As the Queen Releases Archived Secrets, 5 Things to Know About the 'Mad' King Who Lost America
Newly released documents shed light on the infamous king, who likely battled bipolar disorder
Today he figures in Broadway’s Hamilton as the king who lost America — and now fascinating new revelations are emerging about “mad” King George III.
Historians and royals fans have a chance to get to know even more about the 18th-century monarch after his descendant Queen Elizabeth agreed to release around 33,000 papers from her private archives at Windsor Castle in a new online resource. It’s the first of a series of 300,000 papers to be digitalized and released in the coming years.
In a rare public address, the papers were unveiled at Buckingham Palace by the Queen’s private secretary Sir Christopher Geidt, who called the collaboration between the Royal Collection and academics on both sides of the Atlantic, along with a BBC film, as important to promote “understanding of our longest reigning king and the revolutionary period.”
Karin Wulf, director of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and a history professor at the College of William & Mary, one of the partners in the project, highlights five fascinating facts about the king:
1. He paid off an actress who was blackmailing his son.
In 1781, King George III paid off an actress mistress of his eldest son George, Prince of Wales, with a whopping £5,000 (around $1 million dollars today!) when she threatened to blackmail him. “It pains him enormously, and he is vexed by that as he tries to set a good example for the nation,” says Wulf.
2. He and his wife, Queen Charlotte, had 15 children.
“He was a dedicated monogamous family man,” says Wulf. “His family was everything to him. He spends so much time thinking of his children. He is so much more conscientious than people give him credit for. He is a thoughtful, considerate, moderate guy.”
Discovered among the papers was a poignant letter sent by Queen Charlotte to her children’s nanny at the death of one of her younger sons, Alfred, at age two in 1782. Intricately tied up in a tiny folded piece of paper within the missive was a lock of golden curls.
3. He wrestled with the role of the monarchy.
“America is lost!” he opines in one of the newly released letters (above). He also wrote a short essay on the effects of the American revolution. “Most Americans think of him as a tyrant or a flake but he is neither of those things,” says Wulf. “George III as deeply enlightened figure interested in science, and Queen Charlotte is deeply intellectual. He is wrestling with the same constitutional issues that American politicians are wrestling with – what is the right form of government?”
4. He likely battled bipolar disorder.
His infamous “madness,” believed today to be bipolar disorder, was first detected post-revolution — and hinted at in the Hamilton line, “If you leave I’ll go mad!” Says Wulf: “That’s clever, as he doesn’t really show any signs of madness until after the revolution.”
Evidence for his mental illness can be found in the newly released papers: “There are papers in his own handwriting, where you can see him disintegrating into the disease, as well as information from his doctors and his attendants describing what’s happening to him and the impact on his family.”
5. Queen Charlotte hoped bathing would help cure his mental illness.
The Queen hoped that regular bathing in the sea in Weymouth, on England’s south coast, would be “medicinal treatment.” Charlotte recorded every time he her husband bathed. “She will say, ‘He has gone for his 14th bath since we arrived,’ ” notes Wulf. “She was very meticulous.”