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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, 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.

784 pages, Hardcover

First published October 1, 2021

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About the author

Andrew Roberts

155 books1,006 followers
Dr Andrew Roberts, who was born in 1963, took a first class honours degree in Modern History at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, from where he is an honorary senior scholar and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). He has written or edited twelve books, and appears regularly on radio and television around the world. Based in New York, he is an accomplished public speaker, and is represented by HarperCollins Speakers’ Bureau (See Speaking Engagements and Speaking Testimonials). He has recently lectured at Yale, Princeton and Stanford Universities and at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 172 reviews
Profile Image for Jean.
157 reviews2 followers
December 31, 2021
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). Roberts 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 Roberts there were moments where I think he gave the king the benefit of the doubt a bit more than he should have. However, Roberts 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.
Profile Image for Brian Willis.
569 reviews29 followers
December 20, 2021
In the long list of American antagonists - Britain in the early days, Spain, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Al Qaeda, and communism and terrorism in the modern day - George III surely tops the list of the Mount Rushmore of villains. But should he? Roberts certainly corrects the historical record that ran away from George, easily reflected by the modern American assertion that "we fought a revolution to get rid of kings ruling over us."

Not at all the truth. In fact, George III was very keen to keep America by conciliating and listening to their concerns (as reflected in the new archival material available for this biography). George was an enlightened monarch and much more open minded, curious, and friendly than the first two Hanoverian monarchs. Good lord, George II - grandfather - was a real piece of work and one of the most awful of English monarchs. The man let his son - George's father - sit and rot for days after death before allowing him to be embalmed and buried due to lingering animosities. Perhaps these known character flaws were part of the lingering negative impressions of the Hanoverian family that hounded George III and his political enemies.

The book's central major section centers on the American Revolution and the bungling that led to the British losing it. I found it informative and illuminating to read an account of that struggle from the British perspective. Yes, a lot of the loss can be attributed to disjointed central management of logistics and strategy, and one of the earliest successful deployments of the insurgency strategy that worked for the Vietcong and ISIS more recently, but to see it from the British perspective reveals that if George were truly the "tyrant" that Thomas Jefferson alleged he was, then a more tyrannical strategy would have succeeded. Indeed, the British went out of their way not to destroy America in the hopes of a stronger reconciliation afterwards. In fact, the real disagreement was with Parliament and not George, where the taxation without representation was taking place. The revolt against George wasn't necessarily personal until very late in the game and mainly because as the face of the mother country, it was easier to target George when in fact it was the machinations of British politics that enraged colonists. Blame the guy on the money.

The book is heavily invested in those political turns, ministries, and Prime Ministers that advised George on his realm. George was very involved with politics, and knew when to acquiesce and when to question the government when necessary. He mainly let Parliament conduct the war and taxation, and expressed concern that he wanted to conciliate with America as soon as possible. In fact, American readers may not be willing to follow Roberts with how far he blames America for the conflict, and how unreasonable Americans were in refusing any taxation at all (Britain repealed all but the Tea Tax by the end, reasoning that America should pay their share in taxes for protection, and that tea was a luxury item that America reasonably had to accept a duty on). George was not bitter over losing America, and was very keen at quickly embracing the common bonds that held us together rather than lamenting the loss of a colonial or even commonwealth territory. The war of 1812 occurred during the Regency, a time when George was hopelessly insane and out of touch with reality.

George's private life is covered in as much detail as necessary - a loving marriage for once! and many children (George IV was an absolute scoundrel, a wastrel and despicable spender and debtor who contributed to the negative impact on the monarchy that poisoned George's reign). And the madness is convincingly corrected in the historical record. The 1969 study that determined he suffered from porphyria is firmly and permanently rebutted here; he was literally mentally ill with a severe form of bipolar disease, with five episodes that progressed in severity. Because that time had little to no idea how to treat mental illness, the treatment of doctors usually made the illness worse, until the foresight of a Dr. Willis began to see results by restraining George in his mania and pursuing tranquility in his recovery. Sad that in modern medicine, medications and a similar treatment probably would have steadied George even more.

By the last ten years of his life, George never left Windsor Castle (1810-1820), hopelessly lost in an alternate reality in his mind, as well as deaf and blind. What a horrible existence that must have been. In the end, Roberts restores George to his place as one of the most important British monarchs for the RIGHT reasons, his dedication to science and the arts, his restraint at most times, and his permanent impact on British culture especially during the tumultuous times of the American Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. I dropped it to four stars personally because it is very dense with names who pass in and out and it began to become tedious at points, even for a reader with interest in such things as I am. This was one of those times where Prime Ministers came and went very capriciously at the slightest defeat in Parliament, much more unstable than the American presidency at the same time. That's a failure of the age and not Roberts. Nonetheless, it's a superb study of Britain, 1760s-1810, with the last chapter on 1810-1820 briefly covering the circumstances of George's final dark days and not Regency politics. If you visit London today, much of the architecture reflects that period, and it is clear that George III is on the Mount Rushmore of British monarchs. A solid survey of British politics during that period.
Profile Image for happy.
302 reviews89 followers
April 6, 2022
I found this an exceptionally good, if a bit wordy? read. Prof Roberts takes a really revisionist look at Good King George. Just about everything we “know” about him, but his stubbornness is taken to task. Prof Roberts opines that the image we have is almost totally taken from his enemies - and he had some brilliant ones, Edmond Burke, Charles Fox, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, as well as other Whig notables

The picture Roberts paints of the King, is a man, while not brilliant, he is a decent kind and principled man and more importantly intelligent. Contrary to popular perception, he was very well educated and up on current affairs. He was not the spendthrift that is commonly portrayed, but really rather frugal, with both his personal and gov't accounts. His heir on the other hand WAS a spendthrift. George had to bail him out over his debts several times during the future George IV's life. He was bibliophile; he would have fit in very well with this group. When he died his personal library of over 19,000 volumes was donated to the British Library and almost doubled their collection. His collection of scientific instruments was also very large and was donated upon his death to the British Museum.

Prof Roberts also looks at his "Madness" and what caused it. He suffered from 5 major episodes during his long reign - the last from 1810 'til his death in 1820. The author categorically rejects the diagnosis of porphyria. Instead he follows a more modern diagnosis of BiPolar disorder type I. He claims the Kings symptoms more closely match those of BPI than Porphyria. There is whole appendix to the book discussing the causes and how the diagnosis came about.

George enjoyed being around his subjects and was fairly popular during his reign. He would often go walking where ever he found himself and would talk with whomever he met. In the era before mass communications, he would often not be recognized. Often the people he was talking with had no idea they were speaking with the king. Prof Roberts cites several instances, and here a couple I really liked:

Once in his early reign he was visiting Weymouth and during his morning walk, he ran across a woman gleaning a wheat field. He struck up a conversation and he asked her if she was going to see the king. She said that she wanted to and that all her friends were, but she had 5 children to feed, so she couldn't afford to take time off of work. Upon hearing that, George to a Guinea coin out of his pocket and handed to her saying, "Tell your friends that the King came to see you."

