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Pub Sign of George III, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain -  Nash Ford PublishingGeorge III (1738-1820)
Born: 4th June 1738
at Norfolk House, St. James' Square, Westminster, Middlesex
King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain
Died: 29th January 1820 at Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire

King George III was the eldest son of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, and the grandson of George II. As his grandfather was not on speaking terms with his parents, young George grew up away from the Royal Court on his father's country estate at Park Place in Remenham (Berkshire). He became heir to the throne upon the latter's death in 1751. Various bishops and peers of no special importance or ability had been placed about his person as governors or tutors, but the strongest influence was that of his mother - a good, self-willed, prejudiced woman. She dreaded worldly and corrupt examples for him, and preferred to narrow his education rather than to risk exposing him to temptations. But she instilled high religious principles and sound private morality into him, and to these he was faithful all his life. Like many other good people, she failed to see that idleness is as great a sin as many more 'scarlet' sins, and the boy grew up idle and rather listless, thereby failing to improve his very considerable natural talents or to store his excellent memory with good things. His after-life proves that he had good taste in literature, art and music. He might have been trained to a real love of learning, of languages and of history; but whatever aptitude he displayed for affairs was gained by himself in the school of experience after he came to the throne, and he lacked the foundation which a good education would have given him.

George II, with his natural gift for being unpleasant to his relations, tried to win the boy's liking away from his mother. He gave him an 'establishment' when he came of age at eighteen (1756), but failed to induce him to set up a Court for himself. The result was that his first real counsellor, after his mother, was her favourite, the Earl of Bute, a narrow man, ignorant of English or foreign politics, but not without views of what a King ought to be. It is certain that, from whatever source he derived it, George came to the throne with the settled intention of overthrowing the system of government by family groups of great Whig peers and their dependants, perhaps of breaking down the system of party altogether. In this effort, which he continued all his life, he had in the long run a very fair amount of success. In this, he also had the sympathy of the nation, especially of the country gentlemen and the middle classes. The Whigs could never forgive the King the success he obtained, and, as the Whigs have written our histories, George III has been branded as a would-be despot. The means by which the King sought to attain his end were undoubtedly most unscrupulous, for they were sheer bribery and jobbery, together with the sealing of the fountain of Court favour to all who would not further this end both in Parliament and outside it. But these means were precisely those which the Whigs themselves had applied for the past forty-six years in order to keep the Crown in tutelage, and they were also, by the 'conventions of the Constitution', the only means at the King's disposal. By dint of long and often bitter experience, the King became an adroit Parliamentary election agent and his industry in the sordid business almost equalled that of the old Duke of Newcastle. George was a bad economist, although a very economical man, and spent far more than his civil list in the 'Secret Service', and was therefore several times obliged to ask Parliament to pay his debts.

In private life, though his minute and often ridiculous 'cuttings-down' did not save him from debt, he was a man of honour and honesty. He had the cool courage of his race. On the several occasions when his life was attempted he showed it: at the Wilkes riots and, again, at the Gordon riots, on which occasion London was, for three days, in the hands of a riotous mob, he alone kept his head, when his Ministers and magistrates lost theirs. His political courage was, in contrast to his grandfather's, equally high. He could face any 'crisis' and would dismiss any Ministers without, for the moment, knowing where to find others; and this, of itself, endeared him to the nation. He faced the American Revolution, not because he had an ignorant desire to punish rebels or 'coerce a free people', but because it was his duty to protect those (the majority) of his American subjects who wished to remain under the flag. He faced this Great War, its long series of military disasters abroad, its terrible financial burden and economic distress at home, with the most undaunted courage. He faced an invasion scare when sixty-five years old and weakened by illness. If the French had landed, he would have headed his Army and retired fighting behind the Severn. In these attitudes, he had all that was best in the nation thoroughly at his back. He had the less enlightened, but infinitely the largest, portion of the nation at his back in his resistance to Catholic Emancipation and to Parliamentary Reform. The obstinacy of the King as well as his firmness were based upon the firmness and the prejudices of the British people.

