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King George III was not “a tyrannical Nincompoop”

The less than flattering assessment given to King George III by many today has recently been shown to be rather inaccurate, pending new insights derived from a number of papers just uncovered that detail George III’s reign and activities during the course of the American War of Independence.

King George III is famed mainly for losing the American colonies and then for slipping into an inescapable madness, neither of which were particularly glorious things to be remembered for. While in Britain his reputation is, at best, marred by both events, in the USA his legacy is mainly black.

To the mind of most Americans, King George III was a tyrant who’d stood in opposition of American liberty, a shadowy figure who has been the subject of many sinister portrayals and is essentially the principal villain of America’s founding national myth. His most recent rendition in American popular culture was seen in the latest hit Broadway musical Hamilton, where King George appears as a comical yet distant villain who sings a linked trio of songs called You’ll Be Back addressed to the rebelling American colonists, written and composed in many ways like a morbid break-up song.

One of the lyrics has King George claim that he’d “send a fully armed battalion to remind [the Americans] of my love”.

However, after the Royal Archive made available some 35,000 pages to researchers on a massive project called the Georgian Papers Programme, many of those involved have commented that this view may soon be shown to be wildly inaccurate to the actual historical figure.

“The American stereotype of a tyrannical nincompoop quickly dissolves with a little exposure to the Georgian papers,” said Rick Atkinson, one of the US researchers on the project.

The papers revealed that, short of being an out-of-touch and often ignorant simpleton who blithely mishandled the American Revolution, King George III was intimately involved in the matters of his kingdom and its broader empire, and sought as much information as possible. As well as letters of correspondence between himself and his ministers, there are also exchanges with scientists, diplomats, naval and military officers and intelligence experts.

One letter is addressed to British-German astronomer William Herschel, who would discover the planet Uranus, over the costs of his planned telescope. Upon discovery of the planet, Herschel initially named it the “Georgian star” (Georgium sidus). However, it instead came to be known by its current name.

Oliver Urquhart Irvine, Royal Librarian and Assistant Keeper of the Queen’s Archive remarked that King George was “not just dallying in a subject and half understanding it, he’s really getting to grips with it.”

The Georgian Papers Programme is a joint project between the Kings College and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture in the US. The expected deadline in which the papers will be digitalised and made available is currently projected to be sometime within 2020. Members of the public are also allowed limited access to the archive by appointment, provided they have a legitimate research question.

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