George III: King of Great Britain and Ireland

I had just left off writing and put on my things for walking to Alton, when Anna and her friend Harriot called in their way thither, so we went together. Their business was to provide mourning against the King's death, and my mother has had a bombasin bought for her. I am not sorry to be back again, for the young ladies had a great deal to do, and without much method in doing it. Jane Austen to Cassandra June 6, 1811
George III was king of England for Jane Austen's entire life. When incapacitated by illness in 1811 (with his death predicted at every turn) power was transferred from the King to the Prince of Wales, thereby making the future George IV Regent and giving the era the name "The Regency". In reality, George III would linger on for another nine years, outliving Jane Austen, herself, who died in 1817. George III (George William Frederick; 4 June 1738 – 29 January 1820) (New Style dates) was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until 1 January 1801, and thereafter of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death. He was concurrently Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and thus Elector (and later King) of Hanover. The Electorate became the Kingdom of Hanover on 12 October 1814. He was the third British monarch of the House of Hanover, and the first of Hanover to be born in Britain and speak English as his first language. In fact, he never visited Germany. It was during George III's reign that Great Britain lost many of its colonies in North America in the wake of the American Revolution. These colonies would eventually become the United States. Also during his reign the realms of Great Britain and Ireland were joined together to form the United Kingdom. Later in his reign George III suffered from recurrent and, eventually, permanent mental illness. This baffled medical science at the time, although it is now generally thought that he suffered from the blood disease porphyria. Recently, owing to studies showing high levels of the poison arsenic in King George's hair, arsenic is also thought to be a possible cause of King George's insanity and health problems. After a final relapse in 1810, George's eldest son, George, Prince of Wales ruled as Prince Regent. Upon George's death, the Prince of Wales succeeded his father as George IV.  

Early Life

His Royal Highness Prince George of Wales was born in London at Norfolk House and was the son of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and the grandson of George II. Prince George's mother was Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. As Prince George was born two months premature and was thought unlikely to survive, he was baptised the same day by the Rector of St James's. He was publicly baptised by the Bishop of Oxford, Thomas Secker, at Norfolk House on 4 July 1738 (New Style). His godparents were the King of Sweden (for whom Lord Baltimore stood proxy), the Duke of Saxe-Gotha (for whom the Duke of Chandos stood proxy) and the Queen of Prussia (for whom Lady Charlotte Edwin, a daughter of the Duke of Hamilton, stood proxy). George grew into a healthy child but his grandfather George II disliked the Prince of Wales and took little interest in his grandchildren. However, in 1751 the Prince of Wales died unexpectedly from a lung injury, and Prince George became heir apparent to the throne. He inherited one of his father's titles and became the Duke of Edinburgh. Now more interested in his grandson, three weeks later the King created George Prince of Wales. In the spring of 1756, as George approached his eighteenth birthday, the King offered him a grand establishment at St James's Palace, but George refused the offer, guided by his mother and her confidante, Lord Bute, who would later serve as Prime Minister. George's mother, now the Dowager Princess of Wales, mistrusted her father-in-law and preferred to keep George separate from his company.

Marriage

In 1759 George was smitten with Lady Sarah Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond, but Lord Bute advised against the match and George abandoned his thoughts of marriage. "I am born for the happiness and misery of a great nation," he wrote, "and consequently must often act contrary to my passion." Nevertheless, attempts by the King to marry George to Princess Sophia Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel were resisted by him and his mother. The following year, George inherited the Crown when his grandfather, George II, died suddenly on 25 October 1760. The search for a suitable wife intensified. On 8 September 1761, the King married in the Chapel Royal, St James's Palace, Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, whom he met on their wedding day. A fortnight later, both were crowned at Westminster Abbey. George remarkably never took a mistress (in contrast with both his Hanoverian predecessors and his sons), and the couple enjoyed a genuinely happy marriage. They had 15 children — nine sons and six daughters.