He was also a man of dogged, if somewhat fussy, industry. He practically acted as his own secretary, read and noted all dispatches himself and often made most valuable suggestions, especially upon military matters, upon their margins. Without ever having seen active service, he came, in time, thoroughly to understand the Army and its needs and, though he occasionally perpetrated jobs of his own in it, they were never political jobs. Indeed, he often rescued and promoted deserving officers who were being passed over for political reasons. He wrote incessantly, and often tiresomely, to his Ministers and his spelling and syntax frequently caused them to smile.

He loved homely pleasures, long rides, long walks, hard exercise, hunting, yachting and, above all, farming, in which he displayed much intelligence. From 1778, the Queen's Lodge at Windsor was his favourite home and, in the Great Park, he introduced progressive farming techniques at both the Norfolk and Flemish Farms, thus influencing the practices of many landowners across the country. 'Farmer George' was a very early nickname for him. But he was also keenly interested in mechanics and astronomy, natural science and painting. The infant Royal Academy owed everything to him. Sir William Herschel's discoveries in the heavens owed hardly less to his patronage. Gainsborough was his favourite artist. Banks, one of his most intimate friends, helped him to create the Gardens at the Royal Palace at Kew. The magnificent collection of books called the 'King's Library', now in the British Museum, was George III's work. The man who, blind and broken in health, loved to listen to the reading of King Lear, and who told his daughters they were 'three Cordelias', was not the ignorant, dull-witted creature that he has been represented. There was, however, a less amiable side to his private life, whether at Windsor, Kew, Richmond or Buckingham House,  George was a stern, unsympathetic parent. Even to his good Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg, whom he married in 1761, he was often rude and cross; and he brought up his sons so sternly that they hated and wearied of their home life, and most of them ran wild and sowed a heavy crop of wild oats. Nor was he a good host or an affable King to his nobility or his Ministers. He stood stiffly for etiquette and he never made people feel at their ease with him. Also he was resentful, suspicious and very unforgiving. He ought to have learned, from his own success in thwarting people, how to bear being thwarted in turn, but he never learned this. And as, in public life, he often preferred political mediocrities like Henry Addington, who made no attempt to run counter to his wishes, to great statesmen like Pitt; and even trusted out-and-out scoundrels like Henry Fox, Thurlow and Loughborough, and listened to their insinuations against their colleagues. So, in private life, he failed to see the necessity of 'give and take', failed to make allowances for the temptations to which the princes were exposed and would cast them off in displeasure when he might have won them back by reason and affection.

Finally, much allowance must always be made for George III on the score of his health. For a man who lived to be eighty-two and lived an exceedingly healthy and careful life, he was never very strong. Some mental trouble was probably present, together with his serious bodily illness, as early as 1765. In 1788, this became temporary insanity and, had he been treated according to the usual methods then in vogue, it is likely that he would never have recovered his reason. But on that and several other occasions the good Doctor Addington and then Doctor Willis charmed it back again. It was difficult to say what would or would not bring on an attack. A frequent condition precedent was some bodily trouble, or some over-exertion; but, after his third very short attack in 1801, anything that excited him very much might cause derangement of mind; and from that time till his final loss of reason, in the winter of 1810, something of the kind was never far away. He spent most of his days, confined in Windsor Castle and his eldest son was declared Prince Regent in 1811. The old King's blindness has perhaps been antedated, but cataract was present from 1805 and, from 1807, he could see very little and could not read at all. It is comforting, yet pathetic, to think that, whereas in the earlier attacks of his disease he was violently excitable and needed restraint, in the final stage he was exceedingly gentle, was still able to walk and, occasionally, to ride with a leading rein; that he loved to have his daughters with him, and loved to listen to Handel's music in his Chapel. That indeed was his last solace and he died of mere senile decay early in 1820, only fourteen months after his poor pathetic old Queen, who had borne him fifteen children.

Edited from CRL Fletcher's 'Historical Portraits' (1919).

     

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