xxxxxWilliam IV succeeded to the throne of Great Britain and Ireland (and became king of Hanover) on the death of his brother George IV. He served in the Royal Navy for some years, joining at the age of 14 and seeing service under Admiral Nelson. As a consequence he acquired the nickname of the “Sailor King”. Though somewhat gruff and vulgar at times, he was a breezy, uncomplicated character who tended to speak his mind, a trait which won him a measure of popularity among the general public. He was by no means as talented and politically astute as his brother George, but he led a far less dissolute and extravagant life - though he did have ten children (the FitzClarences) by his mistress, an Irish actress named Dorothea Jordan! He was made Duke of Clarence in 1789, and became heir to the throne following the death of his niece Charlotte in 1817. With this in mind, he married the German princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen the following year. They had two daughters, but they both died in infancy.

xxxxxHis reign was peaceful in the sense that there was no involvement in war, but it was very troubled nonetheless, due to the widespread political unrest and social distress which continued unabated in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. As we shall see, the first major event of his reign was the prolonged and difficult passage of the first Reform Bill, eventually passed in 1832. He was plunged into this crisis very soon after taking the throne. He possessed very little political judgement and, initially, tended to oppose any reform measures. Eventually, however, fearing a nation-wide insurrection, he played his necessary part in forcing the reactionary Tory party to accept a slightly watered-down version of the original bill. By it the franchise was increased and representation in the House of Commons was more fairly distributed, the first tentative steps towards a more acceptable parliamentary democracy.

xxxxxHis reign also saw the passing of some significant social measures. The Factory Act in 1833, for example, outlawed the worst abuses of child labour, and the following year, the new Poor Law introduced the workhouse system in an attempt to meet the needs of the most deprived members of society. And despite the harsh punishment meted out to the Tolpuddle Martyrs - perhaps because of it - the trade union movement began to gather strength. And after a long and arduous campaign, led in the Commons by William Wilberforce (illustrated), 1833 saw the abolition of the slave trade in all British possessions, though its provisos took some years to work through.

xxxxxThe political and social unrest which triggered off these measures of reform, potentially threatening in their own right, loomed much larger because of events taking place on the continent during this reign. The July Revolution in France, in which Charles X was toppled from power in 1830, gave notice to the British government, as did the rebellions in Poland and Germany, unsuccessful though they were, that the power of the people was beginning to be felt, and was to be ignored at a nation’s peril. This said, the British government remained committed to self-determination. Lord Palmerston played an important part in securing and guaranteeing the independence of Belgium once the Belgians had overthrown their Dutch masters in 1831.

xxxxxWilliam IV was the last British monarch to attempt to dismiss a prime minister (Lord Melbourne in 1834) and install one of his own choice. To this dubious claim to fame must be added his inability - despite a determined effort - to throttle the Reform Bill of 1832 at its birth. When he died in June 1837, there died with him the last remnants of autocratic rule by a British monarch. Future kings and queens were to make their influence felt in the corridors of power, but never at the expense of parliamentary democracy - although Queen Victoria came close to it at times!

xxxxxIncidentally, William’s wife Adelaide was much admired for her modesty and for her charity work. The city of Adelaide, capital of South Australia, was named after her.

WILLIAM IV  1830 - 1837  (W4)  Lived 1765 - 1837


The July Revolution in Paris overthrows Charles X and brings the more moderate Louis-

Philippe to the throne. This rebellion sparks off popular revolts across Europe in 1831.

French forces invade Algeria in North Africa to put an end to piracy. They seize the capital, Algiers, but their conquest of the northern region of the country is not completed until 1847.

The French philosopher Auguste Comte, founder of sociology and father to the concept

of positivism, begins work on his six-volume treatise, Course de philosophie positive.

The opening of the Liverpool-Manchester railway line in northern England, the work of the

Scottish engineer George Stephenson, opens up the Age of the Railway across the world.


The French revolution of July 1830 sparks off popular uprisings across Europe. In Poland,

Germany and Italy they have little or no success, but Belgium gains its independence.

