GEORGE THE THIRD by Stanley Ayling


Email this review


In his own naive, moralistic and backward-looking fashion, George III who ascended to the British throne in 1760 was a political idealist -- albeit one who never quite grasped the shifting realities of the 18th century English constitution. Ayling's biography cuts through the Namierite labyrinths of parliamentary ""connections"" (which were in the process of coalescing into political parties) to focus on the unpopular Hanoverian's tenacious attempt to extinguish the idea of ""The Opposition"" just as it was becoming formalized. Rehabilitating the unattractive George, bogy of the American Revolution, the man who forbade Pitt and Fox the enactment of Catholic Emancipation and generally resisted all ""progressive notions,"" is no mean task but Ayling makes a scholarly case for the stolid, priggish monarch whose unglamorous virtues resisted the diminution of royal power in the tumultous decades when the Jacobin democratic impulse agitated the middle class and the Industrial Revolution caused great economic dislocation. Unlike the first two Georges who were Germanic and looked toward Hanover, George III was the ""Patriot King"" who took seriously his duties to Protestant Supremacy and hisroyal prerogative which, so he believed, had been dangerously eroded by the Whig oligarchs of his grandfather's reign. Ayling argues that George's unbending rigidity toward his royal ""rights"" was both his strength and his weakness -- disastrous in 1776, formidable through the Napoleonic tempests when the King, as much as Pitt, his more spectacular minister, was the bulwark of English will to resist Bonaparte adventurism. At the very least the hapless George, before madness brought on by ""acute intermittent porphyria"" overwhelmed him, emerges as a patient and painstaking administrator stubbornly determined to carry on government amid the factious brawls for peerages, places, and pensions which dominated the thoughts of Bute, North, Fox, Rockingham and the rest of the wavering, opportunistic ministers about him. An important reassessment of a much-maligned monarch.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1972
Publisher: Knopf