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 03 April 2020

2020 marks 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 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.

Image: Engraving of King George III standing in Windsor uniform with the sash and star of the Order of the Garter, 1790

See Kew ticket information

Share your mental health story

You are invited to share personal objects that symbolise your mental health journey in a new display at Kew Palace.

As part of Historic Royal Palaces' plans to commemorate the life of George III in 2020, 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.

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'.

Examples

  • George III loved music, both as a patron and accomplished player. During his periods of illness, he often played his flute, which his doctors and family took as a sign of his recovery. The elegant flute — lovingly preserved — will be on display in the exhibition, alongside an exploration of the positive benefits of music.
  • George III's recovery from mental ill health was widely celebrated. Commemorative souvenirs commissioned to mark the occasion will be on display, showing the public recognition and support for his recovery.

Object selection

Objects and stories will be selected by a team of staff and volunteers at Historic Royal Palaces — the independent charity that looks after Kew Palace — who are working in collaboration with local mental health partners to reinterpret Kew Palace's history and stories in 2020.

Due to space constraints, not all objects will be included in the physical display. However, we are considering ways to share as many objects and stories as possible digitally.

An engraving of King George III standing in Windsor uniform with the sash and star of the Order of the Garter, a sword at side and holding a tricorne hat in his hand

To find items to include in the display, Historic Royal Palaces is calling on people to contribute objects that speak to their own mental health journey. To submit your story for consideration, please fill in the form below by 01 December 2019. Our team may then contact you for more information and an image of your object.

Object restrictions

There are restrictions on size, weight and material of object due to limitations of the historic environment and space:

  • No objects larger than A3 (29.7 x 42.0 cm) or higher than A3
  • No objects heavier than 5 kg (11 lbs)
  • No objects that consist of wool, silk or fur
  • Contributions from the UK only

Terms and conditions

  • Do not include any graphic or medical information in your narrative.
  • Historic Royal Palaces are seeking up to 15 objects. Objects will be selected based on narrative, diversity of object type and conservation restrictions.
  • We will only accept contributions from the UK.
  • Loaned objects will need to be frozen prior to exhibition for conservation reasons.
  • Objects are for short-term loans only. Historic Royal Palaces will not accept objects as donations to our permanent collection. Objects will be displayed only within the context of the exhibition.
  • Lenders must agree that objects will be on display at Kew Palace for six months. The loan term will exceed this to include installation and de-installation of the exhibition.
  • Only lender’s first names will be shared in the public domain, alongside their narrative and object. This information will only be used by Historic Royal Palaces in the context of this exhibition.
  • The limitations of the historic environment mean Historic Royal Palaces are unable to accept objects that are over size and weight limits and/or made of specific materials. Object restrictions:
    • No objects larger than A3 (29.7 x 42.0 cm) or higher than A3
    • No objects heavier than 5 kg (11 lbs)
    • No objects that consist of wool, silk or fur

Consent to share information

By submitting your information, you consent to the following terms:

  • You agree that Historic Royal Palaces is permitted to share your narrative and object for display in Kew Palace from 03 April to 01 October 2020.
  • You agree for your narrative to be used by Historic Royal Palaces in a collage display, social media or film relating to the Kew Palace 2020 exhibition, regardless of whether your object is used for the exhibition. You give your consent to this indefinitely.
  • You agree for Historic Royal Palaces to store your contact details and information until 01 March 2021 with the understanding that all contact will only be in relation to the Kew Palace 2020 exhibition and evaluation.

For any questions relating to the exhibition, conservation or display of your object, please email [email protected].