Muhammad Ali of Egypt throws off Turkish rule and conquers Syria, held by the Ottoman

Empire since 1516. However, European powers force him to leave Syria in 1840 (Va).

Having produced the first electric motor, the English physicist Michael Faraday outlines

the principle of electromagnetic induction, and makes the first electric dynamo.

The great French writer Victor Hugo, publishes the first of his well-known novels, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He also makes his name as a talented poet and playwright.

The two Italian opera composers, Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti, gain fame for their flowing bel canto melodies, designed to show off the virtuoso singers of the day.

The Russian writer Aleksandr Pushkin, the founder of his country’s modern literature, completes his novel Eugene Onegin, and publishes his historical drama Boris Godunov.

The English explorer James Clark Ross, voyaging with his uncle John Ross, locates the position of the north magnetic pole. He leads an expedition to Antarctica in 1839.

The English naturalist Charles Darwin leaves aboard HMS Beagle on a world surveying expedition. The five-year voyage was to bring about a revolution in the science of biology.


The First Reform Act is passed in Britain, extending the franchise and improving the

distribution of parliamentary seats. A Factory Act and a new Poor Law follow in 1833/34.



Slavery is abolished throughout the British Empire, and the American Anti-Slavery Society

is founded. But it was some 40 years before most European countries had imposed a ban.

Following the death of Ferdinand VII of Spain, his brother, Don Carlos, attempts but fails to seize the throne from Ferdinand’s daughter Isabella

in the savage First Carlist War.

A sermon on the decline of religious faith in England, preached by the Anglican priest John

Keble, launches the Oxford Movement, led by the brilliant theologian John Henry Newman.

The Scottish geologist Charles Lyell completes his Principles of Geology in which he supports Hutton’s “uniformitarianism”, and indirectly influences Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Katsushika Hokusai finishes his Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. He and his contemporary

Ando Hiroshige, both exponents of ukiyo-e, dominate Japanese print making at this time.

The English inventor Charles Babbage, having attempted to build a mechanical calculator.

in 1823, conceives the idea of a computer, but his “analytical engine” is never completed.


Six English farm labourers from Dorset - known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs - are

transported to Australia for forming a trade union aimed at securing higher wages.

The brilliant French realist writer Honoré de Balzac writes Le Père Goriot, a major work in his The Human Comedy, a vast series of some ninety novels and short stories.

The Spanish Inquisition, instituted in 1478 (E4), is finally abolished by a Royal decree, signed by regent Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies during the minority of Isabella II.


The Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen produces the first of his many fairy tales, now known the world over. By 1872 he had published 168 stories, many of his own making.

The English pioneer photographer Fox Talbot, using sensitized paper, makes an image of his house. He and the Frenchman Louis Daguerre make public this method in 1839 (Va).


In the Texan War of Independence, the Texans are defeated by the Mexicans at the siege

of The Alamo and later at Goliad, but finally win their freedom at the Battle of San Jacinto.

The Boers of South Africa begin their Great Trek northwards to escape British rule and

to find new land. They eventually settle in Natal, Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

Mr Midshipman Easy is published, one of many adventure stories written by the English seafarer Frederick Marryat. He later wrote the classic tale Children of the New Forest.



The American inventor Samuel Morse produces his electromagnetic telegraph system, together with a code of signals by which messages can be sent over vast distances.


The first kindergarten is opened in Blankenburg, Prussia, by the educator Friedrich Froebel. Designed to develop a child’s natural ability, the idea is taken up world-wide.

William IV is taken ill and dies of a heart condition towards the end of June. Having no children, he is succeeded by his niece, the young Queen Victoria.


William IV: detail, by the Irish portrait painter Sir Martin Archer Shee (1769-1850), 1800 – National Portrait Gallery, London. Wilberforce: detail, by the Bohemian Anton Hickel (1745-1798), c1794 – Wilberforce House, Hull Museum, Yorkshire, England. Uprising: by the French painter Honoré Daumier (1808-1879), c1860 – the Phillips Collection, Washington. Coat of Arms: licensed under Creative Commons. Author: Sodacan –





























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