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See the American Revolution Through the Eyes of King George

What Americans learn about England's King George III are the big themes: his mental and physical illnesses, his struggles with Napoleon, and most of all, how he lost the American colonies. But George III was also a hard-working monarch who had 15 children and left a library of 350,000 pages of writings over his 60-year reign, most of which never saw the light of day until recently. In April of 2015, Queen Elizabeth granted scholars access to study the archive. Jim Ambuske of the University of Virginia School of Law Library was one of them.

“Coming out of the perspective of studying the Revolution, you have a sense of the George whose statues are pulled down in New York and whose proclamations are read. I guess I thought of him as a political figure, never as someone you might relate to on more than a regal level,” Ambuske says. Reading the king’s lengthy letters to his sons marked a turning point in his research. “He was also a guy who was capable of a great deal of empathy. He was very concerned, as any parent would be, about the well-being of his children and their education,” says Ambuske. “He was well aware that he was raising potential future sovereigns, but he also wanted them to be good people.”

As Atkinson traced how the American Revolution’s battles played out, he began to see George III as a man who was both “very much a domestic fellow,” and a ruler who was “the driving force behind the hard line that the British had taken” in the war. “What comes across to me, looking at him via the papers,” Atkinson says, “is someone who is puzzling through an extraordinarily complex problem for which he does not really have a vocabulary.”

You'll soon be able to read those documents yourself. The Georgian Papers Programme is digitizing George III's writings, from official documents to family letters, for a website to be launched in January of 2017. You can bookmark it here. Read about the program and what scholars have to say about the king at Smithsonian.


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