History of England, Part III, William and Mary to 1887

Tout, T. F. --Powell, F. York


CHAPTER II: William IV, 1830-1837


1. [1] 

" William IV.,"

says Greville,

" came to the throne at the mature age of sixty-five, and was so excited by his exaltation, that he nearly went mad, and distinguished himself by a thousand eccentricities of language and conduct, though he afterwards sobered down."


"he was a good-natured, kind-hearted, and well-meaning man, and he always acted an honourable and straightforward, if not always a sound and discreet part." " His simplicity and affability were very striking," and he "looked like a respectable old admiral."

Queen Adelaide was

" very ugly, with a horrid complexion, but good manners."

William was popular, and a reformer, but he worked very cordially with the Government, though the Duke had turned him out of the High Admiralship in .

2. [2] A wave of revolution now spread over Europe. Charles X. of France and Polignac tried to put down the liberty of the press. The Paris mob rose in revolution, and in the street battles of the

" three glorious days of July"

drove out Charles, and made Louis Philippe, Duke of Orleans, the

" citizen"

king of the French, with a constitution of the English sort. Belgium turned out the Dutch King of the Netherlands. German and Italian Liberals strove to upset the Vienna settlement. Poland rose against Russia. The work of the Holy Alliance was everywhere crumbling to pieces.

3. [3] In England the Liberal movement took the form of a new cry for Reform of Parliament. Ever since the Revolution of the bad constitution of Parliament had made itself felt. Each English shire, great or small, returned two members, and none but the freeholders had votes. Many of the boroughs, sending two members apiece to the House, were wretched villages or, like Gatton and Old Sarum, had hardly any inhabitants at all, and the representatives of even the larger boroughs were in many cases chosen by a close corporation, or by a narrow and corrupt electorate. Seats in Parliament could be bought, and many members sat as the nominees of great lords. Scotland was hardly represented at all, so narrow was the franchise there. The new towns


of northern England had as a rule no members, so that after the Industrial Revolution the need of Reform was greater than ever. Early in 's reign Chatham had declared

"that the small boroughs were the rotten part of the constitution, but though the limb is mortified, amputation might be death. A gentler remedy is to be found in giving a new member for each shire, for the knights of the shire approach nearest the constitutional representation of the country, because they represent the soil."

Junius maintained that

"if any part of the representative body be not chosen by the people, that part vitiates and corrupts the whole."

Even (who revered the constitution as a living sacred thing, to tamper with which would destroy it and bring about anarchy) recognised that

" the great subject of apprehension and redress now was the distemper of Parliament."

, when he first entered Parliament, brought forward a Reform Bill, and was well supported, though after he became minister he accepted his defeats as final. But in Ireland there had been a Reform Agitation of the most vigorous kind, even after the French Revolution had frightened into reaction, and the Union brought about a wholesale disfranchisement of Irish rotten boroughs, without any of the fearful results expected.

Charles Grey brought forward motions in favour of Reform on three occasions, though he never met with much support. Gradually the Whig party took up the question, and, after Grey went to the Lords, and Lord John (son of the Duke of Bedford) took his place. Out of doors the Radicals were all zealous Reformers. Even after , when and had turned attention to other channels, the movement was carried on by singling out specially corrupt boroughs and insisting on their losing their members. Thus Grampound in Cornwall was disfranchised, and its members given to Yorkshire, as the Tories would not allow them to Leeds. In the question whether the members for East Retford should go to Birmingham or to the hundred of Bassetlaw (the surrounding district) caused the breach between and the ministry of . In opposition the Canningites forgot their old leader's hatred of Reform. even thought to make up for his quarrel with the Protestant Tories by negotiations with . But was killed at the opening of the and railway, and his death made it easier for the Canningites


to become absorbed among the Whigs. The popular cry for Reform rose higher. Suffering artisans believed that a reformed Parliament would mean more work and higher wages, and the unrepresented middle classes of the North and the great towns clamoured eagerly for it. A political Union of Reformers was formed at Birmingham by the zealous Attwood, and similar associations spread over England. The general election after William's accession destroyed the Government majority, and the popular boroughs and the counties (whose voice then had immense weight as evidence of public opinion) sent up Reformers. The blind hatred of the old-Tories to the Government which had betrayed them made these changes easier.

