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Our Last King
Cursed by ancestry,bedeviled by his posterity, beset by forces he could not grasp, George III is usually remembered as the ogre of Jefferson’s Declaration. An eminent English historian reassesses that strange and pathetic personality
June 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 4
Poor George III still gets a bad press. In their famous television talk in London, the Prime Minister of Great Britain suggested to the President of the United States that the kind of colonial policy associated with the name of George III still distorted the American view of the nature and function of the British Empire, and Mr. Eisenhower smilingly agreed. It is not surprising. Since Jefferson’s great philippic in the Declaration of Independence, few historians, English or American, have had many good words to say for him. True, he has been excused direct responsibility for many items of the catalogue of enormities that Jefferson went on to lay at his door, but to the ordinary man he remains one of England’s disastrous kings, like John or the two Jameses.
Actually, as we shall see later on, toward the end of his life and immediately after it his reputation improved, and even the writers of American school textbooks did not at first hold him personally responsible for the disasters that led to independence. They held his ministers responsible. It was after the publication of Horace Walpole’s Memoirs in 1845 that George III began to be blamed. Walpole’s gossip appeared to give substance to Burke’s allegations that the King deliberately attempted to subvert the British constitution by packing ministries and Parliament with his personal party—the King’s friends—a collection of corrupt politicians bought with place and with pension.
Later historians held that these Tory incompetents, bent on personal government for their master, pursued a ruinous policy that ended only with the breakup of the first British Empire and a return of the Whigs to power. Historians reminded themselves not only of the disasters in America, but the failure of parliamentary reform in England, of the oppressions of the Irish, the Catholics, the Dissenters; they remembered the treatment of radicals at the time of the French Revolution; they recalled the merciless suppression of trade unions; the violent opposition to the abolition of slavery. It all added up to a huge indictment of George III and a magnificent justification for Whig doctrine. Here and there a scholar urged caution, but was little heeded. What the great historians formulated, the textbook writers cribbed. When English historians found so much to condemn, why should Americans lag behind? In 1954, two American historians—Leon Canfield and Howard Wilder—could write:
In 1760, George III mounted the throne. A young man of twenty-two, he was unwilling to accept the idea that the King’s power should be limitecl. His mother had always said to him: “George, be King!” When he became ruler this obstinate young man put his mother’s advice into swift action. He set out to get his way not by ignoring Parliament but by building up a personal following. He made free use of bribes and appointments, and presently the King’s friends were strong in Parliament.
The increase in royal power drove the wedge of misunder-standing deeper between England and the colonies.
In 1959, an English historian, Jack Lindsay, was still writing in much the same vein. These views, however, are no longer fashionable. The greatest living English historian of the eighteenth century, Sir Lewis Namier, has hammered at them for thirty years. His friend, Romney Sedgwick, with a more caustic pen and no less scholarship, has subjected them to ridicule in review after review, sinking his verbal darts into reputations as skillfully as a savage at his blowpipe. Professor Herbert Butterfield has not only traced the origins of the myths of George III’s tyranny but has also shown how the now-fashionable view of George III was held by historians and textbook writers long, long ago in the early nineteenth century. So the wheel has come full circle. Will it turn again? Or will blame and justification give way simply to understanding? Shall we at last have a balanced portrait of America’s last king?
On one thing historians are agreed. To understand the part played by George III in the great tragedy of his reign, one must begin with the King’s own personality and with the environment in which he was reared. David and Absalom provided the pattern of family relationship of European monarchs and their sons and heirs in the eighteenth century, except that most of the monarchs were less controlled than David. Peter the Great of Russia had his son Alexis executed—slowly and painfully. The Elector of Prussia, Frederick William, insisted that his son, whom he had kept in close confinement, watch the death of his dearest friend for what only a madman could call treason. So it is not surprising to learn that George III’s grandmother wished that her son, Frederick, father of George III, were in the bottommost pit of hell or that she became almost hysterical on her deathbed when she thought he might inherit some of her personal possessions. The Lord Chancellor had to be sent for to lull her fears.
