George III: A New Diagnosis

Recent research by medical scientists and historians suggests that George III had manic depression rather than porphyria. Scholars will need to take a fresh look at his reign, writes Timothy Peters.

In the mid-1960s Ida Macalpine and her son Richard Hunter, both psychiatrists and amateur historians, published a series of papers followed up by a bestselling book, George III and the Mad-Business, which argued that George III was not mad as was once thought. Instead, they claimed that George suffered from the inherited metabolic disease, acute intermittent porphyria, a diagnosis they later amended to the milder, though even rarer disorder, variegate porphyria. In spite of considerable criticism by porphyria experts based on their clinical experience, the claims of Macalpine and Hunter have been widely accepted by historians and were popularised by Alan Bennett's successful 1994 play and subsequent film, The Madness of King George.

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