Skip to main content Skip to navigation

George III and the Politicians, 1760-1780

Britain in the Reign of George III
  • Politics - establishment of Britain as a 'great power' in Europe
  • Economic/Social - industrial/agricultural expansion, urbanisation and population growth
  • Religion - growth of dissent
  • Easter Day communicants, Church of England, 1801 535,000
  • Estimated Catholic population, 1780 69,376
  • Congregationalists, 1800 35,000
  • Particular Baptists, 1800 24,000
  • New Connexion Baptists, 1800 3,403
  • Wesleyan Methodists, 1801 87,010
  • New Connexion Wesleyans, 1801 4,815
Foreign Policy
  • Seven Years War 1756-1763
  • War of American Independence 1775-1783
  • Peninsular War
  • Waterloo
  • War of 1812
British Empire

Territories under British rule by 1830

Antigua; Ascension; Australia; Bahamas; Barbados; Bermuda; British Guinea; British Honduras; Canada; Cape of Good Hope; Cayman; Turks and Caicos; Ceylon; Dominica; Gambia; Gibraltar; Gold Coast; Greneda; India; Ireland; Jamaica; Malta; Mauritius; Montserrat; Newfoundland; Norfolk Island; Pitcairn; St Christopher and Nevis; St Helena; St Lucia; St Vincent; Seychelles; Sierra Leone; Singapore; Trinidad and Tobago; Tristan da Cunha; Virgin Islands and Windward Isles.


1700 5.5m

1760 6.5m

1780 8.5m [beginning of population explosion]

1801 8.9m [first census]

Structure of Politics

King at the centre - George III struggled to regain the initiative for the monarch after years of Whig oligarchy

Ministers - appointed and removed by King; development of cabinet and Prime Ministerial post during reign

Lords - acted as revising chamber; generally supported King; wielded great power via patronage

Commons - more and more unrepresentative due to stagnation of electoral politics; but grew more vociferous and independent during period

Parties - the central historiographical debate is whether they existed or not

Factual overview

George III inherited his chief minister - Duke of Newcastle; regarded him with suspicion

Crisis over 7 years war enabled King's favourite Bute to be brought into cabinet (Oct. 1760); first Pitt (Oct. 1762) and then the 'old corps' Whigs including Newcastle were ousted [May 1762]; this was followed by the so-called 'Massacre of Pelhamite Innocents' when Newcastle and his supporters were stripped of all government and local posts

Bute became first lord of treasury but had little support and resigned in 1763 over the Cider Tax issue

Succeeded by a triumvirate with a conservative tinge. Wilkes affair (part 1) and taxation of American colonies ensured that they lost the tenuous support of the Commons and were removed

King forced to turn to Rockingham (July 1765) who introduced sweeping changes and attempted to regain the initiative for Parliament from monarchical power

As soon as the King could persuade Pitt to form a government (July 1766) he withdrew support from Rockingham

Pitt (now the Earl of Chatham) moved the administration to the right but government was still split. Wilkes issue (part 2) signalled the end of the administration and King turned to Lord North (Jan 1770) in the hope that a man with no apparent following would end the factionalism of politics and unite the divided government

North led an uneasy peace for a decade but this did not mean the end of factional conflict

Historiographical overview

Debate is between historians such as Namier and Clark who emphasise continuity with earlier period and those such as Brewer and O'Gorman who view the period as one of fundamental change

Is characterised by the debate on the existence - or otherwise - of some semblance of a party system in the early part of George III's reign

Guttridge and Brewer argue that 'Toryism' if not a Tory party was present e.g. in coercion of government, emergence of a group known as the 'King's Friends'; secret cabinet led by Bute

Challenged by Christie who argues that any conservative tendencies in government were quickly defeated by use of law; freedom was increasing not declining after 1760; double cabinet/ secret government was a myth and propaganda from the Rockinghamites who had a vested interest in painting George III and his chosen ministers as corrupt and over-powerful

O'Gorman argues for the existence of a Rockinghamite 'party' in which he sees the origins of the nineteenth century Whig party e.g. in ideology, organisation and policy

Opposition to this has come from those who see too much emphasis on the Rockinghamites who were only in power for a year; there were many other factions and groups in parliament that could claim that they were predecessors of the Whigs.

George III and the Historians

Views of George III have changed over the years. Compare the attitude of old style Whigs e.g. Trevelyan; Namierites especially Namier and Brooke and Anti-Namierites e.g. Butterfield

Namierites argue George III had little influence over government policy whilst Pares sees him as central to it; Whigs view George as abusing his authority and claim he illegally ignored Parliament, Tories see his actions as using his powers to their constitutional limits; was George the driving force behind the destruction of the Whig oligarchy or is Namier's view that decline was inevitable more plausible