Tag Archives: George III

Retrospective diagnosis: the borderline of science and the humanities

In the present day, diagnoses for aches, pains, conditions and illnesses are part of our individual medical history. Symptoms are understood, in the majority of cases, as signs that lead to answers. However, can we apply our understandings of medicine today on the perceived symptoms experienced by those in the past?

Retrospective diagnosis is a highly debatable topic which questions ethics, religion, scientific methodology and the responsibilities of historians. This post will focus on arguments surrounding the validity of a diagnosis for historical figures and consider whether a diagnosis matters in the pursuit of history. This is important to the project as King George III has retrospectively diagnosed based on evidence from his household such as doctor’s notes, diary entries, letters and even newspaper articles where suggestions for improving the King’s diet were made.

Problems with retrospective diagnosis

One of the issues identified with retrospective diagnosis is the absence of a practitioner-patient relationship which allows for the first-hand observation and interpretation of symptoms. Reports of a patient come from sources such as letters, diaries or records whose authors may fail to recognise symptoms that would aid in contemporary diagnosis. Symptoms that are recognised may also be described using different terminology that could vary in meaning. Diseases, viruses in particular, change over time so their symptoms may not remain consistent.

‘Historians have no qualms about revealing any reality, good or bad or ugly, of a historical figure’

Osamu Muramoto

Verifying a diagnosis of a historical figure is problematic as most diseases do not affect the bones. In cases where tissue is available, as with Chopin whose heart was preserved, there are other obstructions to scientific method, with arguments surrounding the preservation of peace for the deceased and respect for the people affected by the historical figure in question. Muramoto highlights that some diagnoses may be damaging or redeeming to a historical figure’s reputation. This may have a negative effect on their followers or attempt to excuse or explain away their actions.

However…

In the present day, the degree of certainty of a medical diagnosis where practitioner-patient relationship is established is not 100%. Research on the retrospective diagnosis of a historical figures is made public allowing for peer review to aid in the verification and validity of the findings.

A diagnosis can highlight the influence and impact that the disease may have had on their work or behaviours and offer new explanations. As well as adding to the historiography of an individual historical figure, it can provide a history of the disease or condition itself and can be used to create an idea of what the disease was like to live with in their period.

‘The Madness of King George’

The treatment of King George III’s illness will be discussed in a following blog of this project. Retrospective diagnosis for King George III has been based off records that were produced by his physicians. While the physicians of King George III had a practitioner-patient relationship, Joanna Edge has argued that symptoms have been chosen selectively by contemporary practitioners to suit a diagnosis.

King George III and others act as ‘windows of opportunity’ to learn more about social perceptions and medical practices of the past, so are contemporary diagnoses damaging to the interpretation of sources?

Or, by using retrospective diagnosis as a competitive theory, is it possible to use sources in innovative ways that create a broader historiography which can be verified through peer review?

Where do you stand on retrospective diagnosis? Is it a help or a hindrance? Please share your thoughts below!


Further reading:

Edge, Joanne, ‘Diagnosing the past’, Wellcome Collection (2018), https://wellcomecollection.org/articles/W5D4eR4AACIArLL8, Wellcome Collection, https://wellcomecollection.org.

Karenberg, A., ‘Retrospective Diagnosis: Use and Abuse in Medical Historiography’, Prague Medical Report, 110:2 (2009), pp. 140-145.

Muramoto, Osamu, ‘Retrospective diagnosis of a famous historical figure’, Philosophy, Ethics and Humanities in Medicine, 9:10 (2014).

Pruszewicz, Marek, ‘The mystery of Chopin’s death’, BBC News (22 December 2014), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29915863, BBC, https://www.bbc.co.uk.

Royal Kitchens at Kew

By George III’s reign the main residence at Kew was the Dutch house, and the kitchens needed to supply food to all those present in the household at the time; typically, the King himself, his wife Charlotte, and the Princesses. Among these numbers were also the staff themselves, meaning the kitchens needed to handle a huge amount of food at a time. The kitchens were constructed separately to the Dutch house, and where originally built to serve the culinary needs of the White House. The kitchens were not consistently open until 1788, when the royal family began to stay in the household for increased lengths of time.

