King George was not unworthy of the toga of that enlightened Aurelian emperor, if only for his intellectual bent. He founded the heart of the national library with a collection that impressed even Dr. Johnson, established numerous academies of arts and science, was an informed agriculturist and horologist and tinkerer with gadgets, and built the world’s largest telescope for Herschel who first named the planet Uranus for his king. A line in his diary early in his reign was Stoical enough to be worthy of Aurelius: “I am born for the happiness or misery of a great nation and consequently must often act contrary to my passions.” One of his passions was anger and in an attempt to control it, he spent long hours in prayer and spiritual reading, not only from the received texts of ambiguous Anglican divines, but from the Scriptures and Patristic writings, and began a lifelong practice of giving half his income to charity. These ways were instilled in him by his pious mother, the Dowager Princess of Wales, instilling a piety which served him in controlling the other passion for which monarchs of his day usually indulged by an assumed right. The King’s brother the Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn was a flagrant adulterer and set the mood for much of the court.
King George read in the “Georgics” (evidently and appropriately his favorite work of Virgil since he loved rural life, especially pig breeding, and thus enjoyed the sobriquet “Farmer George”) the line “Casta pudicitiam servate domus” for which his Latinity needed no translation, for all his Hanoverian forebears on the throne of England, if incapable of English itself, were fluent Latin speakers. Pitt the Elder’s own Latin helped to get him his job. But George III also knew Dryden’s version (the King admired Dryden, if not approving his refusal to take the oath of loyalty to William III): “His faithful bed is crown’d with chaste delight.” King George astonished many by his total fidelity to Queen Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Strelitz, and was what we would now call “pro-life” by fathering and loving fifteen children. Understanding himself as father of his people, he promoted moral order, culminating in the 1787 “Proclamation for the Discouragement of Vice” which included a long list of details on the subject.
Across the ocean in the 1770’s, the issue of duties on commodities, most famously the “Stamp Tax” was more than contentious, although no one could cogently argue that the colonies should not have been obliged to pay some of the expenses for government and defense. Eventually the duties were relieved, save for the symbolic tea tax which some colonial extremists, including the Sons of Liberty who were a thorn in the side of the more reasonable colonial patriots, famously exploited. The King himself was sympathetic to appeals in these matters, and did not hesitate to remove advisors such as Lord Grenville when he realized that they had given him unhelpful advice. The tax burden on the Americans was much less than that on the King’s subjects in Britain, and in fact the lowest rates in the entire Western world, and very much less than what is exacted today in the United States. But the King was tone deaf to the real complaint, which was taxation without representation in Parliament, although he would most likely have reached some accommodation as he had with the Irish representatives. In 1795, he founded for Irish Catholics—not with alacrity or enthusiasm but with resolve—the seminary at Maynooth, which had more students then than now, and which still has a large statue of him. (Read more.)Share