|George III, painting by Allan Ramsay|
Buckingham House was built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham, whose son sold it to King George III in 1762. King George (1738-1820) came to the throne on 25 October 1760, and after his purchase, the property became his new London residence, replacing the disdained St. James’ Palace. Shortly after, his Queen, the beautiful and cultivated Charlotte, moved in and Buckingham House became Buckingham Palace.
George was England’s first Hanoverian monarch and remained so for sixty years, a tumultuous reign steeped in political instability. It saw the end of the Seven Years War in 1763, the punishing taxation of the American colonies in 1765, the Boston Tea Party in 1773, swiftly followed by the American War of Independence which lasted from 1775-1783. Later in his reign came the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, in all a period of enormous change.
King George and Princess Charlotte – a meeting of minds
Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, a pretty girl of just eighteen, met King George on 8 September 1861, allegedly at around 3.00pm at St. James’ Palace. The young couple were immediately struck with each other and six hours later they crossed the road to the Chapel Royal and got married. Then, they actually fell in love and had fifteen children. Until the onset of George’s illness, it was a contented marriage. Their tastes were similar as they both loved the outdoors and a simple diet and the King earned the nickname, “Farmer George.”
Charlotte had a great interest in exotic animals and, in 1770 she had a pavilion built at the Botanical Gardens at Kew where guests could enjoy observing her special pets. Her prize possessions were some kangaroos from Botany Bay which she installed in a large paddock. George is said to have been faithful to Charlotte for all of his life.
Unfortunately, despite this promising start, George began to show signs of a strange illness, porphyria, suffering an attack in 1788, a few years before the outbreak of yet another war between England and France in 1793. Although we can now name this disease, it was neither named nor understood at the time. The illness is a hereditary condition due to a disease of the body’s metabolism, causing severe pain, delusions and mental confusion. Patients excrete a purple substance and the root of the word “porphyria” rests in the Greek word for the colour purple, “porphura.”
Troubled Queen Charlotte finds solace in food
George’s health deteriorated, as England struggled through the Napoleonic Wars. Charlotte, no doubt depressed and bewildered over her husband’s illness, lost her looks and her figure as she indulged in consuming enormous meals to comfort herself. She became impatient with George, and encouraged the misguided actions of his doctors. History is hard on her for this, but, of course, she had no idea why her husband was acting so strangely. Her gracious personality changed and she became increasingly demanding and unpleasant.
King George suffered further severe attacks in 1801 and 1804, then recovered for a few years, but finally relapsed into derangement in 1810/11. He was blind for the last years of his life. The tormented King was placed in the care of the Queen and a council of advisers, while the Prince of Wales became Regent of the United Kingdom and Ireland. Charlotte continued to visit her husband regularly, although he did not recognise her. Surprisingly, he outlived her; Queen Charlotte died in 1818, two years before her husband.
In 1820, after his father’s death, Farmer George’s son, George IV, commissioned architect John Nash, to improve the Palace. The work wasn’t completed until 1837. Further additions and changes were implemented by Queen Victoria and George V. The East Front, which is the part of the Palace viewed by the general public, was added between 1847 and 1853.
The Kings & Queens of England and Scotland, Plantagenet Somerset Fry, Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1990.
This Sceptred Isle, Christopher Lee, Penguin Books/BBC Books, 1997.
History of the World, The Last Five Hundred Years, Multiple contributors, specifically unnamed, General