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The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III

by Andrew Roberts

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323479,581 (3.83)1
"The last king of America, George III, has been ridiculed as a complete disaster who frittered away the colonies and went mad in his old age. The truth is much more nuanced and fascinating--and will completely change the way readers and historians view his reign and legacy. Most Americans dismiss George III as a buffoon--a heartless and terrible monarch with few, if any, redeeming qualities. The best-known modern interpretation of him is Jonathan Groff's preening, spitting, and pompous take in Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway masterpiece. But this deeply unflattering characterization is rooted in the prejudiced and brilliantly persuasive opinions of eighteenth-century revolutionaries like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, who needed to make the king appear evil in order to achieve their own political aims. After combing through hundreds of thousands of pages of never-before-published correspondence, award-winning historian Andrew Roberts has uncovered the truth: George III was in fact a wise, humane, and even enlightened monarch who was beset by talented enemies, debilitating mental illness, incompetent ministers, and disastrous luck. In The Last King of America, Roberts paints a deft and nuanced portrait of the much-maligned monarch and outlines his accomplishments, which have been almost universally forgotten. Two hundred and forty-five years after the end of George III's American rule, it is time for Americans to look back on their last king with greater understanding: to see him as he was and to come to terms with the last time they were ruled by a monarch"--… (more)
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Timely-take aways for life-long learners: Revolutionary Period Perspectives
Whether exploring individuals, groups, or events, several new works of nonfiction share different perspectives and innovative thinking about the Revolutionary War period.

Liberty is Sweet: The Hidden History of the American Revolution
Woody Holton, 2021, Simon & Schuster
Themes: History, United States history, Revolutionary period
LIBERTY IS SWEET examines the essential, yet lesser-known roles of women, enslaved African Americans, Native Americans, and others in the fight for liberty.
Take-aways: Many educators are rebuilding their history curriculum with an emphasis on the roles of marginalized Americans. Use Holton’s many examples to revisit this period.

The Last King of America
Andrew Roberts, 2021, Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House
Themes: History, Biography, Revolutionary period
THE LAST KING OF AMERICA is a well-researched biography providing depth and detail to our understanding of George III, his monarchy, and the American Revolution.
Take-aways: Update the curriculum by shifting the traditional caricature of King George III to a multiple-dimensional leader facing both political and personal challenges.

Our First Civil War: Patriots and Loyalists in the American Revolution
H.W. Brands, 2021, Anchor, an imprint of Penguin Random House
Themes: History, United States history, Revolutionary period
OUR FIRST CIVIL WAR describes the challenges faced by individuals, families, and communities forced to choose sides in a violent revolution.
Take-aways: Use Brand’s approach to rethink how the various sides of the conflict are presented to students. Encourage discussions about family and friendship in war.

Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781

John Ferling, 2021, Bloomsbury Publishing, an imprint of Macmillan
Themes: History, United States history, Revolutionary period
WINNING INDEPENDENCE explores Britain’s mid-war pivot, France’s involvement, and other key events that culminated in the American independence.
Take-aways: The curriculum often fast-forwards through the second half of the war. Use Ferling’s book to add depth and detail to this period.

The Howe Dynasty: The Untold Story of a Military Family and the Women Behind Britain’s Wars for America
Julie Flavell, 2021, Liveright, an imprint of W. W. Norton
Themes: History, European history, Great Britain, Georgian era
THE HOWE DYNASTY uses engaging nonfiction narrative to re-examine the roles of both the men and women of this influential, 18th century British family.
Take-aways: Expand the curriculum to include more detail about the British perspective leading up to the Revolutionary period through the eyes of a British family.

Liberty: Don Troiani’s Paintings of the Revolutionary War
Don Troiani, 2021, Stackpole Books/National Book Network
Themes: History, United States history, Revolutionary period
LIBERTY examines the works of Don Troiani at the Museum of the American Revolution. Known for both artistry and accuracy, these paintings reflect pivotal events in the Revolutionary Period.
Take-aways: Use Troiani’s works and artifacts to jumpstart lessons focusing on specific people, places, and events central to the period.