Following Queen Charlotte’s death in 1818 the kitchens were left unused and abandoned until 2012. [1] Before we delve into the kitchen staff and resources, we should first establish what the kitchens were comprised of. It included a large main area with four rooms leading from it specifically suited for the holding and preparation of different foods or for certain tasks. One of the four rooms was the bread house for the production and baking of bread, another was a cold room for the storing of meats and fish. It was extremely important to keep fish fresh as they were an example of a more luxurious and expensive food. It has been estimated that fish such as Turbots could individually cost approximately £1 10 shillings, which would cost over £60 in modern terms. [2] The other two rooms were sculleries for the storage of silverware and the cleaning of utensils and other cooking equipment. [1] Outside of the kitchen area there was also an ice house for the storage of food needing preserving for longer periods of time. The structure is located under earth, allowing for a natural method of cooling perishable food.

The Ice House. Picture taken by Jasmine Moran at Kew Gardens 03/05/19

The kitchen also had additional upstairs space which contained offices, one being that occupied by the Clerk of the Kitchen William Gorton. There was also another storage space for the more exorbitant dry products, named the dry larder for which he held the key. [1] There was also an exterior to the kitchens, which held the kitchen gardens. This is where most of the vegetables were sourced for the royal menu.

William Gorton’s listed menus. Picture taken by Jasmine Moran at Kew Gardens 03/05/19
Kitchen Garden. Picture taken by Jasmine Moran at Kew Gardens 03/05/19

Despite the fact there were rarely visitors or feasts during the King’s periods of confinement, there was still a significant number of staff working to ensure the kitchen functions ran smoothly. Surprisingly, considering the emphasis on a woman’s place in the domestic environment, there were no women employed in Kew kitchens. Instead there were 23 men and boys working, which was the norm in a Georgian kitchen. [1] This was half the usual number of staff held in a palace kitchens. The lack of staff was because of the small size of the Dutch house, and the lack of feasts held. [3] I was also interested to learn that all the staff in the kitchens had to swear their loyalty to the monarch.

When considering the other staff, there were various different roles in a Georgian kitchen, some of which were surprising to me. For example, there were Scourers who were tasked with cleaning the dishes. While this is not surprising in itself, there was also a master Scourer who also had his own assistant. Evidently the cleanliness of the dishes was of the upmost importance and needed to be supervised intensely. In the second scullery three men had the job of ensuring the silverware was spotless. There were three porters, two for coal and one general porter. Another interesting feature is the presence of a Turnbroach who was responsible for rotating the spits on which meats were cooked. [4]

Another crucial member of the kitchen was William Gorton, as the Clerk of the Kitchen he was responsible for all aspects of its organisation, with the help of his assistant Samuel Wharton, another Clerk of the kitchen. He was the author of the menus which were written every evening for the following day. Although he was in charge of budgeting and food expenditure he was restricted by the Board of the Green Cloth. [2] This was essentially responsible for the administration of the royal palaces, including food. [6] Another essential member of staff, and one which Gorton communicated with regularly concerning the construction of each menu was the Master cook William Wybrown, who originally started working in the kitchens as a child.

Interestingly, Wybrown was featured in a rather dramatic poem which detailed the occasion a louse was found on the George III’s plate, depicting him questioning the pages and cooks demanding who the louse belonged to and how it got there. Evidently it was considered a catastrophic mistake which was ridiculed extensively. Wybrown is given a less than flattering description in the poem;

“the great Cook-Major comes! his eyes – Fierce as the redd’ning flame that roasts and fries; His cheeks like Bladders, with high passion glowing, or like a fat Dutch Trumpeter’s when blowing.”


Pindar, Peter, The Lousiad: an heroi-comic poem. Canto I, (London, 1786), P. 20. [7]

It is interesting to note how seemingly small occurrences could influence the reputation of a household’s kitchen, making it a public mockery.

