Mad, Sad but George Wasn't Bad
Byline: CHRISTOPHER HUDSON
THE CURIOUS thing about George III is that his name is synonymous with madness, yet he was one of our sanest, most civilised kings.
Many people who read this delightfully affectionate and balanced portrait of Britain's longest-serving king (1760-1820) will have a picture in their mind's eye of Nigel Hawthorne in The Madness Of King George, red-faced and exploding with ferocious geniality until gradually his mind gives way, and he becomes a madman at the centre of what seems a mad system of government.
The best-known summary comes in 1066 And All That: 'George III was a Bad King. He was, however, to a great extent insane and a Good Man and his ministers were always called Pitt.' That he was a good man, there is no doubt. Proud of his German descent (he spoke German to his wife when they were alone), he nevertheless regarded himself as British through and through, believing that an Englishman should honour his family and his country, praise God, speak the truth and lead a decent life.
One of his first acts, when he came to the throne at the age of 22, was to issue a proclamation for the 'Encouragement Of Piety And Virtue'.
Sadly, it was not a virtuous age. For all the earnest moral instruction George III instilled into his young sons, most of them grew up to be scandalous womanisers, gambling and drinking themselves into debt.
His eldest son, who would be Prince Regent and later George IV, seduced one of his mother's maids of honour when he was 16, and later passed on two of his mistresses to the King's political enemy, Charles James Fox.
George III remained a rock of outraged stability, what-whatting and tut-tutting round his palaces, talkative, obstinate, buffoonish and kind.
Laughably formal and strait-laced, he was nevertheless cultivated, in keeping with an age so much more civilised than our own.
He was passionate about music and built up an art collection and a splendid library. He gave Dr Johnson an annual pension just for being Dr Johnson.
He loved fireworks, bands, military uniforms and bits of machinery, spending hours taking clocks and telescopes apart and putting them together again.
He ushered the Archbishop of Canterbury into the tube of the astronomer Herschel's giant telescope, saying: 'Come, my Lord, I will show you the way to heaven.' Villagers, labourers, shopkeepers, grooms, would be given a cheerful quizzing: 'Well, boy, what? What do you do? What do they pay you, what?' Although wistfully inclined towards
several English ladies, George let his agents search out for him a suitably Protestant European princess, only insisting, like Henry VIII, on seeing her miniature portrait first. …