Whether helping educators keep up-to-date in their subject-areas, promoting student reading in the content-areas, or simply encouraging nonfiction leisure reading, teacher librarians need to be aware of the best new titles across the curriculum and how to activate life-long learning. - Annette Lamb ( )
  eduscapes | Oct 1, 2022 |
A very readable, though a bit dense at times (especially around the various Parliamentary maneuvers between the Whigs and Tories), account of a very misunderstood man. He comes off as a very modern gentlemen, thinking about what is best for his country and not all about himself. George IV, on the other-hand...let's just say the portrayal of him in the third Black Adder series is probably pretty accurate. ( )
  hhornblower | Jul 2, 2022 |
Roberts persuasively makes the case that George III is misunderstood, at least in pop history. I did appreciate this detailed biography, but to me the book was more of a commitment than the subject was worth.

> The Royal Marriages Act effectively meant that British royals could really only marry German royals, a law that forced the Prince of Wales into an unhappy marriage and others of George’s children and siblings into unmarried relationships. Three of George III’s daughters remained unmarried for want of appropriate matches: at Windsor they sometimes headed their letters ‘The Nunnery’. It was a sad effect of the Act, and of the King’s desire that his family should not marry non-royals, that only one of George’s fifteen children – Charlotte, Queen of Württemberg – enjoyed a marriage that was both happy and legal.

> One historian has even gone so far as to suggest that without the King’s ‘admirable wish to fight jobbery in the army … Great Britain might have won the American war’. An early and heavy investment of the colonies with large numbers of British troops, it is argued, might have disheartened the Americans and, almost as importantly, headed off their alliance with the French that ultimately proved so fatal to British hopes of victory.

> an over-devolving of competencies between ministries was rife for the first two years of the struggle. Until 1777, for example, the responsibility for transporting men and their supplies across the Atlantic was divided between the Ordnance Board (responsible for artillery, engineers, guns and gunpowder), the Navy Board (men, horses, uniforms, tents, medicine and camp equipment) and the Victualling Board (food), the Treasury being responsible for all other supplies

> ‘He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us,’ claimed charge number twenty-seven, ‘and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.’ This was a reference to Lord Dunmore’s offer of freedom and weapons to those African-American slaves in Virginia who joined the British forces, as well as the treaties made with Britain’s long-standing Native American allies. Lind and others did not fail to point out the inherent contradiction of complaining about freeing slaves in a document that starts with high-sounding remarks about all men being created equal

> It was true that the French decision was opportunistic, but in many respects it was a masterstroke, dividing France’s ancestral enemy from her potentially vast empire in the west. Yet Turgot was also correct, and the enormous costs of fighting the new global struggle would break the French Treasury, eventually leading to the calling of the Estates-General, the representative assembly of the nation, for the first time since 1614. It was their subsequent refusal to disband in May 1789 that led to the French Revolution two months later, and thus subsequently to Louis XVI’s decapitation. Rarely in history has opportunism been punished so condignly

> The King uncharitably suspected Richmond and Keppel’s group of wanting ‘to fight the peace all over again, and to form fresh cabals … I think peace every way necessary to this country, and that I shall not think it complete if we do not get rid of Gibraltar.’ He had entirely missed the crucial strategic advantage that the Rock offered, and was to afford the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Wars – indeed future ones also – of controlling entry and egress between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. To modern strategists the idea that Britain might have given up Gibraltar in exchange for St Lucia and Guadeloupe is staggering

> Even if in origin the King’s nickname of ‘Farmer George’ was meant pejoratively, it served only to increase his popularity in a country that, though on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, was still overwhelmingly rural. … His reign coincided with what has been described as a period of ‘agricultural enlightenment’, in which increased knowledge led to an unprecedented increase in production, in a country that was quickly industrializing by 1780. In 1787 George contributed a long article on crop rotation – under the pseudonym Ralph Robinson, the name of one of his shepherds at Windsor – to the leading agricultural journal of the day, Arthur Young’s Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts.

