Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Dead King Watch: The imbecilic George III



George III died on 29th January 1820, so today is the 186th anniversary of his death. I'm a bit too busy to write much about George III, who Karl Marx regarded as an 'imbecile', but I have fortunately found the following account which gives some sense of what 'losing America' to the Americans in the War of Independence did for his popularity with conservative critics:

'On October 25th, 1760, George The Third succeeded his grandfather George II (1683-1760) as the king of England. George the Second and his father before him, George the First, were more German than English. Their reigns were beneficial to England in that the first two Georges were content to play at being kings and let the English rule themselves through their democratic institutions. George the Third, however, was a different matter. He thought himself to be an English king, one to rule; and during his reign he attempted to take control. Green was to write that George The Third "had a smaller mind than any English king before him save James the Second. He was wretchedly educated, and his natural powers were of the meanest sort. Nor had he the capacity for using greater minds than his own by which some sovereigns have concealed their natural littleness. On the contrary, his only feeling toward great men was one of jealousy and hate. ... During the first ten years of his reign he managed to reduce government to a shadow, and to turn the loyalty of his subjects at home into disaffection. Before twenty years were over he had forced the American colonies into revolt and independence, and brought England to what then seemed the brink of ruin." Green concludes: "... the shame of the darkest hour of English history lies wholly at his door." In Thackeray's The Four Georges, we find, in respect to George III: "He bribed; he bullied; he darkly dissembled on occasioned; he exercised a slippery perseverance, which one almost admires, as one thinks his character over. His courage was never to be beat." Why did the English people put up with George the Third? The answer is simple: "the majority of the people remained helpless and distracted between their hatred of the house of Hanover and their dread of the consequences which would follow on a return of the Stuarts."'

It is quite remarkable indeed that as America and the rest of Europe underwent a great age of Revolution, good old Blighty stuck to King George III from 1760 all the way through to 1820. Morton notes that key to understanding this is the fact that 'George did not, as has sometimes been supposed, attempt, like the Stuarts, to free himself from the control of Parliament. The time when that was possible had long past. Rather he tried to make himself "the first among the borough-mongering, electioneering gentlemen of England." He formed an alliance with the Tories - who were now in the main 'loyal' and respectable county squires and big landowners - and who supported a policy of war. More is known now than then about his mental illness (see the film 'The Madness of King George'), but Wikipedia is right to note 'George III was hated by the rebellious American colonists and in Ireland for the atrocities carried out in his name during the suppression of the 1798 rebellion. The United States Declaration of Independence held him personally responsible for the political problems faced by the United States.' In general, under him, the United Kingdom (as Britain and Ireland had come to be known then) played a most counter-revolutionary role on the world stage - waging war against revolutionary regimes in America, France and what became Haiti.

Yet at home, there was a growing tide of dissent. As Morton put it, 'two poles of attraction began to appear: the imperialism of the Court, Government and financiers, drawing to itself all the privileged classes, and a new radicalism, at first aristocratic and slightly cynical but later proletarian and genuinely revolutionary, drawing a mixed following of the dispossessed, the unprivileged, and, in each generation, a host of those who saw in the profession of radicalism a means of entering the ranks of the privileged.'

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2 Comments:

At 9:40 am, Blogger cheesemeister said...

I'm not sure, but isn't George III the one they are lampooning in the Black Adder series? I can't remember, it's been a while since I've seen it.

 
At 10:27 am, Blogger Snowball said...

Yep, I believe so. Blackadder III and Hugh Laurie.

 

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