On another occasion, later in his reign (after his second "madness episode" of the late 1780s he was again out for a walk when he came upon a farmer moving his sheep. He again stuck up a conversation and they talked about animal husbandry, land and stock prices etc then, “the man asked if he had seen the King, observing, ‘Our neighbors say he is a good sort of man, but dresses very plain,’ to which the Kind replied, ‘Aye, as plain as you see me now.’"

In looking at his personal life, Prof Roberts looks at his Christianity - he was a really devote Anglican, his devotion to his wife – there has been no hint of any sexual impropriety in his life and alone of the Hanoverian Kings and his sons, had a loving and until the end of his life, a successful marriage.

One other thing, Prof Roberts makes plain is that is his opinion, George was NOT a tyrant. If anything he was on the other side of the spectrum. He looks at the 28 charges against him in the American Declaration of Independence and categorically states and 26 of them have no basis in reality. If George was a tyrant, he would have burned the colonies down as many other Royal houses did to their rebellious populations during his lifetime. George was very careful not to force his opinion onto his governments, but at the same time he let his various ministers know what he felt about various topics. In fact Prof Roberts states that George never in his long reign, veto’d any legislation passed by parliament, in spite of his recognized power to do so.

I found the story of the end of his life very sad. His final descent into madness came in 1810 and lasted 'til he passed away in 1820. In addition to the madness, he also grew quite senile. From 1812 'til the end almost no one from his family visited him. In addition to the senility, by the end he was also deaf and blind.

Another part of his madness that struck me as particularly moving is the fact that George knew he was slipping into madness and could not stop it. Some of the treatments he received were positively barbaric - these including bleeding, cupping, blistering, being held in a straight jacket for days at a time. The increase in understanding and treatment of mental illness over the last 200 yrs or so is strikingly obvious! During this period he developed an understanding of mechanical things and became quite skilled at disassembly and reassembly of watches and clocks.

I found this very well written, and while not quite perfect, it is definitely a five star read!
Profile Image for Stephen Morrissey.
396 reviews7 followers
November 22, 2021
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.
October 13, 2022
When one thinks about King George III, Americans think of an evil dictator. He wanted nothing but to crush the rebellion in the colonies.

However the author, Andrew Roberts says otherwise. Andrew Roberts is a well known author and historian in England. He has written books on both Napoleon and Churchill( my favorite historical figure). He say that King George III was the exact opposite of what we think of him.

Myth 1. Not very bright. King George was made to write lengthy essays by his tutor on many topics at an early age. He spoke three languages. He played various musical instruments.

Myth 2. He wanted to crush the rebellious American colonies into loyal citizens. The author points out that he left governing the colonies to inept, fractious, disloyal, greedy members of Parliament. King George always followed what these supposed learned men had to say even if he disagreed with them.

The author in my opinion paints King George as an angel. I couldn’t find one thing this man did wrong in this lengthy book. He was an angel. In fact you feel sorry for the king at times. The men he depended on were definitely the wrong people to help lead the empire. King George suffered from manic-depressive orders or some other form of psychological disorder. Later in life he became both blind and deaf. His son , the next in line to be king, could careless about his father.

I believe the author had an agenda not to paint the king so negatively. I gave the the book 3 stars because of that.

68 reviews1 follower
December 12, 2021
This is a hard one to rate. The research is fantastic; the writing is first-rate. So what's the trouble?

The trouble is that George the III is not *super* interesting as Roberts portrays him. Roberts' revisionist portrayal of Napolean as a predominantly enlightenment figure was fascinating because we were left with an enlightenment figure who obviously bestrode Europe like a colossus as was fascinating in his own right.

But by revising the view that people have of George III, we are left with an enlightenment figure who, it turns out, isn't all that interesting. He was a strictly constitutional monarch who had a role, although not at any point the predominant one, in the government. He remains interesting to a certain extent because he was king at an extraordinary time, was an exponent of enlightenment values, and was (sometimes, and sometimes for a long time) mad. But since the madness was not, Roberts shows us, tied with tyranny, it is more pitiable than illuminating of George III's reign.

But, again, the work is splendidly written and tirelessly marshals the primary sources to offer a portrait that is quite convincing.
Profile Image for Richard Munro.
72 reviews32 followers
November 12, 2021
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.
Profile Image for Jerome Otte.
1,730 reviews
August 31, 2022
A thoughtful, accessible and well-researched biography of George III. Some readers may find it more engaging and fast-paced than Roberts’ other biographies.

George comes off as a man of moderate talent, intelligent, thoughtful, courageous and cultured, pious and faithful to his wife, kind and generous to people he interacted with, with a strong interest in the arts and sciences, and active in the running of his ministries (though he hated most of the politicians available一the ones he preferred had no following in Parliament) Roberts does a good job showing George’s reverence of Britain’s constitutional system and how he broadened the base of government, often appointing to his ministries people he hated. He rarely pressured or overruled his ministers, and never once vetoed an act of parliament, though it was in his power to do so. At the same time, he could be self-righteous, self-pitying, and poorly informed about the domains outside England. Roberts also points out the strains put on the king by his irritating children, bad press, and public mockery. George is often portrayed as a stuffed shirt or a boring square, but one must also remember London society’s obsession with scandals, affairs, and insane gambling habits. Like other biographies of George, this one includes painful accounts of George’s mental illness.

The sections on the American Revolution are probably the best parts of the book. These parts are pretty detailed and lengthy; the other biographies of George that I’ve read have covered this surprisingly briefly. The Revolution here is portrayed as a climax to the growing maturity of the English colonists. They may have claimed to desire “more” freedom and liberty, but they already enjoyed more of this than most peoples of the era. George is often cast as the villain of the American Revolution since he couldn’t devise a solution to the crisis in the colonies short of force, but Roberts points out that his ministers were also unable to do so. He argues that George’s views on colonial policies were shaped not by a desire to assert royal power but by his fiscally conservative views on England’s national debt. Revolutionary propaganda and popular understanding of those events often depicted George as a brutal tyrant. Roberts shows that George, his ministers, and his generals pursued a policy of conciliation, and that the only summary executions of American rebels were carried out by Loyalist partisans. He compares the mostly humane British conduct of the war to the often brutal counterrevolutionary measures adopted by other supposed monarchs of the Enlightenment.The terms of Britain's wartime peace offers were always very generous, and Britain never introduced conscription. “Had King George III been the ruthless despot he was made out to be by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, Britain would have had a much better chance of winning the war.” The book has a pretty solid analysis of the Declaration of Independence. Since this document mostly accuses George III of all the evils mentioned, Roberts examines these charges in detail, and concludes that most of them are illogical, hyperbolic or hypocritical. Roberts also notes that Article Two of the US Constitution gives the American president powers identical to those of the King of England, and also notes that the power of the American presidency has expanded since then, while that of the British monarchy has declined.

