On this day on 20th June

On this day in 1832 William Cobbett described the plight of handloom weavers in the Political Register. "It is truly lamentable to behold so many thousands of men who formerly earned 20 to 30 shillings per week, now compelled to live upon 5s, 4s, or even less. It is the more sorrowful to behold these men in their state, as they still retain the frank and bold character formed in the days of their independence."

The Weaver by Paul Serusier (c.1890)
The Weaver by Paul Serusier (c.1890)

On this day in 1837 William IV died. William, the third son of George III, was born at Buckingham Palace in 1765. He entered the navy in 1779, and saw service in America and the West Indies. In 1789 he was granted the title, the Duke of Clarence and given an allowance of £12,000 a year. William remained in the navy and by 1811 had reached the rank of admiral.

Like his brother George IV, William rebelled against his father's strict discipline. He lived with his mistress, the actress Dorothy Jordon, who bore him ten children. William also against his father's political views. Whereas George III preferred the Tories, William was a Whig, and at once time even considered becoming a Member of Parliament. In the House of Lords the Duke of Clarence supported Catholic Emancipation and showed signs he favoured parliamentary reform.

After the death of George IV's daughter, Princess Charlotte, in 1818, there was a royal scramble to marry an heir to the throne. Soon after Charlotte's death, William married Adelaide, eldest daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg. The couple had two daughters but they both died in infancy.

When his brother, George IV, died in 1830, the Duke of Clarence became king. Like his father and brother, William IV was prone to strange behaviour. On the day he became king he raced through London in an open carriage, frequently removing his hat and bowing to his new subjects. Every so often he stopped and offered people a lift in his royal carriage. His habit of spitting in public also helped to obtain for him a reputation as an eccentric.

At first William IV was very popular. The people were pleased when he announced that he would attempt to keep royal spending to a minimum. People became convinced that he meant what he said when it was discovered that William's coronation only cost a tenth of the expense incurred by George IV's ceremony in 1821. In November 1830 Lord Grey and the Whigs came to power. The king told Grey that he would not interfere with Whig plans to introduce parliamentary reform.

In April 1831 Grey asked the king to dissolve Parliament so that the Whigs could secure a larger majority in the House of Commons. Grey explained this would help his government to carry their proposals for an increase in the number of people who could vote in elections. William agreed to Grey's request and after making his speech in the House of Lords, decided to walk back through cheering crowds to Buckingham Palace.

After Lord Grey's election victory, he tried again to introduce parliamentary reform but once again the Lords refused to pass the bill. On 7th May 1832, Grey and Henry Brougham met the king and asked him to create a large number of Wigg peers in order to get the Reform Bill passed in the House of Lords. William was now having doubts about the wisdom of parliamentary reform and refused.

Lord Grey's government resigned and William IV now asked the leader of the Tories, the Duke of Wellington, to form a new government. Wellington tried to do this but some Tories, including Sir Robert Peel, were unwilling to join a cabinet that was in opposition to the views of the vast majority of the people in Britain. Peel argued that if the king and Wellington went ahead with their plan there was a strong danger of a civil war in Britain.

When the Duke of Wellington failed to recruit another significant figures into his cabinet, William was forced to ask Grey to return to office. In his attempts to frustrate the will of the electorate, William IV lost the popularity he had enjoyed during the first part of his reign. Once again Lord Grey asked the king to create a large number of new Whig peers. William agreed that he would do this and when the Lords heard the news, they agreed to pass the Reform Act.

William IV resented the fact that Lord Grey had forced the Reform Act on him. However, Grey was so popular with the general public that he was unable to take action against him. After Grey resigned in 1834 and was replaced by Lord Melbourne, the king was in a stronger position.

In November 1834 William IV dismissed the Whig government and appointed the Tory, Sir Robert Peel as his new prime minister. By this time the king had developed an intense dislike for the Whig reformers such as Lord John Russell and Henry Brougham.

As there were more Whigs than Tories in the House of Commons, Sir Robert Peel found government very difficult. Peel was only able to pass legislation that was supported by the Whigs and on 8th April 1835 he resigned from office. The Tories were replaced by a Whig government and once again William had to preside over a series of reforms that he profoundly disagreed with.

