xxxxxGeorge III’s reign was one of the longest in British history, and certainly one of the most eventful. The first twenty years (G3a) were dominated by the War of American Independence; the second (G3b) by the French Revolution and the Revolutionary Wars; and the third, as we shall see, by the Napoleonic Wars - not to mention continuing troubles in Ireland. The last twenty years of his reign were marred, however, by a complete mental breakdown. In 1810 his condition, which had started as early as 1756 and worsened over the years, became so severe that his son, the Prince of Wales was appointed Prince Regent to represent the monarch in the affairs of the state.

As we shall see, in the year the king was relieved of his official duties, the French leader, Napoleon Bonaparte was at the height of his power.  Having crowned himself emperor in 1804, he had embarked on a campaign of conquest which, by 1810, had virtually placed the whole of Europe under his authority, directly or by puppet monarchs - a number from his own family. A string of brilliant victories, notably at the battles of Austerlitz, Jena and Friedland, had crushed the resistance of Austria and Prussia, and forced Russia into an uneasy partnership. Furthermore, his Continental System, a blockade of British commerce set up in 1806, was calculated to bring Britain to its knees, the one enemy he had so far failed to bring to heel.


Throughout these final years George III remained as popular, if not more so, with the British public. Having become a symbol of national resistance during the latter stages of the French Revolution, and the wars that this spawned, he was now seen as a father figure, a guardian of the country’s freedom against the French tyranny that had engulfed continental Europe. And there was, too, a great deal of public sympathy over the bouts of illness that he suffered, and for his genuine fatherly concern over the unseemly conduct of his degenerate son and heir, the Prince of Wales, (not to mention the behaviour of his other sons and that of his own brothers!). “Farmer George”, as he was affectionately known, had become one with his people.

As we have seen, that had not always been the case. In coming to the throne in 1760 his determination to take an active part in government put him at odds with his parliament and people. Out of step with the times, he sought a conspicuous role in government at a time when the Glorious Revolution and the reigns of two German-speaking, “Hanovarian” kings had put Britain firmly on the path towards a constitutional monarchy. Taking a leaf out of the politician’s book, he used bribery and patronage to form his own party in parliament, the so-called “King’s Friends”.

It was by such means that he was able to play such a significant role in the dispute with the American colonists. He ignored their protests and opposed compromise at every step, fully endorsing, if he did not initiate, the punitive measures which eventually led to their rebellion. It is hardly surprising that he should regard the eventual victory of the colonists as a personal failure and even contemplate abdication. And this attempt to reassert royal authority came to the fore as late as 1801 when he forced his able minister William Pitt to resign rather than agree to Catholic emancipation, a move which Pitt rightly saw as a necessary corollary to the union with Ireland and the hope of putting an end to rebellion. It was an opportunity missed, and one which would have gone a long way to ease the problems which had bedevilled Anglo-Irish relations throughout his reign.

However, under Pitt’s second ministry, starting in 1804, the king took little if any part in the affairs of state, mainly due, no doubt, to his deteriorating health. Indeed, it was during this period that cabinet government really took hold, with its principle of collective responsibility and allegiance to the prime minister rather than the monarchy. Now freed from controversy, and helped along by victories such as those of Trafalgar and Waterloo, George was viewed in even greater esteem. It was not difficult to see why. A decent family man who was devoted to his wife and children (all fifteen of them!), he possessed the common touch and, unlike his predecessors, spoke the language of his people. Nor could his loyalty and devotion to duty be ever questioned. Despite his early attempts to be a 17th century monarch, his motives were always well-intentioned. Throughout his long reign he had the welfare of his country and his subjects at heart. “I glory in the name of Britain”, he once said, and he was true to his word.

And he was, too, a man of culture. Today, the British Museum houses his collection of books - some 65,000 - and in 1768 he founded and helped towards the cost of the Royal Academy of Art. He was also the first British monarch to take a real interest in science, including astronomy, and his nickname “Farmer George” was well earned. He carried out experiments in agriculture on his Richmond and Windsor estates, and contributed to Arthur Young’s Annals of Agriculture. It was indeed sad that the last years of his life should be passed in such torment. Apart from being permanently deranged, he eventually became both blind and deaf before he died at Windsor towards the end of January 1820.