George II’s opinion of his own lackluster son matched his wife’s. He quite simply hated him as he had hated his own father, who, at one time, had put him under house arrest and removed his children. (It had required all the persuasive powers of the Cabinet to get him released.) This fantastic antagonism between father and son that went on from generation to generation found a situation in English politics that fitted it like a glove. The House of Commons always harbored a number of disappointed politicians who were so hated by the ministers in power that they had few prospects of immediate advancement. But as Sir Robert Walpole bluntly phrased it: “Everybody who could get no ready money had rather have a bad promissory note than nothing.” So they made their court to the heir, who found them jobs in his household, and plotted the political changes that they would make when Father died. So throughout the century a Prince of Wales as soon as he was grown up became the leader of the Opposition. At times the Opposition made such a nuisance of itself that the monarch and his ministry decided to buy it off by giving jobs to the leaders, and the astonished heir apparent found his friends deserting him with alacrity. This happened both to George III and to his father. The politics of hatred and the politics of betrayal, therefore, became a part of the environment of the adolescence and early manhood of the Hanoverian kings.
It was in an atmosphere of faction that George III was born; an environment that might have taxed the most gifted of men. Unfortunately George III was as unlucky in his heredity as in his environment. Neither George II nor his Queen, Caroline, was devoid of character or without some gifts above the commonplace. Her intelligence and his memory were unusual in monarchs, and their hatred of their son was tinged with genuine disappointment. Frederick, George III’s father, was known to posterity as “Poor Fred,” and the epithet was not unjust. He possessed a small talent for music, a mild interest in games, particularly cricket, and little else. The unsympathetic Lord Shelburne described his life as a “tissue of childishness and falsehood”; and his friends as well as his enemies despised him. George II married his son to Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha simply because there was no one else. The other Protestant princesses of sufficiently high birth had madness in their families, and George II rejected them, for as he said, “I did not think ingrafting my half-witted coxcomb upon a madwoman would mend the breed.” As it turned out, it could not have made matters much worse, for an astonishing number of Princess Augusta’s children and grandchildren turned out to be congenital idiots, or subject to fits of insanity, or mentally unbalanced, or blind; the rest were odd or wicked or both.
In some ways George III can be described as the best of the bunch. He was very stupid, really stupid. Had he been born in different circumstances it is unlikely that he could have earned a living except as an unskilled manual laborer. He was eleven before he could read, and he never mastered grammar or spelling or punctuation. He was lethargic, apathetic, childish, a clod of a boy whom no one could teach. His major response to life was a doting love for his brother Edward. In late adolescence he began to wake up, largely because of a passionately romantic attachment to Lord Bute, the close friend and confidant of his mother. (The public at large thought she was his mistress. Almost certainly she was not. The slander deeply distressed George III and made his attachment to Bute firmer.) Somehow Bute made the young prince conscious not only of his destiny but also of his shortcomings. The Prince promised time and time again to throw off his lethargy so that he could accomplish great things for Bute’s sake. Naturally the greatest of things was to get rid of his grandfather’s evil ministers and to install Bute in a position of power. The illspelt, ungrammatical, childish, heartfelt notes that he sent to Bute make pathetic reading. They are charged with a sense of inadequacy, a feeling of hopelessness before the immensity of the burden which destiny had laid on his shoulders, and with an anxious need for help that is almost neurotic in its intensity.
Every year his reverence for the concept of kingship grew stronger; nothing illustrates his regard more than his behavior over Lady Sarah Lennox. This charming girl of fifteen swept him off his feet just before he succeeded to the throne. He longed to marry her. Bute said no, and George III wrote that “he [ i.e. , Bute] has thoroughly convinced me of the impropriety of marrying a country woman; the interest of my country ever shall be my first care, my own inclinations shall ever submit to it.” And submit he did and married a dull, plain, German Protestant princess who bore him the huge family that was to plague his days.
