George III of the United Kingdom
George III (George William Frederick) (4 June 1738–29 January 1820) was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until 1 January 1801, and thereafter King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death. He was concurrently Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover), acquiring the additional title of King of Hanover on 12 October 1814. George was the third British monarch of the House of Hanover.
During George III's reign, Great Britain lost many of its colonies in North America; the rebellious colonies later formed the United States. Also during his reign, the realms of Great Britain and Ireland united to form the United Kingdom. George III suffered from a mental disease, now thought to be porphyria. After a final relapse in 1811, George's eldest son, The Prince George, Prince of Wales reigned as Prince Regent. Upon George's death, the Prince of Wales succeeded his father to become George IV.
HRH Prince George of Wales was born at Norfolk House in London. He was the son of the Prince Frederick, Prince of Wales, and therefore the grandson of George II. Prince George's mother was the Princess of Wales (née Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha).
George II and the Prince of Wales had an extremely poor relationship. Prince George of Wales was consequently isolated from court in his early years. In 1751, the Prince of Wales died from a head injury, leaving Prince George the Dukedom of Edinburgh. The new Duke of Edinburgh was heir-apparent to the Throne, and was subsequently created Prince of Wales. His mother, the then-Dowager Princess of Wales, mistrusted her father-in-law; thus, she kept the Prince of Wales separate from his grandfather. An important influence on the new Prince of Wales' childhood was John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, who would later serve as Prime Minister.
George, Prince of Wales inherited the Crown when his grandfather, George II, died on 25 October 1760. After his accession, a search throughout Europe ensued for a suitable wife. On 8 September 1761, the King married Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in the Chapel Royal, St James's Palace, London. A fortnight later, both were crowned at Westminster Abbey.
It is said that George III was smitten with another young lady, (the Lady Sarah Lennox , daughter of Charles, 2nd Duke of Richmond) and actually winced when he first saw the rather homely Charlotte, whom he met on their wedding day. However, he gamely went ahead with his marriage vows, and, remarkably, remained devoted to her and never took a mistress (in contrast with both his Hanoverian predecessors). They had fifteen children—nine sons and six daughters—more than any other monarch in British history. Two of his sons later became Kings of the United Kingdom; another son became King of Hanover; a daughter became Queen of Württemberg.
George was said to have married a Quakeress named Hannah Lightfoot on 17 April 1759, prior to his marriage to Princess Charlotte in 1761. If such a marriage had existed in 1761, then his marriage to Charlotte would have been bigamous and all of George's successors would have been usurpers. But no legal marriage to Lightfoot could have occurred. Hannah Lightfoot was already married to Isaac Axelford in 1753. Lightfoot died in 1759, and therefore could not have produced legitimate children from a marriage in April of 1759. George III's marriage in 1761 to Charlotte would therefore clearly not be bigamous. The marriage was mentioned in the 1866 trial of the daughter of impostress Olivia Wilmot, who claimed to be "Princess Olivia." A forged marriage certificate produced at her trial was impounded in 1866 and studied by the Attorney-General . It is now in the Royal Archives in Windsor Castle.
Upon his accession, George III agreed to surrender the revenues of the Crown Estate for such use as Parliament provided in return for fixed civil list payments. This action was the first by a Sovereign acknowledging parliamentary control over royal income and expenditure. George's original civil list was £723,000; the sum reached over £1,000,000 by the end of his reign. The arrangement whereunder the Sovereign surrenders the revenues of the Crown Estate to the Treasury in return for civil list payments continues to this day.
Under George III's Hanoverian predecessors, royal power and influence had severely deteriorated. George I was not an active participant in British affairs (preferring to concentrate on his native Hanover), whilst George II was not confident enough to challenge the opinions of his advisors. Furthermore, the earlier Hanoverian monarchs had severely undermined the two-party system, which pitted the Tories against the Whigs. George I felt that the Tories opposed his right to succeed to the Throne, and consequently excluded them from all power. The Tories ceased to be a meaningful political group, and all power was held by the Whigs.
George III, however, had a different view of his power; he sought to increase his own influence at the expense of his ministers. Those who supported the King's supremacy became known as the Tories, whilst those who opposed it continued to be known as the Whigs. The Whigs subsequently became increasingly the party of the country's newer commercial and industrial interests, becoming in the latter stages of the reign the party of limited social and political reform.
The Whig Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle, George II's Prime Minister, continued to serve until 1761. In 1762, however, George appointed the Tory John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute. Lord Bute's administration was highly favourable to the King; the ministers were referred to as the "King's Friends."
As George ascended the Throne, Great Britain was embroiled in the Seven Years' War (known in North America as the French and Indian War). War policy was directed by William Pitt the Elder. Great Britain and Hanover both fought along with Prussia, and were opposed by several great world powers, including Austria, France, and Russia. Spain entered on the side opposite Great Britain in 1761. The withdrawal of Russia in 1762, however, led to the negotiation of the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Under the Treaty, all of New France was lost to Great Britain. Great Britain also gained Florida from Spain. Despite the great gains in territory in the Seven Years' War, Great Britain was plunged into a debt so large that, at one point, almost half of the national revenue went toward paying interest on it. The problem of resolving this debt would indirectly lead to the American Revolution.
