Tag Archive: George III

The King’s great age, the weakness of his constitution, and the handicaps given to his poor body by old age, prevent anyone from hoping for a recovery this time.  So it is without much difficulty that the Prince of Wales, whose waistline has not ceased to expand since his youth, busies himself with getting the Regency Bill passed.  After having reassured the holders of official posts who fear losing them, as is often the case when a reign changes, he succeeds in obtaining the backing of the Minister of Justice.  The ceremony of investiture is celebrated with great pomp on 5 February 1811, at Carlton House.  The future George IV, then aged forty-eight, becomes the master of the Kingdom.


Left to his own devices, George III will spend the rest of his life within the walls of Windsor, without ever recovering his reason.  In April 1811, he declares to his son Adolf, who has come to visit him, that he does not understand why he is not allowed to go to see Lady Pembroke, when everyone knows that he is married to her.  The elderly Countess has never ceased to haunt the sovereign’s heart, and is among the many beings who people his imagination now.  Several years later, his real spouse, Queen Charlotte, passes away at Kew, on 17 November 1818.  But George III has no longer been asking about her for a long time.  He will know nothing of this disappearance.  Only the names of those who have died years before come back to his memory.

It is a very sad sight, this King who has outlived his reign, wandering through the corridors of Windsor, dressed in a violet dressing-gown, a fur hat on his head, and with a long white beard.  When he is not having a conversation with an imaginary interlocutor, he prides himself on playing the harp or the piano, or else remains prostrate, with his hands on his head, for hours at a time.  Only the Star of the Order of the Garter pinned on his chest shows that this wreck is the King of England.  On 29 January 1820, he at last breathes his last breath, at the age of eighty- two.  The phantom that he had become leaves this world, body and soul this time.


During his lifetime, none of the doctors who tried to treat him was able to discern the real nature of his ill.  And for a long time, posterity will hold the memory of a King for whom the exigencies of royalty had been too heavy.  At the beginning of the XXth Century, doctors and historians attempted to explain his illness in psychological terms.  They considered that King George III was suffering from a maniaco-depressive psychosis.  His natural indecision, his severity toward himself, his affective and sexual frustrations are all elements that had contributed to his mental instability.  The physical symptoms of his malady were relegated to the background.  So, his high pulse rate, his colics, his croaky voice were only interpreted as the consequences of his depressive state.  His worrying stupor, the insensitivity in his hands and feet, in fact all of his sufferings, seemed only to be manifestations of attacks of hysteria.  But the fundamental error in this analysis is precisely to have interverted the causes and the effects.  The sovereign’s physiological disorders are in no way the consequences of his mental disorder.

The truth is that a rapid pulse, exanthema, yellow or blood-injected eyes, swollen feet and hands, constipation, urine coloured red are all symptoms that lead to the supposition that George III was suffering from porphyria, a very rare, hereditary illness which was only really studied in the 1930’s.  It consists of a trouble of the porphyric metabolism which provokes a red pigmentation in the blood.  If this pigment develops too much, the urines are of an abnormal colour, and the nervous system can be poisoned in its totality, including the brain.  George III therefore suffered a particularly exacerbated form of this malady, which went as far as making him go mad.

Historians have attempted to establish the genealogy of this hereditary trouble.  Their conclusions show that it could have touched no fewer than two dynasties of the Kingdom of England.  The Stuarts could have transmitted the malady to the Hanovers through the granddaughter of James VI of Scotland, Sophia of Hanover, the mother of George I.  Apart from George III’s madness, knowledge of this genetic illness permits the elucidation of some of his ancestors’ deaths which have remained mysterious for a long time.

Everything leads us to believe that the premature disappearances of the Prince of Wales in 1612, James VI of Scotland [James I of England] in 1625, the Duchess d’Orleans, Henrietta Maria of England [Charles II of England’s sister], in 1670, and George III’s own sister, Queen Caroline Mathilda of Denmark and Norway, in 1775, were not caused by poison, as has been thought for a long time.  These four illustrious people could in fact have succumbed to a violent and unexpected attack of porphyria.  But unfortunate King George was the one who endured the longest, the most terrible and the most humiliating sufferings.  Further, porphyria not only took away his reason.  It also made him lose his crown.



