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The Truth about George III

Posted on 28/01/2017
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Johan Joesph Zoffany, George III, 1771 Credit: Royal Collection Trust/ (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Over 33,000 essays, scientific notes, and letters written by George III, Britain's longest reigning king, are now available to view and examine on a new global online portal launching today thanks to work by researchers at King's as well as archivists and technicians at the Royal Archives and Royal Collection Trust, as part of the Georgian Papers Programme.

This window into the life, reign and times of the famous monarch marks a major milestone in a five year project to enable anyone with an interest in the 'mad' king who lost America. Working in collaboration with the Royal Collection Trust, academics, researchers and students at King's promise to reveal many more dimensions to the king. A specially commissioned BBC Two documentary George III – The Genius of the Mad King also follows the early phases of the project, which viewers can see on Monday at 9pm.

Launched in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen at Windsor Castle in April 2015, the project uses 21st century technology to digitise intimate letters between The King and Queen Charlotte, Household bills, menus, as well as copious letters between The King and his government, his many essays – including on despotism – meticulous, detailed notes about the war in America, and lucid, calm letters to family during his bouts of illness all of which are now available to view online.

King’s has an historic association with the Georgian Archives. The bulk of a collection of scientific instruments accumulated by King George III and others was donated by Queen Victoria to King’s in 1841 for public display and use in scientific demonstrations and experiments. The university converted one of its libraries into a museum for the purpose of exhibiting these and the George III Museum in the King’s Building at the Strand was opened on 22 June 1843 by Queen Victoria’s husband Albert, Prince Consort. Through the university’s Centre of Enlightenment Studies, King’s also offers students an opportunity to study an MA in 18th Century Studies which draws upon both the skills of scholars from the entire Faculty of Arts and Humanities alongside those of senior staff at the British Museum.  

Dr. Joanna Newman, Vice Principal (International) King's College London and the university’s project lead said: "We are only just starting to explore this amazing resource and the opportunity for reinterpretation and scrutiny of many aspects of 18th and early 19th century life, political, social and economic, as well as seeing George III through more informed perspectives. He was fascinated by science. The Industrial Revolution happened on his watch. It's appropriate that George III is now breaking new ground in the digital sphere, bringing value at all academic levels, from undergraduates upwards."

The BBC documentary follows academics from History, English, Music and War Studies at King's and lead US partner Omohundro Institute all eagerly opening boxes of papers never before properly explored as they begin their processes of discovery:

  • Revealing that George III had a network of private agents. One, code-named Aristarchus, a 'Georgian James Bond', asking for payment for the intelligence that the French were plotting to assassinate the King as he walked at night in The Queen's Garden.
  • A draft of Abdication, covered in blotches and scratchings, during the political crisis of March 1783 amid the difficulties in forming a Government. It was never deployed.
  • Several dated and immaculately time-coded letters between the King and Ministers over one day, a Sunday, during that same crisis
  • An instruction manual on Kingship written by George III's father for his 10 year old son.
  • George III's drawings and calculations of the Transit of Venus across the sun on June 23, 1769  and his – accurate – forecasts of further transits in 1874 and 2004.
  • Poignantly, finding an almost pristine lock of hair taken from Prince Alfred before he died aged 1 year and 10 months in 1782,  sewn in to a letter from Queen Charlotte to the children's long-serving nanny Lady Charlotte Finch

Arthur Burns, Professor of Modern British History at King's College London and Academic Director for the Georgian Papers Programme at King's, says that the papers reveal how George III's exercise of Kingship reflected his strong sense of commitment to the nation and both self-examination and serious reflection on what it means to be a 'good King'.

Oliver Urquhart Irvine, the Librarian and Assistant Keeper of The Royal Archives said: "Her Majesty fully supports the work currently underway to make the historic treasures of the Royal Archives widely accessible to the world through digital technology. This enables us to open to the many, what was previously only accessible to a few.  Seeing original documents is utterly compelling. You can feel the passion, personality, worries and triumphs of individuals who have shaped major events. It can change your perspective on history."

Karin Wulf, Director of the Omohundro Institute and Professor of History at William & Mary added: "It’s clear that any number of historical subjects will be newly framed or newly illuminated. And it’s likely that a more subtle perspective on King George III, the last King of America, will be among the project’s outcomes."

For further media information, please contact Claire Gilby, PR Manager (Arts & Sciences) on 0207 848 3092 / claire.gilby@kcl.ac.uk.

Notes to Editors:

The Georgian Papers Programme is a partnership between Royal Collection Trust, lead academic partner King's College London and international participants, including primary U.S. partners the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture and William & Mary, as well as other key U.S. institutions such as the Library of Congress, Mount Vernon and the Sons of the American Revolution.

Read more about King’s contribution to the Georgian Papers Programme online

Broadcast Details:

George III - The Genius of The Mad King will broadcast on BBC Two on Monday 30th January at 9pm, available to catch-up on BBC iPlayer for 30 days.

For more information on King's College London, visit our 'King's in Brief' page.

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