Conflict in North America
The rest of the 1760s was marked by bureaucratic instability, which led to denunciations of George III by the Whigs as an autocrat in the manner of Charles I. The incompetent Lord Bute (who had probably been appointed only because of his favourability to George's views on royal power) resigned in 1763, allowing the Whigs to return to power. After George Grenville became Prime Minister, he introduced the Stamp Act, which levied a stamp duty on various legal documents and publications in the British colonies in North America. Grenville attempted to reduce George III to a mere puppet. The King requested William Pitt the Elder to accept the office of Prime Minister, but was unsuccessful. George then settled on Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, and dismissed Grenville in 1765.
Lord Rockingham repealed Grenville's unpopular Stamp Act. He faced considerable internal dissent, and was replaced in 1766 by William Pitt, whom George created Earl of Chatham. Lord Chatham proved to be pro-American, criticising his colleagues' harsh attitudes towards the American colonists. George III, however, deemed that the chief duty of the colonists was to submit to him and to Great Britain. He resented the rebellious attitudes of the colonists. Lord Chatham fell ill 1767, allowing Augustus Henry Fitzroy, 3rd Duke of Grafton to take over government (although he did not formally become Prime Minister until 1768). Political attacks led him to leave office in 1770, once again allowing the Tories to return to power.
The government of the new Prime Minister, Frederick North, Lord North, was chiefly concerned with the American Revolution. The Americans grew increasingly hostile to British attempts to levy taxes in the colonies. In the Boston Tea Party, a Bostonian mob threw over 340 crates of tea into Boston Harbour to protest the Townshend Acts, which levied a tax on tea and other imports. In response, Lord North introduced the Punitive Acts (also called the Coercive Acts or the Intolerable Acts). The Port of Boston was shut down and legislative elections in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay were suspended.
Armed conflict broke out in America in 1775. Some delegates to the Second Continental Congress drafted a peace proposal known as the Olive Branch Petition, which was subsequently rejected by the British. In 1776, the colonies declared their independence from the Crown. The Declaration of Independence made several political charges against the British king, legislature, and populace. Amongst George's other offences, the Declaration charges, "He has abdicated Government here … He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people."
George III was indignant when he learnt of the opinions of the colonists. Whilst Great Britain originally fared well, the proverbial tide turned after the surrender of the British Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne after the Battle of Saratoga. In 1778, France signed a treaty of friendship with the new United States. Lord North asked to resign power to William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, whom he thought more capable. George III, however, would hear nothing of such suggestions; he suggested that Lord Chatham serve as a subordinate minister in Lord North's administration. Lord Chatham refused to cooperate, and died later in the same year. George III was then at war with France, and in 1779 he 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. Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Gower and Thomas Thynne, 3rd Viscount Weymouth both resigned rather than suffer the indignity of being associated with the war. Lord North advised George III that his opinion matched that of his ministerial colleagues, but stayed in office.
In 1781, the news of Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis' capitulation reached London; the Tory Lord North subsequently resigned in 1782. George III 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 new 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.
Several changes were made to the structure of the British government after the loss of the colonies. Since 1660, there had been two chief cabinet officials, known as the Secretary of State for the Southern Department and the Secretary of State for the Northern Department. The former was responsible for Southern England, Ireland, and relations with non-Protestant European nations, and the latter for Northern England, Scotland, and relations with Protestant European nations. The Secretary of State for the Southern Department was formerly responsible for the colonies, but this responsibility was transferred to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1768. All three positions were abolished after the British lost in North America. They were replaced with two new positions, those of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Secretary of State for Home Affairs.
In 1782, after twelve years in office, the ministry of Lord North ended. The Whig Lord Rockingham became Prime Minister for the second time, but died within months. The King then chose William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne to replace him. Charles James Fox, however, refused to serve under Lord Shelburne, and demanded the appointment of William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland. In 1783, the House of Commons forced Lord Shelburne from office. The Duke of Portland became Prime Minister; Fox and Lord North, who held the offices of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Secretary of State for Home Affairs, respectively, were the individuals who truly held power, with the Duke of 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 be easily displaced. He was, however, extremely dissatisfied when the government introduced the India Bill. Immediately after the House of Commons passed it, George informed the House of Lords that he would regard any peer who voted for the bill as his enemy. On 17 December 1783, the bill was rejected by the Lords; on the next day, the Portland ministry was dismissed, and William Pitt the Younger was appointed Prime Minister. George III dissolved Parliament in March 1784; the subsequent elections 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 peerage dignities 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 which 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 strides were made in science and industry.
George III's personal health, however, was in a poor condition. He suffered from a mental illness, now strongly believed to be porphyria. (A recent study of the King's hair samples reveal extremely high levels of arsenic, a possible trigger of the disease.) The King had previously suffered a brief episode of the disease in 1765, but a longer episode began in 1788. Though ill during the summer of 1788, George was sufficiently sane to prorogue Parliament from 25 September to 20 November. During the intervening time, however, George became seriously deranged and posed a threat to his own life. 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 which individual was entitled to take over government during the lunacy of the Soveriegn. 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 lunatic 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, a 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 care of Dr Francis Willis . He confirmed the actions of the Lords Commissioners as valid, but resumed full control of government.
