Born for Happiness and Misery: King George III

In the splendid biographies of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow the leitmotif that bursts into a glorious finale is that Washington truly was one of the noblest of men and Hamilton, in some ways the son that Washington never had, was a stunning genius and no less entertaining as a character. Jefferson and Adams come off somewhat lesser and venal in contrast. Sometimes Washington seemed like a superior schoolmaster controlling all these gifted men as they squabbled among themselves—somewhat like Eisenhower corralling the generals and prime ministers in World War II. The instinctive majesty of republican Washington justifies myth, and even exceeds it and, to their credit, all of the Founding Fathers, formed by classical virtues, transcended their differences when unity was needed to attain their chief goal.

All this is preface to the fact that the most misunderstood player on that stage was King George III himself. When the 4000 pound statue of him dressed as Marcus Aurelius on Bowling Green in New York, was torn down on July 9, 1776 (part of the tail may be admired in the New York Historical Society, while Tories saved the head and sent it to the Townshend family in London), George Washington, who had been a soldier of the King, complained the next day in his orderly book about such disorderly rioting. I find it convenient, if unconventional, whenever Independence Day approaches, to take note of this much put upon monarch.

King George was not unworthy of the toga of that enlightened Aurelian emperor, if only for his intellectual bent. He founded the heart of the national library with a collection that impressed even Dr. Johnson, established numerous academies of arts and science, was an informed agriculturist and horologist and tinkerer with gadgets, and built the world’s largest telescope for Herschel who first named the planet Uranus for his king. A line in his diary early in his reign was Stoical enough to be worthy of Aurelius: “I am born for the happiness or misery of a great nation and consequently must often act contrary to my passions.” One of his passions was anger and in an attempt to control it, he spent long hours in prayer and spiritual reading, not only from the received texts of ambiguous Anglican divines, but from the Scriptures and Patristic writings, and began a lifelong practice of giving half his income to charity. These ways were instilled in him by his pious mother, the Dowager Princess of Wales, instilling a piety which served him in controlling the other passion for which monarchs of his day usually indulged by an assumed right. The King’s brother the Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn was a flagrant adulterer and set the mood for much of the court.

King George read in the “Georgics” (evidently and appropriately his favorite work of Virgil since he loved rural life, especially pig breeding, and thus enjoyed the sobriquet “Farmer George”) the line “Casta pudicitiam servate domus” for which his Latinity needed no translation, for all his Hanoverian forebears on the throne of England, if incapable of English itself, were fluent Latin speakers. Pitt the Elder’s own Latin helped to get him his job. But George III also knew Dryden’s version (the King admired Dryden, if not approving his refusal to take the oath of loyalty to William III): “His faithful bed is crown’d with chaste delight.” King George astonished many by his total fidelity to Queen Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Strelitz, and was what we would now call “pro-life” by fathering and loving fifteen children. Understanding himself as father of his people, he promoted moral order, culminating in the 1787 “Proclamation for the Discouragement of Vice” which included a long list of details on the subject.

Across the ocean in the 1770’s, the issue of duties on commodities, most famously the “Stamp Tax” was more than contentious, although no one could cogently argue that the colonies should not have been obliged to pay some of the expenses for government and defense. Eventually the duties were relieved, save for the symbolic tea tax which some colonial extremists, including the Sons of Liberty who were a thorn in the side of the more reasonable colonial patriots, famously exploited. The King himself was sympathetic to appeals in these matters, and did not hesitate to remove advisors such as Lord Grenville when he realized that they had given him unhelpful advice. The tax burden on the Americans was much less than that on the King’s subjects in Britain, and in fact the lowest rates in the entire Western world, and very much less than what is exacted today in the United States. But the King was tone deaf to the real complaint, which was taxation without representation in Parliament, although he would most likely have reached some accommodation as he had with the Irish representatives. In 1795, he founded for Irish Catholics—not with alacrity or enthusiasm but with resolve—the seminary at Maynooth, which had more students then than now, and which still has a large statue of him.

