Column: Prince Charles and the ‘mad king’

As Cayman prepares to welcome Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, on their official two-day visit to our shores, local historian and author Sam Oakley shares an interesting link between Prince Charles and one of our nation’s most revered stories from the past.


Sam Oakley

Prince Charles’s most respected monarch is King George III, who according to debunked legend, bestowed the Cayman Islands its tax-free status. Back in 2012, Prince Charles was asked by a group of students which monarch he respected the most, to which he replied, King George III (although I must add that his mother, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, got a mention too).

Anyone here with a shred of local knowledge will probably tell you that King George holds a special place in Cayman history. Legend has long claimed that a maritime disaster on the shores of Grand Cayman more than 200 years ago resulted in the islands’ tax-free status as a reward from a grateful monarch to the brave inhabitants for their part in rescuing the survivors.

The coral reefs surrounding our rugged coastlines, in times past, brought grief to ships voyaging in the Western Caribbean. Toward the end of the 18th century, hostilities between Britain and France during the French Revolutionary wars extended to the West Indian seas, with each country endeavouring to capture the other’s naval ships and merchantmen as prizes.

In February 1794, HMS Convert, a 36-gun frigate seized from the French the previous year, was charged with escorting and protecting a produce-laden convoy of merchant vessels to Britain from Jamaica. Ironically, the greatest danger was to come not from the French but from the perilous reefs of East End where, on Feb. 8, a disastrous chain of events resulted in the loss of the Convert and nine ships of her merchant convoy.

The inhabitants of Grand Cayman displayed considerable heroism in assisting in the rescue of more than 400 survivors and, thanks to their bravery, few lives were lost.

In 1994, on the 200th anniversary of the Wreck of the Ten Sail, Prince Charles’s mother Queen Elizabeth II visited the Cayman Islands and travelled to East End, where she dedicated a memorial to those who lost their lives.

On a cliff looking out to sea where ships were wrecked, a stone monument and plaque to commemorate the event were unveiled. Perched along the cliff adjacent to the monument are small concrete blocks representing the unfortunate few souls the Caymanians were unable to rescue.

Prince Charles has stated his views on George III on several occasions – he once told a television documentary that he believed George III was one of Britain’s most dutiful, cultured and misunderstood rulers, who studied the arts and sciences, was involved in agriculture, astronomy and clock making. Yet history remembers him above all as the ‘Mad King’ or the ‘King who lost America’.

Since I began researching the papers, private diaries and records of King George III, I’ve come to realise that Prince Charles may have a point.

George III is understandably still seen as a despot in America: The Boston Tea Party that lit the fuse for the Revolution and so on. He can only be the villain of the piece as far as America is concerned, fair enough, but that is not the whole story …

He was one of the most cultured monarchs, a deep thinker, with an enquiring mind. He wrote thousands of documents and kept detailed notes and research about his wide interests. He sent out orders and letters to be delivered several times a day, writing not only the date but also the exact time at the bottom of each one – a precursor to email perhaps?

His madness is now regarded by many historians as a series of mental breakdowns due to stress and a highly intelligent mind. Originally believed to be suffering from a condition known as porphyria, George III would today probably be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

According to royal records, he was the first king to study science as part of his education (he had his own astronomical observatory). He also took a keen interest in agriculture, particularly on the crown estates at Richmond and Windsor, being known as ‘Farmer George’.

A complex monarch with a strong sense of duty to his country and his family, he devoted much care to bringing up his children, and even kept height charts of all of them. His mission was to recreate a modern royal family. It could be said that he provided the template for his granddaughter Queen Victoria, and even for today’s monarchy. I think Prince Charles may be on to something ….

Sam Oakley is a local historian and author of the book ‘The Wreck of the Ten Sail, a True Story of Cayman’s Past’.


Sources: The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, (The Home of the Royal Family), BBC Time watch, Archives at Windsor Castle.

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