George III will be unable to escape a destiny which is decidedly under the sign of suffering, solitude and the grotesque.  The wisdom which he cultivates, woven with both temperance and resignation, is unable to prevent him from traversing another attack of folly, three years later.  In the Winter of 1804, the King feels more ill and more tired than ever.  As in 1788, he catches cold, while roaming around the countryside in damp breeches, in the third week of January.  Soon, his state worsens.  He becomes terribly nervous and endures multiple ills.  His joints hurt, he suffers from muscular stiffness, and swelling in his hands and feet.  In a few days, he becomes so weak that he is unable to walk without a walking-stick.  And, once more, he is in prey to delirium.  Further, he has violent colics and his attempts to have a bowel movement remain vain for the most part.

When the doctors realize that the King is suffering from that terrible malady which figures as a national catastrophe, they immediately inform Henry Addington, who is still Prime Minister at this time.  As in 1801, he calls in the Willis brothers.  But two of George III’s sons, the Dukes of Kent and of Cumberland, oppose their father’s torturers being put in charge of his treatment again.  George III had made them promise, on their honour, to prevent by all possible means, that he be once more put into the Willises’ hands, if ever he should again lose his reason.  Therefore, a quarrel arises between Addington and the Princes, but all three have cowardice in common.  In the end, none of them has enough courage to assume the responsibility of allowing or forbidding the presence of the Willises at the King’s bedside.

In desperation, a certain Samuel Foart Simmons, a doctor at Saint Luke’s Psychiatric Hospital, is called.  He applies exactly the same methods as his colleagues, with even more cruelty.  As was the case with the Willises, the King is nothing more than a patient to him.  Like the Willises, he is sure of his experience, and is resolutely optimistic.  He also uses constant violence and the straightjacket.  However, despite this severe regime of coercion, George III’s state gradually improves.  At the end of February, the doctors make it known that he observes a coherent attitude, and seems both healthy and sane.  His recovery is not this time slowed by any other attack and, on 22 March 1804, the official health bulletin indicates that His Majesty is a lot better, even if his perfect recovery necessitates a little more time.

The royal malady has this time struck with less violence than in former years, but has conserved its value of political stake.  In May, George III’s convalescence is punctuated by a major event:  the fall of Prime Minister Addington and the King’s decision to take back William Pitt.  The two men have not seen each other since 1801.  They practically fall into each other’s arms, and start by exchanging gracious compliments.  Pitt congratulates His Majesty, who is looking much better than at his preceding recovery.  The King benevolently replies that it is not surprising.  At that time he was on the point of losing an old friend, and this time, he is on the point of finding him again.

While Pitt is constituting a new Cabinet and again holding the reins of power, George III has not completely recovered, and remains in his doctors’ hands.  The Opposition, deeply hostile to William Pitt, wants to turn the situation to its advantage.  It asks how, in such conditions, the Prime Minister’s Government can appear legitimate.  While poor George III, weak and exhausted, gradually tries to gather the strength necessary to a King of England, each of his symptoms is interpreted with exaggeration.  The slightest sign of nervosity or fatigue is, for the enemies of the power in place, the sign that his state is worsening.

In June, the Prince of Wales, who is still pursuing the same dream of becoming Regent before being King, decides to attack.  He sends the Lord Chancellor a missive in which he accuses the Ministers of conspiring to deliberately hide the sovereign’s true state from Parliament, as well as from the entire country, so as to prevent the Regency Bill, voted in 1789, from being put into place.  But this manoeuvre by the Pretendant to the Regency obtains no results.  The King really does gain strength and is much better.  On 20 July, he leaves Kew for Windsor.  And on 31st, he goes in person to Parliament.  He displays great confidence, and reads his speech with fervour.  But his physical appearance has considerably altered.  Thin and weak, he seems twenty years older than he really is.

On 20 August 1804, the revolting Dr Simmons finally packs his bags, and a few days later, George III leaves for a holiday in Weymouth.  He is now aged sixty-six, and it will take him many months still to completely recover.  So he will not resume his habitual life-style at Windsor until the following Winter.  But other ills await him.  Already, in Summer, his eyesight had considerably worsened, and the doctors soon observe the formation of a cataract on one eye, then on the other.  Powerless, they are unable to prevent the malady’s rapid progression, which from year to year, will lead to almost complete blindness.


