Bridgerton fans were in for a treat when Netflix dropped the series' prequel, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, this spring. And it definitely lived up to thy hype, bringing all the love, drama, and beautiful Regency-era ballgowns back in full force. Plus, it delves into the fascinating and complicated life of spunky Queen Charlotte, and her sweet love story with her husband, King George.
The prequel spinoff to the original Bridgerton series also takes viewers on a journey into King George's personal life, who, as everyone already knows from the original series, struggles with his mental health.
This time around, viewers see more of that struggle: George is a charming, handsome, young king who works hard to win over his future wife, but just when they seem to start connecting, he disappears on their wedding night, leaving poor Charlotte alone—and seriously confused.
Naturally, Charlotte keeps asking what’s going on, and what she's done to make him avoid her presence, but she doesn’t get a direct answer. At one point, Charlotte even discovers that George has been sleeping and eating in his stargazing observatory. In response to her questions, he tells her that it is “better for her” if they live in separate homes.
So…what’s really going on with King George? Here’s what to know about the real King George III, whom this character is based on, and his mental health struggles:
What is wrong with King George?
Let’s back up a second. First, there's nothing "wrong" with George.
Historians know that George struggled with his mental health throughout his life, which is a nuanced and complicated topic. But it’s incredibly common for people to struggle with their mental health on some level. In fact, the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that more than one in five adults in the U.S. has some sort of mental illness.
Of course, in 2023, mental health issues can be properly diagnosed and treated—but that wasn’t the case when Queen Charlotte and King George were coming along.
So once again, there's nothing "wrong" with him. George is actually pretty great. He’s just unlucky enough to struggle with a mental health issue at a time when they weren’t properly recognized and treated, making it difficult for him to function the way people expected him to at times.
What might he have been diagnosed with today?
It’s difficult to say for sure what doctors would have diagnosed King George with today. The real King George III, famously known for being “mad," may have struggled with bipolar disorder, according to more recent research. For the study, researchers programmed a computer to “read” George’s letters throughout his reign, which spanned from 1760 to 1820. They found that the king suffered from “acute mania,” which could be a signal of the manic phase of bipolar disorder I.
Historians also know that King George starting showing depression and mania symptoms in 1765, at the age of 27, according to a medical journal article.
Other researchers have suggested that he struggled with dementia toward the end of his life. Vogue reported that by 1811, one of his physicians, Robert Willis, explained that the King was "sometimes in a state of delirium, sometimes strongly impressed by false images, neither of which states has characterised this day so much as a degree of irritability, which could only be met by coercion, and which was only varied by occasional exclamations and noises without meaning."
What is porphyria?
The real King George’s erratic behavior has been chalked up to porphyria, a group of rare disorders that "result from a buildup of natural chemicals called porphyrins in the body," per the Mayo Clinic. This condition can cause toxicity to nerves and the brain. However, the bipolar disorder I theory has been more common over the past few years.
King George pulled away from his life during mental health episodes.
King George struggled with an illness in 1788 that caused his behavior to spiral out of control, according to History. He suffered from hallucinations, spoke gibberish, made inappropriate advances toward women, and had violent convulsions that were so bad that servants had to pin him to the ground to keep him from injuring himself.
History also cites observations from a visitor who saw George bury a steak on castle grounds with the thought that it would grow into a beef tree and trying to shake hands with an oak tree that he thought was the King of Prussia.
George was moved from Windsor Palace to Kew Palace, where he was subjected to a slew of harsh treatments. Queen Charlotte viewers will recognize the name "Kew Palace" as the very same location George escapes to on his wedding night after marrying Charlotte. (This is also where she finds him in his observatory).
His son became regent while he was ill.
George’s son, George IV, was appointed Prince Regent to rule in his father’s place when he was too sick to rule.
George IV was 48 when he became Regent in 1811, and he officially ascended the throne in 1820, according to the royal family’s official website. Fun fact: George secretly (and illegally) married a Roman Catholic woman, Mrs Fitzherbert, in 1785.
How did King George die?
George eventually died after 60 years on the throne at Windsor Castle. At the time, he was blind and his "mental powers [had] deserted him," per the Royal Family website.
While the real king's story is a sad one, I am excited to watch the fictional Charlotte and George enjoy some happy times together and fall in love in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, streaming now on Netflix.
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