With the recent lavish Jubilee celebrations during a time when Britons are being cramped by economic woes, it’s nice to remember that the Royals haven’t always been money-sucking figureheads: Some of them have been thrifty figureheads. William IV sounds like a better fit for Austerity Britain than HRH Liz.
The King immediately proved himself a conscientious worker. The King’s first Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, stated that he had done more business with King William in ten minutes than he had with George IV in as many days. Lord Brougham described him as an excellent man of business, asking enough questions to help him understand the matter—whereas George IV feared to ask questions lest he display his ignorance and George III would ask too many and then not wait for a response.
The King did his best to endear himself to the people. Lady Charlotte Williams-Wynn wrote shortly after his accession, “Hitherto the King has been indefatigable in his efforts to make himself popular, and do good natured and amiable things in every possible instance.” Noted the diarist Emily Eden, “He is an immense improvement on the last unforgiving animal, who died growling sulkily in his den at Windsor. This man at least wishes to make everybody happy, and everything he has done has been benevolent.”
William dismissed his brother’s French chefs and German band, replacing them with English ones to public approval. He gave much of George IV’s painting collection to the nation, and reduced the royal stud. George IV had begun an extensive (and expensive) renovation of Buckingham Palace; his brother refused to reside there, and twice tried to give the palace away, once to the Army as a barracks, and once to Parliament after the Houses of Parliament burned down in 1834. His informality could be startling: When in residence at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, King William used to send to the hotels for a list of their guests and invite anyone whom he knew to dinner, urging guests not to “bother about clothes. The Queen does nothing but embroider flowers after dinner.”