> he ran his farms as serious commercial enterprises, and at a respectable profit. He took hundreds of pages of handwritten notes on every conceivable subject regarding agriculture, and with a particular interest in varieties of cabbage, then a staple crop. While Marie Antoinette and her friends were dressing up as shepherdesses on her pretend farm in the Trianon gardens at Versailles, therefore, ‘Farmer George’ was writing about cabbages, crop rotation and manure, introducing new strains of sheep into England and pioneering modern practices that might increase the supplies of food that were all that stood between the peasantry and penury. In a still largely rural country, his keen interest in the way that the majority of people made their living was another reason for his widespread popularity.

> He conferred with the Prince of Wales, who was already introducing friends into the King’s bedroom to amuse them and so that the accounts of his father’s lunacy were widely confirmed in high society. ‘Think of the Prince of Wales introducing Lord Lothian into the King’s room when it was darkened,’ William Grenville told his brother George Grenville, Marquess of Buckingham, in a coded letter, ‘in order that he might hear his ravings at the time that they were at the worst.’ He added that ‘no pains are spared to circulate all sorts of lies, in order to depress people’s spirits,’

> The day after the King’s death, the Royal Navy officer Edward Bransfield claimed Antarctica in his name, making George the only person to have had not one (Australia) but two continents so claimed, far more of the earth’s surface than anyone else in history, as well as (initially at least) the planet we now know of as Uranus. Despite its humiliation in America, as George’s reign closed the British Empire was the largest in the history of the world.

> The Whig leaders of the 1760s and 1770s tended to be the sons and grandsons of the grandees who had put William and Mary on to James II’s throne in 1688, political dynasties who felt a natural entitlement to rule Britain even a century later. The Whigs despised George in part because he made the Tory party respectable again. Having ingested the Tory concept of the Patriot King from his father and Lord Bolingbroke, the King appointed Tories into the government and the royal household for the first time since the first Jacobite rebellion of 1715, supported their foreign policy (one that was sceptical of Continental and Hanoverian commitments), invited them to his Levees and Drawing Rooms, and awarded them knighthoods and peerages. By the 1790s, although politicians such as William Pitt the Younger and the Duke of Portland still nominally styled themselves as Whigs, they were in fact indistinguishable from Tories, and were thoroughly separated politically from true Whigs and radicals such as Charles Fox

> The cry of ‘No taxation without representation’ was essentially meaningless as a revolutionary slogan, ever since on 19 October 1765 the Stamp Act Congress had passed its fourth resolution, ‘That the people of these colonies are not, and from their local circumstances cannot be, represented in the House of Commons in Great Britain’, wording close to what South Carolina’s Assembly had voted in September 1764. By rejecting the idea of representation – which Britain was later willing to offer, even to the point of reserving American seats in the House of Commons – all that the Stamp Act Congress really wanted to assert was that there should be no taxation by Westminster at all, under any circumstances.

> though they wanted independence and their own sovereignty, the colonies did not break away so that they could instate an essentially different balance within their constitutional framework. The Americans’ decision under Article Two of the United States Constitution to invest the president with powers almost identical to those of the British monarch can be regarded as an unintended homage to the political system they were ostensibly rejecting. In Common Sense, Tom Paine had promised Americans that they would have the ‘power to begin the world over again’, but instead of a grand social revolution they undertook a conservative political one, investing their head of state with the power to appoint judges, issue pardons for federal offenses, sign legislation into law or veto it, serve as Commander-in-Chief, commission army officers, convene the legislature in special sessions, receive ambassadors, ensure that the laws are faithfully executed, and appoint Supreme Court justices and Cabinet officials (albeit with Senate confirmation), all just like the British monarch. Even when they overthrew monarchy for ever, Americans rejected Paine’s ideas of radical democracy and instead retained governors in state constitutions.

> Washington, Jefferson and their colleagues were at best enabling of slavery. George, by contrast, was the monarch who in his essays in the 1750s recognized its evil, and – although he did not actively advocate abolition himself or recognize that Christianity imposed a moral duty to oppose the system altogether – he never owned or traded slaves and he gave royal assent to the Act of Parliament that abolished the slave trade in 1807.

