It’s easy to get carried away in romance, especially where history is concerned. We imagine fine dresses and top hats, forgetting about lack of sanitation and bad personal hygiene. When we study historical princesses, the temptation to lapse into fairytale is even greater. But as you will know, if you have read my blog for a while, the life of a Georgian princess was anything but romantic!
So what happened when a prince finally did come along to sweep our heroines away? Well, settle down and I will tell you the unromantic story of George II’s eldest daughter, Princess Anne.
Assertive and ambitious, it was always Anne’s intention to marry well. But as a princess whose father’s throne depended on his Protestant religion, her choice was limited. After failed negotiations with the French and Prussian courts, it became clear there was only one path for Anne to travel down. Since the days of William III, England had looked kindly on the House of Orange as their liberators from Catholic oppression. An alliance with young William, Prince of Orange, would be joyfully received. Not that there was any alternative. As Lord Hervey put it, Anne’s choice lay between hell and Holland.
William was neither important or handsome, in the grand scheme of things. Moreover, he had a severely hunched shoulder, with increasing curvature of the back and chest. Considering the deformity, George II asked Anne if she was sure she wanted to proceed with the marriage. When she assured her father she would marry William even if he were a baboon, he replied, “There is baboon enough for you.”
Concerned for her daughter, Queen Caroline sent Lord Hervey to look at William and tell her “what sort of animal I must prepare myself to see.” Hervey assured her the prince’s body was as bad as possible, with a short waist, long legs and no calves. It seemed William’s breath was also distasteful. But, Hervey conceded, his countenance was “engaging and noble”.
Te treaty concluded, William arrived at Greenwich to wed the English princess. In true George II style, the King snubbed the new prince. In his opinion, William would be nothing until he married his daughter. But the people of London were excited by the young prince’s arrival, wearing orange cockades and decorating the streets with orange ribbon. This popularity sent George II into one of his famous rages.
Very soon after his arrival, poor William collapsed at church. He lay ill with pneumonia for three weeks, his life in danger. The wedding had to be postponed and George II forbade his wife and daughters from visiting the sick prince. While her fiance stood at death’s door, Princess Anne was calmly playing on her harpsichord. To do the females credit, they did have William over when he was well again – only to be told by the King that he didn’t want such an episode repeated.
The wedding finally took place on 14 March at seven in the evening, four months after William’s arrival. The Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace was fitted up suitably for the occassion with crimson velvet and tafetta, studded with golden roses. Anne wore blue silk looped with diamonds and robes of silver tissue, her train being six yards long. She was accompanied to the altar by her eldest brother Prince Frederick, which must have been an uncomfortable business. Not only did the siblings quarrel in private about music, running rival operas, Fred was resentful that his sister was marrying first – with a dowry of £80,000 – while he was strapped for money. Anne’s family (brother Frederick excepted) wept throughout the ceremony, making it “more like the mournful pomp of a sacrifice than the joyful celebration of a marriage.”
Whilst taking his vows, William was “a less shocking and less ridiculous figure” with a long peruke to cover his bad shoulder. But when the time came to put the couple to bed, the poor prince could no longer hide his deformity. In a rare act of sensitivity, the King arranged for William to be behind a curtain, so that the assembling masses in the bedchamber could only see his cap and brocade nightgown.But Lord Hervey glimpsed William’s body, and thought that from behind the prince looked as if he had no neck. Queen Caroline was frantic at the idea of her daughter going to sleep with “this monster”, owning his appearance had “stunned” her to the point where she might pass out.
The couple left England at the end of April – not soon enough for George II, who was jealous of the popularity William excited wherever he went. However, Anne’s stay in Holland was remarkably short. With war brewing in Europe, her new husband went to join Dutch troops on the Rhine, and she seized the opportunity to return to England. Her mother was overjoyed to see her again, especially when she confided she was with child.
Time passed. Neither sense nor politics could tempt Anne away from her family. She was constantly pressured to return to her new people by the Dutch ambassador. If she carried William’s heir, he argued, it was imperative the boy should be born at the Hague. But Anne clung to the hope she would give birth in England. It wasn’t until William sent Anne a letter announcing he would be home in two weeks that she finally set off – and even then, she had to be urged by her parents. Caroline had to remind her daughter: “You are now William’s wife – God has given you skill and judgement, you are no longer a child.”
