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The Sailor King: The Life of King William IV

By Tom Pocock

Of all the British monarchs who have claimed they ruled the seas, just one, King William IV, has been a truly professional seafarer.

Known as the ‘Sailor King’ in his own lifetime, he saw himself as a naval officer who happened to become the sovereign, rather than a monarch who had been a naval officer.

His life – here told as a whole, rather than dominated by his short reign – presents an appealing, if sometimes shocking, personality. William bounds from these pages like a character from an historical novel, albeit comic rather than heroic; from Captain Marryat rather than C. S. Forester.

His career in the Royal Navy was fraught with crisis: rivalries, doomed love affairs, extravagance and rebelliousness. Often, he seems a Hogarthian character, or a nautical version of the Regency rake. 

Yet, while many mocked or despised him, some loved him. Overcoming the pressures and contradictions of a royal upbringing, William ended his days as a king who was not only loved but admired for setting an unstable monarchy on an even keel for the long reign of his niece, Victoria.

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