A diligent, serious king whose long reign was marred by mental illness
George III was the first truly British Hanoverian king. Ruling Britain was his first priority and he never visited Hanover. George III was a cultured family man, but from 1788, he endured severe periods of mental illness. He was treated at Kew but eventually was considered incurable and so lived in isolation at Windsor, leaving his son Prince George to serve as regent.
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’.
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 daughters and contributed to Britain losing the 13 North American colonies.
George III (1738-1820), Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) and their six eldest children, © Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
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 a 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’.
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 Johann Christian Bach to teach and play music. George played the flute and the harpsichord himself.
George commissioned many portraits from contemporary artists, including Johan Zoffany. He supported British manufacturers and made a point of visiting factories and speaking to workers. He also collected scientific instruments and even established his own observatory at Richmond in 1789, under the guidance of astronomer William Herschel.
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.
The exact nature of the King's mental illness is still disputed, though some experts believe he had bipolar disorder.
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 today as the Royal Kitchens at Kew.
The Silver Scullery with King George III's tin bath in the Royal Kitchens at Kew Palace.
The most intimate of our six royal palaces, Kew was built as a private house in 1631 and used by the royal family between 1729 and 1818. These gifts and souvenirs are all inspired by Kew Palace.
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