The narrative is rich and clear, and Roberts’ writing is precise, elegant and lively. The account of the American Revolution from England’s perspective is great, although it seems that Roberts believes it to have been inevitable. One of the best parts of the book is its success in crafting a moving and human portrait of George.

Roberts, however, dismisses much criticism of George as revolutionary propaganda, though it might have been more useful to explore exactly how and why British governments and colonists disagreed on what their rights and prerogatives meant. There could have been some more coverage on why so many British and American Whigs thought George was bent on tyranny. Roberts also seems to want to blame George’s ministers for many problems, while at the same time noting George’s influence as king. Roberts makes much of George’s gentlemanly approach to politics, though George wasn’t above underhanded tricks (the fall of the Fox-North coalition and Fox’s East India Bill, for example), and, as his own narrative shows, he often blocked or forced out ministers he disliked, and kept on less competent ones over their own protests (Bute and North). Edmund Burke shows up less than I thought he would. Roberts also assumes that the reader knows French. At one point Roberts mentions the 1761 capture of Belle Île but refers to Augustus Keppel as “Edward.”

A nuanced, well-written and very readable work.
Profile Image for Moses.
577 reviews
September 22, 2022
George emerges as a likable ruler, unshakeably aware of his duty (like his descendant, Elizabeth), almost to a fault. Not the "tyrant" of the Declaration, and not "Mad King George" until the last ten years of his life. I was really rooting for him and his marriage, even though I knew the sad ending of the story (the queen moved out, which is understandable).

The book is marred only by Andrew Roberts' ham-handed attempt to show that George's clemency to a convicted homosexual pedophile sodomite was somehow an enlightened tip of the hat to today's more enlightened sexual mores (yes, he really tried to do that).
Profile Image for Christopher.
1,070 reviews24 followers
January 17, 2023
“I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.” -- George III (not really)

Roberts' 2021 biography of George III goes to great lengths to separate mincing king from "Hamilton" from the actual man himself. Unfortunately, "The Last King of America" is often less about its subject than about the series of Prime Ministers, secretaries, Soldiers, courtiers, and various gadflies that surrounded the third longest reigning British monarch. This is a problem because despite having such a long reign to chronicle, "The Last King of America" is often a very dry and sometimes soulless descent into ministerial minutiae than the reign of a king.

This is more a history of the government UNDER George III than of *George's* reign itself (the title notwithstanding). Roberts leans VERY into the "misunderstood" aspect and the book is generally rewarding there -- especially as it relates to George's view/actions towards the colonies.

After decades of "salutary neglect" -- it's little wonder the colonies chafed at even modest attempts at increased control by the crown. The problem for Roberts is that his desire to "redeem" George by painting him as a wholly benign and preternaturally enlightened ruler, sympathetic to all the desires of liberty from his colonial subjects, is that it tends to ring false and a little hagiographic.

In his effort to absolve George from the various charges of tyranny or despotism, Roberts tends to divest George of most of his agency. Most of the blame then falls to George's Prime Minister, Secretaries, and Generals of various stripes. The effect is that it reduces the subject of the biography to little more than a figurehead. With that comes a persistent odor of "those ungrateful colonials" throughout the work.

This comes through most notably when Roberts does a line by line "refutation" of the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson's 27 grievances. This section is both interesting and blinkered in that Roberts addresses each grievance and attempts to defend/rebut every charge and while there are some enjoyable specifics and noteworthy examples of overreach by Jefferson, there's also a level of hyper-technical pedantry in the exercise that rings hollow.

That being said, that's the best part of the book second only to the detailed madness of King George. Roberts diagnoses George with manic bipolar disorder and compares his writings during his manic phases with his more lucid times. The details of the quackery George was subjected to in treating his madness is fascinating and brutal ("time for another bleeding, sire").

The extent of George's mental illness, however, only occupies a small section of Roberts' history of George's reign. This feels like a woefully missed opportunity -- a deeper analysis into whether his mental illness might have explained some of Georges' behaviors outside of the two known periods of madness would have been welcome. But Roberts doesn't do that. Instead, George had two major episodes separated by a couple decades and that illness had NO RELEVANCE for anything that happened outside those two episodes. This feels....incomplete.

All in all, "The Last King of America" does a good job of redeeming, to a point, "the tyrant" -- but often feels too much like a reclamation project that just papers over inconvenient details (agency and illness) rather than address them fully to create a more comprehensive picture.
Profile Image for Christopher Humphrey .
202 reviews6 followers
January 15, 2022
Andrew Roberts is one of my favorite historians. His prior works on Churchill and Napoleon are outstanding. In his latest book, "The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III" Roberts continues his excellent work.

Roberts argues that what most people know (or think they know) about King George III--the man on the throne in England during the American Revolution--is simply a caricature, and significantly at odds with the historical record. Roberts makes a compelling case by carefully and precisely exploring the reign of George III. As an Englishman one would expect Roberts to be sympathetic to George III, but Roberts is no shill for George III; instead, Roberts fully explores the life and character of England's King who reigned on the throne for such a consequential time in history. Indeed, George III reigned not only during the American Revolution but also during the French Revolution and during the extensive campaigns of General Napoleon Bonaparte.

Roberts argues that through his reign, George III exhibited character, conviction, moral rectitude, intellectual curiosity and vigor, and a steadfastness of purpose that was a credit to his people, to the British Monarchy and to his forbears. In contradistinction to the popular narrative that George III was a stubborn lunkhead does not sustain under the weight of historical evidence. If Roberts has placed his thumb on the historical scale, it is incumbent on the academy to correct the record. But as far as it goes, Roberts case is convincing and enlightening.

The work is well researched and extremely informative. In point-of-fact, I learned something new on virtually every page of this book, as it is so rich in historical detail. But Roberts does not get lost in dry historical facts. Instead, Roberts is able to meld the historical record with a lush and verdant portrait of the characters of the age, such as Lord North, William Pitt the Elder and William Pitt the Younger. The narrative pace is satisfying to the reader and Roberts uses his able pen to form, to question, and to bring the reign of George III to life. This is no mean accomplishment, and I have no doubt that this history has set the bar for George III studies for decades to come.

Roberts thoughtfully and unflinchingly details the unfortunate mental illness suffered by George III. Roberts is convincing that George's illness was not secondary to porphyria; rather, it was manic depression. The character of George III is on full display as he suffers 5 separate major bouts of mental illness during his reign and as he he is finally sidelined by madness, blindness, and deafness at the end of his reign, such that a Regency was approved by Parliament so the Country could move forward on a constitutional basis.