It was during these troubled, twilight years of his life that his eldest son, whom he despised so much, became Prince Regent, and took over the duties of the monarch. As we shall see, he was hardly a popular figure with the public and the bulk of parliament. His gambling, drinking and womanizing, not to mention his incredibly extravagant life-style, hardly endeared him to his people at a time of increasing economic hardship. In politics, too, he had gone out of his way to associate with Charles James Fox and his Whig allies, his father’s adversaries. It must be said, however, that his waywardness might be accounted for in part, at least, by the strict upbringing he had endured at the hands of his father.

   Ironically enough, his “reign” was marked by a triumphant end to the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon, his army devastated by its retreat from Moscow in 1812, was overwhelmed at the Battle of the Nations in 1813, and then, following his return from Elba, was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. The British general the Duke of Wellington led the Allies to victory following his success in the Peninsular War. The Congress of Vienna confirmed the rise of Russia, reinstated Austria and Prussia as great powers, and recognised Great Britain as possessing the world’s greatest sea power and colonial empire.

But alongside these triumphs went a host of domestic problems. The cost of the prolonged period of war brought economic disaster. There was mass unemployment, and widespread poverty, exacerbated by the Corn Law of 1815, which kept out foreign grain and drove up the cost of bread. And the downside effects of the Industrial Revolution were beginning to be felt. Whilst the rich grew richer the poor grew poorer. The Luddite movement of 1811 was aimed at destroying the steam-driven machines which, on the land and in the factories, were steadily replacing manual labour and skills. In 1817, it would seem, there was even an attempt upon the life of the Prince Regent. Meanwhile, the demand for electoral reform culminated in the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, and the passing of repressive laws to stifle further dissent.


To this period (1803-1820) belongs some of the most famous names in literature, including (all in the Index) the poets Goethe, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley and Byron. Also worthy of note are the scientists Humboldt and Davy, the painters Goya and Turner, the philosophers Hegel and Schelling, and the brilliant composer Beethoven.

GEORGE III 1802 - 1820  (G3c)  Reigned 1760 - 1820

PRINCE REGENT 1811 - 1820





The United States buys the vast territory of Louisiana from Napoleon of France for three cents an acre. The “Louisiana Purchase” virtually doubles the size of the new nation.

Fighting is resumed between Britain and France following the failure of both countries to adhere to the Treaty of Amiens of 1802 (G3b). This marks the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars.

Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, takes part in the Second Anglo-Maratha War. In the third and final conflict, ending in 1818, the Maratha are defeated and taken over.

The Scottish engineer Thomas Telford begins the construction of the Caledonian Canal. This and his Menai suspension bridge, begun in 1819, are in use by the 1820s.


Following an attempt on his life, Napoleon becomes Emperor of the French and embarks on a campaign of conquest. By the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807, he controls most of Europe.

The great German composer Ludwig van Beethoven produces his Eroica Symphony, the first in a masterful series of symphonies, concertos, sonatas, and chamber music

An automated loom using a punched-card system is invented by the Frenchman Joseph Jacquard. Capable of producing elaborate patterns, it revolutionises the art of weaving.


War breaks out between Persia (Iran) and Russia following the Russian take-over of Georgia. The war drags on for nine years, ending with the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813.     

Karageorge, a Serbian guerrilla fighter, leads his people against their Turkish masters. A ruthless but inspiring leader, his bid for independence was finally crushed in 1813.

The first workable steam carriage on rails is invented by the English engineer Richard Trevithick. This is made possible by his improvement of Watt’s low-pressure steam engine.

The German scientist Alexander von Humboldt and the French botanist Aimé Bonpland, return to Paris after a five-year scientific expedition to South and Central America.


The British navy wins a resounding victory over the combined fleets of France and Spain at the Battle of Trafalgar. The British Admiral, Horatio Nelson, is killed during the battle.

After defeating the Austrians at the Battle of Ulm, Napoleon marches into Vienna and then conclusively crushes a combined Austro-Russian army at the Battle of Austerlitz.


French forces under Napoleon enter Warsaw and Berlin after inflicting a crushing defeat on the Prussians and Saxons at the Battles of Jena and Auerstadt.

Napoleon steps up his war against Britain. His Berlin Decree sets up a Continental System aimed at closing all European ports to British imports and bringing Britain to its knees.

The first overland expedition to cross the United States, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, returns to St. Louis, Missouri, after three gruelling years of exploration.


Due to the work of William Wilberforce and others, Britain outlaws the Slave Trade. Many years are to pass, however, before a complete ban is imposed by Britain and other nations.

Napoleon defeats a Russian-Prussian force at the Battles of Eylau and Friedland. The Treaty of Tilsit humiliates Prussia but brings about an alliance between France and Russia.

