I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.
This article was written by William Hunt and was published in 1889
George William Frederick 1738-1820, king of England, was the eldest son of Frederick Louis, prince of Wales, and Augusta, daughter of Frederick II, duke of Saxe-Gotha. He was born on 4 June (N.S.) 1738, in Norfolk House, St. James's Square, London. When he was in his seventh year, Dr. Francis Ayscough, afterwards dean of Bristol, was appointed his preceptor, but his early education was hindered by the quarrel between his father and grandfather, George II. In common with his brothers and sisters he acted in some plays which were performed by children at Leicester House. In October 1750 Francis, Lord North, was appointed his governor. He was much attached to his father, and was deeply affected at his death in March 1751.
By the death of the Prince of Wales he succeeded to the titles of Electoral-prince of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Duke of Edinburgh, and other honours. His grandfather showed a kindly interest in him; on 18 April his household was declared, and on the 19th he was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester. Lord Harcourt was appointed his governor in the place of Lord North, Dr. Hayter, bishop of Norwich, his preceptor, and Stone and Scott his sub-governor and sub-preceptor. The next year a feud broke out among these officers. Stone, who was a man of learning, was suspected of Jacobitism, and Scott, who had been recommended by Bolingbroke, was also offensive to the whigs. Harcourt and Bishop Hayter declared that they would resign unless Stone and Scott were dismissed, and Harcourt accused them of instilling Jacobite and arbitrary principles into the mind of their pupil. In the end Harcourt and Bishop Hayter retired, and their places were taken by Lord Waldegrave and Dr. Thomas, bishop of Peterborough.
The prince passed his youth in an atmosphere of intrigue and jealousy. Waldegrave found him ‘full of prejudices which were fostered by women and pages;’ he was completely under his mother's influence, and knew nothing of the outside world. Except his brother Edward, he had no young companions, for the princess was afraid lest his morals should be corrupted, and he was shy and did not like company. He was, his mother used to say, an ‘honest boy,’ good-natured and cheerful, but he was obstinate, and apt when displeased to be sullen. From his youth he seems to have been high-principled and religious. Although he was fairly intelligent he was not quick; he was idle, and, according to Scott, used to sleep all day. At the age of thirteen he was remarkably backward.
George II, anxious to prevent the princess marrying him to any of her Saxe-Gotha relations, proposed in 1755 that he should marry Sophia Caroline Maria, elder daughter of the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. The princess set her son against the marriage, telling him that his grandfather's only motive in proposing it was to advance the interest of Hanover. The scheme failed, and the prince imbibed undutiful feelings towards the king.
He attained his majority on his eighteenth birthday (1756); Harcourt resigned his office, and a new household was appointed. The king and his ministers were anxious to remove him from his mother's influence, and George II offered him £40,000 a year, and requested him to set up a separate establishment. He took the money, but refused to leave his mother. At his request the Earl of Bute was appointed his groom of the stole, and at once became his chief instructor. The princess, used to the royalty of a petty German court, taught him to hold exaggerated ideas about prerogative, and her constant exhortation to him was ‘George, be king’. Bute procured him the manuscript of Blackstone's ‘Commentaries,’ the substance of which was delivered as lectures at Oxford in 1758 and succeeding years, to raise his view of the prerogative of the crown, while he seems to have gained from Bolingbroke's works the idea of exalting the royal authority through the overthrow of party distinctions.
To this period belongs the scandal about the prince's attachment to a certain Hannah Lightfoot, the ‘fair quaker,’ daughter or niece of a linendraper, whose shop was in St. James's Market. It is said that through the intervention of Elizabeth Chudleigh, who became Duchess of Kingston, he persuaded her to leave her home, and go through the form of marriage with one Axford, and that he frequently met her afterwards, and it is even pretended that he secretly married her, and had a daughter by her, who became the wife of a man named Dalton. It is probable that he showed some admiration for this girl, or at least for some one of her rank but the story rests merely on anonymous letters of a late date, and certain vile publications. In July 1759 the prince wrote to the king offering his services in the war. He succeeded to the throne on the death of George II on 25 October 1760.
Up to the time of his accession George had been kept in perfect seclusion by his mother and Bute, in London at Carlton House or Leicester House, and in the country at Kew. He had no knowledge of public business, but shook off his youthful indolence, and became an industrious, and indeed an exceedingly managing, king. He was fairly tall, and had a florid and good-natured countenance. Although he bore himself with dignity on all public occasions, and spoke impressively and with a naturally fine voice, his bearing in private was homely and undignified; his utterance was rapid, he swung himself to and fro as he talked, asked numbers of questions, had a trick of ending each with ‘what? what?’ and often repeated his words. Generally affable in manner, he was often rude to those who offended him. He set a high value on small points of ceremony, never talked to a minister except standing and keeping the minister standing however long the interview might last, and refused to allow the judges to dispense with their wigs when not on the bench: ‘I will have no innovations,’ he said, ‘in my time’. He spoke French and German, and knew something of Italian, but had little Latin and less Greek, a slight acquaintance with history, and a very slender stock of general information; he wrote English ungrammatically, and always spelt badly. Although, perhaps owing to Bute's instructions, he encouraged genius where it took a form which he liked and understood, his taste was execrable. Shakespeare he thought wrote much ‘sad stuff’, and though he took interest in the foundation of the Royal Academy and liked pictures, he preferred West to Reynolds. He was fond of music, had a good ear, and at one period of his life was constantly at the opera; Handel was his favourite composer. Mechanics and agricultural science pleased him, and he took delight in models of ships and dockyards. He had a liking for books, and in 1762 bought the library of Consul Smith, who resided at Venice. This was the nucleus of a collection which grew into the ‘King's Library,’ now in the British Museum. Shortly after he came to the throne he appears to have studied experimental philosophy. He was sincerely pious, his morality was strict, and he invariably acted according to the dictates, erroneous or otherwise, of his conscience. He was always remarkably calm in moments of danger. The sullenness of his youth appeared in later life in the form of an implacable disposition. Conscious of the rectitude of his intentions, and with an overweening opinion of his own wisdom and dignity, he considered all opposition as an affront to himself and an evidence of moral turpitude. Some of his petulancy must be attributed to the morbid excitability of his brain, which broke out from time to time in attacks of insanity. His leading characteristic was described by himself as firmness, and by those who were opposed to him as obstinacy.
Although slow and prejudiced, George was not without ability; he had considerable insight into men's characters, and no small knowledge of kingcraft. He carried on, certainly with some peculiar advantages, a long and bitter conflict with the most powerful party in the state, and was on the whole successful, though at a terrible cost both to himself and the country. This conflict was waged with the great whig families and their political adherents. Ever since the accession of the house of Hanover the crown had leant on the support of the whigs. The first two Georges were foreigners, and the right of both was disputed. The weakness of the crown increased the importance of its supporters; political power was vested exclusively in a few noble families which claimed to represent the principles of the revolution. The affairs of the nation were thus controlled by a party which had almost wholly ceased to represent principles, was held together by connection, and was strengthened by bribery and other corrupt practices, while the crown was fast becoming a mere ornament, adding lustre to a powerful oligarchy. The power of the people at large was as yet non-existent; the House of Commons was not, except in name, a representative body, and the dominant faction had the advantage of distributing the patronage of the crown. George began his reign with a determination to break the yoke of the whig oligarchy, and to recover for the crown the power which it had lost since 1688.
There was no need for him to depend on whig support; he was an Englishman, and his title was undisputed. He had been taught that the royal authority could be best asserted by disregarding ties of connection, and breaking up parties, and that a king should choose his ministers without yielding to the dictates of a faction. He had seen in the success of Pitt the triumph of a statesman who disregarded party connection. He therefore resolved to overthrow the system of exclusion, to open office to the tories, and not to allow any party to dictate to him. In his struggle with the whigs and his work of building up the prerogative he used the services of a number of politicians who attached themselves to him personally, rather than to any minister or faction, and were called by those who opposed his policy the ‘king's friends.’ He thus renounced the proper sphere of a constitutional monarch in favour of that of a party leader. The king's friends do not seem to have been an organised body or kind of secret cabinet, as Burke believed, but they were not the less a formidable party. They were recruited and bound to their master by self-interest, for George took the crown patronage out of the hands of his ministers, and dispensed it himself, and by this means maintained a crown influence in parliament which was apart from, and often opposed to, the ministerial influence. For the first ten years of his reign George was engaged in a struggle, which was often unsuccessful, to break down the whig factions, and find a minister who would, and could, carry out his political views.
The accession of the young king was popular, and a proclamation against immorality which he caused to be published was generally approved. He found the ministry of Newcastle and Pitt in office, but he told Newcastle at his first interview that Bute would inform him ‘of my thoughts at large,’ and wrote his declaration to the council without reference to Pitt; it contained words which threw a slight on the conduct of the war, and Pitt had some trouble to persuade Bute to allow alterations to be made before it was printed. The speech for the opening of parliament was drawn up by Lord-chancellor Hardwicke, and was sent back by the king, with the insertion in his own writing, ‘Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Britain;’ the word Britain was thought to denote the influence of Bute, who was a Scot, and whom the king had made a privy councillor; but in 1804 George, in a private conversation, declared that the alteration was ‘suggested to him by no one’.
