King George III – 59 years, 3 months and 2 days
Some English (and British, after the accession of King James I of England & VI of Scotland in 1603) managed to keep their backsides firmly on the throne for longer than the average birth to death life expectancy of their subjects.
This post is one of a series about the 5 longest reigns – all of which were (or are, in the case of Elizabeth II) over 50 years.
For obvious reasons, they were all young when they came to the throne, but not all were children.For the fifth-longest English reign, see King Edward III in the 14th century, for the fourth-longest reign, see King Henry III in the 13th century, and for the third-longest, see Queen Elizabeth II.
The second-longest reign is that of mad King George III in the 18th century.
King George III reigned from 25 October 1760 until 29th January 1820, a total of 59 years, 3 months and 2 days. From the date he ascended to the throne until 1 January 1801, he was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland.
After 1801 George was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until he died.
He was also Prince Elector of Hanover until October 1814, when he became King of Hanover, and was Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg.
Although the third of the King Georges of the House of Hanover, he was the first to be born in the United Kingdom and to speak English as a first language.
Unlike the other two, who spent most of their time in Hanover, he never actually visited the place at all.
King George’s reign was tumultuous. The first British Empire came to an end when the American War of Independence led to the establishment of the United States of America.
On the other hand, in long running battles against France, Napoleon was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Family and Childhood
The Hanover Kings had distinctly odd families. King George III was the grandson, rather than son, of the preceding monarch King George II.
King George II’s oldest son was Frederick Prince of Wales. George II disliked his eldest son the Prince of Wales and there was very little communication between George II and Frederick.
King George III’s parents
Prince Frederick Louis was the eldest son of Prince George, later to be King George II, and George’s wife, Queen Caroline, born Wilhelmina Charlotte Caroline of Ansbach.
Prince George August and Caroline married in August 1705 and their first child, Prince Frederick, was born in February 1707.
When George I took the British throne in 1714, Prince George and Princess Caroline moved to the United Kingdom, leaving their 7 year old son Frederick behind in Hanover. They did not see him for another 14 years.
A large number of younger children had been born to the couple by the time Frederick arrived in England, and George and Caroline referred to their eldest son as a foundling, and nicknamed him “Griff” or “Griffin”.
In 1736 Prince Frederick married 16 year old Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. The couple had a total of 9 children, the last, a daughter, being born posthumously.
King George III
George William Frederick was born on 4 June 1738 in London at Norfolk House. He was 2 months premature, but grew into a healthy although shy child.
George was, unlike many of the Hanover royal children, well-educated.
He could read and write in both English and German by the age of 8, and also studied astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, French, Latin, history, music, geography, agriculture and constitutional law.
When George’s father died suddenly in 1751, King George II decided to take an interest in his grandchildren for the first time. 3 weeks after Frederick died, George II created Prince George as the Prince of Wales.
Marriage and Family
King George II died at the age of 76 on 25 October 1760.
A wife was clearly needed for the new King George III, and on 8 September 1761 the King married Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
At the time of their marriage, George III was 24, and Charlotte was 17. The couple met for the first time on the day they married.
A fortnight after the wedding, the King and Queen were crowned together at Westminster Abbey.
Despite an extremely arranged marriage, the couple appeared to have been genuinely happy. George III is not known to have had a mistress at any time, unlike the vast run of Hanoverian royals who were knee deep in mistresses and illegitimate children.
King George III and Queen Charlotte had 15 children in total. 13 of these children survived to adulthood.
1. George IV born 12th August 1762
2. Frederick, Duke of York, born 16th August 1763
3. William IV born 21st August 1765
4. Charlotte, Princess Royal born 29 September 1766
5. Edward, Duke of Kent born 2nd November 1767
6. Princess Augusta Sophia born 8th November 1768
7. Princess Elizabeth born 22nd May 1770
8. Ernest Augustus I of Hanover, Duke of Cumberland born 5th June 1771
9. Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex born 27th January 1773
10. Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge born 24th February 1774
11. Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester born 25th April 1776
12. Princess Sophia born 3rd November 1777
13. Prince Octavius born 23rd February 1779
14. Prince Alfred born 22nd September 1780
15. Princess Amelia born 7th August 1783
The two youngest sons died before they were 5 years old, and the other 13 children lived to adulthood.
