Any family tree as incestuous and elderly as the British royal family’s is bound to have some funky genetics in it. One rare disease that tormented King George III may still be in the royal family today. Let’s learn all about it.
The ‘Mad’ Gene
If George III is known for anything, it’s losing the American colonies in the War for Independence. If he’s known today for anything else, it’s probably his genetic madness brought on by the incurable blood disease porphyria. A new book, Purple Secret charts the gene down the royal bloodline over the last 250 years, and the writers discovered there are a few royals who were also sufferers of the rare ailment.
What Is Porphyria?
Porphyria is a rare blood disease that affects the heme component of hemoglobin. One of eight enzymes does not do its job properly. While some folks may never exhibit symptoms, the condition can be deadly for others. Symptoms include mental changes and discolored urine.
Late in George III’s life, he was struck by intense and permanent mental illness. At the time, doctors had no idea what was going on, just that he was not well. By 1788, his condition had worsened. He would speak for hours on end until he was hoarse. He would sometimes write 400-word complex sentences.
Historians today do not agree on what caused George III’s madness, but the leading theories are either Porphyria or bipolar disorder. You can make a strong case for both. His urine had turned blue by the end of his life, a symptom of porphyria. However, medication could also have caused his urine to be discolored. On the other hand, George III’s hair was studied in 2005 and showed high levels of arsenic, which could have been a trigger for the blood disease.
Suffering Down The Line
Purple Secret is out on July 9. Its authors, molecular biologists, and a historian track porphyria down the royal bloodline to the present day. A letter was recently discovered a few years ago from Charlotte of Saxony-Meinigen, the great-granddaughter of George III. It closely discussed symptoms very close to porphyria, suggesting the blood disease hasn’t disappeared.
Some believe the disease could have caused the delusions of Mary, Queen of Scots. The authors conclude the disease was most recently exhibited by Prince William. No, not that one, but a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth who died in a plane crash in 1972.