The 2018 Sons of the American Revolution Georgian Papers Programme annual lecture 2018

Professor Gabriel Paquette

(The Johns Hopkins University)

Spain and the American Revolution

Monday 26 March 2018, 6.30 pm

Venue: The Great Hall, Strand Campus, King’s College London

John Trumbell, ‘The Sortie Made by the Garrison of Gibraltar’ (1788, oil on canvas). Cincinatti Art Museum.

Professor Paquette lectured on Spain’s role in the American Revolution. He is especially interested in the Anglo-Spanish relationship, and the outbreak of war between these two countries in 1779. George III strenuously sought to prevent long-standing rivalry with Spain from leading to war and he sought in vain to end hostilities at various points. Using the Georgian Papers and other manuscript sources, Paquette traced the evolution of Spain’s relations with Britain during the American Revolution, when the two Powers clashed from Honduras to Gibraltar. What emerged is a portrait of George III’s ‘personal diplomacy’ and British strategic priorities in the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Atlantic World more generally.

You can listen to Professor Paquette’s lecture here

(The lecture itself begins at c. 11.25, following an introduction to the Programme and Professor Paquette. We apologise for the poor sound quality especially for the questions from the Q&A session at the end).

Gabriel Paquette is Professor of History at The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA, and was the 2017 Sons of the American Revolution Georgian Papers Programme visiting professor at King’s College London. His research explores aspects of European, Latin American and international History. His first book, Enlightenment, Governance, and Reform in Spain and its Empire, 1759-1808 (Palgrave, 2008) analyzed the intellectual origins of the later eighteenth-century reforms undertaken by the Spanish Crown in the Iberian Peninsula and Spanish America; in 2013 he published Imperial Portugal in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions: The Luso-Brazilian World, c. 1770-1850 (CUP). He is now working on a synoptic history of  Western European ‘seaborne’ empires in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In addition to his principal areas of research, Paquette has written on the history of Anglo-Iberian relations, Spanish American Independence, Marx and Hegel, Romanticism, and early nineteenth-century Liberalism.


The Sons of the American Revolution

The Sons of the American Revolution is an historical, educational and patriotic non-profit corporation whose members are direct descendants of the men and women who supported the cause of American Independence during the years 1774-1783. The National Society of the Sons of the Revolution is collaborating with King’s College London to sponsor visiting professorships at the College and hosted by various departments. The visiting professors work on their own research and disseminate their findings relevant to the GPP to academics, archivists and the wider public. The Georgian Papers Programme is very grateful to the Sons of the American Revolution for sponsoring this research opportunity and its ongoing support of the Programme more generally.

Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at King’s

The Department of Spanish, Portuguese & Latin American Studies (SPLAS) at King’s, which has hosted Professor Paquette, has historic roots in the early development of the academic study of the Hispanic and Lusophone worlds. This long tradition allows it to build in innovative ways on profound expertise in research and teaching across these languages, literatures and cultures. Modern Languages research at King’s achieved a ‘power’ ranking of 9th in the UK according the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, which assesses the quality and quantity of research across the UK’s universities. This research underpins teaching in SPLAS, which is developing new collaborations across the department that reflect and develop this fundamental relationship. Its courses reflect the diversity of interests within the Department, covering four continents and ranging from modern Brazilian music to Medieval Spanish literature. The Modern Languages departments at King’s ranked 7th in the UK in the 2016 QS World University Rankings by Subject and 8th in the Guardian University guide 2018. The Department has an extremely successful and vibrant graduate student culture, embracing both a PhD programme and an MA in Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies.  Its  alumni contribute to the field of Hispanic and Lusophone studies in the UK and beyond.

Georgian Papers Programme

On April 1, 2015 the Georgian Papers Programme was launched at Windsor Castle in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen. A collaboration between King’s College London, founded by George IV, and the Royal Collection Trust, the Programme is digitizing, disseminating, and interpreting an extraordinarily rich collection of materials, including correspondence, maps, and royal household ledgers. The Programme involves a number of international partnerships: notably with the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and The College of William and Mary, the primary American partners, and also the Library of Congress and the Washington Library at Mount Vernon.

The project involves the digitisation of all the historic manuscripts from the Georgian period, totalling more than 350,000 pages, of which only about 15% have previously been published. While the vast majority of the collection comprises papers from George III, papers from Kings George I, George II, George IV and William IV are also being made available.

It is hoped that the work will transform the understanding of Georgian Britain and its monarchy, at a time of profound cultural, political, economic and social change which created the modern nation.

The Madness of Historians: An evening with The Madness of King George

By James Fisher

James is researching his PhD on the relation between agricultural books, knowledge & labour in eighteenth-century Britain, at King’s College London. He also works as the Academic Administrator, Georgian Papers Programme.
Panel at the talk, ‘Just Write It, I’ll make it work’: King George III through the eyes of Alan Bennett & Nicholas Hytner’, Edmond J Safra Lecture Theatre, King’s College London All rights reserved.

