William Godwin's Diary


On 20 November 1788, the prime minister William Pitt (1759–1806) moved that, in the light of ‘the melancholy state of the King’s health, which had rendered it impossible for his Majesty’s servants to receive any commands from him, they should adjourn proceedings for a fortnight, when, if the King’s illness continued, they must consider what should be done'. The reference is to King George III’s mania arising from what we now know to have been porphyria (see The Times, 21 November 1788). Following the continuing indisposition of the King, parliament met on 4 December 1788 to debate the steps that should be taken to ensure the orderly running of the country. The issue was complicated by the close relationship between the Whigs, led by Charles James Fox (1749–1806), and the Prince of Wales, being against the confidence of George III that Pitt enjoyed. The Whigs saw the crisis as an opportunity to return to power, and hence were keen to assert the right of the Prince of Wales to become Regent. In subsequent weeks, as the King’s health failed to improve, the struggle on the part of Pitt to delay the establishment of the Regency, and the struggle by the Whigs to promote it, dominated the activities of Parliament. See The Times, 16 December 1788, in which it was said, ‘It would be wrong in us to hold out the favourable prospect of Mr PITT’s continuance in office, for we assert that should the Prince of WALES accept of the regency, the Opposition come into power immediately, if he is not restricted in sovereign power.’ The King’s condition slowly improved through January 1789 and he had made a complete recovery by the end of March. Godwin followed events with interest. On 8 December 1788 he attended the Commons when they debated the appointment of a committee to examine the King’s physicians and report back to the House. He also followed the attempts by Fox and others to assert the right of the Prince of Wales against government opposition and the debates over the limitations on the powers of the Regent and the powers of the Queen.

See The Times, 9, 11 and 12 December 1788.