George III soon goes back to his old habits. On 3 March, he gives a Haendel concert. He then spends the night with his wife for the first time since his arrival at Kew. In between, he had asked Lady Pembroke to clear up the nature of their relations during his long malady. If he is really guilty of adultery, he would at least like to remember it. But he is not comforted by a sin that he had not committed. Lady Pembroke assures him that his conduct had always been that of an attentive brother and a good and generous sovereign. As for Queen Charlotte, she is again savouring a happiness that she had believed to have been lost forever. Grateful, she has raised at her own expense in the gardens of Kew, a gigantic transparent painted by Biaccho Rebecca. It represents Aesculape holding a medallion of the King in his hand, and being crowned with laurels by Providence.
On 9 March, George III holds a meeting of his Ministers and brings himself up-to-date with the political situation. On 14 March, he triumphantly returns to Windsor. On 15 March, a solemn Service of Thanksgiving is celebrated at Saint Paul’s. The Princes unenthusiastically attend this ceremony, and do not make any attempt to hide their disappointment. But the delighted crowd pays no attention to their sad faces. Joy is overflowing from the hearts of the People, and it stops carriages to cry out to their occupants: “Long live the King!”. London, which celebrates for several days, is resplendant with all the illuminations placed on the facades of houses. Never since his Coronation, has the King known such a wave of popularity.
And when, in June 1789, the Royal Family goes to stay in Weymouth, the same triumphant welcome is given to him. All along the roads, in the towns and villages, everyone lines up to see the King and acclaim him. At each stage of his journey, the inhabitants raise triumphal arches in his honour. At Weymouth itself, it is total delirium. George III is unable to leave Gloucester House, where he is living, without hearing the crowd packed in front of his door screaming: “God save the King!”. These demonstrations of loyalty do not displease him. When he returns to London in the middle of September, he declares himself to be enchanted by this Summer holiday, particularly as the sea-bathing had done him a lot of good. At the time, he is preparing to live twelve years of perfect health, except for a terrible, but brief, attack of abdominal pain in 1795.
At the beginning of February 1801, the 1788 malady is no more than an unhappy memory, along with the political crisis that it had caused. Unfortunately for the illustrious Charles Fox, William Pitt is still Prime Minister. But the epoch has changed, and so has the country’s situation. George III is not as benevolent toward his Prime Minister as before, and places responsibility for the Nation’s present woes on him. The country is, in effect, being threatened with invasion. French troops are concentrated on the Flemish coast, while Ireland, counting on the help of the Directoire, is again rising up. On the Continent, the French are winning everywhere against England’s allies. England’s only hope now, is her invincible navy. In London itself, public opinion is violently against the Crown. Even some aristocrats publicly demonstrate their hostility toward George III and his dynasty. A Peer of the Realm, the Duke of Norfolk, is seen to raise a toast to the health of his only sovereign: His Majesty the People.
For the last few weeks, the King’s principal preoccupation has been to stop the adoption of a Project of Law on the emancipation of the Catholics. Like the majority of his subjects, he considers that to accept a measure allowing Roman Catholics to sit in Parliament, would be the equivalent of betraying the solemn vow to defend the Anglican Faith, that he had made at his Coronation. But Pitt does not share his opinion and shows that he is favourable to this emancipation. He thereby enters openly into conflict with the King, who has no hesitation in accepting his resignation on 5 February 1801.
Shortly afterwards, in the middle of the ensuing ministerial shuffle, the sovereign’s health suddenly alters. During an outing on horseback, on 14 February, George III confides to one of his equerries, General Garth:
“I couldn’t sleep last night, and I feel particularly bilious and indisposed.”
The day before, Friday the 13th, the King had remained a long time in prayer, but the glacial atmosphere of the church had gotten the better of his robust constitution. While snowflakes are swirling and the northern wind is blowing outside, the King, who has remained immobile for too long inside these humid walls, is catching cold. This is only the beginning of the first relapse of the terrible malady that had almost made him lose his Crown, twelve years earlier. If this attack is not as talked about, it is partly because it doesn’t last as long as the first one. But it is mainly because a Law on the Regency had already been voted in 1789, and the Parliamentarians will not have to debate the question again.
In the days that follow this demonstration of religious fervour, George III feels appalling muscular pain, and his voice becomes so husky that he is almost unable to speak. At the same time, he feels nauseous and suffers violent colics and constipation. The doctors note that his urine is abnormally dark. Further, his pulse accelerates considerably, and the sovereign has difficulty going to sleep. On 16 February 1801, he lets his new Prime Minister, Henry Addington, know, while excusing himself to him, that he is suffering so much that he cannot leave his bed. Dr Thomas Gisborne, who has replaced Sir George Baker in the function of official doctor to the royal household, naively, but hopefully, prescribes him James Powder [quinine]. At first, the doctor is not very worried. But his patient is not fooled, and understands that his state is worsening. Soon, he becomes agitated at the slightest contrariety, and his words are not always coherent.
To be continued.