Roberts has written an excellent, and perhaps controversial, history. It is a worthy work and I highly commend this massive work without reservation. Happy reading!
Profile Image for Stetson.
182 reviews133 followers
May 9, 2022
The Last King of America is a serious attempt to reclaim the reputation of George III. It is a conscious bit of revisionism that ironically leverages some current American mores to support this project (i.e. George's sexual modesty, likely mental illness, anti-authoritarianism, and relative anti-slavery position relative to American contemporaries). This is likely a dry slog of a work for those who aren't historians or deeply invested in these historical claims and figures. I do think the work would have benefitted from a tighter length, but there are still lots of interesting tidbits throughout.
Profile Image for Renee Wilmeth.
21 reviews
June 9, 2022
Wow. What a work. While I don't agree with the author's conclusions (he is a big fan of George III and doesn't always take as objective an approach as he could), I appreciate the tremendous amount of research that went into this comprehensive survey of one of the longest reigning monarchs in British history. We Americans know of him w/r/t to the American Revolution, but his reign and legacy was far-reaching and much more extensive than the 1770s. Roberts also addresses his weaknesses many of which cost him long standing relationships with his family and many of his children, as well as his bouts of illness which he concludes was severe manic depression which could have been treated today. Roberts would not agree, but it's clear George was a very political king -- involved in government affairs, appointments, and leadership decisions some of which lead to his failures. And it's also clear that the English ruling class and politicians completely misread the situation leading up to and during the American Revolution. A tour de force -- long and detailed, Roberts has delivered a long-overdue survey of this overlooked king.

See my full review at the Online Library of Liberty Reading Room: https://oll.libertyfund.org/reading_r...
Profile Image for Martin.
189 reviews6 followers
December 25, 2021
Andrew Roberts wants us to question everything we think we know about America's last monarch, most especially Thomas Jefferson's 28-point indictment of the alleged despot in the otherwise magisterial Declaration of Independence.

The words ratified by the Continental Congress ring down through history: "The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States."

Roberts demonstrates that most of the 28 counts were war propaganda replete with ex post facto justifications for a revolt that had already begun. King George III was no despot, no tyrant. And over the course of 784 pages Roberts, a skilled historian and biographer, shows us George was an enlightened, constitutional, conservative yet not reactionary, monarch who protected the best interests of his subjects across the Atlantic -- or at least George and most of Parliament were convinced they did.

Indeed, the American colonists were as free as any people in the world in the late 18th century; the King simply wanted his subjects to pay for their own defense after the French and Indian War and heed to the sovereignty of Parliament -- something they had never questioned before the Stamp Act crisis of the mid-1760s.

This is also a tragic story, for George III ruled for nearly 60 years that ended with the British Empire the largest in human history (a fact many subject peoples, namely Indians of the subcontinent, probably did not celebrate), but Whig politicians and generations of Whig historians libeled George III as a brute, corrupt, power-hungry, and unintelligent -- a narrative adopted by historians and critics down to the present day.

Clearly he was none of those things, but was he a successful ruler? Was he good at politics? At times, yes. The obstinacy (or principled stubbornness) that served him poorly during the 1770s-1780s with regard to the revolting colonists would serve him well in the Napoleonic Age. George III was a pious man of principle, no doubt.

George's leadership during the American crisis was spotty. He left it to his ministers to lead when their policies were alienating the colonists to the point of revolt, and he was stubbornly slow to realize the unpopularity of imperial policies and, later, that the war was lost. George III did not truly know his subjects; he never contemplated visiting the 13 colonies.

Also tragic was the last decade of George's life, during which he lived alone and isolated, blind and deaf, suffering from his fifth and last bout of manic depression and bipolar disorder. Roberts' work plumbing the newly available historical record -- including thousands of letters in George's own hand -- does justice to the King's actual malady rather than the misdiagnosis of porphyria.

Most of George's doctors were blind to what really ailed him, and their treatments were torturous and even life-threatening (I am always grateful to have been born in an age of modern medicine). It is a testament to Roberts' skill as a scholar and storyteller that the reader truly feels for George during these harrowing manic episodes. In one bout, George babbled incoherently for 19 consecutive hours.

Where Roberts misses most, in my view, is his assessment of the result of the American Revolution. He ascribes too much self interest, irony, and hypocrisy to the revolutionaries motives and not enough to ideology. Thus, he concludes that the result of the Revolution was conservative in nature, as Article II of the Constitution gives the president similar powers as the unwritten British constitution gave to the monarch (post-1688).

But as we know from Gordon Wood, the American Revolution was radical -- it marked a watershed moment in the history of the Enlightenment because it overturned an existing order (it was a revolution, after all, not merely a series of battles for a little more autonomy).

Americans were now citizens, not subjects, and the egalitarian principles (not applied to slaves and Indians, of course) for which the revolution was fought fundamentally altered the ordinary person's expectations in life with regard to his or her relationship to government and law, to one another, to family, to church, etc. Moreover, the Revolution gave birth to what became the antislavery and abolitionist movement on both sides of the Atlantic -- once again, the egalitarian impulse at work.

In this worldview, no monarch could ever be legitimate because kings and queens, while able to pay attention to public opinion represented in a burgeoning press, were ultimately not accountable to the consent of the governed. They ruled for life, their station bestowed by the will of god and the accidents of birth and blood. The American Revolution was a direct refutation to this idea -- even if George III was no tyrant.

Still I recommend this book, although it is a little too long. It is probably the most comprehensive and accurate cradle-to-grave biography ever written about America's last King.
Profile Image for Ben.
967 reviews81 followers
April 10, 2022
Roberts persuasively makes the case that George III is misunderstood, at least in pop history. I did appreciate this detailed biography, but to me the book was more of a commitment than the subject was worth.

> The Royal Marriages Act effectively meant that British royals could really only marry German royals, a law that forced the Prince of Wales into an unhappy marriage and others of George’s children and siblings into unmarried relationships. Three of George III’s daughters remained unmarried for want of appropriate matches: at Windsor they sometimes headed their letters ‘The Nunnery’. It was a sad effect of the Act, and of the King’s desire that his family should not marry non-royals, that only one of George’s fifteen children – Charlotte, Queen of Württemberg – enjoyed a marriage that was both happy and legal.

> One historian has even gone so far as to suggest that without the King’s ‘admirable wish to fight jobbery in the army … Great Britain might have won the American war’. An early and heavy investment of the colonies with large numbers of British troops, it is argued, might have disheartened the Americans and, almost as importantly, headed off their alliance with the French that ultimately proved so fatal to British hopes of victory.

