Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Madness of King George

George William Frederick, otherwise know as King George III, ruled longer than any previous British monarch; first as King of England and Ireland, and later as King of the United Kingdom. He succeeded to the crown in 1760, at the age of 22, after the sudden death of his father, King George II. The following year, he married Princess Charlotte in St. James Palace. Although they met for the first time on their wedding day, it turned out to be a true love match, and they had 15 children.

King George's reign was fraught with several military battles, arguably the most famous of which was the Revolutionary War. In later years, he suffered from intermittent and later permanent mental illness, which in more recent times has been theorized to have been the blood condition porphyria. Because of these two circumstances, King George III is often called "the Mad King" or the "King Who Lost America."

In c.1805, in England, this coverlet was made to commemorate these military events, and it represents a whole different kind of Madness! It is comprised of pieced circles of printed and plain cotton, with different designs in their centers, set in a white background. It has a medallion center, and 40 circular scenes around the border. The coverlet now resides in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England.

V&A: T.9-1962

The central medallion is both pieced and embroidered, and depicts King George reviewing his troops in Hyde Park on his birthday, June 4,1799. It may have been added after the coverlet was pieced, as it cuts across several of the circles.

The design was taken from a print after John Singleton Copley, called "His Majesty Accompanied by the Prince of Wales and Gloucester. Reviewing the Volunteer Cops of London and its vicinity, in Hyde Park, on the 4th June, 1799," which is the longest title of a painting I've ever seen, but at least we don't have to wonder what the subject is. :)

National Army Museum: 1974-04-20

There are an additional 40 scenes of military and domestic life around the border. Some of these scenes were also taken from prints, paintings, and illustrations of the day. This is an illustration of the song Poor Jack by Charles Dibdin (c.1788), and below it, a scene from the coverlet.

National Maritime Museum: PAJ4029

And here is a hand coloured etching by Robert Dighton entitled "Descriptions of Battles by Sea & Land" and it's accompanying scene.

National Maritime Museum: PU473

To see other pictures and information about the coverlet, visit the Victoria & Albert Museum website.

If you feel ambitious, Marta from Cartulinas is drafting these blocks and hosting a SAL on her blog. She also has a SAL Flick'r group where people can post their blocks.

And Una from Samsy is also drafting these blocks, and you can watch her progress on her blog. I just love her fabric choices.

And you can watch a video of Tracy Chevalier, author of "The Girl With the Pearl Earring" as she meets with V&A Quilt Exhibit curator Sue Pritchard to view the George III Coverlet here.

Every year in October I head to Northern Michigan for the annual Fabric of Friendship Quilting retreat. It's three, four, or more days of fun, fabric, and friendship, not to mention good food. The optional classes are free, and there is also a scrap quilt class, if you're interested in that. You might remember the pictures I posted last fall of Lake Michigan and the Victorian houses in nearby Bayview.

If you would like to join us this year, email quiltingretreats@gmaildotcom for information. Hope to see you there!


Dorothy said...

I made a King Georgelll quilt at Somerset with Sue a couple of years ago.There was a lot of piecing in each block.

liz said...

I saw the original quilt at the V&A exhibition last year. I thought it was the best quilt they had on show. Interestingly, the central motif kind of sags when viewed from the side. I am sure it was added afterwards. I wonder if some sort of piecing/fabric disaster happened. Wouldn't you love to know the story behind this quilt!

Janet said...

Fascinating reading and it was good to see the paintings with the blocks. That Victorian house is so romantic looking.

Cheryl said...

Very ambitious project! Have fun at your retreat.

Frances Leate said...

What a wonderful coverlet and I really enjoyed reading all about it in this post and seeing the original paintings. Being a lover of houses I really enjoyed seeing your Victorian ones. Thank you for your lovely blog comments and take care.

Dawn said...

Wonderful post. I saw that quilt at the V&A it is stunning. Admire the people who are tackling it.
Thanks for sharing!

Beth said...

A great post, Lisa. History lesson and amazing quilt wrapped up in one. Would King George's blood disorder be treatable today, I wonder?


Donna K from N.TX said...

Love the antique quilt and the history lesson. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful story with us.

Donna K. from N. TX aka Quilting Bear Gal

Quilt Station said...

Wow Lisa, what a really great and interesting it.
Of course I could dong you on the head LOL for alerting me to a new project cos now I have gone over to Cartiluna's and printed off a couple of the blocks...I need a new quilt like the proverbial hole in the head.
However they look challenging and I couldn't resist, might just make a few and see what happens. That will be the six inch blocks ...nooooot 4" no way.
Are you going to do it?
M xx

Fiona said...


I am very sorry to have to say this, but King George III was not the longest reigning monarch but that Queen Victoria holds that title by another 3 1/2 years. He is the longest reigning male monarch or king in British history. Indeed, next year in June our own Queen Elizabeth II will have reigned for longer than King George III.

This coverlet is a tour de force. I spent many Friday evenings after work perched on a stool in front of the coverlet last year, drawing all the pieced roundels. The overall pattern is quite complex and the bottom three rows appear to be an after thought both in fabrics used and setting.

None of the fabrics in the centre roundel appear inthe smaller roundells until the last three rows and the borders, so the mystery deepens, were they added at a later date and the top part of the coverlet ie. the rows above the third row from the bottom made much earlier? There is also a theory behind why their are two moons and two suns. Unfortunately at the study days when this coverlet was presented they only chose to talk about the border cartoons, I find the roundels much more interesting!

I know of only one other quilt that comes close to this one - the Jane Pizar quilt in the Cheltenham Museum, which is thought to have been made in the early 1800's. There is also the Sundial Quilt(1797), but the blocks in that one is quite simplistic by comparison, but demonstrate a skilled needlewoman's work

Janet said...

What an interesting post. The quilt
is wonderful. What love was put into it. Yes, a history lesson to.
I love to read Regency fiction and they always mention The Mad King. Great work Lisa.

Jeanne said...

Wow this one awesome quilt, how wonderful it would be to see it in person. Thank you for posting this interesting piece and kudos to those reproducing the vignettes!

Daniel C. Boyer said...

Well, the titles of several of my paintings are significantly longer. I have one of 58 words.

Daniel C. Boyer