When Anne reached my home town of Colchester, she received a letter from her husband saying he was delayed for a few days. She took this opportunity to return to London, despite the fact poor William was traveling day and night in a quest to get home on time. She managed to stay with her family another week before her exasperated parents packed her off again. Her ship actually set sail from Harwich on 7 November, but Anne pleaded sickness and convulsions, forcing the vessel to turn around. The King was at the end of his patience. He refused to receive his daughter back at St. James’s Palace. Anne’s exploits had cost him nearly £20,000 and earned her universal condemnation. She went back to Holland with her tail between her legs.
Sadly, Anne’s child turned out to be a phantom, and she was to suffer several horrific stillbirths and miscarriages in the course of her marriage. However, she finally had a healthy son and daughter. Even her thirst for power was eventually satisfied when, in 1751, poor William died aged just 40 and Anne was appointed regent for her three-year-old son. But I won’t leave you entirely devoid of romance. I can tell you that, despite Anne’s reluctance to return to Holland, she and William became a happy couple, addressing each other affectionately in letters as “Pepin” and “Annin”. Here is one of the last notes he wrote to her:
Farewell dear heart, pearl among women, my joy whom I love more every day. As God is my witness, you are my life’s good fortune. Know that I am your most faithful, most tender and best of friends, Pepin
Observant readers of my blog will have noticed something missing over the last few months. Why is there no longer a page dedicated to God Save the King? Where have all the buy links gone?
Well I’m finally able to tell you the best news EVER. My novel about Queen Charlotte has been picked up by a publisher!
I’ve been lucky enough to sign a contract with the fabulous Myrmidon Books who have published such titles as Mrs Lincoln and The Garden of Evening Mists. Renamed as Queen of Bedlam, my book will be out on 10 June 2014.
Read more from the official press release:
Myrmidon has acquired the rights to Queen of Bedlam, the debut novel from Laura Purcell, based on the tragic life of Queen Charlotte, wife of “mad” King George III of England which will be the first in a series of novels based on the lives of royal women from the Georgian period.
“Queen of Bedlam is a heartbreaking story of lost love and a life dominated by duty,” said Ed Handyside, publisher. “Laura Purcell vividly brings to life the contrast of a private and loving marriage to the royal court acting like a prison to a woman terrified of her husband and his episodes of madness.”
Previously self-published, the novel has already acquired interest from film makers, and British author Laura Purcell, an expert on the Georgian royal family, has appeared on PBS. Myrmidon has commissioned leading artist Larry Rostant for the cover artwork and will be supporting the launch with a national PR campaign by FMCM. Myrmidon acquired world rights to Queen of Bedlam directly from the author and will publish in original paperback and ebook in June 2014.
Suffice to say, I’m blown away. It all feels strangely surreal and, whilst wonderful, also very nerve-wracking. I began research for this book in December 2009! After all this time, my dream has come true – and now more hard work begins!
I’ll try not to go all fan-girl on you, but this really is an amazing achievement for me. Every time I see a Myrmidon book in Waterstone’s at the moment, I squeal. I’ve seem preliminary work for the cover and I can tell you it’s GORGEOUS.
I hope you’ll forgive me if the blog sees a bit of neglect over the coming months. As well as working on my new book, I will have edits and promotion to occupy me – as well as that pesky desk job that keeps interfering with my writing life! However, I will be writing some articles for my Historical Fiction Virtual Blogtour between 9 and 28 of June, which I’ll be sure to share with you.
Here’s to George III and an exciting future.
Today I have the lovely Maria Grace in my Georgian parlour, talking about a subject close to my heart: nerves. We all remember Jane Austen’s Mrs Bennet and her whimsical illnesses, but what of those who suffered genuine problems? What were the treatments available and how were they viewed at the time?
It’s interesting to see from Maria’s article that some modern day stereotypes date back to the early nineteenth century. It seems some doctors considered those affected by panic attacks to blame – they were “indolent” and didn’t go out in “cheerful company” enough. How infuriating!
Take it away, Maria.
The fine sensibility prized by women in the 18th century gave rise to an epidemic of nervous disorders in the early 19th century. Maladies of affluence and sophistication, nervous disorders paraded one’s wealth, refinement and sensibility. Women were particularly susceptible to nervous because of their ‘more delicate physiological network’. In fact, ‘Nerves’ were a woman’s claim to superior social status, the mark of being a lady.
