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King George III in Coronation Robes
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gstecyk's picture

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King George III I will fight the fight and win the war (or not, if you know anything about American history). 

“Mad King George” gets a bum rap.  He’s much maligned on both sides of the pond, in America as the ultimate tyrant, and in England as the “scapegoat for the failure of imperialism.”  Actually, he was a good-natured bloke who had the misfortune of ruling during some of the greatest upheavals of British history.  Love him or hate him, he was the longest-reigning monarch until Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II surpassed him, and one of the most influential.

    He rose to the throne at just 22, and ruled for over 59 years.  It was imperative the young king find a suitable bride, and George’s first love was Lady Sarah Lennox of the notorious Lennox sisters.  The Lennox girls were the Kardashians of their day...glamorous, sexually alluring, but hardly Queen material (unless you mean drama queen).  For more information, plus soap-opera-y good fun, see the BBC drama The Aristocrats.  

When the Lennox romance dissolved, George married German princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, whom he met on their wedding day.  Charlotte was despised in England for her reputed ugliness and allegedly “mulatto” features.  Both racist detractors and anti-slavery activists such as the artist of this portrait, Allan Ramsay, promoted speculation that the Queen was part black.  This would mean that the current royal family is also part black.  As cool as that would be, the historical records don’t really support it.

Ugly or not (most portraits suggest the critics were a bit unfair to poor Charlotte), George scandalized society by actually liking his wife, and indeed, refusing to cheat on her.  In those days, the absence of adultery was considered a scandal for a man, but the royal couple had the audacity to be happy together.  They also got busy in the sheets, having 15 children, 13 of whom survived.  The family was nicknamed “The Royal Crocodile” because of their appearance when walking together in a double-file line.

George was king during the Seven Years’ War (we Yanks call it the French and Indian War, because racist is how we roll), the American Revolution, the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812.  If you’re the guy in charge during that many wars, you’re bound to take a little heat.  Our history books in the States aren’t very nice to him, because of the whole revolution thing.  In fact, George was a comparatively moderate, constitutional monarch, even benevolent by the standards of the time.  But haters gonna hate.

Much has also been made of the King’s supposed madness.  One spurious myth claims that Syphilis drove him mad, unlikely given his strict fidelity to Charlotte.  A more scientifically grounded theory names Porphyria as the culprit, a blood disease which can have neurological effects.  While George suffered undiagnosed mental health issues, they were sporadic, not really taking hold until the end of his life when he sank into dementia.  “Madness” does not appear to have been a factor in his handling of the American Revolution, contrary to our popular lore.

Old Georgy shows up in pop culture a lot for an almost 300-year-old dead dude.  The Madness of King George (1994) is worth a watch for Dame Helen Mirren’s performance as Queen Charlotte.  Jonathan Groff played a singing George in the Broadway smash Hamilton.  George and Charlotte are also immortalized in the famous opening of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, as “a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England.”  Allan Ramsay is a bit more flattering in this portrait.