By the time King George IV died in 1830 his brother Prince William, Duke of Clarence had been married to Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen for 11 years. Despite the duke fathering a massive illegitimate family with Mrs Dorothy Jordan, Adelaide had suffered terribly with miscarriages and the death of two infant daughters. The couple’s first daughter, Princess Charlotte of Clarence was born prematurely in March 1819 and died shortly afterwards. Another little girl, Princess Elizabeth of Clarence was born in December 1820 with the baby unfortunately only surviving for four months. Once again the couple were heartbroken and a royal succession crisis, which had been looming since the death of Princess Charlotte of Wales was fast becoming a reality.
King William was aged 66 when he attended his low-key coronation in September 1831 and the next heir to the throne was the King’s 12 year-old niece, Princess Victoria. With no realistic expectation of William and Adelaide producing a child of their own, together with William’s advancing age the prospect of a minor ascending the throne had to be officially addressed. It was imperative that Parliament should pass legislation that would allow the appointment of a Regent or guardian till Princess Victoria reached the age of her majority at 18. Regency Acts, as they were known, were designed to ‘strengthen the Securities by which the Civil and Religious Liberties of Your Majesty's People are guarded’.
The Act that passed through Parliament contained several clauses, the first of which granted Princess Victoria’s mother, The Duchess of Kent was granted authority to act on her daughter’s behalf, with the right to exercise the royal authority under ‘the Style and Title of Regent of the United Kingdom.’
It was also enacted that if King William were to die whilst Queen Adelaide was pregnant. then that child would inherit the Crown and the Regency would pass immediately to the Dowager Queen until such time as her child reached the age of it’s majority at 18.
Nothing was being left to chance and the act stipulated that whoever became Regent would be required to swear the following oath before the Privy Council:
"I A. B. do solemnly promise and swear, That I will truly and faithfully execute the Office of Regent of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, according to an Act of Parliament made in the First Year of His Majesty King William the Fourth, intituled An Act to provide for the Administration Of the Government in case the Crown should descend to Her Royal Highness the Princess Alexandrina Victoria, Daughter of His late Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, being under the Age of Eighteen Years, and for the Care and Guardianship of Her Person; and that I will administer the Government of this Realm, and of all the Dominions thereunto belonging according to the Laws, Customs and Statutes thereof; and will in all Things to the utmost of My Power and Ability, consult and maintain the Safety, Honour, and Dignity of His or Her (as the Case shall require) Majesty, and the Welfare of His or Her (as the Case shall require) People. So help me GOD."
"I DO faithfully promise and swear, That I will inviolably maintain and preserve the Settlement of the true Protestant Religion with the Government, Discipline, Rights, and Privileges of the Church of Scotland, as established by Law. So help me GOD."
Or in short the Duchess of Kent would at all times act in the best interests of her daughter, the government and the country. She would also be swearing to uphold the religion of Great Britain.
There were several other clauses relating to religion. These included that should the Duchess wish to receive the sacrament within any Chapel Royal, then the officiating clergyman would be required to declare it and would be obliged to provide a certificate to the Privy Council. Plus she was forbidden from allowing a Roman Catholic to sit within any of the Houses of Parliament.
There were strict clauses on any subsequent marriage that the Duchess might enter. She could not marry a Roman Catholic or a foreigner. Also she was not permitted to reside out with Great Britain. If she choose to do any of these things she would immediately forfeit her rights as Regent.
It was also forbidden for her to attempt to pass or repeal any bill or use the royal authority or prerogative to alter the succession of the Crown in any way. The act also spelled out in no uncertain terms that it would be considered High Treason for anyone to arrange a marriage for Princess Victoria before the age of 18.
Every clause of the act was begun with the caveat that none of these things should be enacted if King William and his Queen were to have a natural child of their own.
As the years passed and King William’s health began to deteriorate another Regency Act was enacted in March 1837, but in the end, and much to the relief of Parliament, King William lived for a month beyond his niece’s 18th birthday and no Regency was ever necessary.
All pictures via Wikicommons