George III was born in London on June 4,
1738. He was the son of Frederick,
Prince of Wales, and the grandson of George II. He succeeded his grandfather in
1760, his father having died in 1751. George III was the first of the House of
Hanover to be born and educated as an Englishman. He had high but impractical
ideas of kingship. George III was the longest reigning of the male British
monarchs. George III was king of
Great Britain and Ireland and presided over the loss of the American colonies.
never an autocratic monarch, George III was always a powerful force in politics.
He was a strong supporter of the war against America, and he viewed the
concession of independence in 1783 with such detestation that he considered
abdicating his throne. At the same time he fought a bitter personal feud with
the Whig leader Charles James Fox, and his personal intervention brought the
fall of the Fox-North ministry in 1783. He
then took a political gamble by placing the government in the hands of William
Pitt, thereby restoring stability for the rest of the century. In
1801 he preferred, however, to force Pitt to resign as prime minister rather
than permit Catholic Emancipation, a measure that he interpreted as contrary to
his coronation oath to uphold the Church of England.
After 1801 George III was
increasingly incapacitated by an illness, sometimes identified as porphyry, that
caused blindness and senility. His recurring bouts of insanity became a
political problem and ultimately compelled him to submit to the establishment of
a formal Regency in1811. The regent was his oldest son, the future George IV,
one of 15 children borne him by his wife, Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
III was bitterly criticized by Whig historians of his own and later days. He
learned quickly, however, and developed into a shrewd and sensible statesman,
although one of conservative views. The
best loved of the rulers of the House of Hanover, he enjoyed a personal
reputation that stood his house in good stead during the disastrous reign of his
III died at Windsor Castle on
January 29, 1820.
letter signed, dated September 2, 1786 to an unnamed friend. Letter
discusses the design of the Theological Pivre Medal, the health of Elizabeth
(his daughter), and his friend's horseback riding. Signed
Text Courtesy of: History
of the Crown, historic royal profiles British Royal Government
George III was born on 4
June 1738 in London, the eldest son of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and Princess
Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. He became heir to the throne on the death of his father
in 1751, succeeding his grandfather, George II, in 1760. He was the third
Hanoverian monarch and the first one to be born in England and to use English as
his first language.
George III is widely remembered for two things: losing the American
colonies and going mad. This is far from the whole truth. George's direct
responsibility for the loss of the colonies is not great. He opposed their bid
for independence to the end, but he did not develop the policies (such as the
Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend duties of 1767 on tea, paper and other
products) which led to war in 1775-76 and which had the support of Parliament.
These policies were largely due to the financial burdens of garrisoning and
administering the vast expansion of territory brought under the British Crown in
America, the costs of a series of wars with France and Spain in North America,
and the loans given to the East India Company (then responsible for
administering India). By the 1770s, and at a time when there was no income tax,
the national debt required an annual revenue of £4 million to service it.
The declaration of American independence on 4 July 1776, the end of the
war with the surrender by British forces in 1782, and the defeat which the loss
of the American colonies represented, could have threatened the Hanoverian
throne. However, George's strong defence of what he saw as the national interest
and the prospect of long war with revolutionary France made him, if anything,
more popular than before.
The American war, its political aftermath and family anxieties placed
great strain on George in the 1780s. After serious bouts of illness in 1788-89
and again in 1801, George became permanently deranged in 1810. He was mentally
unfit to rule in the last decade of his reign; his eldest son - the later George
IV - acted as Prince Regent from 1811. Some medical historians have said that
George III's mental instability was caused by a hereditary physical disorder
George's accession in 1760 marked a significant change in royal finances.
Since 1697, the monarch had received an annual grant of £700,000 from
Parliament as a contribution to the Civil List, i.e. civil government costs
(such as judges' and ambassadors' salaries) and the expenses of the Royal
Household. In 1760, it was decided that the whole cost of the Civil List should
be provided by Parliament in return for the surrender of the hereditary revenues
by the King for the duration of his reign. (This arrangement still applies
today, although civil government costs are now paid by Parliament, rather than
financed directly by the monarch from the Civil List.)
The first 25 years of George's reign were politically controversial for
reasons other than the conflict with America. The King was accused by some
critics, particularly Whigs (a leading political grouping), of attempting to
reassert royal authority in an unconstitutional manner. In fact, George took a
conventional view of the constitution and the powers left to the Crown after the
conflicts between Crown and Parliament in the 17th century.
Although he was careful not to exceed his powers, George's limited ability
and lack of subtlety in dealing with the shifting alliances within the Tory and
Whig political groupings in Parliament meant that he found it difficult to bring
together ministries which could enjoy the support of the House of Commons. His
problem was solved first by the long-lasting ministry of Lord North (1770-82)
and then, from 1783, by Pitt the Younger, whose ministry lasted until 1801.
George III was the most attractive of the Hanoverian monarchs. He was a
good family man (there were 15 children) and devoted to his wife, Charlotte of
Mecklenburg-Strelitz, for whom he bought the Queen's House (later enlarged to
become Buckingham Palace). However, his sons disappointed him and, after his
brothers made unsuitable secret marriages, the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 was
passed at George's insistence. (Under this Act, the Sovereign must give consent
to the marriage of any lineal descendant of George II, with certain exceptions.)
Being extremely conscientious, George read all government papers and
sometimes annoyed his ministers by taking such a prominent interest in
government and policy. His political influence could be decisive. In 1801, he
forced Pitt the Younger to resign when the two men disagreed about whether Roman
Catholics should have full civil rights. George III, because of his coronation
oath to maintain the rights and privileges of the Church of England, was against
the proposed measure.
One of the most cultured of monarchs, George started a new royal
collection of books (65,000 of his books were later given to the British Museum,
as the nucleus of a national library) and opened his library to scholars. In
1768, George founded and paid the initial costs of the Royal Academy of Arts
(now famous for its exhibitions). He was the first king to study science as part
of his education (he had his own astronomical observatory), and examples of his
collection of scientific instruments can now be seen in the Science Museum.
George III also took a keen interest in agriculture, particularly on the
crown estates at Richmond and Windsor, being known as 'Farmer George'. In his
last years, physical as well as mental powers deserted him and he became blind.
He died at Windsor Castle on 29 January 1820, after a reign of almost 60 years -
the second longest in British history.
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