How conspiracy theories round George III’s insanity and Queen Charlotte’s scheming took maintain of the 18th-century British press

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Through the Georgian interval, the British royal household had an odd behavior of concealing sickness, even from themselves.

George III’s grandmother, Queen Caroline, suffered from a painful hernia for 13 years earlier than it ruptured. Nobody apart from Caroline’s husband, George II, had been conscious of her situation, as she had refused to debate it with a health care provider. Solely when the hernia ruptured in November 1737 did Caroline lastly comply with seek the advice of a doctor. It was too late, although. The queen died weeks later.

When George III himself fell in poor health, in October 1788, his situation was no much less mysterious. The “royal illness” did nevertheless grow to be the topic of fevered political and public debate as a result of it rendered him unable to do his job. This led to a regency disaster and a media storm, whereby conspiracy theories abounded.

A historical painting of a king.
King George III in Coronation Robes by Allan Ramsay (1765).

In October 1788, after almost 28 years on the throne, George III started exhibiting unusual signs. These included frantic speech and erratic behaviour. After the king’s normal docs have been unable to make headway in his therapy, Dr Francis Willis, a so-called “mad physician”, was referred to as in to help.

Even as we speak, historians are usually not agreed on what George III’s “illness” actually was. Claims that it was the results of the liver dysfunction porphyria, have been challenged by a number of students in recent times.

A historical painting of a queen.
Queen Charlotte by Joshua Reynolds (1779).

Analysis now suggests that he, in truth, suffered from bipolar dysfunction. However it’s troublesome to diagnose a affected person virtually 250 years after the actual fact, particularly as psychological well being was understood very otherwise within the 18th century.

Regardless of the king’s situation, it rendered him unable to do his job. The federal government’s response was to debate a possible regency.

The king’s eldest son, George, the Prince of Wales, was, at 26 years previous, of age to behave as regent. He was additionally, nevertheless, pleasant with the federal government’s opposition. Prime Minister William Pitt duly frightened that he and his authorities can be dismissed the second the prince turned regent.

A historical painting of a man.
William Pitt by John Hoppner (1806).

Pitt due to this fact opted to delay formalising regency laws, arguing that the king’s sickness was short-term. The discussions dragged on into November, then December. Stress on Pitt’s authorities grew.

Supporters of the Prince of Wales, together with George III’s personal brother William, Duke of Cumberland, insisted that the king wouldn’t get well and referred to as for the prince to be given full powers as regent. Pitt and his occasion countered by suggesting that the Prince of Wales ought to have a restricted regency. They needed the prince’s mom, Queen Charlotte, to take accountability for care of the king.

Passionate parliamentary debates concerning the rights of the Prince of Wales ensued. The British press saved up a devoted reportage on the king’s situation. Such was the general public clamour for info that the royal docs agreed to subject day by day public bulletins offering updates.

These updates have been printed in newspapers. This ensured that Britons throughout the nation may hold knowledgeable of the king’s well being.

A historical portrait painting of a man.
The Prince of Wales by Sir William Beechey (circa 1798)

When the bulletins have been seen to be too imprecise or repetitive, journalists complained that the docs have been making an attempt to cover the king’s situation from the British public. The press deemed such secrecy unacceptable. Even when affected by a significant sickness, the king remained a public particular person for whom privateness may by no means be anticipated.

Conspiratorial considering

Amid the political and media storms a dramatic conspiracy principle emerged. This held that Prime Minister Pitt and Queen Charlotte have been colluding to grab energy from the Prince of Wales in order that they might rule within the king’s stead.

Although these experiences have been circulated (and doubtless paid for) by the federal government’s opponents, they have been reported and reprinted in quite a few newspapers. Such was the clamour towards the queen and the prime minister that the Occasions newspaper bluntly accused the opposition occasion of slandering them each, in an try to pressure via a regency invoice which favoured their supporter, the Prince of Wales.

On January 15, the Occasions said that the opposition had “started a most scurrilous assault on the Queen, not solely by non-public dialog, however via the medium of the prints of their curiosity”.

Queen Charlotte had loved a largely widespread public picture till this incident. Following it, she was portrayed in satirical photographs as a scheming mom and spouse keen to betray her personal son in a bid for energy. One notable instance by Thomas Rowlandson, printed on December 20 1788, depicts the queen and Pitt along with break up crowns over their heads, Charlotte stepping on the Prince of Wales’s emblem of white feathers.

A satirical cartoon depicting William Pitt and Queen Charlotte.
The Prospect Earlier than Us by Thomas Rowlandson.
Elisha Whittelsey Assortment|Wikimedia

The truth is, the queen was deeply reluctant to become involved within the political elements of what turned often known as the “regency disaster”. She was, nevertheless, alarmed to see her eldest son instantly assuming management over the royal family. Although he was inheritor to the throne, the Prince of Wales’s huge money owed and his love of frivolity didn’t level in the direction of a mature and wise ruler.

Most of all, Charlotte was deeply involved concerning the king’s care and restoration. Her stress and anxiousness took a toll on her bodily well being. She misplaced an alarming quantity of weight and her brown hair turned white virtually in a single day. Charlotte’s devotion to her husband led her to formally comply with Pitt’s suggestion that she be liable for the king’s individual and his family in February 1789.

Thankfully for Queen Charlotte, her husband recovered simply because the Regency Invoice was about to be handed. Even then, the opposition continued to slander the queen and the prime minister, claiming that that they had tried to hide the king’s restoration with a view to full their alleged power-grab.

Solely when George III attended parliament in individual on March 10 1789 to formally announce his restoration did the conspiracy theories cease. The episode highlights the expansion of the press and its position in shaping the British public’s notion of the royal household’s behaviour – fictional or in any other case.


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