Kew Palace is now closed for the winter months - re-opening on 29 March 2018.
A diligent, serious king whose long reign was marred by mental illness
George III was a cultured family man, but from 1788 he endured severe period of illness . He was treated at Kew but eventually was considered incurable and so lived in isolation at Windsor.These finally reduced him to a blind, insane old man.
Header image: George III (detail), Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
The King was keen on agriculture. He gave over land at Windsor to farming, hence his nickname ‘Farmer George’.
George III was the first truly British Hanoverian. Ruling Britain was his first priority and he never visited Hanover. As both a parent and a sovereign, he was well intentioned, but over-controlling. George was father to a large family; he also considered himself father to the nation of Great Britain and her colonies. Like many fond parents, he was sometime reluctant to let his children or the countries under his rule develop independently. This caused problems with his sons and daughter and contributed to Britain losing the 13 North American colonies.
Unlike his grandfather George II, the King had no mistresses and was devoted to his wife Charlotte. He took great pains to ensure that all his children were well educated, but he just could not let go. His rigid control had disastrous effect, particularly on his eldest son and heir. Reluctant to let his beloved younger daughters marry and leave him, he installed them at Kew Palace where they languished in semi-isolation, in what they miserably called ‘The Nunnery’.
Image: Princess Elizabeth's Bedroom, Kew Palace
George was passionate about music, the arts, science and agriculture. The King regularly attended concerts, he revered Handel and hired J C Bach to teach and play music. George played the flute and the harpsichord. He commissioned many portraits from contemporary artists, including Zoffany. He supported British manufacturers and made a point of visiting factories and speaking to workers. He collected scientific instrument and even established his own observatory at Richmond in 1789, under the guidance of astronomer William Herschel.
Image: A portrait of King George III and Queen Charlotte, depicted as a farmer and his wife
George III detested Kensington Palace, which reminded him of his grandfather George II. His preferred palaces included Kew, which incorporated the small ‘Dutch’ House, the building today known as Kew Palace. He and some of his large family spent many happy summers here, living in relatively domestic simplicity. However, the King’s early affection for Kew was overshadowed by his incarceration at the palace during his bouts of mental illness. These began in 1788, with episodes of strange behaviour and violent mania. In 1789, as the French revolution raged, rumours began to spread about his illness. The King was spirited away to the privacy of Kew so as not to disconcert an anxious public. He was subjected to a number of treatments that seem barbaric to us, including restraint in a straitjacket and freezing cold baths in a separate building known as the Royal Kitchens at Kew
Recreated using Madame Tussaud’s original mould, this glorious full colour bust of George III can be seen on display at Kew Palace.
Open daily from 29 March
Unused from Queen Charlotte’s death in 1818 through to their recent restoration, the Royal Kitchens offer a fascinating insight into Georgian life at Kew Palace.
Open daily from 29 March