A sexually timid, if nonetheless passionate man, George may have found it easier to take Bute’s advice than many have thought. Lady Sarah attracted lovers as a candle moths, and George, conscious of his faults and of his inadequacies, must have realized that he cut a poor figure amidst her brilliant courtiers. His Queen, Charlotte, attracted no one. And yet sacrifice there was, and George paid for it. Shortly after his marriage he experienced his first bout of insanity. Later in life these periods of madness grew longer. It was only during these attacks that his thoughts escaped from his strict concept of marriage, and rioted in adultery. Then, and then only, was it unsafe for a lady of his court to be alone with him.
During these years of delayed adolescence George III learned, too, that kings had to make other sacrifices. Men powerfully backed in the Lords and Commons, and with an experience of a lifetime’s politics behind them, could not easily be dismissed. The great Whig families had ruled since the Hanoverian accession in 1714. They had filled the court of the Georges, monopolized the great offices of state, controlled the Cabinet, dominated the House of Lords, managed the Commons, and run the war with France which had lasted more or less for twenty years. The Duke of Newcastle, George II’s Secretary of State, had held an important position in government since he had reached his majority. The Dukes of Devonshire took their high offices as if they belonged to them by hereditary right. Even the Whig career politicians, such as the Lord Chancellor Hardwicke, had been in power for so long that they had come to regard themselves as practically irreplaceable.
These men were not to be easily swept away and replaced by Bute; they possessed too much cunning, too much political experience, too many followers whom they had gratified with places. They doubted Bute’s capacity to survive. And still time was on George III’s side. The great Whig leaders were old men; indeed their party was known as the Old Corps. And in their long lives they had made plenty of enemies. They had disappointed some members of Parliament, made others impatient, and many disapproved of their policy. Chatham, that hawk-eyed man of destiny who had been responsible more than any other man for the sweeping English victories in the Seven Years’ War, deplored their caution, ignored their advice, and treated them, as one of his colleagues grumbled, “as inferior animals.” And behind Chatham was the restless brood of Grenvilles, his relations by marriage—difficult, disloyal, able and ambitious men. There was yet another powerful group, led by the immensely rich Duke of Bedford, who thought it high time for the old Whigs to retire, and let them enjoy the rich pastures of court patronage.
The King’s intentions, of course, were known to all these groups in 1760. His aversion to Newcastle and to Chatham, whom he labeled “the blackest of hearts,” was common court gossip. And after all, he was a young king with old ministers; many time-serving politicians thought that it might be wise to trim their sails and wait for the new breeze, from whatever quarter it might blow. Of course the old Whigs, and even Chatham, realized they had to accept Bute and somehow or other please the King, if they were to survive. They soon had the measure of Bute. He lacked a personal following, felt unequal to the supreme task of ruling the country and running the war. His dependable allies in the House of Commons were few. He faltered; he hesitated; he failed to force a showdown and kick out the old Whigs. True, Chatham resigned in a huff because, knowing the King’s pacific sentiments, the Cabinet refused to go along with him and declare war on Spain and seize her trade. Instead, as Chatham forecast, Spain declared war on England.
But Chatham gone did little to strengthen Bute. By the end of January, 1763, the consummate skill of those hoary old politicians Newcastle and Hardwicke had so undermined Bute’s confidence that he was little better than a nervous wreck. He told George III that even the Angel Gabriel would find it difficult to govern England; that his own life was rendered intolerable by infamous scenes and blackened by ingratitude and that he felt himself on the brink of a precipice. George III was too young, too inept, too unpracticed in the arts of politics to help Bute, and so Bute resigned. George III tried to keep him as a private and secret adviser; the politicians would not let him. They grumbled, they nagged, they bullied. The King had to face his future on his own.
