previous next

George (William Frederick) 1737-1820

King of Great Britain; born in London, June 4, 1737; grandson of George II. His mind was narrow, his disposition was crafty and arbitrary, and during his long reign, while he was sane, his years were passed in continual combat against the growing liberal spirit of the age. Being a native of England (which his two royal predecessors were not), and young and moral, he was at first popular on his accession to the throne, Oct. 26, 1760. In his first speech in Parliament he expressed pride in his English birth, and thereby great enthusiasm in his favor was excited. On Sept. 8, 1761, he married Charlotte Sophia, sister of the Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who shared his throne fifty-seven years, and bore him fifteen children, all but two of whom grew to maturity. Unfortunately for his kingdom, he neglected the wise counsels of Pitt, and made his preceptor, the Scotch Earl of Bute, his prime minister and confidential friend. The minister and his master became very unpopular, and in 1763 Bute resigned, and was succeeded by George Grenville (q. v.) who inaugurated the Stamp Act policy and other obnoxious measures towards the English-American colonies, which caused great discontent, a fierce quarrel, a long war, the final dismemberment of the British empire, and the political independence of the colonies. With the Stamp Act began the terribly stormy period of the reign of George III. In 1783 he was compelled to acknowledge the independence of his lost American colonies. Then he had continual quarrels with his ministry, and talked of leaving England and retiring to his little kingdom of Hanover, but refrained on being assured that it would be much easier for him to leave England than to return to it.

Like his two royal predecessors, George hated his oldest son, the Prince of Wales, because he was generally in political opposition to him and led a loose life. After a serious dispute with Russia, which threatened to seize Turkey, and another [47]

George III.

with Spain, war with revolutionized France began in 1793, and the most arbitrary rule was exercised in England, driving the people at times to the verge of revolution. Ireland was goaded into rebellion, which was suppressed by the most cruel methods—equal in atrocity to any perpetrated by the French in La Vendee and Brittany. The union of Great Britain and Ireland was effected in 1800, the parliament of the latter ceasing to exist. Against the King's wishes, peace was made with France in 1802; but war was again begun the next year. Then came the struggle with Napoleon Bonaparte, which lasted until the overthrow of that ruler at Waterloo, June, 1815. In 1810 the King lost his youngest and favorite daughter, Amelia, by death. His anxiety during her illness deprived him of reason. He had been threatened with insanity once or twice before; now his mind was clouded forever. The first indication of his malady appeared on the day of the completion of the fiftieth year of his reign, Oct. 25, 1810. From that date his reign ceased in fact, and his son George, Prince of Wales, was made regent of the kingdom (Feb. 5, 1811). For nearly nine years the care of his person was intrusted to the faithful Queen. In 1819 the Duke of York assumed the responsibility. The [48] Queen was simple in her tastes and habits, rigid in the performance of moral duties, kind and benevolent. Their lives were models of moral purity and domestic happiness. The King died in Windsor Castle, Jan. 29, 1820.

There were members of the aristocracy that, through envy, hated Pitt, who, in spite of them, had been called to the highest offices in the kingdom. When young Prince George heard of the death of the King, he went to Carleton House, the residence of his mother, and sent for Newcastle, Pitt's political enemy. He and Lord Bute prevailed upon the young King to discard Pitt and favor their own schemes. Newcastle prepared the first speech from the throne of George III.; and when Pitt, as prime minister, went to him and presented the draft of an address to be pronounced at the meeting of the Privy Council, he was politely informed that the speech was already prepared and the preliminaries were arranged. Pitt immediately perceived that the King's tutor and warm personal friend of the young King's mother, the Earl of Bute, had made the arrangements, and would occupy a conspicuous place in the administration. George chose Bute for his counsellor and guide, and Pitt, to whom England, more than to any other man, owed its present power and glory, was allowed to retire and have his place filled by this Scotch adventurer. The people of England were disgusted, and by this blunder George created a powerful opposition party at the beginning of his reign.

