'Defining moment in history' to be offered at January Library Auction

Handwritten letter from King George III to be auctioned

On the 10th January, Cheffins Library Sale will offer a handwritten letter from King George III in which he declares war on Napoleon. Dated  14th May 1803, the letter says:


'The King has perused the dispatch and private letter from Lord Whitworth and the Enclosures with as much rapidity as possible to return them to Lord Hawkesbury; the conduct of France has been equally unfair to the last and though conscious of the Evils that must be entailed on many Countries by the renewal of War, yet the conviction that by the restless disposition of the Ruler of France this event could not long have been kept off, it seems necessary to attend alone to the best modes of repelling the violence with effect, and the attacking those objects which our present means render attainable. The King will remain in Town to execute any Steps that the present moment may require. George R.'.


It was written to Lord Hawkesbury (Secretary of State at the time), just four days before the official formal beginning of the Napoleonic Wars on the 18th May 1803. The letter was first sold in 1935 at Maggs rare books and map sellers, for £38. It was then bought by the current vendors for £55 in 1966. Cheffins has an estimate of £500 - £1,000 for the letter.


Charles Ashton, Director, Cheffins says: “This letter is a defining moment of history showing the King’s intention to go to war with France and Napoleon. The Napoleonic wars are iconic of the huge victories of the British army and these were defining moments’ in our country’s history, laying the groundwork for the nation to rule the waves and put us at the forefront of European history. Whilst relations between Britain and France had been somewhat strained since the Treaty of Amiens in March 1802, this letter marks the end of peacetime negotiations and contains the explicit instructions from the King to proceed with war. The war was formally declared four days later and was one of the most iconic periods in European history, seeing the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo and eventually the overthrowing of Napoleon. Lord Whitworth was a British politician and diplomat and at the time of the letter was ambassador in Paris. Lord Whitworth was a key player in the final declaration of war with France. In February 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have threatened Lord Whitworth with war if Malta was not evacuated. Whitworth was ordered to withdraw from Paris on 10th May 1803 if the French did not accede to British demands and he eventually left France on the 13th May.  Documents signed by George III come up fairly often at auction, however, letters fully written by the King are infinitely more rare. A basic or simple note may cost around £100 at auction, however, what collectors are looking for is extra meaning to these finds. This one gives us an insight into what was going through his mind at the time. This could easily be bought by a collector or possibly find its way into an institutional collection or a museum. It really is a museum-worthy piece and could well end up in the royal archives. Because this is a relative unknown within the market it’s difficult to judge its value and it could end up selling for way over its estimate. Another similar piece which we sold was a part of the topsail of HMS Trafalgar which was another significant snapshot of history and sold for £3,800 in August this year. The letter is unusual in that it is written by the King himself, as opposed to have been dictated to a scribe and then countersigned. This is what adds the value here.”


The Library Sale will take place on Thursday 10th January at Clifton House, Clifton Road, Cambridge, CB1 7EA; the sale starts at 11am.


For further information please contact Charles Ashton on 01223 271948.


For media enquiries please contact Sophie Richardson on 01223 271990.



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