British History 2:
From the French Revolution to World War II
Topic: "Majesties and Royal Highnesses"

by Laura Cenicola & Mareike Aumann

5) The Life of George III

The American Revolutionary War, suffering from insanity, uniting Great Britain and Ireland, the Seven Years' War, having 15 children, running wars against Napoleonic France - and so on and so forth - the life of King George III has been full of important historical events, which will be outlined below:

 

George's life with all historical events that occured during his reign:


George's first years in brief facts: 

                                                                George's father Frederick:

George was born in London on 4th of June in 1738. His father was Frederick, Prince of Wales who was the eldest son of King George II and therefore heir apparent to the throne and his mother was Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. His full name was George William Frederick and he belonged to the House of Hanover. George was said to have been a not very intelligent child as he could not read until he was eleven years old. But why did George become king and not his father Frederick? Because Frederick died before his father King George II died and so George was next in line of succession to the throne after King George II.George was only twelve when his father Frederick died. There are rumours that Frederick died because he was hit on his head by a cricket ball while playing cricket, which became a very popular activity at that time, but the real cause of his death rather was a burst abscess in his lung.

 

First Women in George's life:

When George was 21 years old, he fell in love with a woman called Lady Sarah Lennox, daughter of Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond. However, the intimate friend of George's mother, Lord Bute, who later served as Prime Minister, didn't approve of the possible marriage and so George trusted Lord Bute's advice and the marriage didn't take place. King George II, George's grandfather, planned to organize a marriage between his grandson and Princess Sophia Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, but George himself and also his mother opposed that marriage. Caroline later became the queen consort of George IV and George still remained a bachelor looking for a wife.

 

1760: Ascendant to the throne - King George III:

When King George II died at the age of 76, his grandson George ascended to the throne as King George III on 25th October 1760.

One year later, in 1761, George met the German Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and on the very same day their marriage took place. Despite of the sudden decision the marriage proved to be happy. George never had a mistress and he and Charlotte had 15 children, two of whom, George IV and William IV, as the next Kings.

In 1762 George bought Buckingham House as his new family residence.

                                   George III's family:

 

George's first years of reign: Lots of political decisions

The Seven Years' War (1756-1763) created a general feeling of disturbance among the people at that time, because there was great insecurity. Also, political parties fought for power: The party in power was the Whig party. However, King George III favoured Tory ministers, who then came to power in 1762, led by Scottish Tory Lord Bute, the intimate friend of George's mother. Soon rumours spread, saying that Lord Bute and George's mother would have a love affair. In 1763, Lord Bute resigned and the Whigs could return to power. In the same year the Peace of Paris ended the Seven Years' War with France and George III introduced the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

 

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 and its result:
Taxes, taxes, taxes!

 

Because of the Proclamation in 1763 the 13 colonies in North America were separated from the rest of North America by the boundary called Proclamation line, which is between the red and the pink area of the picture on the right. Westward expansion was not possible anymore and the colonists were foced to trade with the Native Americans. Conflicts between both groups came up when they fought over land ownership and Britain had to intervene more and more often in order to defend the colonies by the uprisings of the Native Americans.

In 1765 George III introduced the Stamp Act, which caused a deep hatred because of the high duties that had to be paid for every document's transport in North America.

Picture on the left:
"This is the place to affix the stamp"

During the Stamp Act crisis of 1765 one American newspaper proposed, with biting humor, that the hated British stamps take the form of the skull and crossbones.          See Source.

When it became known that France would offer support to America in a possible war against Britain, the whole situation got more and more critical for George III. It became very hard to pay for the protection Britain offered the colonists, keeping in mind that George III still had to pay off enormous sums of debts anyway. In 1773 a high tea duty was introduced and the Stamp Act was repealed instead. In the same year the Boston Tea Party took place - a political event as a protest against the high duties.

 

Other acts beside the Stamp Act that were passed by George III:

The following acts passed by George III caused lots of anger among the British colonists in North America and thus were part of the reason for the final outburst of the American Revolutionary War - just read the descriptions:


The American Revolutionary War

In 1775 an armed conflict broke out between British and colonial forces in New England. This and the general feeling of discontent among the population because of high taxes led to the Declaration of Independence from the British Crown the thirteen colonies wrote in July 1776.

On the right side you can see a picture of the real United States Declaration of Independence of 1776.

For reading the transcript of the Declaration please click here.

 

George III: Accepting the loss of his colonies or not?

