All You Need to Know About King George III

George III

King George III – Coronation portrait by Allan Ramsay, 1762

George III was an 18th-century sovereign ruler of Great Britain and Ireland. Due to his father’s death, George inherited the British crown from his grandfather, George II, in 1760.

A look back at the life and reign (1760 to 1820) of George III and you cannot help but notice how the British monarchy lost the American colonies. From 1775 to 1783, the American colonies, led by General George Washington, were able to secure victory over George III’s Britain. The crushing defeat was simply a bitter pill that the king found hard swallowing. Was this the number one reason why George III went mad? Perhaps, it was simply a case of a genetic disorder.

Regardless of this, there is more to George III than simply the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence. From his early life, the Napoleonic Wars, to his death in 1820, the following paragraphs contain everything that you need to know about King George III:

George III’s Childhood and Education

With his birth name of George William Fredrick, this future monarch of Britain was born on June 4, 1738. Prince Fredrick Louis and Princess Augusta were his parents. At the time of his birth, which was somewhat premature, his father was the Prince of Wales and hence the heir apparent to George II.  George’s mother, on the other hand, was a German princess from the Hanoverian Kingdom. Her official title was Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha.

No one in the royal court gave George a slim chance of making it past an infant age. This was due to his premature birth. Owing to this, his parents had him baptized the same day he was born.

King George III

The young Prince George (later George III) |  Portrait by Jean-Étienne Liotard in 1754

As his childhood years rolled in, George gradually made a dashing recovery into full health. He was a very shy kid at first. It is believed that George was not very much close to his grandfather, George II. His parents, particularly his mother, made him develop a slight hatred for his grandfather.

King George III’s favorite pastime activities were gardening. When it came to reading, George struggled very much. Young George was tutored by renowned court tutors in languages, literature and natural science.

He spoke fluent German and English by the time he turned 8. Unlike his grandfather and several other relatives of his, George’s first language was English. His parents made sure that he spent more time learning English culture than his Hanoverian roots.

In his early teens, his greatest mentor was Scottish nobleman John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute. It was the Earl that stayed closest to George. He helped him gain confidence and fluency in public speaking, as well as other royal activities.

George becomes Heir Apparent

The death of his father in 1751 meant that he was firmly placed as the first in the line of succession to George II. That same year, his grandfather invested in him the title of Duke of Edinburgh. He was also conferred the title of Prince of Wales.

Lord Bute’s influence on the young prince increasingly grew larger. Based on the advisement of the Lord Bute, George once turned down a request to live with his grandfather, George II. Bute proposed that he was better off staying with his mother.

Prince George is Crowned King George III

In 1760, George II died. His successor was his eldest grandson, George, 22 years at the time. He was crowned George III on September 22, 1761, at Westminster Abbey.

A year after his coronation, he married 17-year-old Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The two royals were wed on September 8, 1761. It is believed that the union as borne out of necessity and that the two got married the same day they met.

George III’s Wife and Children

George III's Wife - Queen Charlotte

George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte |Princess Charlotte by Johann Georg Ziesenis, c. 1761

George and Charlotte would go on to remain committed to each other for over half a century. They were also blessed with 15 children. The children were: George (Prince of Wales, later George IV); Frederick (Duke of York); William (Duke of Clarence and St Andrews, later William IV); Charlotte (Princess Royal); Edward (Duke of Kent and Strathearn); Princess Augusta Sophia; Princess Elizabeth, Prince Ernest Augustus (later King of Hanover), Prince Augustus Frederick (Duke of Sussex), Prince Adolphus (Duke of Cambridge), Princess Mary (Duchess of Gloucester); Princess Sophia; Prince Octavius; Prince Alfred; Princess Amelia.

The marriage between George and Charlotte – a marriage full of mutual respect – was also free of scandals and any infidelity issues. As a result, the marriage lasted for about 56 years, until Charlotte’s death in 1818.

George’s love for the arts and natural science peaked during his reign as king. The monarch was responsible for the birth of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768. It was not uncommon for the royal couples to remain heavily invested in the works of several 18th-century artists and musicians.

George III’s Reign

During his early years on the British throne, Lord Bute was his biggest confidant. Bute was even involved in picking George’s future wife. The influence the lord had on the young king was just palpable.

When George took over the kingdom, the British Parliament was in a bit of mess, structurally. There was no cooperation among the parliamentarians. The prime ministers weren’t so good at managing the executive function of the government either.

George III sought to bring some level of sanity into Parliament. His first call of action was to force the resignation of some of the old guards in parliament. Most famous of these men were William Pitt the Elder and the Duke of Newcastle, Thomas Pelham Holles. These men continued to be a thorn in the flesh of the newly crowned monarch, amidst the social and economic challenges that George III inherited with the crown.

