This week Part IV of our Hearing International saga honoring the War of 1812 tries to put this story together to investigate if deafness cojntributed to the War and it could have been avoided if the King actually had better hearing.
So….What Do We Know?
Over the past three weeks of exploring the War of 1812 and its causes we have come to know a few things about the period and the cast of characters. All wars and disagreements concern the issues of the time, situations, opportunities, methods, and, of course, people. This was a period of high tension in Britain, in part because of very high taxes to finance the Napoleonic Wars. Moreover, the British had fairly recently lost the American Colonies in the Revolutionary War, and the British government in the early 19th century was headed by a feckless crown prince, installed to replace his father, George III, who had been forced out of power.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the US border with Canada was not totally settled. Canada, still part of the British Empire, was concerned that the young nation to its south would expand further into North America, as Americans felt was their destiny. In addition, various Native American nations were protective of their lands.
The US and Great Britain both had their own political and domestic issues that made the situation ripe for war. In the US, expanding its territory and gaining world respect were very popular political goals; in Britain, the government was very chaotic. George III had been declared incompetent in 1811, and Britain was run by the Regent Prince, more interested in paintings, women, and games than governing. British ministers resigned in numbers rather than work with the Regent Prince, and the assasination of the Prime Minister just a couple of months before the War of 1812 began was also a critical issue. It is very possible that if the British government had been running smoothly, this war would never have been fought.
The Question of Deafness
The question that started us onto our discussion of the War of 1812 was this: Did the deafness of George III lead to misunderstandings that caused the War of 1812? As was discussed earlier, George III probably did not suffer from Porphyria, as had been widely believed in the 1960s. In fact, he may not have been “mad” at all. Rather, his condition may have resulted from Arsenic Poisoning (often given for generic disorders as a medication at that time by physicians) and Bipolar Disorder (totally unknown at the time).
There is no major direct connection between Porphyria (which was a questionable diagnosis) and deafness. Nor does arsenic poisoning have direct connections with deafness. However, there is some direct connection between hyperacusis (i.e., excessive auditory sensitivity) and bipolar disorder and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Cadena (2010) states that hyperacusis is a common complication among individuals who suffer from ADHD and other mental health complications. She further notes that for those with bipolar disorder, the complications associated with oversensitivity to sound hearing can lead to bipolar symptoms that often cannot be well controlled even with therapy and medications.
In adults who struggle with excessive auditory sensitivity, the complication is typically not recognized. In fact, many adults never seek out treatment for mental health complications and, ultimately, suffer needlessly as they battle hearing problems. So maybe George III (right) was not really “mad” at all just suffering the hyperacusic effects of bipolar disorder. And maybe it was not madness, but rather hyperacusis, bipolarality, and ADHD that caused George III’s outbursts and eccentric behavior that were not understood in the early 19th century.
Probably not directly. It appears, however that there is no real reference to deafness until late in the former King’s life, about 1817 (reported by Peters and Beveridge (2010). Even at this late stage the reports conflict, some stating significant deafness, and others stating that there was probably no real issue with deafness. After revewing the facts about George III, George IV, and the War of 1812, consider this scenario:
- George III has bouts of Hyperacusis, loud sounds bother him, particularly after the age of 50.
- Loud sounds lead to bipolar behavior that the “mad” doctors suspect is mental illness, particularly after losing the American colonies.
- As George III gets older, these Hyperacusic events cause even more Bipolar issues and he is declared “mad” and replaced by the Prince Regent (later George IV) in 1811.
- Rather than work with the Prince Regent whom they despise, significant government ministers resign in numbers. Most would not have gone to War with the US as they were preoccupied with defeating Napoleon.
- Prime Minister Spencer Perceval is assasinated . He was opposed to another war with the Americans. His position was to let North America settle its own issues; we will work on Napolean.
- News travels slowly in the early 19th century and Britain was about to rescind its war orders, when the war broke out. If the government had been efficient, the war would never had happend.