It is clear the kitchens were a bustling hub of the palace and was essential to the well-being of the entire household. Although in the case of Kew palace the kitchen staff was fairly limited in comparison to other royal palaces, it still had the same functioning as any other royal palace and served it well for the years in which the royals resided there.


References

[1] University of Reading, A History of Royal Food and Feasting, <https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/royal-food/0/steps/17090> [date assessed 28 April 2019].

[2] Historical Royal Palaces, Factsheet Royal Kitchens at Kew, <https://hrpprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/hrp-prod-container/11112/factsheet-royal-kitchens-at-kew-final_2.pdf>  [date assessed 29 April 2019], pp. 1-2.

[3] University of Reading, A History of Royal Food and Feasting, <https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/royal-food/0/steps/17089> [date assessed 28 April 2019].

[4] University of Reading, A History of Royal Food and Feasting, <https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/royal-food/0/steps/17091> [date assessed 26 April 2019].

[5] University of Reading, A History of Royal Food and Feasting, <https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/royal-food/0/steps/17091> [date assessed 26 April 2019].

[6] The National Archives, Records of the Lord Steward, the Board of Green Cloth and other officers of the Royal Household, <https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C202> [date assessed 30 April 2019].

[7] Pindar, Peter, The Lousiad: an heroi-comic poem. Canto I, (London, 1786), p. 1. Bibliographic number: T041275 (estc), <https://data.historicaltexts.jisc.ac.uk/view?pubId=ecco-0835100700&terms=The%20Lousiad%20an%20heroi-comic%20poem&pageId=ecco-0835100700-220> [date assessed 20 April 2019].

Kew Palace: History and the Grounds

This post will provide context to the grounds and history of Kew palace, where the menus which are included in our series of posts were written and served. This residence changed fairly dramatically over its history, hosting some influential and royal guests. Frederick Prince of Wales was one occupant who shaped the grounds and houses on the property greatly, including the Royal kitchens (which will be discussed in the next post). George III, the main figure in this project, saw it as a family refuge, slightly removed from the bustle of London. In his later reign while mentally unstable, which will be discussed in later posts, he was confined there. The area of Kew Gardens and Richmond were also key to the menus, especially for the sourcing of foods through farming and hunting.

Kew itself is situated in Richmond, London, extremely close to Richmond park, the site of another, larger royal palace. The original grounds were far different to what stands today. Originally the land contained a larger palace which was used as the primary royal residence, built and remodelled for Frederick Prince of Wales. This was located opposite the Dutch house, which is now the largest and only palace on the grounds; the site of which has been commemorated with a sundial. [1]

The Dutch House at Kew Gardens, taken by Jasmine Moran at Kew Palace 03/05/19

The Dutch house was built in 1631 for silk merchant Samuel Fortrey, however, from the early 1700s it was utilized by Fredrick Prince of Wales and his wife Princess Caroline as a short-term retreat. It was likely they would have occupied the White House. From contemporary sketches we can understand what the original house must have looked like; below is a sketch of the palace from a text detailing the appearance of Kew. [2]

The White House at Kew, 1763 [2]

As the image depicts it was a more fitting royal establishment than the house which stands today, nevertheless, George and his family happily spent many times at the Dutch house. With its beautiful exterior and huge size its shocking that it would become derelict.

Sadly, the White House fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1802 for the preparation of a new “castellated Palace”. [3] Work began in the early 1800s, however George grew tired of its development by 1806 due to his developing eye issues. Although £100,000 had been spent and a significant amount had been constructed the project was abandoned. It stood for 20 or so more years before it was destroyed by George IV. [3]

The grounds had gone through many tumultuous years, and by the end of Georges’ reign the Dutch house was the only one standing (apart from Queen Charlottes’ cottage). It was also a house which saw much emotional hardship, particularly periods such as the confinement of George III during his bouts of insanity and then the death of Queen Charlotte in 1818. Although most of the original palace no longer stands, the red brick Dutch house (the current Kew palace), Queen Charlotte’s cottage retreat, and the kitchens remain.

