King George III Of England is well known in history books for being the "mad king who lost America".
Within the last 50 years, many historians attribute his "madness" to the physical, genetic blood disorder called porphyria. Its symptoms include aches and pains, as well as blue urine.
The theory became a motion picture starring Nigel Hawthorne called The Madness of King George. New research from St George's, University of London, has concluded that George III did not suffer from mental illness after all.
Researchers used thousands of George III's own handwritten letters to analyze his use of language. They have discovered that during his episodes of apparent mental and physical illness, his sentences were much longer than when he was well.
At the time, (1760’s – 1780’s, a well written sentence containing 400 words and eight verbs was not unusual. George III, when ill, often repeated himself, and at the same time his vocabulary became much more complex, creative and filled with abusive cuss words and derogatory references to genitalia.
These are features that can be seen today in the writing and speech of patients experiencing bipolar disorder. Mania is at one end of a spectrum of mood disorders, with sadness, or depression, at the other. King George's manic state would be very similar to modern contemporary descriptions bipolar disorder.
At the time, witnesses spoke of his "incessant loquacity", (constant talking) and his habit of talking until he began to foam at the mouth. Sometimes he suffered from convulsions, and his servants had to sit on him to keep him safe on the floor so he would not hurt himself.
One piece of evidence that has always been stated as proof of the King’s physical illness, Porphyria, was the Kings blue colored urine. Researchers have discovered written medical records that show that the king was given medicine based on gentian. This plant, with its deep blue flowers, is still used today as an herbal treatment, but a side effect is that it might turn the user’s urine blue. It is therefore possible it wasn't the king's "madness" that caused his most famous symptom. It could have simply been his medicine.
George III's recurring bouts of illness caused him to withdraw from public view and caused him to be unable to do his public duties. He would move from London to a much smaller house he owned near Richmond, England in the countryside. Each time he withdrew he would have an episode of “madness” or an occurring episode would become more severe. As a result, a political crisis arose - who was to make decisions in his absence?
His son, George, the Prince of Wales, with whom George III had a terrible relationship, wanted to be appointed regent (person who temporarily acts as king), and to act as the king in everything but name.
But despite his illness, George III was diligent king, and won the respect of Parliament. In fact, when his illness forced him to retire to the countryside, the politicians realized how much they missed the King’s calming effect.
One of the reasons why the king was diagnosed with porphyria is because it removed the stigma of mental health issues from the Royal Family.
It is becoming clear that the porphyria theory is wrong. This was a psychiatric illness."
But his mental illness did not stop George III from being a successful king. With his 60-year reign, George III provided continuity. Perhaps the “Madness of Ol King George was not so mad as we have been led to believe.