The king surrendered the hereditary revenues, and his civil list was fixed at £800,000. He acquired great popularity by recommending parliament to provide that judges' commissions should not expire on the demise of the crown. It was remarked that tories now attended the court, and that prerogative became a fashionable word. George appears to have fallen in love with Lady Sarah Lennox, sister of the Duke of Richmond, and to have received some encouragement; for when he rode towards Hammersmith, as he often did in the summer of 1761, Lady Sarah would be making hay in the grounds of Holland House, the residence of her brother-in-law. However, the affair came to nothing, and Colonel David Graeme was sent to visit the protestant courts of Europe to look out a suitable wife for him. The result of his mission was that on 8 September, at about ten in the evening, George married Charlotte Sophia, younger sister of Adolphus Frederick IV, reigning duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, in the chapel of St. James's. On the 22nd he and his queen were crowned. In returning to Westminster Hall, the great diamond fell out of the king's crown, which was afterwards held to have been ominous. George was a model of domestic virtue. He and his queen lived much in private, sometimes at Windsor, where he used to take great interest in the doings of the Eton boys, who still celebrate his birthday, sometimes at Richmond Lodge, and when in London at Buckingham House, then often called the ‘queen's house,’ for it was bought for the queen's use. The king indulged in no public amusement except the theatre, did not dine with his nobles, and was accused of affecting the privacy of an ‘Asiatic prince.’
Great discontent prevailed at the elevation of Bute and the influence which he and the princess exercised over the king, and many coarse jeers were levelled at them, and some at the king also. George, however, was determined to give Bute high ministerial office, to get rid of his present ministers, and to bring about a peace with France, a step which Bute strongly recommended. A scheme was arranged, according to which Lord Holderness, a secretary of state, was persuaded, or rather bribed, to resign in March 1761, and the king appointed Bute as his successor. George dismissed Legge, chancellor of the exchequer, in favour of William Wildman Barrington, Lord Barrington. Negotiations were opened with France, and it became evident that the king and Bute designed to get rid of Pitt, who was likely to oppose the terms of peace. George was encouraged in this resolve by the jealousy with which Pitt was regarded by the majority of the cabinet ministers, and also probably by a pamphlet attributed to Lord Bath and written by his chaplain, John Douglas (1721-1807), entitled ‘Seasonable Hints from an Honest Man on the New Reign,’ which defended the new theory of government.
Pitt, who was convinced that Spain was preparing to join France, urged a declaration of war, and highly disapproved of the concessions which the king, Bute, and other members of the cabinet were proposing to make. George every day grew more offended with him, and plainly showed that he ‘wanted to get rid of him at all events’. On 5 October Pitt felt constrained to resign the seals. The king treated him with extreme graciousness, and pressed rewards upon him, with the intention, it may fairly be surmised, of lessening his popularity. Pitt accepted a reward, which for the moment roused popular indignation. He quickly regained his popularity, and when, on 9 November, the king and queen dined in state at the Guildhall, he was received with enthusiasm, while the king's reception, though magnificent, was extremely chilling, and Bute's carriage was attacked in the streets. George had from the first treated Newcastle with extreme coldness, but the duke still clung to office. Although first Lord of the treasury, he complained that, with a trifling exception, the king had never attended to a single recommendation he had made; all patronage was taken out of his hands, and seven peers were created without his having been told of the king's intention. On 14 May 1762 he told the king that he must resign. George merely replied, ‘Then, my Lord, I must fill your place as I can;’ but when he was at last forced to resign on the 26th, George condescended to solicit his support.
The king made Bute first minister, and gave him the Garter; other changes of office had already taken place, and in spite of the general clamour George gained his point. In June he was attacked with a serious illness, which set in with a cold and cough; drastic remedies were used, and by the 20th he had begun to recover. In the hope of dividing the whigs, he persuaded Henry Fox to desert his party, and take the management of the commons, acting in this as in all else on Bute's suggestion. Persons about the court said that the ‘king would now be king indeed,’ and that the ‘prerogative was to shine out.’ The whigs were now to feel the royal displeasure. The Duke of Devonshire, whom the princess-dowager bitterly called the ‘prince of the whigs,’ and who had refused to take part in the discussions about the peace, was Lord chamberlain. He called at St. James's in October, but the king sent him out a message by a page, ‘Tell the duke I will not see him.’ The duke resigned his office; his brother, Lord George Cavendish, a member of the household, also resigned, and the king accepted his resignation in person, and with marked discourtesy.
Lord Rockingham remonstrated with the king, resigned his office in the bedchamber on 4 November, and was treated in the same manner. The same day the king with his own hand erased Devonshire's name from the list of privy councillors. Newcastle, Grafton, and Rockingham were deprived of their lieutenancies, and with the king's approval a general proscription of the whigs was carried out, which extended to inferior officials, such as clerks, and even to pensioners. When the king went to open parliament on the 25th, he was not cheered in the streets. The royal influence, however, was strong in parliament, and the preliminaries of peace were approved. This was a signal triumph. ‘Now,’ the princess said, ‘my son is king of England.’ George was delighted, and when the peace of Paris was concluded in February 1763, declared that ‘England never signed such a peace before’.
Meanwhile a storm of indignation rose against Bute, and the king himself did not wholly escape it; for the minister was held to be a ‘ favourite.’ Favouritism in its special sense was not one of George's weaknesses; while he had of course personal preferences, he showed favour to Bute, and in later times to other ministers not for personal, but for political, reasons. The influence which Bute exercised over him was jeered at in many ways, and among them by a caricature entitled ‘The Royal Dupe’. Although the ministerial majority was strong in parliament — for, in addition to the practice of intimidation, £52,000 a year was spent in maintaining it — Bute felt himself unable to brave the popular indignation, and resigned on 8 April. George received his resignation with unexpected alacrity; he considered him ‘deficient in political firmness,’ and seems to have been rather glad to get rid of him as a minister. By Bute's advice he appointed George Grenville to the treasury, laying down as a basis of the administration which he was to form, that none of the Newcastle and Pitt ministry were ever to return to office during his reign, but that favour might be shown to those whigs who would support his government. The speech with which the king closed parliament on 19 April was scurrilously commented on by Wilkes in No. 45 of the ‘North Briton,’ where it was treated not as the king's, but as the minister's speech.
George ordered that Wilkes should be prosecuted, urged forward the violent measures taken against him, treated the matter as a personal quarrel, and dismissed Temple from his Lord-lieutenancy for sympathy with Wilkes. Grenville took office with the intention of shielding the king from dictation, but George found him masterful. The administration was bad, and the king was anxious to make some change in it. In August he offered cabinet office to Hardwicke, and even spoke of giving a court office to Newcastle, but Hardwicke would not come in alone, and George would not submit to take in a party in gross.
On the 21st George was much disturbed by the death of Lord Egremont, which weakened the tory side of the cabinet. By the advice of Bute he sent for Pitt, and on 27 August requested him to state his opinions. Pitt dilated on the defects of the peace and the dismissal of the whigs, whom, he said, he should restore. George listened graciously, but said that his ‘honour must be consulted.’ He was in a difficult position; he wanted to get rid of his present ministers, and hoped that Pitt would have consented to be his minister without bringing with him any of the party which he hated. A decision was to be made on the 29th. The day before, Sunday, the 28th, Grenville saw the king, who was confused and flustered. The result of their conversation was that when Pitt the next day stated his terms, which were the treasury for Temple, and the restoration of the great whig families, the king refused them. ‘My honour is concerned,’ he said, ‘ and I must support it.’ He asked Grenville to continue in office. The minister lectured him, and received the king's promise that Bute should not interfere. A few days later Bute made an attempt to win Pitt over. Grenville was indignant, and reproached the king, and when George promised that nothing of the sort should happen again, dryly answered that he hoped not. He insisted on Bute's retirement from London, and refused to allow the king to give the office of keeper of the privy purse, which Bute vacated, to one of Bute's friends. ‘Good God! Mr. Grenville,’ exclaimed the humiliated king, ‘am I to be suspected after all I have done?’
Bedford joined the administration; Bute left London, and for a time the king and his ministers were on better terms. George approved of their depriving military officers of their commands for voting against the government on the question of general warrants. ‘Firmness and resolution,’ he said, ‘must be shown, and no one saved who dared to fly off.’ He was much annoyed by the hereditary Prince of Brunswick, who came over in January 1764 to marry his sister Augusta, and who openly sympathised with the opposition. The king's unpopularity was shown by the enthusiasm with which the prince was received, and king and prince behaved rudely to each other. George disliked his ministers more and more; the administration was thoroughly bad, and was marked by want of concert, slackness, and haste. Grenville did his duty, but made himself personally hateful to the king by lecturing and thwarting him. Still George agreed with the chief measures taken by the ministers, and fully concurred in the Stamp Act, which became law on 22 March 1765. Meanwhile on 12 January he was attacked by a serious illness, which lasted more or less until early in April, and during which symptoms of derangement appeared.