The Portuguese reject the Continental System. After the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau between France and Spain, Portugal is attacked and partitioned between the two powers.

The English poet William Wordsworth, who, in 1798 (G3b) had collaborated with his fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Lyrical Ballads, publishes his own collection of Poems.

The Clermont, the first really successful paddle steamboat, invented by the American Robert Fulton, makes its maiden voyage up the Hudson River in New York.

The German philosopher Georg Hegel writes his first major work Phenomenology of  Mind. This and his later writings make him the most influential thinker of the century.

Tales from Shakespeare, the work of English essayist Charles Lamb and his sister Mary, are very successful. Later, his Essays of Elia, begun in 1820 (G4), ensures his lasting fame.

The Ashanti Empire of West Africa conquers the Fanti people and reaches the height of its power. However, the coming of the British leads to war, the first breaking out in 1873 (Vb).


British troops land in Portugal to assist the Portuguese and Spanish in their revolt against French occupation. Napoleon moves in more troops and the Peninsular War begins.

The English chemist and physicist John Dalton publishes his New System of Chemical Philosophy in which he explains his atomic theory - the foundation of modern physics.


The German man of letters, Johann Wolfgang Goethe produces part one of his famous masterpiece Faust. A drama of immense depth, the final part is not completed until 1831.


Sir John Moore, the British commander in Portugal, retreats from central Spain and is killed at the Battle of Corunna. The British army holds off the French and escapes by sea.

The Austrians, re-entering the war against France, gain early success at the battles of Aspern and Essling, but are then soundly defeated at the Battle of Wagram.

The German mathematician Carl Gauss publishes his Theoria Motus Corporum Coelestium in which he sets out a quick, accurate method for calculating the orbit of an asteroid.

The French naturalist Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, having classified animals into vertebrates and invertebrates, puts forward a theory of evolution, “Lamarckism”, in his major work Philosophie zoologique.


In his Organon of Rational Healing the German physician Samuel Hahnemann introduces the science of homoeopathy, a medical system based on the idea that like cures like.


In South America, the Spanish colonies of Argentina and Paraguay start their fight for independence, as does Chile under its leader Bernardo O'Higgins. All succeed by 1818.


After many years of mental disorder, the British King, George III, finally loses his reason and has to be replaced. His eldest son George, the Prince of Wales, becomes Prince Regent.

Following victories at Oporto and Talavera, the British drive the French out of Portugal. Later successes at Salamanca and Vitoria force Napoleon’s army to leave Spain by 1813.

The Luddites, organised bands of unemployed workers, destroy machines throughout the north of England to protest against the suffering caused by the decline of cottage industries.

Muhammad Ali massacres the ruling Mamlukes and becomes undisputed leader of Egypt. He begins a policy of expansion, invading Arabia and attacking the Sudan in 1820 (G4).

The English architect John Nash begins work on Regent’s Park and Regent Street. He designed many famous landmarks in London in the neo-classical style known as Regency.


The United States of America, exasperated by British insistence on the right to search neutral shipping, declares war on Britain. The War of 1812 lasts for close on three years.

Napoleon attacks Russia and reaches the capital, but with the coming of winter he is forced to make his Retreat from Moscow. Over 350,000 men die or are taken prisoner en route.


The last of a collection of ancient Greek sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens is brought to England by the Earl of Elgin. The Elgin Marbles are later bought by the British Museum.

The ruins of the ancient city of Petra, in today’s Jordan, and the ancient Egyptian temples at Abu Simbel are rediscovered by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.

The English romantic poet George Gordon Byron gains fame with his verse-tale Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. A champion of liberty, his works and life had a great influence upon European thought and literature.

The German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm publish their first collection of Fairy Tales. Including Hansel & Gretel and Sleeping Beauty, these stories became very popular.


A combined British, Spanish and Portuguese army, commanded by General Wellington, defeats the French at the Battle of Vitoria and brings to an end the Peninsular War.

Following Napoleon’s disastrous retreat from Moscow, Austria, Prussia, Russia and Sweden join forces and, severely defeating the French at the Battle of Leipzig, move on France.

The Treaty of Gulistan ends the war between Russia and Iran, begun in 1804. Russia gains land in the Caucasus, the vast area which lies between the Black and Caspian Seas.

The English philanthropist Elizabeth Fry visits Newgate Prison, London for the first time. From this year dates her long struggle to improve conditions for women prisoners.