> Although Russia, Austria, Prussia and Sweden filled their armies’ ranks through conscription, no one in Britain, including the King, so much as considered endangering British liberties by relying on it. Conscription was not even introduced to counter the much more existential threat posed by Napoleon twenty years later. Continental tyrannies could call up legions of men by government fiat, but not the limited monarchy of George III. Even the ‘embodiment’ (mobilization) of British militia units to take over roles in Britain and free up regular army units for service in America was not undertaken until 1778. Neither was the Treasury willing or ready until then to devote the huge expenditure necessary for total war, as it had been against foreign foes in the Seven Years War. Here is a third irony – had King George III been the ruthless despot he was made out to be by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, Britain would have had a much better chance of winning the war. If the British generals had been willing to cause social chaos in the South by arming the slaves, or to wreak havoc in the West by arming a Native American alliance, or to raze Boston and Philadelphia in the way that Admiral Cochrane was to raze Washington, DC, in 1814, or to treat American prisoners as the Duke of Cumberland had treated Scottish Highlanders in 1745, then the war might have gone differently. The British both precipitated the revolution and lost the American War of Independence in part because George III was not a tyrant.

> John Brooke correctly identified George as having ‘good claims to be considered the most cultured monarch ever to sit on the throne of Great Britain’. He invited Mozart to perform at Buckingham House, encouraged the British taste for Handel and tried to persuade Haydn to live in England, played the flute, harpsichord and piano, appointed Sir Joseph Banks as Royal Botanist, gave Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and James Wyatt important posts in public architecture, commissioned Capability Brown to landscape his gardens, promoted the scientific aspects of Captain Cook’s voyages, supported the manufacture and designs of Josiah Wedgwood and Matthew Boulton, promoted vaccination despite losing at least one child to smallpox post-inoculation, established a book bindery at Buckingham House, promoted the painters Allan Ramsay, Benjamin West and Thomas Gainsborough (who described him as ‘a good connoisseur’), was himself a competent architectural draughtsman, assembled the world’s finest collection of scientific instruments and enjoyed disassembling and reassembling intricate clocks and watches

> The moments that gave him the most anguish and tipped him over the edge into manic-depressive episodes were not those commonly assumed to be low-water marks of George’s performance as monarch. There were no episodes between the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766 and the Treaty of Paris that ended the American war in 1783, for example, even though Britain was fighting a multi-front war for several years with no allies. Nor did the stress of having his Closet stormed by the Whigs in 1782 and his expelling them the following year bring on an episode. Similarly, the serious invasion threats of 1779 and 1797 left him robust and ready. Rather than the madness of George III we ought to consider his extraordinary mental fortitude in moments of high danger and drama. George bore his five descents into lunacy stoically, especially considering the horror that he knew he was going mad during four of them. ( )
  breic | Apr 10, 2022 |
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"The last king of America, George III, has been ridiculed as a complete disaster who frittered away the colonies and went mad in his old age. The truth is much more nuanced and fascinating--and will completely change the way readers and historians view his reign and legacy. Most Americans dismiss George III as a buffoon--a heartless and terrible monarch with few, if any, redeeming qualities. The best-known modern interpretation of him is Jonathan Groff's preening, spitting, and pompous take in Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway masterpiece. But this deeply unflattering characterization is rooted in the prejudiced and brilliantly persuasive opinions of eighteenth-century revolutionaries like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, who needed to make the king appear evil in order to achieve their own political aims. After combing through hundreds of thousands of pages of never-before-published correspondence, award-winning historian Andrew Roberts has uncovered the truth: George III was in fact a wise, humane, and even enlightened monarch who was beset by talented enemies, debilitating mental illness, incompetent ministers, and disastrous luck. In The Last King of America, Roberts paints a deft and nuanced portrait of the much-maligned monarch and outlines his accomplishments, which have been almost universally forgotten. Two hundred and forty-five years after the end of George III's American rule, it is time for Americans to look back on their last king with greater understanding: to see him as he was and to come to terms with the last time they were ruled by a monarch"--

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