The King is physically very weak, and the donkey milk that he absorbs daily is not sufficient to make him more vigorous. His mind has almost ceased to wander but his nerves remain very fragile. Therefore he flies off the handle at the slightest contrariety and still seems incapable of concentrating. Further, his reactions remain totally unpredictable. There he is, crying like a child, when suddenly, he can be heard to laugh out loud. He whispers, murmurs affable words, and suddenly he becomes angry, vociferates, fulminates. However, it is true that his health is improving. The Willises soon judge their patient sufficiently serene to indicate in the official health bulletin of 11 March 1801, which is also the last one:
“The fever [that is to say, the delirium] has totally left His Majesty, but as is usual after such a serious illness, his perfect recovery requires a relatively long convalescence.”
On 14 March 1801, the King meets ex-Prime Minister William Pitt for the first time since February, and shows him great kindness. He is very moved to again see the man who had been his Prime Minister for eighteen years. Pitt is also filled with joy, but something uncomfortable remains between the two men. Both of them are obviously unable to forget in what circumstances George III has fallen ill. And this is even greater as the infamous Reverend Thomas Willis, fanatically hostile to the Project of Law on the emancipation of the Catholics, has for a long time interpreted the political quarrel between the King and his Prime Minister as the principal cause of the royal “fever”. George III alludes to it, but hastens to indicate that he now feels perfectly capable of again taking direction of the Affairs of State.
On 17 March, two weeks after having come out of his coma, George III presides the Privy Council. Its date had been set for weeks and, for constitutional reasons, it had been impossible to change it to a later date. The King assumes his function with great ease. However, when he has to speak privately with each of the Council members, his strength abandons him. He admits that he is feeling so tired that he has to moderate his ardour for the task. This incident supports the Willises’ theory that the King is not yet ready to fully assume his responsibility as a sovereign, and must imperatively take more rest.
It is true that George III still has a very rapid pulse and his insomnias and his constipation have not been cured. But, above all, the Willis brothers have acquired a taste for power and are not ready to renounce their new vice. For weeks, they had exercised complete control over the sovereign’s person, as well as over all his relations with the outside world. For weeks, they had held Prime Minister Henry Addington and his Ministers in their power. For weeks, they had become the real masters of the nation, and in their own eyes, the masters of the world. So it is in their interest to prolong George III’s convalescence for as long as possible, while making credible the paradox of a King who is both cured and incapable. To do this, they argue the fact that a partial recovery of the sovereign alone, can engender a new phase of delirium, whose catastrophic consequences are easily imaginable. So Doctors Robert and John Willis give themselves the exclusive right of deciding if the King is able to assume his public life without the weight of affairs harming his health. Thomas Willis gives himself almost exclusive political responsibility. If a Minister, emboldened by the sovereign’s recovery, goes to Buckingham to submit to him one of the numerous official texts which had remained pending during the royal malady, he is immediately obliged to deal with the Reverend Willis.
It is to him that, on 20 March 1801, Addington entrusts secret documents concerning the appropriateness of pactising with France, requesting him to give them to the sovereign in person. He adds that the King has only a concise and decisive answer to give, and must clearly show his agreement or his refusal. When George III has his Prime Minister’s letter and the Minutes of the Privy Council in his hands, he appears to acquiesce and declares that that is what he had wanted in the first place. But he adds that he has unfortunately been kept for too long away from the Affairs of State. Abandoned by everyone, confined in this awful solitude, he has finally convinced himself that he must renounce making peace with his nation’s worst enemy. Willis does not however render arms. It is he who writes the sovereign’s reply, which is of course positive. It had been enough for him to pretext that the King is extremely tired and that he has difficulty speaking. So, secret negotiations between France and England begin, and will end in the Peace of Amiens, in 1802.
Meanwhile, Addington is dissatisfied with George III’s reclusion. Exasperated, he orders the Willises to get their royal patient back on his feet so that he is able to appear in public with no visible sign of weakness. He is even more convincing in that he threatens to open a Parliamentary Enquiry. The next day, the Willises go to work. Poor George III is obliged to swallow emetic preparations, that is to say, destined to make him vomit, while the infernal trio orders that cupping glasses be applied to his back. But, despite a promise made to Queen Charlotte, they judge the results of the treatment in question to be less rapid than they had thought and, at the end of March, repeat their interdiction to allow the King to appear in public.
Addington, who finally meets him, reminds the sovereign that he is master in his own house. And George III, galvanised by his Prime Minister’s words, decides to prove it. On 30 March, he orders the Willises to leave. They do, but only for a few days, and without renouncing their ambitions. While the King believes that he is finally rid of his gaolers, they continue to intrigue against him, claiming that his nerves are still too fragile for him to be allowed to act freely. The hate that he unjustly feels for them is certain proof. They almost succeed in convincing the Queen, but she changes her mind when she hears John Willis suggest taking her spouse to Kew, as had been done in 1788. The sovereign’s general behaviour finally reassures her and, on 16 April 1801, she has the pleasure of sleeping beside him for the first time since February.
To be continued.