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The Madness of King George: A Turning Point in Attitudes to Mental Disorder?

Topic 1 and we hit the deck running, as I want you not only to aim to get a rough grasp of responses to mental illness in Georgian England, particularly through exploring the case study of ‘psychiatry’s most famous patient’, George III, but also to think about the ways in which this might have been a turning point in shaping attitudes towards and the treatment of mental illness, as some historical work has suggested. Think about approaches to treatment (how was George III 'treated' and by whom?), who was in charge of care (can it be called ‘care’?), the role of medical practitioners, and broader responses to mental illness. The debate reopened a few years ago about whether George III was suffering from a metabolic disorder, porphyria, or from recurrent mania. This also opens up the theme of 'retrospective diagnosis' - can we really diagnose diseases in the past, especially mental disorder, and why would we want to do that? - and also highlights the very different approaches of psychiatrist-historians and historians of psychiatry. The film, The Madness of King George, is not only very watchable, but also a wonderful lead in to this topic. Roy Porter gives excellent, lively and beautifully written accounts of madness in the 18th century. Make sure you view the film and read Porter, and ideally one or two other readings! We will return to many of these questions in the coming weeks after you have done more reading - but do have a think about them at this stage.
  1. In what ways did George III's treatment at the hands of his doctors reflect the way madness was understood in Georgian England?
  2. Was the King's madness a turning point for 18th-century psychiatry?
  3. How far and in what ways did the treatment of the insane become more 'psychiatric' in the 18th century?
  4. How relevant and important is the debate about what King George III was actually suffering from?
The goddess Hygieia with a relief of George III, celebrating his recovery from the onset of illness in 1789, by James Parker
** FILM: The Madness of King George, directed by Nicholas Hytner, 1994 (106 minutes).
Copies of the film are available via Talis Aspire, from Amazon (cost around £4), and in the library. The screen play is also available in the library. There is also a great BBC Timewatch programme on George III (2017) (not much on his madness but excellent detail on his reign and the archive, on YouTube and a good deal of interest was triggered by the recent revival of the National Theatre production. So use some of your preparation time to see what extra material you can find on theatrical interpretations of George III's madness.
Read as many of the ** starred items (essential reading) as possible before the seminar (all available via Talis Aspire):
** Roy Porter, A Social History of Madness: Stories of the Insane (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987, 1996), ch. 3 ‘Madness and Power’. (available in paperback and a good book to buy for the course in general). Multiple copies in library and chapter scanned (course extracts HI383)
** Ida Macalpine and Richard Hunter, George III and the Mad-Business (Penguin edn, 1969; London: Pimlico, 1991), ch. 3 ‘Confinement at Kew’. Copies of book in library and chapter scanned
** Roy Porter, Mind-Forg’d Manacles: A History of Madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency (London: Athlone, 1987; Penguin edn, 1990), especially ch.4. Multiple copies in library and e-book

or Roy Porter, Madmen: A Social History of Madhouses, Mad-Doctors and Lunatics (Stroud: Tempus, 2004). (Available in paperback and either of these are recommended purchases)

* Timothy J. Peters and Allan Beveridge, 'The Madness of King George III: A Psychiatric Re-assessment', History of Psychiatry, 21 (2010), 20-37. e-journal

* Ida Macalpine, ‘George III’s Illness and its Impact on Psychiatry’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 58 (1965), 31-40. e-journal
M.T. Haslam, ‘The Willis Family and George III’, History of Psychiatry, 8 (1997), 539-53. e-journal
Michael MacDonald, ‘Lunatics and the State in Georgian England’, Social History of Medicine, 2 (1989), 299-319. e-journal
A lock of King George IIIs hair