The English public, on the whole, even including the most advanced reformers, were well inclined to give the new king a fair chance. Some of the reformers, indeed, were comforted by the conviction that their movement had now gone too far to be long delayed by any influence. All sorts of stories had long been in circulation about William IV., about his unmanageable character as a naval officer, about his fluctuations in opinion, his love affairs, and his occasional eccentricity of conduct; but the more philosophical observers consoled themselves with the thought that he was probably less obstinate than George III., and was certainly less immoral than George IV. He had, at all events, one great recommendation to the bulk of his subjects, and that was found in the fact that he was the Sailor King. Therefore, it is only fair to say that the new king started with every prospect of a reasonable chance to succeed in the work of government. But the impulse towards reform had been immensely accelerated by the Three Days of July, as they were called, the three days which made a second revolution in France. When the news of that revolution was brought to Sir Robert Peel, who was then sitting in the House of Commons, his comment on it was that that was just what must come of an attempt to govern on too narrow a constitutional basis. The English people saw this distinctly; they saw that Paris had gone into revolt because Charles X. endeavoured to govern the country by himself, and by his Ministers, without any regard for the sentiments and the wishes of the vast majority of his people.
They knew that he had endeavoured to maintain his rule by the suppression of political criticism and the freedom of speech; they knew, too, that one of his offences in the eyes of the French people had been his supposed deference to the views of George IV. and the Duke of Wellington. The English people looked at home, and they saw that in their country also the King had been endeavouring to govern by his own will, and through the action of his favourite Ministers, and they had learned by the proceedings in many courts of law that the dearest wish of the Sovereign was to prevent all freedom of political criticism, whether in speech or in writing, and that the English King, like the French King, was striving to maintain his policy without the slightest regard for the wishes, the feelings, the aspirations and the convictions of the vast majority of the people. It would be impossible that the patriotic intelligence of England should not learn a lesson from the overthrow of Charles X. There was no desire whatever outside the ranks of a few very extreme thinkers and declaimers for the establishment of a republican system in these countries. Many years later a great English orator said that among the population of these countries the question of a republic had not come up. It certainly had not come up, had not even dawned at the time when William IV. ascended the throne; but there was at least a hope that the new king might do better than either George III. or George IV. had done; and a confident belief that in any case the Reform movement could not be long delayed. Therefore the change from one Sovereign to another passed off quietly, and people in general awaited the coming of new events without unreasonable expectation, but also without marked distrust, and certainly without any dismay.
The new Kings of England and France seemed alike disposed to seek for popularity among the humbler of their subjects. William IV. walked about the London streets with his umbrella tucked under his arm and talked familiarly with every one he knew, and even when on great State occasions he had to wear his Royal robes, he wore his naval uniform under them. Louis Philippe too walked about the streets of Paris just as he thought fit, became identified with his umbrella, and was known throughout his reign as the "Bourgeois King." Lord Eldon took alarm at what he considered King William's over-familiarity with people in general, and laid it down as an axiom that a king, in order to maintain his throne, must show in his ordinary demeanour that he considered himself the superior of everybody else in the world. When William came to the throne he found the Duke of Wellington in office as Prime Minister, with Sir Robert Peel as Home Secretary, and he announced in the most off-hand and informal way that he had no ill-feeling whatever towards his good friend the Duke of Wellington, in whom, and in Sir Robert Peel, he placed the highest confidence. The existing Parliament would, of course, have to be dissolved. It was the rule then, and continued to be so down to a comparatively recent period, that a dissolution of Parliament must follow the death of a sovereign. The King sent a formal message to Parliament almost immediately after his accession, in which he dwelt, according to the usual ceremonial fashion, on the loss the nation had sustained by the death of the late Sovereign, and then went on to say that the sooner the new elections took place the better. This was not exactly what the public had expected. The King was at this time sixty-five years of age, and was not in particularly robust health; and the heir to the throne was the Princess Victoria, a child then only eleven years old. People asked themselves what was to happen in the meantime, supposing the King were to die suddenly, were to meet with some fatal accident, since no one had been appointed Regent, to carry on the Government until the young princess should come to the age when, according to constitutional law, it would be possible for her to perform the duties of a queen.
Parliament has to give its consent to the nomination of a Regent, and everybody naturally expected that the King would make some intimation to both Houses on the subject. Nothing about the Regency was said in the King's message, and the public disappointment was very widespread and deeply felt. There were gloomy forebodings in many a mind. One grim and darksome figure stood in the shadow of the throne, the figure of the Duke of Cumberland, the King's eldest surviving brother. It would be hard now to bring home to the ordinary reader any adequate idea of the hatred which was felt by the mass of the English people for the Duke of Cumberland. If that prince were guilty of half the offences laid to his charge, he would have been better suited for a contemporary of the days of Caligula, or of Caesar Borgia, than for a member of the royal family of England in 1830. Moreover, the Duke of Cumberland would at once become, in the event of the King's death, the successor to the crown of Hanover. The Georges were all Kings of Great Britain and of Hanover, and the Hanoverian crown descended in the male line only. What might not happen, it was asked, if the guardianship of the young princess were suddenly to be left, in the event of the King's death, to the care of her eldest uncle, the Duke of Cumberland? Men believed the Duke of Cumberland capable of anything. We shall see later on how there spread through England a strong conviction that the Duke of Cumberland was putting himself at the head of an organised conspiracy to alter the succession, and assume the crown himself. This fear had not, at that time, taken a shape so definite, even in the minds of alarmists, as it afterwards came to bear.