J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, February 04, 2017

“Instructions for my Son George”

Among the documents made public in the Georgian Papers Programme is a little booklet, bound with red string, titled “Instructions for my Son George, drawn by my-Self, for His good, that of my Familys, and for that of His People, according to the Ideas of my Grand-Father, and best Friend, George I.”

This document was signed by Frederick, Prince of Wales, on 13 Jan 1749, two years before his death. The wording suggests the prince already suspected he would not survive his own father, George II, and thus never succeed to the throne of Great Britain. Instead, his “Son George” would become George III.

The pages begin:
As I allways have had the tenderest Paternal Affection for you, I cannot give you a Stronger proof of it, than in leaving this Paper for your in your Mother’s hands, Who will read it to you from time to time and will give it to you when you come of age or when you get the Crown.
What is the main advice? Prince Frederick urged his son to “try never to spend more in the Year, than the Malt and two Shillings in the Land Tax.”

Britain’s malt duty was six shillings per bushel of malt from 1697. In 1760, the year George III ascended the throne, it was reduced to three shillings per bushel, which would have thrown off his father’s calculations. The land tax was likewise revised in George III’s reign; Charles Townshend hoped that the new duties on imports to America in 1767 would allow the government to reduce the tax paid by landowners in Britain.

By living within his royal means, Prince Frederick hoped his son would achieve two important related goals: “to reduce the National Debt” and to “lower interest.” One of the biggest impediments to that program, he warned, would be sycophants urging the king to live more lavishly. (To be sure, Frederick had been a bit of wastrel in his own youth, but now he was in advice-giving mode.)

The prince provided counsel useful for anyone in a position of power:
Flatterers, Courtiers or Ministers, are easy to be got, but a true Friend is difficult to be found. The only rule I can give You to try them by, is, if they will tell you the Truth, and will venture for Your Sake that of your Family or that of Your People (which three things I hope you will never Separate, nor ought they ever to be Separated) to risk some moments of disagreeable Constructions to your Passions, through which they may lose your Favour, if you are a Weak Prince; but will settle themselves firmer in it, if you turn out that man, which I hope God will make you.
This document reflects some other conflicts, or potential conflicts, that we don’t hear much about. One was the possible competing interests of Britain and the family’s other realm of Hanover. Prince Frederick urged his son to separate the two monarchies, which wouldn’t happen until Victoria became queen of Great Britain while a male relative took over in the German state.

The other conflict was the bitter feud between the Prince of Wales and his own father, George II. Frederick told young George that “unsteady measures, you see, my son, have Sullied and hurt the Reign of your Grand Father.”

Combined with his mother’s alleged advice to be a strong ruler, we can see the roots of George III’s insistence on a bigger revenue stream from America and firmer measures against the resistance there. His father wrote:
If you can be without War, let not your Ambition draw you into it. A good deal of the National Debt must be pay’d off, before England enters into a War. At the same time never give up your Honour nor that of the Nation.
As it turned out, George III’s long reign from 1760 to 1820 began during one war with France, then continued through more conflicts with the French in the American War, the wars of the French Revolution, and Napoleon’s wars—which sparked another American war.

(Above is a sketch from the Royal Collection Trust showing the future George III at about age nine, two years before his father dictated these instructions.)

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