The wealthy and indolent were not the only suffers though. Given that during the early 19th century people lived in a world where a small ache or upset stomach could be the harbinger of something far worse, or even fatal, it is not really surprising that hysterical diseases, hypochondria and melancholy—what we would call depression—were prevalent, especially when legitimized as disorders by respected doctors.
While doctors agreed that they existed, “there’s no Disease puzzled Physicians more than the Vapours, and Hysterick Fits. These complaints are produced by so many Causes, and appear in so many various Shares, that ’tis no easy Matter to describe them.” (Tennet) “The Annual Review” said that after doctors started taking nervous disorders seriously, everyone was taking medication for them, outdoing each other with exaggerated symptoms and buying an array of medical equipment to deal with them. How strangely 21st century it all sounds.
Symptoms and Types of Nervous conditions
According to William Buchan in his book Domestic Medicine, 1790, “Of all diseases incident to mankind, those of the nervous kind are the most complicated and difficult to cure. A volume would not be sufficient to point out their various appearances. They imitate almost every disease; and are seldom alike in two different persons, or even in the same person at different times. Proteus-like, they are continually changing shape; and upon every fresh attack, the patient thinks he feels symptoms which he never experienced before. Nor do they only affect the body; the mind likewise suffers, and is often thereby rendered extremely weak and peevish.”
The symptoms of nervous disorders were often thought to begin in the stomach which was thought to be the center of the nervous system. Buchan suggested, “They generally begin with windy inflations or distensions of the stomach and intestines, the appetite and digestion are usually bad; yet sometimes there is an uncommon craving for food, and a quick digestion. The food often turns sour on the stomach; and the patient is troubled with vomiting of clear water, tough phlegm, or a blackish colored liquor resembling the grounds of coffee. Excruciating pains are often felt about the navel, attended with a rumbling or murmuring noise in the bowels.”
These symptoms might be accompanied by difficulty breathing; violent palpitations of the heart, sudden flushes or a sense of cold in various parts of the body, pains throughout the body, variable pulse, fits of crying and convulsive laughing, poor sleep and night-mares.
Progression of the disease would bring headaches, body cramps, mental disturbances including terror, sadness, weak memory and failure of judgment. “Nothing is more characteristic of this disease than constant dread of death. This renders those unhappy persons who labour under it peevish, fickle, impatient, and apt to run from one physician to another; which is one reason why they seldom reap any benefit from medicine, as they have not sufficient resolution to persist in any one course till it has time to produce its proper effects.” (Buchan)
By the beginning of the 19th century, hysteria was no longer attributed to a wandering womb, but the nervous system. Other forms of nervous conditions were also recognized including: melancholy, nightmare, swoons, low spirits, hysteric affections and hypochondriac affections.
Causes of Nervous Disorders
Doctors did not agree as to the cause of nervous conditions. Some, like Tennet, argued the stomach was at core of the disorder. “Because the Stomach is suspected to be much in Fault, I would have That cleans’d in the first Place, with a Vomit of Indian Physick; the next Day, purify the Bowels, but a Purge of the same; which must be repeated 2 Days after.”
Others, including Buchan believed the causes more complex. Indolence and other things that relaxed or weakened the body like drinking tea, frequent bleeding or purging could lead to nervous disorders. While those things which hurt digestion could contribute to the problem, unfavorable postures of the body and intense application to study were equally likely to cause difficulties. “Indeed few studious persons are entirely free from them. Nor is this at all to be wondered at; intense thinking not only preys upon the spirits, but prevents the person from taking proper exercise, by which means the digestion is impaired, the nourishment prevented, the solids relaxed, and the whole mass of humours vitiated. Grief and disappointment likewise produce the same effects.” (Buchan)
Treatments for Nervous conditions
In many ways, the recommended treatments for nervous disorders were quite progressive. They included a multipronged approach that included diet, exercise, and adjustments of daily routine as well as medication.
Since digestive troubles were considered a large contributor to nervous disorders, careful attention to diet was a major part of treatment. “Persons afflicted with nervous diseases ought never to fast long. Their food should be solid and nourishing, but of easy digestion. Fat meats, and heavy sauces, are hurtful. All excess should be carefully avoided. …Wine and water is a very proper drink at meals: but if wine sours on the stomach, or the patient is much troubled with wind, brandy and water will answer better…All weak and warm liquors are hurtful, as tea, coffee, punch, &c. People may find a temporary relief in the use of these, but they always increase the malady, as they weaken the stomach and hurt digestion.”
