King George III, by John Brooke

January 11, 2012 at 20:14 (Biography, Book Reviews, English History, Highly Rated Books, Historical, Politics) (, , , )


It is something of a rare pleasure to read biographies by serious historians and dedicated men of letters, rather than well-meaning amateurs, celebrity talking-heads, or journalists. What John Brooke lacks in shimmering prose or scandalous new theories, he more than makes up for in levelheadedness, clarity, and perspicacity. Like so many historians, he has very little time for theories that he does not subscribe to, and some of the juiciest and most entertaining passages of this book are taken up by Brooke’s withering scorn for the pop-psychologists of the twentieth century, the sensationalists of the nineteenth century, and the jingoists from all centuries.

“In the mythology of American history King George III is the would-be tyrant whose wicked plans were foiled by the courage and resistance of the American people. He is the scapegoat for the act of rebellion.”

-George III (John Brooke)

These moments aside, Brooke is methodical without being too dry, and has an aura of The Establishment about his writing, that creates a slightly artificial awe around the subject of his work, as well as lending him a voice of authority to match. He clearly has a great deal of affection for the entire band of miscreants of the eighteenth century–North, Fox, the Pitts, the Willises, the Prince Regent, Bute–and an even stronger affection for the King. While this could be seen as detrimental to a supposedly impartial review of the monarchy, Brooke makes the calculated decision to tell a chiefly personal biography, crossing occasionally into politics when the two areas overlap. Consequently, this book is most comprehensive when the King was most active (during the 1760s through to the 1780s), and includes only the barest treatment of William Pitt the Younger, Napoleon, or America’s turbulent relationship with Britain after the Revolution. This can often be vexing; Brooke is not a consistent author, and by caprice or by design distributes his attentions rather imperfectly. There are times when his portrait of George III is badly affected by his refusal to offer a glimpse at a wider context, and there are times when he drones just a little about a favourite politician with only tenuous links to the King.

As an history of its period, this work is incomplete; as a portrait of a man, it is decidedly myopic. But for all its faults, it is a fine introductory biography, and does not delve too far from the path of received knowledge. A useful book to have in one’s library, and a valuable arrow in the quiver for defending the facts about one of history’s most misconstrued characters.

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