How George III Handled the Seven Years’ War with France

Amidst all these political changes and realignment, the Seven Years’ War raged on in America. The war, which was fought between France and Britain, lasted from 1756 to 1763. The war, which cost a fortune to finance, was as a result of border disputes in North America.

In the end, the war took a considerable amount of resources to wage.  George made it his priority to bring back the years of peace and order. He also had to contend with the empire’s dire financial situation.

In Lord Bute, George saw a trusted man who could help him achieve his desired vision for the empire. In 1762, the king made Lord Bute the Prime Minister of Britain.

However, radical elements and members of parliament, such as John Wikes and William Pit, strongly opposed Bute and the king. Also, there was court drama over Lord Bute. Many parliamentarians held the belief that Bute was trying to seize greater power for the monarch.

Lord Bute purposely kept the young King George III very much away from other members of parliament. A large section of the MPs struck back, and Bute had no option than to resign in 1763. It was also rumored that he had an affair with the king’s mother.

Bute’s successor as prime minister was George Grenville. George III now had to work with Prime Minister Grenville to solve the empire’s distressing cash problems. Additionally, he also brought people like William Augustus (Duke of Cumberland) and William Pitt into his inner circle. Regardless of this, the king still found it herculean in fixing the financial woes of his empire.

King George III and the Intolerable Acts of the 1760s

As stated above, the British Empire had spent quite a lot during the Seven Years’ War. Grenville had no option than to make the Colonies in America pay for the monies spent during the war. The British Parliament passed several Acts that levied taxes and duties on basic commodities in the American Colonies. Examples of those intolerable acts were the Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765

The colonies strongly believed that those Acts were unfair. Besides, they were not consulted before those decisions in the British Parliament were made. The popular phrase, “no taxation without representation” gained popularity in all the 13 colonies. The chaos that was brewing befuddled George III.

Considering how empty his royal wallet was, King George III firmly stood his ground, believing those taxes were crucial for the empire.

People poured into the streets of virtually every American colony to register their displeasure towards these intolerable acts, particularly, the Stamp Act of 1765. What kind of goods did the Stamp Act of 1765 cover?

Soon the outrage turned violent. Several tax collectors were intimidated and beaten in some cases.  The most livid of places were in Boston, Massachusetts. Bostonians, one by one, started to defy the British authorities stationed in the colony. The match that ignited the American Revolution had been lit. And at the heart of it all was King George, a young king who was still learning the ropes of managing an empire.

Back home, George III received a lot of criticisms for people “behind the curtain” unduly influencing his decisions. This was the assertion of Edmund Burke.

Burke worked extremely had with several colleagues of his to relegate the king into a ceremonial position. With no one to seek counsel from, the inexperienced king was left all alone.

King George III versus the American Revolution

Judging by how much widespread the outrage over the Stamp Act was, King George and the British Parliament were right in repealing it. But they made another blunder. In the place of the Stamp Act, the Declaratory Act of 1766 was passed. By issuing this legislative instrument, the British Parliament was declaring that all its American colonies were subject of George III and the Parliament.

The reason why the Declaratory Act of 1766 was passed was that the king was trying to stamp his authority in the colonies. Only he had the God-given right to rule, and as such, the colonies’ did not have a say in deciding what taxes they would or would not pay. The Act also gave him the opportunity to impose further new taxes on the colonies. Unbeknownst to King George III, he was about to meet the ire of fed up colonies.

In the king’s close circles, there were some parliamentarians and lords that had the foresight of how things were about to pan out. Both Lords Edmund Burke and William Pitt the Elder strongly advised antagonizing the colonies further with those outrageous taxes. Further, they pondered how effective the tax collection was going to be. The seat of the British Empire was far across the Atlantic. However, their calls fell on deaf ears. Parliament continued to insist on imposing further taxes.

Bear in mind, amidst all these turmoil, the colonies, either individually or collectively, sent messages to George III to intervene in the situation. On several occasions, the king refused to come to the aid of the colonies. Anger and disgust continued to brew. First, the anger was directed towards the taxes. However, as time went on, the colonies started to call for independence. The colonists drew inspiration from several Enlightenment philosophers (such as John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau) and matched the British forces boot for boot.

King George III Appoints Lord North

Lord North was seen by the king as a calming presence in the British House of Commons. He believed that North could end the crisis both domestic and abroad. In Parliament, North helped calm the fears of agitated politicians. However, in the American colonies, North had very little success containing the rising anger from the colonists.

In 1775, news of the colonies forming a Second Continental Congress reached the king. George III could do nothing as he watched the 13 colonies issue a Declaration of Independence. The rationale for the Declaration document focused primarily on George III. The Continental Congress believed that the king should have called his parliament to order and bring to an end the misery and hardship of the colonies. Hence, they declared themselves independent.