In matters of religion and race, King George was more expansive than many of our Founding Fathers. A careful reading of the Declaration of Independence will find its signatories complaining that the King had defended the rights of “merciless Indian Savages.” Six years earlier, His Majesty had chartered Dartmouth College for cultivating both the local Indians and “English gentleman” in the Christian religion and liberal arts. Thus the College was not conspicuous in rebelling against its King and never ceased to grant degrees throughout the Revolution, which is why it has the longest uninterrupted succession of commencement ceremonies in the nation. Sympathetic to the anti-slavery movement, though suspicious of some of the politics of Wilberforce and the Wesley brothers, the King consulted the converted former slave trader John Newton (author of “Amazing Grace”) and, responding to the tensions of slave rebellions in the West Indies, approved a boycott of sugar. With glaring hypocrisy, Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration excoriated the King for condoning the slave trade, although Jefferson was a slave owner and the King was not. His Majesty proposed emancipation of slaves in Virginia who supported the royalist armies, much to the horror of some of the revolutionaries. On March 25, 1807, the issue became imperial in scale and the Royal Assent was give to the Acts of the Abolition of the Slave Trade. King George III was the Great Emancipator fifty-six years before Abraham Lincoln.

The Crown’s restrictions on public Catholic worship were little different from the prohibitions against Protestantism in Catholic countries including the Papal States. Religious freedom was thought to be an eccentric and even dangerous concept, and had no Papal support. Inclined to mitigate encumbrances on religion, King George told Pitt that he felt nonetheless honor bound to keep his coronation oath. His expressed intent to lift some restrictions, was not supported with enthusiasm by many English Catholics themselves, who had reached some sort of working relationship with the Crown and feared that pro-Catholic legislation might stir up a hornets’ nest. This in fact did happen with the Gordon Riots, which were no minor distraction during the American rebellion. The King interviewed the fanatical anti-Papist Lord George Gordon and dismissed him as an impossible humbug. In the Quebec Act of 1774 King sustained the official privileges of Quebecois Catholics as an astute political calculation, inciting near hysteria in some of the thirteen colonies. Anti-Catholicism was rife among the Signers in Philadelphia, among whom only one, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was a Catholic.

Thomas Paine condemned both King and Pope, although his railings against religion altogether were an embarrassment to reasonable people of all religions. This did not stop his “Common Sense “ from being a bestseller. Its fulminations would find more sympathy among the terrorists of the French Revolution. Unlike some of the Founding Fathers, conspicuously Jefferson, who tried to justify the Terror, King George granted refuge to thousands of Catholic priests and laity, and soon afterward he worked closely with the Holy See against Napoleon. In Windsor Castle, in the great Waterloo Chamber, hangs a portrait of the Papal Secretary of State Cardinal Consalvi, who was a close friend of Viscount Castlereagh, who led the government in the Commons during the ministry of Lord Liverpool after 1812. One of the King’s sons, the Duke of Sussex lived in Rome from 1790 and was on cordial terms with Pope Pius VI. King George granted an immense annuity of several thousand pounds to the last of the Stuart line, Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart. His heir, George IV (whose illegal marriage to the Catholic Maria Fitzherbert was declared valid by Pope Pius VII in 1800) helped pay for Canova’s monument to the Catholic Stuarts in St. Peter’s Basilica.

It is likely, but not irrefutable, that the long descent of George III into insanity was caused by Porphyria. His antecedent Mary, Queen of Scots, may have suffered from the same enzyme disorder inherited from her father James V. It may explain the erratic behavior of other rulers diverse as Nebuchadnezzar and Dracula, Vlad III the Impaler, whose neurological aversion to daylight may have given rise to the legend of vampires shrinking from the sun. Even those who mocked King George admitted how the wan and bearded figure in long black robe and matching skullcap strained to maintain his dignity to the end.

There is an artful scene in the HBO miniseries “John Adams” showing the King receiving Adams, the first United States ambassador to the Court of St. James. The tension is palpable, and even the diction is faithful as possible to the period. The words are the actual ones spoken by the King: “I will be very frank with you. I was the last to consent to the separation; but the separation having been made and having become inevitable, I had always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power.”

Previously, when the royal court painter and Pennsylvania native, Benjamin West, told the King that George Washington had relinquished all power to return to his farm, the reply was astonishing: “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” No small man said that.

Editor’s note: The image above is a detail from a painting of George III painted by Allan Ramsay in 1762.

