19. The Peterloo Massacre resulted from demands for voting reform
During the Regency period, less than 12% of adult British males held the right to vote. In the rapidly industrializing north, the percentage was considerably lower. Coupled with economic downturns, rising food costs (largely caused by the Corn Laws, which artificially increased the price of grain), and lack of employment, pressures rose for Parliament to reform voting rights. In 1817 a petition bearing over 750,000 signatures arguing for reforms received a flat rejection. In 1819 reform leaders attempted to increase the pressure on local magistrates to in turn pressure Parliament. They organized large crowds to demonstrate. The crowds became mobs after magistrates moved to arrest their leaders.
At St. Peters Field in Manchester, in August 1819, the magistrates called on the 15th Hussars Cavalry to disperse a crowd of an estimated 60,000 men, women, and children. The Hussars charged the crowd with drawn sabers, leading to the deaths of up to 19, and injuries to possibly as many as 700. Most injuries went unreported, lest they lead to arrest. The Manchester Observer labeled the tragedy the Peterloo Massacre, in a nod to the cavalry charges at the Battle of Waterloo. In response, Parliament passed a series of measures known as the Six Acts. Rather than addressing voting reform, they instead aimed at preventing such gatherings of protestors. Several leaders of the protest were arrested, tried and imprisoned, others went to the penal colonies. In the aftermath, the Prince Regent thanked the magistrates, Yeomanry, and the army for its “preservation of the public peace”.
20. The Prince Regent spent a fortune to celebrate his own coronation in 1820
George III died on January 29, 1820. George Augustus ascended to his late father’s throne, as King George IV, though there was little change in his powers. At fifty-seven years of age, the new King was markedly obese, suffered from gout and cataracts, and was considered with contempt by most of his subjects. During the last years of the Regency, he took laudanum to ease the pain of his gout, which likely affected his judgment. Undeterred by public perception and protests from some in Parliament, he planned a lavish coronation. Upon learning that his wife returned to Britain, intent on claiming her role as Queen consort, he refused to acknowledge her. Instead, he commanded her name and title removed from the Book of Common Prayer.
His coronation, which he took a large interest in planning, occurred on July 19, 1821. It was the most lavish and expensive coronation in British history at the time. He spent the equivalent of over £22,000,000 in today’s money to celebrate his new rank. His father’s coronation had cost less than a twentieth of that amount. Before the coronation, George IV made one more attempt to rid himself of his wife through divorce. At his urging, friends in the House of Lords introduced and passed legislation allowing him to divorce. Popular outrage forced the House of Commons to fail to act, and it was withdrawn. Nonetheless, George prevented Caroline from attending the coronation at Westminster Abbey. She died less than three weeks later from a sudden illness, believing herself to have been poisoned.
21. The Duke of Wellington left a record of the King’s breakfast habits
In 1830, near the end of the reign of George IV, the Duke of Wellington attended him at breakfast. Wellington recorded the King consuming an entire pigeon and beef pie, as well as “three parts of a bottle of Mozelle, a Glass of Dry Champagne, two Glasses of Port…a Glass of Brandy”. The Duke also reported the King followed his breakfast with a large amount of laudanum. This while under the daily attendance of doctors. He grew more withdrawn than ever from the affairs of government, spending most of his time at Windsor Castle. A senior attendant to the King wrote in his diary, “A more contemptible, cowardly, selfish, unfeeling dog does not exist…”
As he grew aware of the nearness of his own end, George adopted religion. He confessed his repentance, and informed an archdeacon of his belief the Almighty would judge him for always doing his best for his subjects. He died on June 26, 1830, and was buried at Windsor Castle. His brother succeeded him as William IV. William died with no surviving legitimate children, though eight of his illegitimate children outlived him (he had ten known with a famous actress of the day). Upon his death, the throne was passed to his niece.
Possibly the most consequential event of British history to occur during the Regency, Princess Alexandrina was born on May 24, 1819. The daughter of Prince Edward, brother of George Augustus, then Prince Regent, she ascended to the throne in 1837 as Queen Victoria. Victoria used her considerable popularity to influence the governing of her subjects, though she did so privately and with discretion. Publicly she became a symbol of a morality which had been absent from the monarchy for many years.
Victoria was just 18 years of age when she became Queen. In 1840 she survived an assassination attempt, which restored her then lagging popularity. She later survived, uninjured, additional attempts on her life. Her nine children’s descendants became many of the crowned heads of Europe, including the German Kaiser and the Russian Tsar. She reigned longer than any other British monarch until surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II, her great-great-granddaughter. Victoria used her monarchy and large family to exhibit moral virtues and self-control, avoiding the scandalous behavior of her uncle George Augustus during the Regency Era.
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