Reign of George IV

At the time when George IV commenced his reign, the recent proceedings of the ministry, had inspired a small band of desperate men with the design of assassinating the ministers at a cabinet dinner, and thereafter attempting to set themselves up as a provisional government. On the 23d of February 1820, they were suprised by the police in their place of meeting, and, after a desperate resistance, five were seized, among whom one Thistlewood was the chief. These wretched men were tried for high treason, and executed. Nearly about the same time, an attempt was made by the workmen in the west of Scotland to bring about some alteration in the state; and two men were executed.

On the accession of the king, his consort's name had been omitted from the liturgy. This and other indignities induced her to return from a voluntary exile in Italy, June 1820, to the great embarrassment of the kin , and his ministers. Her majesty, who had long been befriended by the Opposition, was received by the people with the warmest expressions of sympathy. Whatever had been blameable in her conduct was over looked, on account of the greater licentiousness of life ascribed to her husband, and the persecution which she had suffered for twenty-four years. The king, who had established a system of observation round her majesty during her absence from the country, caused a bill of pains and penalties against her to be brought (July 6) into the House of Lords, which thus became a court for her trial. Messrs Brougham and Denman, who afterwards attained high judicial stations, acted as counsel for her majesty, and. displayed great dexterity and eloquence in her defense. The examination of witnesses occupied several weeks; and nothing was left undone which might promise to confirm her majesty's guilt. But no evidence of criminality could soften the indignation with which almost all classes of the community regarded this prosecution. Though the bill was read a second time by a majority of 28 in a house of 218, and a third time by 108 against 99, the government considered it expedient to abandon it, leaving the queen and her partisans triumphant.

In July 1821, the coronation of George IV took place under circumstances of great splendor. On this occasion, the queen made an attempt to enter Westminster Abby, for the purpose of witnessing the ceremony, but was repelled by the military officers who guarded the door; an insult which gave such a shock to her health as to cause her death in a few days.

From the year 1805, the Catholic claims had been a prominent subject of parliamentary discussion, and since 1821 they had been sanctioned by a majority in the House of Commons. Almost despairing of their cause, while left to the progress of mere opinion in the English aristocracy, the Irish Catholics had in 1824 united themselves in an Association, with the scarcely concealed purpose of forcing their emancipation by means of a terrifying exhibition of their physical strength. An act was quickly passed for the suppression of this powerful body; but it immediately reappeared in a new shape. In fact, the impatience of the Catholic population of Ireland under the disabilities and degradation to which they were subjected on account of religion, was evidently becoming so very great, that there could be little hope of either peace or public order in that country till their demands were conceded. Though the English public lent little weight to the agitation, and the king was decidedly hostile to its object, Catholic emancipation rapidly acquired importance with all classes, and in all parts of the empire. In the spring of 1828, a kind of preparation was made for the concession, by the repeal of the test and corporation oaths, imposed in the reign of Charles II.

The ministry soon after received an alarming proof of the growing force of the question. Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald had vacated his seat for the county of Clare, on becoming president of the Board of Trade. He was a friend to emancipation, and possessed great influence in the county; but he was also a member of an anti-Catholic administration. As an expedient for annoying the ministry, the Catholic Association, and all the local influences on that side, were set in motion to procure the return of Mr. Daniel O'Connell, the most distinguished orator of the Catholic party. To the surprise of the nation, Mr. O'Connell was returned by a great majority. It was even surmised that the laws for the exclusion of Catholics from Parliament would be unable to prevent him from taking his seat. The Duke of Wellington now began to see the necessity of taking steps towards a settlement of this agitating question; and the first, and most difficult, was to overcome the scruples of the sovereign. At the opening of the session of 1829, in consequence of a recommendation from the throne, bills were introduced by ministers for removing the civil disabilities of Catholics,, and putting down the Catholic Association in Ireland; and notwithstanding a great popular opposition, as well as the most powerful exertions of the older and more rigid class of Tories, this measure was carried by a majority of 353 against 180 in the House of Commons, and by 217 to 112 in the House of Lords.