When France had an agreement with the free and independent states of America that declared their friendship in 1778, Great Britain was at war with France (and Spain) as well, because George III wanted his colonies back and he didn't acknowledge their Declaration of Independence at all. George's decision meant a costly war, but he nevertheless wanted to go on like that.

Not until 1783 George III accpeted the defeat in North America, which meant the loss of his thirteen colonies. He allowed a negotiation of peace, which is called the Treaty of Paris. The war between Great Britain and the colonies finally came to and end.

In the 1780's - the precise date remained unclear - George III wrote a letter on the loss of the colonies in North America. To read this letter please click here.

 

Political fight: Charles James Fox vs. William Pitt the Younger

In order to get to know the two important politicians at that time, please read the glossary entries (just click on their names in the title above).

George III detested Charles Fox because of his radical thinking and so William Pitt became new Prime Minister in 1783, at the age of only 24. Although Pitt was ridiculed because of his young age, George III always supported Pitt's ideas and aims during his ministry. This again led to the fact that George III was very popular among the people in Britain. Another reason for his popularity was the scientific and industrial progress that was made at that time, which the people of course approved of.

 

The beginning of George's disease outbreak:

Although everything seemed to work out very well for George III during those years, his health was deteriorating extremely in 1788. The mental disease he was suffering from got more and more serious and at the end of the same year he was said to be serioulsy mentally deranged. While the doctors couldn't think of an explanation for the King's condition at that time, George's disease is nowadays believed to be porphyria.

 

 

Britain under rule of a mentally diseased King?

Because of the King's mental illness, Parliament decided that someone else should take over the role of the ruler until George's mental condition would get better. A dispute between Charles James Fox and William Pitt the Younger came up again. Pitt claimed that Parliament should appoint a regent, but Fox argued that the only reasonable and just solution would be to leave that office to the heir apparent, George III's eldest son the Prince of Wales.

Prince Frederick, George III's second son, declared Pitt's suggestion as unconstitutional and in 1789 a Regency Bill that entitled the heir apparent to act as momentary ruler was set up.

Just before the House of Lords could pass the Regency Bill, the King recovered from his disease with the help of his doctor. King George was back to have the full leadership of his country again. Despite of George III's disease phase his popularity was still very high.

 

Napoleonic Wars

In 1789 the French Revolution took place and the monarchy of France was overthrown. In 1793 France declared war on Great Britain and the king together with Pitt decided to raise armies against France. The right of habeas corpus was suspended in the war attempt. Taxes were increased as well, because war cost lots of money, which should be collected through high taxes. In 1800 Great Britain was the only nation left that fought Napoleon Bonaparte. Also in the year 1800 the Act of Union that united Great Britain and Ireland to a nation called the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland'  was introduced. In 1801 George III ordered disarmament and taxes were reduced as well, because the Treaty of Amiens was signed in 1802, which declared peace between Great Britain and France. The peace was abolished in 1803, when France and Great Britain again declared war on each other. In 1805 the famous naval Battle of Trafalgar took place and Great Britain finally prevailed over France. During these stressful years the illness of George III came up several times again, but it eased off again every time. After the Battle of Trafalgar took place there were no more major historical events taking place during George III's reign.

 

King George III: Irreversibly ill?

George III's hereditary illness worsened seriously in the years that followed after the Battle of Trafalgar, until in 1811 it reached its highest point. He  was also said to be blind and almost deaf as well and therefore George III knew himself that he wouldn't have been able to act as regent anymore. Therefore he accepted the Regency Act of 1811, which declared his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, as the momentary ruler, although their relationship to each other was very poor. Some time later, but still in 1811, George III became irreversibly insane and therefore he lived at Windsor Castle in isolation until his death. He wasn't even aware of the facts that he was declared King of Hanover in 1814 or that his wife died in 1818. The only thing he did was speaking nonsense for hours and hours, beingt kept in his straight jacket. For the last weeks of his life he wasn't even able to walk anymore.

 

George III's death and his successor George IV:

The eldest son of George III acted as Prince regent from 1811 until the death of his father, King George III, on 29th January in 1820. George III lived for 81 years and reigned for 59 years and was succeeded by his eldest son George IV, who was then the official King.

After George IV reigned, another son of George III sat on the throne: William IV. Both monarchs died without having legitimate children and therefore they left the Crown for their niece: Queen Victoria.

                                                                            George IV