Followers of my blog will have noted that my list of links to other blogs includes “A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life” – a vastly entertaining blog that addresses all aspects (but especially outrageous ones!) of 18th Century life. Catherine Curzon, alias Madame Gilflurt, has been kind enough to write a guest blog for me on the life of Britain’s King William IV (1765 – 1837) who became known as “The Sailor King”.
Over to Madame for more…
William IV – A Stormy Voyage to the Throne
|William IV in dress uniform by Sir Martin Archer Shee|
The end of the Georgian era is a point that has come in for some debate and, as I found when researching Life in the Georgian Court, William IV is not a man who is often included in the notorious list of the Georgian monarchs. William was not a farmer like his father, nor a Prinny, like his brother but instead the Sailor King, a committed naval man and the heirless monarch who came to the throne when he was already well into his sixties, paving the way for the Victorian era that was to follow.
When William gave his first newborn cries at Buckingham House, his status as third son to George III and Queen Charlotte meant it was unlikely that he would ever inherit the throne. Rather than submit to the painstaking preparation to rule that his brother faced, William’s life was set to be a nautical one. Under the guidance of his tutors, Major-General Budé and Dr James Majendie, he grew up fast until, at the age of thirteen, William joined the Royal Navy. It was the best decision for all, the king decided, keeping his son safely away from the potentially thorny influence of his brother, George.
Accompanied by a tutor, William went to sea as a midshipman aboard the Prince George and, in 1780, he even went to war serving at the First Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1780. He was a keen member of the crew yet his fame was about to get the better of him. It was in New York during the American War of Independence that William dodged a kidnap attempt sanctioned by George Washington himself. Though he was unharmed, this marked the end of the young man’s unrestricted gadding about.
The moonlight Battle of Cape St Vincent, 1780 by Francis Holman (1729–1784)
William’s rise through the ranks took a hiatus when he spent a couple of years in Hanover and found his first romantic fancy but in 1785 he was once more at sea, this time as Lieutenant. Just twelve months later, he was captain of his own vessel. By the age of nineteen, the ambitious young sailor was captain of HMS Pegasus and came to the attention of Nelson, who was soon a devoted admirer; indeed, William gave the bride away and was a witness when Nelson married Frances Nisbet in 1787.
Capriciousness was not the sole preserve of George, Prince of Wales, and William, though apparently a charming and fun sort of chap when the mood took him, was not a man who liked to be questioned. This meant that relationships with his crew were occasionally just a little fractious, though he had no such problems when it came to charming the girls.
In 1789, William’s star had grown even higher and he was appointed Rear-Admiral and placed in command of HMS Valiant. However, though his professional star was in the ascendancy,
at home William was not satisfied with the way things were going. Whilst his brothers had been made into dukes, no similar honour appeared to be coming his way and his father, in fact, seemed downright reluctant.
|William as Lord High Admiral 1828|
Finally, William decided to force the king’s hand and declared that he was thinking about standing as the parliamentary candidate for Totnes in Devon. As he had known it would, the threat sent George III scrambling to meet his demands and he accordingly named his son Duke of Clarence and St Andrews in 1789.
The following year, William resigned from active service, a decision he would always regret. He pined to be back at sea during the Napoleonic Wars, yet no call ever came. Following a speech in which he questioned the need for the conflict, he became convinced that this was the reason that he received no command and recanted, speaking out in favour of the war, but still no call came.
Promotions followed and eventually he rose to the rank of Lord High Admiral, yet even this couldn’t match the thrill of a naval command. When he took to the waves with a fleet of ships in 1828 and no word as to their mission, Wellington demanded that he resign; William was happy to oblige. Two years later William inherited the throne as his two older brothers died without leaving living legitimate issue.
William died on 20th June 1837, just a week before the seventh anniversary of the beginning of his reign. With his death, Queen Victoria assumed the throne whilst in Hanover, where no woman could rule, the crown passed to his brother, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.
No longer would the two thrones be linked.
An era had ended.
About the Author
Catherine Curzon is a royal historian and blogs on all matters 18th century at
Her work has featured by publications including BBC History Extra, All About History, History of Royals, Explore History and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She has also provided additional material for the sell-out theatrical show, , will she will introduce at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, in September (tickets are available ).
Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, she lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.
About Life in the Georgian Court
As the glittering Hanoverian court gives birth to the British Georgian era, a golden age of royalty dawns in Europe. Houses rise and fall, births, marriages and scandals change the course of history and in France, Revolution stalks the land.
Peep behind the shutters of the opulent court of the doomed Bourbons, the absolutist powerhouse of Romanov Russia and the epoch-defining family whose kings gave their name to the era, the House of Hanover.
Behind the pomp and ceremony were men and women born into worlds of immense privilege, yet beneath the powdered wigs and robes of state were real people living lives of romance, tragedy, intrigue and eccentricity. Take a journey into the private lives of very public figures and learn of arranged marriages that turned to love or hate and scandals that rocked polite society.
Here the former wife of a king spends three decades in lonely captivity, Prinny makes scandalous eyes at the toast of the London stage and Marie Antoinette begins her last, terrible journey through Paris as her son sits alone in a forgotten prison cell.
Life in the Georgian Court is a privileged peek into the glamorous, tragic and iconic courts of the Georgian world, where even a king could take nothing for granted.