Today on Skiffy and Fanty, just in time for the 4th of July, Independence Day in the United States, we have an excerpt from 1776: The World Turned Upside Down, Serial Box’s serial on the Revolutionary War.
George the Last
George William Frederick of Hanover was not a tyrant, not mad in 1776, and was not stupid. He was a garden variety King trying to do his job as he saw it. However, there were some bad days at the office.
THE MAN EVERYONE loves to hate in the Revolution is the last King of America, George III. Not John Montague, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, who let the Royal Navy rot. Not George Germain, disgraced in one war and running the next. Not Lord North who thought his Royal childhood playmate was making a mistake. No, blame it all on George.
It is unfair. Losing America was too big a job for one man.
Yet by July of 1776, the King was the only man who stood between America and a complete rupture with Britain. Tom Paine might have uttered the unutterable, but the colonists had a complex relationship with the real flesh and blood monarch. Citizens of Baltimore were hanging his picture upside down. But they kept the portrait. The King’s arms still graced the entrance to the hall in Philadelphia where the Second Continental Congress was meeting.
George III and all of his human faults were displayed, unfortunately, on a grand scale. He was a family-loving man whose subjects fondly called him “Farmer George.” He fancied himself a country squire and might have been a good one: his farms turned a £300 a year profit. He was a patron of the arts and founder of the Royal Academy and the National Library. But he was a penny watcher, and that was part of his trouble. When George was 11, his father, the Prince of Wales, told him as king he should live with economy and endeavor to reduce the national debt and the rate of interest. George mingled freely with shopkeepers and tradesmen, and when he couldn’t pay a bill, would leave his watch as surety. Since money was the root of much of the colonial evils, George was headed for hot water.
Though from the lineage of Hanover in Germany, he was also an Englishman. George I could hardly speak English when he came from Hanover to take the throne. George III was born and educated in England and never visited Hanover. “I glory in the name of Britain,” he said. He recognized the limitations on his power as a constitutional monarch but was determined to exercise his legal authority over a bickering Parliament and an American people he deemed disobedient. “The King supported the ministerial policy that the Americans must not be allowed to suppose that Parliament had abandoned its right to tax the colonies…” according to Christopher Hibbert, historian and biographer of George III.
“I know I am doing my duty, and therefore can never retract,” the King said in 1775. To thrift and patriotism add stubbornness. But it was a well-intentioned obduracy. Later George added, “I cannot help being of opinion that with firmness and perseverance America will be brought to submission.” As for America, blows would decide, he said, but after Howe’s successes of 1776, he took scant consolation. “Notes of triumph would not have been proper when the successes are against subjects not a foreign foe.” Of course, George III was only one actor in the drama that was unfolding. Debate for and against the positions of the Americans regarding taxation continued in Parliament and the messages given to the Howes and other British commanders in North American were frequently mixed: try to reason with these unreasonable American subjects and then stick it to them if they won’t listen.
George III was not born into a happy home on June 4, 1738. His grandmother, Queen Caroline, wife of George II, said of her son and father of George III: “My dear first born is the greatest ass and the greatest liar and the greatest canaille and the greatest beast in the whole world, and I most heartily wish he was out of it.” George’s father Prince Frederick hoped to marry Lady Diana Spencer, a name still cherished by fans of the British monarchy. He was opposed in this potential marriage and eventually married Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, George’s mother, who could not speak English when she came to England at age 17 solely to produce children. At George’s birth, his grandmother was driven to St. James Palace to view the puny, premature baby, and she spoke to the infant: “God bless you, you poor little creature. You have come into a disagreeable world.”
In keeping with Royal tradition, George was separated from his parents, his education entrusted to a governor, who had to be at least an earl. He was up at seven, began classes at eight; had an hour for play at midday, more lessons until eight, then dinner and to bed between nine and ten. Prince Frederick with all his quirks was a good father to his children, all nine who survived infancy, “encouraging them to enjoy reading … chiding them for not writing to him often enough,” according to biographer Hibbert. The Prince was a patron of the arts and loved the English aristocratic pleasures of hunting and fishing. Prince Frederick once wrote to his son, “I shall have no regret never to have worn the Crown if you but fill it worthily. Convince the nation that you are not only an Englishman born and bred, but that you are also this by inclination.” George’s grandfather King George II paid scant attention to his grandson.
Prince Frederick died in 1751, officially changing young George’s status. When Lord Waldegrave became George’s governor in 1752, he found his Royal charge “uncommonly full of princely prejudices, contracted in the nursery, and improved by the society of bedchamber women and pages of the back-stairs.” George lived in an adult world and longed for companionship of other children. His mother thought George shy and backward, and the young student did once scrawl in his Latin grammar (in French) “Monsieur Caesar, I wish you to the devil.” Lord Bute, the Scotsman who became George’s governor and later Prime Minister, thought the boy of average intelligence but unworldly and intensely lonely. George had learned Greek, French and German, developed a lifelong interest in astronomy and could play the harpsichord and flute. But his mother, who preferred his younger brother, Edward, would interrupt him: “Do hold your tongue, George: don’t talk like a fool.”
With all that encouragement at home, it is small wonder the future King could write in 1757 at age 19: “I am conscious of my own indolence … I do here in the most solemn manner declare … to take the resolute part to act the man in everything … ” Indeed, there were stirrings of a different sort as the Prince wrote Bute of his conflict between “boiling youth and prudence … if I can weather it but a few years, marriage will put a stop to this combat in my breast.” He also thought about the throne, still occupied by his grandfather whom George called “the old man” and wished him no older.
On October 25, 1760 at 7:30 a.m., George II downed his morning chocolate, went into the bathroom, collapsed, and young George got his wish.