On This Day 29th January 1820

George III at the End of his Life

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!

13 thoughts on “On This Day 29th January 1820”

  1. Boadicea, Another wonder little historical piece. I knew this one off by heart, but I am rapidly becoming a fan. It is a cracking little idea for a site feature. Well done.

    He does look like Scrooge in this picture doesn’t he?

  2. Thanks Paul! I included the bit about losing control of the purse strings especially for you. I’m a firm believer in the old adage that ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’, and that the balance of power between Monarch and Parliament shifted in favour of Parliament every time the latter gained greater control of finances… which is why I think that the the first ‘reform’ of government has to be some form of financial accountability of Government to the electorate.

  3. Bo,

    I am flattered you thought to include that part. I did pick up on it, so thank you!

    I have just been writing a piece on the Magna Carta, so I will publish it shortly. There is a financial theme and one more closely associated with the cause dearest to my heart – a campaign for democratic reform in the UK.

    I believe that to make people aware of the issues and the need for change they need to understand some of the background and assumptions that shape the world around us. History has lots to teach those with a will to learn important lessons about human nature and past failings.

    The point you make is a good one about the tug-of-war power struggle between civil administration and crown. The period of the English Civil War is seen by many as the significant turning point.

    Another interesting ‘spin-off’ from your piece might be more about the Americas and the causes of the Colonial War for Independence in America.

    BTW, don’t forget to add tags to your pieces so that they can be found by topic too.

  4. George the First was always reckoned
    vile, but viler yet was George the Second;
    And what mortal ever heard
    Any good of George the Third?
    When from earth the Fourth descended
    (God be praised!) the Georges ended.

    Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864)

    Says it all really.

  5. Your posts are taxing my brain, or rather my memory Boadicea. The only think I remember about the poor chap was his rather bad press with regard to the loss of our American colonies, and that he went to Dorset for his holidays.

    Historically speaking, I do think that his more recent biographers are a little more sympathetic than Landor’s interpretation above 😉

  6. Boadicea is off performing retail therapy in the CBD, Minty, and lunching with number 1 daughter. We shan’t get any historical sense from her for a few hours yet. 🙂

    I think I agree with you, but I haven’t yet been told what my opinion should be. 😆

  7. Thank you, Bearsy. Phew, well you are sticking your neck on the block here. I’m off to bed, but you’ve got time to for a quick reprogramming/indoctrination and you can sneak back here and revise your “opinion”, if necessary 😉

  8. Boa, good morning and afternoon.

    Just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying this series. Keep them coming, please?

    Landor was not to know, of course, that marks V and VI of the George model would come along in due time. And I still have this sneaky feeling that, if the present heir apparent actually ever gets the gig, we will be crowning a George VII and not a Charles III, Philip I or Arthur I.

  9. I can’t honestly say I disagree with Landor! I had a bit of sympathy with George III with his troublesome children, George IV did at least have the wit to build that fanciful palace in Brighton…

  10. Araminta – at least this George learnt English, the two previous two Georges didn’t bother! But most of the family were a pretty dissolute lot. I went to a series of talks about the private lives of the Hanoverians… makes the behaviour of the present bunch seem pretty tame…

  11. Thanks John… I will do my best!

    I agree with you, I doubt whether the name Charles will be used. I’ve often wondered why he was given that name since he was obviously in line for the throne.

  12. I suppose it’s the idea of all the pain George III suffered, partly inflicted by the doctors of the day, that makes me feel a bit of sympathy for him. His upbringing and education didn’t help either. Must be very difficult to cope with the divine right of kings, being God’s annointed and a stroppy parliament at the same time.

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