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Reign of George III


Character of George III. - Traits of it omitted by all former Historians His Marriage with Hannah Lightfoot, the Quakeress - Lord Bute becomes the King's Right-hand Man - Sworn of the Privy Council- Cabals at Court - New Prayer of the Liturgy - Funeral of George II. - Opening of Parliament - King's Popularity - Plans of Newcastle, Bubb Dodington, and Bute - Retirement of Onslow - Change of Administration - King's Marriage announced - Character of Queen Charlotte - Her Arrival - The Coronation - Campaign in Silesia - Schweidnitz taken by the Austrians - Colberg by the Russians - Frederick on the brink of Ruin - The Princes of Brunswick - Victory of the Allies at Kirch-Denkern - Projected Congress at Augsburg - Negotiations for Peace - English take Belleisle - Spain allies herself with France - The Family Compact - Pitt recommends War with Spain - He resigns with Lord Temple.
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The opening of the reign of George III. is the opening of the most eventful period of all human history. During this long reign two most momentous wars were waged and finished, the one essentially leading to the other: the first inaugurating the erection of colonies into great and independent nations; the second, originating in a people stung to desperation by the oppressions of their government, throwing off royalty, and proclaiming republicanism. The American war of independence against this, the mother country, and the French war of independence against their government, were both the result of despotisms and oppressions, and became eternal lessons to dynasties - warnings and landmarks, by their good and their evil, to all after ages; facts never more to be forgotten by the nations, however they may occasionally be by their rulers; facts yet operating, and destined inevitably to operate, till all governments become wise, or perish in their unwisdom. Such were the grand events of the period we are now entering upon - scenes of convulsions and of struggles, in their violence, their extent, their intensity, and their consequences, unparalleled in the history, and unequalled in the impressions left by them on the fortunes of mankind.

George III., at the time of the sudden death of his grandfather, was in his twenty-second year. He was of a tall and well-built figure, with a countenance good-natured but not handsome, and a head which, had phrenologists then existed, might have warned them, by its receding front, and consequent absence of the higher and more intellectual faculties, by a tolerable share of conscientiousness, a larger portion of veneration, vastly overbalanced by obstinacy and combativeness, of those dangers which lay in the way of such a monarch, and which were destined to shake from his crown its noblest jewel, to lop the broadest regions from his empire, and to engage him in the most frightful war against the liberties of the continent - against people struggling to free themselves from their old, decrepit, and tyrannical rulers, at a cost to his own subjects of the most unheard-of bloodshed and expense. Such were the terrors and huge calamities lurking in the narrow and retreating brain of that monarch celebrated for his piety and paternal goodness, for his morality and habits of domestic peace.

George III., yet unaware of being George III., but only imagining himself prince of Wales, with the loss of America and the French revolution still lying as embryos in the equally unimagined future, was pleasantly riding near Kew with his mother's favourite and his own, lord Bute, when a groom rode hastily up to inform him of the sudden death of the late king. George, with the coolness habitual to him, even at that age, immediately commanded the groom to inform no one that he had communicated this news to him - if necessary, to deny that he had seen him. His first action was to compel his messenger to perpetrate a piece of state policy, in common life styled a falsehood; his second, to hasten back and secure his grandfather's money. William Pitt met him and his inseparable companion, lord Bute, hurrying back to Kew to give the necessary orders for this and other purposes. The news was confirm^. by Pitt, who hailed George III. by Iiis new title. That day and the following night were spent in secret arrangements, and the next morning George presented himself before his mother, the princess-dowager, at Carlton House, where he met his council, and was then formally proclaimed. This was on the 26th of October, 1760.

The conduct of the young king, considering his shyness and the defects of his education, was, during the first days of his sudden elevation, calm, courteous, affable, and unembarrassed. "He behaved throughout," says Horace Walpole, "with the greatest propriety, dignity, and decency." He dismissed his guards to attend on the body of his grandfather. But it was soon seen that there would be great changes in his government. Pitt waited on him with the ketch of an address to his council; but the king informed him that this had been thought of, and an address already prepared. This was sufficient for Pitt; he had long been satisfied that the favourite of mother and son, the groom öf the stole, and the inseparable companion, Bute, would, on the accession of George, mount into the premiership. It is the curse of nations that princes of narrow heads and inferior capacities will, as a matter of course, choose inferior ministers. Pitt was the only man of great and commanding capacity amongst those who surrounded the throne; a man who had wrested, by persevering talent, the management of the nation from the feeble aristocratic hands which had reduced its fortunes and its fame to the lowest condition, and crowned them both with glory and power; had humiliated all its enemies, and extended, at their cost, our empire beyond all its former limits. What a mighty difference betwixt the national disgrace and debility in 1756, and the national vigour and prestige in 1760! But it was not within the intellectual range of George III. to perceive this glory and its causes, and he soon put aside the saviour and exalter of the nation, and chose men of his own calibre, and continued to choose such, till they had lost us even more than Pitt had won us - had lost us America, and our honour with it.

