The Georges

Most people have forgotten the Three Georges who shaped western history so intently… George I, George II, and George III.  Sometimes I feel sorry for the Georges.  George I accidentally made the prime minister position of England powerful, George II had a mediocre reign and is on the list mostly because George III is his son, and George III lost the American Colonies in the American Revolution.  

George I started the Hanovarian Dynasty in Great Britain in the 1700s.  He was born in the Holy Roman Empire county of Hannover Prussia, he spoke German (this is important).  He was the great grandson of James I a Stuart king.  George became king after Queen Anne died heirless.  Despite becoming King of Great Britain, he refused to learn English.  Or couldn’t learn English, although one suspects it was a refusal since he was living there part time.

George I much preferred his native land to England and split his time between the two countries.  His desire to not be in Great Britain and not learn English is why the office of prime minister took on a role of such importance.  Sir Robert Walpole was considered to be Prime Minister during this time, a position that was all title and no power. Walpole and his cronies wrote a document giving the prime Minister power in the King’s absence and George I who believed in Divine Right Kingship (a monarchical system that does not have a lot of checks on a king’s power) signed the document because he didn’t know what it said and this wasn’t a time of interpreters in government.  And so unbeknownst to him, George I limited the power of the monarchy by accident.

George II was more versed in English than his father, having spent much of his life there.  He was George I’s only son.  However, he like his father, spent a lot of time in Prussia.  And relied on Walpole to run the country in his absence.  Even if George I had not given Walpole power, George II probably would have.  George II’s biggest claim to fame was he was the last English king to physically lead an army into battle.  One political group attempted to instill Prince Charles Edward Stuart back to the throne (aka Bonnie Prince Charlie).  George II’s army gave the army of Charles Edward Stuart a sound routing at the battle of Culloden Moor (there is a great folk song about it called Culloden’s Harvest).  Prince Charles escaped the battle, returning to France.

George II was succeeded by George III.  Poor George.  George III was the first of the George’s to be born in England.  He was also the first whose education was decidedly English.  And there was something seriously wrong with George III.  This would be Mad King George for the record.  He didn’t show signs of madness during childhood or his teens, but began to go funny in his very early twenties.  There are several theories about what was wrong with George III and schizophrenia has been put forward a number of times.  But in the 1960s, a medical doctor looking through the diary and papers of the royal physician who attended George III found a notation that George’s urine was often purple.  This is a rather uncommon symptom and a serious one that is associated with only a couple of diseases.  The primary one being porphyria.  Porphyria is a genetic condition where the body metabolizes hemoglobin weirdly.  There is some indications that porphyria is one of the driving forces behind myths of vampirism.  Porphyria can turn urine purple because of the way it expels metabolized hemoglobin (red blood cells).

Unfortunately, during George III’s lifetime, there was no treatment for porphyria and it often caused facial deformities and a plethora of health problems, including manifesting symptoms of mental health issues as well as physical ones.  George III was a patron of the arts and set aside stipends for authors as well as painters and it is under George III that some of the biggest names in English literature come out Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Austen to name a few.  

When the uprising began in the American colonies, George III who always seemed to mean well, botched his handling of the affair, mostly because he was in one of his “mad periods” porphyria symptoms tend to come and go unlike most diseases where purple urine is a symptom.  Sadly, despite the good things George III did for Britain, he will always be remembered as the King who lost the American colonies because of madness.

There was a George IV, but his biggest claim to fame was his scandalous love life, which is saying something given that monarchs have a long debauched history.

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