How Mad was King George

George III is perhaps remembered first and foremost as "the mad King who lost America."


Despite reigning for 60 years through war, industrial revolution and enormous social upheaval, George III is perhaps remembered first and foremost as "the mad King who lost America." Yet he was a monarch loved by his people, encouraged the arts and sciences and took a genuine interest in the well-being of his subjects.

Through interviews with historians, this documentary attempts to set the record straight about the real George, including the painful metabolic condition, porphyria, which reduced him to a helpless invalid, brutally handled by doctors and ultimately condemned as lunatic.


Born on 4th June 1738, the eldest son of Frederick, Prince of Wales and Augusta, George became heir to the throne on the death of his father in 1751, succeeding his grandfather, George II, in 1760. He married Charlotte of Mecklinburg-Strelitz in 1761, to whom he was devoted, and the couple produced a prolific fifteen children: nine sons and six daughters. He was the third Hanoverian monarch and interestingly, the very first to be born in England and to use English as his first language.


As George was in fact one of the most cultured of monarchs, we have much to be grateful for. He started a new royal collection of books, a staggering 65,000 of which were later given to the British Museum and formed the nucleus of the British Library. By 1768, he had founded and part paid for the establishment of the Royal Academy of Arts. He also became affectionately known as 'Farmer George', due to his keen interest in agriculture, particularly on the crown estates at Richmond and Windsor.


As for George's involvement in the loss of the American colonies, this was in fact not that great. While opposing their bid for independence to the very end, he did not develop the policies which led to the war in 1775-76 and which had the support of Parliament. Despite the declaration of American independence on 4 July 1776, George believed he was defending the national interest by conceding defeat and thus avoiding the prospect of a long war with revolutionary France.


The decline in George's health was down to a condition called porphyria - a rare blood disorder which in its acute form - can cause severe abdominal pain, cramps, and even seizure-like epileptic fits. George suffered extremely violent attacks which strained his grip on reality and debilitated him in the last years of his reign. His outbursts were prescribed by physicians of the time as a sure-fire sign of insanity. And yet, perhaps most sadly, recent evidence suggests that the most common medication George was given was James' powders - which contained traces of arsenic - something now known as a typical trigger of severe porphyria attacks.


Towards the end, George's supposed "madness" meant his eldest son George, Prince Regent, was put in the daunting position of attempting to govern according to the increasingly erratic will of his father. A letter written at the time describes the situation: "...there he was sitting on the Throne with his King's Crown on...and held his speech written out for him, just what he had to say. But, oh dear, he strode up and made a bow and began 'My Lords and Peacocks'." Often bound in a straitjacket and chained to a chair, George's last days were spent deaf and blind in utter misery. He died at Windsor Castle on 29th January 1820.