The people of New York City, grateful for the repeal of the Stamp Act, voted a statue to the King and to Pitt. That of the former was equestrian, made of lead, and gilded. It was placed in the centre of the Bowling Green, near Fort George, at the foot of Broadway. Raised upon a pedestal, with the head of the King and the horse facing westward, it made an imposing appearance. It was set up, with great parade, Aug. 21, 1770. Within six years afterwards the people pulled it down, with demonstrations of contempt. Washington occupied New York with Continental troops in the summer of 1776. There he received the Declaration of Independence (July 9), and it was read to the army. The same evening a large concourse of soldiers and civilians assembled at the Bowling Green, pulled down the statue, broke it in pieces, and sent a portion to the house of Oliver Wolcott, on the western edge of Connecticut, where it was run into bullets by his family. In a letter to General Gates upon this event, Ebenezer Hazard wrote: “His [the King's] troops will probably have melted majesty fired at them.” The venerable Zachariah Greene (q. v.) who was present at the pulling down of the statue, said the artist had made an omission of stirrups for the saddle of the horse, and it was a common remark of the soldiers, “The King ought to ride a hardtrotting horse without stirrups.” Portions of that statue are now in possession of the New York Historical Society.

Usual appearance of George II. about 1776. (from a sketch by Gear.)

The arrival of Richard Penn in London with the second petition of Congress aroused the anger of the King towards, and his fixed determination concerning, [49] the “rebellious colonies.” He refused to see Penn or receive the petition, and on Aug. 23 he issued a proclamation for suppressing rebellion and sedition in America. “There is reason,” said the proclamation, “to apprehend that such rebellion [in America] hath been much promoted and encouraged by the traitorous correspondence, counsels, and comfort of divers wicked and desperate persons within our realm,” and he called upon all officers of the realm, civil and military, and all his subjects, to disclose all “traitorous conspiracies,” giving information of the same to one of the secretaries of state, “in order to bring to condign punishment the authors, perpetrators, and abettors of such traitorous designs.” This proclamation was aimed at Chatham and Camden in the House of Lords, and Barr6 in the House of Commons, and their active political friends. When it was read to the people at the Royal Exchange it was received with a general hiss from the populace. But the stubborn King would not yield. He would rather perish than consent to repeal the alterations in the charter of Massachusetts, or yield the absolute authority of Parliament. And North, who in his heart thought the King wrong, supported him chiefly, as was alleged, because he loved office with its power and emoluments better than justice. When, in November, the wife of John Adams read the King's proclamation, she wrote to her husband, saying, “This intelligence will make a plain path for you, though a dangerous one. I could not join to-day in the petitions of our worthy pastors for a reconciliation between our no longer parent state, but tyrant state, and the colonies. Let us separate; they are unworthy to be our brethren. Let us renounce them; and, instead of supplications as formerly for their prosperity and happiness, let us beseech the Almighty to blast their councils and bring to naught all their devices.” The proclamation stimulated Congress to recommend the formation of State governments, and filled the minds and hearts of the people with thoughts of, and desires for, independence. Encouraged by Franklin, Rush, and others, Thomas Paine (q. v.), an emigrant from England, and a clear and powerful writer, prepared an appeal to the people of America in favor of independence.

The British ministry, either blind or wicked, misled George III. into the belief that a few regiments could subdue Massachusetts, and that New York could easily be seduced to the support of the crown by immunities and benefactions. The deceived monarch, therefore, ordered letters to be written to Gage, at the middle of April, 1775, to take possession of every colonial fort; to seize and secure all military stores of every kind collected for “the rebels” ; to arrest and imprison all such as should be thought to have committed treason; to repress rebellion by force; to make the public safety the first object of consideration, and to substitute more coercive measures for ordinary forms of procedure, without pausing to require the aid of a civil magistrate. Four regiments, at first destined for Boston, were ordered to New York, to assist in the progress of intrigue; and a vessel carried out six packages of pamphlets, containing a very soothing and complimentary Address of the people of Great Britain to the inhabitants of America, written by Sir John Dalrymple, at the request of Lord North. The Americans were not coaxed by this persuasive pamphlet, nor awed by the attempts to execute the sanguinary orders of Lord Dartmouth to Gage.

