Historical Context

After losing considerable popularity after the loss of the Thirteen American Colonies in the 1770s, culminating in the American Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, King George III spiraled downward into porphyria and madness. Due to the inability of George III to continue to rule, Parliament established his son, George IV, as Regent. During George IV's regency, the Duke of Wellington and the British forces defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, forcing Napoleon into exile. George III died in 1820, leaving his unpopular son as king. Due to George IV's extravagant lifestyle and immense unpopularity with Parliament and the public, his reign was marked only by reports of infidelity and debauchery. Despite the unpopularity of George IV, he ushered in a classical revival known as the Regency period. Architects like John Nash revitalized British architecture with influences from Hinduism and Islam. Because of George IV's physically brutal lifestyle, he reigned for ten years before passing away, leaving his brother, William IV, as king, due to the fact that George IV's only heir had died in 1827. William IV incredible popular with the people, as he sought to oppose the example set by his brother, as in living an indulgent and extravagant lifestyle. With Parliament's help, William IV passed reforms, which only increased his popularity. Like his brother, William IV's heir's death preceded his own, leaving his young niece, Victoria, heir to the British throne. If William IV died before Victoria's eighteenth birthday, Victoria's mother, Victoria, Duchess of Kent, would become Regent. However, William IV and the Duchess of Kent were at odds with one another, prompting William IV to try and avoid another regency. William IV died one month after Victoria's eighteenth birthday, ensuring her place on the throne. With the ascension of Victoria in 1837, came a new age of innovation and industry, shaping the world even after Victoria's death in 1901.

King George IV (Regent: 1811-1820, King: 1820-1830) 

 Sir Thomas Lawrence, ca. 1816

 With the mental state of George III deteriorating rapidly, Parliament declared George IV as Regent. With the death of George III in 1820, George IV went from Regent to King. George IV, however, was not popular when he ascended the throne, due to his self-indulgent lifestyle. His wife, however, was incredibly popular, known as the "People's Queen." George IV was intensely disinterested in his wife, having multiple affairs, which were known to the public. During George IV's regency, Caroline returned to her native Brunswick, carrying on her own affairs, which were also known to the public. When George III died and George IV ascended the throne, Caroline returned to England to claim her place as queen. George IV, however, prevented her from entering Westminster Abbey, where the coronation was taking place. Caroline died a month after the coronation. George IV continued to wallow in his lavish lifestyle of women, alcohol, and rich food, with public resentment growing against him. Despite the decadence and self-indulgence of George IV's reign, a revival of the arts began, introducing the subsequent flowering of architecture, music, and literature. In 1830, George IV succumbed to his vices, leaving his brother, William IV, the British throne, as he had not issued legitimate progeny.

The portrait to the left seems to embody George IV's decadent lifestyle. He is heavily ornamented and trussed up. While the ensemble lacks the ermine trim, the robes are made of the same sumptuous fabrics of the royalty. What does this outfit tell about George IV and the extent of his authority? George IV is also displayed with the crown, although, at the time of painting, George IV was only the Regent. What does this say about George IV? Does this seem overconfident, or does it show the strength of the monarchy? George IV's stance and exposed legs imply the virility of the subject. Can this virility be extended to the monarchy? Was this portrait meant to comfort the viewer through displaying a strong ruler in order to cover up George III's weakness?

 William IV ascended the throne at the age of 64, after the passing of his brother, George IV. Determined to fix George IV's unruly example of a monarch, William IV sought to undo the damage done by George IV. Where George IV was free with money, William IV was frugal, and so on. For example, William IV's coronation cost about one-eighth of what George IV spent on his coronation. William IV was immensely popular due to his frugality and also because of his interest in his people. William IV held free meals for the starving and poor populations at the palace, where people could come and go freely. William IV also worked with Parliament to passed reforms, like the 1832 Reform Act, which pushed England towards fuller democracy. In 1834, the Palace of Westminster, which was (and  is) where the Houses of Parliament were (and are) located burned down,  leaving Parliament without a base of operation, so to speak. William IV's heir died in 1837, leaving his young niece, Victoria, as heir to the throne. Because Victoria was not of age yet, meaning she was not yet eighteen, if William IV died, Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, would become Regent. However, William IV had a bit of a feud between himself and the Duchess, resulting in  panic for him, as he did not want the Duchess to rule Britain. William IV died one month after Victoria's eighteenth birthday, ensuring  the needlessness of a regency.

To the right, William IV is depicted much like his brother, in full regalia. How  might this image be more effective than George IV's, knowing that William IV was exponentially more popular? In this portrait, William IV is holding a sword. Does the sword, other than the symbolic significance, contribute to the image of  William IV as a strong monarch? The portrait also contains a crown, but does  the position of the crown change the message of monarchic authority? 