On the king's recovery he wished that parliament should make provision for a regency in case of his death or incapacity, and proposed that he should be empowered to name from time to time the person he desired, keeping the nomination secret to ‘ prevent faction’. The ministers brought in a bill limiting his choice to the queen or any other person of the royal family. Bedford, out of dislike to Bute, was anxious to shut the king's mother out of any chance of power, and Halifax and Sandwich told George that unless this was done the bill would not pass the commons. He yielded to the representations of his ministers, apparently without grasping the full import of their proposal, and the princess was pointedly excluded. He soon became conscious of what he had done, had an interview with Grenville, in which he was much agitated, and even shed tears, and besought the minister to replace her name. Grenville would only promise to yield if pressed in the commons, and the king's mortification was increased when, after a ludicrous exhibition of his ministers' weakness, the house insisted on replacing his mother's name. On 6 May, the day after his interview with Grenville, he asked his uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, who had considerable influence with the opposition, and whom he had from his boyhood treated with neglect and suspicion, to negotiate with Pitt, Temple, and the great whig families as to the formation of a ‘strong and lasting administration'. On the 18th he cavalierly announced to Grenville his intention of dismissing his ministers. Bedford, who believed that Bute was at the bottom of the intended change, scolded the king. Meanwhile Pitt refused the offer of the court, and the king sent Cumberland to Lord Lyttelton, who also refused to attempt to form an administration.
During these negotiations the Spitalfields weavers were raising riots, on account of the rejection of a bill intended to benefit their industry. They marched to the king's lodge, and not finding him there followed him to Wimbledon, where he listened to their complaints, and persuaded them to return to their homes. But disorders broke out afresh, and were perhaps only checked by the vigorous action of the king, who personally gave orders that troops should be in readiness to prevent disturbance. He was anxious not to appear to avoid the rioters, and declared his willingness to ‘put himself at the head of the army, or do anything else to save his country’. When Lyttelton refused the king's offer, Cumberland advised George to recall his ministers. He had a humiliating interview with Grenville on the 21st. The ministers compelled the king to promise that he would neither see Bute nor retain Bute's brother, Stuart Mackenzie, as privy seal in Scotland, though George had promised that he should keep the office.
Although the king was in after days constantly suspected of acting by Bute's advice, it seems perfectly certain that he kept his word, and that he never willingly saw Bute again, or had any direct or indirect consultation with him after this. Grenville used his power mercilessly. ‘When he has wearied me for two hours,’ George once said, ‘he looks at his watch to see if he may not tire me for one hour more.’ The king allowed his dislike of his ministers to be seen, and on 12 June Bedford scolded him for not allowing his authority and his favour to go together, and accused him of listening to the misrepresentations of Bute. George heard him in silence, though he certainly was shamefully treated. He again sent Cumberland to Pitt, who had two interviews with the king, and undertook to form an administration; but his arrangements were brought to an end on 25 June 1765 by Temple's refusal to accept the treasury. In his distress the king again turned to his uncle, who, with Newcastle's help, formed an administration under the Marquis of Rockingham, and on 10 July George at last got rid of Grenville. The humiliation of turning to the Rockingham whigs was a less evil than the retention of the old ministry. ‘I would rather,’ he said, ‘see the devil in my closet than George Grenville’.
George, though outwardly civil, thwarted his new ministers, and would not create peers on their recommendation. Indeed he probably from the first intended to get rid of them as soon as he could find others more subservient to himself. George saw with concern the abuses of the government in Ireland, and when Lord Hertford accepted the viceroyalty in October 1765, wrote him a paper of instructions, which was probably his own composition. It shows remarkable knowledge of the secret sources of mischief, and contains straightforward directions for destroying them by an honourable and decided policy. Rockingham pressed to be allowed to treat with Pitt in January 1766. The king did not like the idea, probably because he did not wish to see the administration strengthened, and also because he did not want Pitt unless as, in a special sense, his own minister. He yielded, but Pitt was impracticable. George did not approve the repeal of the Stamp Act, though he was willing to modify it; but he asserted that he had all along preferred repeal to force, if one or the other was necessary. As Rockingham found that he was opposed by the king's friends, he obtained the king's sanction to the repeal in writing. George acted a double part, pretending to be pleased when his ministers were in a majority, but allowing the court party to see that his sympathies were really on the other side. Rockingham seems to have taxed him with this conduct. The repeal of the Stamp Act received the royal assent on 18 March. The retirement in May of the Duke of Grafton, one of the secretaries of state, was due to underhand negotiations carried on by Lord-chancellor Northington, who was one of the king's party.
In July Northington openly quarrelled with his colleagues, and by his advice the king sent for Pitt. George received Pitt with pleasure, put all arrangements under his control, and dismissed his ministers ungraciously. Pitt was created Earl of Chatham, and formed an administration of which he was the real, and Grafton the ostensible, head. George thus won a decided success. He got rid of the administration of the great whig families, and was delighted at securing Pitt, who, he had good reason to believe, would ‘destroy all party distinctions,’ and ‘root out the present method of parties banding together’. Chiefly through the king's policy the whigs were now divided into hostile sections. He was personally gratified by the restoration of Stuart Mackenzie to his former office.
The new administration fell at once into a state of weakness and division. Against his own will the king allowed Chatham to treat with Bedford, and when the negotiation failed told his minister that ‘due firmness would show the Bedfords of what little consequence they were’. The administration became more tory in character, and derived what little strength it had from the support of the king's friends. Chatham's illness reduced it to incapacity. The king was almost in despair, for he was afraid of being forced to receive Grenville. On 2 March 1767 he entreated Chatham to see his messenger if only for a quarter of an hour, in order that the ‘world might know’ that he was still advising him; on 30 May that Chatham would see Grafton, if only for five minutes; and on 2 June, when the administration seemed about to break up, that he would lay a plan before him. He earnestly begged him to retain office. ‘Your name,’ he wrote, ‘has been sufficient to enable my administration to proceed;’ he hoped that his minister would recover, and help him ‘in resisting the torrent of factions.’ Chatham resigned on 14 October 1768. On 28 March, when Wilkes was elected for Middlesex, it was thought that the mob would attack the queen's house. George declared that he wished that they ‘would make the attempt, that he might disperse them at the head of his guards’. He took an active part in the arrangements for preserving order, urged the expulsion of Wilkes from the house, insisted that ‘due firmness’ should be used in resisting riots, approved the firing on the mob in St. George's Fields, and required the Westminster justices to show firmness in using the military. In 1769 he followed a similar course as regards Wilkes. On 22 March, after Wilkes had been declared incapable of sitting in the ‘present parliament,’ while the king was talking with his ministers in St. James's Palace, a mob beset the gates, and a hearse was driven into the courtyard decorated with insulting emblems, and having on the roof a man dressed as an executioner, masked, and with an axe in his hand. A sharp though short struggle took place before the rioters were dispersed. During the whole time the king remained perfectly unruffled, and talked as calmly as usual.
In July the Lord mayor presented a petition to the king from the livery against the ministers, complaining specially of the employment of soldiers in repressing disturbances, and of the late affair in St. George's Fields; other petitions, one from ten thousand freeholders of Yorkshire, were also presented against the violation of the right of electors in the Wilkes case, and on 19 December was published Junius's ‘Address to the King,’ which was made the subject of legal proceedings. The speech with which George opened parliament on 9 January 1770 began with a reference to a distemper then prevailing ‘among horned cattle;’ it was bitterly and unjustly ridiculed by Junius as containing ‘nothing but the misery of a ruined grazier, and the whining piety of a methodist’. Chatham's return to parliament had been welcomed by the king the previous July, but the earl attacked the administration with such vigour that its fall became imminent. When it was necessary to dismiss Lord-chancellor Camden, George urged Charles Yorke to accept the great seal. Yorke refused, for he shrank from deserting his party, the ‘Rockinghams.’
On the next day, 17 January 1770, the king at the levee called him into his closet, charged him on his loyalty to accept the office, and declared that if he did not do so it should never be offered to him again. Thus pressed Yorke yielded, and his acceptance caused his death on the 20th. Grafton resigned on the 28th, and the king gave the treasury to Lord North, at that time chancellor of the exchequer. Chatham renewed his attacks, and reflected on the king by inveighing against the ‘invisible counsels of a favourite,’ meaning that George allowed Bute to direct his policy, which was certainly not the case. Grafton defended the king, but Chatham renewed his accusation. On 14 March George received a petition from the Lord mayor (Beckford) and the livery, declaring that the House of Commons did not represent the people, praying for a dissolution, and referring to a ‘secret and malign influence which under each administration had defeated every good, and suggested every bad intention’. He made a short and not undignified reply, which seems to throw great doubt on the story that when the Lord mayor was leaving the presence, he ‘turned round to his courtiers and burst out a laughing’. He was determined not to dissolve, for he knew that a new house would force him to part with his ministers, and perhaps to receive the whig families back into power. ‘I will have recourse to this,’ he said, laying his hand upon his sword, ‘sooner than yield to a dissolution.’