4. [4]  thought he saw a revolution coming, and declared that the present system was perfect, and that he would always resist its alteration. The feeling against him rose high, and on 15th November the Government resigned after a defeat on Sir Henry 's motion for a select committee on the civil list.

William IV. now sent for Earl Grey, who formed a strong reforming Cabinet. The veteran Lord Lansdowne was President of the Council; the restless and turbulent was made Chancellor and a baron; and the Radicals were pleased by Lord Durham, Grey's son-in-law, becoming Privy Seal. Lord Althorp, son of Lord Spencer, led the House of Commons as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was a

"short, thick-set man, with a dark red complexion, black hair, very ordinary and farmer-like style of dress, and no particular vivacity of countenance."


" remarkable bonhomie,"

says Greville,

"his unalterable good nature and good temper, the conviction of his honesty and sincerity, and of his want of ambition, single-mindedness, and unfeigned desire to get out of the cares of office, have procured him a greater personal regard and greater influence than any minister I recollect."

But he had more of the sportsman and country gentleman than the statesman about him, and was

"sluggish, inert, vacillating, unforeseeing."

In the other posts the Canningites mustered strong, including as Foreign Secretary, (William ) as Home Secretary, and Goderich as Colonial Secretary. Lord John was Paymaster, though not in the Cabinet; the brilliant orator was Irish Secretary, and Sir James Graham First Lord of the Admiralty.

5. [5] 

The agitation was now terrible. The people had cried out for

"the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill,"

and its most vital part was in danger. The Birmingham Union resolved to march 200,000 strong to London, and petitions were signed that no supplies should be granted till the Bill was passed. Grey pressed William to make enough new peers to carry the Bill, but the king refused, worked upon by the queen and the Tory ladies at Court. The ministry resigned, and boldly undertook to form another. But wisely held aloof, thinking that a Tory Reform Bill, after Tory Catholic emancipation, would destroy his reputation; and the Duke, who saw that any minister would have to pass some sort of Reform Bill, gave up his attempt. To prevent the wholesale creation of new peers, and a large number of lords withdrew, and on 4th June the Reform Bill was finally carried. Its provisions were-

(a) All boroughs, 56 in number, with less than 2000 inhabitants, were entirely disfranchised (Schedule A). (b) All boroughs with between 2000 and 4000 inhabitants were cut down to one member (Schedule B). (c) The 143 seats thus vacant were given to (1) the larger counties, some of which were broken up into two or even three divisions, each returning two members; (2) the unrepresented boroughs, including


, Birmingham, Leeds, and other great manufacturing towns, several boroughs in London (Tower Hamlets, Finsbury, Marylebone, Lambeth, and Greenwich), which had two members each, and 21 smaller but still considerable places which returned one member. (d) The county franchise was enlarged by adding copyholders and leaseholders, and £ 50 tenants-at-will (Chandos clause) to the freeholders. (e) The irregularities of the borough franchise were abolished, many electors in the freer towns lost their votes, and a new uniform qualification of occupation of a house of £10 a year, ratable value, was substituted, resident freemen created before


being allowed to keep their votes. (f) The duration of a county election was reduced to two days (instead of fifteen), and of borough elections to one. (g) Scotland received eight new members, taken from England, and holders, even by a long lease, of land or houses worth £10, and tenants-at-will paying £50 a year, were enfranchised. The borough franchise was as in England. (h) Ireland got five new borough members, but the forty-shilling freeholders remained disfranchised.

