On the 29th of January 1820 George III, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, died at Windsor. He was born in 1738 and was the son of Frederick, Prince of Wales and Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. He became heir to the throne when his father died in 1751, and succeeded his grandfather, George II, in 1760. He married Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1761, by whom he had 15 (troublesome!) children.
George was the first Hanoverian monarch to use English as his first language. He was also the first British monarch to study science systematically: chemistry, physics, astronomy, and mathematics.
George was determined to recover the prerogative lost to the ministerial council by the first two Georges, but bouts of madness and the way he handled the American Revolution eroded his support and the power of the Crown was granted again to the Prime Minister. Furthermore, George relinquished control of the purse strings to Parliament. On George’s accession, the Crown lands produced relatively little income; most revenue was generated through taxes and excise duties. George surrendered the Crown Estate to Parliamentary control in return for a Civil List annuity for the support of his household and the expenses of Civil Government.
It is thought that George’s madness was due to the hereditary disease, porphyria. The symptoms are photosensitivity, strong abdominal pain, port wine colored urine and paralysis in the arms and legs. The interruption of nerve impulses to the brain causes the development of psychiatric symptoms and finally, epileptic convulsions occur and the patient sinks into a coma. George III’s first attack occurred in 1765. From 1811 to the time of his death he became progressively insane and blind. He spent his time in isolation, and was often kept in straight jackets and behind bars in his private apartments at Windsor Castle. It is now thought that his symptoms were worsened by the use of mercury, possibly a contaminant of the various medicines he was prescribed. Test of strands of George III’s hair showed that at the time of his death the arsenic levels in the hair were approximately 17 parts per million. Arsenic poisoning occurs at levels of only 1 part per million.
Please note that I know very little about this period of British history – so if anyone knows better, I’m more than happy to bow to superior knowledge!