Aug 212017
 

Today is the birthday (1765) of William IV, king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and king of Hanover from 26 June 1830 until his death in 1837.  William was the third son of George III and younger brother and successor to George IV. He is often considered to be one of the dullest of the Hanoverian kings, yet a surprising number of pubs in England are named after him. The pub signs usually show him in naval uniform because he spent a good part of his life in the Royal Navy, and, thus, is usually nicknamed the Sailor King.

In 1789 William was created Duke of Clarence and St Andrews. Since his two older brothers died without leaving legitimate issue, he inherited the throne when he was 64 years old. He also died without legitimate heirs, so the daughter of his deceased younger brother, Edward, became Queen Victoria on his death. She could not inherit the kingdom of Hanover as a woman, so William’s younger brother Ernest (who was junior to Victoria in the British succession) became king of Hanover while she continued the Hanoverian line in the U.K. Therefore, William was the last joint monarch of the United Kingdom and Hanover.

William mostly kept away from politics yet his reign saw several key reforms: the poor law was updated, child labor restricted, slavery abolished in nearly all of the British Empire, and the British electoral system refashioned by the Reform Act 1832 (which William did play a hand in). Although 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. He also created a number of extra peers sympathetic to the Reform Act when it stumbled in the House of Lords and threatened to create more if they did not accede.

William spent most of his early life in Richmond and at Kew Palace, where he was educated by private tutors. At the age of 13, and because he was not expected ever to be king, 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 in contrast to other sailors he was accompanied on board ships by a tutor. He did his share of the cooking, and got arrested with his shipmates after a drunken brawl in Gibraltar, although he was hastily released from custody after his identity became known. He served in New York during the American War of Independence. While William was in North 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 William, who had up until then walked around New York unescorted.

He became a lieutenant in 1785 and captain of HMS Pegasus the following year (aged 20). In late 1786, he was stationed in the West Indies under (then-captain) 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, William 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 stand for the House of Commons for the constituency of Totnes in Dev