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The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III

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The last king of America, George III, has been ridiculed as a complete disaster who frittered away the colonies and went mad in his old age. The truth is much more nuanced and fascinating--and will completely change the way readers and historians view his reign and legacy. Most Americans dismiss George III as a buffoon--a heartless and terrible monarch with few, if any, red The last king of America, George III, has been ridiculed as a complete disaster who frittered away the colonies and went mad in his old age. The truth is much more nuanced and fascinating--and will completely change the way readers and historians view his reign and legacy. Most Americans dismiss George III as a buffoon--a heartless and terrible monarch with few, if any, redeeming qualities. The best-known modern interpretation of him is Jonathan Groff's preening, spitting, and pompous take in Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway masterpiece. But this deeply unflattering characterization is rooted in the prejudiced and brilliantly persuasive opinions of eighteenth-century revolutionaries like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, who needed to make the king appear evil in order to achieve their own political aims. After combing through hundreds of thousands of pages of never-before-published correspondence, award-winning historian Andrew Roberts has uncovered the truth: George III was in fact a wise, humane, and even enlightened monarch who was beset by talented enemies, debilitating mental illness, incompetent ministers, and disastrous luck. In The Last King of America, Roberts paints a deft and nuanced portrait of the much-maligned monarch and outlines his accomplishments, which have been almost universally forgotten. Two hundred and forty-five years after the end of George III's American rule, it is time for Americans to look back on their last king with greater understanding: to see him as he was and to come to terms with the last time they were ruled by a monarch.


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The last king of America, George III, has been ridiculed as a complete disaster who frittered away the colonies and went mad in his old age. The truth is much more nuanced and fascinating--and will completely change the way readers and historians view his reign and legacy. Most Americans dismiss George III as a buffoon--a heartless and terrible monarch with few, if any, red The last king of America, George III, has been ridiculed as a complete disaster who frittered away the colonies and went mad in his old age. The truth is much more nuanced and fascinating--and will completely change the way readers and historians view his reign and legacy. Most Americans dismiss George III as a buffoon--a heartless and terrible monarch with few, if any, redeeming qualities. The best-known modern interpretation of him is Jonathan Groff's preening, spitting, and pompous take in Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway masterpiece. But this deeply unflattering characterization is rooted in the prejudiced and brilliantly persuasive opinions of eighteenth-century revolutionaries like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, who needed to make the king appear evil in order to achieve their own political aims. After combing through hundreds of thousands of pages of never-before-published correspondence, award-winning historian Andrew Roberts has uncovered the truth: George III was in fact a wise, humane, and even enlightened monarch who was beset by talented enemies, debilitating mental illness, incompetent ministers, and disastrous luck. In The Last King of America, Roberts paints a deft and nuanced portrait of the much-maligned monarch and outlines his accomplishments, which have been almost universally forgotten. Two hundred and forty-five years after the end of George III's American rule, it is time for Americans to look back on their last king with greater understanding: to see him as he was and to come to terms with the last time they were ruled by a monarch.

