And when push comes to shoveKing George III
I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!
Lyrics from You’ll be back in Hamilton
The King is routinely reduced to a caricature or a bit player in history. For many Americans, King George III represents an impish interlude between scenes depicting the most important and most eminent Americans in the Broadway hit Hamilton. American Revolution historians mostly relegate King George to two actions, Declaring the American colonies in rebellion and rejecting the colonialist Olive Branch Petition before the Declaration of Independence. And for Britains, many don’t know much about the King other than he lost the American colonies. A more fulsome, nuanced view yields a robust politician and a surprisingly rich intellectual life, positively and negatively impacting Britains and its colonists.
Crowned during the French and Indian War (Seven Years War), George reigned over a remarkable and lengthy period. He ruled during both the American and French Revolutions, the Napoleonic Wars, and only becoming mentally incapacitated just before Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. George actively participated in parliamentary politics and legislation. As was the custom, he named ministers to lead the government and used this power to advance his political agenda. Maintain the prohibition on Catholic emancipation was perhaps George’s most important policy goal and a “litmus test” in the minister selection process. He succeeded, and only after the conclusion of his reign did the British Parliament pass laws enfranchising Catholics.
Although a Hanovarian elector, George never traveled to his ancestor’s home. He was English. George never traveled outside of southern and central England. He chose not to lead armies in the field, neither in Europe or America. However, George knew considerably about the world through learning and writing. In addition to George’s intense political involvement, he pursued astronomy, architecture, religious theory, and morality. Besides intellectual pursuits, George enjoyed music by the composer Handel and live theater. George amassed a sixty-five thousand volume library supporting his interests.
George extremely valued personal morality. Contrary to many other royals, George maintained a monogamous relationship with his wife. Queen Charlotte endured fifteen pregnancies, providing ample royal succession. While his parenting skills may not have always benefited his children, George lived a domestic life. Biographers attribute his youngest daughter’s childhood death as a contributing cause for his debilitating mental illness. Completely incapacitated during his last ten years, George lived a secluded and solitary life in Windsor Castle while his eldest son served as regent. Biographers have attributed his madness to prohyria, a disease of the liver. New medical opinions have debunked this diagnosis and now believe that George suffered from a bipolar disorder.
George left copious notes, letters, and memos documenting his political views and life. The vast compendium represents everything from important documents to extreme minutia. The Crown has made this treasure trove available to all scholars through on-line access.
One biographer summed up King George III’s legacy as the Last King of America. King George’s life is more than merely losing Britain’s American colonies. While American Independence occurred on his watch, and he may have done much to engender the final rift, there are other components to George’s legacy and contributions. Amidst upheaval and revolutions, he provided Britain with stability and leadership. Further, he did not attempt to overstep his rights and responsibilities as Napoleon and other monarchs did on the continent. George provided a dignified path for future British monarchs to follow who viewed their role to accept representative government’s increasing role. He raised popular support for the monarchy by becoming visibly English and upholding his coronation oaths that he swore to the nation.
To read a comprehensive account of King George III’s life, I recommend the following biography by Jeremy Black.
Black, Jeremy. George III: America’s Last King. 1. print. Yale English Monarchs. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006.
Black’s biography is a good starting place for those who would like to learn more about the life of King George III. While the political details can be overwelming, Black provides interesting accounts of George’s religious views, cultural interests and intellectual pursuits. American readers should have a dictionary handy when reading, as the author uses many words not generally used on this side of the Atlantic. Despite this stylistic limitation, I recommend this biography for a more complete assessment of George’s life and contributions.
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