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GEORGE III - Military Content George III Autograph Letter Signed to his Son, Frederick, Duke of York
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GEORGE III - Military Content George III Autograph Letter Signed to his Son, Frederick, Duke of York

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“The ordering of the Militia is certainly a wise measure”


GEORGE III. (1738-1820). King of Great Britain, Ireland and Hanover. ALS. (“Your most affectionate Father, George R”). 1p. 4to. Queen’s Palace, February 4, 1805. To the king’s second eldest and favorite son, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany,(1763-1827).


On coming to town I have received my Dear Frederick Your letter after your interview with Mr. Pitt and the Secretary of War, the ordering of the Militia is certainly a wise measure the number of men locked up to that particular Service is far above the proportion that can be furnished without detriment to more essential Service; but the reduction will not be obtained without some outcry, which perhaps may be diminished by the reduction of thirteen Garrison Battalions and consequently only continuing three on the establishment. I ever remain, My dear Frederick, Your most affectionate Father…”  


George III succeeded his grandfather, George II, at a time marked by wars on the continent and in the New World, with Great Britain thrust into the middle. Although the 1763 Peace of Paris ended the conflict with France shortly after the beginning of George’s reign, his later policies provoked the 1776 revolt of the American colonies, leading to Great Britain’s defeat in 1783 and the loss of her territories. That defeat was followed, a decade later, by the French Revolutionary Wars commencing in 1792.


Since 1803, Napoleon had his army poised across the English channel, 200,000 troops dubbed the Armée des côtes de l’Océan and financed by the proceeds of the sale of French North Americanterritories to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. Britain undertook numerous measures to prepare against an invasion including digging tunnels underneath Dover castle to garrison more troops and erecting Martello towers along the coast. Napoleon judged Britain weak and vulnerable in the absence of William Pitt (1759-1806), who had resigned as Prime Minister in March 1801. Upon his return to power in May 1804, Pitt devoted himself to increasing the army and navy as well as to engage in diplomatic efforts to create a Third Coalition that eventually included Sweden, the Holy Roman Empire, Russia, and the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily. The War of the Third Coalition was fought on numerous fronts on the European continent and at sea. French attempts to break the British blockade failed, and eight months after our letter was written, Admiral Nelson defeated the combined French and Spanish navies at the Battle of Trafalgar. 


Frederick, George III’s second son, began training for a military career at a young age, rapidly rising through the ranks. During the 1780s he served as a member of the Privy Council and the House of Lords, but it was in the army that he made his mark on history. His father appointed him Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in 1795, in which capacity he led forces that included the 92nd Regiment of Foot in the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland during the War of the Second Coalition. The failure of that military campaign inspired the disparaging nursery rhyme “The Grand Old Duke of York.” Frederick committed himself to reforming the army and is now remembered to have done “more for the army than any one man has done for it in the whole of its history,” (The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Army, ed. Chandler and Beckett). He was instrumental in the 1801 founding of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and actively fortifying the country’s southern coast. Frederick’s reforms are credited with defeating Napoleon in the Peninsular War and ending the War of the Sixth Coalition.


Pitt, whose family was steeped in English history and politics, was elected to Parliament in 1781, and quickly appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1782-1783 under the Earl of Shelburne’s brief ministry. Due to parliamentary infighting, George III had to offer Pitt the post of prime minister three times before he accepted it in 1783, becoming, at 24, the youngest prime minister in English history. With the king’s support and widespread popularity among the voters, Pitt remained prime minister for 17 years. During his tenure, he attempted to reform Parliament, while faced with the loss of the American colonies, increasing war debt, and the ongoing war with France.


Our letter also references John Jeffreys Pratt, 1st Marquess Camden (1759-1840), Secretary of State for War and the Colonies between 1804 and 1805.


Despite the numerous important military events of his reign, King George III is possibly best known for his battle with mental illness. Just five years into his reign, George began suffering bouts of madness, now thought by historians to have been caused by the metabolic defect porphyria. In 1788, he suffered a major attack and his condition worsened over the years until his son, the future King George IV, was declared regent in 1811.


Our letter was written shortly after Napoleon crowned himself emperor in December 1804. Written on a folded sheet and folded with traces of a former mounting strip on the integral leaf, which bears a docket. In excellent condition and uncommon in handwritten letters.


Item #19304

This autograph will be auctioned live on May 23, 2018. For more information and to place your bid click the "BID NOW!" button above.
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