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Georgian Papers Programme launches virtual exhibition exploring the 'madness' of George III

What can we learn from King George III’s illness about our understanding of mental health? The Georgian Papers Programme hosted a remarkable panel of experts at King’s for a discussion on mental health in the Georgian world.

From left: Professor Barbara Taylor, Dr Michael Brown, Professor Arthur Burns, Mark Gatiss, Adam Penford and Professor Karin Wulf,
From left: Professor Barbara Taylor, Dr Michael Brown, Professor Arthur Burns, Mark Gatiss, Adam Penford and Professor Karin Wulf

In collaboration with the Georgian Papers Programme (GPP), King’s College London was delighted to welcome a panel of experts on 5 November for a discussion on mental health in the Georgian world. The event entitled 'Mental Health and the Georgian World: The ‘Madness’ of George III', shed light on King George III’s long struggle with mental illness, and the efforts of his family, court and doctors to manage and treat his psychological state of mind.

The event brought together a panel of different perspectives from the Royal Archives, medical field, historians, performers and directors, all connected in their study of George III.

Panellists included Sir Simon Wessely (Professor of Psychological Medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s) who previously wrote about George III’s illness, Mark Gatiss (portrayed George III at the Nottingham Playhouse production in 2018), Adam Penford (artistic director of the Nottingham Playhouse production), Barbara Taylor (Professor of Humanities at Queen Mary University of London) and Michael Brown (Reader in History at Roehampton University).

Panellists were invited by Arthur Burns who is Professor of Modern History at King’s and academic director of the GPP, alongside Karin Wulf, North American academic director of the GPP and Executive Director of the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture. Together they opened the discussion to themes surrounding religion, mental health, and gender during the Georgian period, as well as, addressing the award-winning production of Alan Bennett’s play, The Madness of George III  at Nottingham Playhouse. 

Mark Gatiss discusses his performance of George III and his journey into 'madness' during the Nottingham Playhouse production in 2018 with Barbara Taylor.
As an actor it was very interesting to draw from the palette of different illnesses. George III as a person has been on an extraordinary journey of self-awareness. – Mark Gatiss on his portrayal of George III at Nottingham Playhouse in 2018

The event marked five years of the GPP, which returned to mental health as an example to highlight the contemporary relevance of the papers as mental health is discussed with a new openness.

To complement this, the GPP similarly made important medical papers, held in the Royal Archives, publicly available for the first time in a virtual exhibition called George III: The Eighteenth Century’s Most Prominent Mental Health Patient. The exhibition by Arthur Burns and Karin Wulf features reports written by the doctors who treated George III and handwritten letters by Queen Charlotte, and is designed to provoke further reflection on the ‘madness’ of the King.

The programme’s most striking ability is to make connections with the outside world. – Professor Arthur Burns, academic director of the Georgian Papers Programme

About the Georgian Papers Programme

The Georgian Papers Programme is a partnership between the Royal Collection Trust and King’s College London and is joined by primary United States partners the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture and William & Mary. Other key U.S. institutions participating in the GPP include the Library of Congress, Mount Vernon and the Sons of the American Revolution.

The GPP is a 10-year interdisciplinary project to digitise, conserve, catalogue, transcribe, interpret and disseminate 425,000 pages in the Royal Archives and Royal Library relating to the Georgian period, 1714-1837. The ultimate goal of the Programme is to provide a unique digital resource that is both accessible to members of the public and capable of sophisticated manipulation by researchers in any discipline and to offer academic and public programming representing fresh research and interpretation.

In this story

Arthur Burns

Arthur Burns

Professor of Modern British History

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