The Tories rightly described the Reform Bill as a revolution, though it was a long time before its full effects were felt. It dethroned the landed aristocracy, who, since , had practically governed the country, and transferred the balance of power to the middle classes, for the new qualifications generally allowed the farmers to return the county members, and the shopkeepers those for the boroughs. Very few working-men could now get a vote, and those who had one already in places like Westminster or Preston lost it. But though the Reform Bill did not bring in democracy, it prepared the way for it. Vainly the Whigs protested that it was a final measure. It was only a stepping-stone to further changes. But it was at the time a sensible and practical compromise between the old Constitution and the mere representation of numbers, which the Radicals favoured.

6. [6] The first reformed Parliament met early in anxious for more changes. Its members were, as a rule, older, more active, more talkative, and more hard-working than the old ones.

"The first thing that strikes one,"

says Greville,

" is its inferiority to preceding Houses of Commons, and the presumption, impertinence, and self-sufficiency of the new members."

But Greville belonged to the old governing class.

" There exists no party but that of the Government; the Irish act in a body under


to the number of about 40; the Radicals are scattered up and down without a leader, numerous, restless, turbulent, bold, and active; the Tories, without a head, frightened, angry, and sulky;


, without a party, prudent, cautious, and dexterous, playing a deep waiting game of scrutiny and observation."

7. [7] A great series of deep-reaching changes was the result of the new energy which the Reform Bill had produced. The first question was, as usual, Ireland, which had set on fire by his demand for Repeal. But the worst feature in Ireland was the Tithe War, caused by the refusal of the Catholic peasants to pay any longer for the support of the


Protestant Church. All sorts of outrages were committed; and the clergy were often starving, for the collection of tithe had now become quite impossible. The Government advanced money to the Irish clergy, and tried to collect the tithes itself, but put off the final settlement of the question, and passed a Coercion Act. But in February Althorp had brought forward the Church Temporalities (Ireland) Act, which cut down the number and incomes of the Irish bishoprics, and included an Appropriation Clause. which directed that the surplus moneys should be devoted to any purpose that Parliament might direct. This was, however, given up because of the strong feeling against turning Church money to other than Church purposes. Crime rapidly diminished after the Coercion Act was passed, but the disturbances were soon revived. It was not until that a final Irish Tithe Commutation Act was passed, which turned the claim of a tenth of the produce into a fixed rent-charge. Before that several Tithe Bills had failed, owing to the Appropriation Clause. But in tithes in England were commuted into a rent-charge, fixed yearly by the average price of corn for the seven preceding years. Several other attempts to reform the Church were defeated; but in an Ecclesiastical Commission was established, which put an end to many abuses and inequalities.

8. [8] In the same session the slave question came up again. The slave-trade had almost died out since had made the Act of effectual by another Act which made it felony, and in had carried some resolutions paving the way for the gradual abolition of slavery itself; but the jealousy of the planters, and the mutinous spirit of the slaves, had made them of little real use. The reforming Parliament was strongly abolitionist, and though Althorp had wished to carry out 's plan of gradual emancipation, the anti-slavery party, headed by Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, pressed for a more sweeping measure. In August , now Colonial Secretary, carried the Emancipation Act.

It provided that all slaves should be free after , and children under six free at once. The rest were to work as apprentices for twelve years, giving three-quarters of their time for nothing, but this system was given up after four years. The planters were awarded £20,000,000 as compensation.

9. The reformed Parliament passed some useful minor


reforms; renewed the Bank Charter, and made bank-notes legal tender; and revised the Charter of the East Company, so as to make the Company entirely a political body, and throw open n trade. [9]  Its next great measure was the New Poor Law of , which ended the degrading system of Poor Law doles in aid of wages, and modified the Law of Settlement, which had prevented labourers from taking their labour to the best market. It also put an end to the careless administration of the old Poor Law by the smaller parishes, and established Unions of several parishes, with a single workhouse big enough to be managed well, and governed by popularly elected Guardians of the Poor. It made a distinction between the idle and the destitute, and forbade outdoor relief to the able-bodied, who refused to go into the workhouse. It cut down the crushing burden of the poor-rate, which in some country parishes had risen so high that men had ceased to till the soil. It probably did more to improve the condition of the people than any other single measure of the time.