Fr. George W. Rutler


Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest books are He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016) and The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing, 2017).

  • Don

    An enjoyable and enlightening read as always! Thanks!

  • Refreshing and most interesting. How many arguments are ultimately about the tiny issue, considered meaningless by one side and THE issue by the other while there is 99% agreement everywhere else. Human is deaf to the mundane perhaps.

  • johnalbertson

    George William Rutler annoys me greatly. He never writes anything that is less than utterly brilliant. This is not human.

    • robert chacon

      Humorous compliment. I couldnt agree more. Fr. Rutler is wonderful and a sheer pleasure to hear preach on EWTN. Thank you Fr. Rutler!

    • Marc L

      Agreed. _Crisis_ strings us along with so few articles from their best writer by far–only 9 in the last 12 months–but if that’s the price to paid for such quality, then so be it.

      • Angie Derwell

        From what I know about Father Rutler, it is amazing that he has time to write at all. Besides his other obligations, he is pastor in charge of two parishes in the middle of Manhattan: one in “Hell’s Kitchen” along the docks and the other in the heart of the raucous Garment District. Imagine that ! Why doesn’t Cardinal Dolan free him to share his talents with the rest of the world? But Cardinal Newman spent much of his life in an obscure corner of Birmingham. Yet he is remembered while the bureaucrats above him are forgotten.

  • AugustineThomas

    Too bad both these nations would go on to murder hundred of millions of poor babies. The United States won’t be remembered for its Republican virtue, but for its Poor Baby Holocaust.

    • rod masom

      Well said, and so sadly true. And where is the movement to repeal Roe V. Wade among our so-Catholic members of SCOTUS? The time has come; Roe must go!

      • LT Brass Bancroft

        Well, you don’t repeal Supreme Court decisions. You overturn them. Concerning a movement to overturn Roe, I would guess that Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito are already on board.

    • LT Brass Bancroft

      Did you know that abortion was invented by Benjamin Franklin?

      • johnalbertson

        How silly. Abortion was practiced for thousands of years, and the ancient Greeks and Chinese developed various abortive procedures. Common law addressed this for centuries. The early Christians (vid Didache) were thought eccentric for not aborting. A thorough study by Duane Ostler (read his book) shows colonial American attitudes were against abortion, expressed in various ways. In 1728 Benjamin Franklin wrote a satire against abortion and had an illegitimate son rather than choosing abortion.

        • LT Brass Bancroft

          Ever hear of sarcasm?

  • The_Monk

    That small window thru which comes my view of the world is enlarged and brightened after reading another of Fr. Rutler’s fine essays. Thanks, Father….

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  • USA is Babylon

    Rutler makes an huge mistake: George Washington was a Freemason and therefore an evil and deceptive man.

    The French and American revolutions were part of the same masonic, and almost simultaneous, operation. Americans need to see the establishment of the USA as a deceptive step towards the new world order.

    Jesus Christ the King rules a Kingdom. Our political systems ought to be in His Image: kingdoms and not republics.

    • Calvin Hobbes Coolidge

      Oh, honey. You’re mostly only wrong in seeing the Revolution as a conspiracy. It’s been in plain sight all along.

      • USA is Babylon

        I am correct. The proof is simple: The USA is – with the unborn at home and civilians in wars abroad – the most murderous nation that has ever been.

        It began with the killing of 18 million native Americans in the 19th century; continued with the Stimpson and Truman Atomic bombs (both masons); and continues with the unborn and unfortunate muslims to this day.

        Praised and adored be Jesus Christ the Returning King.
        May He and the Immaculate Heart liberate humanity from the cultural and musical impurity and violence of of that nation identified in Apoc. 18 as Babylon the Great.

        • Bigg Dee

          18 million seems quite a bit. Regardless of our nation’s bloody history, we still have an obligation to be thankful for our patronage. I do lean towards your assessment of USA. And agree 100% with your paean for the Social Reign of Christ the King!

        • Midwester

          The most murderous nation? Come on – a bit of exaggeration there, don’t you think? What of China throughout it’s history? What of Russia during Stalin’s reign? What of Ghengis Khan and the Mongol Hordes, or the Muslims during the 7th & 8th centuries? I think you need to read a bit more history, deary. Maybe you should stop watching the conspiracy videos on Youtube.