As some doctors argue today, exercise was seen as superior to all medicines. Horseback riding and walking were considered ideal, but simply being quick about one’s business and active in their chores was recommended as well. When these were too much, even riding in a carriage could produce beneficial effect.
“A change of place, and the sight of new objects, by diverting the mind, has a great tendency to remove these complaints. For this reason a long journey, or a voyage, is of much more advantage than riding short journeys near home. Long sea voyages have an excellent effect; and to those who can afford to take them, and have sufficient resolution, we would by all means recommend this course.” (Buchan)
Patients were also advised to avoid great fires and seek cool dry air to brace and invigorate the body, though chills were to be avoided. Regular cold baths as well as frequently rubbing the body with a special brush, or a coarse linen cloth should be incorporated into the patient’s routine. Further, “they ought likewise to be diverted, and to be kept as easy and cheerful as possible. There is not anything which hurts the nervous system, or weakens the digestive powers, more than fear, grief, or anxiety.” (Buchan)
Though not seen as actual cures, a number of medicines might be recommended to render the patient’s life more comfortable. Mild purgatives to relieve constipation were recommended as were elixirs to improve digestion and strength the stomach.
Though laudanum was easily available, doctors cautioned against their overuse as opiates “only palliate the symptoms, and generally afterwards increase the disease (and) habit render them at last absolutely necessary.”
Avoiding Nervous Disorders
Not only were doctors concerned with treating nervous conditions, they also advised in how these disorders might be avoided. “Excessive grief, intense study, improper diet, and neglect of exercise, are the great sources of this extensive class of diseases…Grief indulged destroys the appetite and digestion, depresses the spirits, and induces a universal relaxation and debility of the whole system… (While) misfortunes indeed are not to be avoided, but surely their effects, by a vigorous and proper exertion of the mind, might be rendered less hurtful…
The effects of intense study are pretty similar to those occasioned by grief. It preys upon the animal spirits, and destroys the appetite and digestion. To prevent these effects, studious persons ought… never study too long at a time; nor attend long to one particular subject, especially if it be of a serious nature. They ought likewise to be attentive to their posture, and should take care frequently to unbend their minds by music, diversions, or going is to agreeable company.” (Buchan)
Attention should be paid with regard to proper diet, which avoided extremes of all forms. Regular exercise and fresh air should be a part of one’s routine. “BUT the most general cause of nervous disorders is indolence. The active and laborious are seldom troubled with them. They are reserved for the children of ease and affluence, who generally feel their keenest force. All we shall say to such persons is that the means of prevention and cure are both in their own power. If the constitution of human nature be such, that man must either labor or suffer diseases; surely no individual has any right to expect an exemption from the general rule.” (Buchan)
Buchan, William. Domestic Medicine: Or, A Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines, 11th ed. , 1790
Parissien, Steven. Regency Style. Phaidon Press Limited (2000)
Sales, Roger. Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England. Routledge (1994)
Shoemaker, Robert B. Gender in English Society 1650-1850 Pearson Education Limited (1998)
Tennet, John . Every Man his own Doctor: or, The Poor Planter’s Physician, Williamsburg, VA, 1736.
Wilson, Ben. The Making of Victorian Values, Decency & Dissent in Britain: 1789-1837
The Penguin Press (2007)
Wiltshire, John - Contrib. to Jane Austen in Context. Cambridge University Press (2005)
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.
She can be contacted at:
Find her books on Amazon.com: amazon.com/author/mariagrace
Visit her website Random Bits of Fascination
On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace
The Hanoverian dynasty boasts two Queen Carolines, both remarkable in their own way. Trust me when I say you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of either of them. The second Queen Caroline, estranged wife of George IV, would probably spread vicious rumours about you then burn your effigy in the form of a wax doll. But this blog post concerns the first Queen Caroline, consort to George II. She was more to be feared, due to her superior intelligence and endless patience. Like a hunting cat, she knew how long to lie in wait, and when to pounce.
