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May 3, 1965

The Royal Malady

JAMA. 1965;192(5):428. doi:10.1001/jama.1965.03080180086047

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Even today the most serious consequences can result when a head of government becomes ill. However bad such disturbances can be in the 20th century, they were far more severe in the days when monarchs exerted greater power. In late-18th-century England the British government was in a period of evolution, wherein the role of a ministry was becoming more clearly worked out and the relations of the ministry, parliament, and the king were becoming better defined.

Factions abounded. King George III and his heir apparent were bitterly hostile, and different political parties aligned with one or the other. And in 1788 George III became ill, the victim of what we today would call manic depressive psychosis.

The disease developed gradually. The responsibility of the royal physicians was heavy. Would the king regain his sanity? Should he be declared incompetent and a regent appointed? The political significance was exciting, the legal

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