The Ruling Monarchs 1760-1901

Theoretically, the British armed forces (then as now) came under the direct authority of Britain's King or Queen. Whilst obviously, in practice, the government regulated and controlled the armed forces, some relevance can be attached to the ruling monarch, especially in terms of insignia used on military uniforms and equipment.

GEORGE III (r. 1760 - 1820)

It was during the reign of George III that the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland were fused to form a United Kingdon (1801).

George was crowned King in 1760 on the death of his grandfather, George II. George III was born in London in 1738 and was rather more "English" than his grandfather. Early in his reign, the British Army triumphed in the Seven Years War (1754-63) and consequently British influence extended across North America and the West Indies and remained secure in India.

It was, however, a time of political instability within the British Parliament with serious division between the Tories (who supported the King) and the Whigs (who opposed the King). When the American colonies rebelled in 1775, George III was, somewhat unfairly, held responsible for the actions of his politicians in the House of Commons, the Declaration of Indedendence stating: "The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States".

With the appointment of William Pitt (the Younger) as Prime Minisiter in 1783, George III's popularity in Britain soared. His interests in agriculture ("Farmer George") and science were phenominal and he was generally regarded as a just and humane ruler. The French Revolution of 1789 and subsequent war saw the British Army fighting in Flanders, and when an invasion of England by Napoleon seemed imminent, the nation united behind the King. (The threat of invasion was negated by Nelson's victory at Trafalgar in 1805.)

Shortly after the turn of the Century George III suffered increasingly severe mental illness. The insanity became so bad that in 1810 George III's son, also named George, was appointed to rule as Prince Regent until his father's death in 1820. The early 19th Century is often refered to, therefore, as the "Regency Period", especially in terms of art, fashion and architecture.

GEORGE IV (r. 1820 - 1830)

Having acted a Regent for his father from 1810, George IV was crowned King (at the age of 58) when his father died in 1820.

Something of an extrovert himself, the King encouraged the flamboyant fashions of the Regency Period, fashions which embraced the uniforms of the Army. More than that, however, he was a patron of new forms of leisure, style and taste, commissioning John Nash to build the Royal Pavilion in Brighton and remodel Buckingham Palace and over-seeing a revolution in British architecture.

Although the Army triumphed over Napoleon in 1815, the King himself was unpopular and regarded by the people as an extravagant monarch with low morals - he drank heavily, partied often and was sexually promiscuous. At first, George IV took little interest in politics at a time when, as previously, the House of Commons was bitterly divided on matters of policy between Whigs and Tories, but towards the end of his reign he became more politically aware and openly opposed law reform which would benefit Roman Catholics.

By the mid-1820's the King's drinking and gluttony had caused him to become obese, weighing 17 stone, and his health declined accordingly. He died at Windsor Castle in 1830, an editorial in The Times newspaper stating: "There never was an individual less regretted by his fellow-creatures than this deceased king. What eye has wept for him?" - a sad epitaph for the figurehead of Regency England.

WILLIAM IV (r. 1830 - 1837)

William IV was the younger brother of George IV, having been born in 1765. At the age of 13, William joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman and was appointed Captain of the frigate HMS Pegasus at the age of 21, in which capacity he served under, and became friends with, Horatio Nelson. William retired from the Navy, with the rank of Rear-Admiral, in 1790.

On leaving the Navy, William became politically active in the House of Lords. At that time he lived in a de facto relationship with an Irish actress by the name of Dorothea Bland, with whom he was to live for 20 years producing no less than ten illegitimate children.

Coming to the throne at the age of 64, his short reign saw a number of significant political reforms relating to poor laws, child labour and the abolition of slavery. William did his best to be a popular monarch, although the behaviour of his illegitimate sons occasionally caused some embarrassment. His efforts to redefine unfair electoral practices saw him oversee the Reform Act of 1832.

With no legitimate children of his own, in his later life it became apparent that the Crown would pass to William's niece, Princess Victoria of Kent, the daughter of William's younger brother, Prince Edward. By the time of his death in 1837, William IV had established Britain as a constitutional monarchy, in which the sovereign held relatively little direct political power, but immense influence, as demonstrated by the amazing reign of his niece.

VICTORIA (r. 1837 - 1901)

Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Brtain and Ireland, (and later to assume the title Empress of India in 1876), ascended to the throne in 1837 at the tender age of 18 on the death of her uncle, William IV. During a remarkabe reign that was to span sixty-four years, she influenced government policy and ministerial appointments and became a national icon, loved by the majority of her subjects.

Victoria was the daughter of the fourth son of George III, Prince Edward, who died in 1820 when the Pincess was a baby. She received a strict upbringing under the supervision of her German-born mother and her mother's domineering "secretary" (perhaps lover), Sir John Conroy. (Later, as Queen, she banned Conroy from her presence.)

Naturally, the young Princess attracted suitors from an early age and from amongst Europe's nobility Victoria fell in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, whom she married in 1840 when she was 21. Theirs was a genuine love story and Victoria bore nine children, all of whom survived into adulthood.