George III suffered from bouts of insanity. Eventually his son, George, was named Regent.
George III and the Regency
BY DAVID ROSS, EDITOR
George III's reign saw the loss of the American colonies in the American Revolution (1775-83). Closer to home the Gordon Riots of 1780 began as a protest against the spectre of Catholic emancipation and ended with London in the hands of an uncontrollable mob for three days of rioting and violence.
In 1799 the United Irishmen rebelled on behalf of Irish autonomy, but they were defeated at Vinegar Hill. Two years later Ireland was officially unified with Great Britain to form the United Kingdom. In the meantime the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) with France occupied centre stage. Fighting was sporadic, punctuated by English naval victories at the Battle of the Nile (1798) and Trafalgar (1805), where England's one-armed naval commander, Horatio Nelson, died in action. On land the armies under the control of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, gradually pushed Napoleon out of the Iberian peninsula and brought him to bay at Waterloo, near Brussels, Belgium.
The Luddite Protests
It finally became clear that George III was no longer fit to rule, and his son was established as Prince Regent (1810-20). "Prinnie", as he was called by his intimates, was an impulsive, Bacchanalian character, given to extravagance and excess.
However, some of his excesses have become national treasures, such as the Brighton Pavilion, a ludicrously appealing taste of the Far East on the Channel coast. On a personal level the Prince Regent had several mistresses, one of whom, Mrs.Fitzherbert, he is alleged to have secretly married. An underground passage links the Brighton Pavilion with her house close by.
When the Prince Regent finally became king (1820-30), he was at the centre of a public relations fiasco when he tried to prevent his estranged wife, Caroline, from attending the Coronation. Then came a messy and unsuccessful divorce trial, where Caroline came out much the better in popular opinion than the king.
Under the government of Robert Peel a move began towards legal and social reform. Peel was responsible for the establishment of the first regular police force in London, nicknamed "Peelers" or "Bobbies" after him. The new Corn Law of 1828 relaxed tariffs on foreign grain, and the Catholic Emancipation Bill (1829) gave Catholics the right to vote, sit in Parliament, and hold public office.
Following years saw the beginning of electoral reform. The abuses of previous generations had created a system which was ludicrously unfair and corrupt by modern standards. Voters' qualifications were different in different areas. Some "Pocket boroughs" returned whoever the local magnate nominated. Some "rotten boroughs" had as many members of Parliament as there were electors. This situation was slow to change.
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Sir Francis Drake famously completed his game of what pastime before sailing out to meet the Spanish Armada?
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This Day in British History
21 April, 1509
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