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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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

“The great curiosity of seeing the King’s new coach”

The rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence makes George III out as America’s great villain and antagonist of the Revolution.

But of course the king was just the visible embodiment of the British government. The ministry acted in his name, but he didn’t make all decisions. Though George III exercised influence, especially in the choice of ministers, but he wasn’t a tyrant dictating policy from his gilded carriage.

To be sure, he had a gilded carriage.

George III’s state coach survives at Buckingham Palace, as shown in this photo from Rachel Knowles’s blog.

This vehicle was commissioned soon after the young man came to the throne in 1760, designed by Sir William Chambers with decorative allegorical panels painted by Giovanni Battista Cipriani, an artist from Florence.

The coach cost more than £7,661, with £2,504 going to the carver, £1,673 to the coachmaker and wheelwright, £933 to the gilder, and £737 to the “lace-man.”

The coach made it public debut on at the opening of Parliament in October 1762. Richard Rigby reported to the Duke of Bedford:
The great curiosity of seeing the King’s new coach yesterday had filled the park and streets, by all accounts, fuller than they were at the coronation. I was above three hours upon the road from the end of Pall Mall to the middle of Parliament Street, where I was obliged at last to get into a chair and be carried a back way to the House of Commons.

In this crowd Lord Bute [the prime minister] was very much insulted, hissed in every gross manner, and a little pelted. It is said, but it is denied also, that the King was insulted.

Both Houses were up about four; the crowd of coaches and mob on foot not the least abated; it was so great that the King’s coach, with his Majesty in it, upon his return from the House was a full hour in Palace Yard. Lord Bute to avoid the like treatment he had met in going, returned in a hackney chair, but the mob discovered him, followed him, broke the glasses of the chair, and, in short, by threats and menaces, put him very reasonably in great fear; if they had once overturned the chair, he might very soon have been demolished.
Bute was out as prime minister in April 1763. (Though you wouldn’t know that from all the Whig cartoons and effigies that continued to blame him for royal policies over the next decade.)

The royal coach continued to roll out on ceremonial occasions. In October 1795 George III rode to another opening of Parliament. This time the crowd attacked the coach, breaking a window. People were reportedly calling, “Down with Pitt,” “No War,” “Give Us Bread,” and even “No George.” The satirical artist James Gillray portrayed the gold coach under attack from “republicans.”

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