King and Queen of Hearts
Issue Date: May 8, 2009
City: Washington, DC
Although he lost the American colonies, England’s “mad” King George III inspired one of history’s best-known characters.
King George suffered from porphyria, a crippling disorder that is often accompanied by seizures, hallucinations, and paranoia. Little was known of the illness at the time, and George’s increasingly erratic behavior caused 18th-century tongues to wag.
Charles Lamb, who secretly battled mental illness himself, published The King and Queen of Hearts in 1805. Written in the style of a children’s nursery rhyme, the poem was actually a political satire mocking King George and his queen, Charlotte.
It’s unlikely the king was aware of the poem. George’s decline into madness was sealed by the 1810 death of his favorite daughter, Amelia, who died following her attack of St. Anthony’s fire (poisoning). Ironically, Lamb also succumbed to the painful disease in 1834.
The King and Queen of Hearts later appeared as characters in Lewis Carroll’s popular 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. One of its most avid fans was England’s Queen Victoria, the grand-niece of King George III. In spite of the inventor’s attempt at satire, the King and Queen of Hearts became synonymous with love during Victoria’s reign.