George III's popularity experienced another surge after his recovery. 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 III became the symbol of British resistance. George III 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 Coaliton (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 military dictator of France.
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, effective 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 is sometimes suggested that George dropped the claim pursuant to the Treaty of Paris or the Treaty of Amiens. Chronologically, neither would be logical; the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, and the Treaty of Amiens in 1802 (after George actually dropped his claim to the Throne of France.) 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.")
Pitt unpopularly planned to remove certain legal disabilities which 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 famously 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, Pitt threatened to resign. At about the same time, the King suffered an attack of insanity, but quickly recovered. 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 new 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 III called the peace with the French an "experimental peace." In 1803, the two nations once again declared war on each other. In 1804, George was once again affected by his illness; as soon as he recovered, he discovered that public opinion was strongly against Henry Addington, who was not trusted to lead the nation into war. Instead, the public tended to put more faith in William Pitt the Younger. Pitt sought to appoint Charles James Fox to his ministry, but George III refused. The King disliked Fox, who had encouraged the heir-apparent, the Prince George, Prince of Wales to lead an extravagant and expensive life. William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron 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 Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount 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 extremely distressed that he was forced to capitulate over the 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 the Armed Forces. George not only instructed them to drop the measure, but also to make a written agreement not to introduce any similar measure in the future. 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 was of little actual significance.
In 1810, George became dangerously ill, the malady most likely having been triggered by the death of the King's youngest and favourite daughter, the Princess Amelia, from erysipelas. By 1811, George III had become permanently insane. Parliament then passed a Regency Bill, to which the Royal Assent was granted by the Lords Commissioners (who were 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 (he was the only British Prime Minister to have ever suffered such a fate) and was replaced by Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool. Lord 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 III's health deteriorated. In 1820, George died blind, deaf, and insane at Windsor Castle. By the time of his death, George III had lived for over eighty years and reigned for almost sixty years—in each case, more than any other English or British monarch until that point. Neither record has been surpassed by any monarch since, with the exception of Victoria. George III is buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor.
George was followed by his eldest son (who became George IV). Next came another of George III's sons, who became William IV. William IV, too, died without children, leaving the throne to his niece, Victoria, the last monarch of the House of Hanover.
Whilst tremendously popular in Great Britain, George III was hated by the rebellious colonists. The United States Declaration of Independence held him personally responsible for the political problems faced by the United States. The Declaration does not blame either Parliament or the ministers. Exposure to the views expressed in the Declaration has led the American public to perceive George III as a tyrant.
George III's insanity is the subject of the film The Madness of King George (1994), which was based on the play The Madness of George III by Alan Bennet . The film concerns George's first bouts of insanity. George III was portrayed by Nigel Hawthorne, who received the Laurence Olivier Award and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role.
A bronze statue of George III lies in Trafalgar Square, London.
Style and arms
In Great Britain, George III used the official style "George the Third, by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc." In 1801, when Great Britain united with Ireland, George III took the opportunity to drop his claim to the French Throne. He also dispensed with the phrase "etc.," which was added during the reign of Elizabeth I. His style became, "George the Third, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith."
Whilst he was King of Great Britain, George III's arms were: Quarterly, I Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England) impaling Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); II Azure three fleurs-de-lys Or (for France); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland); IV tierced per pale and per chevron (for Hanover), I Gules two lions passant guardant Or (for Brunswick), II Or a semy of hearts Gules a lion rampant Azure (for Lüneburg), III Gules a horse courant Argent (for Westfalen), overall an escutcheon Gules charged with the crown of Charlemagne Or (for the the dignity of Archtreasurer of the Holy Roman Empire).
When he became King of the United Kingdom, George III's arms were amended, dropping the French quartering. They became: Quarterly, I and IV Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland); overall an escutcheon tierced per pale and per chevron (for Hanover), I Gules two lions passant guardant Or (for Brunswick), II Or a semy of hearts Gules a lion rampant Azure (for Lüneburg), III Gules a horse courant Argent (for Westfalen), the whole inescutcheon surmounted by an electoral bonnet. In 1816, two years after the Electorate of Hanover became a Kingdom, the electoral bonnet was changed to a crown.
- Farnborough, T. E. May, 1st Baron. (1896). Constitutional History of England since the Accession of George the Third, 11th ed. London: Longmans, Green and Co.
- "George III." (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed. London: Cambridge University Press.
- Hibbert, C. (1998). George III: A Personal History. London: Penguin Books.
- Röhl, J. C. G., Warren, M. & Hunt, D. (1998). Purple Secret: Genes, "Madness" and the Royal Houses of Europe. London: Bantam Press.
- The Royal Household (2004). "George III." Official Web Site of the British Monarchy.
|King of Great Britain||King of the United Kingdom||Succeeded by:
|King of Ireland|
|Elector of Hanover||King of Hanover|