On 17 April 1801, the Willises officially leave.  But, only two days later, Princess Elizabeth begs the Reverend Thomas Willis and his brothers to come back to London.  Panic has very quickly succeeded joy.  Queen Charlotte and her daughters are afraid of being alone with the sovereign, whose reactions they are unable to anticipate.  Although not those of someone in prey to delirium, they still seem strange and absurd.  The Willises immediately respond to the appeal.  Strengthened by the situation’s turnabout, they brilliantly demonstrate that they were entirely right in wanting to keep George III away from the world.

Then, they turn to Prime Minister Henry Addington and ask him for permission to again exercise continuous control over the sovereign’s person, for as long as necessary.  The Prime Minister retorts that it is up to the Queen to decide.  But, with the completely bourgeois prudence which characterises her, she refuses to shoulder such a responsibility without the Government’s support.  Addington doesn’t want to have anything to do with it.  He protests that he cannot legitimately caution such an important decision, without having submitted it to the Members of Parliament and without having received their approbation.  The Queen hesitates, tergiverses.  She is afraid of doing the wrong thing, but finally makes up her mind.  She accepts to give full powers to the Willises, but on condition that no-one knows that she is giving her consent.

The Willises then foment a diabolical plan.  Informed of the sovereign’s daily acts, they know that he is supposed to go to Kew House.  His son Adolph is waiting for him there, convoked by the King, himself, for an excursion on horseback.  Like highway robbers, the Willises plan to stop him on the main road which leads to Kew, and oblige him by force to follow them.  But George III has the presentiment that something is being planned against him, and suddenly changes direction.  Instead of going to Kew, he cuts through the fields and turns back towards the home of the Prince of Wales, where he remains for a few days.

Annoyed, the Willises and the little troup which is accompanying them take refuge in the house which has been left at their disposition.  Totally deprived of comfort, it is extremely cold and there are no chairs, but it is inside these walls that a new strategy is decided.  Soon, they go to the Prince of Wales’ residence where only Dr Thomas Gisborne is announced, whom the King accepts to receive.  Gisborne then enters, but he is closely followed by Thomas Willis.  Worried and disappointed, George III absolutely wants to leave.  But the Reverend prevents him.  In a firm and arrogant tone, he indicates the situation to his host and announces to him that he must be immediately placed again under continuous medical control.

After having listened, the King, very upset, sits down without a word.  Whiter than he was before, he soon seems to lose countenance.  Then he turns back to the Reverend and declares in a noble and pathetic voice to the man whom he had once believed to be his friend:

“Sir, as long as I live, I will never forget you!”

And, in a bound, he rises to flee.  But he is very surprised and disappointed when he discovers Dr John Willis planted behind the door, surrounded by four nurses from the Hoxton Asylum.  Immediately, and without summation, they take him to Prince Adolph’s apartments in Kew House, where he will remain a prisoner until 19 May 1801, without any members of his family being allowed to visit him for nearly three weeks.

There, he is submitted to a severe diet.  The doctors prescribe emetic preparations as usual, and twice order that he be bled.  The reclusion in which he is held makes the Prince of Wales say that his father is weaker and no-one wants to admit it, and that his cure is totally improbable.  His hopes then of taking control of the country are revived.  Decided to see them come true, he wants above all to control the situation by holding the sovereign under his own surveillance.  So he, in turn, attempts to get rid of the Willises.  He argues the fact that if the King has completely regained his senses, he no longer needs the services of doctors for alienated people.

It is true that no-one can now suspect George III of being mad.  He, himself, perfectly understands the grotesque character of the situation.  Both serene and detached, he retains an extraordinary sense of humour.  He spends his time corresponding with his Ministers, signing official documents and giving all sorts of directives.  He also consecrates several hours each day to his walk in the magnificent gardens of Kew, where the Willises are obliged to follow him.  In the evening, he plays cards or chess, and also reads.  Further, he plans on spending Summer at Weymouth, as usual.

As the days pass by, his state improves so much that he is allowed to see his wife and daughters again, in the afternoon of 9 May.  However, the Willises are not very inclined to leave, and no-one, not even the Prince of Wales, seems to be able to make them.  Exasperated, the King decides to conquer his liberty on his own.  On 19 May, the day of the Queen’s birthday, he declares to the Lord Chancellor:

“I have taken the solemn decision to sign no official document and to caution no governmental decisions, for as long as I shall be unable to go to the Queen’s apartments whenever I want.”

The Willises’ reign comes to an end on this day.  On 21 May 1801, George III presides the Privy Council in London.  His social sense, his lively mind and his firmness in conducting affairs definitively convince the Ministers that the King is perfectly able to assume his public function.

However, within himself, George III is well aware that his youth is far away and that he will never again have the health of a young man.  This second attack has made his previously very robust constitution more fragile.  He tires much more quickly than before, even more so because he is still a victim of annoying insomnias.  But he is learning to tame old age and be philosophical about his own health.  He, who for more than forty years has presided over the nation’s destiny, he, who throughout all of these years has played a prominent role in the court of the greats and in the theatre of the world, he, who has suffered numerous political defeats, and has almost lost both his head and his crown, can only accept his body’s decrepitude with wisdom and resignation.  He also estimes himself lucky to have found both his reason and his freedom again.

***

To be continued.

Advertisements