Introducing William IV: A ‘sailor king’?

By Andrew Lambert, Laughton Professor of Naval History, Department of War Studies, King’s College London

 


Johann Heinrich von Hurter (1734-99), William, Duke of Clarence, later William IV (1765-1837). 1780 Enamel 6.3 x 5.5 cm (frame, external) RCIN 421869: Supplied by Royal Collection Trust / ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

 

Often dismissed as most significant as ‘Victoria’s uncle’, William IV, some of whose papers have now been released as part of the Georgian Papers Programme, in fact played a critical role in stabilizing the monarchy after the extravagance, excess and unpopularity of his elder brother, George IV,  overseeing the beginning of political reform while helping to shape a national culture that saw the present and future as oceanic, imperial and expansive. Although the third son of George III had little reason to expect to become king, and no education for the role, he proved to be a steadying influence in troubled times, and, above all, William would be a British sea king, a marine monarch who represented a distinctly different approach to monarchy and national identity. William ascended to the throne in 1830 aged 64, the oldest new monarch to date. He proved to be a popular king, his down-to-earth approach, naval uniform and homely domesticity a stark contrast to the overblown flummery of his predecessor.

William was raised in the Royal Navy from boyhood. During the American War of Independence his father, George III, sent him to serve under the brilliant admiral, Samuel, Lord Hood. At this time William met and befriended Horatio Nelson, who would assume Hood’s mantle in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Although his own sea-going career ended in 1790, William remained a naval man to the end of his life. In 1827 he was appointed Lord High Admiral by Prime Minister George Canning, who hoped to cultivate the heir to throne. When in 1828 William exceeded his authority, spending money without official sanction, Arthur Wellesley, duke of Wellington, who was then prime minister, forced him to resign.

When the Whig ministry of Earl Grey took office in 1831 William, now king, took an active role in selecting men for the Admiralty Board, insisting on Sir Thomas Hardy, Nelson’s captain at Trafalgar, as Senior Naval Lord. Although a reluctant appointee, Hardy shared William’s concern to maintain the Navy’s seafaring and combat skills, while adapting them to the new technology of steam propulsion. William also ran a distinctly naval court. Key household offices were deliberately allotted to sailors, while the naval heroes of the Napoleonic wars were prominent there. His aides-de-camp included Captain Sir Henry Hope, who had captured the American frigate USS President in the last major battle of the era in 1815. He also rewarded successful explorers, including naval Captain James Clark Ross, who annexed Magnetic North to the British Crown on 1 June 1831. Such achievements were commemorated in the growing output of naval literature, which the king avidly consumed. William was an important patron of naval and military history. War Office clerk Richard Cannon was directed to compile regimental histories of every unit in the British Army, while Admiralty Secretary John Barrow was encouraged to produce biographies of two great admirals, Lord George Anson and Richard, 1st Earl Howe, as exemplars for future naval officers. William’s taste in art was less sophisticated than that of his brother, but again reveals his naval proclivities.  He preferred realist sailor artists Thomas Huggins and George Chambers to the artistic elite. Pictures of ships and battles complemented naval relics, including the capstan of HMS Victory, in Williams’s palaces. He introduced his German born wife Queen Adelaide to the pleasures of seafaring: Adelaide travelled extensively on Royal Navy warships after the king’s death.

William maintained a low opinion of most foreigners, especially the French, Russians and Americans, powers that happened to possess significant navies, and which posed challenges to Britain’s dominance of the oceans. These opinions occasionally surfaced in speeches at state banquets, leaving the Foreign Secretary to apologize to the diplomatic representatives of any country he had mentioned the following morning. These speeches tended to focus on the power and glory of the Royal Navy, the right arm of the British state.

Many of William’s papers were destroyed at his death, and his archive is less substantial than those of his father or brother as monarchs. The papers that do survive, however, are essential for students of the politics of the Great Reform Act and for contemporary naval and military issues, including his preference for corporal punishment over prison, and a typically Hanoverian insistence on altering naval officer uniforms.  The red facings he introduced were swiftly abandoned at his death. The Georgian Papers project is making these hitherto under-utilized collections, including papers belonging to Queen Adelaide, much more accessible.

Critically William managed to steer a slightly unsteady, but ultimately successful course through the troubled waters of the Great Reform Act. He would be the last monarch to dismiss his ministers, an act that set a negative precedent for all successors —  including Victoria and her Consort. His conservative instincts tempered the radicalism of the Whig ministry, annoyed Whig ministers, and encouraged the resurgence of the Conservatives under Robert Peel. He tolerated the Whigs while they remained an aristocratic party, but had no time for radicals like Henry Brougham. His instinctive conservatism was widely shared, while his distaste for foreign entanglements chimed with the contemporary mood of an increasingly self-confident imperial state, one that saw Europe as a problem to be managed from a safe distance, while the wider world offered economic opportunities for capital, commerce and industry.

The last Hanoverian reigned for just seven years. Nevertheless he stabilized the monarchy, and helped to create a new identity for an increasingly self-confidant nation.  That identity was built around the naval triumphs of William’s old friend Nelson, and it would culminate in the construction of Trafalgar Square, the ultimate expression of the nation’s naval identity, the gathering place for national celebration, and the focus for a growing sense of imperial grandeur. Like much else in the evolving national identity the square remained incomplete when William died, but it was a project that reflected the character and concerns of the maritime monarch. William presided over this shift, emphasizing the critical role of the Royal Navy in British identity by wearing his naval uniform on state occasions, and surrounding himself with naval officers; his reign witnessed an upsurge in maritime cultural output, not just the art and books already mentioned but much else, the King patronizing the art of naval glory. Where the King led the nation followed. To ensure the process would be sustained after his death William ensured that his niece and successor spent time onboard Royal Navy warships, learnt about Nelson and Trafalgar, and understood just how different Britain was from continental European nations. Victoria would pass on those lessons to Prince Albert, who joined her on board HMS Victory, became a major collector of Nelson relics, and accepted the dedication of the seven-volume collection of the hero’s correspondence, which included a significant number of letters to William. William IV lived just long enough for Victoria to come of age.

