Sharing Research: GPP Fellows Flora Fraser & Gabriel Paquette

By Dr Angel Luke O’Donnell, Academic Liaison for the Georgian Papers Programme, and Teaching Fellow in North American History, King’s College London.


On 8 June 2017, King’s College London hosted its third GPP fellows coffee morning. The coffee mornings are opportunities for fellows on various schemes to share their research in the archives. The meetings help academics, archivists, and other fellows understand more about the material being digitised as part of the programme. In this session, we were joined by the Mount Vernon fellow and award-winning author Flora Fraser, the Sons of the American Revolution Visiting Professor Gabriel Paquette from Johns Hopkins University, and Roberta Giubilini from the Royal Archives.

The session was opened by incoming Academic Director, Prof Arthur Burns (King’s College London). Arthur first welcomed the fellows to GPP and then shared his recent experience with a teaching module at King’s in which undergraduate students transcribed documents from the Royal Archives. The students produced fantastic work and engaged thoughtfully with the programme. Arthur also discussed his plans for the future, especially his aims to continue to build a scholarly community around the programme.

Flora Fraser talked through some of the material that animates her work, including some fascinating links between the Georgian material and an associated collection at the Royal Archives called the Stuart and Cumberland papers. The Stuart papers are a series of volumes relating to the deposed James II, his son the ‘Old Pretender’, and his grandson Bonnie Prince Charlie. Meanwhile, the Cumberland papers are mainly comprised of papers relating to the 1745 Jacobite rebellion and named after George II’s younger son, William Duke of Cumberland, ‘Butcher of Culloden’. One of the aspirations for GPP is to find and explore these links between collections, both within Windsor and further afield, in order to understand better the significance of the material in the Royal Archives. The Stuart and Cumberland papers are helping Flora write the biography of Flora Macdonald, a Scottish heroine of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion who eventually emigrated from her native Skye to North Carolina. Flora told us the story of how Flora Macdonald helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape Scotland by himself in women’s clothing despite a £30,000 bounty on his head. This led on to a broader discussion of royal costume in general, especially other times that royalty adopted disguises and costumes.

Flora is also working on a biography of Horatio Nelson. She discussed her hopes to find material in the Royal Archives about Nelson’s rise to prominence as well as more information about his funeral. Flora has previously written a number of award-winning biographies, most recently the biography of the relationship between George and Martha Washington. These two newest projects each use biography as a genre to tell interesting stories, one to reveal the life of a woman relatively unknown to posterity and one to reassess one of the most famous Britons of all time.

Gabriel Paquette is a historian of the Iberian world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, focusing specifically on the decline, revival and fall of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Gabe is currently researching the relationship between Spain and Britain with an interest in the American War for Independence. A lot of the diplomatic historiography of the war so far has concentrated on the French and American alliance, overlooking the contributions of the Spanish. Crucially, Gabe argued that Spain’s navy was an important factor in menacing Britain’s Caribbean colonies, and thereby, the threat of the Spanish navy prevented Britain from concentrating its forces on the continental colonies. Gabe reported that the GPP material would be particularly useful for understanding this Anglo-Spanish relationship because George III practiced ‘personal diplomacy’. He pursued diplomatic aims outside of formal government structures through his own network of emissaries. At times, this personal diplomacy actually meant that George’s messages to the Spanish were at odds with official government policy. Gabe’s presentation revealed two interesting things for me. Firstly, the significance of the Spanish involvement in hampering Britain’s movements in the American War for Independence, and secondly, it showed that George III not only intervened personally in domestic politics, but also believed he had a role to play on the international stage as well.

Finally, Roberta Giubilini gave us an update about the progress in cataloguing the papers of William IV. Roberta has completed a description of items in the William IV collection. As Roberta argued in her presentation, William IV has not had many biographies written about him and these papers may be instrumental in encouraging new historical interest in his life and reign. The papers may be particularly interesting for understanding his time as the Duke of Clarence, a period only covered very briefly in the few biographies that do exist. Roberta’s presentation prompted a fascinating discussion about William’s time in the navy, his experience as a midshipman and his later interest in military discipline. During his reign, William had a personal interest in maintaining corporal punishment in the military despite objections raised about its effectiveness. Overall, Roberta’s presentation gave an exciting insight into how the GPP material could be used once it is fully catalogued.

A recurrent theme in the discussions was the navy: its strategy, leaders, and the management of the personnel. It was great to see links between seemingly separate projects. Discovering connections that I hadn’t previously considered always provides new models for approaching historical archives in creative ways.