Despite her overall good-nature, revenge was Caroline’s specialty. She punished her father-in-law, George I, for stealing her children by making a lively court and winning the hearts of his subjects away from him. She managed to have Lord Chesterfield, who mocked her in private, banished to the Hague on an ambassadorial mission by telling her husband he was having an affair with his mistress. When Caroline’s daughter Anne became so haughty that she kept a servant reading by her bed until the unfortunate woman fell asleep on her feet, Caroline gave Anne a taste of her own medicine. Caroline made Anne read by her own bed until the girl wept to sit down.
In my work in progress, Mistress of the Court, Henrietta Howard finds out just how cold Caroline’s shoulder is. As both a Woman of the Bedchamber and mistress to Caroline’s husband, Henrietta was a woman the queen wanted to keep firmly in her place. When Henrietta started to get above herself, Caroline insisted that she kneel to her in the morning to present a basin of washing water. It is testament to how devastating Caroline’s manner could be that the famously cool and controlled Henrietta lost her temper on this occasion, refusing to kneel. But Caroline, ever poised, laughed at her and treated her like a child. Predictably, the queen got her way in the end.
Indeed, Caroline had much practice at keeping her cool. Her King was a fiery man, stubborn in his opinions and wary of being influenced. Lord Hervey records how many times the King shouted at Caroline and put her down in public. Yet Caroline “could work him by degrees to any point where she had a mind to drive him…with great caution; for he was never to be led but by invisible reins”. She had a knack of agreeing with the King’s opinions at first, then “made him imagine any change she wrought in them to be an afterthought of his own”. A skill all us wives must envy! However, Hervey acknowledged all this required “a superiority of understanding, thorough knowledge of his temper and much patience of her own”.
As a sensible queen, Caroline knew when to let go of a grudge.She famously supported Sir Robert Walpole as First Minister, despite the fact he’d betrayed her in the past and called her “a fat bitch”. Hervey records that Caroline believed “wise princes always made their resentment yield to their prudence, and their passion to their interest; and that enmity as well as friendship in royal breasts should always give way to policy”.
The incident I particularly wanted to share was Lord Stair’s remonstrance to Queen Caroline on the Excise Bill. The Bill, proposed by Sir Robert Walpole, caused great unrest. Initially intended to put an end to wholesale smuggling and lower the land tax by converting customs on tobacco and wine into excises, the Excise Bill soon became a byword for tyranny. Gossip and general ignorance made people fearful Excise officers would burst into their houses and loot. Lord Stair begged an interview with Caroline to inform her of the public view.
Now, I’ve read many accounts of lords speaking to Caroline, begging favours and remonstrating with policy. But reading Lord Stair’s words made my mouth hang open. He was so disrespectful and warm I expected Caroline to finally lose her temper. Knowing her pride and her character, all I could think as I read was, “Why would you say that to her?” and “Oh God, what is she going to do to him?” Here are some of Lord Stair’s most inflammatory sentences.
Your Majesty knows nothing of this man [Walpole] but what he tells you himself…His power being thus universally dreaded, and his measures universally disliked, and your Majesty being thought his protectress; give me leave to say, Madam, the odium incurred by his oppressions and injustice is not entirely confined to his own person. If your Majesty thinks the English so degenerated, and the minds of the people so enslaved, as to receive chains without struggling against those who endeavour to fasten them…you are right to persevere in the maintenance of this project. That [Walpole] governs your Majesty nobody doubts, and very few scruple to say. No greater proof can be given of the infinite sway this man has usurped over you, Madam…for what cannot that man persuade you to, who can make you, Madam, love a Campbell [Lord Isla and his brother the Duke of Argyle]?
Caroline’s response was superb. She stopped him at one point to remind him he was talking to the King’s wife, and when Lord Stair dwelt upon his conscience she laughed and said “Ah, my lord, do not speak to me of conscience, you make me faint!” She then responded with:
Surely, my lord, you think you are either talking to a child or one that doats… You have made so very free with me personally in this conference, my lord, that I hope you will think I am entitled to speak my mind with very little reserve to you… I am no more to be imposed upon by your professions than I am to be terrified by your threats.
Caroline then demolished both his arguments and the reasons he had given for them, delivering a thrust to Lord Stair’s honour by turning his accusation of betraying the country back on him.