The great landholders in England, as well as the more warlike classes, had become sick of trying to tax the Americans without their consent. Indeed, all classes were convinced of its futility, and yearned for a change in the policy. Even the stubborn King, though unrelenting in his purpose to bring the Americans into submission, declared that the man who should approve the taxing of them, in connection with all its consequences, was “more fit for a madhouse than for a seat in Parliament.” In the House of Commons (June, 1779), Lord John Cavendish moved for orders to withdraw the British forces employed in America; and the Duke of Richmond, in the House of Lords, proposed a total change of measures in America and Ireland. In both Houses these sensible measures were supported by increasing numbers. North was frequently dropping hints to the King that the advantages to [50] be gained by continuing the war would never repay its expenses. The King, disturbed by these propositions and the yielding disposition of his chief minister, summoned them all to his library, June 21, 1779, where, in a speech of more than an hour in length, he expressed to them “the dictates of his frequent and severe selfexamination.” He declared his firm resolution to carry on the war against America, France, and Spain; and that, “before he would hear of any man's readiness to come into office, he would expect to see it signed, under his own hand, that he was resolved to keep the empire entire, and that, consequently, no troops should be withdrawn from America, nor its independence ever be allowed.” Stubbornly blind to well-known facts, he persisted in believing that, “with the activity of Clinton, and the Indians in the rear, the provinces, even now, would submit.” This obstinacy left him only weak men to support him; for it ranged every able statesman and publicist in the kingdom on the side of the opposition.

Wright, in his England under the House of Hanover, says that, notwithstanding the King, in his speech from the throne, Dec. 5, 1783, had said, “I have sacrificed every consideration of my own to the wishes and opinions of my people. I make it my humble and earnest prayer to Almighty God that Great Britain may not feel the evils which might result from so great a dismemberment of the empire, and that America may be far from those calamities which have formerly proved, in the mother country, how essential monarchy is to the enjoyment of constitutional liberty. Religion, language, interests, affection may—and I hope will—yet prove a bond of permanent union between the two countries. To this end neither attention nor disposition shall be wanting on my part,” he nevertheless detested everything American. The acknowledgment of the independence of the United States was wrung from him by dire necessity. Ever since the beginning of the troubles he had thoroughly hated Franklin personally, to whom, on account of his coolness and adroitness, he had given the name of “Arch rebel.” The King carried his prejudices so far that Sir John Pringle was driven to resign his place as President of the Royal Society in this wise: The King unjustly requested the society to publish, with the authority of its name, a contradiction of a scientific opinion of the rebellious Franklin. Pringle replied that it was not in his power to reverse the order of nature, and resigned. The pliant Sir Joseph Banks, with the practice of a true courtier, advocated the opinion patronized by his majesty, and was appointed president of the Royal Society.

As before stated, King George was greatly disturbed by the action of Parliament concerning the cessation of war in America. He said they had lost the feelings of Englishmen; and he took to heart what he called “the cruel usage of all the powers of Europe,” who, excepting Spain, had expressed a desire for the freedom and independence of the United States. His ministry (North's) having resigned, he was compelled to accept a liberal one. Lord Shelbourne brought about the call of Lord Rockingham (whom the King disliked) to form a cabinet, and when his majesty finally yielded, he said, “Necessity made me yield to the advice of Lord Shelbourne.” And when, finally, he was compelled to acknowledge the independence of the United States, he said, “I feel sensibly this dismemberment of America from the empire, and I should be miserable, indeed, if I did not feel that no blame on that account can be laid at my door,” when he had been the chief obstacle to reconciliation from the beginning of the quarrel. He had such a poor opinion of the Americans that he consoled himself for the dismemberment by saying, “It may not in the end be an evil that they will become aliens of the kingdom.”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: