When did Britain learn about the American Declaration of Independence?

We all know the declaration was made on July 4th, 1776. But when did news reach Buckingham Palace and do we have records of their reaction to it?

  • 4
    Probably in early August 1776. It would not have made much difference as the King had already acknowledged that the revolutionary war had started in his Proclamation of Rebellion on August 23, 1775 after the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill
    – Henry
    May 15, 2019 at 13:50
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    There are various newspaper archives that may help. You could either consult a library or pay for access to a paid archive such as britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk
    – Stuart F
    May 15, 2019 at 14:25
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    Technically with the publication of the Treaty of Paris ending the war. prior to that the colonies weren't independent, they were in rebellion.
    – MCW
    May 15, 2019 at 22:55
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    At the time, Buckingham Palace, which was much smaller than it is now, was "The Queen's House", a family home for Queen Charlotte. May 16, 2019 at 6:44
  • 1
    I proposed an edit for the title to match the question body, which is asking specifically about the Declaration of Independence rather than American independence in general. I suspect they learned of American independence much earlier, around the time colonials started shooting at their troops or perhaps earlier. If you'd rather ask about independence in general, feel free to reject my edit, but then you might want to edit the body to clarify that you're asking about the general concept and not specifically the document.
    – reirab
    May 16, 2019 at 18:49

2 Answers 2


The news reached London on the 10th of August. It was, of course, known by British officials in the colonies much earlier, but

It is astonishing how casually the Declaration was first reported to official London. On July 8 ex-Governor Tryon in New York wrote to Lord George Germain, the colonial secretary, and Admiral Shuldham wrote to the Admiralty Office, but neither of them made any reference to the momentous document. On the same day General Howe also wrote to Lord Germain, and buried in his letter is the brief sentence: 'I am informed that the Continental Congress have declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.' That was all, as if he were reporting that Congress had recessed or had issued some new currency. These three letters reached London on August 10, making very good time crossing the Atlantic.

Source: H. Peckham, Independence: The View from Britain (Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, October 1975, Volume 85, Part 2)

As called2voyage and T.E.D. have pointed out in their comments, Mr. Peckham should not be astonished by this, and the author himself notes that

At least two pamphlets had appeared earlier in the summer predicting that the colonies were going to separate themselves from the crown.

Granted, the pamphlets were not quite the same thing but then the two sides were already at war (see also T.E.D.'s answer). On the declaration itself:

...by the middle of August a copy of the Declaration did reach London by some other means, as it was completely printed in The London Chronicle under date of August 16, although that issue of the paper appeared on the 17th or 18th. The British ministers and King George now all had a chance to read the forthright statement and react to it.

Source: H. Peckham


The St. James's Chronicle (London) for August 15-17 printed the Declaration in full, but with some curious editing to protect the king's name. In the second paragraph, where it reads 'The History of the present King of Great-Britain,' the wording has been changed to read: 'The present History of Great-Britain.' This omission of the king then makes it possible to change all the charges leveled against him from 'he' to 'it,' referring to Great Britain rather than the monarch.

On the reaction of the monarch and the government,

Official reaction did not yet manifest itself. Parliament was in its long summer recess, and most of His Majesty's ministers were out of London at their country residences. They did not feel compelled to issue statements, and as a matter of fact they looked upon the Declaration as a kind of dying gasp from a revolutionary force that was expiring. The military situation made them optimistic.... The rebellion couldn't last.

Source: H. Peckham

The British government reacted by hiring

John Lind, an English politician and pamphleteer, to write a rebuttal to the declaration. He wrote Answer to the Declaration of the American Congress, a reply that tried to pick apart the Declaration of Independence. Lind focused on the issue of slavery, saying that the colonists were actually angry that King George III had offered freedom to the slaves....

Following this, King George III officially declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion. By August of 1776, the King ordered troops to the colonies.

