George III

A diligent, serious king whose long reign was marred by mental illness

A diligent, serious king whose long reign was marred by mental illness

‘Mad’ King George

George III was the first truly British Hanoverian. Ruling Britain was his first priority and he never visited Hanover. 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

 

Farmer George

The King was keen on agriculture. He gave over land at Windsor to farming, hence his nickname ‘Farmer George’.

George III (1738-1820), Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) and their Six Eldest Children

What kind of ruler?

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.

George III (1738-1820), Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) and their six eldest children, © Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

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

Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Briton

George III

Princess Elizabeth's Bedroom, looking north west. The room is decorated in turquoise and gold.

Dominating dad

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

A portrait of King George III and Queen Charlotte, depicted as a farmer and his wife

A cultured king

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 himself.

George commissioned many portraits from contemporary artists, including 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.

Image: A portrait of King George III and Queen Charlotte, depicted as a farmer and his wife

The 'Dutch' House

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. 

Did you know?

The King's mental illness began in 1788, with episodes of strange behaviour and violent mania.

The Royal Kitchens. The Silver Scullery with King George III's tin bath

The King at Kew

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.

Image: The Silver Scullery with King George III's tin bath in the Royal Kitchens at Kew Palace. 

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Recreated using Madame Tussaud’s original mould, this glorious full colour bust of George III can be seen at Kew Palace.

Open daily

Things to see
A Georgian cook in red and white overalls prepares food in the Royal Kitchens at Kew Palace

Get a fascinating insight into Georgian life at Kew Palace in the Royal Kitchens, preserved as they were in 1818.

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Highlights
Princess Elizabeth's bed alcove with a reconstruction of her bed in gold and red fabric, in her bedroom at Kew Palace

Wander the intimate bedrooms of Princesses Elizabeth, Augusta and Amelia, daughters of George III, at Kew Palace.

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Descriptive, informative, authoritative - a superb guide to your visit to Kew Palace.

Official Kew Palace guidebook

Descriptive, informative, authoritative - a superb guide to your visit to Kew Palace.

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The history of Kew Palace, Britain's smallest royal palace, which became the retreat of King George III and Queen Charlotte.

The official illustrated history of Kew Palace

The official illustrated history of Kew Palace

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