Was George III really a tyrant – as the US constitution claims?

If you’ve read the US constitution then you’ll know that American colonists wanted to free themselves from this dreadful tyrant called George III. He was an absolutist monarch who imposed dreadful taxes without asking the people first. But…is the truth a bit different?

Indulge me for a moment. George III was actually quite different to a lot of contemporary monarchs. He was faithful to his wife and didn’t keep a small army of mistresses. His correspondence suggests a man who desperately wanted to be a “good king” and rule properly – not exercising power arbitrarily. George III also ruled as a constitutional monarch, unlike his French counterpart.

Yes, his Prime Minister imposed a stamp tax on America. Why? From the royal point of view, the British army had just fought the French to a defeat in the Americas, protecting English colonials. And there was the cost of keeping soldiers in the colonies to defend against native Americans still aggrieved that their land had been taken. Plus the shaky record the colonies had at enforcing taxation, which annoyed London. So – a stamp tax was needed – George thought – to cover all these costs.

So how did he react to the loss of America? George wrote a long letter on the subject full of remorse and sadness. Interestingly, his main point was a warning to British politicians that no overseas possession could be retained if those living there didn’t support British rule. Americans had clearly turned their back on the king and Mother Country. But George wrote that he hoped they could remain friends – if for no other reason than mutual trading benefits.

George III was a complex character and as we know, the poor man was subject to bouts of madness – a condition beyond his control. But was he a tyrant? Or was he in fact a fairly benign figure compared to other European rulers? Your views, as ever, are much appreciated.


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