The Times Book of the Year
Andrew Roberts, one of Britain's premier historians, overturns the received wisdom on George III
*Winner of the General Society of Colonial Wars' Distinguished Book Award, 2021*
George III, Britain's longest-reigning king, has gone down in history as 'the cruellest tyrant of this age' (Thomas Paine, eighteenth century), 'a sovereign who inflicted more profound and enduring injuries upon this country than any other modern English king' (W.E.H. Lecky, nineteenth century), 'one of England's most disastrous kings' (J.H. Plumb, twentieth century) and as the pompous monarch of the musical Hamilton (twenty-first century).
Andrew Roberts's magnificent new biography takes entirely the opposite view. It portrays George as intelligent, benevolent, scrupulously devoted to the constitution of his country and (as head of government as well as head of state) navigating the turbulence of eighteenth-century politics with a strong sense of honour and duty. He was a devoted husband and family man, a great patron of the arts and sciences, keen to advance Britain's agricultural capacity ('Farmer George') and determined that her horizons should be global. He could be stubborn and self-righteous, but he was also brave, brushing aside numerous assassination attempts, galvanising his ministers and generals at moments of crisis and stoical in the face of his descent - five times during his life - into a horrifying loss of mind.
The book gives a detailed, revisionist account of the American Revolutionary War, persuasively taking apart a significant proportion of the Declaration of Independence, which Roberts shows to be largely Jeffersonian propaganda. In a later war, he describes how George's support for William Pitt was crucial in the battle against Napoleon. And he makes a convincing, modern diagnosis of George's terrible malady, very different to the widely accepted medical view and to popular portrayals.
Roberts writes, 'the people who knew George III best loved him the most', and that far from being a tyrant or incompetent, George III was one of our most admirable monarchs. The diarist Fanny Burney, who spent four years at his court and saw him often, wrote 'A noble sovereign this is, and when justice is done to him, he will be as such acknowledged'. In presenting this fresh view of Britain's most misunderstood monarch, George III shows one of Britain's premier historians at his sparkling best.
George, Roberts writes, "more than filled the role of King of Great Britain worthily; he filled it nobly". After reading this mammoth, elegant and splendidly researched biography, no open-minded reader could possibly disagree - not even an American.
'Andrew Roberts is our most prodigious biographer ... His demolition of the authors of the Declaration's case against George III is elegant and comprehensive.
Magisterial ... George III is notorious for two reasons: losing America and going mad. Roberts provides a fresh and spirited account of both occurrences ... Roberts's fundamentally humane approach to his biographical subjects ... treats George III with as much respect and compassion when sick, blind and deaf as when powerful at the promising start of his reign. The result is a lengthy book that remains engaging throughout.
powerful ... a very fine book ... This book should be read by every American whose interest in history goes beyond the feel-good. It is challenging, but richly evidenced and scrupulously argued. ... Coming after his powerful studies of Halifax, Salisbury, Napoleon and Churchill, it consolidates Roberts's position as one of the greatest biographers in the English language today.
If not for such fierce competition (in the form of such works as Salisbury: Victorian Titan, Churchill: Walking with Destiny and Masters & Commanders) one might be able to unequivocally say that George III is the author's masterpiece. This biography teems with detail, ideas and elegance. Roberts is a great writer - and this is one of his greatest achievements. Roberts sets himself a goal, that of challenging or overturning certain misconceptions that we might harbour about his subject. That George III was a tyrant, unintelligent and a victim of porphyria. Suffice to say, Roberts achieves his goal: mission impossible turns into mission accomplished. Roberts convinces through both persuasive prose and hard evidence (as opposed to just supposition). ... magnificent
George may become Britain's best-understood monarch, thanks to this impressive new biography. It is unashamedly revisionist. ... Roberts's account is masterly, combining a compelling narrative - one has to keep turning the pages even though one knows the outcome - with analysis that is both cogent and incisive. He appears to have read everything that is in the mainstream and much that isn't, including a wide range of archival sources. ... [George III] has had to wait two centuries for rehabilitation, but it has come at last. Roberts has got deep inside George and his world and has found a man of many sterling qualities. ... tremendous
In this magisterial life of George III, Roberts burnishes his stellar reputation as biographer and historian, dismantling many of the myths that have beset the memory of the man who ruled Britain and Ireland for almost sixty years from 1760. Roberts marshals the evidence meticulously and persuasively to show that George was nothing like the capricious, overbearing, intolerable figure of legend ... It is bracing, too, to see that Roberts has lost none of his disdain for the "Whig interpretation of history" - the comfort blanket of those who believe that Britain's story is one of the steady institutional defeat of autocracy by liberal incrementalism. Now at the top of his game, he has not surrendered the irreverent, revisionist tone that has made him one of the most important public intellectuals of our times.
This superb royal biography ... A book so diligently researched cannot fail to be rich in curious detail and amusing turns of phrase. There are plums on almost every page.
The strength of this generous new biography is that it correctly portrays George III as a dedicated, benevolent ruler , scrupulous in his constitutional role as head of government and head of state.
Andrew Roberts admires George III, and he is right to do so. The historical image of the king as a tyrant and a lunatic is not remotely true in the first case (a contention Roberts provides much evidence to substantiate) and true only for part of his reign in the second. ... A handsome and thorough biography ... but above all, Roberts has written a superlative political history of the period between 1760 and 1809.