He was most reluctant to do so. Although peace had been achieved in 1763—he had ardently desired this—he soon found himself in the thick of problems which he felt too vast for his poor comprehension. Yet he knew that the fate of his people and his Empire was his responsibility to God. He felt so young, so hopeless, so desperately in need of help for someone who thought as he did on men and affairs yet was strong enough to force his will on the warring political factions. Although the old Whig empire had broken up under the strain of Chatham’s resignation and the Treaty of Paris, yet the King found no stability. The King’s necessity drove him back to Chatham. Chatham prided himself on being above party. The King’s need, the nation’s need, required men of ability, not politicians; sentiments that thrilled George III. But unfortunately Chatham’s mental health was far from good, and no sooner had he become Prime Minister than the strain of office sent him off his head. He shut himself up, would speak to no one, and had his meals served through a trap door. The King waited and waited for him to recover for two long years, during which a leaderless ministry drove his country nearer to ruin. Chatham recovered only to resign and became a passionate supporter of the American cause and so, once more, the object of George III’s hate. The ministries that followed earned neither the country’s confidence nor the King’s.
Thus the first ten years of George III’s reign passed in political chaos; slowly, however, he learned the devious ways of politics, the price of men, and above all the necessity for a man who could manage the Commons in his interest. In 1770 he discovered Lord North, the eldest son of the Earl of Guilford; North, whose association with the King was to prove so disastrous for England and so fortunate for America, was an odd character. An excellent administrator, a witty and practiced debater, full of good humor and charm, he always pleased and soothed the members of the Commons; nevertheless his soft, fat, rounded body and full, piglike face bespoke an indolence that bordered on disease, a physical incapacity that made his laborious days an intolerable burden on his spirit. Time and time again he begged the King to release him from office. The King would not, for North reverenced as he did the mystical power of monarchy and thought as he did on the two grave political problems which vexed his country—Wilkes and America.
Without North, he could see only ruin for himself and his people. The constantly changing ministries and the bitter factional strife of George III’s first ten years had bedeviled both problems. John Wilkes, wit, libertine, master tactician, raised fundamental issues concerning the liberty of the British subject. None of the cases in which he was involved was clear-cut; in each the ministerial cause was handled with massive ineptitude. Wilkes divided the Whig groups in Parliament as effectively as he united the discontented in London. George hated “that devil Wilkes,” and let this hatred be known to all and sundry. Thus Wilkes’s supporters could talk of royal despotism and get others to believe them. In America Wilkes’s name became a byword for liberty and for resistance to royal tyranny from Boston down the seaboard to Charleston.
America proved a graver problem than Wilkes; and the effect of ministerial changes far worse. After the great war with France which, through the Treaty of Paris, deprived her of Canada, the majority of Englishmen, and, indeed, many colonists, felt that some of the expenses of the conflict should be borne by the Americans. Each ministry from 1760–70 differed in its views as to how this should be done, and each had a separate solution for assuaging the bitterness aroused in the Americans by the inept attempts to get revenue. Acts passed by one ministry were repealed by its successor, and party maneuver became more important than the fate of America. Nor was it the question of revenue alone that infuriated the colonists—the British constantly betrayed their ignorance of American needs and American aspirations. They tried to restrict settlement beyond the Allegheny Mountains, took Indian affairs into their own hands, attempted to suppress paper currency, renovated oppressive customs laws, and restricted trade with the West Indies. No Englishman realized that the American colonies were moving toward a rapid expansion in trade, wealth, and power, just as no American could conceive of the huge expense of war that arose from Britain’s vast imperial connections.
By the late 1760’s, hope for compromise was probably a delusive dream of men of good will such as Chatham and Franklin. But whether it had a chance or not, there can be no doubt that the known attitude of the King made matters worse. George III revered, naturally enough, the concept of kingship. Kings were God’s immediate servants. Their duties were clear—to pass on all the rights, obligations, powers, territories, undiminished, to their heirs. The constitution was sacrosanct and unchangeable. And so absolutely did George III identify himself with the English Crown that any criticism of monarchical powers, any suggestion of reform or change, he regarded as a personal affront.