30 review for The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Morrissey

    Andrew Roberts delivers a tour-de-force biography of King George III, reclaiming the patriot-king from his current descent into a bumbling, mad, bloodthirsty monarch romping across the stage of Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton." The reign of George III is impressively long and diverse, stretching from the conclusion of the Seven Years' (French and Indian) War, through the American Revolution, and into the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. If George's stubbornness precipitated the failed po Andrew Roberts delivers a tour-de-force biography of King George III, reclaiming the patriot-king from his current descent into a bumbling, mad, bloodthirsty monarch romping across the stage of Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton." The reign of George III is impressively long and diverse, stretching from the conclusion of the Seven Years' (French and Indian) War, through the American Revolution, and into the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. If George's stubbornness precipitated the failed political and military campaigns to keep America within the empire, that very trait likely saved Britain from sliding into a revolutionary abyss akin to the French or kept underfoot by the Corsican Tyrant (Napoleon). As with all of Roberts' biographies, the tale is well told, laden with facts, and threaded into a coherent narrative. Personally, George is the antithesis of the reign of Louis XVI of France: circumspect; respectful of legislative prerogative; humble; and of the same stock as many ordinary Englishmen tending to their farms, small businesses and lives across the countryside. While responsible for raising a Prince of Wales allergic to the very notion of personal economy and humility, George III remains throughout his reign a personification of English bulldog grit, similar to how Elizabeth II and the modern monarchy has adapted to a more constrained role in British politics. On America, George indeed lost his colonies. However, Roberts brilliantly untangles fact from propaganda, even engaging in a line-by-line refutation of the charges against the King enshrined in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. There was never any massive conspiracy to deprive American colonists of their quasi-autonomous rights; rather, distance and previous lax administration of the colonies rendered their political maturity certain and a clash almost inevitable. If George III had been the king of patriot propaganda - vain, cruel, ruthless, and dictatorial - he may have, in Roberts' estimation, fared better in his war against the Continental Army. Instead, George and his generals fought a limited war in America, rarely engaging in slash-and-burn tactics familiar to other mother-country-colonial conflicts. George fights for America on behalf of Parliamentary power, not in spite of it. Perhaps the biggest mistake made y George is never travelling to North America, for the colonists may have adopted a much more appreciative posture to George if they had seen the king up close. On Europe, George prevailed. In a time when Edmund Burke was coming around to a dim view of the burgeoning revolutionary fires in France, George III remained steadfast in preserving British autonomy and power in the face of French threats against the homeland and Continental interests. Alongside William Pitt the Younger, George charted a steady course that was every bit as bull-headed as the war effort in America a decade earlier. This time, though, the gambit paid dividends, fostering a growing sense of British pride at hemming in French revolutionary and Napoleonic power for over two decades. No biography of George can escape the mental health issues plaguing the man. Roberts deftly covers the territory of George's mental afflictions, portraying the king in a generous way in line with modern thinking on psychological issues. From a manic depressive state to requiring straitjackets during violent episodes, George endured a half-lifetime of struggle against a mental condition that would debilitate men and women of inferior fortitude. A constitutional monarch, at best, is a leader and a humble cog in republican machinery. The balancing between the two is key: too much energy, and that way dictatorship lies; too much meekness, and the monarchy seems like a meaningless appendage. George III was one of the best at balancing between those two points, rowing the British ship of state past shoals and into a future that promised greater imperial glory.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    I have this image of Andrew Roberts sitting in a darkened theater in London watching the musical Hamilton and chuckling while thinking, “ Well that was certainly amusing but let’s clear a few things up here shall we…..” Roberts references the portrayal of King George III in the musical in the introduction to his beast of a book arguing that the king was very different than the tyrant of Jefferson and Paine’s writing. As an American I always find British takes on the events of the American Revolu I have this image of Andrew Roberts sitting in a darkened theater in London watching the musical Hamilton and chuckling while thinking, “ Well that was certainly amusing but let’s clear a few things up here shall we…..” Roberts references the portrayal of King George III in the musical in the introduction to his beast of a book arguing that the king was very different than the tyrant of Jefferson and Paine’s writing. As an American I always find British takes on the events of the American Revolution fascinating. It’s like looking through a mirror to an alternate reality. It looks like the world you’re familiar with, but it’s somehow alien and a bit unsettling. I know that the view American has of George III is skewed and I was aware of the porphyria diagnosis that gained popularity especially in the 1990s with the play/movie. Roberts puts forward a strong case that the king suffered from bipolar disorder and depression and the porphyria theory was a result of cherry-picking from available data and accepting questionable accounts. I’m inclined to agree with this after reading this book. I’ve also felt for a long time that the loss of the American colonies was more due to internal squabbling among the various British commanders and the politicking/misunderstandings in the British government more than any decisions of George III. He was a king in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion and the brutal suppression of Scotland by his uncle and grandfather. He didn’t want to be his uncle and he certainly didn’t want to be Henry VIII. He was badly advised throughout the war by a series of ambitious men who were more concerned with their political fortunes in London than in the goings on of colonies across the sea. This doesn’t mean George III didn’t make mistakes, but he wasn’t the worst king ever. Roberts takes you through the king’s entire life and places his actions in the context of the titanic clash of European powers that was happening before the American revolution and lasted long after (hello Napoleon). Robert’s isn’t shy about calling out hypocrisy from the king’s critics painting him as the enemy to move their own agendas forward. There’s a lot of detail in here and while I largely agreed with Robert’s there were moments where I think he gave the king the benefit of the doubt a bit more than he should have. However, Robert’s did have access to the royal papers of George III that Queen Elizabeth II released in the 2010s, so he is pulling a lot of his analysis from the king’s actual writing. I think everyone reading this will have to make up their own mind, but I was mostly on board with his main theories. In my opinion he did a fantastic job and I certainly won’t feel the same about George III going forward. The ending of this book was surprisingly sad, showing a man who had flaws but believed he was doing his best, abandoned by his family and trapped by his failing mind/body. I never would’ve thought I would feel sad for a man with so much power but mental illness and the ravages of age combined with the cruelty of his heir (seriously George IV was awful) made me sad. I recommend this book. It’s long and there’s a lot of people to track through well known historical events but I was never bored or lost.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Richard Munro