Early Reign

The first few years of George's reign were marked by political instability, largely generated as a result of disagreements over the Seven Years' War. The favouritism which George initially showed towards Tory ministers led to his denunciation by the Whigs as an autocrat in the manner of Charles I. In May 1762, George replaced the incumbent Whig ministry of the Duke of Newcastle with one led by the Tory Lord Bute. The following year, after concluding the Peace of Paris ending the war, Lord Bute resigned, allowing the Whigs under George Grenville to return to power. Later that year, the British government under George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763 that placed a boundary upon the westward expansion of the American colonies. The Proclamation's goal was to force colonists to negotiate with the Native Americans for the lawful purchase of the land and, therefore, to reduce the costly frontier warfare that had erupted over land conflicts. The Proclamation Line, as it came to be known, was extremely unpopular with the Americans and ultimately became another wedge between the colonists and the British government that would eventually lead to war. With the American colonists generally unburdened by British taxes, the government found it increasingly difficult to pay for the defence of the colonies against native uprisings and the possibility of French incursions. In 1765, Grenville introduced the Stamp Act, which levied a stamp duty on all documents in the British colonies in North America. Meanwhile, the King had become exasperated at Grenville's attempts to reduce the King's prerogatives, and tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade William Pitt the Elder to accept the office of Prime Minister. After a brief illness, which may have presaged his illnesses to come, George settled on Lord Rockingham to form a ministry, and dismissed Grenville. Lord Rockingham, with the support of Pitt, repealed Grenville's unpopular Stamp Act, but his government was weak and he was replaced in 1766 by Pitt, whom George created Earl of Chatham. The actions of Lord Chatham and George III in repealing the Act were so popular in America that statues of them both were erected in New York City. Lord Chatham fell ill in 1767, allowing the Duke of Grafton to take over government, although he did not formally become Prime Minister until 1768. His government disintegrated in 1770, allowing the Tories to return to power. The government of the new Prime Minister, Lord North, was chiefly concerned with discontent in America. To assuage American opinion most of the custom duties were withdrawn, with the exception of the tea duty, which in George's words was "one tax to keep up the right [to levy taxes]". In 1773, a Boston mob threw 342 crates of tea, costing approximately £10,000, into Boston Harbour as a political protest, an event that became known as the Boston tea party. In Britain, opinion hardened against the colonists, with Chatham now agreeing with North that the destruction of the tea was "certainly criminal". Lord North introduced the Punitive Acts, known as the Coercive Acts or the Intolerable Acts by the colonists: the Port of Boston was shut down and legislative elections in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay were suspended. Up to this point, in the words of Professor Peter Thomas, George's "hopes were centred on a political solution, and he always bowed to his cabinet's opinions even when sceptical of their success. The detailed evidence of the years from 1763 to 1775 tends to exonerate George III from any real responsibility for the American Revolution."

