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8 September 2011

On this day in history: Coronation of William IV, 1831

On 8th September 1831, the Duke of Clarence was crowned King William IV of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and also King of Hanover. The sixty-nine year old William was the third son of George III, and ascended to the throne following the death of his older brother George IV whose only legitimate child, Princess Charlotte, died in childbirth in 1817. Under George III the popularity of the monarchy had declined due, in part, to his extravagance. Consequently, the public greeted William's insistence that his coronation cost a fraction of that of his brother with warm approval.

During his reign, William became known as the 'Sailor King' because of his career in the Royal Navy. He became a midshipman at the age of thirteen, serving in the American War of Independence. In 1785, he became a lieutenant and the next year he took command of HMS Pegasus as its Captain. Four years later, he was promoted to Rear-Admiral, but he really wanted to be made a Duke like his brothers.

Faced with his father's reluctance, William threatened to run for parliament as MP for Totnes in Devon. Disgusted by the thought of the issue being made public, the George III relented and made William Duke of Clarence and St. Andrews. He took a seat in the House of Lords where he spoke out against the abolition of slavery, but spoke out for the abolition of the penal laws against dissenting Christians.

His short reign of seven years is marked by the amount of reform legislation that Parliament passed in that time. Not only the Reform Act of 1832, which made many changes to the British electoral, but also the amendment of the Poor Law in 1834, the Factory Acts of 1831 and 1833 set limits on child labour, and the 1833 act abolishing slavery in the British Empire. While the king did not welcome all these reforms, he didn't actively thwart the will of the House of Commons, which became more powerful during his reign.

William was succeeded by his niece, Princess Victoria of Kent. She could not become Queen of Hanover because the state's Salic Law forbade a woman becoming monarch; so, William's brother Ernest Augustus became King of Hanover. Thus the personal union of the UK and Hanover ended when William died in 1837.

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