“Awesome, Wow”: King George III in the American Popular Imagination

Karin Wulf (Director, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Professor of History, College of William & Mary)

As we consider the range and depth of materials emerging from the Georgian Papers Programme it’s clear that any number of historical subjects will be newly framed or newly illuminated.  And it’s likely that a more subtle perspective on King George III will be among the project’s outcomes.  Historians have interpreted eighteenth-century attitudes to the English king who last ruled North America differently, with some arguing for a more benign view of the monarch and a harsh view of his ministers, and others finding an intensity of opposition to the monarch himself as well as monarchical rule.  And though he ruled Britain for a long time, one way or another Americans usually encounter George III in the context of the prelude to, war for, and conclusion of the Revolution.  In this context it’s useful to think about how and why the monarch Americans most closely associate with the American Revolution is imagined in popular culture.

 

Americans have a trove of popular images of King George III on which to draw, but some are more accessible than others.  A key cultural text is an import: The Madness of King George, the film adaptation of Allan Bennett’s play starring Nigel Hawthorne and featuring Helen Mirren and Rupert Everett.  The film advances the (now-discounted) theory that the king suffered from porphyria, and grapples at times sensitively with his increasingly fragile mental health.  The film was well reviewed, with Hawthorne and Mirren’s performances as King George and Queen Charlotte particularly praised.  Despite the central theme (the king’s madness and his relationship with the Prince of Wales), the New York Times reviewer focused on American independence.  In the review titled “Going Mad without Being a Sore Loser,” Janet Maslin pulls out a key reference to the American problem: “We must get used to it,” King George eventually sighs about the nation formed from his American colonies. “I have known stranger things. I once saw a sheep with five legs.”

 

But Americans also have a large fund of home-grown images of King George. The king is often a key figure in brief children’s histories of the American Revolution.  For example, prize-winning children’s author Jean Fritz’s marvelous book, Can’t You Make them Behave King George? originally published in 1977 and illustrated by the prolific Tomie dePaola, is a favorite.  Fritz has written a host of quaisi-political histories of early America for young readers, including And then What Happened Paul Revere (1973) and Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution (1987).  Her biography of America’s last king begins with his childhood and ends just after the Revolution.  A sympathetic reading of the king’s rule, Fritz emphasizes his (well-documented) desire for order and sense of responsibility.  The Revolution arrives, then, as an affront to both.  In dePaola’s emblematic cover illustration the king slumps in resignation.

 

All of these and more have been overwhelmed in the last year by the brilliant, cheeky, counterpoint character of George III in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster hip-hop musical, Hamilton.  Plenty of Americans have been exposed to Hamilton in any number of online venues including a live performance at the 2016 Tony awards, a clip of Miranda performing the first song at the White House in 2009 back when he was still developing what would become Hamilton, and the ever-popular Ham4Ham shows, a short burst of performance held weekly outside the Broadway theater and posted on Youtube.  On October 21 a PBS documentary about the musical, “Hamilton’s America,” will air, the musical opened in Chicago last month, and will arrive in London’s West End next fall.

 

Played originally on Broadway and on the cast album by Jonathan Groff, the role of King George III draws a sharp contrast between the inheritor of a kingdom and the “bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman,” Alexander Hamilton.  Miranda’s lyrics especially, but also the music and staging, urge Hamilton’s audience to think about how history is made in the moment but more significantly in the later telling.  “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” is one of the key refrains.

 

By means of affect, accent and posture Groff offered a modest variation on Fritz’s more gentle children’s story.  The king feels entitled, in every sense of the word, and his values and goals are diametrical to those of the young revolutionaries–but he’s also a canny judge of people and circumstances.  Although he’s on stage for fewer than 10 minutes, and singing for not quite 7, King George has some of the musicals’ best lines.  In essentially the same melody, in a style evoking an early Beatles ditty, his three songs  trace the arc of the revolutionary conflict. In the first, what Miranda has described as a sort of creepy break-up song, the king reminds the colonies that “Oceans rise/ empires fall/ We have seen each other through it all.” and that “when push/ comes to shove/I will send a fully armed battalion/ to remind you of my love! Da da da da dat…”

 

Unlike other musical numbers, King George always sings alone.  His second appearance takes place after the Battle of Yorktown when he wonders how the new nation, now decisively independent, will function.  “You’re on your own,” he sings in his faux posh accent, shifting then to interject a stylized American “Awesome, Wow!” before querying “do you have a clue what happens now?”  In Hamilton the Revolution (2016), the book that Miranda authored with Jeremy Carter offering an inside look at the origins and making of the musical, he suggests that the third song was unplanned.  Some characters insist on their place on stage.  This third song jumps ahead fifteen years to contemplate transitions in American leadership: “They say/ George Washigton’s yielding his power and stepping away/ ‘Zat true?/ I wasn’t aware that was something a person could do.”   And then he relishes the notion of John Adams as Washington’s successor: “Oceans rise/ Empires fall/ Next to Washington, they all look small/ All alone/ Watch them run/ They will tear each other into pieces/ Jesus Christ this will be fun.  Da da da dat…”