William IV by James Lonsdale (1830)
William IV by James Lonsdale (1830)

On this day in 1899 Jean Moulin, the son of a professor of history, was born in Belziers, France. He was conscripted into the French Army in 1918 but the First World War came to an end before he had the opportunity to see action.

After the war Moulin joined the civil service and rose rapidly to become the country's youngest prefect. Influenced by his friend, Pierre Cot, a radical pacifist, Moulin developed left-wing views. During the Spanish Civil War Moulin helped to smuggle a French aircraft to the Republican Army fighting against the Royalists.

Moulin refused to cooperate with the German Army when they occupied France in June 1940. He was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo and while in his cell he attempted to commit suicide by cutting his throat with a piece of broken glass. After recovering he was released from prison.

In November 1940, the Vichy government ordered all prefects to dismiss left-wing mayors of towns and villages that had been elected to office. When Moulin refused to do this he was himself removed from office.

Over the next few months Moulin began to make contact with other French people who wanted to overthrow the Vichy government and to drive the German Army out of France. This included Henry Frenay, who had established Combat, the most important of all the early French Resistance groups. He also had discussions with Pierre Villon who was attempting to organize the communist resistance group in France. Later, Moulin was accused of being a communist but there is no evidence that he ever joined the party.

Moulin visited London in September, 1941 where he met Charles De Gaulle, Andre Dewavrin and other French leaders in exile. In October 1941, Moulin produced a report entitled The Activities, Plans and Requirements of the Groups formed in France. De Gaulle was impressed with Moulin knowledge of the situation and decided he should become the leader of the resistance in France.

Moulin was parachuted back into France on 1st January, 1942. Moulin brought with him a large sum of money to help set up the underground press. This included working with figures such as Georges Bidault and Albert Camus who had both been involved in establishing the Combat newspaper.

Moulin's main task was to try and unite all the different resistance groups working in France. Over the following weeks he arranged meetings with people such as Henry Frenay (Combat), Emmanuel d'Astier (Liberation), Jean-Pierre Lévy (Francs-Tireur), Pierre Villon (Front National), Pierre Brossolette (Comité d'Action Socialiste) and Charles Delestraint (Armée Secrete). After much discussion Moulin persuaded the eight major resistance groups to form the Conseil National de la Resistance (CNR) and the first joint meeting under Moulin's chairmanship took place in Paris on 27th May 1943.

On 7th June 1943, René Hardy, an important member of the resistance in France, was arrested and tortured by Klaus Barbie and the Gestapo. They eventually obtained enough information to arrest Jean Moulin at Caluire on 21st June. Jean Moulin died while being tortured on 8th July 1943.

Jean Moulin
Jean Moulin

On this day in 1905 writer Lillian Hellman was born in New Orleans on 20th June, 1905. After graduating from New York University she worked as a publisher's reader.

Hellman's first play, The Children's Hour (1934), which tells of the havoc caused by a schoolgirl's invention of a lesbian relationship, was an immediate success. Hellman held left-wing political views and was active in the campaign against the growth of fascism in Europe. She joined other literary figures such as Dashiell Hammett, Clifford Odets, Arthur Miller, John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway in supporting the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War.

In 1939 Hellman had her second major success with her play about a Southern family, the Hubbards. The Little Foxes was followed by two anti-Nazi plays, Watch on the Rhine (1941) and The Searching Wind (1944). Her next play, Another Part of the Forest (1946) once again dealt with the Hubbard family.

As a result of her well-known political views, in 1951 Hellman and her partner, Dashiell Hammett, were called to appear before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. Hellman agreed to talk about her own involvement with radical groups, but was unwilling to give names of her comrades and as a result was blacklisted. Hammett, as well as being blacklisted, was sent to prison for six months.

Hellman wrote two more plays, Autumn Gardens (1951) and Toys in the Attic (1960), and three volumes of autobiography, An Unfinished Woman (1969), Pentimento (1973) and Scoundrel Time (1976).

Lillian Hellman died at Martha's Vineyard, on 30th June, 1984.

Lillian Hellman
Lillian Hellman