Regency Royals

Regency Royals


During this past year, I have made greater use of my Netflix account. This is not an admission I make with pride. In fact, there have been times I have found myself scraping the bottom of the entertainment barrel—yes, Tiger King, I’m looking at you. Considering my copious amounts of digital consumption, it should come as no surprise that any show within five feet of the historical fiction genre has made it onto my radar. Some of these have been fantastic and others have been a bit salacious, but I have diligently devoured them all with abandon. So… judge me if you must, but I fall within the group that has watched Bridgerton. Worse yet, I will very likely watch the second season. (She releases a heavy sigh—happy to get that confession off her chest.)

Now, I’m not going to try to argue the merits of the show or quibble over any possible inaccuracies. Instead, I mention this only to explain how it was that I found myself reading more about Queen Charlotte and King George. I can’t seem to help myself. If I watch a show that uses a historical figure as the basis for a character, I find myself going down the rabbit hole reading all I can find about the real-life individuals.

After learning more about this couple, two things struck me as interesting. The first appeals to my romantic nature. Since their marriage wasn’t built on what I consider a strong foundation, I was surprised to learn that King George and Queen Charlotte fell deeply in love. George selected his seventeen-year-old bride “because she was from a twee north German duchy that had very little political importance, and she would most likely have no experience or interest in power politics or party intrigues.” They married on the day she arrived in London, less than six hours after first meeting. By many accounts she was not considered attractive, and famously he later went mad, but they overcame these impediments and remained committed and in love for 57 years of marriage.

(Beauty is subjective, but maybe her critics were a touch harsh? They say she was painted to embellish her best features so this might be a flattering image. I love the bracelet of George she wears.)

The second is an intriguing mystery. I’ve often wondered about George’s madness. The term is so vague and the standards of the day were different than they are now. I had to wonder—if an overly dramatic woman could be called “hysterical” and get labeled as “mad”, could politics have played into George’s diagnosis? In this case, probably not. The King’s symptoms suggest there was something legitimately wrong with him. There are two main theories as to the cause. The first is that he had porphyria. This is an inherited blood disorder where naturally occurring chemicals accumulate in the blood. This build-up can lead to anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, confusion, paranoia, and hallucinations. George was exposed to arsenic—first in the powders used in his wigs and later in medicines used to treat his madness. Arsenic poisoning would have made the effects of porphyria worse. The second theory is that George had bipolar disorder. Analysis of his writings indicates his use of language varied significantly during periods he was deemed “mad” suggesting he may have been experiencing a manic phase during these periods. In addition to anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, and paranoia, such manic phases can sometimes also cause hallucinations or delusions. While the cause of his condition has yet to be settled, what is known is that George was an accomplished and intelligent leader in his younger years. Unfortunately, he isn’t remembered for his accomplishments.

10 Responses to Regency Royals

  1. I often do the same thing of looking up the real story behind historical figures I come across in shows/movies I watch. Thanks for sharing.

    • Isn’t it fascinating? I tend to watch a lot of crime documentaries (like The Serpent). Sometime I get nervous someone will scan my search history and assume I’m some sort of psycho since I end up following up on these crimes to find fact from fiction. But it is interesting watching detectives piece things together.

  2. Fascinating post. I love the photos you chose to share with us. Blessings, stay safe, and healthy.

  3. I haven’t read all the history of George III, but what little I’ve read seems to picture him as a devoted husband and father. Wikipedia has a lot of information concerning his history, but the following impressed me, and I’ve wondered if it was a major contributor to his madness in later years.
    “In late 1810, at the height of his popularity, already virtually blind with cataracts and in pain from rheumatism, George III became dangerously ill. In his view the malady had been triggered by stress over the death of his youngest and favourite daughter, Princess Amelia. The Princess’s nurse reported that “the scenes of distress and crying every day … were melancholy beyond description.” He accepted the need for the Regency Act 1811, and the Prince of Wales acted as Regent for the remainder of George III’s life. Despite signs of a recovery in May 1811, by the end of the year George had become permanently insane and lived in seclusion at Windsor Castle until his death.” Prior to this he lost two young sons: one who was four years of age and one who was just shy of two years. In fact, losing three of his children may have been contributing factors that may have gradually brought on his madness or at the least exacerbated it if he shouldered some of the blame.

    • Losing children was so common back then. We are very lucky to be living in a time with antibiotics and other medical advancements. It has significantly reduced human suffering. I’ve heard the pain of losing children is unimaginable, and going blind in the 1800s would be rather limiting. I love the beauty of the Regency Era, but I feel blessed not to need to live it.

  4. I’m always intrigued when scientists attempt to diagnose historical people’s illnesses based on the bits of evidence left to us. I had heard George had Porphyria, but now I’m curious about the bipolar idea. Thanks for a fascinating post.

    • Historical forensics is fascinating, isn’t it. There are these documentaries where they try to figure out how ancient things were built using the technologies in place at the time. So often they identify problems I never even considered. Thank you for the comment!

  5. Nice post! Poor King George he should be remembered for his accomplishments. Unfortunately everything is looked at when it comes to royals.

    • You are so right. I can’t even imagine how it would feel to be born into a fishbowl, and then have history judge me. It’s so scandalous to gossip about the crazy King who lost America, it’s almost inevitable that would be the part of his life most remembered. I’m glad I get to die and fade into obscurity. I never understood Achilles choosing the fame/ death route. As a shy hermit, those are two strikes against that particular route.

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