Charles James Fox: a Man for the People

By Loren Dudley Reid | Go to book overview

18
The King's Illness 1788-1789

That Charles Fox should pretend to principle is a phenomenon that will astonish every one who ever heard of him. His political conduct contains incontestable proofs of duplicity and inconsistency.

Anonymous pamphlet writer

As early as the spring of 1788 the health of the King had worried his physicians. Their usual regimen did not result in any improvement, so they persuaded him to visit Cheltenham, in Gloucestershire, to drink the mildly laxative waters of the springs there. This treatment he entered into with such enthusiasm that he drank bumpers-full of his prescription. As days went on he was seen doing all sorts of strange but harmless things: he ran a race with a horse, he led a small crowd in three cheers for Gloucestershire new bridge, he disobeyed orders to rest and instead went hunting for five hours, his physician later writing Pitt that his Majesty was 'in an Agitation of Spirits bordering on delerium'. The agitation and the delirium continued: he launched an embarrassing flirtation with an old flame, he carried on a conversation with an oak tree imagined to be the King of Prussia, he ate unwisely and exercised erratically, he displayed his backside to his attendants to prove that he did not have the gout.1

Back at Windsor in August, he still continued unwell. By the end of October, the Duchess of Devonshire recorded, the opposition had heard the first accounts of the seriousness of the King's illness, and on or about November 7, Fish Craufurd wrote her: 'The truth is, I believe, that the King is quite disordered in his mind.' The humour, he continued, had fallen upon the King's brain, and the prince had sent for Fox, a fact supposedly a deep secret but freely circulated at Brooks's.2 Newspapers began to print items about 'slight derangements . . . [that] have not excited much alarm'. The Times of November 10 still only hinted at the King's sickness, but reported that the opposition was worried about the absence of Fox and had sent two messengers after him, knowing only that he was somewhere in Italy, perhaps in

____________________
1
Georgiana's Diary, ii, 402. See also for other details of the King's illness, Charles Chenevix- Trench , The Royal Malady ( London, 1964).
2
Georgiana's Diary, ii, 402-3.

-233-

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