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Name: King William IV
Full Name: William Henry
Born: August 21, 1765 at Buckingham Palace
Parents: George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Relation to Elizabeth II: 3rd great-granduncle
House of: Hanover
Ascended to the throne: June 26, 1830 aged 64 years
Crowned: September 8, 1831 at Westminster Abbey
Married: Adelaide, daughter of Duke of Saxe-Meinigen
Children: Four none of whom survived infancy, plus several illegitimate by Dorothy Jordan
Died: June 20, 1837 at Windsor Castle, aged 71 years, 9 months, and 28 days
Buried at: Windsor
Reigned for: 6 years, 11 months, and 24 days
Succeeded by: his niece Victoria
William was the third son of George III and not expected to become king. He was sent off to join the Royal Navy at 13 years old, and saw service at the Battle of St Vincent against the Spanish in 1780 and in New York during the American War of Independence. A supposed plot approved by George Washington to kidnap him was leaked and did not come to fruition. He was later stationed in the West Indies under Horatio Nelson, and left active service in 1790 as a Rear Admiral.
He was created Duke of Clarence and from 1791 set up home with Dorothea Bland, an Irish actress known as ‘Mrs Jordan’. They lived contentedly together for 20 years, and had 5 sons and 5 daughters given the surname Fitzclarence. By 1817 William was in debt but, with the death of Princess Charlotte only daughter of his elder brother, he had become heir to the throne. Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen was found for him as a suitable Protestant wife and they married in 1818. The marriage was happy but despite several miscarriages there were no children who survived infancy. His London residence Clarence House was designed for him by John Nash in 1825.
William was 64 years old and the oldest person to date to succeed to the throne when he became King on the death of his brother George IV in 1830. He was nicknamed ‘The Sailor King’, distrusted foreigners and was noted for his informality. He regularly invited his friends for dinner, and when told that his carriage was not ready to take him to Parliament he is reported to have said ‘Then I will go by hackney cab’. In 1834 when fire destroyed the Houses of Parliament at Westminster he offered Buckingham Palace to Parliament. They declined and Westminster was rebuilt by Charles Barry in Gothic style.
He took his responsibilities seriously but was more used from his naval career to giving and receiving orders than the intrigues of politics. The Reform Act which sought to remove inequalities in the electoral system, including the removal of ‘rotten boroughs’ which returned a disproportionate representation to actual voters, had a stormy passage through Parliament. It was only passed in 1832 after street protests and Lord Grey and his cabinet threatened to resign unless the king supported them against opposition from the House of Lords. He sought to repair Anglo-American relations following the war during his father’s reign but, despite his experience in the West Indies, argued against Wilberforce who was campaigning to abolish the slave trade. The Abolition of Slavery Act was eventually passed in 1833. William died in 1837 aged 71 of heart failure. He had no legitimate children and was succeeded by his niece Victoria.
King William IV's Signature
‘I have my view of things, and I tell them to my ministers. If they do not adopt it, I cannot help it. I have done my duty’ – King William IV (he was not a political animal)
“Silly Billy” – name said to be given to William when he was Duke of Clarence during a visit to Bedlam hospital. When he became king he gleefully told his councillors “Who’s the Silly Billy now?”
"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." – King William IV (expressing his hope that his niece Victoria would be over 18 when she succeeded to the throne so her mother The Duchess of Kent would not be regent).
“Whatever his faults may have been …. he was not only zealous but most conscientious in the discharge of his duties as king. He had a truly kind heart and was anxious do what was right” – Queen Victoria (speaking about her uncle King William IV).
William IV succeeds his brother, George IV, at the age of 64
The new London Bridge is opened over the River Thames.
The First Reform Act is passed, extending votes and redistributing Parliamentary seats on a more equitable basis.
Cholera spreads from Sunderland and runs rampant killing over 20,000 people.
Abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire following a campaign by Quakers and William Wilberforce.
Factory Act passed prohibiting children aged less than nine from work in factories, and reducing the working hours of women and older children.
Poor Law Act is passed, creating workhouses for the poor.
The Tolpuddle Martyrs are transported to Australia for attempting to form a trade union.
Fire destroys the Palace of Westminster.
The Municipal Reform Act is passed, requiring members of town councils to be elected by ratepayers and councils to publish their financial accounts.
Births, marriages and deaths must be registered by law
Dickens publishes Oliver Twist, drawing attention to Britain’s poor
Charles Darwin returns from a five year voyage on HMS Beagle researching natural history
William IV dies at Windsor Castle.