Study Guide

George III in Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

By Patrick Henry

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George III

The Unluckiest King

Poor ol' George III is known for a couple of things.

The first? Bouts of mental illness that eventually led to the appointment of his son, George IV, as Prince Regent in 1811. (A regent takes over when a monarch is determined unfit to rule.) The second? Being the tyrant who left the colonists no choice but to rebel.

That's not a lot to show for a sixty-year reign (1760-1820), but it's also not the whole story. George III was the head of state during the American Revolution, so it's no surprise that the Founding Fathers used him as the figurehead of tyranny.

Your average American colonist didn't grasp the intricacies of a constitutional monarchy, in which the monarch rules with the consent of, and in cooperation with, a legislative branch (parliament) and a cabinet (ministers). If you're starting a revolution, you need a bad guy everybody is familiar with, who they understand has more power than they do. That's how George III became the villain of the American Revolution.

On the other side of the Atlantic, your average British citizen didn't understand how all this worked either, and they were just as eager to lay praise and blame at the feet of the one guy in government they'd heard of: the monarch.

King Homebody

George III struggled with feelings of inadequacy his whole life, and this led him to hang out mostly with his family. While he always did his duty as the monarch, he preferred farming (which earned him the not-so-cool nickname "Farmer George") and hanging with his wife and kids. He really struggled with empty-nest syndrome when the first of the kids started growing up, right around the time of the American Revolution.

He had also struggled with the first decade of his reign, going through prime ministers like he went through a wheat field at harvest time. These were the years that also saw destabilization in relationships with the American Colonies.

In 1770, he found a friend and stable prime minister in Lord North (See his profile in "Key Figures"), which led to twelve years of decent government…despite the fact that these were also the years of the American Revolution.

But, like we said, George III wasn't the real villain or the real loser of this whole hullabaloo. Parliament was. Parliament was the body that made the laws and passed the taxes. Later in the war, Parliament wanted to quit, but George III said nope. Can't. Sorry. If we quit now, everybody else will want to rebel, too.

Ultimately, George III's views ended up prolonging the war, causing Great Britain to lose more money along with the American colonies. People weren't too happy with that.

By 1780, Parliament was blaming Lord North, who was blaming the King, who was blaming Parliament. Basically, everybody was blaming everybody else, but the king was left holding the bag. This was a real low point. He even tried to abdicate.

Ultimately, though, the King's reputation recovered, and he went on to rule until he was declared unfit in 1811, presiding over the Napoleonic Wars and the creation of the United Kingdom despite periods of mental illness. You have to respect him for that.

And you also have to pity him…because all the guy wanted to do was hang out with his kiddos and grandbabies and do a little gardening.

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