The Royal Malady: Some Aspects of the Regency Crisis, 1788-9

Charles Chevenix Trench describes how a political crisis of the first magnitude arose when George III succumbed to a psychotic disorder that baffled his physicians.

The regency crisis of 1788-9 neatly exemplifies the mechanics of eighteenth-century politics, especially the working of the reversionary factor.

The pattern of a Ministry that owed its strength to a middle-aged or ailing King, and an Opposition clustered round the Prince of Wales, had been interrupted in 1760 by the accession of a young, unmarried King.

“There is now,” observed an astute political operator, “no reversionary factor,” as startling a change as though the present Liberal and Labour Parties were simultaneously to succumb, leaving the field to the Tories.

The King promptly married and hastened to remedy the defect: but until the Prince of Wales grew up, there was no adult Heir Apparent to serve as a focus, leader and paymaster for the Opposition: and by the time His Royal Highness had attained the age of indiscretion, his father’s American policy had so divided the nation that an element of principle had been intruded into politics.

It could not survive there long. The end of the war restored politics to its familiar dependence on “men, not measures.”

Charles Fox, reverting as though by instinct to the tactics of a previous generation, relied not on storming Pitt’s Parliamentary stronghold, but on its inevitable weakening as the day of the Prince of Wales’s accession drew closer. His policy was reduced to:

Though matters at present go cross in the realm,

You will one day be King, sir, and I at the helm.

Then Thurlow and Pitt from their state we shall fling;

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