Not until October 31st did the king speak before parliament:

In his address, the king spoke about the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the revolutionary leaders who signed it, saying, “for daring and desperate is the spirit of those leaders, whose object has always been dominion and power, that they have now openly renounced all allegiance to the crown, and all political connection with this country.” The king went on to inform Parliament of the successful British victory over General George Washington and the Continental Army at the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776, but warned them that, “notwithstanding the fair prospect, it was necessary to prepare for another campaign.”

  • 21
    I find it odd that your source finds this astonishing. Why should England be concerned with a document that a bunch of rebels signed? What the document says is only of consequence if the rebels win. May 15, 2019 at 17:31
  • 1
    @called2voyage: It's also of consequence if you intend on prosecuting a war against the rebels :-)
    – jamesqf
    May 15, 2019 at 17:52
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    @called2voyage - Just seeing this comment, but that's kind of my point too. If you think you've got rebels on your hands, you expect disagreeable manifestos out of them. Nothing particularly surprising there.
    – T.E.D.
    May 15, 2019 at 19:19
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    @jamesqf But the Declaration was signed after war was already ongoing for nearly a year in various battles and sieges - the British already had to flee Boston, and attacked New York coincidentally the day before the signing. Until the American victory was achieved, the Declaration of Independence, from the viewpoint of the British government, is nothing but propaganda and future evidence in court for the hanging of the insurrectionist terrorists.
    – Jamin Grey
    May 15, 2019 at 23:26

Not repeating info in the other answer(s), but it should be realized that by the time the Declaration of Independence was written, the Battles of Lexington and Concord were already more than a year old (April 19, 1775), as was the Colonials' Continental Army (June 1775).

Parliament in London by this time was already quite certain they had an organized revolt on their hands. In fact, Parliament had declared Massachusetts colony to be in rebellion back in February of 1775. That is before either of those above two events, you might notice. In fact, its tough to read the entire history of the dispute and not come away with the feeling that the Colonists weren't really driving it at all. Rather it seems as if Parliament slowly dragged them into more and more extreme positions. If anything it was the colonists who were finally recognizing and admitting to the truth of the situation in 1776.

Parliament at the time was run by the more authoritarian Tory party1. They were pretty consistent during the entire history of the dispute with the American colonies in reacting to every setback by doubling down on their position. This was great for getting them re-elected back in England, but not so great for solving the actual problem. A pretty good book on the politics of the British side of things is Barbara Tuchman's March of Folly.

So the Declaration of Independence shouldn't be viewed as having started anything2, but rather as a statement of justification and intent by the colonials for the war they had already been fighting for well over a year.

1 - I'm talking about the 18th Century Tories here, not the 21st Century ones.

2 - Official birthdate of the nation aside, of course.

  • 2
    Do you mean slowly dragged them? slowly drug them sounds like, well, drugs! If you do mean drugs, could you explain further?
    – CJ Dennis
    May 16, 2019 at 6:29
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    @CJDennis Wiktionary mentions, Random House says that drug is "nonstandard" as the past tense of drag. Merriam-Webster once ruled that drug in this construction was "illiterate" but have since upgraded it to "dialect". The lexicographers of New World, American Heritage and Oxford make no mention of this word.
    – Mr Lister
    May 16, 2019 at 7:08
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    @MrLister In that case, it should be changed to dragged so we don't have to guess.
    – CJ Dennis
    May 16, 2019 at 7:14
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    Lol. Every now and then, particularly when we are discussing coarse things, my Southern Midlands or AAVE backgrounds will come out. Often I actually do it on purpose for emphasis, but this wasn't one of those times. So I'll go change it to the form that makes (ahem) ... you all more comfortable.
    – T.E.D.
    May 16, 2019 at 13:39
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    @MrLister - It isn't an "upgrade" so much as a conscious decision in the linguistic community to quit making value judgments about dialects. If you as an English speaker want to consider standard AAVE or Appalachian constructs "illiterate" (the stereotypical one being the word "ain't"), that's your business. They are just trying to report how the word is used, for those who come across it and want to know.
    – T.E.D.
    May 16, 2019 at 15:02

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