King George III was not fit to rule. Not anymore. The monarch that had presided over Britain for 50 years and watched his Empire grow, finally succumbed to mental illness.
The consensus argues that George III suffered from Porphyria. Whatever was causing his bouts of insanity, condemning him to his final agonising days in seclusion at Windsor Castle , the Regency Act was passed in 1811. His son, the Prince Of Wales, later King George IV, was confirmed as Prince Regent, a title that he held for nine years. Prinnie, as he became known, was a child of a growing empire, of a nation transforming itself into the worldís workshop. The Prince Regentís taste for high living and the ornate ostentatiousness of the far reaches of Britainís imperial reach, brought colour and flamboyance to the Kingís court. His time as Prince Regent was short but memorable. The Regency, from 1811 to 1820, was a period of imperial housekeeping as the French were defeated at Waterloo . His reign as king courted even more controversy.
The future George IV was a playboy with a taste for art and decadent excess, of wine and woman. His relationship with his court was capricious. Alliances enjoyed a life-expectancy like that of a mayfly. Against a broader social context of Britainís chronically underprivileged proletariat, his opulent lifestyle was out of step with his people. The industrial revolution had made the factory owners rich. Textiles and chemicals magnates lorded over an underclass. This was an age of advancement, certainly, but it was also an age of quarrel, of the working class frustration turning to dissent and violence.
The pageantry-centric Prince Regent was only settling down into his role when the Luddite movement took hammers to power looms in the factories of Englandís industrial spine. Nottinghamshire and Lancashire were saw uprisings, but it was Yorkshire where the movement focussed the attention of the authorities, who quelled the insurrectionists with thousands of troops and a network of government informants. Inspired by the mythos of Ned Ludd, the Luddites would later become an influence on the agricultural riots of the 1830s. Industrial unrest was inextricably linked to technological progress, and would become a motif throughout the Industrial Revolution and the move towards collective bargaining and trade unionism.
Throughout the Regency, Britainís troubles extended beyond her shores, and the quarrel of the proletariat. Napoleon Bonaparte had his expansionist vision for the French empire, and that meant conflict with Britain. Perhaps the most significant moment in Britainís history to arise during the purgatorial years of the Regency, was the Duke Of Wellington ís victory over the French on 18th June 1815. Napoleon abdicated and Louis XVIII was restored to the throne. The British Empire overcame one of its greatest obstacles to achieving a global hegemony, one which would reach its apogee during the reign of Queen Victoria .
As George IIIís health deteriorated his sonís waistband expanded. Britainís parliamentary model, its industrial relations and the Corn Laws of 1815 brought the country perilously close to a more widespread discontent, like that witnessed during the French Revolution. Britain was always too reserved for a revolution. Not like its Prince Regent, who was never reserved.
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