King George III was a whole lot more than just America’s final king. Known to history as “Mad King George,” this British monarch may have ruled over an empire, but he didn’t always rule over his own body and mind. His story is filled with tragedy and drama.
Born in 1738 in London, George III may have come from a line of Germanic princes, but he was proud to be a British king. Over the course of his reign, he saw the British Empire expand – even as he lost the American colonies – and the map of the entire Western world change many times over, thanks to the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.
But even as Britain projected itself on the world’s stage, George himself was suffering greatly from what may or may not have been a genetic disease. Plagued by what many at the time called a “madness,” George went through bouts of physical anguish and mental instability in an era that was not well equipped to manage such issues. The madness of King George, as it would come to be known, defined the final decades of his life.
George III was thus more than simply the king who enraged American patriots. He was a troubled man whose body and mind rebelled against him.
Well, sort of. George suffered bouts of mental instability that may have begun as early as 1765 and lasted until his death in 1820. In these bouts of insanity, George's urine was brown or purple and he would literally run around the castle, seemingly losing all his senses. Obviously, this troubled the royal family, the court, and the political establishment.
Historians still don’t know what exactly caused George’s issues, but many think it might have been porphyria, a genetic disease.
Since his own father had died unexpectedly in 1751, George inherited the throne directly from his grandfather, George II. By all accounts, George II had despised his son in life and barely noticed his grandson. At the age of 22, George finally succeeded his grandfather to become king.
The circumstances under which George III inherited the throne were less than dignified, however: his grandfather's reign ended because he died while using the toilet.
George III - one of the most consequential monarchs in British history - almost didn't live to reign. When he was born in June 1738, he was two months premature. Everyone was sure he would not live, and so a hasty baptism was organized that day. But - then he lived. In an era when infant mortality was relatively high, baby George's survival was nothing short of astonishing.
The premature prince lived to be 81 years old.
During the king's fits of ill health, he often retired to Kew Palace outside of London to escape the public eye. But by 1811, it was clear that the king was getting worse instead of better. So his eldest son and heir ruled as regent in his father's stead. George III was unceremoniously locked away at Windsor Castle, lost in his own confusion. He remained there until his death in 1820.