Time and Providence continue their work.  The sovereign’s strength continues to abandon him, and it is with great lassitude that he assumes his royal duty as best he can.  As before, he nourishes infinite love for his daughters, and the idea of their marriage is repugnant to him.  They are probably his only true consolation.  But, on 2 October 1810, bad fortune again strikes, and shakes this domestic happiness.  Princess Amalia, who has become a charming young woman, and remains George III’s favourite daughter, succumbs to a pulmonary infection.  At the announcement of the terrible news, the sovereign remains calm and only murmurs:  “Poor girl… ”

On 25 October, the fiftieth anniversary of his accession to the throne is celebrated.  But, over the past few days, he has been suffering again from serious nervous problems.  Further, he has caught cold, and has to endure violent headaches.  This is only the beginning of a new attack of madness, accompanied by the same physical symptoms as the preceding ones.  As well as insomnias, which have never really left him, George III is seriously constipated.  His urines are red purple, and sometimes black.  And, something new, he feels an oppression in the chest, which makes his breathing more difficult and panting.  In his delirium, he is convinced that Amalia is not dead, but that she is now living in Hanover, where she will never age, and will always be happy.  At other times, he affirms that she is in perfect health at Weymouth, then he again dreams of joining her in the Hanover of his ancestors.

To be continued.

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.

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.

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.

On 21 February 1801, the Reverend Thomas Willis, with whom George III has maintained permanent contact since 1789, is called to his bedside.  The King is already in fear of again sinking into folly and confides to this visitor who is also his friend:

“I feel very ill, and I am getting weaker and weaker.  I prayed to God all night, either to lead me to death, or to leave me all my reason…  If it should be otherwise, the Regency would be inevitable.”

Willis tries to reassure him but his kind words are rapidly proven false.  That same evening, the sovereign’s mind wanders, and he wiggles his hips around his bedchamber, partly draped in a nightshirt, which he had been unable to put on properly.  When, in the middle of the night, he sends for Willis, he doesn’t even recognize the man who had left his side only a few hours earlier.  After an hour-and-a-half, the Reverend nonetheless triumphs over his resistance, and manages to convince him to go back to bed.  But he has scarcely lain down than he sits up suddenly, and demands to be taken to Queen Charlotte.  There is no doubt, the King is again mad.

The next morning, the Duke of York and the new Prime Minister, Henry Addington, the first in the name of the Royal Family, the second in the name of the Government, decide to urgently call upon Dr John Willis to second his brother Thomas.  John arrives in a hurry the same day.  As soon as the King sees him, he recognizes the man who has always remained in his memory as one of his most terrible tormentors.  Horrified, terrorised, he hopes to be able to avoid him by escaping into another room.  But he is quickly caught.  John Willis then forbids his illustrious patient to leave his bedchamber as long as his state has not improved.  To impose his authority, he has two “nurses” from the Hoxton Asylum, who more willingly use violence than James Powder [quinine], brought in that same evening.  On Monday 23 February 1801, the third brother in the Willis family, Dr Robert Darling, arrives in turn.  Too young in 1789, he was not at Kew during the Regency crisis and doesn’t know the King.  However, the family is not complete.  Addington is reluctant to call upon their father, Dr Francis Willis, who has retained the reputation for being rough, uncultivated and violent.  Further, he is now in his eighty-fourth year, and seems too old to assume such a responsibility.  As for his former rival, Dr Richard Warren, he died in 1797, followed shortly after to the tomb by Sir George Baker.

While the three Willis brothers are imposing their control over the King’s bedchamber, the monarch’s state is worsening.  On 24 February, after having been delirious all night without once recovering his reason, George III falls brutally into a coma.  The King’s bedchamber, which only a few hours before, rang with his cries and his elucubrations, is soon in deathly silence.  The Privy Council immediately orders that religious services be held and prayers be recited for the sovereign’s recovery.  The Prince of Wales is jubilant.  Once again, the spectre of the Regency, and perhaps even the English Crown, is haunting him.  It flatters both the ambition of a man born for power, and the vanity of a being who is still fundamentally frivolous.  Therefore, he loses no time in testing the ground and sounding minds.  Rapidly, he sends for Addington.  But the Prime Minister doesn’t know how to react to this disastrous situation, and seems to be losing control over the events.  He has barely started to consecrate himself to his heavy task than the King’s illness has left him alone to take on the heavy responsibility of governing the Kingdom.

