William IV - 1830-1837
.William Succeeded his brother, George IV, and was welcomed with open arms by the British public, who had grown weary of the excesses of the fourth George. William possessed an unassuming character, exemplary private life and disdain for pomp and ceremony.
The third son of George III, he moved up the line of succession when his elder brother, the Duke of York, died. While following a naval career that took him to the office of Lord High Admiral, he had lived out of the public eye with his mistress, Dorothea Jordan. She was an actress who bore him ten illegitimate children.
In 1818, beset by debts and also aware that the death of the Prince Regent's daughter in childbirth left the Hanoverians without heirs, William married Adelaide of Saxe Meiningen. The two daughters born to them died in infancy.
Not politically minded, William depended on his ministers for advice and when, in 1831, the Whigs became the most powerful party in Parliament, a movement for parliamentary reform began that would change the political scene in Britain.
The first Reform Act in 1832, extended the franchise to some 300,000 middle-class citizens and redistributed parliamentary seats. It was the beginnings of the process that would lead to a truly democratic system.
The following year colonial slavery was abolished, and a Factory Act prohibited the use of children under nine from working in factories. The Poor Laws were reformed and the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 greatly advanced constitutional change.
The radically changed life of working people had been brought about by the industrial revolution and the establishment of industries which were to make Britain the wealthiest country in the world. It is doubtful, however, that William IV was even aware of the conditions of life of his subjects.
Society was divided between the rich, who were often landowners, and the poor, many of whom had been agricultural workers who were driven into the cities by the poverty of farming. The new society was to be the focal point of national life in the next reign.
William IV died at Windsor early in the morning of June 20, 1837.
Key Events during the Reign of William IV
1830 - William IV succeeds his brother George IV. Liverpool-Manchester railway line opened.
1831 - The new London Bridge is opened over the River Thames.
1832 - The First Reform Act is passed.
1833 - Slavery abolished throughout the British Empire. Factory Act passed, prohibiting children under the age of nine working in factories and reducing the working hours of women and older children.
1834 - Poor Law Act passed, creating workhouses for the poor. The Tolpuddle Martyrs sentenced to transporation to Australia for attempting to form a trade union. The Houses of Parliament are destroyed by fire. Lord Melbourne resigns as Prime Minister, he is succeeded by Sir Robert Peel.
1835 - The Municipal Reform Act is passed.
1836 - Births, deaths, and marriages must be registered by law.
1837 - Charles Dickens publishes The Pickwick Papers. William IV dies at Windsor Castle.