George III (1738-1820), was king of Great Britain and Ireland and elector of Hanover for 60 momentous years (1760-1820), and was insane off and on after 1788. A mediocre king, his reign is noted for losing the first British Empire with a loss in the American Revolution, the building of a second empire based in India, Asia and Africa, the beginnings of the industrial revolution that made Britain an economic powerhouse, and above all the life and death struggle with the French, 1793-1815, which ended with the defeat of Napoleon in 1815.
He was born in London as George William Frederick, the first son of Frederick Lewis, prince of Wales (1707–1751), and his wife, Augusta (1719–1772) of Saxe-Gotha; he was the grandson of king George II. His education suffered at first from the quarrels between his father his grandfather, and from the folly of his ignorant and overprotective mother. His tutors were political appointees and usually of little ability, while the small group gathered around his mother thought very highly of Bolingbroke's Patriot King and urged young George to follow its precepts.
Following Bolingbroke's advice when he succeeded his grandfather as king in 1760, he tried to rule through ministers of his own choosing. In 1761 he brought about the resignations of the rather domineering William Pitt and of Newcastle, who had long controlled the bribery that held Whig majorities together. George was able to do this partly because he took control of the Crown patronage and so could build up a party devoted to his wishes, and partly because the Whig oligarchy was divided into bitterly opposed factions that could be played off against each other. Thus the king recovered some of the constitutional authority that had been lost by George I and George II since 1714. From 1760 to 1780 he dismissed and appointed ministers at his pleasure and dictated their general policy.
George controlled the policies to reassert imperial control over the restive colonies that caused the American Revolution in 1775; most Britons supported the king, though a vocal minority warned they had strong claims to the rights of Englishmen. The war became a personal issue for him, fueled by his growing belief that British leniency would be taken as weakness by the Americans. The king also sincerely believed he was defending Britain's constitution against usurpers, rather than opposing patriots fighting for their natural rights.
Americans were slow to appreciate the king was not their ally; they had hailed him in 1766 as the 'Patriot King' when the Stamp Act was repealed by the Rockingham ministry, unaware he had privately opposed its lifting. The king was delighted by the series of tough acts of Parliament passed in 1774 collectively known as the Coercive Acts, which were the immediate cause of revolt. He pressed for the royal proclamation of August 1775 that announced that his American subjects were "engaged in open and avowed rebellion."
During the war the king refused to compromise and selected inept ministers who caused disaster aster disaster, including the formation of a powerful coalition in support of the Americans, the loss of traditional British allies, and the surrender of two main armies at Saratoga (1777) and Yorktown (1781). George wanted to send more soldiers but he lost control of Parliament and his Prime Minister Lord North was forced to resign. Negotiations that led to the Treaty of Paris in 1783 proved highly favourable to the Americans.
A constitutional crisis erupted in 1783-4 when the king dismissed the coalition government of Charles James Fox and Lord North and supplanted it by one led by William Pitt the Younger. Pitt was faced by a hostile majority in Parliament but within months stabilized his position. Many historians argue that Pitt's success was inevitable given the decisive importance of monarchical power in British politics during the period. Kelly (1981) disputes this view, maintaining that the king gambled on Pitt and that both would have failed but for a run of good fortune. Although the king exercised considerable influence in politics from 1783 onward, the emergence of the younger Pitt, who had secured his majority in 1784 through royal support, meant that the king's power of interference was curtailed. Yet, in 1801 the king blocked Catholic emancipation and in 1804 refused to approve Charles James Fox as a minister.
George's first serious attack of insanity, in October 1788, led to a bitter political struggle over the regency, for the Prince of Wales, the obvious regent, had quarreled with his father and was supporting the opposition to Pitt. The king recovered in March 1789, but his madness recurred in 1801, 1804, and 1810. After 1811 it became a permanent condition. From 1808 he had also been totally blind. Modern medicine suggests that his insanity stemmed from porphyria, a rare metabolic disease that is genetic and produces temporary mental disability in the form of delirium. He died on Jan. 29, 1820.
Image and memory
George's desire to identify the monarchy with national achievement and visible splendor was evident from the start of his reign. Individual and organized patriotism was increasing, and the king represented reassuring stability in the midst of national flux and humiliation following Britain's declining fortunes and eventual defeat in the war of American independence. After 1780 royal resurgence was also part of the conservative reaction to the French Revolution. Newspapers were important to royal propaganda and display, as was civic pride, a growth in the number of voluntary organizations, increased rapport between a variety of religious interests and royalty, and the wartime context of much of George III's reign. He accustomed his subjects to expect a glamorous show from their king amid a steady background of domestic probity. Concurrently, there was a decline in the crown's capacity for positive political power. The monarch began to be viewed as politically neutral while political and social radicals began to abandon the realm of conventional, xenophobic patriotism, leaving the latter to the state authorities and the monarch.
