Thursday, 9 August 2012

George III – A Much Maligned Monarch; Part IV

The Prince of Wales

George Prince of Wales
Prince George was an intelligent man with an appreciation of the arts. His downfall was his extreme selfishness. He supported the opposition to his father and his debts were prodigious. George had a number of affairs before marrying Mrs Fitzherbert in 1785, in breach of the Royal Marriages Act. Mrs Fitzherbert was also a Roman Catholic, which debarred George from the throne. Prince George simply denied the marriage had taken place. Many of Prince George’s vast debts were paid by his frugal father.

George decided that marriage would steady his son and Prince George married his cousin Princess Caroline of Brunswick on 8th April 1795. The couple took against each other immediately. The only child of the marriage, Charlotte, was born on the 7th January 1796. The couple separated shortly afterwards. The king treated the Princess of Wales kindly and ensured she had access to her daughter. George and Charlotte also made sure that they had close contact with their only grandchild.

Madness and Death

George’s first serious bout of madness occurred in 1788. He was unwell in the August and then in mid-October was struck down. He alternated between consciousness and fits of delirium. His madness enveloped him entirely by the 5th November. He was restrained in a strait-jacket or in sheets.

‘I am nervous. I am not ill, but I am nervous: if you would know what is the matter with me, I am nervous.’[i]

The king was transferred to Kew and on 5th December the frightening Dr Willis arrived. Willis believed in terrifying patients into submission. George was subjected to his frightening regime, being tied into a straitjacket at nights and restrained in a chair and gagged during the day.

The politicians meanwhile were fighting over control of the kingdom. The Opposition were calling for a Regency, while the government were desperate to keep the Prince of Wales from installing his friends in power. But by February the king’s health was improving. On the 17th George met with his Lord Chancellor. The third and final reading of the Regency bill was due in the Commons on the 19th, that day the Lord Chancellor announced from the Woolsack that it would be inappropriate to proceed with the reading. George met with his Prime Minister on 24th February. The country rejoiced at the king’s recovery.

On his recovery George was unhappy to discover the Prince of Wales’ involvement in the crisis. During the king’s illness it was discovered that the king was devoting £14,000[ii] a year, of his £80,000[iii] per annum income, to charity, well over the tithe recommended by the church.

Bust of Dr Willis
In February 1801 the madness returned and George prayed that he might die rather than lose his sanity again. Again George was placed in the care of Dr Willis and his cohorts. By 14th March George was well enough to receive the seals of office from Pitt as he resigned. Willis and his men were dismissed on 17th April, but on the 18th they detained him at Kew. On 19th May George refused to sign anymore documents unless he was released and gained his freedom. He had already told the Reverend Thomas Willis[iv], who he had quite liked,

‘Sir, I will never forgive you whilst I live’[v].

In January1804 George again suffered another bout of madness and the Prime Minister, Lord Addington called in the Willis family. But George had made his sons promise him that he would never again be placed in their care. The Duke of Kent and the Duke of Cumberland physically interposed themselves between the Willis family and their father. Even so the replacement doctor restrained the king. George was considered well enough to allow a change of prime ministers, much to the surprise of the Prince of Wales, again angling for a Regency;

‘So extra-ordinary a circumstance as a King of England whilst exercising his Regal powers being kept under any personal restraint.’[vi]

    Frederick Duke of York
On 20th July George was moved to Windsor. This latest occurrence of George’s illness caused an unfortunate permanent rift between himself and Queen Charlotte. They were never to live together again. 

George developed a cataract in his right eye in 1804 and the following year another started in his left eye. He could no longer see when the ink in his pen had run out and the king was finally persuaded to take a secretary. George shared Sir Herbert Taylor, the Duke of York’s secretary with his son. George’s Golden Jubilee was celebrated on 25th October 1810. The king was immensely popular with his subjects, in contrast to the unpopularity of the Prince of Wales.

In 1810 George was badly affected by the final illness of his youngest daughter Princess Amelia. She was dying of tuberculosis. By the time of his jubilee it was obvious that he was unwell again and on 19th December the Prince of Wales was informed by Spencer Perceval of his determination to introduce legislation to establish a Regency. On 5th February 1811 the Regency was officially installed.

George in his last years
George spent the rest of his life in a suite of rooms at Windsor Castle, under the care of Queen Charlotte and the Archbishop of Canterbury. After Charlotte’s death her place was taken by the Duke of York. It cannot have helped the king’s sanity when the Willis family took care of the king again. Unfortunately for him and his family George’s strong constitution kept him alive until 29th January 1820, having outlived his wife, numerous children and his granddaughter Princess Charlotte.

There was a national outpouring of grief, exceeding that even of the death of Princess Charlotte. The funeral took place on Wednesday 16th February 1620. All the shops in London were shut and the churches were full; non-conformist churches and synagogues held services too. George’s subjects appreciated their monarch’s unpretentious virtues and simple pieties. The Times commented

‘Thousands of affectionate subjects, who had thronged to the last obsequies of their King, not from the idle curiosity of seeing a grand exhibition, but to shed a last tear over the grave of a father and a friend.’[vii]


Fanny Burney – Claire Harman, Flamingo 2001

George III – A Personal History – Christopher Hibbert, Viking 1998

The Reign of George III – J Steven Watson – Oxford University Press 1988

The Age of Reform – Sir Llewellyn Woodward, Oxford University Press 1997

George III – Christopher Wright, British Library 2004

[i] Fanny Burney - Harman
[ii] £1,150,000.00 using the retail price index or £14,500,000.00 using average earnings in 2010
[iii] £6,570,000.00 using the retail price index or £83,100,000.00 using average earnings in 2010
[iv] A son of Dr Willis
[v] George III - Wright
[vi] Ibid

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