    Obvious many TV interviews and much journalism are ephemeral. But books are much more serious and lasting expositions of ideas and analysis of events and personalities. Andrew Robert's books, as I have said many times, have that granite feeling of permanence and are a high example of the best of modern English prose. George III is another modern masterpiece by Andrew Roberts. Obvious many TV interviews and much journalism are ephemeral. But books are much more serious and lasting expositions of ideas and analysis of events and personalities. Andrew Robert's books, as I have said many times, have that granite feeling of permanence and are a high example of the best of modern English prose. George III is another modern masterpiece by Andrew Roberts.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    A monumental biography. Beautifully written and meticulously researched with the fulsome aid of Elizabeth II's Georgian Papers Programme, Roberts crafts an expansive story of George III's reign from his coronation to the loss of the American War of Independence to the Napoleonic Wars and finally to George's sad and lonely death after 6 decades on the throne of Great Britain. Roberts gives us a nearly year-by-year account of George's political, intellectual and family life based on thousands of h A monumental biography. Beautifully written and meticulously researched with the fulsome aid of Elizabeth II's Georgian Papers Programme, Roberts crafts an expansive story of George III's reign from his coronation to the loss of the American War of Independence to the Napoleonic Wars and finally to George's sad and lonely death after 6 decades on the throne of Great Britain. Roberts gives us a nearly year-by-year account of George's political, intellectual and family life based on thousands of his letters to ministers, generals, his family and many others. For Roberts, George was the "Patriot King," a noble man of principle whose guiding light was his love of country and his unerring loyalty to the British Constitution. Thus, this book is more than biography. It is paean to George and his reign and a serious effort to dispel the widely held (particularly American) view of George as the toady-minded tyrant that lost the American colonies by pushing "his government towards tyrannical measures aimed at provoking a war to crush American liberty..." Roberts supplies plenty of evidence for his view, at least in the way he sees it. For many Americans, myself included, the evidence also reveals a monarch who was a self-righteous and hidebound reactionary whose arrogant inability to adapt to social and political change was at much a cause of Britain's loss of America as any of the many blunders made by his ministers and generals. Nonetheless, this is a must read for anyone with any interest in 18th century geopolitics.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Anne Morgan

    A well written and detailed account of the life of King George III, without many of the preconceptions found in other books. Here, thanks largely to excellent research and the newly release Georgian Papers, myths of the King are demolished and we find a man devoted to the constitution and religion he swore to uphold and protect. A loving father and husband whose sons were a constant disappointment, a frugal man who tried to draw on skilled minds from both Whigs and Tories and was often best know A well written and detailed account of the life of King George III, without many of the preconceptions found in other books. Here, thanks largely to excellent research and the newly release Georgian Papers, myths of the King are demolished and we find a man devoted to the constitution and religion he swore to uphold and protect. A loving father and husband whose sons were a constant disappointment, a frugal man who tried to draw on skilled minds from both Whigs and Tories and was often best known today for the “madness” he suffered, but even that is looked at in new light and re-examined here. Overall an excellent book, well written and very well researched, I was glad to read such an excellent biography with modern research into newly released papers but without modern judgement on a man very much of his time. I received an Arc of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