American Revolutionary War

The American Revolutionary War began when armed conflict between British regulars and colonial militiamen broke out in New England in April 1775. A month later, delegates of the thirteen British colonies drafted a peace proposal known as the Olive Branch Petition. The proposal was quickly rejected in London because fighting had already erupted. A year later, on July 4, 1776 (American Independence Day), the colonies declared their independence from the Crown and became a new nation, the "United States of America". The Declaration was a long list of grievances against the British King, legislature, and populace. Amongst George's other offences, the Declaration charged, "He has abdicated Government here... He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people." George was indignant when he learned of the opinions of the colonists. In the war the British captured New York City in 1776, but the grand strategic plan of invading from Canada failed with the surrender of the British Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga. In 1778, France (Great Britain's chief rival) signed a treaty of friendship with the new United States. Lord North asked to transfer power to Lord Chatham, whom he thought more capable. George, however, would hear nothing of such suggestions; he suggested that Chatham serve as a subordinate minister in Lord North's administration. Chatham refused to cooperate, and died later in the same year. Great Britain was then at war with France, and in 1779 it was also at war with Spain. George III obstinately tried to keep Great Britain at war with the rebels in America, despite the opinions of his own ministers. Lord Gower and Lord Weymouth both resigned rather than suffer the indignity of being associated with the war. Lord North advised George III that his (North's) opinion matched that of his ministerial colleagues, but stayed in office. Eventually, George gave up hope of subduing America by more armies. "It was a joke," he said, "to think of keeping Pennsylvania". There was no hope of ever recovering New England. But the King was determined "never to acknowledge the independence of the Americans, and to punish their contumacy by the indefinite prolongation of a war which promised to be eternal." His plan was to keep the 30,000 men garrisoned in New York, Rhode Island, in Canada, and in Florida; other forces would attack the French and Spanish in the West Indies. To punish the Americans the King planned to destroy their coasting-trade, bombard their ports, sack and burn towns along the coast (like New London, Connecticut), and turn loose the Indians to attack civilians in frontier settlements. These operations, the King felt, would inspire the Loyalists; would splinter the Congress; and "would keep the rebels harassed, anxious, and poor, until the day when, by a natural and inevitable process, discontent and disappointment were converted into penitence and remorse" and they would beg to return to his authority. The plan meant destruction for the Loyalists and loyal Indians, and indefinite prolongation of a costly war, as well as the risk of disaster as the French and Spanish were assembling an armada to invade the British isles and seize London. In 1781, the news of Lord Cornwallis's surrender at the Siege of Yorktown reached London; Lord North's parliamentary support ebbed away and he subsequently resigned in 1782. After Lord North persuaded the king against abdicating, George III finally accepted the defeat in North America, and authorised the negotiation of a peace. The Treaty of Paris and the associated Treaty of Versailles were ratified in 1783. The former treaty provided for the recognition of the United States by Great Britain. The latter required Great Britain to give up Florida to Spain and to grant access to the waters of Newfoundland to France. When John Adams was appointed American Minister to Britain in 1785, George had become resigned to the new relationship between his country and the United States, "I was the last to consent to the separation; but" he told Adams, "I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power." With the collapse of Lord North's ministry in 1782, the Whig Lord Rockingham became Prime Minister for the second time, but died within months. The King then appointed Lord Shelburne to replace him. Charles James Fox, however, refused to serve under Shelburne, and demanded the appointment of the Duke of Portland. In 1783, the House of Commons forced Lord Shelburne from office and his government was replaced by the Fox-North Coalition. The Duke of Portland became Prime Minister; Fox and Lord North, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary respectively, really held power, with Portland acting as a figurehead. George III was distressed by the attempts to force him to appoint ministers not of his liking, but the Portland ministry quickly built up a majority in the House of Commons, and could not easily be displaced. He was, however, extremely dissatisfied when the government introduced the India Bill, which proposed to reform the government of India by transferring political power from the Honourable East India Company to Parliamentary commissioners. Immediately after the House of Commons passed it, George authorised Lord Temple to inform the House of Lords that he would regard any peer who voted for the bill as his enemy. The bill was rejected by the Lords; three days later, the Portland ministry was dismissed, and William Pitt the Younger was appointed Prime Minister, with Temple as his Secretary of State. On 17 December 1783, Parliament voted in favour of a motion condemning the influence of the monarch in parliamentary voting as a "high crime" and Temple was forced to resign. Temple's departure destabilised the government, and three months later the government lost its majority and Parliament was dissolved; the subsequent election gave Pitt a firm mandate. For George III, Pitt's appointment was a great victory. The King felt that the scenario proved that he still had the power to appoint Prime Ministers without having to rely on any parliamentary group. Throughout Pitt's ministry, George eagerly supported many of his political aims. To aid Pitt, George created new peers at an unprecedented rate. The new peers flooded the House of Lords and allowed Pitt to maintain a firm majority. During Pitt's ministry, George III was extremely popular. The public supported the exploratory voyages to the Pacific Ocean that he sanctioned. George also aided the Royal Academy with large grants from his private funds. The British people admired their King for remaining faithful to his wife, unlike the two previous Hanoverian monarchs. Great advances were made in fields such as in science and industry. However, by this time George III's health was deteriorating. He suffered from a mental illness, now widely believed to be a symptom of porphyria. A study of the King's hair samples reveal high levels of arsenic, a possible trigger for the disease. The King may have previously suffered a brief episode of the disease in 1765, but a longer episode began in the summer of 1788. George was sufficiently sane to prorogue Parliament on 25 September 1788, but his condition worsened and in November he became seriously deranged, sometimes speaking for many hours without pause. With his doctors largely at a loss to explain his illness, spurious stories about his condition spread, such as the claim that he shook hands with a tree in the mistaken belief that it was the King of Prussia. When Parliament reconvened in November, the King could not, as was customary, communicate to them the agenda for the upcoming legislative session. According to long-established practice, Parliament could not begin the transaction of business until the King had made the Speech from the Throne. Parliament, however, ignored the custom and began to debate provisions for a regency. Charles James Fox and William Pitt wrangled over the terms of which individual was entitled to take over government during the illness of the Sovereign. Although both parties agreed that it would be most reasonable for George III's eldest son and heir-apparent, the Prince of Wales, to act as Regent, they disagreed over the basis of a regency. Fox suggested that it was the Prince of Wales's absolute right to act on his ill father's behalf; Pitt argued that it was for Parliament to nominate a Regent. Proceedings were further delayed as the authority for Parliament to merely meet was questioned, as the session had not been formally opened by the Sovereign. Pitt proposed a remedy based on an obscure legal fiction. As was well-established at the time, the Sovereign could delegate many of his functions to Lords Commissioners by letters patent, which were validated by the attachment of the Great Seal. It was proposed that the custodian of the Great Seal, the Lord Chancellor, affix the Seal without the consent of the Sovereign. Although such an action would be unlawful, it would not be possible to question the validity of the letters patent, as the presence of the Great Seal would be deemed conclusive in court. George III's second son, the Prince Frederick, Duke of York, denounced Pitt's proposal as "unconstitutional and illegal". Nonetheless, the Lords Commissioners were appointed and then opened Parliament. In February 1789, the Regency Bill, authorising the Prince of Wales to act as Prince Regent, was introduced and passed in the House of Commons. But before the House of Lords could pass the bill, George III recovered from his illness under the treatment of Dr Francis Willis. He confirmed the actions of the Lords Commissioners as valid, but resumed full control of government.

