George III has gone down in the annals of history as the mad king who lost the American colonies for the British. I personally think he’s had a bit of a raw deal.
Let’s look at his good side.
- He was the first Hanoverian King to be born in England and spoke English as his first language, unlike his German predecessors.
- He was a devoted husband to his Queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
- He did his duty to the crown and produced fifteen children, thirteen reaching adulthood, so that there were plenty of heirs and spares from his large family – they were needed!
- He was very frugal (for a royal) and was happiest with simple meals – unlike the lavish dinners enjoyed by his father and his eldest son.
- He supported the arts and founded the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768. He was also a keen scientist and a voracious reader – his collection of books was the basis for the British Library. See the history here.
- He was a hobby farmer and was known as farmer George due to his interest in agriculture – he kept the first flock of Merino sheep at Kew Palace and a menagerie which included kangaroos and peacocks.
- When staying at Kew Palace, his doctors prescribed daily baths, being king he could have had the hot water brought to him, instead he would go to the Palace kitchens and bathe there to save the servants carrying multiple buckets of hot water across to the palace. He would say, ‘never let someone do something for you that you can do for yourself.’
- His longevity. He was a young man when he ascended the throne. His father was Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of George II. He died in 1751 and so his son, George, became the heir to his grandfather’s throne. George III eventually reigned for almost sixty years, the third longest in British history. This offered the country some stability for the young Hanoverian dynasty.
To balance the pros, let’s look at the cons
- He lost America – he opposed America’s bid for independence but the polices were not his – the policies that led to the war of 1775 – 76. The loss of America brought George to the brink of abdication. You can read more here.
- His health – that, though, can hardly be seen as his fault as it was out of his control (not like his morbidly obese son, George IV). His symptoms manifested initially with bizarre habits, such as talking repetitively and at great speed until foaming at the mouth. George’s malady has been diagnosed posthumously as possibly the metabolic disorder porphyria, although it has been hypothesised more recently as perhaps bi-polar disorder. The debate continues.
- Because of his ‘madness’ we needed a regency – and got George, Prince of Wales – who had pressed for the regency for years as he was politically opposed to his father’s Tory government.
- His governments – George’s former tutor and mentor, the Earl of Bute, who was a friend of his late father and remained close to his mother on Frederick’s death, was appointed his first minister. There was widespread disapproval over this. Bute resigned in 1763 undermining the nation’s stability. During the 1770s he appointed Lord North as his first minister and he was the power behind the attempt to levy taxes on the American colonists. William Pitt the younger resigned in 1801 due to George’s opposition to Catholic emancipation.
- The Royal Marriages Act 1772 was introduced after George’s brother married unsuitably (so George thought) without his permission. This essentially meant that descendants of George II needed to get the reigning monarch’s permission before marriage, the exception being the children of princesses who may marry into foreign families. He refused to let his daughters marry and they felt that they were existing in a ‘nunnery’, living lonely lives as companions to their mother. His sons failed to do their duty to their wives (if they had them) and the nation, and by 1818 fifteen royal children had produced just one legitimate heir, Charlotte of Wales, the daughter of George, Prince of Wales, and she had died in childbirth in 1817. Read more about Charlotte here.
If you’d like to read more about George III’s great-great-grandson George V click here.
Fit To Rule: How Royal Illness Changed History. ‘Bad Blood: Stuarts to Hanoverians’, Lucy Worsley. BBC. 2014
Volunteer Handbook Kew Palace 2013
Volunteer Handbook Kew Palace 2014
Image: Wikimedia Commons