Study Guide

King George III in Stamp Act

By British Parliament, King George III

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King George III

If the story of the American Revolution is Star Wars, then King George III is Emperor Palpatine. He's the shadowy, pale presence that looms almost unseen over the scrappy resistance…but without the ominous black hood.

At least, that's how he's thought of in the U.S. of A. The truth is, he was a bit more of a nuanced character than that—cut-and-dry villains only live in cartoons, after all.

George III: The Gritty Origin Story

George III was born premature and wasn't even expected to survive. He was part of the Hanover Dynasty, and was the first one of them to be born and bred in England. Hanover is in Germany, and the House of Hanover, though it ruled England for two hundred years, was German. (It might sound a super-weird to have a German family ruling over England, but that wasn't unusual in the monarchy. National origin took a backseat to royal blood. So if your country needed a monarch, you didn't hesitate to import one from somewhere else, so long as they had a royal bloodline.)

George was in line for the throne, but his dad was first. His grandfather wasn't the biggest fan of his dad's, but when dear old dad died unexpectedly, suddenly grandpa was interested. This might sound like some Game of Thrones -level weirdness, but there's no indication of foul play. Grandpa gave George a noble title (Duke of Edinburgh, and later Prince of Wales), and groomed him to take charge—which happened in 1760 when George III was twenty-two. (Source)

Again, we know he's America's supervillain, but George III didn't kill any of his relatives. Or at least there's no evidence to suggest he did (although that would make for some thrilling revisionist historical fiction).

Off to a Rocky Start

George got married a year after he became king to a woman he met on his wedding day, which had to be awkward. Apparently they liked each other well enough, though, because they had fifteen kids. So, you know, happy ending there—and George III didn't get many of those.

Anyway, the Seven Years War was already happening when George was crowned. He wanted out, but William Pitt the Elder, his war minister, was all about that war. Pitt resigned in 1761. Ironically enough, England didn't get out of the war until two years later, and they won. So maybe Pitt was onto something? (Source)

In an effort to pay for it all, his Prime Minister George Grenville came up with the Stamp Act. If you're paying attention at all, you know this didn't go over too well. It was repealed fairly quickly but the damage had been done.

Wait, It Gets Worse

Repeal of the Stamp Act had the exact opposite effect as George and his ministers hoped. (Source) You might notice that's the theme of the history of the Stamp Act as a whole: Britain tries to do something right and the colonists take it in the worst way possible. It was like the Stamp Act killed their puppies. All of their puppies.

What looked at first like a small skirmish the redcoats could put down quickly turned into a full-blown Revolution, which, if you're George III, is the last thing you want. When the French joined it, it was a lost cause. French and American forces surrounded the British General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown and forced a surrender.

America won. George III lost big time.

Just like that, the prize of England's new world colonies were gone. They got to keep Canada, though: all the hockey, maple syrup, and lumberjacks they could stand. America officially had independence with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. (Or, if you're George III, America successfully kicked you in the head with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Depends on perspective.)

This was utterly humiliating for a monarch. It was unprecedented at the time, and it took a toll on King George. Even though it was the fault of a lot of people, being the man in charge meant it was mostly him. That's what happens when you're a King. The buck stops with you, even if you'd prefer it stopped literally anywhere else. He had one more political victory in him—keeping Parliament from reforming the East India Company. (You might remember them as the bad guys in the later Pirates of the Caribbean movies, so George III was really into this whole "historical villain" thing.)

In 1788, he succumbed to insanity. Some modern doctors believe this was the result of porphyria, a genetic disease, but who knows? Some recovered hair and fibers suggest it might have been arsenic poisoning from cosmetics. (Source)

George didn't get much of a chance to rest, either. The Napoleonic Wars, going form 1799-1815 took up the last part of his reign. The short version was that notorious short person Napoleon Bonaparte decided to attempt to take over the world. England, under George III, was one of Napoleon's most dangerous enemies for a simple reason: Napoleon couldn't invade them. (Source)

Being on an island with the most powerful navy in the world has some benefits.

Decline and Fall

Georges insanity, or sickness, whatever it was, never went away. He suffered attacks of apparent insanity throughout the rest of his life. In 1810, he was more or less done. His son, George IV took over as Prince Regent and successfully prosecuted the War of 1812 and Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. Granted, Napoleon had already exhausted himself in Russia, but let's give George IV a little credit. (Source)

When George III finally died in 1820, he was blind, deaf, and insane. That's a rough end for anyone, even America's Palpatine.

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