The mental illness of King George III and corresponding political crisis of 1788-89 was “a gift”, said the playwright Alan Bennett, speaking at the opening of this year’s Arts & Humanities Festival on Monday 10th Oct alongside theatre and film director Sir Nicholas Hytner. The king’s descent and recovery formed “a self-contained episode”, while the connection between an individual’s plight with national politics was perfect theatre: you couldn’t wish for “a more dramatic plot”. Thus the episode became the acclaimed play, The Madness of George III, later adapted into the Oscar-winning film.

This raises a series of questions: was the plot already there in the historical record? How much was in the eye of the playwright? And how does the eye of the historian differ?

“It’s a tragedy”, declares King George III toward the end of the film. He is not referring to his own personal story (or the film in which he appears), but to Shakespeare’s King Lear. In contrast the film tips heavily into the comic mode: parading the absurdity of royal ceremonies, juxtaposing the high and the low (a servant spit-cleaning the crown, a learned physician’s fixation with the king’s “stool”), but most importantly, the triumphal and cheerful ending. The difference is deliberate and the extended references to King Lear are made to accentuate the parallels and divergences. Bennett was re-writing Shakespeare. He tells the audience as much in the following lines voiced by the Lord Chancellor (animated by George’s apparent recovery):

“Have you read King Lear? Tragic story… Of course! If that fool of a messenger had got a move on, Cordelia wouldn’t have been hanged, Lear wouldn’t have died, and it would all have ended happily. Which I think would have made a much better ending, because as it is, it’s so damned tragic.”

In the film the messenger, George himself, does arrive on time to avoid the tragic ending, performing his sanity for Parliament to prevent the passing of the Regency Bill and the effective end of his reign.

No doubt some of the dramatic potential Bennett saw in the 1788-89 regency crisis was because he already knew the dramatic tale of Shakespeare’s mad king. A twentieth-century dramatist reading about the life George III would inevitably see Lear, with countless other lesser characters and subplots from wider culture. The decision to end with the recovery in 1789 rather than the demise of a blind and deaf old man in 1820 allowed the film to finish on an upward trajectory. This king would not end as Lear had.

The relation to Shakespeare’s tragedy is indicative of the complex blurring of literature and history. Shakespeare derived his character from the pre-Roman legendary King Leir of the Britons, as described in the twelfth-century chronicle of Geoffrey of Monmouth, through a potentially diverse range of sixteenth-century histories and plays. But in earlier versions, Cordelia lives and restores Lear to the throne. The tragic ending was introduced by Shakespeare.

Such are the circle of influences that shape the narrative of a king’s madness: screenplays upon histories upon scripts upon chronicles upon legends upon – what? Think of the profusion of stories that were filtered through Shakespeare’s quill in the early 1600s; elements of which found their way into the minds of the politicians, physicians and courtiers in 1788, even the King’s own collapsing faculties, and were scattered through the hall of mirrors of action-interpretation-reaction; the sum total, again, combined and refashioned through the typewriter of Alan Bennett in the early 1990s.

Yet the story has a twist: after the Restoration in 1660, it was the adaptation by Nahum Tate that formed the basis for the staging of King Lear for the next one hundred and fifty years. And Tate’s revision had a happy ending. The King Lear known in the 1780s was not the same tragedy that we know today. However, the king still exhibited a violent madness and the comparison with the malady of George was all too painfully obvious. The play was eventually banned from the stage in the period of his final and inescapable mental retreat from 1810 to his death in 1820.

Each history hides a tale; each tale has a history.

However, in a famous scene, Bennett uses Lear in another way: it is through the public reading of Shakespeare’s play that George is shown to have recovered his sanity: “Your Majesty seems more yourself.” It is, ironically, his ability to play a role that is not himself that demonstrates his capacity to truly be himself. This is a common definition of madness: the inability to distinguish between what is real and what is fiction. The fact George can perform as a fictional character and know that is what he is doing signifies his return to normality.

The film as a whole is an exploration of the complex relation between kingship and madness. As Dr Willis remarks, “the state of monarchy and the state of lunacy share a frontier”. How do you tell if a king has delusions of grandeur? The behavioural treatment of Dr Willis seeks to break down the King into a mere human being, to separate the individual from his office of kingship – that is, to remind the King that he is only playing a role. “I have remembered how to seem”, the King says with fresh lucidity.

Many historians accept that the practice and writing of history involves a necessary act of imagination. The arguments of Hayden White that historical writing mirrors literature and relies on narrative forms for meaning and interpretation have been influential and controversial. We do not need to accept the full structuralist baggage of tropes and emplotments to appreciate the way “literary” forms shape historical writing and interpretation.

What plots do historians see in the archives? What beginnings and endings, characters and agency, tragedies and parodies? But more than this: what narratives do historical actors see and experience and how does this shape their behaviour? Did George III perceive himself as a tragic hero?

It is often said that the particular value of history is the way it blends the arts and sciences. Perhaps we could say it is the peculiar madness of historians to artfully confuse fiction and reality, until the latter achieves meaning.