The commonplace books of Lady Augusta Murray

Lady Augusta Murray’s commonplace book, c. 1785-1797, GEO/ADD/51/2 Royal Archives /© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Dr Jane Mycock explores the significance of Lady Augusta Murray’s commonplace books, one of the new tranche of Georgian papers released to the public in February 2018. Augusta married Prince Augustus Frederick, George III’s sixth son, in 1793 in defiance of the Royal Marriage Act of 1772 which required that the monarch agree to all such royal marriages. Mycock shows how her troubled family life is reflected in her commonplacing practices.

For more, read the full essay here.

 

 

The 2018 Sons of the American Revolution Georgian Papers Programme annual lecture: Book now!

Professor Gabriel Paquette

(The Johns Hopkins University)

Spain and the American Revolution

Monday 26 March 2018, 6.30 pm

Venue: The Great Hall, Strand Campus, King’s College London

Admission Free with ticket booked on Eventbrite.

John Trumbell, ‘The Sortie Made by the Garrison of Gibraltar’ (1788, oil on canvas). Cincinatti Art Museum.

Professor Paquette will lecture on Spain’s role in the American Revolution. He is especially interested in the Anglo-Spanish relationship, and the outbreak of war between these two countries in 1779. George III strenuously sought to prevent long-standing rivalry with Spain from leading to war and he sought in vain to end hostilities at various points. Using the Georgian Papers and other manuscript sources, Paquette traces the evolution of Spain’s relations with Britain during the American Revolution, when the two Powers clashed from Honduras to Gibraltar. What emerges is a portrait of George III’s ‘personal diplomacy’ and British strategic priorities in the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Atlantic World more generally.

Admission to the Lecture is free by ticket available on Eventbrite. Please follow this link to book.

 

Gabriel Paquette is Professor of History at The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA, and was the 2017 Sons of the American Revolution Georgian Papers Programme visiting professor at King’s College London. His research explores aspects of European, Latin American and international History. His first book, Enlightenment, Governance, and Reform in Spain and its Empire, 1759-1808 (Palgrave, 2008) analyzed the intellectual origins of the later eighteenth-century reforms undertaken by the Spanish Crown in the Iberian Peninsula and Spanish America; in 2013 he published Imperial Portugal in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions: The Luso-Brazilian World, c. 1770-1850 (CUP). He is now working on a synoptic history of  Western European ‘seaborne’ empires in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In addition to his principal areas of research, Paquette has written on the history of Anglo-Iberian relations, Spanish American Independence, Marx and Hegel, Romanticism, and early nineteenth-century Liberalism.

 


The Sons of the American Revolution

The Sons of the American Revolution is an historical, educational and patriotic non-profit corporation whose members are direct descendants of the men and women who supported the cause of American Independence during the years 1774-1783. The National Society of the Sons of the Revolution is collaborating with King’s College London to sponsor visiting professorships at the College and hosted by various departments. The visiting professors work on their own research and disseminate their findings relevant to the GPP to academics, archivists and the wider public. The Georgian Papers Programme is very grateful to the Sons of the American Revolution for sponsoring this research opportunity and its ongoing support of the Programme more generally.

Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at King’s

The Department of Spanish, Portuguese & Latin American Studies (SPLAS) at King’s, which has hosted Professor Paquette, has historic roots in the early development of the academic study of the Hispanic and Lusophone worlds. This long tradition allows it to build in innovative ways on profound expertise in research and teaching across these languages, literatures and cultures. Modern Languages research at King’s achieved a ‘power’ ranking of 9th in the UK according the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, which assesses the quality and quantity of research across the UK’s universities. This research underpins teaching in SPLAS, which is developing new collaborations across the department that reflect and develop this fundamental relationship. Its courses reflect the diversity of interests within the Department, covering four continents and ranging from modern Brazilian music to Medieval Spanish literature. The Modern Languages departments at King’s ranked 7th in the UK in the 2016 QS World University Rankings by Subject and 8th in the Guardian University guide 2018. The Department has an extremely successful and vibrant graduate student culture, embracing both a PhD programme and an MA in Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies.  Its  alumni contribute to the field of Hispanic and Lusophone studies in the UK and beyond.

Georgian Papers Programme

On April 1, 2015 the Georgian Papers Programme was launched at Windsor Castle in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen. A collaboration between King’s College London, founded by George IV, and the Royal Collection Trust, the Programme is digitizing, disseminating, and interpreting an extraordinarily rich collection of materials, including correspondence, maps, and royal household ledgers. The Programme involves a number of international partnerships: notably with the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and The College of William and Mary, the primary American partners, and also the Library of Congress and the Washington Library at Mount Vernon.

The project involves the digitisation of all the historic manuscripts from the Georgian period, totalling more than 350,000 pages, of which only about 15% have previously been published. While the vast majority of the collection comprises papers from George III, papers from Kings George I, George II, George IV and William IV are also being made available.

It is hoped that the work will transform the understanding of Georgian Britain and its monarchy, at a time of profound cultural, political, economic and social change which created the modern nation.