|George III in his coronation robes.|
However, the king had a dreadful problem. He suffered from several episodes of serious physical and mental illness throughout his life that were well-documented thanks to his high station. It is widely believed now that the king had a hematological disease called acute intermittent porphyria (AIP). First of all, unlike other royal afflictions such as mandibular prognathism in the Hapsburg family (more on that another day), porphyria is not the result of marriage between close relatives (inbreeding). Rather, AIP is a hereditary disease that is autosomal dominant, meaning that someone affected by it has a 50% chance of passing it on to each of his children. The disease can lay dormant for one's whole life and often needs a trigger (like a change in medicine, stress, diet, etc.) to bring out an acute attack, explaining why neither of George III's parents had notable symptoms. One of King George's descendants, Prince William of Gloucester (December 18, 1941–August 28, 1972) was diagnosed with variegate porphyria (VP), a similar porphyria with hepatic and cutaneous symptoms and autosomal dominant inheritance pattern.
|Prince William suffered from porphyria too.|
The Madness of King George in 1994.The play and movie focus on the unfortunate king's mental illness rather than his successful military campaigns during the Napoleonic Wars and his warm welcome of the United States to the international scene after the defeat of Britain in the American War of Independence. Rather, he is also remember often as the king who lost the American colonies (the United States was founded during his reign). Some bloggers have even asserted that if it weren't for porphyria, the United States wouldn't exist and we'd all be drinking tea and singing God Save the Queen today (presumably on the assumption that the king was crazy due to the disease and mishandled the colonies and the war).
However, a lot of scholarship now has a more positive outlook on George III's reign, the longest in British history up to that point. Let us try to look at George III like unbiased historians rather than Americans who are most familiar with the king as the despot who ruled with "absolute tyranny" to whom the Declaration of Independence was addressed. George III was actually quick to respect the United States as a new country, welcoming John Adams as the de facto ambassador from the US (his title was Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James's). John Adams did not stay at the court for long, however. According to US Department of State Historians, John Adams "became so frustrated with the cool reception [from George III's court] that he closed the legation in 1788 and the post remained vacant for four years."
It seems from his dealings with the infant United States that King George III was in fact a rather honorable man. He also enjoyed some simple pleasures. Sometimes remembered as "Farmer George," the King had somewhat of a green thumb, liked to tend to his garden, and was very interested in agriculture in general. He loved spending time at what is now called the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. He was also a skilled equestrian.
|George III in 1820, the year he died.|
Suffering all the typical symptoms of AIP, the king also was almost totally blind and in chronic pain. It is rumored that he would speak for hours on end about nothing and sometimes would wander around nearly or entirely naked. He never learned of the death of his son Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria's father. He never knew that he was proclaimed King of Hanover and the Electorate of Hanover was elevated to a Kingdom. He died with his favorite son, Prince Frederick, the Duke of York, by his side on January 29, 1820 around 8:30 PM, in incredible pain, grief-stricken over the death of his youngest and favorite daughter Princess Amelia, and most likely conscious but psychotic until the bitter end. If ever there was a "tyrant" that one can feel sympathy for, it is the misunderstood King George III.
As a side note, I have a particularly strong interest in George III and porphyria. My grandmother suffered from acute intermittent porphyria and it is likely that my mother, my sister, and I all have inherited it. For more information on porphyria, or to help promote awareness of the rare but serious hematological disease, check out the American Porphyria Foundation and learn about the different porphyrias to become more aware. Here's an interesting tidbit to pique your interest: porphyria is sometimes cited as a cause or contributor to vampire and werewolf myths.