What those children didn’t do was marry and produce legitimate heirs for the British and Hanover thrones. For more on this see
King George and Queen Charlotte were the first of the royal family to live in Buckingham House, which later became known as Buckingham Palace.
It was originally intended as a private retreat for the King and Queen, and was known as the Queen’s House.
St James’ Palace remained the official and ceremonial royal palace in London. 14 of the couple’s 15 children were born at Buckingham House.
Queen Charlotte was possessive of her children, in particular her daughters, and kept them close by her side and refused to allow them to marry until they were in their 30s or 40s. None of the King and Queen’s daughters had children.
King George III’s Reign
It is unnecessary to write much of a summary of the most important political events of George III’s reign. Suffice it to say, that his reign saw the end of the first British Empire, when the American War of Independence began in April 1775.
King George III’s reign had, as the Declaration of Independence put it, “abdicated government here, plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”
After Lord Cornwallis’ surrender at the siege of Yorktown in 1781, King George III drafted an abdication notice, although he never acted upon it. The King accepted, finally, the defeat in North America and authorised peace negotiations.
The treaties of Paris were ratified in 1783 and the United States of America became an independent country recognised throughout the world.
King George III told John Adams, American Minister to Britain in 1785 that:
I was the last to consent to the separation, but the separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I will be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power.
King George’s reign also saw the Napoleonic Wars, culminating in the Duke of Wellington’s famous victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 (which he described as “a damn close run thing”).
What King George III was like
George III was extremely interested in agriculture and science.
During his reign the agricultural revolution really kicked off, allowing the release of a huge number of previously agriculture workers to become the workforce for the industrial revolution, in which Britain led the world.
He was nicknamed by pamphleteers and caricaturists as, “Farmer George” but the nickname later became an affectionate one, especially as his sons ran up huge debts and failed to do anything very useful. By comparison, George III’s interests in agriculture and science came to be seen as positively virtuous.
George collected large numbers of scientific instruments, which can now be seen at the Science Museum in London, and funded the largest ever telescope built at that time, which was 40 feet.
The Madness of King George
By 1788, King George III was suffering from the first spell of mental illness, which later took over his life. It is now thought likely that the illness from which he suffered was Porphyria, a genetic illness.
In 1788, he began to suffer a particularly acute episode of the illness. At the end of the summer in 1788 he went to Cheltenham Spa. Although only 100 miles from London, this was the furthest King George III had ever ventured in his life.
By November George had become seriously ill, speaking for hours without pausing for more than breaths, foaming at the mouth, and becoming increasingly unwell.
Arguments between parliamentarians were underway and the Regency Bill was introduced in parliament in February 1789 authorising Prince George, the Prince of Wales, to act as Prince Regent whilst his father was incapacitated.
However, before the Bill could be passed into an Act of Parliament George III recovered.
King George suffered another serious episode of mental illness in 1804, which lasted for approximately 9 months.
In 1810, King George III was almost blind, from severe cataracts, and also suffered from bad rheumatism which left him in constant pain. The death of his youngest daughter, Princess Amelia, triggered another severe episode of mental illness.
The Regency Act 1811 was passed, and Prince George, Prince of Wales (the future George IV) acted as Regent for the rest of George III’s reign.
By November 1811, King George III had become permanently insane. He lived at Windsor Castle, secluded from the public and the world, for the next 9 years.
His illness was so severe that he was unaware that he became King of Hanover in 1814, or that Napolean was defeated at Waterloo in 1815, and was similarly unaware that his wife died in 1818.
He was completely blind, almost completely deaf, and suffered severe mobility problems. He died in January 1820 at Windsor Castle.
King George III was followed on the throne by two of his sons, King George IV and King William IV, and both of whom who died without legitimate children.
The throne was then inherited in 1837 by King George III’s granddaughter, Queen Victoria, the child of George III’s fourth son, Edward Duke of Kent.