clare.


In Greece a war breaks out to overthrow Turkish rule. It succeeds in 1829 following the intervention of Russia, Britain and France. Terms are drawn up at the Treaty of Adrianople.


France and Britain begin to establish colonial territories along the coast of West Africa, the French in Senegal and the British in Sierra Leone, the Gambia and the Gold Coast.

The French scientist Augustin Fresnel proves the wave theory of light mathematically. Lenses improved by his revolutionary design are put to use in lighthouses and theatres.

The English landscape artist John Constable paints his famous work The Hay Wain. In his lifetime he gains little recognition at home, but his work is much admired in France.


The Austrian composer Franz Schubert writes his “Unfinished” Symphony. He composed a wealth of music, but in his day was chiefly known for his vast production of tuneful songs.

The English essayist Thomas De Quincey publishes his major work, Confessions of an Opium-Eater, a colourful but disturbing account of his own addiction to the drug.

After years of research the French scholar Jean François Champollion deciphers the hieroglyphics on the Rosetta Stone, laying the foundation for Egyptian archaeology.


The US President, supported by Britain, sets out the Monroe Doctrine, warning European States against any further colonisation in the Americas. The warning is heeded.

The English mathematician Charles Babbage begins work on his “difference engine”, an automatic mechanical calculator. He conceives the idea of a digital computer in 1833 (W4).


Britain sees action in two colonial wars, the First Anglo-Burmese War in South Asia, in which the British capture Rangoon, and the First Anglo-Ashanti War in West Africa.

The freedom fighter Simon Bolivar, after overthrowing Spanish rule in New Granada (1819), Venezuela (1821), and Ecuador (1822), takes part in the liberation of Peru.


The French neo-classical artist Jean Ingres gains fame with The Vow of Louis XIII. His

rival, the romantic painter Eugène Delacroix, produces his Massacre of Chios.


The first railway to carry passengers is opened in the North of England from Stockton to Darlington. The work of the English engineer George Stephenson, it starts extensive programmes of railroad building.

In Russia, the Decembrist Uprising, led by a group of young army officers, attempts to overthrow the new Tsar, Nicholas I, and introduce reforms. It is ruthlessly crushed.

The French astronomer and mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace completes his Treatise

on Celestial Mechanics, begun in 1799, and including his law of universal attraction.


The American novelist James Fenimore Cooper writes The Last of the Mohicans, the best known of his series of five adventure stories about life along the American frontier.

The young German composer Felix Mendelssohn, aged 17, produces his Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Three years later he begins composing his Fingal’s Cave.


Following research into the function of the kidneys, the English physician Richard Bright describes the clinical conditions of nephritis, commonly known as “Bright’s disease”.

The French inventor Joseph Niépce produces the world’s first permanent photograph from nature, a blurred view of his back yard. His research is continued by Louis Daguerre.


Alessandro Manzoni, the great Italian novelist, completes his masterpiece, the historical romance The Betrothed. His works include an ode to mark Napoleon’s death in 1821.

The first part of Birds of America is published by the American naturalist and artist John Audubon. This work, noted for its exquisite bird illustrations, is completed in 1838.


The British explorer Charles Sturt discovers the Murray and Darling Rivers in south-east

Australia. Exploration also takes place in Central Africa and the Antarctic and Arctic.


The British home secretary Robert Peel, founds the London police force and, fearing a rebellion in Ireland, led by Daniel O’Connell, carries through the Catholic Emancipation Act.

The Treaty of Adrianople ends the Russo-Turkish War. Turkey gives autonomy to Greece, Serbia and the Danube principalities, and Russian shipping access to the Mediterranean.

Captain Charles Fremantle, having taken possession of the west coast of Australia for the British crown, founds the Swan River Settlement and the towns of Perth and Fremantle.

The Polish pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin gives his first public performance at Vienna, aged 19. He composes one of his well-known sonatas in 1839 (Va).


The Englishman William Cobbett, a leading social and political reformer, publishes his

Rural Rides, a work highlighting the poverty and suffering of the farming community.

George IV dies towards the end of June. Having no legitimate heir, he is succeeded by his brother, the Duke of Clarence, who becomes William IV.


George IV: detail, by the English portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), 1821 – Royal Collection, UK. Windsor Castle: by the English artist Alfred Vickers (1786-1868), 1856 – private collection. Coat of Arms: licensed under Creative Commons. Author: Sodacan –



































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