cover image The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III

The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III

Andrew Roberts. Viking, $40 (560p) ISBN 978-1-984879-26-4

“The American Revolution is a testament not to George III’s tyranny, which was fictitious, but to Americans’ yearning for autonomy,” according to this meticulously researched revisionist biography. Historian Roberts (Churchill: Walking with Destiny) paints the British monarch, who ruled from 1760 until his death in 1820, as “well-meaning, hard-working, decent, dutiful, moral, cultured and kind,” the near-polar opposite of the “wicked tyrannical brute” described by Thomas Paine and other American patriots. In Roberts’s view, George III was a loving husband and father, a champion of the Enlightenment, and a constitutional monarchist who ruled in a tumultuous era when America was reaching “political maturity” and Britain’s victory in the Seven Years’ War brought uncertainty about how the empire would be run and who would pay for it. Roberts blames policy mistakes such as the repeal of the Stamp Act on parliament’s factious politics; contrasts George’s “staunchly conservative” economic views with those of Prime Minister William Pitt, who oversaw “millions spent on an ever expanding theatre of conflict”; and alleges that the king suffered from “recurrent manic-depressive psychosis,” rather than a hereditary blood disorder, as was commonly believed. Though Roberts occasionally forgoes nuance in favor of salvaging his subject’s reputation, this is an eye-opening portrait of the man and his times. (Nov.)