The Death of a Monarch and a Flashback to the Regency: On Queen Elizabeth II and King George III

The Death of a Monarch and a Flashback to the Regency: On Queen Elizabeth II and King George III

Today in Edinburgh I shall pay my respects to Queen Elizabeth II before her casket continues her journey down to London, where her funeral is due to take place next Monday. It’s a sobering time here in the United Kingdom: the Queen was such a stable presence in our lives that many forgot she was also an elderly lady that couldn’t live forever. 

A Momentous Occasion

Kings and queens, especially those blessed with long reigns, become quietly reliable presences for their subjects. Stamps, postboxes, police badges, bills and coins bear their effigy. No wonder, then, that their passing is considered a historical event.

Jane Austen didn’t live to see the accession or death of a monarch, but some of what is happening today in the UK has echoes of what she experienced in her lifetime, when George III was King of Great Britain and Ireland. Here are some parallels that come to mind. 

Two Beloved Monarchs

Queen Elizabeth was undeniably popular. There has been an outpouring of grief at her death in the last few days, with many admiring her sense of duty and steadfast dedication to serving her country. Even resolute republicans have declared their affection for a woman who was also an icon. 

In Jane Austen’s time, George III’s reputation in the colonies was (understandably) dreadful, but back in England, his people also had a deep affection for him. He was seen as a pious and frugal family man, faithful to his wife and devoted to his children.“Farmer George”, as he was called, shared with Queen Elizabeth a predilection for unfussy simplicity that proved very popular with his subjects. 

Two Exceptionally Long Reigns

Queen Elizabeth II reigned for over 70 years and is the longest-serving monarch of the United Kingdom, followed by Queen Victoria (63 years on the throne). The third place on the list goes to George III, who reigned for 59 years.

His was a long but bittersweet reign during a time of intense change and transformation, but many only remember him as the mad king who lost America. George III’s ailing health meant that the then Prince of Wales (and future George IV) had to act as Regent during much of his father’s reign. Thankfully, this wasn’t necessary during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Her physical health had been faltering of late, but she remained sharp as a tack until the very end. 

Two Controversial Families

Both Queen Elizabeth and King George had a large family for the standards of the day. Queen Elizabeth, a mother of four, had a discreet and “boring” private life. In contrast, her descendants have often been in the news, and not always for pleasant reasons. Her children and grandchildren have provided plenty of material to the tabloid press, and the scandals are too numerous to mention. 

Likewise, many of King George III’s 13 children led shocking lives and were a source of disappointment to her their father. Their extravagant lifestyles, lavish spending, mounting gambling debts, secret marriages and unsuitable liaisons appalled the general population. Worst of all for the descendants of a monarch, they very nearly failed to provide legitimate heirs to the Hanoverian line

Two Ageing Heirs

Queen Elizabeth’s son and the former Prince of Wales, now King Charles III, assumes the throne at a mature 73 years of age. In another striking parallel, George III’s son was 48 when he became Regent, and 57 when he finally succeeded to the throne as Georges IV.

 Considering that the life expectancy in 1820 was around 40, George IV was well beyond middle-age when he finally became king – just like Charles III, who has become the oldest person to be crowned in Britain.

One Royal Admirer

We don’t know what Elizabeth II thought of Jane Austen. However, there is ample evidence indicating that the Prince Regent and future George IV was a fan of Austen’s. The royal admiration was such that Austen was effectively forced into dedicating Emma to him despite the disdain she felt for the man.

Interestingly, George III is barely mentioned in her novels and correspondence. To me, it says that she generally approved of the monarch. Jane Austen’s juvenilia also makes it clear that she despised Queen Elizabeth I, but I like to think she would have liked the eficient, unfussy and dutiful approach of Queen Elizabeth II.

 

Have you been following the news about Queen Elizabeth II’s passing? What do you think Jane Austen would have made of her reign? And what do you associate with King George III?

 

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11 Responses to The Death of a Monarch and a Flashback to the Regency: On Queen Elizabeth II and King George III

  1. I haven’t been following the news too closely but have read a few articles that focused in the purported rift between the Royal family.

  2. Fascinating times we live in when we look at the many countries and their leaders.

    Elizabeth II seems to have taken her role as queen seriously. As to Jane Austen and the queen, they probably would have become good friends. And what reminds me of George III is that he apparently loved and was faithful to his wife and had 13 children with her. That is rather jaw-dropping in itself. Somewhat different compared to leaders that we see in many countries today. As to George IV, he was very little or not at all like his father and set a poor example as to faithfulness.

    Although George III’s reign included the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 with America, Great Britain and America are now friends and making up one of the world powers we see on the world scene. It will be interesting to note how the loss of Elizabeth II affects relations throughout the earth in the coming days.

    • George III and Queen Charlotte seem to have had a happy marriage, which was unusual for most aristocratic unions at the time. It’s a pity their brood didn’t quite embrace their morals or character! Queen Elizabeth II’s passing feels like the end of an era – fingers crossed for a smooth transition to whatever comes next. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Queen Elizabeth ll was a elegant and intelligent woman. She made every one feel comfortable. She never failed to do her duties as a Monarch. As an American George lll reminds me of the American Revolution. May Queen Elizabeth ll rest in peace. A job well done. Prayers for King Charles lll.
    Joan,Marion and Marilyn

    • She was elegant, and had a very specific and rather timeless sense of style that in a way was timeless. I read somewhere she wore head-to-toe bright colours to stand out in the crowd, so people would spot her straightaway. Let’s see what comes next. Thanks for your comment!

  4. I’m still finding it hard to believe that she’s actually gone, despite watching all the programmes and the moving of her coffin! She’s been queen since I was a couple of months old and I tended to assume she’d live at least as long as her mother. However she did become noticeably frailer rather quickly during Covid, especially after Prince Philip died! With the state of the world at the moment I’m not sure what will happen now? I’m sure Jane Austen would have loved her as they seemed to share the same dry sense of humour.

    • I know what you mean! I felt so sorry for her during Prince Philip’s funeral, sitting all alone due to Covid restrictions… And I agree, her dry sense of humour and quick wit were legendary, just like Jane Austen’s! Thanks for your comment.

  5. I was saddened to hear of her passing. At her age, I knew it was inevitable but you still hate to hear it. I wondered if she would make it to 100. However, it became clear that she was declining and I knew it wouldn’t be long. I agree with cindie. I think Austen would have liked her.

    I know she had made great plans for her funeral but with COVID and such it will not be what she had originally planned. However, when Diana died, she was able to see some of those plans utilized and could marvel at them even if they were for another. My thoughts and prayers are for all the countries under her sovereignty. It will be a time of change and adjustment. Blessings.

    • I know, she was 96 but it still came as a surprise in a way. It sounds like it was all rather swift – only two days before she felt well enough to meet the new Prime Minister. Not a bad way to go. It feels like much will change after her passing, though – we have a time of adjustment indeed ahead of us! Thanks for your comment.

  6. I think she would have liked Queen Elizabeth. I think they both have dry wit and are organized and efficient. I think they would have gotten along famously!

    • I agree Cindie! The Queen was said to be really quite funny in a dry, quick-witted sort of way – similar to what contemporaries say of Jane Austen. Thanks for your comment!

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