William IV

(1765—1837) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover

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king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1830–7), king of Hanover. The third son of George III, born 21 August 1765, he seemed unlikely to become king. He entered the navy at 13 as a midshipman and soon demonstrated that despite enthusiasm for the service, his talents were limited and his manners rough. He saw active service in the War of American Independence, and became a warm admirer and friend of Nelson, but his naval service was accompanied by a private life which was far from respectable. In 1790 he met Mrs Jordan, an actress, with whom he was to live for many years and who bore him ten children. Although he received promotions to rear‐admiral, vice‐admiral, and in 1799 admiral, the navy refused his pleas for a return to active service. His long affair with Mrs Jordan ended acrimoniously in 1811, the year in which he became admiral of the fleet.

The death of George IV's daughter Princess Charlotte in 1818 led to William's marriage to Adelaide of Saxe‐Meiningen, a widowed Bavarian princess. The marriage was a generally happy one, with Adelaide taking care of William's illegitimate children. In 1827 he was given the resurrected dignity of lord high admiral, intended as an honorific title, but his clumsy attempts to make its nominal authority effective led to his resignation after only fifteen months. George IV died on 26 June 1830, and ‘Silly Billy’ became king, with little in the way of helpful previous experience. He marked his accession by the conferment of titles on his illegitimate children, and exhibited an obvious and sometimes undignified zest for his new role. He inherited a political crisis, as the end of a long period of Tory ascendancy approached and Wellington's government faltered. Unlike George IV, William had no objection to Whig ministers, telling his new premier Lord Grey that he had ‘complete confidence in your integrity, judgement, decision and experience’. During the reform crisis of 1831–2, he facilitated the enactment of that Great Reform Act which was crucial in ensuring the peaceful evolution of Britain. William's enthusiasm for change was limited, and in November 1834, having tired of his Whig ministers, he dismissed the government and recalled the Tories under Peel. This proved a premature and unsuccessful ploy. The new government made gains at the ensuing general election, but not a majority, and William was forced to take the Whig ministers back again for the remainder of his reign. William's relations with his sister‐in‐law, the widowed duchess of Kent, Princess Victoria's mother, were difficult. He was determined to survive to see the young princess achieve her majority and so prevent her mother's regency. He lived for a month after Victoria's 18th birthday and died on 20 June 1837.

Subjects: British History.

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