Lord Mahon has taken much pains to convince us that George III. was by no means deficient in intellect. Certainly, he had no lack of a certain homely kind of sense and shrewdness, such as made him a very good farmer, and afraid to lose a single sheep; but that is not the quality of mind in question. George was, and could not fail to be, from the unfortunate shape of his head, destitute of all those kingly properties of mina which are necessary in difficult crises to preserve nations, to say nothing of augmenting them. He lacked that grasp of intellect which takes in the whole horizon of causes and contingencies, and that sympathy with greatness which leads it to choose great instruments, and associate with master minds. To use the words of our greatest living poet, his mind "declined upon a lower range" of minds, and to them he trusted the fate of his empire without a suspicion that they were incapable of directing it. The same historian says that his peculiarity of manner, his "What, whats?" and "Hey, heys!" which even his worshipper, Madame D'Arblay, has handed down to our notice, and which Walcot so continually played upon, gave him an appearance of shallowness that was greater than it was just. But the tests of the mind of George III. are, that he lost a magnificent country by not having sense to retain its affections, and nearly ruined this country in endeavouring to prop up the worst and most imbecile governments abroad, Much of this may be attributed to his narrow education operating on his limited capacity; but the obstinacy which resisted wise advice and the plainest signs of the times, still more.

On the morning of Monday, the 28th, his brother, Edward, duke of York, and lord Bute were sworn members of the privy council. It was seen at once that Bute was to be the lord of the ascendant, and the observant courtiers paid an instant homage to the man through whom all good things were to flow. The king declared himself, however, highly satisfied with his present cabinet, and announced that he wished no changes. A handbill soon appeared on the walls of the Royal Exchange expressing the public apprehensions: "No petticoat government - no Scotch favourite - no lord George Sackville!" Bute had always championed lord George, who was so bold in society and so backward in the field; and the public now imagined that they would have a governing clique of the king's mother, her favourite, Bute, and his favourite, lord George.

The duke of Newcastle professed to be so disconsolate for the loss of the late king, that he gave out that he meant to retire from court and the world; but, at the same time, he meant nothing less, though now sixty-six years of age, and he not only consented to remain at the head of the treasury, but paid most fulsome and abject court to Bute, hoping, he said, to see him at the head of the government, and feeling proud not only to serve with him, but under him. Whereupon a witty lady observed, "That the only question was, whether the king's chamber should be warmed with Scotch coal, Newcastle coal, or Pitt coal?"

On the 31st of October George highly gratified the serious part of the nation by issuing a proclamation " For the encouragement of piety and virtue, and for preventing and punishing vice, profaneness, and immorality;" and though his example in some of these respects had not been quite so immaculate as historians represent, his after life certainly gave force to his orders, and the conduct of both himself and his queen produced the greatest change in the social aspect of the nation. They were the unswerving maintainers of morality and decorum, though they had not the good fortune to secure these qualities in their sons. Lady Yarmouth, the late king's mistress, having now disappeared from court, the archbishop of Canterbury, whose face had rarely been seen there, now became a frequent attendant. Other immediate acts of his majesty were not so much admired. He struck out of the liturgy the names of his uncle, the duke of Cumberland, who certainly had great need of prayer on his behalf, and his aunt, the princess Amelia. This was excused, however, on the ground that they must have been put down below the duke of York; and they were, therefore, considerately merged into the mass of "all the Royal Family." The rangership of Windsor Park was next taken from the princess Amelia and conferred on Bute; but then it was said that she was, in reality, glad to give it up, having made herself unpopular by endeavouring to stop up one of the roads across the park. The privation, at all events, did not want a plausible reason.

The next occurrence occasioned equally disagreeable surmises. The late king had left behind him a sum of from three to four hundred thousand pounds, and after leaving to the countess of Yarmouth a cabinet containing ten thousand pounds, he had made the duke of Cumberland and his daughters, Amelia and Mary, heirs to the remainder; but this balance had mysteriously become reduced to about ninety thousand pounds, which, after the payment of ten thousand pounds to lady Yarmouth, was divided betwixt Cumberland and the princesses, and of the rest of the money nothing more ever was heard. It was openly asserted at the time that George had made good use of his secret return to the palace, as regarded this sum, and though his admirers warmly defended him from the charge, no denial was ever made by the king, and the fact of his afterwards appropriating the whole of the proceeds of the duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster during the minority of his son, the prince of Wales, whose patrimony it was, only too completely seemed to give some colour to the charge of his' seizure of his uncle and aunts' legacy.