10. [10] In the great series of changes was completed by the Municipal Corporations Reform Act, which did for the local parliaments of the boroughs what the Reform Bill had done for England's Parliament at Westminster. It put an end to the old confused state of things, and established in each corporate town a Mayor, chosen every year, and a popularly elected Town-Council, a third of which, however, the House of Lords required, was to consist of Aldermen, elected by the councillors from themselves or the electors. The old corporations had mostly been self-appointed, and were often scandalously corrupt. The new ones, though sometimes falling under the management of inferior men, did their work much better. Some small corporations were outside the Act. The vast vested interests of the City of London saved it also from reform.

11. [11]  ruled like a despot over the foreign policy of England, and would not suffer the least interference from his colleagues. He strove to break with the bad traditions of , and bring back the liberal policy of his master , though in his zeal for this he sometimes lost sight of 's doctrine of non-intervention. He was in sympathy therefore with the movements of . He joined with Louis Philippe, the new king of the French, in winning the liberty of Belgium, and procured the throne for Leopold of Coburg,


the widower of the Princess Charlotte, who was limited by a constitution like the new one in France. As the Dutch would not give up Antwerp, the English fleet blockaded the Scheldt, while the French besieged the Citadel. This settled the whole business. In Portugal, actively sympathised with the Constitutional party and the young Queen Maria, now so hard pressed by Dom that her father Dom Pedro came over from Brazil to help her. English volunteers poured in to her aid. Her English admiral, Napier, defeated her uncle's fleet, and in she was everywhere triumphant. A similar struggle broke out in Spain, where, in , King died, leaving the throne to his infant daughter Isabella, with her mother Christina as regent. But their claims were contested by her uncle Don Carlos. A fierce civil war broke out, Carlos aiming at despotism, and professing legitimist principles, while the Christinos were, in name at least, constitutionalists. In formed a Quadruple Alliance between the two peninsula queens and the English and French. This put a final end to Dom , and for a time settled the fate of Don Carlos, though he soon renewed the war, and was not finally beaten till , the English legion of volunteers under General De Lacy Evans sharing largely in his defeat.

Constitutionalism was thus established all over the West, and, as boasted, the Quadruple Alliance served as a powerful counterpoise to the East, where the principles of the Holy Alliance still prevailed owing to the close friendship of Austria, Russia, and Prussia. The national and liberal movements in Germany and Italy were suppressed. The Czar Nicholas now crushed the Poland that the Vienna Congress had in a way restored, abolished its constitution, and annexed it to the Russian empire. It was impossible for to prevent this. The Turks were now so hard pressed by Mehemet Ali and Ibrahim Pasha, who had overrun Syria and threatened Constantinople, that they had to call on Russian aid, in return for which the Bosphorus was opened to Russian ships by the Treaty of Unkiar Skelesi (), despite the protests of England and France.

12. The Reform Government proved unsuccessful in administration and a failure in finance. Grey was neither strong nor careful enough to keep good discipline in his untrained and fiery Cabinet.

"His tall, commanding, and dignified appearance,"

says Greville,

"his flow of language,

graceful action, well-rounded periods, classical taste and legal knowledge, render him the first orator of his day, but his conduct is influenced by pride, vanity, caprice, indecision."

[12] Durham brutally insulted him and left the Government. In May , Graham, and Goderich (now Earl of ) went out for fear of the Appropriation Clause. In July Grey himself resigned in disgust, and Lord became Prime Minister.