The kitchens, which were constructed separately to the rest of the accommodation were large and well-suited for the royal inhabitants. They were created to be functional for a significantly larger property, being the White house, and contained many of the most important implements to a Georgian kitchen. The kitchens were the site for the preparation of the Royal menus and their creation, with some foods being sourced on Kew Garden grounds, or in the Richmond area, which was the site of another palace. This will be examined more closely in the next post.


References:

[1] Rachel Knowles, The White House – a Regency History guide, <https://www.regencyhistory.net/2014_02_01_archive.html> [date assessed 25 April 2019].

[2] A Description of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew, in Surrey, (Brentford, 1763), p. 15. Bibliographic number: T117923 (estc), <https://data.historicaltexts.jisc.ac.uk/view?pubId=ecco-0085801500&terms=A%20Description%20of%20the%20Gardens%20and%20Buildings%20at%20Kew> [date assessed 15 April 2019].

[3] Richmond Libraries’ Local Studies Collection, Local History Notes, <https://www.richmond.gov.uk/media/6315/local_history_kew_palaces.pdf> [date assessed 28 April 2019], p. 3.

A King, A Court, A Banquet and Menu: An Introduction.

Whilst our handle, Just Georgian Things, may allude to all things relating to the Georgian period, for the next couple of weeks or so, we will be focusing on the time during the reign of King George III. In particular, the relationship between the king’s personal life and health and food but also how important food was during the period in general and how we can analyse this best through his reign. Whilst it may seem a strange comparison to make, when looking at the food that graced the royal tables, it is important to examine the driving force behind their presence as well as understand how George as a person, influenced George as a King and consequently a host to those were invited to dine in the royal palace at Kew.

George William Frederick, as he was publicly baptised on the 21 June 1738, ruled as the King of the United Kingdom and Ireland from 1760 until his death in 1820. He was married to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1761 and together, they had fifteen children – their first-born son the future king of England, George IV.[1] For the most part, George enjoyed a quiet and private life, much like his wife Charlotte which meant that his reign was free from the scandals of mistresses and court intrigue.

George with Princess Charlotte and 6 of their
children, 1771. Royal Collection Trust. RCIN 604687.

So, what does come to mind when considering George’s reign? Most monarchies are remembered for something whether that be political gain, exploration, outspoken views or the eradication of certain practises etc. but George is somewhat different in his legacy. Numerous things ailed the king, from political struggles in the Americas to the tragedies and scandals that plagued his siblings, yet he is most widely known for something more personal – his health – and that in large, dictated the types of food and drink present in the dining room as well as defined him for future generations.[2]

Whilst his health will be discussed in greater detail in future blogs, as it encompasses a wide range of topics, it is important to note that it will be heavy focus and played a great role in both the foods that he ate, the pastimes he enjoyed and the way in which he was viewed both by nobility and the laity. In relation to his health, we will be exploring how public perceptions of his health were shaped by his treatment and how these related to the foods that graced the royal table as well as discussing the issue of retrospective diagnosis as his illness was not identified before his death.

Alternatively, we will also be examining and analysing documents from the Kew Ledger – a series of menus in which the year 1789 will be our focus. [3] It is through these menus that we will endeavour to explore the day to day life of the king in relation to food, by transcribing their contents and analysing our findings by taking certain aspects such as locations or suppliers to determine how food was organised and sourced in the Georgian period. We will also be examining the kitchens in which the food was prepared, alongside the people who prepared it and taking a closer look at how important and special occasions such as Christmas were organised.

Grocery Delivery List. Kew Ledger.

Over the next two weeks or so, we aim to explore all of this and more, to try and gain an understanding of not only the importance of food but also the organisation of the household and dining table whilst analysing the king’s personal life and reputation to see the hand he played in the organisation of food at his court.


[1] John Cannon, George III (2013), <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/10540> [date accessed 12 April 2019]

[2] John Cannon, George III (2013), <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/10540>
[date accessed 12 April 2019]

[3] The National Archives, The Kew Ledger, LS 9/226, 1788 Dec-1801 May.