Remember the Peerage Bill, my lord. Who then betrayed the interest of their constituents?The English Lords in passing that Bill were only guilty of tyranny, but every Scotch Lord was guilty of the last treachery; and whether you were one of the sixteen traitors, your own memory, I believe, will serve to tell you without the assistance of mine.
Caroline then laid waste to Lord Stair’s pretensions of political intelligence by stating he got his system of politics from the newspaper The Craftsman and his sentiments from Lord Bolingbroke and Lord Carteret “two worthless men…the greatest liars and knaves in any country”. The queen finished her devastating response with word of advice:
If you are a friend to the King, detach yourself from his enemies; if you are a friend to truth, take your intelligence for the future from those who deal in it; if you are a friend to honest, do not heard with those who disclaim it.
I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly want Queen Caroline on my side in an argument!
We’re a whole week into 2014 and I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a very happy new year! It looks to be an exciting one, both personally and historically.
Whilst we mark a tragic centenary in remembering the start of World War I, there are also happier anniversaries. Chief amongst these for me, of course, is the tri-centenary of the Hanoverian ascension to the British throne. That’s right; it was a whole three hundred years ago that the House of Stuart handed the reins (or reigns, if you’ll excuse the pun) over to a brand new dynasty. However, that wasn’t the last we heard of the Stuarts – they certainly weren’t going without a fight!
Actually there is some doubt as to whether Queen Anne really wanted to settle her country on the Hanoverians. She didn’t hold a high opinion of her intended successor’s son – later George I – and she fell out with the House of Hanover over the Treaty of Utrecht. There was enough prevarication to make the Hanoverians anxious Anne would change her mind before she died. Indeed, many Jacobites were later to claim Anne repented of her decision on her death bed, but didn’t have time to alter the legal succession. If that’s true, it’s very lucky for me!
A monarch from the House of Hanover sat on the British throne between 1 August 1714 and 22 January 1901: George I, George II, George III, George IV, William IV and Queen Victoria. Although the name of the royal house changed with Victoria and Albert’s son, our current royal family remain descendants of the Hanoverians.
There have been tantalising rumours about Victoria, which suggest she was actually a bastard child and not Hanoverian at all. With this particular theory, the visual evidence speaks for itself. I only have to look at a portrait or a photography of Victoria, no matter her stage in life, and I see the House of Hanover stamped all over her face. She has the protruding eyes, fleshy chin and high forehead characteristic to the family. She often reminds me of her grandfather George III, or her cousin Princess Charlotte of Wales.
I look forward to sharing more stories from the lives of these fascinating monarchs with you over the coming twelve months. Remember to celebrate the anniversary by visiting Historic Royal Palaces, who are planning many events!
Christmas can be a difficult season. Tradition dictates we spend time with our families, a test that truly proves if we can wish peace and goodwill to all men! Warring relatives and Christmas arguments are familiar to many of us. But if you have a difficult family situation this holiday season, you’re in good company. Meet Princess Charlotte, daughter to one of royalty’s most dysfunctional couples.
Charlotte’s mother Caroline and her father, the Prince Regent, hated each other with a mortal passion. Charlotte grew up tossed between the two. The Prince Regent’s position of authority meant he got more access to her. But in character, Charlotte was more like her mother – fun-loving and spirited. She didn’t fit in with the meek and demure role the royal family expected her to play.
It was Charlotte’s misfortune to spend much of her time at Windsor with her grandmother, the Queen, and her aunts. Whilst they were all kind and devoted to her, they were simply boring to a girl of Charlotte’s age and disposition. What’s more, Aunts Mary and Elizabeth were out to manipulate her and bend her to her father’s will. Charlotte often described Windsor as a prison, writing I think of nothing but how I can get out of their clutches and torment them afterwards.
Having briefly escaped captivity in Cranbourne Lodge, where she was watched like a dangerous criminal, Charlotte was forced to return from her summer resort of Weymouth and spend Christmas 1814 at Windsor. She was in poor spirits, suffering from bad health and disappointment in love. Her journey was very uncomfortable, punctuated by the “eternal fidgets and frights” of her lady companion.
Like many interfering relatives, the royals wanted to see Charlotte married.On Christmas Eve the year before, Charlotte’s grandmother had attempted to give her some “good advice” on her love life, and we can imagine how this was received. But to the Queen’s credit, she did implore her granddaughter never to marry a man she did not like, as it would cause her endless misery. Although the Queen did not advocate Charlotte disobeying her father, she believed she had a right to her own opinion, and to stand firm by it.