On 23 May he received another petition from the common council of much the same kind. After he had made a short answer the Lord mayor addressed him in a magniloquent and impertinent speech, to which he returned no answer. The increase of the ministerial majority in parliament gratified him. Beckford's death (21 June 1770) brought the active hostility of the city to an end, and the distrust which existed between the followers of Chatham and of Rockingham strengthened the position of the administration. George had gained a signal success, for he had found in North a minister of considerable sagacity, courage, and parliamentary tact. His scheme of government was fully realised; parties were broken up; the ‘power of the crown, almost dead and rotten as prerogative, [had] grown up anew, with more strength and far less odium under the name of influence’ (Burke). George had succeeded in setting up a system of personal rule through a minister who commanded a large majority in parliament, and consented to shape his policy in accordance with commands given him in the closet. During the next twelve years he carried out his own system of government, and the affairs of the country were directed by an irresponsible king acting through responsible ministers
George continued to indulge his love for a retired and simple life. He still lived much at Kew, and while there enjoyed domestic pleasures and homely pursuits; he took much interest in farming, a taste which increased as time went on, and in later days wrote some letters to Young on agriculture; was said to have farmed for profit, and to have looked sharply after it, and was made fun of in satires and caricatures as ‘Farmer George.’ He liked trifling mechanical occupations, and was at this time constantly ridiculed as the ‘royal button-maker’. While not illiberal in his charities, he and his queen were extremely economical. His health was at this time good; he was afraid of becoming fat, and was therefore very abstemious and took much exercise without regard to weather, sometimes riding from Windsor to London in the rain, and after he had dressed holding a levee, and, when that was over, giving audience to his ministers and setting off for Windsor in his carriage about 6 p.m., without having taken anything but a little tea and bread and butter, which he would often eat as he walked up and down. He never missed a drawing-room or a levee. The graciousness of his manners to men whom he respected is recorded by Dr. Johnson, whose well-known interview with him took place in February 1767. Johnson afterwards said: ‘They may talk of the king as they will, but he is the finest gentleman I have ever seen’. He worked hard, and was inspired by a genuine desire to do good to his people, and a belief that what he thought right necessarily was so. His letters to North, for whom at this time he felt a strong affection, show the deep interest which he took in the progress of affairs.
The distribution of the crown patronage was now entirely in his hands, and he gave orders about every appointment, whether it was to the place of housekeeper at one of his palaces, or to a colonelcy of the guards, or to an episcopal see. Patronage was one of the chief means by which he maintained and managed his party in parliament. Another of these means was the manifestation of his feelings by word or manner when people who had either satisfied or displeased him presented themselves at court; and a third was the disposal of the civil list revenues. The income settled on the crown, swelled as it was by the profits of the duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster and revenues from Scotland, Ireland, and other sources, was sufficient for all ordinary needs, and far more than sufficient for a king who lived so simply, yet in 1769 the ministers were forced to ask parliament for £513,511 for payment of debts; inquiry was demanded, but in the end the money was granted without investigation. Much waste went on, as was abundantly proved in 1777, but large sums were no doubt spent in corruption of various kinds. George was now thoroughly acquainted with political business. He identified himself with North's administration, and wrote his minister constant letters, sometimes two or three in a day, with his own hand. These letters he used to date according to the minute of writing, a custom which illustrates the importance which he attached to trifles, and possibly also his feeling that everything connected with himself was of special moment. He was at all times ready to listen to suggestions from men who were not his constitutional advisers, and from 1770 to 1782 Charles Jenkinson, afterwards Lord Hawkesbury and Earl of Liverpool, is said to have exercised an influence which was ‘sometimes paramount to, or subversive of, the measures proposed by his first minister’. When the new parliament met in 1771, the result of the elections and the disorganisation of the whigs secured the success of the king's policy.
George saw with some alarm the rise of the quarrel between the House of Commons and the printers, and, while writing of the printers as ‘miscreants,’ hoped that matters would not be allowed to grow serious. On 17 March, however, he considered it necessary for the commons to commit the Lord-mayor Crosby and Alderman Oliver, but was glad that the ministers were content to leave alone so dangerous an antagonist as Wilkes. He also took an active interest in the opposition to Savile's ‘Nullum Tempus’ Bill, which was designed to protect the subject against the dormant claims of the crown, such as that revived to the prejudice of the popular whig magnate the Duke of Portland.
Family troubles crowded on the king. In November 1770 he was forced to find, not without difficulty, £13,000 to pay damages and expenses incurred by his brother, the Duke of Cumberland, in a divorce case, and early in 1772 was much troubled at the news of the disgrace of his sister, the queen of Denmark. On 8 February he lost his mother; she had probably long ceased to influence his political conduct, but this was not generally believed, and the mob followed her body to the grave with insults. Shortly before this event he heard with indignation of the marriage of the Duke of Cumberland to Mrs. Horton, and soon afterwards of the marriage of his favourite brother, William Henry, duke of Gloucester, to the widow of Earl Waldegrave. The two dukes were forbidden the court, and it was announced that the king would not receive those who called on them. It was some years before he forgave the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. These marriages and the scandals connected with them called forth a message from the king to parliament recommending the Royal Marriage Bill, which prohibited descendants of George II, except the issue of foreign princesses, from marrying before the age of twenty-five without the king's consent. After that age they might marry provided that no objection was raised by parliament to the proposed match, of which a year's notice had to be given to the privy council. All marriages contracted contrary to the act were to be null, and the parties to incur the penalties of præmunire. This bill was the king's own work, and he made it a personal matter. ‘I expect every nerve to be strained,’ he wrote, ‘to carry the bill with becoming firmness, for it is not a question that immediately relates to administration, but personally to myself;’ adding that he should ‘remember defaulters.’ Nevertheless the bill was violently opposed. Chatham pronounced it ‘new-fangled and impudent,’ and the king heard with anxiety that there was a strong feeling against it in the commons. He asked North for a list of ‘those that went away and those that deserted to the minority; that,’ he added, ‘would be a rule for my conduct in the drawing-room to-morrow’. The bill was carried by considerable majorities.
He expressed strong dislike to the motion for abolishing compulsory subscription to the articles of religion by clergymen, physicians, and others, observing that ‘presbyterians often resembled Socinians rather than Christians.’ Affairs in the north of Europe directly and indirectly conduced to set Great Britain in opposition to France. During the war between Russia and the Porte a French fleet would have entered the Baltic had not England interfered. George was anxious to prevent a war, and recommended his ministers to ‘speak out’ as to their determination not to allow France to take part against Russia. The policy he recommended was successful; France was forced to leave the Turk to his fate, and Russia obtained substantial gains by the treaty of Kutchuk Kainardji. He was hostile to Lord Clive, who was supported generally by the opposition, and on 22 May 1773 expressed his amazement ‘that private interest could make so many individuals ... approve of Lord Clive's rapine’.
On 16 December 1773 the irritation of the American colonists at the retention of the tea duty broke out in a riot at Boston. George shared the opinion of most of his people that the colonists might safely be despised, and that if firmness was used they would soon submit. Accordingly in 1774 he felt much satisfaction at the Boston Port Bill, and the bill for regulating the government of Massachusetts Bay. He had no wish to see fresh taxes laid on the colonists, but considered it necessary to maintain the duty in order to keep up the right of taxation. The meeting of congress in September convinced him that the colonists must ‘either triumph or submit,’ and he declared in November that blows must decide whether they were to be his subjects or independent. Meanwhile in the spring he was annoyed at the awkward predicament in which North was placed in the debate on the matter of the printer Woodfall, and insisted on the dismissal of Fox for his conduct in the affair. Although he was mortified at the return of Wilkes for Middlesex, the general result of the elections to the new parliament delighted him. In spite of the eloquence of the opposition, the ministers had a majority of 190 to 200 in the commons in favour of their American policy. War actually broke out on 19 April 1775, and in August the king as elector of Hanover arranged for the employment of Hanoverian troops to garrison Gibraltar and Minorca. He received no subsidy for lending these troops, but asked to be reimbursed for expenses and levy-money. He also busied himself about the hire of other German forces and recruiting matters at home. A proposal for the hire of Russian troops made in a letter written with his own hand called forth a rebuff from the empress Catherine which greatly annoyed him. He was indignant at the attacks which Chatham made in the course of the session on the policy of the ministers with respect to the colonists. Chatham was, he said, the ‘trumpet of sedition;’ his political conduct was ‘abandoned.’ For himself, he was ‘fighting the battle of the legislature’; and not only the legislature but the nation at large upheld his determination.
At the same time he was not so embittered against the colonists as to refuse proposals of accommodation, for his influence was certainly exercised in February 1775 on behalf of North's Conciliation Bill. He did not believe that the war would be of long duration, and rejected Howe's advice that it should be carried on by sea only. As the war continued, his feelings became more bitter, and though the opposition in parliament and outside it gathered strength, the nation widely shared in them. The city of London disapproved of the ministerial policy; the royal proclamation for the suppression of rebellion was received with hisses on the Exchange, and the city tried to provoke a quarrel with the king by refusing to present an address, except to him on the throne. ‘I am ever ready,’ the king said, ‘to receive addresses and petitions, but I am the judge where.’ He was pleased at the capture of New York in September 1776, and believed it to have been ‘well planned and executed with alacrity,’ which was perhaps rather too high praise. He was now thoroughly embittered against the rebels; he warmly approved of the bill passed in February 1777 for securing and detaining persons suspected of high treason in America, and of the employment of Indians in the war; ‘every means of distressing America must,’ he wrote, ‘meet with my concurrence,’ and he hoped that ‘Howe would turn his thoughts to the mode of war best calculated to end the contest’. At no time probably in the course of the war was the country at large more fully in sympathy with his policy than during this year. The news of Burgoyne's surrender on 17 October deeply affected him; the disaster was, he wrote on 4 December, ‘very serious, but not without remedy;’ the cause could not be given up.
