His Majesty “Farmer George”

If one were to search history books, he would learn that King George III was King of England during the American Revolutionary War. He might also discover that the same King George “went mad” in his later years. Hopefully, the person would also learn the following, which is provided (in more detail than I have included below) by Royal.uk: 

**”George III became heir to the throne on the death of his father in 1751, succeeding his grandfather, George II, in 1760. He was the third Hanoverian monarch and the first one to be born in England and to use English as his first language.

**George III was devoted to his wife, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. They had 15 children, 13 of whom reached adulthood.

**”George III was the first king to study science as part of his education (he had his own astronomical observatory), and examples of his collection of scientific instruments can now be seen in the Science Museum.

**”The American War of Independence ran from 1775 to 1783 and resulted in Britain’s loss of many its colonies in North America. France was eager to retaliate against Great Britain following their defeat during the Seven Years’ War. Various conflicts against Napoleonic France started in 1793 and led to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

**”George III bought Buckingham House (now known as Buckingham Palace) in 1761 for his wife Queen Charlotte to use as a comfortable family home close to St James’s Palace, where many court functions were held. Buckingham House became known as the Queen’s House.

**”One of the most cultured of monarchs, George III started a new royal collection of books (65,000 of his books were later given to the British Museum, as the nucleus of a national library) and opened his library to scholars.

**”After serious bouts of illness in 1788-89 and again in 1801, George became permanently deranged in 1810. He was mentally unfit to rule in the last decade of his reign; his eldest son – the later George IV – acted as Prince Regent from 1811. Some medical historians have said that George III’s mental instability was caused by a hereditary physical disorder called porphyria.

**”During his reign, George III acquired the nickname ‘Farmer George’, in part due to his agricultural interests and in part as a playful pun. The survival of private papers offers one of the best opportunities to assess the true character and extent of George III’s agricultural interests including many notes made by him on agricultural books.”

It is said by many that George was a child who did not progress as fast mentally, as did others his age. He was a passionate young man, which made him difficult to teach or to command. Supposedly, he could not read properly until he was 11 years of age. When his father died, George, age 12 at the time, became the heir to the throne of England. Because he was aware of his “deficiencies,” George never thought himself worthy of the throne. Even so, he appeared determined to be successful, hiding his self doubt behind a facade of confidence. His method of screwing up his courage was to set himself an ideal of conduct. John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute became this ideal for George III. Bute became George’s inspiration, his teacher, and later his chief minister.

“Succeeding to his father’s earldom in 1723, Bute was known to remained aloof from politics until he met (1747) and won the favour of Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, son of King George II. Upon Frederick’s death in 1751, Bute became the constant companion and confidant of the prince’s son George, heir to the throne, whose tutor he had been. After his accession George III made the earl secretary of state (March 1761). The king appointed Bute in order to break the power of the dominant Whig leaders and to achieve a peace with France. From the first, Bute, as a Scotsman, was widely disliked in England. He aroused further hostility by ousting from his administration William Pitt (later 1st Earl of Chatham), creator of England’s successful strategy in the Seven Years’ War. Bute replaced Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle, as first lord of the Treasury (in effect, prime minister) in May 1762, and in February 1763 he signed the Treaty of Paris, which made peace with France but was extremely unpopular in England. After imposing a hated cider tax and becoming involved in the controversial elevation of Henry Fox to the peerage, Bute resigned (April 1763). Nevertheless, he maintained his influence with George III until the new prime minister, George Grenville, made the king promise (May 1765) that he would neither employ Bute in office nor seek his counsel.” 

One must not think of the nickname of “Farmer George” to be a disparaging one, for during George III’s long reign, England was very much an agricultural country, so referring to the King as “Farmer George” was a tribute of sorts. The Royal Collection Trust tells us: “During his reign, George III acquired the nickname ‘Farmer George’, in part due to his agricultural interests and in part as a playful pun – a nod toward nominative determinism given that his name, George, derived from the Greek geōrgos (γεωργός), meaning ‘farmer’ or ‘earth worker’. However, the extent to which this popular name arose from his reputation as an agriculturalist has been debated. The anecdotes and caricatures from the 1780s and 1790s tended to depict a friendly, homespun country gentleman, rather than a progressive, experimenting improver. The ‘farmer’ characterisation captured both his reportedly simple domestic life and his traditional paternalistic role as the nation’s father, as much as his zeal for the theory and practice of agriculture. Furthermore, it is difficult to reconstruct an accurate portrait of his engagements with farming from the accounts of contemporaries, whose compliments and stories are partly attributable to the honour owed to a patron and a king.”

In 1780, George III began to develop the parklands around Windsor Castle. The history of Windsor Castle on the internet tells us: “George I took little interest in Windsor Castle, preferring his other palaces at St James’s, Hampton Court, and Kensington. George II rarely used Windsor either, preferring Hampton Court. Many of the apartments in the Upper Ward were given out as “grace and favour” privileges for the use of prominent widows or other friends of the Crown. The Duke of Cumberland made the most use of the property in his role as the Ranger of Windsor Great Park. By the 1740s, Windsor Castle had become an early tourist attraction; wealthier visitors who could afford to pay the castle keeper could enter, see curiosities such as the castle’s narwhal horn, and by the 1750s buy the first guidebooks to Windsor, produced by George Bickham in 1753 and Joseph Pote in 1755. As the condition of the State Apartments continued to deteriorate, even the general public were able to regularly visit the property.