          I would also dispute your 18 million figure of murdered aboriginal inhabitants of America. If it were 18 million (which I sincerely doubt), many would have been the result of smallpox and other diseases which were unintended results of contact with foreigners and for which the natives had not natural immunity. Even there, though, it seems that the natives have had their revenge – they sent syphilis back to Europe and the rest of the world.

        • rod masom

          I’m becoming somewhat more sympathetic to your argument as I read. Much truth in what you post.

        • Jeff Benné

          Have to agree with them somewhat here what Andrew Jackson did the five civilized tribes in the trail of tears was far more damaging than anything that has been done then or since… Those tribes took white mens names and formed representative governments and even codified their language which had never been done by the way, to appease Jackson. Yet he still sent thousands and thousands to their deaths because he hated the native populations. No wonder our native brothers are so offended by the “R” word….. I would be!

          • John Fisher

            Well said and so true!

        • LT Brass Bancroft

          Yes. Only Americans have abortions. You don’t see this sort of thing in any other country.

    • rod masom

      This is half-true conspiritarianism, but I’m sympathetic to the core argument.

  • Bob Mason

    Fascinating article. Thank you, father.

  • rod masom

    Beautifully erudite, as are all of Fr. Rutler’s writings, I come away with a new appreciation for George III, and am astonished by so much virtue about him, not the least of which was his HUMILITY in such a lofty position. Listening, Mr. Obama? ,

    • 1994’s “The Madness of King George” is a wonderful motion picture that depicts the poor king’s descent into insanity. George III is magnificently played by the late Nigel Hawthorne, who in my opinion was robbed of an Oscar for his performance.

  • Mary Lee

    President Washington was not a mason. He had joined briefly, but when he realized the nature of the masons, he resigned and wrote a letter stating that such secret societies had no place in America. Unfortunately, the masons continue to use his name to this day. There is a suspicion that he converted to Roman Catholic on his deathbed. A Catholic priest would come over from MD to visit him (priests being outlawed in VA at that time) regularly. John Adams would complain that whenever he and the President would visit a new town, the Washingtons would seek out a Catholic church to visit. This annoyed Adams since he was a devout Puritan and disliked Roman Catholics.

    • quirkycatholic

      This is really interesting, Mary Lee. I would be very appreciative if you could tell me where you obtained this information. God bless you.
      Also, just want to add my appreciation for Fr. Rutler;s fascinating article.

      • The Jesuits of the Maryland Province have maintained it for two hundred years…I recently read that elsewhere. I am not sure about his status as a Mason, however.

    • Bill Russell

      I wish that were so. But he was regular at the
      Lodge and
      requested a Masonic funeral at Mt. Vernon. The presiding ministers on Dec 18, 1799 were Rev. Dr, Elisha Cullen Dick
      (Worshipful Master of the Alexandria Masonic Lodge) and his assistant,
      Rev, James Muir. Washington was among the greatest men in any case.

  • bender

    Strawmen, post-Revolution irrelevancies, deflections and ad hominems do not make for a persuasive defense of a tyrant in league with a gang of tyrants.

    Did they or did they not claim power to bind the American people in all cases whatsoever? Did they or did they not obstinently deny the American people their fundamental and natural right to self-governance? Did they or did they not seek to impose their will upon the American people? Did they or did they not commit offensive war against a people that simply asserted their God-given inalienable right to be free?

    The king and his minions, his ministries and parliament, were nothing but petty thugs and thieves. Nothing presented here shows otherwise.

    • Bill Russell

      Alas, King George III was both a noble man and a gentleman. Regrettably, your comments indicate that you are neither

      • slainte

        The Glorious Revolution casts a long shadow over the legitimacy of those protestant monarchs who have occupied the English throne since 1688.

        The terms “noble” and “gentleman” do not come to mind when one considers that the rightful Stuart heir to the English throne remained exiled in France while the Hanoverian Elector George (and his predecessors since 1714) assumed the role of King(s) of England.

        It was and is bad form to take what rightly belongs to another.

