George III: The Mind Behind The Myth

A wax bust depicting King George III in military uniform. The King wears a white period-style wig and is placed in front of a brown, linenfold panelled wall

Opens June 2021

2020 marked the bicentenary of the death of George III, the monarch most strongly associated with Kew. It was here that the young George spent much of his childhood, learning the art of kingship under the tutelage of some of the most celebrated theologians, architects and musicians of the day.

In adulthood, he supported the development of the botanic gardens we know today, and this peaceful riverside royal estate became a beloved summer home for his ever-expanding family.

In later life, it was also at Kew that George was treated for periods of mental and physical ill health, resulting in his life and achievements being almost entirely eclipsed by the story of his still poorly understood 'madness'.

King George III's waistcoat (back), made in 1819. This waistcoat was probably one of the last items of clothing the King wore before his death in January 1820

To celebrate the achievements of this remarkable King — and explore his often cruel treatment at the hands of his doctors at Kew — a new display for 2021, postponed from 2020, will consider the real man behind the much-peddled myth.

Bringing together objects which reveal his diverse interests, from his world-famous library to his fascination with the natural world, the exhibition aims to challenge what we think we know about this complex and brilliant man.

Among the items on display will be notes made by George's doctors and instructions for the King's care written by his daughter, Princess Mary.

These will be contrasted with examples of the exquisite artworks he acquired for the Royal Collection and even a concert programme in his own hand, revealing his lesser-known passion for the arts.

Image: King George III's waistcoat, made in 1819. This waistcoat was probably one of the last items of clothing the King wore before his death in January 1820

Today, two centuries on from George’s death, male mental health is still something of a taboo subject. King George III ended his life in secluded isolation at Windsor — but attitudes are changing, and increasingly conversations about male mental health are taking place in the open, with men being encouraged to share their experiences and stories.

To provide a forum for discussion of contemporary views on mental ill health, Historic Royal Palaces has partnered with community groups local to Kew on a project to interpret a selection of the items on display, reflecting on how what we know about George's ill health speaks to men's lived experiences in 21st-century London.

With one in four people in the UK affected by mental illness during their lifetime, Historic Royal Palaces hopes that this exploration of this extraordinary king will contribute to a national conversation around male mental health.

See Kew ticket information

As part of Historic Royal Palaces' plans to commemorate the life of George III, up to 15 objects submitted by members of the public will form a special display on the top floor of Kew Palace, as a means for inspiring thought, discussion and reflection on how we think and talk about mental health today. This is evermore important after the COVID pandemic which has had such a wide impact on everyone.

Help change how people think and talk about mental health

This new interpretation of George's former retreat will explore how personal objects can help us articulate and process difficult thoughts and feelings, as well as how they might support recovery, reduce isolation or encourage conversation.

This special display will complement an exhibition on the ground floor of Kew Palace entitled George III: The Mind Behind the Myth — which considers the real man behind the story of the 'madness of King George'.

Object selection

The deadline for submitting stories and objects for this exhibition has passed (1 December 2019).

Thank you to everyone who sent us their story and proposed an object that speaks to their own mental health journey. 

For any queries regarding this exhibition, please contact [email protected]

Images: Objects submitted by members of the public on display. © Historic Royal Palaces/Richard Lea-Hair

Photograph of object in exhibition
Object inside the exhibition
Object inside the exhibition
Object inside the exhibition