He may not have seen battle in person, but King George III followed it closely on paper.
Now a collection of over 3,000 military maps, prints, and sketches belonging to the monarch has been released to mark the 200th anniversary of his death.
The project by the Royal Collection Trust is the culmination of a decade of research by Dr Yolande Hodson, whose previous work has focused on the history of the Ordnance Survey and the mapping of the First and Second World Wars.
During his 60-year reign, from 1760 to 1820, George III oversaw several major conflicts in which Britain was involved, including the American War of Independence, the Napoleonic Wars, and the latter stages of the Seven Years War.
The large maps were hung on purpose-built mahogany stands in the king’s library in Buckingham House, now the Palace, allowing him to follow developments in close detail.
The collection has several extremely valuable items, such as a map of the final British defeat by General Washington at Yorktown in 1781. It is the only copy known to survive outside the United States, and bears an annotation by the mapmaker: ‘the field where the British laid down their arms’.
The history of cartography is intertwined with the monarch’s life. Included in the collection is a 1766 letter from the Scottish military engineer William Roy. Proposing that the country be better mapped, the memorandum is considered the founding document of the Ordnance Survey.
George III was also a patron of military science and education. In 1799, he supported the founding of the Royal Military College at High Wycombe, where young officers were taught topography, surveying, and mapping – essential knowledge in the Napoleonic era.
Martin Clayton, Head of Prints and Drawings at the Royal Collection Trust, said: ‘It is fitting, and rather moving, that on the 200th anniversary of George III’s death we are able to make the king’s collection of military maps digitally available to all, offering new insight into his topographical interests and his contribution to the cartographic science.’
This article was published in the April 2020 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.