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.