> an over-devolving of competencies between ministries was rife for the first two years of the struggle. Until 1777, for example, the responsibility for transporting men and their supplies across the Atlantic was divided between the Ordnance Board (responsible for artillery, engineers, guns and gunpowder), the Navy Board (men, horses, uniforms, tents, medicine and camp equipment) and the Victualling Board (food), the Treasury being responsible for all other supplies

> ‘He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us,’ claimed charge number twenty-seven, ‘and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.’ This was a reference to Lord Dunmore’s offer of freedom and weapons to those African-American slaves in Virginia who joined the British forces, as well as the treaties made with Britain’s long-standing Native American allies. Lind and others did not fail to point out the inherent contradiction of complaining about freeing slaves in a document that starts with high-sounding remarks about all men being created equal

> It was true that the French decision was opportunistic, but in many respects it was a masterstroke, dividing France’s ancestral enemy from her potentially vast empire in the west. Yet Turgot was also correct, and the enormous costs of fighting the new global struggle would break the French Treasury, eventually leading to the calling of the Estates-General, the representative assembly of the nation, for the first time since 1614. It was their subsequent refusal to disband in May 1789 that led to the French Revolution two months later, and thus subsequently to Louis XVI’s decapitation. Rarely in history has opportunism been punished so condignly

> The King uncharitably suspected Richmond and Keppel’s group of wanting ‘to fight the peace all over again, and to form fresh cabals … I think peace every way necessary to this country, and that I shall not think it complete if we do not get rid of Gibraltar.’ He had entirely missed the crucial strategic advantage that the Rock offered, and was to afford the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Wars – indeed future ones also – of controlling entry and egress between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. To modern strategists the idea that Britain might have given up Gibraltar in exchange for St Lucia and Guadeloupe is staggering

> Even if in origin the King’s nickname of ‘Farmer George’ was meant pejoratively, it served only to increase his popularity in a country that, though on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, was still overwhelmingly rural. … His reign coincided with what has been described as a period of ‘agricultural enlightenment’, in which increased knowledge led to an unprecedented increase in production, in a country that was quickly industrializing by 1780. In 1787 George contributed a long article on crop rotation – under the pseudonym Ralph Robinson, the name of one of his shepherds at Windsor – to the leading agricultural journal of the day, Arthur Young’s Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts.

> he ran his farms as serious commercial enterprises, and at a respectable profit. He took hundreds of pages of handwritten notes on every conceivable subject regarding agriculture, and with a particular interest in varieties of cabbage, then a staple crop. While Marie Antoinette and her friends were dressing up as shepherdesses on her pretend farm in the Trianon gardens at Versailles, therefore, ‘Farmer George’ was writing about cabbages, crop rotation and manure, introducing new strains of sheep into England and pioneering modern practices that might increase the supplies of food that were all that stood between the peasantry and penury. In a still largely rural country, his keen interest in the way that the majority of people made their living was another reason for his widespread popularity.

> He conferred with the Prince of Wales, who was already introducing friends into the King’s bedroom to amuse them and so that the accounts of his father’s lunacy were widely confirmed in high society. ‘Think of the Prince of Wales introducing Lord Lothian into the King’s room when it was darkened,’ William Grenville told his brother George Grenville, Marquess of Buckingham, in a coded letter, ‘in order that he might hear his ravings at the time that they were at the worst.’ He added that ‘no pains are spared to circulate all sorts of lies, in order to depress people’s spirits,’

> The day after the King’s death, the Royal Navy officer Edward Bransfield claimed Antarctica in his name, making George the only person to have had not one (Australia) but two continents so claimed, far more of the earth’s surface than anyone else in history, as well as (initially at least) the planet we now know of as Uranus. Despite its humiliation in America, as George’s reign closed the British Empire was the largest in the history of the world.

> The Whig leaders of the 1760s and 1770s tended to be the sons and grandsons of the grandees who had put William and Mary on to James II’s throne in 1688, political dynasties who felt a natural entitlement to rule Britain even a century later. The Whigs despised George in part because he made the Tory party respectable again. Having ingested the Tory concept of the Patriot King from his father and Lord Bolingbroke, the King appointed Tories into the government and the royal household for the first time since the first Jacobite rebellion of 1715, supported their foreign policy (one that was sceptical of Continental and Hanoverian commitments), invited them to his Levees and Drawing Rooms, and awarded them knighthoods and peerages. By the 1790s, although politicians such as William Pitt the Younger and the Duke of Portland still nominally styled themselves as Whigs, they were in fact indistinguishable from Tories, and were thoroughly separated politically from true Whigs and radicals such as Charles Fox

> The cry of ‘No taxation without representation’ was essentially meaningless as a revolutionary slogan, ever since on 19 October 1765 the Stamp Act Congress had passed its fourth resolution, ‘That the people of these colonies are not, and from their local circumstances cannot be, represented in the House of Commons in Great Britain’, wording close to what South Carolina’s Assembly had voted in September 1764. By rejecting the idea of representation – which Britain was later willing to offer, even to the point of reserving American seats in the House of Commons – all that the Stamp Act Congress really wanted to assert was that there should be no taxation by Westminster at all, under any circumstances.

> though they wanted independence and their own sovereignty, the colonies did not break away so that they could instate an essentially different balance within their constitutional framework. The Americans’ decision under Article Two of the United States Constitution to invest the president with powers almost identical to those of the British monarch can be regarded as an unintended homage to the political system they were ostensibly rejecting. In Common Sense, Tom Paine had promised Americans that they would have the ‘power to begin the world over again’, but instead of a grand social revolution they undertook a conservative political one, investing their head of state with the power to appoint judges, issue pardons for federal offenses, sign legislation into law or veto it, serve as Commander-in-Chief, commission army officers, convene the legislature in special sessions, receive ambassadors, ensure that the laws are faithfully executed, and appoint Supreme Court justices and Cabinet officials (albeit with Senate confirmation), all just like the British monarch. Even when they overthrew monarchy for ever, Americans rejected Paine’s ideas of radical democracy and instead retained governors in state constitutions.

> Washington, Jefferson and their colleagues were at best enabling of slavery. George, by contrast, was the monarch who in his essays in the 1750s recognized its evil, and – although he did not actively advocate abolition himself or recognize that Christianity imposed a moral duty to oppose the system altogether – he never owned or traded slaves and he gave royal assent to the Act of Parliament that abolished the slave trade in 1807.

> Although Russia, Austria, Prussia and Sweden filled their armies’ ranks through conscription, no one in Britain, including the King, so much as considered endangering British liberties by relying on it. Conscription was not even introduced to counter the much more existential threat posed by Napoleon twenty years later. Continental tyrannies could call up legions of men by government fiat, but not the limited monarchy of George III. Even the ‘embodiment’ (mobilization) of British militia units to take over roles in Britain and free up regular army units for service in America was not undertaken until 1778. Neither was the Treasury willing or ready until then to devote the huge expenditure necessary for total war, as it had been against foreign foes in the Seven Years War. Here is a third irony – had King George III been the ruthless despot he was made out to be by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, Britain would have had a much better chance of winning the war. If the British generals had been willing to cause social chaos in the South by arming the slaves, or to wreak havoc in the West by arming a Native American alliance, or to raze Boston and Philadelphia in the way that Admiral Cochrane was to raze Washington, DC, in 1814, or to treat American prisoners as the Duke of Cumberland had treated Scottish Highlanders in 1745, then the war might have gone differently. The British both precipitated the revolution and lost the American War of Independence in part because George III was not a tyrant.

