Archive for December 7th, 2007

George III

Hello, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101, brought to you by Audible.com, the internet’s leading provider of spoken-word entertainment. Get a free audiobook download of your choice when you sign up today at http://www.audiblepodcast.com/british101.
George II’s son, Frederick Louis Prince of Wales, died on 31 March 1751. His father was still alive, and so the royal succession passed to Frederick’s 12 year old son, George William Frederick.
George was born on 4 June 1738 in Norfolk House, London, to his father Frederick and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. He was born prematurely and was thus baptized immediately; a public baptism was held a month later, with King Frederick I of Sweden, Duke Frederick III of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, and Queen Sophia Dorothea of Prussia as his godparents. His relationship to his grandfather, King George II, was almost non-existent until 1751 as George II hated his son Frederick and thus was uninterested in his grandchildren by that man. However, upon his father’s death, little George became much more interesting to his grandfather, who created him Prince of Wales. George II also wanted to give his grandson grand rooms at St. James’s Palace, the principal residence of the Hanoverian kings, but the late Frederick’s wife protested – she distrusted her father in law and exercised considerable control over her young son, a fact that would plague George for years.
There are questionable records that George married a young lady by the name of Hannah Lightfoot, the daughter of a shoemaker, in 1757 or 1759. The evidence of this is dubious at best, as is the purported fact that the marriage bore three children. George’s marital history really begins with Lady Sarah Lennox, the granddaughter of King Charles II and his mistress the Duchess of Portsmouth, for whom George more or less fell royal head over royal heels. This presented a problem, however: Lady Lennox was a British subject, and not a royal – most certainly, said his advisors, below the dignity of the future king.
Upon the death of George II on 25 October 1760 (supposedly from a heart attack suffered whilst enthroned upon the lavatory), the young man of only 22 years became George III, By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, Prince-Elector of Hannover, Duke of Brunswick. This accession to the throne intensified the search for a wife for the now-King of Great Britain after the dismissal of George’s desire to wed Lady Lennox. Among the available German princesses that the king’s “wife committee,” for lack of a better term, was Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who was duly married to George on 8 September 1761 – even though he had technically become king almost a year earlier, George’s coronation was delayed so as to be able to hold a join coronation for him and his wife, who he never even saw until their wedding day.
The dual coronation was held at Westminster Abbey on 21 September 1761, and thus King George III and Queen Charlotte officially became the couple at the head of the royal family. The marriage would see the births of an incredible 15 children, 13 of whom would survive to adulthood. It was for this queen that Queen’s House was first purchased, and this residence was eventually expanded into what we know today as Buckingham Palace.
The dominance we earlier discussed which George’s mother lorded over him was evident in George III’s first prime minister, John Stuart Earl of Bute, an old friend of Princess Augusta. Bute was a staunch royalist, and George more or less got his way on matters which he motivated Bute to push through Parliament. This arrangement was short lived, however, as Bute was hated by many in Parliament for several reasons, including his lack of administrative skills and apparent acceptance of bribes from the French to secure the Peace of Paris, ending the Seven Years’ War (or as I was taught in elementary school, the French and Indian War) and resigned in 1763. Several other prime ministers held Bute’s old post before another notable one came along – Frederick, Lord North, in 1770.
Lord North has been regarded as one of Britain’s worst prime ministers, and it is not insignificant that his premiership coincided with a relatively important event in the history of both the United States and the United Kingdom – the Revolutionary War, or as many Brits are liable to call it the American War for Independence. Along with Captain Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific and the first appearance of Encyclopedia Britannica, North’s reign also saw the passing of the Stamp Act in 1765, the Boston Tea Party in 1773, and Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, and the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. The rebellion against legislation passed by Parliament to control the American colonies, and was an embarrassment to both North and the king. The only good to come out of the situation was that the king actually got to keep his job – North was not so lucky, and resigned in 1782.
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The prime minister to follow Lord North was William Pitt the Younger, an able Prime Minister but sometimes at odds with the king. The two especially clashed over the issue of the Catholic Emancipation, a process of returning rights and repealing restrictions against Roman Catholic Britons. George, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, was dead set against this; Pitt was in favour of the Emancipation. George III’s opposition to the Emancipation eventually led to Pitt’s resignation in 1801 – but not before he passed the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland, effective 1 January 1801. The United States may have been lost, but Ireland was gained. On a side note, it was also on this first day of 1801 that George dropped one of the titles that the line of kings had held since 1340 – king of France.
I just mentioned George’s role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England; whilst writing this show, that made me think of another “glitch”, if you would, in British history. One of the titles officially held by British monarchs is “Defender of the Faith”; the interesting thing about this is that Defender of the Faith, or its Latin original Defensor Fidei (and I would ask all Classical Latin speakers to pardon my pronunciation, as I hail from the Ecclesiastical school of the language) or its Latin original Defensor Fidei, was granted by Pope Leo X to Henry VIII in 1521 for Henry’s Defense of the Seven Sacraments entitled Assertio Septum Sacramentorum in response to the Protestant Reformation. I find it fascinating to see that this title, granted by the Pope to a thoroughly Catholic king, is still used today by a decidedly non-Catholic monarch.
If there is anything that George III is known for besides losing the American colonies, it is that he apparently went mad. He suffered an attack of his mysterious illness in 1788 and went on a rampage against his son, the Prince of Wales, and tried to smash his head against the wall. He had to be restrained in a strait jacket and then in an iron chair so that doctors could examine the obviously ill king. Several remedies were applied in response to this September 1788 attack, including liberally covering the king in Spanish Fly and mustard, in the hopes that the resulting wounds would draw out whatever sickness was ailing the king. In all likelihood this did nothing to help, but either way the king had recovered by April of 1789 and was able to resume his duties as king (and I will note in passing just in time to witness the violent outburst of the French Revolution in July 1789).
George’s mental ailment reared its head again in 1801 and 1804, and a final attack completely incapacitated him in 1810. An Act of Regency was quickly passed through Parliament, and his son became effective ruler of the kingdom until George III’s death in 1820, largely forgotten and neglected in Windsor Castle, where he is buried.
George’s reign was, without doubt, one of the most eventful of British history. The king, the first Hanoverian to be born and raised in Britain and to speak English as his primary language, had seen the development of the steam engine, an assassination attempt in 1786, the French Revolution, the publishing of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, another assassination attempt in 1800, the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars, Nelson’s heroic victory at Trafalgar, the publication of Pride and Prejudice, and Napoleon’s legendary defeat at Waterloo. At the time of his death, he was judged insane; since then, medicine has determined the George probably suffered from a condition called porphyria, an inherited disease that causes symptoms similar to mental insanity. Poor George’s genes simply knocked him off the throne.
That’s all for this episode of British History 101. A transcript of this and past episodes of this podcast is available at BritishHistory101.com. Send questions, comments, rants, and raves to BritishHistory101@gmail.com. I’d like to thank the sponsors of British History 101, kindly supported by the musical contributions of both John Hawksley of Hawksley.net/mp3 and Sony Recording Artist Simon Mulligan at simonmulligan.com, and your number one source for audiobooks on the Internet, Audible, at audiblepodcast.com/british101. Thank you so very much for listening tonight, and have a wonderful weekend. We’ll talk again soon.

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