        • Ford Oxaal

          The Act of Settlement did make a joke of the monarchy of sorts — picking the 52nd or something heir to the throne to make the monarch Protestant. You could argue various usurpers had a similar effect. But George III really had nothing to do with all that history.

    • johnalbertson

      We’d be far better off with George III in the White House than with Obama !

    • John Fisher

      Rubbish! No one is free there are always obligations. That is the Achilles heal of the American view.. freedom which is the desire of the devil and makes men a slave of their own desires and devices.
      America had self governance through each states parliaments.

  • John Fisher

    Well written and so true! The English in the UK were not the enemy of the English in the America’s. The war was the result of the Enlightenment. Men are not equal if it means the same and even the law which treats men with justice takes into account this diversity. We are not all the same. Rights however are enjoyed by all. Authority to govern comes from God either through a monarch or through an elected government. British democracy combines both.
    King George was deeply saddened by the division and loss caused by the rebellion in the colonies. Let us not forget many who were disenfranchised through not supporting revolution had to move to Canada.
    The Thirteen Colonies had parliaments and would have no doubt gained autonomy over time. The political history of the colonies in Australia, South Africa and the dominions in Canada are a proof the path the Americans followed could have been achieved peacefully without bloodshed. Slavery would have ended earlier, Indians protected, No civil war, no wars with Mexico.

    • Ford Oxaal

      “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘it might have been’ ” But America can yet be great — more than materialist zombie denizens of WalrusMart. It will take a series of future Saints — and as Catholics, especially Catholic parents, we need to be the ones preparing the way for them.

  • georgacollins

    I cherish Rev Rutler.
    I watch him on EWTN.
    A loving genius.
    Thanks be to God.

  • Bill Russell

    I wish that were so. But he was regular at the
    Lodge and requested, and requested a Masonic funeral at Mt. Vernon. The presiding at the ministers on Dec 18, 1799 were Rev. Dr, Elisha Cullen Dick (Worshipful Master of the Alexandria Masonic Lodge) and his assistant, Rev, James Muir. Washington was among the greatest men in any case.

  • Charlie Kenny


    After reading the comments, I have one observation to add, which is that George was on the wrong side of history.

    And, yes, lack of representation was the issue.

    Father Rutler is one of my heroes.

    Thanks to his scholarship we know more about the man, George, but nothing more about his judgment that led him to fight his subjects.

    I am glad he did though, for separating from an island across the sea was inevitable.

    Charlie Kenny

  • johnalbertson


    While I now receive with much satisfaction your congratulations on my
    being called, by an unanimous vote, to the first station in my country;
    I cannot but duly notice your politeness in offering an apology for the
    unavoidable delay. As that delay has given you an opportunity of
    realizing, instead of anticipating, the benefits of the general
    government, you will do me the justice to believe, that your testimony
    of the increase of the public prosperity, enhances the pleasure which I
    should otherwise have experienced from your affectionate address.

    I feel that my conduct, in war and in peace, has met with more
    general approbation than could reasonably have been expected and I find
    myself disposed to consider that fortunate circumstance, in a great
    degree, resulting from the able support and extraordinary candour of my
    fellow-citizens of all denominations.

    The prospect of national prosperity now before us is truly animating,
    and ought to excite the exertions of all good men to establish and
    secure the happiness of their country, in the permanent duration of its
    freedom and independence. America, under the smiles of a Divine
    Providence, the protection of a good government, and the cultivation of
    manners, morals, and piety, cannot fail of attaining an uncommon degree
    of eminence, in literature, commerce, agriculture, improvements at home
    and respectability abroad.

    As mankind become more liberal they will be more apt to allow
    that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the
    community are equally entitled to the protection of civil government. I
    hope ever to see America among the foremost nations in examples of
    justice and liberality. And I presume that your fellow-citizens will not
    forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their
    Revolution, and the establishment of their government; or the important
    assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman
    Catholic faith is professed.

    I thank you, gentlemen, for your kind concern for me. While my life
    and my health shall continue, in whatever situation I may be, it shall
    be my constant endeavour to justify the favourable sentiments which you
    are pleased to express of my conduct. And may the members of your
    society in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity,
    and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free
    government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity.

    G. Washington