> John Brooke correctly identified George as having ‘good claims to be considered the most cultured monarch ever to sit on the throne of Great Britain’. He invited Mozart to perform at Buckingham House, encouraged the British taste for Handel and tried to persuade Haydn to live in England, played the flute, harpsichord and piano, appointed Sir Joseph Banks as Royal Botanist, gave Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and James Wyatt important posts in public architecture, commissioned Capability Brown to landscape his gardens, promoted the scientific aspects of Captain Cook’s voyages, supported the manufacture and designs of Josiah Wedgwood and Matthew Boulton, promoted vaccination despite losing at least one child to smallpox post-inoculation, established a book bindery at Buckingham House, promoted the painters Allan Ramsay, Benjamin West and Thomas Gainsborough (who described him as ‘a good connoisseur’), was himself a competent architectural draughtsman, assembled the world’s finest collection of scientific instruments and enjoyed disassembling and reassembling intricate clocks and watches

> The moments that gave him the most anguish and tipped him over the edge into manic-depressive episodes were not those commonly assumed to be low-water marks of George’s performance as monarch. There were no episodes between the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766 and the Treaty of Paris that ended the American war in 1783, for example, even though Britain was fighting a multi-front war for several years with no allies. Nor did the stress of having his Closet stormed by the Whigs in 1782 and his expelling them the following year bring on an episode. Similarly, the serious invasion threats of 1779 and 1797 left him robust and ready. Rather than the madness of George III we ought to consider his extraordinary mental fortitude in moments of high danger and drama. George bore his five descents into lunacy stoically, especially considering the horror that he knew he was going mad during four of them.
Profile Image for Shain Verow.
94 reviews1 follower
November 30, 2022
I’ll admit, prior to reading this I didn’t know much about King George apart from the things I learned from school about him and the American Revolution. The more complete story is much more interesting and has quite a bit of complexity!

I enjoyed learning about his life, and his struggle with mental illness is something that I think adds a lot more depth to understanding the person he was.
208 reviews
December 2, 2021
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.
Profile Image for Anthony Taylor.
137 reviews19 followers
November 25, 2022
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.
Profile Image for Toby.
596 reviews14 followers
April 29, 2022
Andrew Roberts begins and ends his superb biography by bringing to our attention the most well-watched modern cultural representation of George III: Not the Madness of King George, although that certainly gets mentioned, but the prancing, mad, dictatorial king of Hamilton. A significant portion of the biography is aimed squarely at pulling down ideas that the third of the Hannoverian kings was a ruthless dictator, bent on keeping the American colonists as British subjects whatever the cost.

This can sometimes feel like tilting at straw men - taking exception to a modern Broadway musical or to the words of the Founding Fathers spoken in crisis and wartime has more polemical rather than historical value.

Even so, what he does, he does extremely well. Although the American war takes up perhaps a disproportionate amount of space in the book, he also forensically tackles the question of George's madness, including an extensive appendix arguing why it was not porphyria but instead a form of bipolar illness. He pays due attention to George's relations with his various prime ministers and takes us through the complexities of eighteenth century political factions. He paints a vivid portrait of the court, including his grotesque sons (don't expect a revisionist biography of George IV any time soon) and gives us an impression of a man who had varied intellectual pursuits, evidenced by the founding of the Royal Academy and his patronage of William and Caroline Herschel.

In this light George III deserves to be put in the same category of enlightenment monarch as Frederick the Great and Maria Theresa.

Of course revisionist biographies can protest too much, and Andrew Roberts tacks so far in one direction as to leave us on the verge of hagiography. Faults are picked up but, perhaps not with the weight needed to give due balance. A wider question, raised but not wholly addressed, is the changing influence of the monarchy over the period of George's reign. The American war was an omnishambles from beginning to end, caused by such a diverse range of factors that it's pointless laying blame on anyone person - let alone a monarch who barely ever travelled outside of the Home Counties, let alone across the Atlantic. In counterfactual speculation Roberts wonders what might have happened if worthwhile concessions had been given to the colonists earlier, but he concedes that it is unlikely that America would have remained beholden to the Old Country past the early nineteenth century.

Roberts very clearly comes from the right in politics. Some of his comments about empire may strike readers as a tad uncomfortable. To describe the loss of America as the greatest imperial catastrophe to strike Britain until the "loss of India" in 1947 seems strange, to say the least. The catastrophe of 1947 was partition with a million lives lost and 15 million displaced, but somehow I don't think that is the meaning at the forefront of his mind.
Profile Image for Socraticgadfly.
942 reviews314 followers
March 3, 2022
Simply excellent. Some things in this book I totally knew, like that the latter 2/3 of the Declaration of Independence is propaganda and that George III wasn't a tyrant to the colonies.

Some, I partially knew, like that George wasn't really a tyrant on the home front toward Wilkes, Fox, etc.

Some, I had some unlearning, like the claim that George III tried to expand monarchial powers his grandfather and great-grandfather allegedly lost due to focusing Hanover first and not being English speakers. Rather, Roberts argues convincingly that this is Whig history and wrong.

Roberts is good, very good, on showing how George III made full use of the monarchial powers he had to try to persuade individual cabinet members, or the prime minister, to take a different tack. But, when he couldn't, he followed their directive, even to the point of allowing his name to be used in the Lords in the run-up to its vote to repeal the Stamp Act, even though George wanted it kept in place. (And, he may well have been right.)

The evolution of the British constitutional system later in his reign, to where Pitt the Younger became an actual prime minister, representing the whole cabinet to the king, is also sketched out well. So is George's relations to all of his first ministers.

On the home front, Roberts humanizes a very humanizable king.

That includes his madness.

Roberts says it was real, but that the claim in the 1960s, which had eventually become the "accepted" explanation — porphyria — is not only wrong, but arguably a mix of medical malpractice and the 1960s version of clickbait diagnosis.

Rather, he says, the traditional idea of bipolar disorder rings true. Now, that phrase didn't exist 200-plus years ago, but "mania" did, and in all of his episodes after the earliest, that's how George was eventually treated. (It took a while for him to get anything more than the period barbarism of bleeding, cupping and similar.)

The "triggers" for these episodes — the last of which became permanent — are also thorougly limned out by Roberts.

A must read.
Profile Image for Jakob Myers.
27 reviews1 follower
August 4, 2022
Whew. What a read. I thoroughly enjoyed this tragic tale by Roberts on a largely misunderstood historical character. Roberts gives a wildly detailed and extensive take on King George III's life, but even more so he presents a powerful argument that the common view of who the King was among Americans today is a warped and misinformed view. I can honestly say that after reading this, to an extent, I agree.

The writing of the book was quite good. At times the British politics can drag on, but it gave me an appreciation of the chaos that was happening before, during, and after the American Revolution. Personally it felt as though, at times, the focus were on the politics and not George. However, I fully get that to understand George you must understand the politics. I appreciated Roberts' arguments for the person of George, yet at times it certainly showed that he had a vendetta against the misconceptions and would stretch to give George the benefit of the doubt. But, I will fully admit that this book changed my perception of the King and the war as a whole.