King William IV (1830-1837) 

 Sir Martin Archer Shee, ca. 1833, Royal Collection

Queen Victoria (1837-1901) 

 Franz Xaver Winterhalter, ca. 1838

 Victoria was but eighteen years old when she ascended the British throne in 1837. Victoria herself knew that she had little experience, thereby she heavily relied on Lord Melbourne, the current Whig Prime Minister to advise her on matters of state. When Melbourne lost the support of the House of Commons, he resigned, leaving Victoria incredibly distressed. When Melbourne's Tory successor, Robert Peel stepped in, Victoria was openly uncooperative. After a tiff with Victoria about the assignment of her ladies-in-waiting, Peel refused his position as Prime Minister, creating an opportunity for Melbourne to step back into power. In 1840, Victoria married Albert of Saxe-Coberg-Gotha and the two had a happy marriage. The couple celebrated two births within the first two years of marriage, a daughter and a son. More children were to follow, making a total of nine. In the first decade of her reign, Victoria survived a multitude of botched assassination attempts, which were responses to the growing republicanism in England. When the revolts broke out in France in 1848, Victoria housed the deposed King Louis-Philippe after he fled from France. Because of the 1848 rebellions in France, Italy, Hungary, Germany and Austria, along with the publication of Marx and Engel's Communist Manifesto, Victoria and Parliament grew understandably nervous about the political and social atmosphere in Britain. However, no uprisings took place. In 1851, to promote the burgeoning industrial economy, Victoria and Albert held the The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, presenting the latest innovations in technology. The exhibition also meant to celebrate the the achievements made by the empire, which, at this time, included, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, regions of Africa, including Egypt and South Africa, India, parts of Indonesia, part of the Arabian peninsula, holdings in the West Indies and South America, and Ireland. Prince Consort Albert died in 1861, leaving Victoria devastated and without an adviser. Victoria wore mourning weeds for the remainder of her reign. Victoria withdrew from the public and from politics for around a decade, inciting unfriendly feelings towards her rule. The sexual indiscretions of the Prince of Wales and Victoria's withdrawal had not endeared the royal family to the public, particularly when France had just become a republic in 1870. France's declaration of republicanism incited a republican fire within England known as the Republican Crisis of 1870-1872. However, when the Prince of Wales took sick and Victoria reentered the public sphere, the people rallied behind their monarchy, effectively ending the crisis. In 1877, Victoria was declared Empress of India, passing the title on to her heirs until India's independence from Britain in 1947. Victoria ended her sixty-three year reign immensely popular, known as the "Queen Mother of Europe."

In the portrait to the left, Victoria is adorned with ermine-trimmed robes, gold-thread embroidered clothing, and jewels. Victoria is depicted with two crowns, unlike her forebears. What is the significance of the two crowns? Victoria is also pictured with papers of State, possibly suggesting that Victoria, although young, sought to learn in order to effectively govern the Empire. Does Victoria's position (sitting as opposed to standing) carry any significance? Does her position reflect her method of governing? Does it suggest diplomacy over war?

 The marriage of Victoria and Albert began the royal couple's endeavor to promote a wholesome and genuine image of family throughout their Empire. To the right, Victoria and Albert are pictured with five of their children, the perfect propaganda piece of familial bliss. Notice how the family is very involved with one another. Albert is reaching for Victoria's hand, while Victoria has her arm around young Albert (later King Edward VII). The three daughters are engaged with each other, with one of their brother approaching them. Notice that Victoria and Albert are clad in ceremonial garb, most notably the sash and star of the Order of the Garter.

Does this painting capture the spirit of blissful family relations? Compare this painting to a Currier and Ives print or a Norman Rockwell print. Does this painting elicit the same feelings of family and harmony as the modern prints?

 Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1846, Buckingham Palace

 An 1883 painting of an 1882 photograph by Alexander Bassano

 Victoria died on January 22, 1901, ending her sixty-three year reign. During her rule as queen, she ushered in a new societal behaviors, inspired new fashions, and revitalized the Gothic style in literature and architecture.

In the top left corner is a portrait of Prince Consort Albert, representing Victoria's dependence on him, decades after his death. The box on the table next to Victoria is from the Treasury, symbolizing Victoria's involvement in ruling the British Empire. Once again, Victoria is wearing the sash of the Order of the Garter and the Royal Order of the Victoria and Albert (the pin on Victoria's left shoulder).  What does this position say about Victoria or her accomplishments at the time of painting? How does this portrait contribute to Victoria's status of the "Queen Mother of Europe"? 

~All dates are dates of reign                                                                                                                                        Format: Title (if available), Artist(s), Date, Current Location

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