The Mad King
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King George stampKing George the Third of England is most remembered as the king during the American Revolution. But he’s also known as the mad king. A variety of theories were used to explain his bizarre behavior, but a new analysis confirms he did suffer from a mental illness.

The King’s symptoms included agitation, incoherent speech, episodes of violence and sexual impropriety. When the science of psychiatry was developed, they speculated he suffered from manic depressive psychosis. That was dismissed and another theory became widely accepted that the king suffered from porphyria.

Porphyrins are required to produce hemoglobin, the molecule that transports oxygen in the blood. Excessively high levels affect the nervous system, however, recent reviews of the King’s medical records just don’t support this.

In the new study, scientists used a machine learning technique where computers compare writings of people with mental illness to those without. The computers learned to pick out writings of people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and dementia.

Pulling the king’s letters, scientists compared the ones written before, during and after episodes of mental derangement, looking at sentence structure, vocabulary, and variations of words. They found big differences between times of good health and times of mental derangement. Those letters were less complex and had reduced vocabulary, and greater redundancy and predictability. Researchers conclude it’s likely he suffered from acute mania.

Hmmm… how interesting it would be to use this technology on all our historical figures!

For more information…

George III (1738-1820)
George III was the third Hanoverian king of Great Britain. During his reign, Britain lost its American colonies but emerged as a leading power in Europe. He suffered from recurrent fits of madness and after 1810, his son acted as regent...

The acute mania of King George III: A computational linguistic analysis
Scientists used a computational linguistic approach to examine the letters written by King George III during mentally healthy and apparently mentally ill periods of his life.

King George's Letters Betray Madness, Computer Finds
Hundreds of letters written by King George III, the so-called "Mad King," support the modern diagnosis that he suffered from mental illness during his later years, a new study found....

About Prophyria
Porphyria is not a single disease but a group of at least eight disorders that differ considerably from each other. A common feature in all porphyrias is the accumulation in the body of porphyrins or porphyrin precursors. Although these are normal body chemicals, they normally do not accumulate. Precisely which of these chemicals builds up depends on the type of porphyria....