Truthfully, it is a sad ending and you come to pity the King quickly once you realize what he had to endure in a time where mental illness was not cared for well. That is why it is a tragedy. Amongst the misconceptions of him being a wild tyrant and the thoughts of him being an insane madman, one quickly loses the appreciation of what King George did for his country, culture, and the world.

This is a read I would encourage to everyone, especially Americans.
140 reviews
February 20, 2022

I enjoyed this book, which balances day-by-day detail with Robert's understanding of the events with the benefit of hindsight and insight. I particularly enjoyed the latter, and skipped over a lot of the minutia of what happened.

This book gave me an interesting sense of a monarch who was quite important politically, aware of the limits of his power, but also aware of the importance of diligence in exercising what power he did have. He was more than just a figurehead and this was interesting. But there is another angle which I think I would have enjoyed reading about: what did George do as the monarch of his realm? How did he 'govern' over the population in general? There is one paragraph on this in the conclusion, 'It was George who bought what is now Buckingham Palace, invented the royal walkabout, inspired the jubileee commemoration industry, commissioned the Gold State Coach, made Trooping of the Colour an annual ceremony, gave out many more honours, and so on....' But I would like to understand a bit more where George got his inspiration from to 'create' traditions which are fairy-tale like.
Profile Image for Alex Yauk.
72 reviews2 followers
January 25, 2023
3.5 stars.

I would recommend Robert’s 20 page conclusion to anyone, but the full book only to the most hardcore British and American history scholars.

The biggest fault of the book lies not with the author - Roberts does a worthy job laying groundwork and establishing his points - it is in the subject matter, King George III, who simply is not the most interesting person despite ruling through very consequential parts of history.

Said simpler, if I’m going to read a 700+ page biography, I would prefer it be on someone who dominates his or her era. Or an extremely interesting personality ie Churchill.

All that said, the writing is very good. It was insightful to see the American Revolution from a British perspective, and this book colored in so much history for me. Roberts is ultimately convincing in his defense of King George III. But his defense is that he was a good, pious king, not a tyrant. However, he is not someone who shaped history or seized the moment, rather someone who served nobly, and was along for the ride.
Profile Image for Anne Morgan.
660 reviews13 followers
November 26, 2021
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
Profile Image for Jason Allison.
Author 3 books16 followers
January 12, 2022
Like Roberts’ two other biographies of towering figures—Napoleon and Churchill—his reframing of George III proves to be a stunning achievement of scholarship and storytelling. Roberts is a gifted writer; perhaps an even better assembler of information. The sheer volume of players (whose names change frequently, thanks to the maddening system of peerages) is at times difficult for the reader to track, but Roberts steady hand is always at the wheel.

This took me a long time, but that is in no way a testament to any shortcomings in the work. A remarkable life deserves to be thoroughly absorbed.
Profile Image for Bill Baar.
64 reviews16 followers
April 2, 2022
I would have benefited reading Robert's concluding chapter first, before tackling this massive biography. Knowing the outcome would have helped me follow his book's case.

Translating between Earl and Duke of some locale, and the subject's plain name always a challenge for me when reading English History. A handicap for me with the vast cast of players here. Robert's bio well worth the time wading through the pages and my solution is keeping my phone and Wikipedia handy for reference.

Why past Historians ganged up on George III a question worth a book in itself I too.

All in all though five stars from me.
Profile Image for Richard.
40 reviews14 followers
November 27, 2021
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.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
146 reviews
January 23, 2022
I very much enjoyed reading this book. Learning about the British perspective of the Revolutionary War was eye opening. Really glad I stumbled across this book.
Profile Image for Peter.
Author 20 books31 followers
March 2, 2022
Fascinating and quite detailed, this may change your mind about George III--the author certainly hopes so, though he sometimes pushes his case overmuch. Nevertheless, he captures the times and the people with great skill and vividness. The release of so many letters and documents written by the long-lasting king adds a revealing richness to the author's account.
Profile Image for Nathan Eberline.
86 reviews3 followers
March 21, 2022
The Last King of America by Dr. Andrew Roberts is a book I have been seeking for nearly fifteen years. Since I first started exploring the Revolutionary War, I soon developed a deep curiosity about the British perspective. As an American reading American authors, it is easy to grow enchanted by the characters who came together as founders of this nation that has overwhelmingly shaped history over the past 250 years.

Yet anyone reading about British-American relations in the late 1700s has to consider the seismic loss of an estimated 2.5 million citizens living in millions of fertile acres that were all under England’s domain. Yes, there were years of tension and then fighting that led to American independence, but I was immensely curious about what King George, parliament, and the English citizenry thought about the change. Fortunately, Andrew Roberts provided just the book I wanted.

As a slight warning, The Last King of America is nearly 800 pages, and it is biography focused more on King George III rather than a general history of the Revolutionary War from the British perspective. For someone like me who was more focused on the 1770s, I had to expel a bit more concentration as George’s life moved further away from the colonies. Yet his story remains both worthwhile and meaningful because he led his country for so many decades.

To reiterate, the title of this book belies how much of the content occurs with only a loose nexus to the American colonies. This focus is not a detriment, but it’s worth noting for expectations. Relatedly, since King George lived to 1820, I expected an analysis of the War of 1812—particularly since the United States came so close to falling back under British rule. This absence reflects that King George had largely become unfit to rule by 1810 and also illustrates that Dr. Roberts’s book is foremost a biography rather than an analysis of English-American relations. With this expectation set, I am grateful that Dr. Roberts wrote and shared The Last King of America. King George is far more than his portrayal in either Hamilton: the musical, Hamilton: the book, or any of the other history books I have read in the past. This books adds another great perspective to understanding the era as it relates to both the United States and Great Britain.

The following notes are some of the points I found interesting:

Roberts set the stage of George III by covering the volatile family life that he faced at birth. He entered life with his grandfather as king but a father who was hated by and estranged from his grandparents. Additionally, their hold on the throne was still tenuous because of their family’s Germanic roots. Finally, England was undergoing a change in its view of monarchy. The idea of a patriot king was a more limited monarchy than had once been the norm. Despite the harsh political conditions, George’s father, Prince Frederick, loved and cared deeply for his children as shown by surviving correspondence.

George’s reputation by some historians is that of a slow student. But his letters show a boy who was bilingual and writing well in English and German by 9 and translating Latin by his teens. He received a well-rounded, enlightened education in history, mathematics, science, and religion.

Another surprise of George’s surviving essays is his value for life, liberty, and the right of private ownership. Further, he described a balance of powers and John Locke’s idea of the social contract. He also wrote a striking contrast between his family, the Hanovers, with that of the Stuarts. George critiques the Stuarts for their despotic nature while highlighting the Hanovers for their constraints on monarchy and restraints on absolute power.

King George had a deep appreciation for music and played the piano, harpsichord, organ, and flute. Musicians who visited his court included George Frederick Handel and Johann Christian Bach. Mozart performed as an 8-year-old at Buckingham House for over three hours. Queen Charlotte commissioned pieces by Mozart. King George also offered significant funds and a summer home to Joseph Haydyn to keep him from returning to Vienna.