On 9 April of this year (1777) the king through North made the commons acquainted with his debts, which on 5 January preceding amounted to £600,000. Although part of this deficit was no doubt due to relief given to the loyalist refugees, by far the larger part arose from corrupt practices, and from the waste which prevailed in every department of the household; highly paid sinecure offices abounded, the king's turnspit was a member of the house, there had been scandalous mismanagement, and while the ‘lustre of the crown was tarnished’ by the king's economical and almost sordid mode of life, the wages of his menial servants were six quarters in arrear, and his tradesmen were almost ruined. The accounts laid before the house were unsatisfactory, and there were neither vouchers nor audit-books. Enormous sums had been spent in pensions and in various other ways which extended and maintained the influence of the crown. The excess in pensions and annuities during the last eight years, as compared with the last eight years of the reign of George II, amounted to £194,144, while, although the last years of the last reign included the great period of the seven years' war, the excess in secret service money during the same number of years just past was £63,559. Indeed it is not unlikely that something like a million had already been spent during the reign on purposes which could not conveniently be avowed. All these matters were freely discussed in parliament. Nevertheless the house granted £618,340 for discharge of arrears, and an addition of £100,000 to the annual £800,000 of the civil list. When at the close of the session the speaker, Sir Fletcher Norton, brought up the bill, he dilated on the magnificence of the gift, ‘great beyond example, great beyond your majesty's highest expense.’ The court party were grievously offended, and an attempt was made to censure the speaker, but Fox brought forward a resolution approving his conduct, which was carried nem. con.
As the king was going to the Haymarket Theatre on 25 July 1777, a mad woman attacked and did some damage to his chair. In September he pressed North to accept from him the payment of his debts, offering, if needful, as much as £20,000, and expressing his love for him as a man and his esteem for him as minister, adding, ‘I shall never forget your conduct at a critical minute’ — on the retirement of Grafton. North had begun to disapprove of the colonial policy forced upon him by the king. War with France, declared in May 1778, was imminent. He felt that he could not conciliate the colonies and that conciliation was necessary, and on 31 January he begged the king to accept his resignation and send for Chatham. He repeated his request in March. Men of every rank and political section looked on Chatham as the only hope of the country, and this was made known to George from various sides. He was immovable — not, as it would seem, so much from motives of public policy as from private feelings. He appealed to North's personal affection and sense of honour not to desert him. With Chatham he would hold no direct communication; but if he liked to serve under North ‘he would receive him with open arms.’ North might address him on this basis, with the distinct understanding that Chatham was not to bring in any member of the opposition. The administration must remain with North at its head, and include Thurlow, Sandwich, Gower, and others of its present members. He ‘would rather lose his crown’ than submit to the opposition, who, he declared, would ‘make me a slave for the remainder of my days.’ His conduct was chiefly governed by this and similar personal considerations; for he did not refuse to allow North to bring in conciliatory measures, and Chatham was as fully convinced as he was of the necessity of preventing American independence. North's negotiations were fruitless. That the king's conduct was culpable admits of no question. George declared on 18 March 1778 that he was ‘fairly worn down,’ but would not change his administration or receive ‘that perfidious man.’ Chatham's fatal illness made him hope that North would be more inclined to retain office. He was ‘rather surprised’ at the vote about the earl's funeral and monument; if it expressed admiration of his general conduct, ‘it is,’ he said, ‘an offensive measure to me personally.’ North renewed his entreaties to be allowed to resign, but was overpersuaded, and continued to carry out the king's policy.
George showed his gratitude by giving him the lucrative post of warden of the Cinque ports. During the spring he made visits of inspection to Chatham and Portsmouth; on 28 September he made a tour for the purpose of holding reviews at Winchester, Salisbury, and Warley in Essex, and on 22 November reviewed the troops encamped on Coxheath, near Maidstone. During 1779 he gave several proofs of his determination to uphold the administration. Referring to the debates on the manifesto of the king of Spain, who declared war in June, he wrote that he must know how members voted, and spoke of what might happen ‘if the prerogative is not soon brought into effect’. A protest of the opposition Lords against the conduct of the war seemed to him ‘very wicked’. He was strongly opposed to Keppel, whose cause was maintained by the opposition. The feeling of the nation seems to have begun to change about this time, and the opposition, though numerically weak in parliament, grew more popular. North urged his former entreaties again and again without success, until in November 1779 George allowed him to negotiate with Camden and Shelburne for a coalition under a new first minister.
In February 1780 the king, who was watching the debates on Burke's economic reform bills with painful intensity, was annoyed at the smallness of the ministerial majority on the proposal to regulate the pension list, and, as usual, recommended ‘firmness’ to North. Dunning carried his famous resolution concerning the influence of the crown in April 1780; George attributed the rising discontent of the commons to ‘factious leaders and ruined men, who wish to overturn the constitution’. He allowed North to make some overtures to the Rockingham party in June, but objected to receive Fox or the Duke of Richmond on account of some personal displeasure. The overtures were abortive. It seems that the king felt keenly the humiliation which was gradually coming upon him; for it is said that he seriously contemplated retiring to Hanover, and that liveries were ordered and other preparations made for his departure.
George, however, had other causes for uneasiness. On 6 June 1780 the ‘no popery’ riots reached a serious height, in consequence of the feebleness of the attempts to check them at an earlier stage. All responsible authority seemed paralysed, and the king himself came forward to supply its place. He wrote to North blaming the supineness of the magistrates, and called a special privy council for the next day. At the council it was alleged that the reading of the riot act and other formalities were necessary before the military could be called upon to act. George declared that if there was further hesitation he would lead the guards in person to disperse the rioters. It was ‘black Wednesday,’ and London was almost at the mercy of an infuriate mob. ‘I lament,’ George said, ‘the conduct of the magistrates; but I can answer for one who will do his duty.’ Attorney-general Wedderburn upheld, and had indeed suggested, the king's opinion that soldiers might in cases of necessity act against rioters without the civil power. The council at last agreed, and George promptly sent to the adjutant-general bidding him issue a proclamation that officers were at once to order their men to act. His intrepidity, firmness, and good sense saved London from further havoc. On the 19th his action was declared by Lord Mansfield to have been in strict conformity with the common law. The feeling of the country was now against the administration. This change, though partly due to the failure of the war, must mainly be attributed to the exposure which the opposition made of the enormous and corrupt expenditure of the crown. The majority in the commons which had so long supported the royal policy was broken up, and the fruitless attempt at negotiation with the Rockinghams was followed by an unexpected dissolution. George used every means to influence the result of the general election. He was startled when the bill came in. It amounted to about £50,000 besides some pensions. ‘The sum,’ he wrote, ‘is at least double of what was expended on any other general election since I came to the throne’. He was anxious to get Keppel unseated at Windsor, and to secure the election of the court candidate, and is said to have canvassed in person against the admiral, going into the shop of a silk mercer, one of Keppel's supporters, and saying in his usual hurried way, ‘The queen wants a gown, wants a gown. No Keppel; no Keppel’.
The elections improved the prospects of the administration. They were ruined by the capitulation of Cornwallis on 19 October 1781. George bore the blow with fortitude, though the fact that his reply to Lord George Germain's announcement of the news was not, as usual, dated according to the hour and minute of writing shows that he was much moved. In his speech in opening parliament on 25 November 1781 he spoke of the necessity of ‘most active exertions.’ During the early part of 1782 he was much distressed by the constant decrease of the majority. The separation of the colonies would, he was convinced, ‘annihilate (sic) the European position of the kingdom.’ On 11 March he commissioned Lord-chancellor Thurlow to treat with Rockingham for an administration ‘on a broad bottom;’ but though he was willing to concede the demands for peace and economy, the negotiation failed on the 18th, because he would not pledge himself to accept Rockingham's selection of ministers.
He wished to put Rockingham at the head of an administration partly formed by himself . On the 20th North persuaded him to acknowledge that his administration could not stand any longer, and Thurlow renewed the negotiation with Rockingham. But the king would not consent to a reform of the household, and sent for Shelburne on the 21st, after North's resignation had been announced. Shelburne was bound to Rockingham, and on the 22nd George sent for Lord Gower, who refused his offer. He was then advised by Shelburne to accept Rockingham, and was forced to again bow his head to the yoke. Nevertheless, he refused to see Rockingham personally until after the administration was formed, and by employing Shelburne as an intermediary sowed the seeds of discord among his new ministers. He delivered the seals to Rockingham on 27 March 1782. When North's resignation was imminent, and during the crisis which followed, he again entertained the idea of retiring to Hanover. His humiliation was notorious, and the triumph of the whigs was caricatured in the ‘Captive Prince.’
