Today in 1765 King William IV was born in Buckingham Palace. So often looked over by historians and royalists alike, William IV lived an extraordinary life that covered war, peace, rebellion and personal triumph. He is perhaps best known for being the oldest person to come to the throne (aged 64) and for his fierce protection of the young Princess Victoria, who was to be his successor.
The young Prince William Henry was, at birth, third in line to the throne and was not expected to succeed at all. Owing to this, William joined the Royal Navy at the age of thirteen and saw action during the American War of Independence, where the nefarious American rebels sought to break away from the supposedly ‘tyrannical’ rule of his father, George III. During the war, William gained notoriety for walking around New York unattended and therefore became the centre of a plot by George Washington to kidnap him and use him as a bartering chip in negotiations. The plot, in the end, came to nothing.
William, on his return to Britain, sought to become a Duke in the same style as his brothers. The initial refusal was met with hostility from William and, in order to put pressure on the King, William threatened to enter the House of Commons to make a spectacle as members of the Royal family were not expected to be in the public field. George III finally gave in and created William the Duke of Clarence and St Andrews in 1789.
William also saw action in the Napoleonic Wars, and was shot in the chest at the bombardment of Antwerp in 1813. His promotion to the ceremonial title of Admiral gave William a long lasting affinity and love of the Royal Navy. Consequently, when he became King, he was known as the “Sailor King”.
When King George III died, following bouts of illness assumed to be Porphyria, William’s brother became King George IV and William moved up to second in line to the throne behind his brother, Frederick, Duke of York. George IV had no legitimate children by his wife Queen Caroline of Brunswick (she apparently smelt and on their wedding night George passed out in the fire place!) and the popular knowledge of the ill health of the Duke of York meant that it was becoming more and more possible that William would one day become King.
William was appointed Lord High Admiral in 1827 and, in what can be described as probably the biggest temper tantrum in history, fell out with the Admiralty itself over some small spurn. William took a squadron of ships from Portsmouth and put it to sea for ten days without telling anyone where he was going… a bit extreme maybe but still pretty impressive!
At the age of 64, William eventually became King upon the death of his brother George and in 1831 he was crowned King William IV. His reign was a short but tempestuous one; falling out with parliament, dissolving parliament, taking a firm stance on foreigners and, perhaps most memorably, his long standing feud with the Duchess of Kent.
The Duchess of Kent was the widow of William’s younger brother Edward, Duke of Kent. Edward had died in 1820, leaving his wife to fall into the arms of “that evil advisor” John Conroy who the Duchess made her Private Secretary and, some say, her lover. It has even been suspected that Princess Victoria may have actually been Conroy’s daughter, but personally I think that’s tosh. William hated Conroy and the way he and the Duchess treated Victoria. The Duchess was selfish, vain, haughty and greedy; one of the main reasons for the feud was the Duchess annexing more rooms then she was allowed at Kensington Palace. William knew that, should he die before Victoria came of age, it would lead to a Regency headed by the Duchess and her dastardly “lover” Conroy.
At a dinner to celebrate the King’s birthday, things finally came to a head. The King exploded at the Duchess shouting: “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 (Victoria), heiress presumptive to the Crown, and not in the hands of a person now near me (Duchess of Kent), who is surrounded by evil advisers and is herself incompetent to act with propriety in the situation in which she would be placed.” Talk about making a party memorable!
William got his wish in the end. He died aged 71, only a month after his niece Victoria came of age. An interesting fellow and often overlooked because of his mad, colony losing father, drunken and charming brother, and his long lived and imposing niece.