The King was so stupid that he could not distinguish between himself as a person and his constitutional position as ruler. Although he accepted the American policies—either of compromise or coercion—with which his ministers presented him, placing his signature first on the Stamp Act and then on its repeal, his heart was always with the physical-force party, and he moved with uttermost reluctance to the idea of compromise, which, he thought, would infuriate as well as ruin Britain.∗ Those politicians, therefore, who were prepared to bring the “American rebels,” as the King called them, to their senses were the recipients of his warmhearted loyalty and devotion. In the small world of English political society, the King’s views did not go for nothing. He was the fountain of patronage, the ultimate executive authority, the man who could make and break ministers and ministries. In consequence, the King’s attitude began to polarize new attitudes in politics. He became the symbol of conservatism and reaction; his opponents, the men who thought that the liberties for which Wilkes and the Americans fought were essential, too, for all Englishmen, began to take a more radical attitude not only to the Crown but also to the very structure of English society. Naturally, the first effect of this was to disrupt the old political alignments; Whiggery began to break up into two groups, a right and a left wing; the Tories, who had been in opposition since 1714, now felt that they could support George III body and soul. It took many years for these new forces to push their way through into public consciousness, redefined, but George III’s own personality—his meddling interference and his blind, obstinate conservatism—sharpened many men’s intention to reduce the powers of the Crown even further.
The first twenty years of George III’s reign were a public and a personal failure. He had done his duty conscientiously. He had tried, according to his lights, to put the government in the hands of tried and able men. The ills which assailed his country, he sincerely believed, were not of his making. Scarcely a man pitied him; the majority thought he had only himself to blame when disaster came. Yorktown ended his hopes that the tide might turn, and finished North.
During the long years of British defeat, the Old Corps of Whigs, now led by the Marquis of Rockingham, had developed a new view of the role of kingship; and their great publicist and philosopher, Edmund Burke, had persuasively pleaded for a new attitude to party and to politics. When, at last, the failures in America led the independent members of the Commons to desert North, and thereby compelled the King to send for Rockingham to take over the reins of government, George found Rockingham’s terms hard to accept: freedom for America, peace with France, and, hardest of all, no say in the appointment of his ministers, which he regarded as the darling prerogative of the Crown.
The King, despite himself, now had to accept what the Whigs offered him—a revolutionary action that cut at the root of royal power. He had been broken by forces that his poor brain could not understand. And, perhaps not without justice, he was held to blame for England’s defeat in America by contemporaries in both countries, and by generations of historians, though justice would also demand that the short-sighted, quarrelsome, ignorant, power-seeking politicians who had made policy toward America as changeable as the British climate should be held equally responsible. We, at least, can feel pity for him—ignorant, stupid, conscientious, prejudiced, a victim of his own inadequate temperament. Had George III died or abdicated in 1782, his reign would have been one of the most wretched in English history and he one of the greatest failures to sit on the English throne.
Twenty years later, hatred had turned to admiration. His foibles were forgiven; his prejudices respected; his inadequacies tolerated. The reasons, as before, were partly personal, partly public. Once peace was achieved with America and France, the sense of crisis passed and the need to invade royal prerogatives became less urgent. And the Rockingham Whigs overplayed their hand. George III hated these men with all the stubborn obstinacy of his nature. He was determined to get rid of them, and he would grant them nothing in the way of favors and honors. Desperate, they attempted to seize control of the government of India so that they, and not the King, could exploit its patronage, and so be able to gratify their friends without dependence on royal favor. Their rivals saw their chance. The King, who had learned the game of party politics, dismissed them. Now he took the bravest step of his life. He exercised his royal prerogative and sent for William Pitt, aged twenty-four, to be his Prime Minister—a breath-taking choice. Only a stupid, insensitive man could have taken such a risk.
