Thursday, June 14, 2012

George III's Golden Jubilee

by Regina Jeffers

With Queen Elizabeth's recent celebration of her Diamond Jubilee, I thought it only appropriate to look at one of the first Jubilee celebrations - that of "Mad King George."

At age 72, George III was still a virile man, who attended to everyday affairs of government. He still rode out regularly with his children, and he took icy dips in the waters off Weymouth. And on October 25, 1809, he was to celebrate his 50th year on the throne. Even those who had once ridiculed the King for his stolid personality and unbending morality cheered the "Kindly King." The King remained his country's leader against the French on the Continent and the Americans across the Atlantic. The King and other members of the Royal Family attended a private service in Windsor and a grand fete and firework display at Frogmore. In London, the Lord Mayor led a procession to St. Paul's Cathedral for a service of thanksgiving before holding a dinner at the Mansion House.

Unfortunately, before the celebration, George III had his "infamous" dream, the one that always announced a return of a return of his "madness." The illness had first appeared when King George was in his mid twenties; next at the age of 50; and again at ages 63 and 66. The symptoms included: insomnia, severe abdominal spasms, agitation, and an "excessive love of talking." It was said that the King would talk for hours and hours, often speaking so quickly he was incoherent. He would contradict himself and repeat himself. He spoke to "nothing" and to everyone until he his voice became hoarse. The King's frenzy took on bizarre forms. He would dash about on horseback, drop his breeches and display his buttocks, knighted his pages, and sent couriers on nonexistent missions.

During his second attack in 1788, the royal physicians declared the King to be suffering from "biliary Concretions in the Gall Duct." The physicians thought the King's "humor" had left his legs and had entered his bowels. However, the medications he was given supposedly drove the humor from his bowels to his brain. To make the "humor" return to the King's legs, they immersed him in hot baths, covered him with multiple blankets, and burned the soles of his feet with plasters of cantharides and mustard. When the King tried to tear off the blisters from his feet, the physicians placed leeches on his head to draw off the "humor" in that manner.

A man named Francis Willis eventually took over the King's treatment. Willis held a reputation for his unique treatment of "lunatics." Willis and his sons Robert and John treated the King as if he were a crazed animal. They constricted the King's movements by binding him in a winding sheet. George III's legs were tied to the bed. A handkerchief was stuffed in the King's mouth if the sovereign used foul language. The King was tied to a restraining chair for hours upon end. He was given tartar emetic, which made him extremely nauseated.

What really amazed everyone was, despite being incapacitated for several months at at time,  how suddenly the King recovered from his illnesses. The mysterious malady simply vanished. On the night of his Golden Jubilee celebration, George III entered the hall at Windsor with Queen Charlotte on his arm. "The dreadful excitement" on his countenance told his gathered children that the malady had returned. Eleven of his thirteen children were in attendance. Amelia was ill (near death), and Princess Charlotte had married the King of Wurttemberg and lived abroad.  George III greeted his daughters (Augusta, Elizabeth, Mary, Sophia) before turning to his sons. The King addressed each son loudly and with a bit too much familiarity for the other guests in attendance.

Afterwards, Queen Charlotte and her daughters retreated to the Queen's chambers. George III was turned over to the latest attempts to cure him. Princess Amelia, who suffered from a similar malady, remained insensible, but aline for another week. Meanwhile, King George thought her living happily at Hanover. In fact, he did not grieve for his darling Amelia. His malady made him unaware of her passing. The family drew together to ward off another round of rumors regarding their father's condition. The Prince of Wales acted as its head. George III died a few months short of his Diamond Jubilee in 1820.


  1. Very interesting. There was a program about his madness quite a few years ago saying they thought his madness was probably Porphyria. They talked to someone who suffers from it now.

    1. I recall the show, but I couldn't recall the diagnosis. It is amazing that he could continue his reign with all the chaos.

  2. The madness was caused by porphyria--it ran in the family and was caused or exacerbated by the frequent intermarriage between the various cousins of the German royal families. His son certainly suffered from it as well, as did his grand-daughter, Princess Charlotte.

    George III was also, in his last years, both blind and deaf, and they kept him incarcerated at Windsor. There are drawings of him from that time, with his white hair, very long and combed out...And the nation referred to him affectionately as "Farmer George". Because he had so loved farming, and the land and countryside, and had done so much to further the agricultural revolution in Britain...(which went down really well with the land-owning and farming community that made up much of the populace then.)

    1. In America this weekend, there are celebrations for victories during the War of 1812. When I heard of them, I thought of how devastated George III was with the loss.

  3. A wonderful post, Regina! It is believed now that George III did indeed suffer from porphyria, a genetic disorder where an important part of hemoglobin, called heme, is not made properly. Sufferers of Porphyria are not "mad" but they do have abrupt changes in personality, amongst other debilitating symptoms, which lead people to think the person is quite off their tree!

    I have an elderly aunt who suffers with porphyria and we suspect so did two of her brothers and certainly her father, my maternal grandfather, (though before the time of proper diagnosis) also suffered from the disease. As a consequence, family members all suffer, particularly during sudden attacks. Thank goodness for modern medicine and diagnosis!

    It makes me very sad to read how George III was treated. A wonderful movie on the subject is "The Madness of King George" starring Nigel Hawthorne and Helen Mirren. You can read more about the disease here:
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Wow, can you imagine... the treatment was horrendous in those days, and not sure actually in truth how it is treated today. So many suffer from a similar "malcontent" but at least today there seems to be a bit more understanding as to the cause, and treatment...What a shame...

  5. Good heavens, the poor man was tortured, no less, in the name of medication! A king being treated like that! What hope did the normal people have?


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