On the 11th of November the remains of George II. were deposited in Westminster Abbey with the usual regal ceremony. According to Horace Walpole, the scene was at once melancholy and ludicrous. The duke of Cumberland, now a mere bloated ruin from excess, his face distorted by the effects of a paralytic stroke, stood looking gloomily into the vault, so soon, to a certainty, to receive his own corpse; and the duke of Newcastle, first flinging himself into one of the stalls in the chapel, and making an uproarious display of grief, and then running about with his glass to spy who were at the funeral, "spying with one hand, and mopping his eyes with the other," was the object of universal attention.

Parliament, which had been prorogued for a few days on account of the demise of the king, assembled on the 18th of November. The attendance was crowded, and the king was received with the most enthusiastic acclamations. He delivered a speech, composed by lord Hardwicke, and revised by Pitt, and containing a passage, said to be inserted by himself, as follows: - "Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Briton!" This word he is said to have written "Englishman," but that lord Bute altered it to "Briton;" which, if true, was one of the most sensible things he ever did; for though the term was criticised by those who were averse to the Scots, it was worthy of the king of Great Britain to make no distinctions, but to assume the broadest appellation. The sentence then continued: - "And the peculiar happiness of my life will ever consist in promoting the welfare of a people, whose loyalty and warm attachment to me I consider the greatest and most permanent security of my throne." In the addresses these words produced the most enthusiastic responses. "What a lustre," exclaimed the lords, "doth it cast upon the name of Briton, when you, sir, are pleased to esteem it amongst your glories!" The commons accepted "with the liveliest sentiments of duty, gratitude, and exultation of mind, those most affecting and animating words." For the rest, the speech expressed the royal determination to prosecute the war with all vigour; praised the magnanimity and perseverance of his good brother, the king of Prussia; and recommended unanimity of action and opinion in parliament. Nothing could appear more unanimous or more liberal than parliament. It voted another subsidy to Prussia of six hundred and seventy thousand pounds; fixed the civil list for the reign at eight hundred thousand pounds; and granted the hitherto unexampled supplies of nearly twenty millions. All parties and shades of opinion seemed obliterated. Tories and Jacobites flocked again to court, and, through the influence of Bute, many of them received posts in the new household.

But the smoothness was only on the surface - beneath were working the strongest political animosities and the most selfish desires. The little knot of aristocratic families which had so long monopolised all the sweets of office, now saw with indignation tribes of aspirants crowding in for a share of the good things. The aspirants crowded the antechamber of Bute, the angry and disappointed resorted to Newcastle, who was in a continual state of agitation by seeing appointments made to new men without his knowledge; members rushing in to offer their support to government at the next election, who had hitherto stood aloof, and were now received and encouraged. Yet, whilst he fumed at the patronage exercised by Bute, he paid the most submissive court to him, and secretly joined in the cabal to get rid of the only real man in the ministry, Pitt, at the same time that he congratulated that great statesman on the disappearance of dissensions.

Meantime, Bute was sedulously at work to clear the way for his own assumption, not merely of office, but of the whole power of the government. He acted as already the only medium of communication with the king, and the depository of his secrets. He opened his views cautiously to Bubb Dodington, who was a confidant of the Lichfield House party, and still hungering after a title. Dodington advised him to induce lord Holderness to resign, and take his place, which, at first, Bute affected to disapprove of, but eventually acted upon. The first object was to get rid of Pitt, who, by his talents and haughty independence of manner, was not more acceptable to the king and his counsellor, Bute, than by his policy, which they desired to abandon. Pamphlets were therefore assiduously put out, endeavouring to represent Pitt as insatiable for war, and war as having been already too burthensome to the nation. Pitt was too clear-sighted not to perceive that the favourite would assuredly take the helm, and that a peace policy would be adopted, if it were only to throw a discredit on what he had done. Mediocrity hates the greatness that it can never approach. Pitt, however, gave no symptoms of resigning, and Bute and his friends became greatly jealous lest he should himself propose pacific measures, and thus forestall them in their grand manoeuvre; for it was not peace for its own sake which actuated these little souls, but peace merely as a means to their own elevation. Bute communicated these miserable fears to Dodington, but he soon discovered that Pitt was as firm as ever in his old policy, and he came exultingly to his friend Bubb, exclaiming, "Pitt has no thought of abandoning the continent; he is madder than ever I" The plans of Bute and his party were therefore matured against the dissolution of parliament, which was to take place in the following March. There was some dissatisfaction expressed by the public against the present ministers, on account of an additional duty of three shillings a barrel laid on ale and beer, which told very well for a change, and the king was made sensible of the popular discontent by the cries of the multitude as he went in state to the theatres.

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