Last night, I hosted a fascinating lecture by
Professor Timothy Peters at the College. Members from across London
and the south-east crowded into the Council Room to listen to
Timothy discussing King George III and the Porphyria Myth.
Timothy graduated in medicine and biochemistry
from the University of St. Andrews. For many years, he was
Professor of Clinical Biochemistry to King’s College, University of
London, where he established a centre for the diagnosis, clinical
care and research into metabolic disorders including the
porphyrias. On retirement from clinical medicine, he graduated MA
in Industrial Archaeology at the Ironbridge Institute, University
of Birmingham where he is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow. His
current interests include the role of King George III in the
Industrial Revolution and the nature of the disorders of George III
and his descendents and ancestors.
During the lecture, Timothy told us how King
George III (1738-1820) had four, possibly five, episodes of
recurrent mental ill health – reliably diagnosed as
manic-depressive psychosis. However in the 1960s Ida Macalpine and
Richard Hunter, mother and son psychiatrists and medical
historians, stated that George III’s medical records clearly showed
that he suffered from acute intermittent porphyria, subsequently
changed to the rarer and milder variegate porphyria. In spite of
well-argued criticisms by porphyria experts on the basis of their
clinical experience, Macalpine and Hunter were able to gather
extensive support for their claims.
However, Timothy said that recent
re-evaluation of the King’s records has shown that Macalpine and
Hunter were highly selective in their reporting and interpretation
of his signs and symptoms and a diagnosis of acute porphyria cannot
be sustained. Re-assessment of his psychiatric symptomotology,
including the use of the OPCRIT programme, indicates that he
suffered from recurrent episodes of mania with psychosis,
consistent with previous reports.
Timothy discussed the underlying reasons for
the false claims of acute porphyria by Macalpine and Hunter and
their general acceptance. A diagnosis of bipolar disorder raises
issues concerning the cause of the King’s illness and the nature of
his final decade of chronic mental ill health.
The lecture was incredibly well received, with
everyone thoroughly enjoying the evening. I'd like to
thank Timothy very much for taking the time to speak to
us. I'm also very pleased to be continuing the evening lecture
series during my Presidency. Further lectures are being planned,
and will be announced in the near future.
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