7 May 2010
King William IV of Hanover (1830–1837)
Reign 26 June 1830 – 20 June 1837
Coronation 8 September 1831 (aged 66)
Predecessor George IV
House House of Hanover
Father George III
Mother Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Born 21 August 1765(1765-08-21)
Buckingham House, London
Died 20 June 1837 (aged 71)
Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Burial 8 July 1837
St George’s Chapel, Windsor
Occupation Military (Naval)
William IV (William Henry; 21 August 1765 – 20 June 1837) was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of Hanover from 26 June 1830. William, the third son of George III and younger brother and successor to George IV, was the last king and penultimate monarch of the House of Hanover.
He served in the Royal Navy in his youth and was, both during his reign and afterwards, nicknamed the “Sailor King”. He served in North America and the Caribbean, but saw little actual fighting. Since his two older brothers died without leaving legitimate issue, he inherited the throne when he was 64 years old. His reign saw several reforms: the poor law was updated, child labour restricted, slavery abolished in nearly all the British Empire, and the Reform Act 1832 refashioned the British electoral system. Though 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 that kingdom a short-lived liberal constitution.
At his death William had no surviving legitimate children, though he was survived by eight of the ten illegitimate children he had by the actress Dorothea Jordan, with whom he cohabited for 20 years. British Conservative Party leader David Cameron is one of their descendants. William was succeeded in the United Kingdom by his niece, Victoria, and in Hanover by his brother, Ernest Augustus.
William was born in the early hours of the morning on 21 August 1765 at Buckingham House, the third child and son of King George III and Queen Charlotte. He had two elder brothers, George and Frederick, and was not expected to inherit the Crown. He was baptised in the Great Council Chamber of St James’s Palace on 20 September 1765. 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.
Prince William aged thirteen and his younger brother Edward in 1778Most of his early life was spent at Richmond and Kew, where he was educated by private tutors. 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. His experiences in the navy seem to have been little different from those of other midshipmen (though a tutor accompanied him on board ship) doing his share of the cooking and getting arrested with his shipmates after a drunken brawl on Gibraltar (he was hastily released when his identity became known). He served in New York during the American War of Independence. While the prince 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 the prince, who had up till then walked around New York unescorted.
William became a Lieutenant in 1785 and Captain of HMS Pegasus the following year. 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.” The two were great friends, and dined together almost nightly. At Nelson’s wedding, the prince insisted on giving the bride away. He was given command of the frigate HMS Andromeda in 1788, and was promoted to Rear-Admiral in command of HMS Valiant the following year.
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 run for the House of Commons for the constituency of Totnes in Devon. 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.” Although he allied himself publicly with the Whigs and his elder brothers (who were known for their conflict with their father), the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, William’s record was inconsistent and cannot, like many politicians of the time, be certainly ascribed to a single party.
Service and politics
William in dress uniform painted by Sir Martin Archer Shee, c.1800.
The newly created Duke ceased his active service in the Royal Navy in 1790. When the United Kingdom 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 because he gave a speech in the House of Lords opposing the war. The following year he spoke in favour of the war, expecting a command after his change of heart. None came. The Admiralty did not even reply to his request. He did not lose hope of being appointed to an active post, but when he was made an admiral in 1798, the rank was purely titular. Despite repeated petitions, he was never given a command throughout the Napoleonic Wars. In 1811, he was appointed to the honorary position of Admiral of the Fleet. In 1813, he came nearest to any actual fighting, when he visited the British troops fighting in the Low Countries. Watching the bombardment of Antwerp from a church steeple, he came under fire. 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 gravitas 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, the Duke insulted 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.
Relationships and marriage
From 1791, the Duke of Clarence lived for 20 years 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.
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 obtained the monarch’s consent, or, if over the age of 25, giving twelve months’ notice to the Privy Council. Several of George III’s sons, including William, chose to cohabit with the women they loved, rather than seeking a wife. After all, the younger sons, including William, were not expected to figure in the succession, which was considered secure once the Prince of Wales married and had a daughter, Princess Charlotte.
While William had an eye for the ladies as a young man, he appeared to enjoy the domesticity of his life with Mrs. Jordan. The Duke remarked 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.” The King, generally somewhat of a prude, was accepting of his son’s relationship with the actress (though recommending that he halve her allowance) and in 1797, created William Ranger of Bushy Park, which included a large residence, Bushy House, for William’s growing family. William would use 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.
The couple had ten illegitimate children, five sons and five daughters, nine of whom were named for William’s siblings, and who were given the surname “FitzClarence”. The affair would last for twenty years before ending in 1811. Mrs. Jordan at least had no doubt as to the reason for the breakup: “Money, money, my good friend, has, I am convinced made HIM at this moment the most wretched of men,” adding, “With all his excellent qualities, his domestic virtues, his love for his lovely children, what must he not at this moment suffer?” Mrs. Jordan was given a financial settlement of £4400 per year and custody of the daughters, on condition she did not resume the stage. When she did take up her acting career again, to repay debts incurred by her son-in-law (the husband of one of Mrs. Jordan’s daughters from a previous relationship), the Duke took custody of the daughters and stopped paying the £1500 designated for their maintenance. With her career failing, she fled to France to escape her creditors, and died, impoverished, near Paris in 1816.
Deep in debt, the Duke made multiple attempts towards marrying a wealthy heiress, but his suits were unsuccessful. However, when the Duke’s niece, Princess Charlotte, the second-in-line to the throne, died in childbirth in 1817, the King was left with twelve children, but no legitimate grandchildren. 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 probably beyond childbearing age) and William was the healthiest of the three. If he lived long enough, he would almost certainly become King, and have the opportunity to sire the next monarch. However, William’s first choices to wed either met with the disapproval of the Prince Regent or turned him down. His younger brother, the Duke of Cambridge, was sent to Germany to scout out the available Protestant princesses; he came up with Princess Augusta of Hesse-Cassel, but her father declined the match. Two months later, the Duke of Cambridge married her himself. Eventually, a princess was found who was amicable, home-loving, and was willing to accept, even enthusiastically welcome, William’s nine surviving children, several of whom had not yet reached adulthood. At Kew on 11 July 1818, William married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, the daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen. At 25, Adelaide was half William’s age.
The marriage, which lasted almost twenty years until William’s death, was a happy one. The new Duchess took both William and his finances in hand. For their first year of marriage, the couple lived in economical fashion in Germany, 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 increase it further were refused. William is not known to have had mistresses. The major sorrow of the marriage is that they did not have healthy children which would have secured the succession. 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 had another illegitimate son, William, before he met Mrs. Jordan and whose mother is unknown, who drowned off Madagascar in HMS Blenheim in 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