Rejecting high society in London and the lavish luxuries of court life, King George and his consort Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) preferred to live away from London in what Charlotte referred to as their "sweet retreat," allowing them to focus on family and domestic life. This practice helped to revive the reputation and popularity of the monarchy and marked the beginning of the transition to the modern form of the British court. George was the punctual, abstemious, uxorious, musical Hanoverian who liked clocks, disliked gambling and worried about his country's economy, tried to protect his empire, and worried about his eldest son's astronomical debts. Admirers of the sober and prudish king called attention to the loving husband, devoted (albeit domineering) father, connoisseur of fine art, and the patron of literature.
In 1819 the poet Shelley had already written his epitaph: "An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king." However, recent historians portray a shrewd, cultivated, and well-meaning individual who was widely read and well informed about English history and constitutional law. Contrary to earlier interpretations recent scholars say he did not bend constitutional rules nor did he pursue policies leading to the subversion of British and colonial liberties. The kingship continued to function under George III very much in the same way as under his grandfather, George II.
- Ayling, S. E. George III (1972)
- Black, Jeremy. George III: America's Last King (The English Monarchs Series) (2006). 448pp; a standard scholarly biography
- Brooke, John. King George III (1972)
- Butterfield, Hebert. George III, Lord North and the People (1949, 2nd ed. 1959)
- Cannon, John. "George III (1738–1820)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004); online edn, Jan 2008
- Clark, J. C. D. English Society 1660-1832: Religion, Ideology and Politics during the Ancien Régime, (2000), argues that 18th-century England was a "confessional state," akin to an ancien régime in which church and government were closely intertwined, rather than a modernizing one typified by conflicts between religious traditionalism and the dynamic consolidation of state power,
- Colley, Linda. "The apotheosis of George III: loyalty, royalty, and the British nation, 1760–1820", Past and Present, 102 (1984), 94–129. in JSTOR
- Ditchfield, G. M. George III: An Essay in Monarchy. (2002). 233 pp.
- Ehrman, John. The younger Pitt, 1: The years of acclaim (1969); The younger Pitt, 2: The reluctant transition (1983); The younger Pitt, 3: The consuming struggle (1996)
- Hibbert, Christopher. George III A Personal History (1998). 464pp; favourable popular history. online edition; also excerpt and text search
- Lloyd, Alan. The King Who Lost America: A Portrait of the Life and Times of George III (2002), popular excerpt and text search
- Namier, Lewis. England in the Age of the American Revolution (1961), advanced treatise online edition
- Namier, Lewis. The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III (1929) A famous study that rejected the Whig interpretation that a two-party rivalry of Whig and Tory, underpinned a constitutional monarchy and a modern cabinet system based on a party majority in the House of Commons. Namier, by looking at all the individual MP's, argues the king conducted his role within the limitations of authority permitted by the constitution, while the Whig historians claim that the king fomented turmoil against the constitution.
- Peter Thomas, "Reappraisals in History," Institute of Historical Research (2002) online edition
- Parissien, Steven. "George III" History Today, Vol. 52, June 2002; the reputation of the controversial king who lost the American colonies and spent much of his life in psychological distress but whose active interest in the arts and sciences, and his generous patronage, distinguished him from his Hanoverian predecessors online edition; also in EBSCO
- Plumb, J. H. England in the Eighteenth Century. (1950) online edition
- Plumb, J. H. (1985)
- Pares, Richard. George III and the politicians (1953) online edition
- Thomas, P. D. G. Lord North (1976)
- Thomas, Peter D. G. George III: King and Politician, 1760-1770. (2002). 262 pp.
- Watson, J. Steven The Reign of George III, 1760-1815 (1960), the standard political history of the era; online edition
- Butterfield, Hebert. George III and the Historians (1959) online edition
- Christie, Ian R. "George III and the Historians - Thirty Years On." History 1986 71(232): 205-221. Issn: 0018-2648
- Caretta, Vincent. George III and the Satirists from Hogarth to Byron. (1990.) 389 pp.
- Bullion, John L., ed. "George III on Empire, 1783." William and Mary Quarterly 1994 51(2): 305-310. in Jstor An essay written by the king in early 1783 laments the loss of America, stating that the American colonies had set the stage for separation by trading with British rivals. The king implies the need for free trade, yet still seems to be a mercantilist. He suggests that British policy should give some attention to development of resources/
- Sedgwick, Romney, ed. Letters from George III to Lord Bute, 1756-1766 (1939) online edition
- Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy, "'If Others Will Not Be Active, I must Drive': George III and the American Revolution." Early American Studies 2004 2(1): I, 1-46. Issn: 1543-4273 Fulltext: Ebsco; by contrast P. D. G. Thomas, "George III and the American Revolution." History 1985 70(228): 16-31, says the king played a minor role and did not harass the colonists before 1775.
- Paul Kelly, "British Politics, 1783-4: the Emergence and Triumph of the Younger Pitt's Administration." Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 1981 54(129): 62-78. Issn: 0020-2894
- Linda Colley, "The apotheosis of George III: loyalty, royalty, and the British nation, 1760–1820", Past and Present, 102 (1984), 94–129 ·
- Ian R. Christie, "George III and the Historians - Thirty Years On." History 1986 71(232): 205-221.