William Pitt, both cleverer and more brilliant than his successor, remains in fact, unofficially, the State’s strong man.  It is really to him that the Prince of Wales addresses himself.  But Pitt wants to avoid the situation degenerating into a Parliamentary crisis.  He insists that the King’s malady not be a pretext for any political manoeuvring, and strongly advises His Royal Highness not to take advice from members of the Opposition.  In exchange, he assures him that, if no other solution can be envisaged, that is to say, if the King does not recover, he would not oppose the Prince taking direction of a restrained Regency which conforms to the legislation voted in 1789.  The Prince of Wales finally accepts Pitt’s conditions, which doesn’t please the members of the Whig Party, who are quite decided to benefit from the situation, anyway, with or without the help of their champion.

But their hopes wilt before blooming.  Almost all of the political chiefs tacitly agree to avoid engaging Parliamentary debates on the King’s illness, as long as its true nature has not been discovered.  When a thoughtless voice is raised to propose the examination of the doctors’ reports, as had been done in 1788, it is the Opposition’s illustrious Sheridan, himself, who has the audience suspended.  Before lending himself to this about-face, he had pocketed a nice little sum of money, paid by Pitt in person.  Indignant about this betrayal, the Leader of the Opposition, Charles Fox, leaves the room so as not to be associated with what he calls a machiavellian manoeuvre.

Meanwhile, the King is still between life and death.  His reason can hardly lose itself farther into the world of delirium and incoherence.  But in view of the physical weakening and the advanced age of their patient – he is sixty-three – his doctors fear that he might succumb from his malady this time.  On 24 February 1801, he nevertheless regains consciousness after three days of absence, but without recovering his reason.  Addington is then authorised to go to his bedside.  The pitiful sight that he sees is sufficient to convince him that the King has completely lost his mind.

Shortly afterwards, at lunchtime, Lord Loughborough knocks at the Willises’ door.  He also asks to be introduced into the King’s presence.  He is given a categorical refusal, but this unexpected visitor refuses to retire without having obtained that for which he has come.  He doesn’t much care about the King’s health.  What he wants is to allow the abrogation of an agrarian law, voted the preceding year, by arguing royal consent.  To do this, he must obtain George III’s signature in any way that he can.  And as he is unable to get it in person from the sovereign, he asks Thomas Willis to get it for him.

To be continued.

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.

Up until the end of January 1789, George III is regularly, almost daily, a prey to delirium.  However, his moments of lucidity are multiplying and last longer each time.  But if his mind wanders again, if he becomes irascible, or if he refuses to submit to them, the Willises respond with all sorts of punishments and are more firm than ever.  The straightjacket is used by day and by night.  And, from 24 January, an even more odious and more humiliating object is used.  The King is attached on a chair, prepared for this purpose, in such a way that he cannot move either his arms or his legs, or even his head.  When he is shown this torture machine for the first time, George III cannot believe his eyes.  Overcome, desperate, he just pronounces this formula, as bitter as it is ironic:

“Such is the Coronation seat of a King!”

The severity of such a treatment could, however, only engender a desire for vengeance and rebellion in the sovereign’s heart.  But it will only be understood during the following century, that recourse to violence and a regime of terror stirs up in the patient both hate and fear of his doctors, and naturally leads to attacks of brutality toward them.

While the King has to submit to all sorts of humiliations and cruelties, the Parliamentary debates soon come to an end.  Queen Charlotte, who does not want to lose the battle, gives full powers to Willis and orders him to cure her spouse before it is definitively too late.  It is forbidden for anyone to enter the King’s apartments without Willis’ permission.  The King is now constrained to an almost complete lack of food.  He is given nothing more than whey from the milk of either cows or donkeys, and bread which is not always buttered.

He is again heard to formulate the project of moving to Hanover and never coming back.  He is also convinced that all marriages, including his own, will soon be dissolved by virtue of a Parliamentary decree.  Then he will be able to give himself up freely to pleasure with the divine Lady Pembroke, with whom he is more than ever obsessed.  In spite of everything, he continues to appear serene and lucid at certain moments.  His phases of return to reason last longer, but are always followed by worrying accesses of delirium.  However, despite the bad treatments inflicted on him, his state suddenly miraculously improves from the first day of February.  He is calm and serene for the whole day, his appetite returns, and he is able to sleep without difficulty.  The following morning, he is even more peaceful, and so it goes over the days that follow.  On 3 February, he shaves himself for the first time in three months and, the 6th, he is allowed to use a knife and fork again.  On 7 February, the Willises indicate in the official bulletin that the sovereign’s constipation has also ceased and that he feels perfectly at ease in his body.

