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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Lecture by Professor Timothy Peters

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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George III and the Porphria my
I agree, the lecture was very thought provoking. The trouble is that we were looking at conditions nearly 200 hundred years ago. I would like to hear a debate with him and some historians, both factual and medical to see if further light could be shed on this line of thought.
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