 

Groff was nominated for a Tony for his performance, one of three from Hamilton nominated in the same category; the award went to Daveed Diggs, who originated the dual roles of the Marquis de LaFayette and Thomas Jefferson.  When Groff and two actors who played King George off Broadway or as stand-ins lip-synched “the Schulyer Sisters” in Hamilton’s famous pre-show, Ham4Ham, as “the Schulyer Georges” the subversion wasn’t just in the gender-bending.  This song is a bit of Destiny’s Child era Beyonce on Broadway—three sisters of the wealthy Schuyler family play a key role in the musical.  One of them marries Hamilton, and another is his intellectual soulmate.

 

Having Groff appear as the senior sister, the brainy Angelica Schuyler, makes an even more compelling counterpoint for George III than Hamilton himself.  Schuyler’s lines invoke revolution beyond the aims of the revolutionaries:  “I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine/ So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane/ You want a revolution? I want a revelation!”  It’s not only a revolution against monarchy, but patriarchy she’s aiming for.  Groff’s King George/ Angelica: “So listen to my declaration/ We hold these truths to be self-evident/ That all men are created equal/ And when I meet Thomas Jefferson/ I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!”   This is a King George that American millennials –and maybe their British counterparts, too–can love.

 

The Georgian Papers Programme will likely bring a more nuanced view of George III into view.  Though he, too, loved an intellectual woman, and fresh perspectives about Queen Charlotte are likely to be a key aspect of new research in the Georgian Papers, it’s unlikely we’ll see a version of the king that approximates either the role Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote or the one Jonathan Groff has performed (on stage and on Youtube).  Still, it’s important to appreciate the distinctive place of America’s last king in its popular culture.

 

This post and others also appear on our sibling GPP site at the Omohundro Institute. 

Researching in the Round Tower: report by Georgian Papers Fellow, Rick Atkinson

Rick Atkinson, freelance military historian, was an Omohundro Institute Georgian Papers Fellow who spent last April researching at the Royal Archives. He is researching the first volume of a projected trilogy about the American Revolution and used his time in the archives to look at the role of King George III in military decisions, specifically those relating to espionage and expeditionary warfare, starting in early 1775 and carrying through the Battle of Princeton in 1777.

 

Atkinson at Henry VIII Gate, Windsor Castle, April 2016
Atkinson at Henry VIII Gate, Windsor Castle, April 2016

 

I’ve worked in some exotic locations—Mogadishu, Mali, Baghdad, Kazakhstan, Riyadh—but none more evocative than the top of the Round Tower in Windsor Castle, where I spent the month of April 2016, as a Georgian Papers fellow. The researcher’s path to this archive is steep: through the Henry VIII Gate and the Norman Gatehouse, up 102 stone steps in the Round Tower and then another 21 wooden steps to the reading room. It’s as close to time travel as I’ve ever experienced.

As an author and a military historian from Washington, D.C., I’m working on a trilogy about the American Revolution. My previous books have been about four 20th century wars, each of them expeditionary, and I’m intrigued by the challenges of waging war at great distance in the 18th century. In the official and private papers of George III, complemented by the vast trove of Treasury, Colonial Office, Admiralty, War Office, and Audit Office documents in the National Archive at Kew, the depth and breadth of those challenges comes clear. So does the extent to which the King is closely involved in all aspects of logistics, politics, strategy, diplomacy, naval affairs, and intelligence collection during the Revolution. His appetite for information is enormous. What he knows is impressive; what he doesn’t know will help cost Britain her American colonies.

The American stereotype of a tyrannical nincompoop quickly dissolves with a little exposure to the Georgian papers. I also spent time examining the correspondence and documents of Queen Charlotte and two eventual heirs to the throne, George IV and William IV. In these papers we see the worries and preoccupations of a husband and father, and of a monarch wrestling with the fretful issue of how to prepare a prince to become a king in a changing world. I also took several days to examine the military maps of George III in the Print Room and to examine some of the King’s personal holdings in the Royal Library.

I couldn’t be more grateful to those responsible for opening up the Georgian Papers and giving us a deeper look at this extraordinary period in our common heritage, particularly King’s College London and the Omohundro Institute. Oliver Urquhart Irvine, the Librarian and Assistant Keeper of the Queen’s Archive, and his colleagues at Windsor Castle, were extraordinarily generous, accommodating, and good-humored. Not least, I was in Windsor for the Queen’s 90th birthday celebration. I told Oliver that the irony was not lost on me that I had interrupted my research on the Revolution to stand on a street curb with thousands of others to sing “Happy birthday, your Majesty.”

This post and others also appear on our sibling GPP site at the Omohundro Institute.