Lord Loughborough’s attempt to obtain George III’s signature through the Reverend Thomas Willis, for the purpose of arguing royal consent for the abrogation of an agrarian law, is completely illegal. But he succeeds in convincing Willis, after having assured him that he will take full responsibility for this infamous procedure. The King, who has complete trust in the Reverend, accepts to appose his signature, without seeking to know what it’s about. And Willis, thereby satisfying his taste for power, becomes the necessary intermediary between the King and his Ministers, that is to say, the secret and only manipulator in the shadow of the throne. With his brothers, he exercises absolute control, not only on George III’s person, but also on his slightest connection with the outside world.
Over the following days, the sovereign’s state worsens. His pulse sometimes rises to 130. And on 25 February, the doctors make it known that the sovereign’s ills are degenerating into a sort of “black jaundice”. They mean by that, that the royal urines are becoming darker and darker, to the point of appearing black. On 27 February, Dr Willis confides to the Prince of Wales that the sovereign’s intellectual faculties have considerably regressed. His patient is no longer able to furnish enough concentration for reading. Sometimes he is even unable to understand a single letter. However, the following day, 28 February, the symptoms of mental derangement seem to be a lot less pronounced than over the preceding days.
Already, the rumour is spreading in the public, and it is heard just about everywhere in the worldly milieux, that the Willises are convinced that their patient will be perfectly cured within three weeks. This news incites ex-Prime Minister William Pitt to optimism. He is now convinced that even the question of the Regency is no longer relevant. But that is going a bit too fast. In the night of 1st to 2 March, George III is again incapable of going to sleep. He becomes irascible, violent, and his mind soon wanders to the point where none of his words seem to make sense. The following day, his state continues to worsen, and it is finally doubted that he will survive this new attack.
The members of the Royal Family, convinced that death is going to take him, assemble in the room next-door to the one in which the King is, and observe a respectful silence in his honour. Meanwhile, panic has invaded the sickroom, where the doctors don’t know any more what remedies to prescribe. To relieve the patient of his muscular stiffness, his feet are bathed for a quarter-of-an-hour in hot water mixed with vinegar. But there is no time to verify the efficacity of this remedy. The sovereign’s heart suddenly starts to beat with such rapidity, that it is thought necessary to inform Prime Minister Henry Addington, the Duke of York and the Prince of Wales, as fast as possible.
All day, he is fed only wine, fruit jelly and potions based on musk and quinine. George III, who has not slept for forty-eight hours, is both haggard and very agitated. Addington then remembers an old folk remedy taught to him by his father. He proposes placing a hot-water bottle filled with hops under George III’s head. Thanks to his Prime Minister, the sovereign finally succeeds in sleeping for more than eight hours. This anecdote will give Addington the nickname of “Mr Doctor”. Without it being known if this change is due to the calming virtues of the hops, the King is particularly calm when he awakes. His words are coherent and he asks surprisingly pertinent questions. He realises that he is not in his usual bed and enquires as to where he is, and how long he has been ill.
This improvement, for which no-one dared to hope any more, is greeted like a gift from heaven. The jubilant crowd gathers around Buckingham House to celebrate the recovery of its beloved sovereign. But, this time again, disappointment succeeds joy, and the celebrations last only one day. George III does not delay in losing his mind again. To this are added other symptoms already observed during the terrible attack of 1788-89. His jaws tighten to the point where he becomes incapable of chewing any food at all. His swollen, insensitive hands are hardly able to seize a spoon, and his doctors fear a total and definitive paralysis of his upper members. But his state improves just as quickly as it had worsened. From 5 March 1801, his appetite returns and he is able to use his hands to feed himself, without the help of his nurses.
On 6 March, he is judged to be sufficiently calm and master of his reactions to receive a visit from Queen Charlotte, who has not seen him for ten days. George III welcomes his spouse with affable words, at first. But, to the great displeasure of the Queen who had been moved by this manifestation of tenderness, he suddenly enters into violent anger and hurls abuse at her three times, heaping reproaches on her. With a heavy heart, she resigns herself to leaving. The weight of years has not contributed to embellishing this little woman, who is desperately flat and without attraction, but it has made her more bad-tempered and boring than she was already. Grace, wit and fantasy have been definitively banned from Court life and the royal entourage, by her order. She has constrained her daughters, some of whom have been of marriageable age for a long time, to observe the same severity, not only in public life, but also in everyday life. Briefly, everything around her seems mediocre, dull and reasonable, and the sovereign’s terrible malady, engendering sadness and despair, renders the walls of Windsor even more odious to those who live there.
George III calms down a little after his spouse’s departure. In a flash of lucidity, he questions Dr John Willis about what is happening in the House of Commons. And as he is convinced that he has completely recovered, he orders the detested doctor to immediately inform Addington of his perfect state of health. The Willises, who fear being discredited, definitively opt for optimism, and all the following week, the health bulletins, without being lies, are written in a way that embellishes the sovereign’s real state of health. The Willises have to convince the public and the Parliamentarians that the royal patient’s cure is imminent.
To be continued.