Sunday, March 12, 2006

Insanity of George III - Sir Henry Halford and George IV

May 1832.—Sir Henry Halford gave us the other day some interesting particulars respecting the malady of George III. He says it is one of the characteristics of that species of insanity, that, about three months after the seizure, there is a great change for the better, which sometimes ends in recovery; in other cases, in a more violent return of malady. He says we shall probably hear of that change in poor Lord Dudley in about two months; whether it will be permanent or not, is more than any mortal can tell.

In the case of the King, this change took place in the month of February; it was not only that hopes were entertained, but many of the Council were of opinion that he was in full possession of his faculties. On one particular day they came out saying that he had spoken so collectedly — 1st, on the necessity of sending troops to America, of the persons to command, of the points to which the troops were to be sent; 2ndly, of the expediency of the appointment of a Vice-Chancellor, of the persons best fitted for the office,* &c. &c.—that they believed him quite restored and able to resume his power.

Lord Ellenborough used the words of Pilate: ' I find no fault at all in that just person.' Sir Henry said, this not being his own opinion, he felt his situation an extremely unpleasant one: well knowing the cunning of all mad persons, he was aware that nothing but extreme vigilance would enable them to detect the delusions if they still existed. One day when the King fancied himself surrounded by servants only, and when a medical attendant was watching unseen, he took a glass of wine and water and drank it to the health conjugis meae dilectissimce Elizabethae, meaning Lady Pembroke. Here was a delusion clearly established and noted down immediately: the use of Latin, which was not to be understood by those whom he supposed only to hear him, affording a singular proof of the odd cunning of insanity.

A few days after, Sir Henry was walking with him on the terrace; he began talking of the Lutheran religion, of its superiority to that of the Church of England, and ended with growing so vehement, that he really ranted forth its praises without mentioning that which Sir Henry believes to have been the real motive of this preference—the left-handed marriages allowed. He was very anxious to see whether traces of this delusion would appear again, and went to the Duke of York to ask for information as to the tenets, practices, &c. &c., of the Lutheran faith. The Duke said, ' Watch him in Passion-week; if he fancies himself a Lutheran, you will see an extraordinary degree of mortification and mourning,' &c. &c.

When Sir Henry returned to the assembled physicians he wrote down the substance of this conversation, and without communicating it to anybody, requested those present to seal the paper and keep it in a chest where their notes and other papers of importance are kept, under locks of which each had a separate key. When the Monday in Passion-week arrived, and Sir Henry had nearly forgotten this conversation, he went into the King's dressing-room while he was at his toilet, and found the attendants in amazement at his having called for and put on black stockings, black waistcoat and breeches, and a grey coat with black buttons.

It was curious to hear that his delusions assumed, like those of other madmen, the character of pride, and that a sovereign even fancied himself in a station more elevated than his own. He would sometimes fancy himself possessed of supernatural power, and when angry with any of the keepers stamp his foot, and say
he would send them down into hell.

It is always evident to me, that among all these royalties, among the three kings whom he has attended, Sir Henry's partiality is to the one who seems to me to deserve it least, to George IV. He gave us the following account of his first introduction to his intimacy. He had never attended the Prince, and barely knew him when the last malady of George III. Declared itself.

Sir Henry was aware that he was surrounded by spies from the Prince; that one whom ' we well knew and would little suspect,' was living at the Christopher, &c. &c. Anxious to stop this. Sir Henry went to the Prince and gave him the most detailed and most accurate statement of the situation of the King. The Prince expressed his gratitude, not unmixed with surprise at his candour. Sir Henry promised that henceforth he might depend upon always having from him the most accurate information, if he would only promise not to seek it from any other source.

The Prince gave the promise and (wonderful to say) kept it. Sir Henry then went to the Queen, and told her what he had done. She, with a tremendous frown, expressed great astonishment. Sir Henry stated the obvious reasons for the step he had taken ; she paused, her brow cleared : ' You are quite right. Sir; it is proper that the Prince of Wales should be informed.' From that moment, as he says, confidence and intimacy were renewed between mother and son.

At the period before mentioned, during the lucid intervals. Sir Henry describes himself as having had a very awkward subject to discuss with the King. The death of Princess Amelia was known to him.* Every day the attendants expected and dreaded questions as to her property, her will, &c.; the bequest of everything to General Fitzroy was a subject so very delicate to touch upon. The Queen dared not: Perceval and the Chancellor successively undertook the disclosure and shrunk from it, imposing it on Sir Henry.

Never, he says, can he forget the feelings with which, having requested some private conversation with the King after the other physicians were gone, he was called into a window with the light falling so full on his countenance that even the poor nearly blind King could see it. He asked whether it would be agreeable to him to hear now how Princess Amelia had disposed of her little property.

'Certainly, certainly, I want to know,' with great eagerness. Sir Henry reminded him at the beginning of his illness he had appointed Fitzroy to ride with her; how he had left him with her at Weymouth; how it was natural and proper that she should leave him some token for these services; that excepting jewels she had nothing to leave, and had bequeathed them all to him; that the Prince of Wales, thinking jewels a very inappropriate bequest for a man, had given Fitzroy a pecuniary compensation for them (his family, by-the-bye, always said it was very inadequate), and had distributed slight tokens to all the attendants and friends of the Princess, giving the bulk of the jewels to Princess Mary, her most constant and kindest of nurses. Upon this the poor King exclaimed, ' Quite right, just like the Prince of Wales;' and no more was said.

Sir Henry is apt to be the hero of his own stories, and to boast a degree of intimacy and confidence which I am sometimes inclined to doubt. The history of the change on the subject of the Catholic question is very curious, but I own I feel it rather difficult to believe that Sir Henry was admitted into a secret so closely kept. Be that as it may, his story is that, at the close of the session, the Duke of Wellington wrote to the King a letter, which he showed to Sir Henry, stating that he felt the time to be now arrived when the boon of emancipation could no longer be refused to Ireland; telling him that, if his objections remained insurmountable, he must abandon the stronghold of his faith. The Coronation Oath, which had been proved not to hold water as an argument, must not be brought forward again.

This letter, Sir Henry says, produced much and very painful cogitation, and agitation enough to have roused the King from his state of indolence to very deep thought. A second letter Sir Henry saw when the King was more inclined to concession, in which the Duke requested leave to impart his intentions to two cabinet ministers and to one or two of the bishops.

* This fixes the date. The first vice-chancellor was appointed early in 1813.
** She died on November 3, 1810. Her illness was the proximate cause of the return of the king's malady.


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