Here are some of the many UK historical events that happened in April….
The Joint Coronation of William of Orange and Mary (11 April 1689)
The date 11 April 1689 denotes a significant event in Britain. When William III, Prince of Orange, and his wife, Mary, succeeded James II, they marked the first time in English history that a king and queen received a joint coronation.
Authorities in England did not want James II’s son to gain the throne as it would lead to a Roman Catholic king. In 1688, they called on William of Orange, a Protestant, to come to England from Holland to take the throne.
Back on 4 November 1677, William married his cousin Princess Mary, also the Protestant daughter of James II. Their marriage took place at St James Palace in London, following which the couple returned to Holland.
After inviting William in 1688 to take the throne from James II, Parliament passed the Act of Succession and declared that no Catholic could be king or queen in England. The Act significantly restricted who could inherit the throne.
James II was popular with Irish Protestants after the Battle of the Boyne, but he remained an unpopular king in England. By the time William of Orange arrived, James II had left for France and abdicated the throne.
One of William’s motives for accepting the throne of England was to form a coalition with the Dutch against the French. This move resulted in the Nine Years’ War between 1689 and 1697.
On 11 April 1689, William and Mary were crowned joint monarchs in Westminster Abbey, London. William used the historic Coronation Chair for the ceremony while Mary received a specially commissioned throne.
The couple had no children, so the throne passed to Mary’s sister Anne when William died in 1702.
Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) Defeated at the Battle of Culloden Moor (16 April 1746)
The Battle of Culloden Moor on 16 April 1746 was the last significant event in the Jacobite Rebellion.
Under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, the English army defeated the Jacobite army commanded by Charles Edward Stuart (otherwise known as Bonnie Prince Charlie).
It was also the last major battle fought on British soil.
Bonnie Prince Charlie was the eldest son of James Stuart, the exiled claimant to the throne. With the belief that a Stuart had a claim to both the Scottish and English thrones, he raised an army of Scottish Jacobite supporters in 1745.
He defeated the English at Prestonpans, raised more supporters and got as far as Derby. Most of the Jacobites who fought at Culloden were from the Highlands of Scotland, where landowners and leaders of the clans had the right to direct their tenants to fight.
The Battle of Culloden lasted one hour, with 1,500-2,000 Jacobite supporters killed or wounded. Leaders within the Jacobites quickly dispersed, effectively quashing the rebellion.
Reprisals in Scotland were brutal, and the English saw it as a reason to further unify Scotland and England.
The English also saw the Scottish defeat as a means to undermine the clan system. They killed any man found wounded, and they took prisoner or executed hundreds of Highlanders.
Many more ended up transported to penal colonies overseas as the English cleared the Scottish Highlands of potential dissenters.
As for Bonnie Prince Charlie, he escaped after the Battle of Culloden Moor. He spent the rest of his life in exile in France except for one secret visit to London. He died in 1788.
Today, the battlefield at Culloden has a visitor centre, and people can walk the site using footpaths.
Brunel’s New Steamship Great Western left Bristol on her Maiden Voyage across the Atlantic to Boston (8 April 1838)
The SS Great Western was the first steamship purpose-built for crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed the paddlewheel steamship, giving it a wooden hull. The ship was one of the most significant engineering feats in the nineteenth century, and the design became the blueprint for all Atlantic paddle steamers.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his colleague Thomas Guppy formed the Great Western Steamship Company in 1836. Their ambition was to build a series of steamships that sailed between Bristol and New York. Initially, the design of SS Great Western was thought to be too big. However, Brunel’s engineering mind had other ideas.
He calculated that the carrying capacity increased in cubic dimensions whereas water resistance increased as the square of its dimensions; the significance being that a larger ship was more efficient on fuel, something that would be vital in Transatlantic voyages.
SS Great Western also had four sails which helped with propulsion and stability in rough seas. They built the ship in Bristol with engines fitted in London. On 31 March 1838, SS Great Western sailed to Avonmouth in Bristol to start her maiden voyage. Unfortunately, a fire broke out on board, and Brunel sustained injuries as he fell 20 feet in the confusion.
Despite minimal damage to the ship, fifty passengers cancelled their reservations. When the SS Great Western left Avonmouth on 8 April 1838, there were just seven passengers on board. The fire enabled a rival British American company to launch their ship Sirius to beat SS Great Western on the Transatlantic crossing. Sirius left on 4 April 1838 and narrowly beat SS Great Western to New York.
The SS Great Western proved to be an efficient ship in making Transatlantic crossings, and her average time was sixteen days. Other paddle ships were designed on her features. The Royal Navy used the SS Great Western in the Crimean War as a troop carrier, later decommissioning and breaking it up for scrap in 1856.