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Prelude to Disaster

George III and the Origins of the American Revolution, 1751–1763


John L. Bullion

Prelude to Disaster is the most comprehensive account of the fateful decision to tax American colonists. Unlike other studies, it emphasizes the central role of the young George III in the process. Central to this examination are George’s principles of statecraft and government, his thoughts on pre- and post-war empires, his assessments of future relations with Britain’s great antagonist France, his personality and its development before and after his accession to the throne, his friendship with the earl of Bute, and his attitudes toward domestic policies and politicians, especially George Grenville.

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Chapter 2. “A very honest boy”: Augusta, Bute, and George


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During March 1751, the Earl of Egmont became concerned that an illness afflicting Frederick was lingering. Also worrisome were the prince’s “low spirits.” Hearing this, Augusta decided to play her customary role as intermediary between her husband and his political lieutenants. Summoning Egmont to her drawing room, she reassured him that the prince “was much better [and] only wanted to recover his strength.” As usual, “when he was the least bit out of order” he feared the worst. Once more, she had “laughed him out of it.” She told him Egmont was worried, and he responded to her prompting by giving her a message for the earl. “He should not die this bout but for the future would take better care of himself, that he might live for the sake of [Egmont] and the public.” Cheered by the prospect of recovery and warmed by the expression of appreciation, Egmont left with renewed optimism about the political future.1 Two days later, Frederick died.

Augusta mastered her shock at his sudden death with impressive speed. Immediately she began taking steps to persuade George II to let her keep George and Edward in her household. Indeed, her precise efficiency gives grounds to suspect she took Frederick’s illnesses and fears more seriously than she let on to others; that she took measures right after he breathed his last suggests she already had a plan for...

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