The new administration included the Chatham section of the whigs under Shelburne as well as the Rockinghams, and the king, with the help of Thurlow, whom Rockingham had consented to retain as chancellor, set himself to weaken it by division. While he withheld his confidence from Rockingham, he gave it freely to Shelburne, and by bringing Dunning into the cabinet, without consulting his first minister, secured the Shelburne party an equal number of votes with the followers of Rockingham. George was annoyed at being forced by Rockingham to recommend the reform of the civil establishment, and would not speak to him on the subject, though he wrote his objections to Shelburne, telling him not to show his letter to any one except Thurlow. Burke's efforts to reduce the expenditure of the crown were followed by some petty and apparently unworthy measures of economy in the king's household arrangements. Rockingham died on 1 July 1782, and his death was followed by a disruption of the whigs, brought about, in part at least, by the king's management. This disruption made so great a change in the balance of power that Fox said that on Rockingham's death ‘the crown devolved on the king.’ Fox recommended the king to send for the Duke of Portland, and on finding that Shelburne was appointed to the treasury, gave up office with other members of the Rockingham party. On 5 December the king, in his speech on opening parliament, announced that he had offered to declare the American colonies free and independent. ‘Did I,’ he afterwards asked, ‘lower my voice when I came to that part of my speech?’.
George seems, like most other people, to have disliked Shelburne, and the minister thought that the king plotted against him. This was probably untrue, but George had by this time given people occasion to suspect him; ‘by familiarity of intercourse he obtained your confidence and availed himself of his knowledge to sow dissension’. He was certainly wholly on Shelburne's side when on 18 February 1783 the combined parties led by Fox and North were in a majority in the commons. Shelburne's resignation on the 24th caused him much annoyance, for he could not endure the idea of falling into the hands of the coalition. The next day he pressed Pitt to take Shelburne's place, but he refused on the 27th. He made proposals in vain to Gower, and then tried to persuade North to leave the coalition, offering him the treasury if he would desert Fox, whom he regarded with vehement personal hatred. His distress of mind was great, and he again thought of retiring to Hanover. At length he yielded to Fox's demand, and sent for the Duke of Portland, but finding that Fox insisted on the dismissal of Thurlow, and that Portland treated him cavalierly, and refused to show him the list of proposed appointments to inferior offices, he broke off the negotiation. William Grenville, who was at this time admitted to his confidence, was impressed by his mental agitation; he spoke with ‘inconceivable quickness.’ On 23 March 1783 he again applied to Pitt. He was indignant at North's desertion; ‘after the manner I have been personally treated by both the Duke of Portland and Lord North,’ he wrote on the 24th, ‘it is impossible that I can ever admit either of them into my service’. But Pitt again refused, and on 2 April the long inter-ministerium ended in George's acceptance of the coalition administration. During this period George constantly resided at Kew from May to November, though he was sometimes at Windsor. He lived in great retirement, going into London on Wednesdays and Fridays to hold levees and talk with his ministers. His chief amusements were hunting and walking; and he occasionally had artists to play or recite before him. His life was quiet and respectable, and his court intensely dull.
The king hated his new ministers, and told Temple that he meant to take the first opportunity of getting rid of them, expressing his ‘personal abhorrence’ of North, who had, he considered, betrayed him. He thwarted them as much as he could, and used to wish that he ‘was eighty, or ninety, or dead.’ The proposal of the ministers to grant the Prince of Wales £100,000 a year greatly angered him, and he would probably have openly quarrelled with them had not Temple advised him not to do so on a private matter. The ill conduct of the prince caused him much uneasiness. Bad as the prince was, his father was not blameless in his treatment of him. George's temper was sullen and unforgiving, and it is probable that his eldest son was not lying when he said that he knew that his father hated him. Fox's India Bill gave the king the opportunity he wanted. Thurlow roused his jealousy by presenting him on 1 December with a paper pointing out the effect which the bill would have on the royal authority. On 11 December, after the bill had passed the commons, he gave Temple a paper stating that ‘whoever voted for the bill was not only not his friend, but would be considered by him as his enemy’. The bill was thrown out by the Lords on 17 December; on the same day the king's action was commented on in the commons, and a resolution was passed declaring that to ‘report any opinion or pretended opinion of his majesty upon any bill’ depending in parliament to influence votes was a ‘high crime and misdemeanor.’ The next day the king dismissed the ministers, and at once sent for Pitt. He took the deepest interest in Pitt's struggle against the hostile majority in the commons, and steadily refused to dismiss his new ministers, or to dissolve parliament before the opposition had lost its majority in the house and its popularity in the country. He prorogued parliament in person on 24 March 1784, with a view to its dissolution the next day.
In one sense Pitt's success, which was completed by the result of the general election, was a victory for the king. George got rid of the ministers whom he hated, he gained a minister who as long as he lived proved himself able to preserve him from again falling into the hands of the whigs, and he found himself more popular than he had been since his accession. But he had, on the other hand, to give up the system of personal government for which he had hitherto struggled. The result of the crisis was a diminution of the direct influence of the crown, and an immense increase in the power of the first minister. For many years George could not have afforded to quarrel with Pitt, for he was his one hope of salvation from Fox whom he hated. The ‘king's friends’ consequently disappeared as a party, most of them becoming supporters of the minister whom he wished to keep in office. George never expressed the same personal affection for Pitt that he had for North, and he did not always like his measures. He disapproved of the Westminster scrutiny and of Pitt's plan for parliamentary reform but refrained from opposing it, and appears to have disliked the proceedings against Warren Hastings, from whom he allowed the queen to accept an ivory bed; the court took its tone on this question from him and the queen, but he did not interfere in the matter. Although on 7 August 1783 he had virtually refused to receive a minister from the United States, he consented to receive John Adams on 1 June 1785. He behaved with dignity during the interview, though he showed that he was affected by it, and assured the minister that as he ‘had been the last to consent to the separation,’ so he ‘would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power’. On 2 August 1786 an attempt was made to stab him at the gate of St. James's by a mad woman named Margaret Nicholson; he behaved with perfect composure.
In the spring of 1788 the king suffered much from bilious attacks, supposed to have been brought on by the worry and fatigue of business, combined with exhaustion produced by the violent exercise which he was in the habit of taking to prevent corpulence. On 12 June he went to Cheltenham to drink the waters, and while there resided at Lord Fauconberg's house, Bays Hill Lodge. He returned to Windsor on 16 August, and on 16 October got wet while walking. The next day he was taken ill, and on the 22nd signs of derangement appeared. However, he got better, and on the 24th held a levee, in order, he said, ‘to stop further lies and any fall of the stocks’. His mind dwelt on the loss of the American colonies. While at Windsor on 5 November he became delirious, and for a while it was thought that his life was in imminent danger. He suffered from intense cerebral irritation, which showed itself in sleeplessness and increasing garrulity. On the 29th he was removed by his physicians to Kew, the removal being effected by deception. On 5 December his physicians stated to the privy council that his disease was not incurable, but that it was impossible to say how long it might last. He was then put under the charge of Dr. Willis. It is said that before this date he was treated with brutality. The stories are probably greatly exaggerated, for they all seem to refer to a period of only five days, during which he was at Kew before Dr. Willis came there. He was, however, subjected to unnecessary restraints which tended to increase his mental irritation. Willis, who declared that his recovery at an early date was certain, changed this system, and soon gained complete control over him. During his illness violent debates took place on the regency question. On 19 February 1789 the chancellor announced that he was convalescent, and on 10 March he resumed his authority. His recovery was hailed with delight, and London was illuminated. He attended a public thanksgiving at St. Paul's on 23 April, but was still suffering from dejection and lassitude on 5 May. The undutiful conduct of the Prince of Wales and Frederick Augustus, duke of York, caused much unhappiness in the royal family.
On 25 June George, by his physicians' advice, left Windsor for Weymouth, where he resided at Gloucester Lodge. He was greeted with acclamations everywhere. In after years he constantly spent either the whole or some weeks of the summer at Weymouth. His life there was very simple. He bathed, yachted, rode, and made excursions, going this year to Lord Morley's at Saltram, 15-27 August, and visiting the ships at Plymouth. On 18 September he returned to Windsor in complete health. On 21 January 1790 an insane man threw a stone at him as he was going in state to open parliament. During the summer, when there was some unusually hot weather, the state of the king's health caused some anxiety to his physicians, who endeavoured to keep him from dozing during the day and brooding over French affairs, and told the queen that she must devote herself entirely to him. A signal proof of his determination to uphold Pitt was given in 1792, when he reluctantly agreed to dismiss Thurlow from the chancellorship, because Pitt found it impossible to work with him.