The English novelist Jane Austen publishes her famous novel, Pride and Prejudice. The daughter of a country parson, she wrote six novels, including Mansfield Park and Emma.

One of England’s greatest artists, Joseph Mallord Turner, paints his landscape Frosty Morning, a work which may be regarded as the climax to his early watercolour paintings.

The Bernese writer Johann Wyss publishes the famous adventure story Swiss Family Robinson, a highly popular work based on Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

The brilliant Genoan violinist Nicolò Paganini begins his triumphant tour of Italy. Later, in 1828, he visits towns and cities throughout northern Europe, gaining both fame and fortune.


By the Treaty of Kiel, Denmark cedes Norway to Sweden. Under Charles John, Norway achieves the right to self-government, but does not gain full independence until 1905.

Allied forces march on France and enter Paris. Napoleon abdicates and is sent to the island of Elba. The Bourbons are restored under Louis XVIII, and the Congress of Vienna meets.

The Spanish artist Francisco de Goya paints The Third of May, 1808, a work which depicts the cruelty of war. His paintings and engravings covered all aspects of Spanish life.

The first successful steam locomotive, designed by the English engineer George Stephenson is used to haul coal near his home town of Newcastle. He opens the first railway line, from Stockton to Darlington, in 1825 (G4).  

Pope Pius VII, returning to Rome after five years of captivity, restores the Jesuit Order, regains control of the papal states, and does much to re-impose the authority of the papacy.

Waverley, written by the Scottish Romantic poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott, begins a series of historical novels which includes Rob Roy, Ivanhoe, and Quentin Durward.


The Congress of Vienna concludes the peace settlement just a few days before the Battle of Waterloo. It also sets up a Congress System to ensure that its terms are maintained.

Napoleon, having escaped from Elba, is defeated at the Battle of Waterloo by an allied army commanded by the Duke of Wellington and a Prussian force under General Blücher.

In a naïve attempt to outlaw war, Tsar Alexander I of Russia forms a Holy Alliance based on Christian principles. Conservative by nature, it soon becomes a means of repression.

The English chemist Humphry Davy invents the miners’ safety lamp. Earlier he discovers a number of metallic elements, using the process of electrolysis for the first time.

The English geologist William Smith publishes the first geological map. Covering England, Wales and part of Scotland, this proves a landmark in the study of the earth’s rock strata.


The Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini takes just 16 days to write The Barber of Seville, his famous comic opera based on the satire by the French writer Beaumarchais.

The German writer Ernst Hoffmann produces his Fantasy Pieces, a set of weird and fanciful stories which the French composer Offenbach later uses in his opera Tales of Hoffmann.


The English economist David Ricardo publishes his influential work, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. A friend of Bentham and Malthus, he also worked with James Mill.


King Shaka founds the Zulu Empire and, having built an efficient army, begins a reign of terror in south-east Africa. This causes a mass migration of tribes across the whole region.


The South American “Liberator” Simon Bolivar gains independence for Colombia and, as we shall see (1824 G4), goes on to overthrow Spanish rule in Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru.


The French artist Théodore Géricault paints his The Raft of the Medusa, a ghastly scene of suffering and endurance which marks the true beginning of French romanticism in art.


The Third Anglo-Maratha War, begun in 1817, ends with the defeat of the Maratha and the annexation of their land. Most of India is now controlled by the British East India Company.


Due largely to the endeavours of Thomas Stamford Raffles, an administrator in the East India Company, a British colony is founded on the island of Singapore in south-east Asia.

In Manchester, England, cavalry attack a meeting held in support of parliamentary reform. Eleven people are killed. The incident becomes known as the Peterloo Massacre.

The English romantic poet John Keats writes Ode to a Nightingale, one of his famous series of Odes. Some of his finest work is produced this year. He died two years later, aged 26.

The English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley writes Prometheus Unbound, one of his finest poems. A friend of Byron, Keats, and Hunt, his work shows a great gift for lyric poetry.


After ten years of severe mental illness, and a reign of 59 years, George III dies and is succeeded by his profligate son, the Prince Regent, as George IV.



































































George III: detail, by the German painter Johann Zoffany (1733-1810), 1771 – Royal Collection, UK. Prince Consort: detail, by the English portrait painter Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), 1816 – Museums and Galleries, Vatican City, Rome. Coat of Arms: licensed under Creative Commons. Author: Sodacan –


Snippets During George3c reign Synopsis of George 3 Reign (G3c)

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