Pitt proved a fabulously able politician—adroit, wise, cool. He ignored his initial defeats in the Commons, planned a general election with meticulous care so that every ounce of government and royal influence would be deployed to his maximum advantage, and goaded his opponents into such extravagant attitudes that they alienated not only men of good will but also the electorate. The election result was over-whelmingly in favor of Pitt. For the next sixteen years Pitt managed his king with ease and handled the House of Commons with brilliance. At last George III’s long search was really over. He had found a Prime Minister whom he and the nation could safely trust.
No sooner was Pitt solidly established than the French Revolution plagued England with war for a generation, and the Crown became a symbol of unity and resistance. Tribulations, disasters, defeats, high taxation, starvation, repression, visited the land; but no one, not the most prejudiced radical, could hold George responsible; age and sickness had lifted him beyond the day-to-day struggle of parliamentary politics, or even the conduct of the war. It was, however, the King’s personal life that turned the hatred which the public felt for him in 1780, to pity if not love.
The King wobbled on the verge of madness. His rapid manner of speaking—a torrent of questions to which he rapidly supplied the answers**—and his extreme restlessness were the physical expressions of a deep-seated excitation. Fortunately he lived a quiet, domestic life, and his farming and love of music helped to calm his spirit. Apart from a short attack just after his marriage, he remained sane until 1788 when he got out of his coach in Windsor Park and addressed an oak tree as his talented cousin, Frederick the Great of Prussia. From that time the King began to talk faster and faster. At one point he talked for twenty-four hours without stopping; sleep seemed impossible for him. The Prince of Wales was sent for. The King tried to throttle him. He was put in a strait jacket. His death was hourly expected. The Prince, fully dressed and wearing his decorations, awaited the moment of his accession for two days and nights.
The King did not, however, die. He then slowly recovered to the horrifying spectacle of his heir quarreling with his ministers about who should control the prerogatives of the Crown. He was never the same; his eccentricities were more pronounced than ever. He talked more, listened less, and grew frenzied if a difficult political problem, such as emancipation of Roman Catholics from their civil disabilities, was mentioned to him. He regarded these restrictions on the faith of the Stuarts as a sacred trust and thought the Almighty would destroy him, his progeny, and his country if he failed to maintain them. And, of course, he meddled less in affairs. He could not concentrate sufficiently on day-to-day business, and he was forced to give Pitt a far freer hand than he had ever allowed anyone in the past. The public knew this, and so the greatest obstacle to his popularity was removed. Also, it had found another scapegoat.
At the time of Wilkes and the war in America, George III was blamed for all the ills that beset his empire; now it was his son’s turn. The Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV, was a handsome, florid, reckless, extravagant, self-indulgent man of uncertain taste in women and architecture. Alternatively pampered and cursed, he had been kept like a child without a separate income or establishment and subject to the cheese-paring dreariness of the royal household until he was twenty-one. Warmhearted, uninhibited, and devoid of common sense, the Prince naturally erupted dramatically into social and political life the moment he found release. At once he consorted with the King’s enemies, particularly Charles James Fox, a man who was generous to a fault, utterly dissolute, profoundly witty, obsessed with gambling, soaked in alcohol, and indestructibly radical. The Prince’s and Fox’s friendship ripened in 1783 when Fox was doing his best to strip the King of his most cherished prerogative—the personal choice of his servants. This, of course, intensified the King’s grief and rage.
His agony was increased by the Prince’s sexual behavior. The King was a very prudish man and intensely moral. The Prince was seen in the arms of an actress—the beautiful Perdita Robinson. Worse horrors followed. The Prince fell overwhelmingly in love with a Roman Catholic widow—Mrs. Fitzherbert. He worshipped her and married her. Although the marriage might be valid in the eyes of God, it was an empty ceremony according to the law of the land, which Mrs. Fitzherbert well knew. No sooner accomplished, the act scared the Prince. He denied it to everyone including Fox but the rumor intensified and spread, and the King, to whom Roman Catholics were a frightening bogy, was driven nearly out of his few remaining wits.