" He was,"

says Greville,

" a very singular man. He lived surrounded by books, and could converse learnedly on almost all subjects. He was often paradoxical, and often coarse, terse, epigrammatic, acute, droll. He was never really fitted to be the leader of a party or the head of a government, for he had neither strong convictions, nor eager ambition, firmness, and resolution."

13. [13] The position of the Tories had been very peculiar during these years. Their opposition to reform had made them so unpopular that they were in a miserable minority, and high Tories like Croker vowed never to sit in a reformed House of Commons. But knew that the middle classes were no revolutionists, and set about forming a new party adapted to the new state of things. He was brilliantly successful in and out of Parliament. The old Tories gradually came back to their allegiance, and the weakness of the Whigs bit by bit turned sensible men towards him, though his cold manners, his shyness and awkwardness, and his want of stirring principles or vivid enthusiasm, prevented him from being personally popular.

" How enviable is


's position,"

wrote Greville in ;

"in the prime of life, with an immense fortune, facile princeps in the House of Commons, unshackled by party convictions and prejudices, universally regarded as the ablest man, and with a very high character. No matter how unruly the House, he is sure of being heard with profound attention and respect. Except


, he is the first and only real orator in it. His great merit consists in his judgment, tact, and discretion, his promptitude, knowledge, and great command over himself."

now offered a programme of good government, sound finance, moderate administrative reform, and the preservation of the existing constitution in Church and State. Dropping the discredited name of Tory, 's followers called themselves Conservatives, and were bitterly described by an enemy as

"Tory men with Whig measures."

was still playing his waiting game, but in November , the king, now thoroughly sick of reform, took the pretext of Althorp becoming Lord Spencer to turn out Mel bourne. was travelling in Italy, and

"played the part of a Richelieu for a brief time"

by holding the Treasury and three Secretaryships. When got home he took office, published his programme in his famous Tamworth Manifesto, and called together a new Parliament. The Conservatives gained enormously, but were still not quite a majority; and the unfriendliness of and his little party, who had refused office, completed their ruin.

14. [14]  came back to power in April with most of his old colleagues, except , whose mad vagaries as Chancellor had done so much harm that he was shelved for ever. But the new ministry was wretchedly weak and divided. Attacked by its turbulent Radical supporters, and by the malice and rancour of , compromised by but afraid to quarrel with and his


of Repealers (whose hostility would have turned it out of office), patron ised and exposed in turn by and the Conservatives, it failed in its measures of Church reform, failed in its Irish policy, and carried nothing great but the Municipal Reform Act. It was still clinging to place when, on 20th June , the old king died.


[1] Character of William IV.

[2] Revolutions on the Continent, 1830.

[3] Revival of the Reform Agitation, 1830.

[1] [1830.

[4] The Grey Ministry, 1830-34.

[5] The Reform Bill, 1831-32.On 1st March 1831, Lord John Russell brought forward a Reform Bill which, on 21st March, passed its second reading by one vote, and came to grief in committee. The ministers forced the king to dissolve. At the new elections the Reformers made a clean sweep of the counties, and by September a new Reform Bill had got through the Commons by more than a hundred majority. It was thrown out by the Lords on 8th October, and fierce riots raged all over the country, of which the worst was at Bristol. In March 1832 Lord John carried a third bill through the Commons, which, through the action of Lord Harrowby and the " waverers," was read a second time in the Lords by a majority of nine; but, on 7th May, Lyndhurst carried against the Government a resolution postponing the disfranchising clauses.

[6] Character of the Reformed Parliament, 1833.

[7] Ireland, the Church, and Tithes, 1833-38.

[1] [1833-1835.]

[8] Abolition of Slavery, 1833.

[9] New Poor Law, 1834.

[10] Municipal Reform, 1835.

[11] Palmerston's Foreign Policy, 1830-37.

[1] [1833-1834.]

[12] Break-up of the Whig Government, 1834.

[13] The Conservative Party. Peel's Ministry, 1834-35.

[14] Melbourne's Second Ministry, 1835-41.

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