A glimpse into the mental illness that afflicted King George III — the monarch who was known as the “Mad King” and has been immortalized in Broadway’s Hamilton — has been shared by Buckingham Palace.
In the latest publication of the papers concerning King George III, who ruled from 1760 until 1820, medical records show how much the king was subject to intense monitoring of everything from his sleep (from 30-minute naps to a full seven hours at night) to how he had to be placed into a straitjacket — or waistcoat as they called it in the 18th century.
It was even revealed that a reading of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” was blamed for making the King “agitated.”
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The records are part of the Georgian Papers Program, which is transforming access to over 350,000 papers in the Royal Archives and Royal Library of the King’s life.
The first records that were shared last year suggest that he may have lived up to the Hamilton line “If you leave I’ll go mad!” as he didn’t show any signs of mental illness until after the revolt that led to America’s independence.
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It is believed today that George would have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
The latest papers released by the Royal Collection show that between 1788–89 records of the king’s manner and health were kept in a diary by his equerry, Robert Fulke Greville. One entry in October 1788 notes that “His Majesty had become more peevish than he used to be.” He had become agitated and talking incessantly and incoherently.
In the span of two months, physician Dr. Francis Willis was summoned and on December 20 of that same year, George’s condition is noted to have deteriorated. “H.M became so ungovernable that recourse was had to the strait waistcoat: His legs were tied, & he was secured down across his Breast, & in this melancholy situation he was, when I came to make my morning Enquiries.”
Throughout George illness, his son, the Prince of Wales (he became George IV when he was made King) received regular letters from his father’s physicians reporting on his eating and sleeping habits, along with further notable changes or developments in the King’s behavior.
In a letter dated December 18 1788, and released by the Royal Collection, Sir Lucas Pepys tells the prince of further deterioration. “This morning he is in nearly the same state he was in the evening, but is more agitated and confused, perhaps from having been permitted to read [Shakespeare’s] King Lear.”
Things seemed to improve in March 1811. “There is a nervousness and anxiety to be declared well; and a distrust of the physicians,” according to one of the papers.
“Slept four hours. Occupied when awake in adjusting the bedclothes, by rolling them down and up again. Did not talk much but twice betrayed delusion.”
The regular reports to the Prince of Wales continued until the King died at the age of 81 on January 29, 1820.