From the archive: The Madness of King George III

13th November 1810 (Tuesday).

“The times are very awful.”

‘My dear Robert’, wrote George Wharton Marriott (a London-based lawyer) to his brother, the Rector of Cotesbach in the Leicestershire countryside, “If I could have found time I should have written to you on Saturday merely to give the good tidings then received of the King. He has since that time not proceeded uninterruptedly towards recovery, but the retrograde steps have not been very important.”

The ‘good tidings’ had come directly from the physicians who were attending the elderly King George at Windsor.A daily bulletin was posted in the window of London’s St James’s Palace, attracting large crowds, and the news published on Saturday 10th November 1810 was that “We consider, this morning, his Majesty to be better than he has been for five or six days past.”  A separate, more detailed, report was written daily for George, Prince of Wales, and what he received on that same Saturday morning was more ambiguous: “The King has not slept since twelve o’clock

…. The King has been occasionally, during the night, clear and distinct, but generally confused and unconnected.”  As George Wharton Marriott observed later in the letter to his brother, “The reports of the actual state [of the King’s health] are various and contradictory in the extreme, and a great deal of the less favourable tales in circulation originate in the interested policy of those who would benefit, or expect to do so, by a new King or a Regency. But it is beyond controversy a very afflicting state to which he is reduced, and enough to have weighed him down, unless timely relief is obtained, at any period of his life, much more so at this advanced one.”

Cotesbach Archive Document no. 460.1

We know, with the dual benefits of hindsight and of medical documents digitised by the Royal Archives, that there was to be no ‘timely relief’. On the contrary, the day on which the letter was sent to Cotesbach saw the funeral of the King’s beloved youngest daughter Amelia, an event which we can now perceive as the beginning of the end. There were to be some lucid days in the weeks to come but more days on which the monarch was agitated, delusional and sometimes violent. In January 1811, King George was deemed unfit to rule and, under the terms of the ‘Care of King During His Illness, etc. Act’, ceded power to his son, the unpopular Prince of Wales. This was the step that George Wharton Marriott had anticipated with trepidation: “If a Regency is necessary, there must necessarily be increased division among our leading men, for [only] some of the present ministry are for the Prince”.  It was with some justification that he observed to his brother, “The times are very awful.”

References:

  • Archive of the Royal Collections Trust:

https://www.rct.uk/collection/georgian-papers-programme/medical-papers-relating-to-george-iii

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