The proceedings of the ‘Friends of the People’ and other revolutionary societies strengthened the king's feelings against Fox and the parliamentary section which sympathised with the French revolution. The general feeling of the country was with him, and was signified and excited by caricatures, one of which, by Gillray, published in July 1791, and entitled ‘The Hopes of the Party,’ represented the king as brought to the block by Fox and Sheridan, with Priestley assisting at his execution. He was gratified by the declaration of war against France in 1793, and received with ‘infinite pleasure’ the reports of the defeats of motions for peace. On 30 January 1794 he held a review of Lord Howe's fleet at Spithead. He struggled hard to keep his son the Duke of York in command in the Low Countries, but Pitt insisted so strongly on the evils attending a division of command that, though ‘very much hurt,’ he at last agreed to his recall. Lord Fitzwilliam's Irish policy highly displeased him; it was overturning the ‘fabric that the wisdom of our forefathers esteemed necessary;’ the admission of Roman catholics to vote and office would be ‘to adopt measures to prevent which my family was invited to mount the throne in preference to the House of Savoy,’ and the proposal must have been instigated by a ‘desire to humiliate the old friends of the English government,’ or to pay ‘implicit obedience to the heated imagination of Mr. Burke’. He thought that Fitzwilliam should be recalled. He consulted Lord Kenyon and Sir John Scott as to whether it would be consistent with his coronation oath to assent to an Irish Roman catholic relief bill; they answered that his oath did not prevent his doing so, but Lord Loughborough, whom he also consulted, was on the other side, and gave his reasons in writing. The year (1794) was one of scarcity and of much discontent among the lower classes, and as the king proceeded to open parliament on 29 October his carriage was surrounded by a mob shouting ‘Bread!’ ‘Peace!’ and ‘Down with George!’ A missile was shot through the window of his coach, and as he returned stones were thrown; he behaved with great coolness, and the next evening was much cheered on appearing in Covent Garden Theatre. This attack led to the enactment of the Treasonable Attempts Bill. On 1 February 1796 a stone was thrown at his carriage and hit the queen, as they were returning from Drury Lane Theatre. He was strongly opposed to negotiations with France in 1797, and wrote his opinion to Pitt on 9 April; Pitt answered in a decided tone. The next day George sorrowfully acquiesced, and negotiations were opened at Lille. On 19 December he went in state to St. Paul's to give thanks for the victories of Cape St. Vincent and Camperdown. As he was entering his box in Drury Lane Theatre on 15 May 1800, he was shot at by a madman named James Hadfield. He showed great unconcern, and slept as quietly as usual during the interval between the play and the afterpiece.
The homeliness of the king's manners, his lack of dignity in private life, and the minute economy of his domestic arrangements became more conspicuous as he grew older. They were ridiculed in caricatures chiefly by Gillray, and in verse by Dr. Wolcot (Peter Pindar) and others. In 1791 the king is represented in a print as toasting muffins, and in 1792 as applauding the happy thought of the queen, who is instructing her daughters to drink tea without sugar to save ‘poor papa’ expense. He is said while at Weymouth to have had household necessaries sent from Windsor to avoid the high prices of the watering-place, and Peter Pindar describes ‘Great Cæsar’ as handling the soap and candles which came by the mail. In a caricature of 1795 Gillray ridicules his ‘affability,’ or love of gossiping and asking questions, in a print representing him as chattering to a cottager who is carrying food to his pigs. The most famous story of George's eccentric and undignified habits is preserved by Peter Pindar in verse, and by Gillray in a caricature of November 1797, and records how he stopped while hunting at an old woman's cottage and learnt from her how the apple got inside the dumpling. He was, however, decidedly popular, especially with the middle class; the court was not fashionable, and a certain number of the working class were discontented, though the nation was as a whole strongly loyal. The king's virtues and failings alike were such as won the sympathy of average Englishmen of the middle class, and the affliction from which he had lately suffered greatly increased his subjects' affection for him.
George was fully persuaded of the necessity for a legislative union with Ireland, and took much interest in the progress of the scheme. At the same time he did not forget the proposals for Roman catholic relief which had caused him uneasiness in 1795, and saw that it was possible that the Irish union might cause their renewal in one shape or other. ‘I only hope,’ he said to Dundas in the autumn of 1799, ‘that the government is not pledged to anything in favour of the Roman catholics,’ and on Dundas replying that it would be a matter for future consideration, and pointing out that the coronation oath only applied to the sovereign in his ‘executive capacity, and not as part of the legislature,’ he angrily broke in with ‘None of your Scotch metaphysics, Mr. Dundas — none of your Scotch metaphysics’. While he was at Weymouth on 27 September 1800, the chancellor, Loughborough, who happened to be staying with him, showed him a private letter which he had received from Pitt summoning him to a cabinet council on the subject of catholic emancipation, and thus betrayed to him the minister's design before Pitt had thought fit to say anything to him about it. The news caused him great anxiety. He further received letters from Dr. Moore, archbishop of Canterbury, and Dr. Stuart, archbishop of Armagh, condemning the design.
On 13 December he also received a paper from Loughborough, stating the objections to emancipation. Meanwhile no communication took place between the king and his ministers on the subject. At the levee on 28 January 1801, one of the days on which the speaker was swearing-in the members of the new parliament, George asked Dundas what the ministers were ‘going to throw at his head,’ and declared that it was the ‘most Jacobinical thing he ever heard of,’ adding, ‘I shall reckon any man my personal enemy who proposes any such measure’. The next day he wrote to the speaker, Addington, desiring him to ‘open Mr. Pitt's eyes’ as to the danger of the proposal, though he speaks of Pitt's approval of it as not absolutely certain. On 1 February 1801 he received a letter from Pitt, written the night before, which contained the first intimation from his minister as to the course he intended to adopt. In this letter Pitt stated that he should be forced to resign unless the measure could be brought forward with the king's ‘full concurrence, and with the whole weight of government.’ In reply George offered that if Pitt would abstain from bringing forward the measure, he, for his part, would be silent on the subject, adding, ‘further I cannot go, for I cannot sacrifice my duty to any consideration.’ On 5 February 1801 the king sorrowfully accepted his minister's resignation. During the progress of the correspondence he received a letter from Loughborough written with the object of ingratiating himself. George showed Pitt, in a letter written on 18 February, that his esteem for him was unabated. He sent for Addington, who succeeded in forming an administration, but before the new ministers received their seals the worry and excitement of the crisis caused the king another attack of insanity. For some days he dwelt with much agitation on the sacredness of his coronation oath. On the 15th he took a severe cold; on the 22nd his mental alienation was unmistakable, and on the 23rd he was unconscious until evening, when he said, ‘I am better now, but I will remain true to the church’. On 2 March his disease reached a crisis, and from that day he continued to get better. He ordered his physician Willis to write to Pitt on the 6th. ‘Tell him,’ he said, ‘I am now quite well — quite recovered from my illness, but what has he not to answer for who is the cause of my having been ill at all?’ Pitt sent the king an assurance ‘that during his reign he would never agitate the catholic question,’ on which George said, ‘Now my mind will be at ease’.
On 14 March he received Pitt's resignation with many expressions of kindness, and handed the seals to Addington, whom he styled the next day ‘his own chancellor of the exchequer.’ He also gave the great seal to Eldon, from, as he said, ‘my heart’. The excitement of these interviews occasioned a relapse, and he was forced to live for some time in complete seclusion at Kew, under the care of the Willises; he was not sufficiently recovered to be out of their hands until 28 June, when he left for Weymouth. This illness aged him considerably, and it was observed that he stooped more and was less firm on his legs. In the course of the summer he offered to pay £30,000 from the privy purse for the settlement of Pitt's debts; this offer was gratefully declined. A wild plot to overturn the government and assassinate the king was discovered in October 1802.
George did not expect much from the negotiations with France, and spoke of the peace as ‘experimental’. It is doubtful whether he cordially approved of the tone adopted by his ministers towards France, but the rumour that he regretted Pitt in October was an exaggeration; he was personally fond of Addington, whose character and opinions were in many points like his own; though two years later, after Addington had left office, he came to believe that he had parted with him feeling that he ‘was not equal to the government of the country’. Nothing was told him about the negotiations between Pitt and Addington in 1803 until they were ended; then on 20 April Addington informed the king of them, evidently making his own story good, for George was indignant at Pitt's conduct, talked of his ‘putting the crown in commission,’ and said that Pitt ‘carried his plan of removals so extremely far, and so high, that it might reach him’. He attributed the attacks made upon the administration to ‘faction.’ On 13 June he heard of the surrender of Hanover to the French, and received the news ‘with great magnanimity and a real kingliness of mind’. During the alarm of invasion on 26 October he held a review of twenty-seven thousand volunteers in Hyde Park; he declared that if the French landed he would meet them at the head of his troops, and drew up a scheme of arrangements to be adopted in case of invasion. About the middle of January 1804 he caught a severe cold; he had been much annoyed by the conduct of the Prince of Wales in publishing the correspondence of 1803 on the subject of his offer to serve in the army, and this may have made his attack more serious; at all events his mind became again deranged, and for a while his life was in danger.