  6. 4 out of 5

    A J

    This book is what we’ve been waiting for and an absolute masterpiece by Andrew Roberts. Possibly his best work if not coming alongside his Churchill biography. This is history at its best. Roberts has able to paint a picture of George III in his times so that your really feel you ‘know’ him. His arguments are solid as he looks to unpick the propaganda of Whig or American historians which has tainted the view of George to be seen as possibly one of England’s worst monarchs. But was he on par with This book is what we’ve been waiting for and an absolute masterpiece by Andrew Roberts. Possibly his best work if not coming alongside his Churchill biography. This is history at its best. Roberts has able to paint a picture of George III in his times so that your really feel you ‘know’ him. His arguments are solid as he looks to unpick the propaganda of Whig or American historians which has tainted the view of George to be seen as possibly one of England’s worst monarchs. But was he on par with King John or Richard II? No, he couldn’t be further away from them. George was a pious, patriot king of a limited monarchy and fulfilled the role excellently. It speaks volumes of a man that people who knew him the most liked him the best. Was he a tyrant? It’s hard to see how, as Roberts argues if he was then he would have come down like an iron fist on the cartoons and press that freely were able to kick him and he would have vetoed acts of parliament he did not agree with. He in fact left the press to it and never intervened on an act. He was against slavery as his personal letters show. He did not own one or profit from the trade. He didn’t speak up in support of the abolitionists when it can to the debate, but again he was a limited monarch who did not intervene so history should not judge him harshly here. This was in the backdrop of the French Revolution and following the Gordon Riots where people justifiably feared any rock to the status quo could have ended in disaster. He was an advocate of religious freedom, free thought and liberty and a patron of academia and the arts. It is a shame he didn’t support Catholic Emancipation, however he was a down to earth and approachable monarch. He loved his people and they loved him. The book is well written, the building of 18th century society by Roberts is utterly mind blowing and his conclusion is fantastic. I loved it and couldn’t put it down.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    A terrific, well-researched biography which tells "the other side" of a much maligned man and ruler. He challenges much of the slanted history we were taught in schools of a king bent on repression of his subjects. Well done indeed. A terrific, well-researched biography which tells "the other side" of a much maligned man and ruler. He challenges much of the slanted history we were taught in schools of a king bent on repression of his subjects. Well done indeed.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Richard Cohen

    Andrew Roberts has again benefitted by being given access to hitherto classified archives held by the Queen. He has also ably mined the diaries of Frances Burney "Keeper of the Queen's Robes". His scholarship shows as does his humane but not uncritical sympathy with his subject who contrary to the musical "Hamilton" is no pantomime cut out. Professor Roberts dissects the 28 accusations in the Declaration of Independence, 26 of which he proves to be false or exaggerated. His description of the fi Andrew Roberts has again benefitted by being given access to hitherto classified archives held by the Queen. He has also ably mined the diaries of Frances Burney "Keeper of the Queen's Robes". His scholarship shows as does his humane but not uncritical sympathy with his subject who contrary to the musical "Hamilton" is no pantomime cut out. Professor Roberts dissects the 28 accusations in the Declaration of Independence, 26 of which he proves to be false or exaggerated. His description of the five bouts of madness endured by the King is poignant and he comprehensively dismisses the false diagnosis of Porphyria. George did suffer from intermittent episodes of manic depression or bipolar syndrome. Nevertheless, he had a happy marriage although did not get much joy from his fifteen children. He was the first Hanoverian Monarch who felt more English than German and was the last King who ruled as well as reigned. The loss of the colonies is addressed with much erudition and there is a great deal that is new to be learned. On the credit side, Napoleon's adventures were subdued under his reign. I particularly liked the portraits of the fifteen Prime Ministers who served under George including the less well-known ones "Pitt is to Addington as London is to Paddington". In short, there is plenty here to commend to an academic historian and to the general reader alike.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mat

    TelRev5

  10. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    Rating based on an abridged audiobook.

  11. 4 out of 5

    John

  12. 5 out of 5

    Maximilian Frankwicz

  13. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Cuthbert

  14. 4 out of 5

    Will Goring

  15. 5 out of 5

    Samuel

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jon

  17. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  18. 5 out of 5

    Doug

  19. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  20. 4 out of 5

    Francis Pellow

  21. 5 out of 5

    Donald Sharp

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jad

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jack Tilghman

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

  25. 4 out of 5

    Natty

  26. 4 out of 5

    Luke Fear

  27. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Campbell

  29. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Morgan

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Griffith

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