The Prince was as much of a wanton with his money as with his love. He adored building and grew infatuated with interior decoration. At Brighton he began to create the fabulous Pavilion—a nightmare of a building that combined eighteenth-century elegance with oriental fantasy. His London home, Carlton House, swallowed tens of thousands of pounds with the ease of a vacuum cleaner. The King was an intensely frugal man; the Prince’s debts grew astronomic; his creditors became frantic, and the infuriated King was forced to pay them. The Prince consorted with the Whig radicals, fornicated with Catholics, and spent money like water. And George III’s other sons turned out no better than their brother—indeed most of them were worse, for America’s last princes were a fabulous brood.
All but one of this royal crew—Cambridge—were warmhearted, honest, generous to a fault. And there their virtues ended. York, a good soldier, connived at his mistress’—a demimondaine called Clarke—selling army commissions like a broker; his debts, considering his prospects, overtopped the Prince of Wales’s. Clarence lived in ostentatious sin with Mrs. Jordan, a second-rate actress, who had to make tours of provincial theaters to keep the home together for the ten little FitzClarences. Kent caused a mutiny through his sadistic brutality, lived for twenty-seven years with his French-Canadian mistress, repudiated her, married, begot Queen Victoria, and became a socialist to irritate the royal family, who would not pay his debts. Sussex was given to absurd marriages; Cambridge was merely bleak, mean to the point of mania, and mildly eccentric in behavior. Cumberland was the most unsavory of them all. The public believed that his valet had attempted to murder him because of indecent assault, and that he had a child by his sister. Neither was true.
Some of these antics George III never heard about, but his last years of sanity, when he lived in a strange twilight world between reality and fantasy, were rendered pitiful and tragic—at least in the public’s eyes—by the wanton behavior of his children. And undoubtedly they added an intolerable strain to a mind that had weakened under the burdens which had proved too great for it.
In 1811, America’s last king went irrevocably mad. For nine years he roamed his palace, a pathetic figure in his purple dressing gown, with wild white hair and beard, blind, deaf, a Lear-like figure playing to himself on his harpsichord and talking, talking, talking of men and women long since dead.
Yet the last twenty years had changed the nation’s view of its King—half sane or mad though he might be. The people realized that he had tried within the narrow limits of his capacity to discharge the duties and obligations of kingship; that his faults, which were grievous, sprang from the best of intentions. He had succeeded to wide dominions, which he held to be a sacred trust. In his simple-minded way he could not believe that any provocation could excuse the terrible treason of the Americans who tried to break up what God had so obviously joined together and put under his rule.
As it had been with America, so with Wilkes, so with Ireland, so with his children. His motives were honorable; he gave all of his pitifully small abilities to the defense of what he thought to be the vital interests and essential rights of the British nation. Had he been as wise as Solomon, Britain and America would have gone their separate ways. The forces that crushed him would have crushed greater men. As it is, he remained a pathetic figure of tragicomedy; and, as the years passed, he acquired even a certain grandeur. There had been many worse kings to exercise rule over America and Britain. If he is to be blamed, it must be not for what he did but for what he was—an unbalanced man of low intelligence. And if he is to be praised, it is because he attempted to discharge honorably tasks that were beyond his powers.
*As may be seen from his letter to North of January 31, 1776:
"You will remember that before the recess, I strongly advised you not to bind yourself to bring forward a proposition for restoring tranquility to North America, not from any absurd ideas of unconditional submission my mind never harboured; but from foreseeing that whatever can be proposed, will be liable, not to bring America back to a sense of attachment to the Mother Country, yet to dissatisfy this Country, which has in the most handsome manner cheerfully carried on the contest, and therefore has a right to have the struggle continued, until convinced that it is in vain."
**This was brilliatnly pilloried by Peter Pindar in the Lousiad:
"How, how? what, what?—what's that, what's that?" he cries/ With rapid accent and staring eyes./ "Look there, look there—what's got into my house?/ A louse, God bless us! Louse, louse, louse, louse, louse."
The occasion was a louse dropping from a page on to the King's dinner place at Buckingham Palace.