Today’s Mad Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
King George III of England (1738-1820) suffered from bouts of mental illness throughout his life. The first serious attack of mental illness – and the events covered by the film The Madness of King George – began in 1788 and lasted just a few months. In June 1788 the King had what his doctor called “a smart bilious attack,” and was sent to take the waters at Cheltenham. He returned to Windsor four weeks later apparently cured. Three months later, however, during the evening of October 17, the King fell ill with violent stomach cramps and complained of respiratory problems. His condition alarmed everyone who saw him. The veins in his face stood out; he became delirious and he foamed at the mouth. It is said that the King’s old friends rallied around him with an astonishing display of loyalty by pretending to be mad themselves. The regular court physician, Dr. Baker, reported that the King’s condition was deteriorating quickly. His speech became rapid and agitated, and he babbled feverishly and continuously. He became violent and abusive toward his family and his courtiers, and was generally “quite unlike his normal self.” At one point he lapsed into a coma and appeared to be near death.
At first it was thought that the King was suffering from “flying gout” – the Georgian medical profession’s stock-in-trade diagnosis for anything they couldn’t explain, which covered pretty much everything. This mysterious affliction was thought to be relatively harmless unless one was unfortunate enough to get it in one’s head. The king’s flying gout, it was asserted, had originated in his feet but had traveled to his brain and become somehow stuck there. The answer was to apply blisters to the royal head to drive the gout back down again. When it became all too obvious that this was a painful waste of time, Dr. Baker administered large drafts of opium to his patient, but was otherwise completely baffled by the King’s illness and at a complete loss what to do about it.
Six more doctors were called in to the King, none of them any wiser than the last, but each hoping to profit by finding a fluke cure for the royal affliction. They bickered among themselves, placed his head on a pillow made from a bag of warm hops, put leeches on his temples, gave him large doses of James’s Powder to make him sweat, and stuck his feet in red-hot water to draw out the “humor.” Eventually the only thing that everyone could agree on was that the King was suffering from temporary insanity. Finally and very reluctantly, they agreed to stand aside and let a so-called expert on the treatment of the mentally ill have a go. Enter the Willises of Wapping.
The Willises had at their disposal a complete, in-depth, contemporary understanding of how to treat the mentally ill. That is, they hadn’t a clue either. Willis Senior confidently asserted that the King’s illness was the result of “severe exercise, weighty business, severe abstemiousness and too little rest” and set about preparing his cure. The King, who had no idea what was coming to him, was at first quite relaxed about the arrival of Willis and in his lucid intervals was even able to joke with him about his treatment. The King even dubbed the dreadful iron contraption which Willis forced him into every day as his “new coronation chair.”
The royal knockabout banter didn’t last. The Willises’ state-of-the-art equipment for the treatment of mental illness comprised a straitjacket, iron clamps, a chair and a length of rope. Additional treatment was in accordance with conventional guidelines: frequent bleedings, forced vomiting, a starvation diet, salivations, and afterward a cold bath. To divert “morbid humors” from the King’s head they applied blisters – various types of irritants – to the skin on his legs. These humors were supposed to be drawn through the serum of the blisters and through the pus that formed as they became infected, thus creating running sores that lasted for weeks. For the final eight years of the King’s life, his medical bill was a staggering £271,000.
The old King spent the last eight or nine years of his life blind and deaf, alone in the north side of Windsor Castle. He lived in complete silence, white-haired and bearded, now and then picking at his harpsichord, or talking to dead friends, or occasionally indecently exposing himself to his servants.
From the Some People Have All The Luck Department
A friend of a Facebook friend’s dog found this on a walk. What a good dog! (The police found the rest of the remains and are investigating.) (Thanks to Dena for letting me share these pics.)