Historical Portraits Picture Archive

King William IV (1765-1837) in Admiral of the Fleet’s full dress uniform, after portrait by Andrew Morton (1802-45), 1830

William Essex (1784-1869)

King William IV (1765-1837) in Admiral of the Fleet’s full dress uniform, after portrait by Andrew Morton (1802-45),, William Essex
Rectangular, 64mm x 45mm (2 ½ x 1 ¾ in.) high
William IV’s reign was marked by dramatic political change. The widespread unpopularity of his lavish spending elder brother, George IV, presented William with a difficult challenge on becoming king in 1830. He quickly demonstrated an ability to fully embrace a need for change, and in a bid to distance himself from his predecessor quickly reduced the monarchy’s expenditure by releasing ownership of three royal yachts, a number of expensive horses, and George IV’s collection of exotic birds.

Although William’s (and by proxy the monarchy’s) reception amongst the general population was improving, his position amongst the ruling class was in doubt, who viewed his understanding of politics weak and at times naïve. The topic of electoral reform, which had been a central subject of campaign around the general election after George IV’s death, gave William a good opportunity to exert on a public stage his ideals of fairness and equality. Spearheaded by his Prime Minister, Charles, 2nd Earl Grey (1764-1845), the path to widening the franchise was complicated, not least because the bill had to pass the House of Lords, many of whose members benefitted from controlling the famous ‘rotten borough’ constituencies that allowed them to influence the Commons. The first bill was rejected by the Lords in 1831, prompting an immediate outbreak of violence in many cities and towns. There was widespread talk of revolution. William’s plan to ensure the bill’s passage through the Lords was simple, however; he would create enough new, pliant peers to ensure that Grey had the necessary votes. In the event, the mere threat of a deluge of new peers was enough to tip the balance, and in 1832 a revised bill received Royal Assent on 7th June 1832.

By early 1837 William was in rapidly declining health, experiencing bouts of serious asthma attacks as well as heart problems. In the early hours of 20th June 1837 William died, and was succeeded by his younger brother’s daughter, Victoria. William was the last British monarch to also be king of Hanover, in Germany, as salic law prevented Victoria succeeding to the Hanoverian throne.

William Essex, along with his brother Alfred, trained in the studio of Charles Muss (1779-1824), a master of multiple disciplines who was patronized frequently by George III and later William IV. William exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1818, although the subject matter of these early works tended to be animals or still-life before focusing on portraiture in the mid-1820s. In 1839 Essex was appointed enamel painter to Queen Victoria and then later in 1841 to Prince Albert.

The present work derives from Andrew Morton’s full-length portrait of William IV wearing the full-dress uniform of the Admiral of the Fleet [National Maritime Museum, Greenwich].
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.