On the days which follow the 20 December straightjacket session, George III seems as nervous as he had been during the month of November. His attacks of delirium multiply, as do his demonstrations of violence. He now spends all of his nights tied up, and does not stop talking if he is not gagged. While he is being constrained to silence, the Parliamentary debates on the burning question of the Regency are becoming more and more passionate. Once more, Prime Minister William Pitt’s position appears uncertain, and an imminent change of government inevitable. The London banks fear another Stock Market crash. In the name of international commerce, they propose offering to the Prime Minister, in exchange for his immediate departure, a capital of 50,000 pounds or an annual rent of 3,000 pounds. But William Pitt, who is not ready to leave his post, refuses to allow himself to be influenced.
Meanwhile, Queen Charlotte steps out of the shadows. Her name is proposed to preside the Regency Council instead of that of her son, the Prince of Wales. To tell the truth, she has never been interested in the Affairs of State. However, the idea does not displease her. She mainly sees it as a way to efficiently defend the cause of her husband, for whose rapid recovery she hopes. But the Opposition Press soon unleashes itself against her, and attacks her with such violence, that she rapidly abandons any idea of playing a political role.
However, the Prince of Wales’ partisans have not yet won the battle. From the 24 December 1788, the King’s state begins to improve somewhat. He displays less nervousness and more willingly accepts to bow to his doctors’ will. His conduct is no longer that of a demented person, although he is still not always able to discern what is real and what is not. Once more, he talks about Prince Octave, his youngest son, whose death, a few years earlier, had deeply shaken him. His elucubrations are perhaps the only way open to him to attempt to vanquish both Time and Destiny. Therefore, he is convinced that Octave has come back to him, as a new-born child.
With his heart lost in his memories, the King appears unrecognizable. Skinny, exhausted by his insomnias and the severity of the treatments inflicted on him, he is only a ghost of himself. His weak, husky voice puts the finishing touch on his pitiful image. His wounds, which he is forbidden to touch, continue to cause him appalling suffering. Despite the daily doses of digitiline, his pulse can still not be reduced. Castor oil also seems incapable of relieving him of his almost chronical constipation. His sight has abandoned him to the point that he is no longer able to read. Finally, George Adams, the royal household’s optician, makes him a pair of glasses.
On 26 December, he is seen playing backgammon with Dr Willis. This game necessitates both attention and concentration. These canalise and, at the same time, calm the patient’s mind, and he indeed seems calmer and less voluble. But, at night, his terrible insomnias persist. On 27 December, the Reverend Thomas Willis arrives at Kew. Like his brother, Dr John, he has come to assist his father. Unlike the other members of the Willis family, he will be very much appreciated by George III, who insists on meeting him immediately. He wants to enquire about the health of the Leader of the Opposition, Charles Fox, who has been ill since his return from Italy. This request, both sensible and ironic, demonstrates the sovereign’s efforts to display a clear mind. On the following days, his attitude also incites optimism. Soon, the King remembers the obscenities that he has proffered throughout his illness, and becomes conscious of their outrageous character. His own pudency is wounded by them, and he is ashamed. He confides to one of his servants that he hopes with all his heart that he hasn’t offended beautiful Lady Pembroke. He also naively hopes that not too much has been made of “his bad thoughts”.
When, at the end of December, he is allowed to see the Queen, he welcomes her with great kindness. Dr Willis doesn’t understand any of the conversation, which is entirely in German. However, he watches a particularly moving scene. He sees the King sit down beside his spouse, take her hand to kiss it, and suddenly burst into tears, as if to ask her pardon. This interview will not, however, have a very good effect on the King, who is particularly agitated shortly afterwards.
The next day, the royal couple’s interview is the only subject of conversation in worldly milieux. Evil tongues rivalise, with perfidy and imagination, to re-invent it completely. Always ready to serve her idol Charles Fox’s cause, the Duchess of Devonshire claims that, on that day, the King thought that he was Assuerus, while the Queen assumed the role of Vasthi, and Lady Pembroke that of Esther. She finishes ridiculing the sovereigns by adding that the King warned the Queen that he couldn’t wait to be in 1793 to sleep with her, and that he was going to make Lady Pembroke, Marquess of Kingston.
As for William Pitt, he has escaped a downfall. Despite threats against him, he has obtained brilliant victories before the House of Commons. At the end of December, he estimes himself sufficiently strong to only accept the Prince of Wales’ Regency with certain conditions. If the King does not recover his reason, the Regency will be offered to the Heir to the Throne, but without the right to creat new peers, except in the Royal Family. He will also be forbidden to accord rents or pensions to other people, and will not be able to dispose of Crown possessions either. The guard of the King and his personal household will be entrusted to the Queen’s responsability. This removes all power from the Prince to dip into the State Treasury to pay his famous debts. It also prevents him from reinforcing his position by practising corruption in Parliament’s stable majority.
To be continued.