The collection King George acquired of fine art is staggering: books, maps, paintings, and more on a scale that is remarkable. As Roberts described George’s library—a collection the king generously made available to all sorts of scholars—I couldn’t help but wonder how the cost of these purchases fit into the equation of Britain’s colonies and taxation. It seems that there was more to Britain’s annual budget than just its warring nature. That does not, however, minimize the immense debt from the Seven Years War, which loomed large over Britain’s decisions in relation to its colonies.

During the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) between Britain, France, Spain, and others, King George pushed hard for peace. During negotiations to end the war, one motivation for insisting upon taking Canada as a colony from France was maintaining security interests in the 13 American colonies. Britain’s leaders were concerned about losing the colonies to France if Canada followed a Franco path. The Treaty of Paris thus ensured Britain’s control of North America from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.

King George was the first monarch since Elizabeth I (1558-1603) to never visit Europe. He never visited anywhere outside his region of England, which gave him an insular vantage. This isolation occurred despite travel to the Americas being relatively common in his lifetime. Interestingly, it would not have been unheard of if George had moved to the American colonies and reigned from there. That’s what his grandfather, King George I, did to secure the Hanoverian Kingdom’s dominion over England when he moved from Hanover to London. How interesting is it to imagine Great Britain’s dominion springing forth from New York or Philadelphia instead of London?

Historians and physicians have concluded that King George suffered from manic depression, which first appeared 1765, just as the American conflict was coming to a head.

The Stamp Act is a good reminder that nations seldom act in unanimity. There was a split in the House of Commons with many MPs demanding no such taxation of the American colonies. Yet we often learn history based on the final decision—in this case taxes by Great Britain. Even King George was less adamant about the taxes than is often presented. This detail is an example of how history is seldom as clear as many teach it.

The lack of continuity in parliament during the years leading up to the American Revolution is interesting in hindsight. New prime ministers took power and new ministers oversaw policies that affected the colonies. These changes led to a back and forth on taxation and posture toward the colonies, which must have contributed to the frustration by America’s leaders.

King George was a man of the Enlightenment Era, and he actively supported scientific advancement through his patronage and scientific understanding for himself. One venture was the James Cook mission to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus as it passed across the sun. This observation allowed astronomers to calculate the size of the sun (and thus the solar system) because it had the ratio of the distance from the sun to the earth to Venus.

England’s leadership class believed that a majority of American colonists supported Britain’s sovereignty; it was only a small minority that wanted independence. Further, they believed America would crumble if Great Britain put up a show of force. Yet the reality was that Britain had given the colonies so much autonomy that it was more the taste of self-governance that prompted the revolution rather than King George’s tyranny. Consequently, any taxation provided a strong reaction because it impinged on previously enjoyed freedom.

The Intolerable Acts intended to hit Massachusetts hard and cause the other colonies to distance themselves from the Tea Party State. Instead, it had a galvanizing effect that bound the colonies together.

The Quebec Act, which sought to assimilate the French-Canadians in Quebec by granting free practice of Catholicism, was another detail that did not remain from my formal schooling. There were general mentions of religious liberty, but the specifics of connecting Protestantism against Catholicism and France was unfamiliar to me as Roberts addressed this law.

An interesting point that Roberts raised is that if Great Britain was as tyrannical and restrictive as is often presented, there would have been no allowance for the colonies to form a continental congress.

Massachusetts Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, returned to London in 1774 to debrief parliament on the status of Boston and America. He had a two-hour audience with King George, who asked about a bevy of subjects from specific American leaders (Hancock and Samuel Adams) to crop production (including the development of maize and rates of wheat production), and finally the status of Native Americans and their long-term prospects. After their discussion, Hutchinson wrote in his diary how expansive the king’s knowledge was of the colonies. Roberts concluded from this exchange that the Americas did not slip away due to indifference by King George.

Roberts gave an interesting analysis of America’s Olive Branch Petition, which the Second Continental Congress adopted in 1775. The petition asked King George to reconcile with the colonies, beginning with repeal of the Coercive/Intolerable Acts. King George refused to receive the petition because he knew the contents asked him the overrule parliament. This illustrates an irony in the colonists’ messaging: the constant refrain was that King George was tyrannically seeking power. Yet the colonists continuously asked the King to use a power that Britain’s constitution did not allow—overruling parliament.

In response to the strongest critiques of King George in the Declaration of Independence, Massachusetts Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, wrote the following: “A tyrant, in modern language, means not merely an absolute and arbitrary but a cruel, merciless Sovereign. Have these men given an instance of any one Act in which the King has exceeded the just Powers of the Crown as limited by the English Constitution? Has he ever departed from known established laws and substituted his own will as the rule of his actions?” His point is interesting in that I did not give any consideration to Parliament being in place when I think back to my study of the American Revolution, which always focused on the colonists versus the King. The colonists wanted King George to overrule Parliament and substitute the colonist’s desires in place of Parliament’s laws. Prior to reading this book, I think I would have presumed that King George dictated the laws himself in the late 1700s rather than the structure England actually had in place.

A primary reason that King George persisted in continuing the war was his concern that Britain’s other colonies would follow suit and demand their own independence. The effect would be permanent crippling of England.

While I knew of France’s concurrent war against Britain during America’s Revolutionary War, I did not know that other European countries joined the attack and that England was beset by the Gordon Riots, an anti-Catholic uprising. England was undoubtedly focused on issues other than merely defeating the colonists.

Within four days of signing the Treaty of Paris and bringing peace with France, Spain, and America, King George began writing his thoughts on the potential advantages of restoring friendship with the United States. Yes, Great Britain tried to return America to British control just two decades later, but George was prescient to see the economic virtue in adding an ally.

Frances Burney served as “Keeper of the Robes” to Queen Charlotte during George III's reign. She received the position because of her skills as a writer. During her time as Keeper of the Robes, Burney wrote diaries that offer great insight to the royal family. Burney was, however, no monarchist. Her politics were more republican and aligned with the Whigs of the day, and her writings were published after her death. Dr. Robert’s summarized Burney’s writings on King George as follows: “Inquisitive, gently teasing, and immensely good natured—preferring to let others speak rather than himself.” Burney also described the relationship between King George and Queen Charlotte as one of not only love but mutual affection; George seemed to deeply welcome Charlotte’s thoughts and did so with admiration and respect. This picture is far different from what I would have drawn based on my study of the Revolution.

Despite George’s numerous bouts with mental illness, his royal physicians failed to study any of the new medical books that addressed the subject during the time between his previous manic phase in 1804 and his final loss of sanity in 1810.

Dr. Roberts gave me a significant amount of insight that my previous reading overlooked. The insight to King George, parliament’s inner workings, and the general English perspective. His thesis—that America was less fighting a tyrant than it was fighting for autonomy—held firm throughout the book. For anyone who finds the Revolutionary Era interesting, you should add The Last King of America to your reading list.
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