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King George III: Farmer and Hunter

Farmer George and his wife

King George III’s preference for a simple domestic life, coupled with his interest in the theory and practice of agriculture, earned him the homely nickname of ‘Farmer George’.

From the King’s private papers, it can be observed that the he was an earnest and active reader, jotting down notes in the margins of the agricultural periodicals. It is rare however to come across personal commentary that suggests his assessment of the text. In spite of that, what his notes can tell us is that the King was largely concerned with three general issues, namely the political economy of agriculture, the merits of ‘old’ versus ‘new’ husbandry methods, and the cultivation of specific crops.[1]

Even without personal input, the King’s notes are more revealing than expected. By selecting and rephrasing or summarising specific arguments, it is possible to determine which ideas and concepts the King agreed with and found useful.

Seeing as agriculture was the dominant industry in Britain at the time, having undergone an ‘enlightenment’, the King was not the only one who was invested in its development. There was a flurry of agricultural manuals, treatises, and periodicals being published as increasing numbers of gentlemen landowners sought to deepen their agricultural knowledge.[2] The King collected these materials, absorbing new information and debates as they arrived hot off the press. As the leader of the nation, it comes as no surprise that he was particularly interested in recommendations for increasing the profitability and efficiency of farms. This then involved issues like the management of land and labour, learning new methods of husbandry while retaining the merits of the old, and getting more mileage out of existing types of crops.

Apart from reading, the King established farms at Windsor, Kew, Richmond, and Mortlake, giving each his personal attention. He conducted research and practical experiments on his own estates, devising a model farm for his sons to cultivate a strip.[3] One of his key accomplishments is the successful import of merino sheep to improve British wool stock.  

Letters from Ralph Robinson to “Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts”

One of such agricultural periodicals that King George III pored over was Annals of Agriculture. The publication was founded by Arthur Young, whom the King held in high esteem. Young advised the King on matters pertaining to farming and was appointed director of a farm in Kew Park.[4] He might not have guessed however that he was interacting with the King in a much more down-to-earth manner.

For all the reticence in his private notes, King George III occasionally expressed his thoughts and opinions in letters written to the Annals, albeit using a pseudonym. Adopting the name of a shepherd at Windsor, the King wrote two letters ‘On Mr. Ducket’s Modo of Cultivation’ in 1787 as a ‘Ralph Robinson’.[5] He praises Mr Ducket’s farm, delving into his practices and somewhat controversial husbandry methods, with the intention of providing advice to its readers.

Mr Ducket prioritised the profitability of a crop over a routine system of planting, causing him to “examine which sort of Grain will pay him best, and to vary his changes of Crops according to the demand of that particular kind of Grain instead of laying down a regular rotation of Crops”.[6] Although the identity of Mr Ducket cannot be ascertained, the example set by him must have been significant for the King to decide to write to the Annals about. Perhaps Ducket’s alternative methods and adaptable attitude towards the choice of crops was a concept that the King found novel and wanted to encourage.

The Royal Hunt in Windsor Park

Not content with just farming, King George III was also an avid hunter. Rather than its practicality, hunting held great meaning among the aristocratic class for its ability to display and maintain social order.

The 1671 Game Law had restricted hunting to the domains of the wealthy with land, making poaching a punishable offence. This, along with other expenses that come with hunting (outfits, equipment, upkeep of horses etc) served to cement the status of hunting as a sport for the well off and powerful.[7] The royal hunt then epitomized this, acting as “the most important blood ritual through which the hierarchy of status and honour around the king was ordered”.[8]

For King George III however, hunting was also a way for him to both exercise and spend time with his sons, training them in the skills expected of gentlemen. Windsor was greatly favoured for it was close to the capital and offered ready access to good hunting country. The King and his companions hunted deer there, but fox-hunting, and grouse and pheasant shooting were also popular choices for the aristocrats.

On 6 and 9 December 1789, ‘Haunch of Venison roasted’ was served for dinner at the royal household. This venison, or deer meat, may very well have been a successful hunt by King George III!

[1] James Fisher, ‘Farmer George?’ Notes on Agriculture, Georgian Papers Programme, <https://georgianpapersprogramme.com/2017/01/19/farmer-georges-notes-agriculture/#_edn3>, [accessed 26 April 2019]

[2] Fisher, ‘Farmer George?’, <https://georgianpapersprogramme.com/2017/01/19/farmer-georges-notes-agriculture/#_edn3>, [accessed 26 April 2019]

[3] Jeremy Black, “Character and Behaviour”, George III: America’s Last King (London: Yale University Press, 2008), pp. 137.

[4] Sir Walter Gilbey, Bart, The Royal Family and Farming: George III to George V (London: Vinton & Co, 1911), pp. 15.

[5] H.C. Bauer, “Royal Ghostwriter”, The Serials Librarian 3, no. 2 (1979), pp. 191, doi:10.1300/j123v03n02_09.

[6] Letters from Ralph Robinson to “Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts”, Georgian Papers Programme, Royal Archives, <http://transcribegeorgianpapers.wm.edu/scripto/transcribe/302/6316>, pp.8, [accessed 26 April 2019].

[7] Black, “Character and Behaviour”, pp. 138.

[8] Sylvie Nail, “Preliminary Chapter: Woodlands as Landscapes of Power”, Forest Policies and Social Change in England (Springer Science & Business Media, 2008), pp. 14.