French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

After George recovered from his illness, his popularity, and that of Pitt, greatly increased at the expense of Fox and the Prince of Wales. The French Revolution, in which the French monarchy had been overthrown, worried many British landowners. France subsequently declared war on Great Britain in 1793, and George soon represented the British resistance. George allowed Pitt to increase taxes, raise armies, and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the war attempt. As well-prepared as Great Britain may have been, France was stronger. The First Coalition (which included Austria, Prussia, and Spain) was defeated in 1798. The Second Coalition (which included Austria, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire) was defeated in 1800. Only Great Britain was left fighting Napoleon Bonaparte, the First Consul of the French Republic. Perhaps surprisingly, a failed assassination attempt of May 15, 1800 was not political in origin but motivated by the religious delusions of his assailant, James Hadfield, who shot at the King in the Drury Lane Theatre during the playing of the national anthem. Soon after 1800, a brief lull in hostilities allowed Pitt to concentrate on Ireland, where there had been an uprising in 1798. Parliament then passed the Act of Union 1800, which, on 1 January 1801, united Great Britain and Ireland into a single nation, known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. George used the opportunity to drop the claim to the Throne of France, which English and British Sovereigns had maintained since the reign of Edward III. It was suggested that George adopt the title "Emperor of the British and Hanoverian Dominions", but he refused. A. G. Stapleton writes that George III "felt that his true dignity consisted in his being known to Europe and the world by the appropriated and undisputed style belonging to the British Crown." As part of his Irish policy, Pitt planned to remove certain legal disabilities that applied to Roman Catholics after the Union. George III claimed that to emancipate Catholics would be to violate his coronation oath, in which Sovereigns promise to maintain Protestantism. The King declared, "Where is the power on Earth to absolve me from the observance of every sentence of that oath, particularly the one requiring me to maintain the Protestant Reformed Religion? … No, no, I had rather beg my bread from door to door throughout Europe, than consent to any such measure. I can give up my crown and retire from power. I can quit my palace and live in a cottage. I can lay my head on a block and lose my life, but I cannot break my oath." Faced with opposition to his religious reform policies from both the King and the British public, Pitt threatened to resign. At about the same time, the King suffered a relapse of his previous illness, which he blamed on worry over the Catholic question. On 14 March 1801, Pitt was formally replaced by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Henry Addington. As Addington was his close friend, Pitt remained as a private advisor. Addington's ministry was particularly unremarkable, as almost no reforms were made or measures passed. In fact, the nation was strongly against the very idea of reform, having just witnessed the bloody French Revolution. Although they called for passive behaviour in the United Kingdom, the public wanted strong action in Europe, but Addington failed to deliver. In October 1801, he made peace with the French, and in 1802 signed the Treaty of Amiens. George did not consider the peace with France as "real"; in his view it was an "experiment". In 1803, the two nations once again declared war on each other. In 1804, George was again affected by his recurrent illness; on his recovery, he discovered that public opinion distrusted Addington to lead the nation in war, and instead favoured Pitt. Pitt sought to appoint Fox to his ministry, but George III refused as the King disliked Fox, who had encouraged the Prince of Wales to lead an extravagant and expensive life. Lord Grenville perceived an injustice to Fox, and refused to join the new ministry. Pitt concentrated on forming a coalition with Austria, Russia, and Sweden. The Third Coalition, however, met the same fate as the First and Second Coalitions, collapsing in 1805. An invasion by Napoleon seemed imminent, but the possibility was extinguished after Admiral Lord Nelson's famous victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. The setbacks in Europe took a toll on William Pitt's health. Pitt died in 1806, once again reopening the question of who should serve in the ministry. Lord Grenville became Prime Minister, and his "Ministry of All the Talents" included Charles James Fox. The King was conciliatory towards Fox, after being forced to capitulate over his appointment. After Fox's death in