Pages, servants, doctors and equerries are all astounded by the rapidity with which the King seems to have recovered.  Richard Warren, himself, is unable to hide his surprise.  And when the Chancellor, Lord Thurlow, questions him, he affirms never having seen His Majesty display such control, even before the beginning of his malady.  He hastily adds that it is indispensable to respect for a few days longer the isolation in which the Willises have placed him for the last few weeks.  The presence of dear or familiar beings would doubtless contribute to exciting his nerves and again upsetting his health.

Warren’s concern, too delicate to be honest, is in fact only a political ruse.  If George III remains isolated, no-one will be able to furnish proof of his recovery, and the Prince of Wales will have enough time to take direction of the Affairs of State, despite it.  Fearing to see the Regency escape him, on 3 February, the Prince accepts Prime Minister William Pitt’s conditions.  It is almost certain that his father’s recovery is improbable, and should certainly be considered as such.  On 13 February 1789, the Project of Law concerning the Regency passes from the House of Commons to the House of Lords.  It is again read there on the 16th, and a third and last reading is scheduled for the 19th, after which, this time the Regency will be pronounced definitively.

But the King’s state has not ceased to improve during the whole of February.  He is now allowed to eat red meat once a day, and also to receive visits.  All those who are able to converse with him find him perfectly healthy and coherent.  He orders a gold watch from the watchmaker Vulliamy, talks for an hour to the astronomer Rigaud about the weather and the stars, and asks the Kew gardener, Mr Eaton, to plant some exotic plants in the botanical garden, to please Mr Willis, who particularly likes them.  His days are now consecrated to reading Shakespeare and Pope, practising Latin and foreign languages, but also music.  The King’s greatest pleasure is in fact to again play the flute.  Further, his daily walks in the gardens of Kew contribute to his good humour and his physical well-being.

So, on 19 February, while everyone is preparing to see William Pitt return to private life and the Prince of Wales become the master of the kingdom, Dr Willis officially announces George III’s convalescence.  This declaration suspends the third reading of the Regency Bill before the House of Lords, and Pitt, who visits the King this same day, judges him to be very well.  On 23 February, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York go in turn to Kew where the sovereign has accepted to receive them.  But they arrive two-and-a-half hours late, doubtless to upset the King’s nerves in advance, thereby hoping to cast doubt on his cure.  Their hopes are in vain.  The interview goes well.  George III is in a peaceful and debonnair mood, and declares with humour that he has perfected his Latin and leant to play cards.

Hardly back in London, the Princes hasten to affirm that their father’s mind is wandering.  They quote his most innocent words in proof, deforming their meaning.  But the crowd of courtiers who were gathering around them the preceding week, has considerably diminished, and few people believe their lies.  Deeply disappointed in their hopes, nothing is left for them but to drown their sorrows in alcohol and dissipation.  On 27 February 1789, the official health bulletins are abolished, by order of George III himself.  The King is officially cured, and the Regency Bill definitively abandoned.


To be continued.

The Opposition still nourishes the hope of seeing its champion, the Prince of Wales, receive full powers.  It is comforted in this opinion by the fact that the apparent improvement in the King’s health has only made worse the doctors’ quarrels.  Although Prime Minister William Pitt opposes it, the House of Commons decides, on 6 January 1789, to consult them again before pronouncing on the Regency problem.  Sir Lucas Peppys is the first to be questioned.  His hopes of seeing his patient cured one day have not disappeared in the least.  On 27 December, he had observed that George III was acting like a perfectly calm and reasonable person.  Despite an undeniable improvement, both his physical and mental states still remain very unstable, but he is convinced that he will one day become again totally and definitively master of himself.

Willis emits no doubt either about the possibility of curing George III.  His argument for this is a recent event which he is careful to make symbolic.  He indicates that George III’s visual faculties and his capacity for concentration have considerably improved in a very short lapse of time.  The King can now read several pages in one go, whereas, two weeks earlier, he couldn’t even read one line.  Richard Warren and Sir George Baker refuse to take these signs of remission into consideration.  They apply themselves to fustigating Willis and his methods.

