George III of Britain: Popular with the People, but not with Parliament
Although history has labeled King George III of Britain primarily as the “mad” king responsible for the loss of America, a closer look at the 1780s, the heart of his reign, proves George III to be a particularly effective monarch rather than the bungling idiot some scholars have dubbed him. George III’s effectiveness, during the 1780s, stemmed from his immense popularity with the common people, which lay in direct contrast to his lack of popularity with Parliament. The popularity that George III enjoyed with the masses was largely due to his personal integrity and moral character, and his lack of popularity with Parliament was a result of his desire to reclaim the monarchial power lost in the reigns of George I and II.
The popularity George III held with the masses ought to first be considered in light of his Hanoverian predecessors. Neither George I nor George II held the British throne in high esteem. In fact George I, the first of the Hanoverian monarchs, viewed his ascension to the British throne as little more than an opportunity to “enhance his prestige amongst the other Electors of the Holy Roman Empire” (Clark and Ridley 13). He also saw England as a means, with considerable resources, to ensure the safety of his beloved Hanover. This attitude of ambivalence resulted in George Is leaving the duties of running Great Britain to Parliament while the king acted as little more than a figure-head. George II acted likewise leaving the main governing of Britain to Parliament and failing to be a truly active monarch, instead indulging his attentions in wine and women rather than the politics of the day. Needless to say George III's desire to be an active and assertive king was more than a shock to the British Parliament as they had run the proverbial show for the past forty-six years under two different monarchs.
George III's unflagging unpopularity in Parliament began as a reaction to his political activity which was regarded as unconstitutional by the powerful Whig party. The Whigs had been in power since the Glorious Revolution and were more than hesitant about relinquishing any of their power. Edmund Burke, a statesman, writer, and philosopher who became the spokesman for Whig criticism of the new king. Burke claimed that the Glorious Revolution had been “stage-managed” by the Whigs to oust an absolutist Catholic government imposed by James II. He also argued that the monarch’s role was that of a figure-head and it was the right of Parliament to act as the main seat of government as they had done under George I and II. Burke feared a resurgence of royal absolutism under George III whom he viewed as an unconstitutional interference with the government. The actions that Burke and his compatriots considered unconstitutional were in fact merely an attempt by George III to revive monarchial powers such as the ability of the monarch to select the...