Longtime BBC staffer Hadlow debuts with a new take on England’s King George III.
“As George saw it,” writes the author “[a] legacy of amoral, cynical behavior had warped and corrupted the Hanoverians, crippling their effectiveness as rulers and making their private lives miserable.” When he came to the throne in 1760, he vowed to be a better parent than his great-grandfather George I, who had his own son arrested, and a better husband than his flagrantly philandering grandfather George II. In so doing, George III aimed to make the royal family a moral example to the nation. This notion—that the king’s duty was “to act as the conscience of the country,” avoiding day-to-day politicking—is in some ways an early definition of the modern constitutional monarchy, and Hadlow might profitably have pursued it more fully. Her real interest, though, is a detailed account of George’s generally happy marriage to Charlotte, princess of the German duchy Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and the not-so-happy consequences for their 13 children. Little of it seems to have much to do with her thesis. George III had just as poisonous a relationship with his eldest son, who openly supported the political opposition and brandished a lifestyle contrary to his father’s principles, as George’s own father, Frederick, had with George II—for the same reasons. The sad stories of the royal princesses, who either died as spinsters or married late with severely reduced expectations, certainly were linked to George’s insistence that proper family life was firmly secluded from the temptations of court (indeed, from almost any entertainment whatsoever), but none of this adds up to a coherent picture of George’s reign or legacy. Extended forays into the king’s periods of madness, which began in 1788 and finally incapacitated him for good in 1811, also diffuse the narrative focus.
Unconvincing as revisionist history but enjoyable for its vivid depiction of several varieties of royal lifestyles—and plenty of royal gossip.