September 1806, the King and ministry were in open conflict. The ministry had proposed a measure whereby Roman Catholics would be allowed to serve in all ranks of the Armed Forces. George not only instructed them to drop the measure, but also to make an agreement to never set up such a measure again. The ministers agreed to drop the measure then pending, but refused to bind themselves in the future. In 1807, they were dismissed and replaced by the Duke of Portland as the nominal Prime Minister, with actual power being held by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Spencer Perceval. Parliament was dissolved; the subsequent election gave the ministry a strong majority in the House of Commons. George III made no further major political decisions during his reign; the replacement of the Duke of Portland by Perceval in 1809 was of little actual significance. In 1810, already virtually blind with cataracts and in pain from rheumatism, George III became dangerously ill. In his view the malady had been triggered by the stress he suffered at the death of his youngest and favourite daughter, Princess Amelia. As the Princess's nurse reported, "the scenes of distress and crying every day…were melancholy beyond description." By 1811, George III had become permanently insane and lived in seclusion at Windsor Castle until his death. He accepted the need for the Regency Act 1811, to which the Royal Assent was granted by the Lords Commissioners, appointed under the same irregular procedure as was adopted in 1788. The Prince of Wales acted as Regent for the remainder of George III's life. Spencer Perceval was assassinated in 1812 (the only British Prime Minister to have suffered such a fate) and was replaced by Lord Liverpool. Liverpool oversaw British victory in the Napoleonic Wars. The subsequent Congress of Vienna led to significant territorial gains for Hanover, which was upgraded from an electorate to a kingdom. Meanwhile, George's health deteriorated, eventually he became completely blind and increasingly deaf. He never knew that he was declared King of Hanover in 1814, or of the death of his wife in 1818. Over Christmas 1819, he spoke nonsense for 58 hours, and for the last few weeks of his life was unable to walk. On 29 January 1820, he died at Windsor Castle. His favourite son, Frederick, Duke of York, was with him. His death came six days after that of his fourth son, the Duke of Kent. George III was buried on 15 February in St. George's Chapel, Windsor. George was succeeded by two of his sons George IV and William IV, who both died without surviving legitimate children, leaving the throne to their niece, Victoria, the last monarch of the House of Hanover and the only legitimate child of the Duke of Kent. George lived for 81 years and 239 days and reigned for 59 years and 96 days — in each case, more than any other English or British monarch until that point. This record has been surpassed only twice, by George's granddaughter Queen Victoria and by Elizabeth II, who was 81 years old as of 2007. George III's reign was longer than the reigns of all three of his immediate predecessors (Queen Anne, King George I and King George II) combined. While tremendously popular in Britain, George was hated by rebellious American colonists (approximately one-third of the population in the colonies). The grievances in the United States Declaration of Independence were presented as "repeated injuries and usurpations" that he had committed to establish "an absolute Tyranny" over the colonies. The Declaration's wording has contributed to the American public's perception of George as a tyrant. Another factor that exacerbated American resentment was the King's failure to intercede personally on the colonists' behalf after the Olive Branch Petition. George was hated in Ireland for the atrocities carried out in his name during the suppression of the 1798 rebellion. British historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Trevelyan, promoted hostile interpretations of George III's life, however, scholars of the later twentieth century, such as Butterfield and Pares, and Macalpine and Hunter, are more inclined to be sympathetic, seeing him as a victim of circumstance and illness. Today, the long reign of George III is perceived as a continuation of the reduction in the political power of monarchy, and its growth as the embodiment of national morality. The British Agricultural Revolution reached its peak under George III. The period provided for unprecedented growth in the rural population, which in turn provided much of the workforce for the concurrent Industrial Revolution. George III has been nicknamed Farmer George, for "his plain, homely, thrifty manners and tastes" and because of his passionate interest in agriculture. From Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.

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