On this day, June 4th, 1738 George III was born at Norfolk House, St. James’ Square in London. George was perhaps what we would refer to today as an extremely gifted child. History, agriculture and constitutional law were among his favorite subjects as a student. Unlike his two Hanoverian predecessors, whom many people actually resented for their German extraction, he spoke English as his first language and was proficient in his ancestral German as well. He was twenty-two years old when he was crowned on September 22, 1761, and it is said that the people were so enthralled on the day of coronation that many carriages had collided into one another on their way to Westminster Abbey.
George III is perhaps best known for losing the American colonies, the kingdom’s most successful and treasured, but he was not at direct fault. Though the fact is largely ignored, especially in contemporary American historical texts, history has absolved him of all responsibility in the development of the much despised Stamp Act and other parliamentary acts that followed, all of which he, contrary to popular belief, did not create. He staunchly defended the war in the colonies and was determined to prevent full independence, but he was met with brutal criticism by his Whig adversaries, most notably Charles Fox M.P. and even his own son, the Prince of Wales, who was known to mingle and consort with Fox and his friends. The fact remains that the animosity felt by American rebels during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) had much deeper roots that stretched back at least two decades prior to the advent of revolutionary and republican sentiments that swept the colonies. He was a favorite target of Whig criticism, and was perpetually blamed for advocating unconstitutional measures. On the contrary, George was perhaps the first king in Britain’s history to support the primacy of parliament. He had a reputation for the meticulous and careful manner in which he read all government papers, which irritated the Whigs to no end, and always maintained a keen interest in parliamentary affairs. He founded the Royal Academy of Arts and was the first monarch to directly contribute to scientific endeavors, as science was one of his strongest passions. But perhaps the greatest attribute for which he should be known was his modesty and genuine nature. He truly loved his people, and was often referred to as “Farmer George” for his love of agriculture and by the fact that he traveled little, perhaps less frequent than any before him, spending most of his life in southern England.
King George III lived and reigned during a heavy and perhaps one of the most turbulent times in the history of the British Isles. His was the era of the peak of the Enlightenment, the alarming rise of republicanism, the brutality and terror of the French Revolution, and the uncertainty and uneasiness of the Napoleonic Wars. In addition to this turmoil, perhaps one of the greatest known stresses on the king was the question of Catholic emancipation, which he and prime minister William Pitt The Younger disagreed on bitterly. Prime Minister Pitt wanted to extend certain rights and eventually bring full emancipation to Catholics, while George III maintained his stance that to do so would violate his coronation oath. It was during this time that, sadly, he suffered a harrowing bout of illness that historians today strongly believe to have been porphyria. He would recover, only to suffer a relapse during the Regency Era, and again after the Napoleonic Wars. The disease, aside from the terrible muscle and abdominal pain it caused, also brought on spells of delusional behavior, and some of the claims that have been recorded include fits of hallucination, excitable outbursts and severe delirium. At one point, his behavior became so bizarre and erratic that he was put into a strait jacket and locked up behind bars in several apartments in Windsor Castle.
After a small period of recovery, in 1802, at which time he saw to the singing of the Treaty of Amiens that made peace with the French, George III suffered another relapse of illness. He became so delirious that he would talk nonsense for hours, sometimes two or three days straight and, at one point, was unable to hold normal conversations or even go for walks. After his wife, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz died in 1818, he seemed unable to comprehend this or, at times even remember who she was. In 1820, his mental illness progressed and he became severely blind. He died on January 29th, 1820.
We honour and remember his life on this day, the 275th year anniversary of his birth, June 4th, 2013.
God Save The King!