In fact, each of the doctors remains faithful to his original convictions, and the Parliamentarians do not know much more about it than they did the previous month.  However, the doctors’ reports create a sensation because they have more than ever the value of a political stake.  They are not only published in the different Journals edited by the House of Commons, but also in the daily Press.  The public grabs them as if they were hot cakes.  To satisfy the demand, some publishing houses, who had not forseen such a success, are obliged to re-edit three times in a row.  Everyone interprets them in his own way, according to his political preferences, and they are used either to defend Willis’ methods, or to denounce his incompetence.

Soon, throughout the whole of England, these doctors are the only topic of conversation.  The fate of the entire nation seems to depend on them.  But, separated into rival factions, they are more than ever decided to disagree.  On the morning of 13 January, the King wakes after having slept for six hours non-stop.  To mention this progress in the official health bulletin, Willis proposes a firm but evocative formula:  “peaceful and uninterrupted sleep”.  Baker opposes this on the pretext that a page has informed him that he had seen the King turn over twice in his bed while he was sleeping.


While the doctors, and consequently the Parliamentarians, continue their quarrels, George III remains very unstable nervously.  The periods of calm are usually of very short duration and seem necessarily to engender even more violent temper tantrums.  There he is, calm, peaceful and sensible, and suddenly, he becomes wild and irascible.  When he is agitated like this, he again evokes Lady Pembroke’s charms, in the most trivial fashion.  He also talks a lot about Queen Charlotte, either with tenderness, or to heap blame on her for all his woes.  Then he passes from one subject to another without any coherence.  To quash his agitation, the Willises always use the straightjacket, usually successfully…  But constrained to calm, the King becomes conscious of his pitiful situation, and then begins pathetic lamentations.

On 16 January, with the aim of appeasing the humour which is upsetting his digestive system, he is made to swallow an acid preparation to make him vomit.  He becomes very sick, and this suffering, added to all the others, plunges him into deep despair.  He kneels against a chair and prays God to heal him immediately or take his life from him straight away.  The following day, he is again better.  His heartbeats are very regular and, for the first time in weeks, he has no abdominal pain.  So, he is exceptionally allowed to eat meat.  Since the beginning of the malady, originally interpreted as an attack of gout, he has been held to a particular, meatless diet.  In the evening, the Queen visits him, without him displaying any signs of agitation.  Shortly after her departure, he starts a game of cards with Sir Lucas Peppys and does nothing which does not seem perfectly rational.  Finally, he spends a peaceful night and plunges into sleep for seven hours.

But he is hardly awake than he displays terrible agitation.  Willis, himself, recognizes that he has never seen his patient in such a state.  Animated by uncontrollable fury, he brutally hits one of his assistants, before throwing a chair at a servant’s head, and soon attacks all those who attempt to control his anger.  The official health bulletin, read that same day before the House of Commons, will pudically announce:

“His Majesty was calm and serene all through yesterday.  He slept seven hours, but this morning, things took their usual course.”

On 19 January 1789, the royal patient’s nerves are not really calm.  However, Willis allows him to walk in the gardens of Kew.  Followed by a little troup of doctors, assistants and equerries.  George III goes to the great Chinese Pagoda.  This strange, colossal edifice, almost fifty metres high, had been erected in 1761 by the Scot, William Chambers.  Chambers had lived in the Orient for nine years and had contributed to spreading the fashion of “chinoiseries” throughout Europe.  The pagoda that he had imagined for the royal gardens has the shape of a tower, and no fewer than ten floors.  At the epoch, it is still possible to distinguish at each floor, the dragons holding the little bells that tinkle in the wind.

On this Winter day, in an English countryside, it is singularly unsettling to see this demented King, surging from the mist, followed by his own servants, attempting to penetrate this tower, so unusual by its style as well as its dimensions.  As he is stopped from entering it, he lies down on the grass and obstinately refuses to get up again.  The seven people who have accompanied him here are obliged to take turns carrying him back indoors.  Although his conduct is attributed to the fatigue caused by this walk in the cold, he is submitted to severe coercion until evening.

To be continued.

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.

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