The disease fluctuated a good deal; on 27 February he was sensible, but perfect quiet was necessary for some time longer. His condition prolonged the existence of the administration; the opposition could not let matters continue as they were, and yet a change seemed impossible while he remained incompetent. On 26 April Addington came to him in company with Eldon, the chancellor, and announced that he must resign. The next day Eldon gave him a letter which Pitt had written a few days before, stating his political views; it appears to have been received graciously. On 2 May, Addington having resigned, Eldon, in whom the king placed perfect confidence, gave him another letter from Pitt offering to form an administration on a broad basis. To this the king returned an irritable reply, which he evidently hoped would put an end to Pitt's offer. Eldon, however, arranged matters, and on 7 May the king saw Pitt; he assented to the inclusion of the Grenvilles in the new administration, but refused to allow him to invite Fox to join it. George is said to have considered the proposal of Fox's name as merely ‘ostensible’, but he expressed his determination in strong terms to Addington, and later declared that he would not admit Fox ‘even at the hazard of a civil war’. During the change of ministers he was occasionally excitable, and showed an excessive love of talking. In May, though collected when talking of business, he was flighty in private life, was harsh and irritable, made sudden changes in the household, and caused the queen much distress. The slowness of his recovery is said to have been due to the employment of another physician in place of the Willises, against whom he had strong feelings. Discussions about the Prince of Wales seem to have added to the discomfort at the palace, for the queen was anxious on her son's behalf, while the king declared that he ‘could never forgive him’ for publishing his letters. Somewhat ungraciously he consented to give his son an interview, but the prince failed to keep his appointment. Meanwhile the king had determined to support Pitt and was displeased when Addington opposed a government measure. He set out for Weymouth on 24 August 1804, and while there regained his health. On his return he stayed at Mr. Rose's house, Cuffnells, in Hampshire, 29 October to 2 November. He told his host that he had nearly lost the sight of his right eye, and could scarcely read a newspaper by candle-light with any spectacles. Family disputes troubled him, and he and the queen, who feared an outbreak of madness, lived entirely apart. During the autumn he took much interest in arrangements for the education of his granddaughter, Princess Charlotte, but was annoyed by the manner in which the prince treated him with reference to the matter. The reconciliation between Pitt and Addington delighted him. Addington's approaching return to office enabled George to renew his intercourse with him, and on 29 December he was invited to share the king's dinner, which consisted of mutton chops and pudding.
The king's health improved during the early part of 1805, though for a time he still showed some signs of flightiness, insisting on ‘wearing a flowing brigadier wig on state occasions’. His speech at the opening of the session was the last which he delivered in parliament, and was printed before it was delivered to enable him to read it with more ease. By July he had become almost entirely blind; he had a cataract in his right eye, and could see but little with his left. Although he got on well with Pitt, he still liked to have his own way, especially with regard to church appointments. He had laid great stress on his ‘personal nomination’ of Dr. Stuart to the archbishopric of Armagh in 1800. He knew that Pitt intended to recommend Bishop Tomline for the archbishopric of Canterbury, which was likely to become vacant during the year (1805). As soon, therefore, as the king heard of the archbishop's death, he walked from the castle to the deanery at Windsor, called the dean, Manners Sutton, out from dinner, and congratulated him as archbishop. When Pitt came with his recommendation, George insisted on his acquiescing in his nomination; the interview was stormy, but he carried his point. In July, after the secession of Sidmouth (Addington), Pitt tried to induce the king to consent to an invitation to Fox to join the ministry, but he refused. Pitt followed him to Weymouth in September and again pressed his request in a long interview, and only desisted through fear of disturbing his mind. He was much affected by Pitt's death on 23 January 1806, and could not see his ministers for two days.
He then sent for Lord Hawkesbury (Jenkinson), who declined attempting to form an administration. By the advice of his ministers he sent for Lord Grenville on the 26th, and when Grenville said that he must consult Fox, answered, ‘I thought so and meant it so;’ he would have no ‘exclusions’. The only difficulty arose from his wish that the army should be under the direct control of the crown, while the incoming ministers contended that the control should belong to a ministerial department. It was settled by their promise that they would introduce no changes in the army without his approval. He received Fox graciously, expressing a wish to forget ‘old grievances,’ and when Fox died on 13 September, said that the country could ill afford to lose him, and that he little thought that he should ever live to regret his death Grenville's proposals as to the changes of office consequent on Fox's death were accepted by the king with satisfaction. His sight grew worse, and at the beginning of 1807 it was remarked that he was becoming apathetic, and only wished to ‘pass the remainder of his days in rest and quiet’.
He was roused on 9 February 1807 by the proposal of his ministers to introduce a clause in the Mutiny Bill removing a restriction on Roman catholics, and at once expressed his strong dissent. A further communication from the cabinet led him to imagine that the proposal did not go beyond the Irish act of 1793; he therefore, on 12 February, promised his assent, declaring that he could not go one step further. On finding on 3 March that he was mistaken as to the scope of the act, which would have admitted English Roman catholics to hold commissions in the army and navy, without the restrictions of the Irish act, he was much disturbed, and on 11 March declared that he was surprised at the extent of the proposal which Lord Howick then laid before him, informing Lords Grey and Howick that he would not go beyond the act of 1793. On the 15th he received a note from the cabinet agreeing to drop the bill, but adding that, in view of the present state of Ireland, they should feel at liberty to propose ‘from time to time’ such measures respecting that country ‘as the nature of the circumstances shall appear to require.’ In answer he wrote requiring a ‘positive assurance from them that they would never again propose to him any concessions to catholics.’ He was informed on 18 March that his ministers considered that it would be inconsistent with their duty as his ‘sworn counsellors’ to give him such an assurance. The king then said that it was impossible for him to keep his ministers; that between dismissing them and ‘forfeiting his crown he saw no medium,’ and he accepted their resignation. He had on 13 March received a letter from the Duke of Portland advising him to refuse his assent to the bill, and offering to form an administration. On 19 March 1807 he commissioned Eldon and Hawkesbury to request the duke to do so, remarking that he had no restrictions, no engagements or promises to require of him. During this interview he was calm and cheerful. A resolution condemning the acceptance by ministers of pledges which should bind them as regards offering advice to the crown was moved in both houses; it conveyed a distinct censure on the king's conduct; in the Lords it was supported by 90 against 171, and in the commons by 226 against 258.
During 1808 the king, who was now quite incapacitated from reading or writing, led a quiet and cheerful life. He was much distressed by the scandal about the Duke of York in 1809. The conduct of the Prince of Wales with reference to this affair added much to his trouble. He supported his ministers, who were quarrelling among themselves, and his influence is said to have enabled them to retain office. Early in June (1808) he sanctioned Canning's proposal that Lord Wellesley should be substituted for Lord Castlereagh as war minister, but in September, when Portland's resignation was imminent, he by no means approved of Canning's pretensions to the position of first minister, and was in a perfect agony of mind lest he should be forced to admit Grenville and Grey to office. He wrote a dignified paper to the cabinet on the impropriety of the duel between Canning and Castlereagh. Having offered Perceval the headship of the administration, which was now disorganised by the retirement of the two secretaries as well as of Portland, he with much reluctance allowed Perceval on 22 June to make overtures to Grenville and Grey for the purpose of forming an extended administration. He was much relieved by their refusal. At Perceval's request he exacted no pledge on the catholic question from his new ministers, though he assured them that he ‘would rather abandon his throne’ than ‘consent to emancipation.’ On 25 October the jubilee of the reign was kept with great rejoicings. For some months after this George, who was then blind, lived in seclusion; he still rode out, and walked on the terrace of Windsor Castle accompanied by his daughters. His temper was gentle and his manner quiet; he attended daily morning service at chapel. In the autumn of 1810 he was much distressed by the illness of his favourite daughter Amelia. On 24 October he showed signs of approaching derangement of mind, and on the 29th Perceval found him incapable of transacting business. His malady continuing, the Regency Bill was passed in January 1811, but on 5 February Eldon, who went to see him in order to ascertain that it was necessary to put the great seal in commission for the purpose of giving the royal assent to the bill, found him so much better that he was embarrassed. The king spoke of the regency with resignation, and almost with cheerfulness. The bill gave the care of the king's person to the queen. On 21 May 1811 he was able to ride through the Little Park at Windsor, a groom leading his horse. Soon after this, however, he became wors and the remainder of his life was spent in mental and visual darkness, with very few momentary returns of reason. His bodily health was good. On the death of the queen in 1818 the guardianship of his person was entrusted by parliament to the Duke of York. Early in January 1820 his bodily powers decayed, and on the 29th he died very quietly in his eighty-second year, six days after the death of his fourth son, Edward, duke of Kent. After lying in state on 15 February he was buried on the night of the 16th in St. George's Chapel, Windsor.
He had fifteen children by his queen, Charlotte — nine sons (the first christian name only is given in each case): George, who succeeded him (1762-1830); Frederick, duke of York (1763-1827); William, duke of Clarence, afterwards William IV (1765-1837); Edward, duke of Kent (1767-1820); Ernest, duke of Cumberland and king of Hanover (1771-1851); Augustus, duke of Sussex (1773-1843); Adolphus, duke of Cambridge (1774-1850); Octavius (1779-1783); and Alfred (1780-1782); and six daughters: Charlotte, queen of Würtemberg (1766-1828); Augusta (1768-1840); Elizabeth, princess of Hesse-Homburg (1770-1840); Mary, duchess of Gloucester (1776-1857); Sophia (1777-1848); and Amelia (1783-1810).
|Meet the web creator
These materials may be freely used for
non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances
and distribution to students.
Last modified 12 January, 2016
|American Affairs 1760-83
|The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815
|Irish Affairs 1760-89
|Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel
|Primary sources index
|British Political Personalities
|British Foreign policy 1815-65