“George III reversed this trend when he came to the throne in 1760. George disliked Hampton Court and was attracted by the park at Windsor Castle. George wanted to move into the Ranger’s House by the castle, but his brother, Henry, was already living in it and refused to move out. Instead, George had to move into the Upper Lodge, later called the Queen’s Lodge, and started the long process of renovating the castle and the surrounding parks. Initially the atmosphere at the castle remained very informal, with local children playing games inside the Upper and Lower Wards, and the royal family frequently seen as they walked around the grounds. As time went by, however, access for visitors became more limited.”

Under George III’s orders, the parklands surrounding Windsor Castle were transformed from grounds for hunting to pristine parks and gardens. One major change was the conversion of the areas known as the Lower Park and the Upper Park into agricultural lands to be used by Frogmore farm. George III was known to have enjoyed overseeing the husbandry efforts at the farm. It is said, King George insisted that newer farming methods be practiced at Frogmore. A four-crop rotation was incorporated so as not to overuse the land.

Charles Townsend, 2nd Viscount Townsend, who served as Secretary of State under George I, used the four crop method on his estate in Norfolk. Townsend had learned of the method from farmers in Holland. It was also used in America and to a lesser extent in Scotland. Crops were rotated on a four-year basis. Townsend considered clover and turnips as two of the crops. The Open Door Website explains the The Four Field System, thusly: “Viscount Townshend successfully introduced a new method of crop rotation on his farms. He divided his fields up into four different types of produce with wheat in the first field, clover (or ryegrass) in the second, oats or barley in the third and, in the fourth, turnips or swedes. The turnips were used as fodder to feed livestock in winter. Clover and ryegrass were grazed by livestock. Using this system, he found that he could grow more crops and get a better yield from the land.

“If a crop was not rotated, then the nutrient level in the field would go down with time. The yield of the crop from the field decreased. Using the four field system, the land could not only be “rested”, but also could be improved by growing other crops. Clover and turnips grown in a field after wheat, barley or oats, naturally replaced nutrients into the soil. None of the fields had to be taken out of use whilst they recovered. Also, where animals grazed on the clover and turnip fields, eating the crop, their droppings helped to manure the soil. The four field system was successful because it improved the amount of food produced.”

Back at Frogmore, George III also set up a dairy. All together, more than 1,000 acres were used for farm purposes at Windsor. George may have been “slow” at reading when he was young, but he held a great deal of knowledge in the areas of animal husbandry and botany and agriculture. He imported sheep from Spain, a suggestion from Sir Joseph Banks, the President of the Royal Society. Those sheep became the ancestors of the Merino sheep found in New Zealand and Australia. 

George III wrote letters for the Annals of Agriculture under the pen name of ‘Ralph Robinson,’ the name of one of the shepherds he employed on the farm. He kept meticulous notes on the latest improvements in farming practices and animal husbandry. 

The Royal Collection Trust tells us: “The start of George III’s reign coincided with a new surge in agricultural publishing, such that by 1776 Lord Kames was moved to open his own treatise with a joke about the flood of texts: ‘Behold another volume on husbandry!’ It is, therefore, not entirely surprising that in the 1760s and 1770s a monarch concerned with the wealth of his kingdom and curious about the arts and sciences would collect and read books on agriculture. Indeed, George’s intellectual interest can be considered typical of many British gentlemen landowners at the time. Moreover, the surviving papers on agriculture form only a small proportion of the total number in the collection of George’s essays (around one to two per cent). We should therefore resist the temptation offered by his nickname to over-interpret the significance of such notes.

“The first point to make about George’s notes is that they are mostly taken from books published over a relatively short period, 1762–71. This may only be an effect of what survives, but it suggests that George was concerned with the latest ideas and debates, and it is not unreasonable to assume that his notes were made within a relatively short number of years following the publication of a new book or treatise. The exceptions are a short note on a book of 1775 and notes from volumes the periodicals Annals of Agriculture and Transactions of the Society of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce from the 1780s. We can roughly divide the surviving notes made by George into three general themes: the political economy of agriculture, the merits of old versus new husbandry methods and the cultivation of specific crops.”

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Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how one views history, George III’s keen interest in agriculture made him a “subject” of several cartoonists of the day. He was lampooned by the famous James Gillray on more than one occasion. John Wolcott satirized the King, just as he did members of the Royal Society. In Wolcott’s piece, King George explains how to make an apple dumpling to a farmer’s wife. 

In tempting row the naked dumplings lay, 

When lo! the monarch is on his usual way, 

Like lightening spoke “What’s this? what’s this? what? what?” 

“No!” cried the staring monarch with a grin, 

“How? how? the devil got the apple in?”

About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
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2 Responses to His Majesty “Farmer George”

  1. Jennifer Redlarczyk says:

    Regina, this was a great article. I particularly enjoyed reading about the 4 crop rotation which authors often mention in their books. I wonder if any of the farmers ever followed the land Sabbath and let the land go fallow once every 7 years. Fascinating information. Thanks, jen

    • I have not read of the land Sabbath being practiced, but that does not mean it did not happen somewhere. I was surprised to read they grew clover and turnips as part of the rotation. I always read it as letting a field go fallow, which I assumed would be the clover. Just never heard of the turnips. Most of my previous research said some sort of legume being used.

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