Slowly and painfully, George began losing his foothold in the colonies. By 1779, even the most optimistic imperialist in London would have known that the American colonies were long lost. There was no turning back.

Although George continued to bleed out a lot of money for the war, he soldiered on. He feared that if Britain didn’t put up a good fight, places like Ireland could follow in the footstep of the American colonies and declare independence.

The harsh reality was that George III was about to go down in the annals of history, as the British monarch who lost a significant portion of the British Empire. The war in effect drew to an end when American and French forces defeated British troops at Yorktown.

George III Reluctantly Accepts the Treaty of Paris in 1783

The next couple of years would see Britain try to save face by negotiating a treaty with her former colony, now the independent United States of America. King George III dispatched diplomats to Paris to sign the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

The loss of the American colonies weighed heavily on George’s mind. George, 45, became a shadow of himself. He had suffered a crushing blow to his confidence, and what was once considered his divine right to rule was in jeopardy. Mentally and physically, he was far from being in good shape. The king even floated the idea of abdicating the throne. 1782 and 1783 were extremely horrific years for the monarch.

George III Descends into Madness

Across the Atlantic, in the newly found country- the United States of America, it was all joy and jubilation. However, in the court of King George III, the turmoil was not over yet. George was still reeling, both politically and personally, from the loss of the colonies. The British public and opposition politicians did not mince words. The king had spent extensive amounts of resources during the American Revolution, only for him to be left with nothing. Many people blamed him for prolonging the war in the first place.

The only political success he had during this period was when he successfully out muscled several politicians in the House. George was completely against any attempts at reforming the empire’s jewel, the East India Company. He feared that such reforms would only line the pockets of corrupt politicians. The public backed him on this one, and the king successfully shot down the reforms instigated by former Prime Minister Lord North and Charles James Fox.

However, George still struggled to make sense of all the things that was unfolded the recent years. This drove the king mad. Some historians and physicians in the 20th century concluded that George III’s insanity might have actually been caused by a genetic disorder called porphyria.

However, there were rumors that nothing of that sort happened to the king. A number of historians maintain that the cause of George III’s madness was the resultant stress that came with the events of the late 18th century, both domestic and abroad. His children, as well as the heir to throne Prince George,  had begun fraternizing with James Fox. This also caused some level of stress to the king.

Intermittently, George regained some sense of normality. However, just when everything seemed a bit fine, he would relapse into the realm of madness.

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars only sent George III further down the rabbit hole of madness. His problem was further complicated when his youngest child, Princess Amelia, died in 1810.

By this time, it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the king was stark insane. So Parliament acted by passing the Regency Act in 1810. The Act handed regency to his eldest son, Prince George (Prince of Wales, later George IV).

How George III died?

George III’s last few years on earth was spent by the side of his custodian, his Wife Queen Charlotte. And even though his wife died in 1818, the king’s worsening dementia prevented him from comprehending anything from there onward.

As his end was nigh, he spent more time insane than sane. He lost his eyesight as well, perhaps due to his mental illness.

On January 29, 1820, George III’s 59-year reign came to an end. Aged 71, the king died at his Windsor Castle, London.

Who Succeeded George III?

Upon the death of George III, the crown passed to his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, who was by then the Prince Regent as well.

George III’s Legacy

George III’s reign gets a lot of attention simply because of the American Revolution. It is also not uncommon for historians to dwell endlessly on his mental state towards his later years.

In truth, he was a relatively inexperienced king who perhaps lacked the necessary guidance to fully grow into his role. The times that he reigned over were undoubtedly tumultuous. Regardless of all these, George III still left some long-lasting footprints on the world.

For starters, his Royal Marriages Act of 1772 was moderately received by the public. The Act was passed primarily because of Prince Henry’s, the king’s brother, infamous reputation to jump in and out of relationships. The king had just had enough of his indecent behavior. George tasked Parliament to pass the Royal Marriages Act in order to curb his brother’s illicit court affairs. What the act sought to do was to make royal marriages that did not have the consent of the king illegal.

Many people wrongly think of George III as a complete feeble king, a king who easily rolled over and allowed the American colonies to gain independence. Quite contrary from that, King George III fought to the bitter end during the American Revolution. And as at the time of the Revolution, the king was of a very sound mind. Unfortunately for him, the resolve of people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were too strong a force to handle.

His 59-year reign meant that George helped solidify and extend the Hanoverian dynastic reign to close to two centuries. Also, his total reign of 59 years and 96 days elevates him to the third position on the list of longest-reigning British monarchs in history. And because he comes in behind Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria, King George III currently sits as the undisputed longest-served British king in all of recorded history.

He also did not shy away from exhibiting a strong character during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars (1793 to 1815). Although he was completely sidelined from the affairs of the country, you still can’t take away the fact that he was king during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

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