45. George III.—The Regency, A.D. 1810—1820
When George III. lost his senses, the government was given to his son, the Prince of Wales—the Prince Regent as he was called. Regent means a person ruling instead of the king. Everyone expected that, as he had always quarreled with his father, he would change everything and have different ministers; but instead of that, he went on just as had been done before, fighting with the French, and helping every country that tried to lift up its head against Bonaparte.
Spain was one of these countries. Napoleon had managed to get the king, and queen, and eldest son, all into his hands together, shut them up as prisoners in France, and made his own brother king. But the Spaniards were too brave to bear this, and they rose up against him, calling the English to help them. Sir John Moore was sent first, and he marched an army into Spain; but, though the Spaniards were brave, they were not steady, and when Napoleon sent more troops he was obliged to march back over the steep hills, covered with snow, to Corunna, where he had left the ships. The French followed him, and he had to fight a battle to drive them back, that his soldiers might embark in quiet. It was a great victory; but in the midst of it Sir John Moore was wounded by a cannon shot, and only live long enough to hear that the battle was won. He was buried at the dead of night on the ramparts of Corunna, wrapped in his cloak.
However, before the year was over, Sir Arthur Wellesley was sent out to Portugal and Spain. He never once was beaten, and though twice he had had to retreat into Portugal, he soon won back the ground he had lost; and in three years' time he had driven the French quite out of Spain, and even crossed the Pyrenean mountains after them, forcing them back into their own country, and winning the battle of Toulouse on their own ground. This grand war had more victories in it than you will easily remember. The chief of them were at Salamanca, Vittoria, Orthes, and Toulouse; and the whole war was called the Peninsular War, because it was fought in the Peninsular of France and Spain. Sir Arthur Wellesley had been made duke of Wellington, to reward him, and he set off across France to meet the armies of the other European countries. For, while the English were fighting in Spain, the other states of Europe had all joined together against Napoleon, and driven him away from robbing them, and hunted him at last to Paris, where they made him give up all his unlawful power. The right king of France, Louis XVIII., was brought home, and Napoleon was sent to a little island named Elba, in the Mediterranean Sea, where it was thought he could do no harm.
But only the next year he managed to escape, and came back to France, where all his old soldiers were delighted to see him again. The king was obliged to fly, and Napoleon was soon at the head of as large and fierce an army as ever. The first countries that were ready to fight with him were England and Prussia. The Duke of Wellington with the English, and Marshal Blucher with the Prussian army, met him on the field of Waterloo, in Belgium; and there he was so entirely defeated that he had to flee away from the field. But he found no rest or shelter anywhere, and at last was obliged to give himself up to the captain of an English ship named the Bellerophon. He was taken to Plymouth harbor, and kept in the ship while it was being determined what should be done with him: and at length it was decided to send him to St. Helena, a very lonely island far away in the Atlantic Ocean, whence he would have no chance of escaping. There he was kept for five years, at the end of which time he died.
The whole of Europe was at peace again; but the poor old blind King George did not know it, nor how much times had changed in his long reign. The war had waked people up from the dull state they had been in so long, and much was going on that began greater changes than anyone thought of. Sixty years before, when he began to reign, the roads were so bad that it took three days to go by coach to London from Bath; now they were smooth and good, and fine swift horses were kept at short stages, which made the coaches take only a few hours on the journey. Letters came much quicker and more safely; there were a great many newspapers, and everybody was more alive. Some great writers there were, too: the Scottish poet Walter Scott, who wrote some of the most delightful tales there are in the world; and three who lived at the lakes—Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge. It was only in this reign that people cared to write books for children. Mrs. Trimmer, and another good lady called Hannah More, were trying to get the poor in the villages better taught; and there was a very good Yorkshire gentleman—William Wilberforce—who was striving to make people better.
As to people's looks in those days, they had left off wigs—except bishops, judges, and lawyers, in their robes. Men had their hair short and curly, and wore coats shaped like evening ones—generally blue, with brass buttons—buff waistcoats, and tight trousers tucked into their boots, tight stocks round their necks, and monstrous shirt-frills. Ladies had their gowns and pelisses made very short-waisted, and as tight and narrow as they could be, though with enormous sleeves in them, and their hair in little curls on their foreheads. Old ladies wore turbans in evening dress; and both they and their daughters had immense bonnets and hats, with a high crown and very large front.
In the 1820, the good old king passed away.