The Prince Regent wanted Charlotte the marry the thin, plain though good-humoured Prince of Orange. She had serious reservations about the young man, whose family her mother disapproved of. Not only was he far below her standards of a dream-prince, he would force her to live abroad for much of the year. Charlotte feared her mother would become lonely and her father would try to remarry and get another heir in her absence. But most importantly, Charlotte was still in love with a philanderer, Prince Augustus. Although she had recently been disillusioned, she was not ready to move on yet. But Charlotte’s only advocates against the Orange match were her Aunt Sophia and grandmother the Queen.
On Christmas Day 1814, Charlotte found herself forced to spend time alone with Aunt Mary and her father. A kind of interrogation began. First, the Prince Regent confided that he had been making inquiries into the parentage of Willy Austin, a young boy her mother had adopted. He warned Charlotte that after his death, Caroline may claim the boy was actually his and true heir to the throne. He knew, presumably, the jealous dislike Charlotte had always nurtured against the boy. Seizing the advantage of her shock, he pressed her for information about the men who hung around her mother – could any of them be her lovers? Unsure what to say, Charlotte admitted she had suspected Captain Manby.
Switching tactic, the Prince began to talk of the 18th Hussars, then stationed at Windsor. Charlotte was coerced into revealing her past feelings for Captain Hesse of that regiment. He had ridden beside her carriage, they had written, exchanged presents and he had often visited her mother’s apartments at Kensington Palace. On one occasion, in fact, her mother had locked them in a bedroom and said “I leave you to enjoy yourselves.”
“God knows,” Charlotte said, “What would have become of me if he had not behaved with so much respect.”
This was just what the Prince Regent and Aunt Mary wanted to hear. They could use this against Charlotte’s mother. Whilst sympathetic to Charlotte’s plight, the Regent advised her it was Providence alone that had saved her virtue from Hesse. Caroline had been extremely wicked. The family was then called in for Christmas dinner.
That wasn’t the end of Charlotte’s trials, though. The Prince Regent returned to London, but Aunt Mary kept up the questions. She asked Charlotte if it was Caroline who had made her adverse to the Prince of Orange. Did Charlotte not see, Mary asked, that her mother didn’t want her to marry respectably? She suggested Caroline had orchestrated the whole Captain Hesse affair to shame and discredit Charlotte, in order to put her bastard boy Willy on the throne. Poor Charlotte was forced to admit, “I never knew whether Captain Hesse was my mother’s lover or mine.”
Charlotte slept ill that Christmas night. She was horrified that she’d incriminated her mother. She still loved Caroline, swearing that, “There is no hazard or risk to serve my poor mother that I would not run, if it would be of any avail”.
Consequently, a tense Charlotte wrote to Aunt Mary on Boxing Day to beg for her discretion. Except it be absolutely necessary, I hope all that passed in your room yesterday will be kept sacred within your bosom. Not much chance of that. Ever eager to please her brother, Aunt Mary had reported to the Prince Regent almost the moment Charlotte left her the previous evening.
Unsurprisingly, Charlotte was less fond of Aunt Mary after this Christmas!
Many people have been asking me if Queen Charlotte was black – or telling me that she certainly was. Wouldn’t that be an amazing piece of history? You have no idea how great it would be to write a book about a queen who secretly concealed the colour of her skin. That thing would market itself. But sadly, the popular theory is largely unfounded. Before anyone gets too excited, I felt compelled to list here the reasons that I believe we are still waiting for England’s first black queen.
A good starting place is this Guardian article from 2009. As it explains, there’s a historian called Mario de Valdes y Cocom who claims Charlotte was descended from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family, related to Margarita de Castro e Souza, a 15th-century Portuguese noblewoman nine generations removed. Although it has some flaws, I can run with this theory that there were African roots deep in Charlotte’s blood. Her features, more prominent in her youth, do suggest an African ancestry somewhere along the line (no stereotype or offense intended). Yet as Stuart Jeffries asks in the article, if this makes Charlotte black, aren’t we all? Most of us have a rich and mixed heritage in our blood, and that’s one of the many reasons racism and xenophobia are so ridiculous.
However, it’s not Valdes’ ideas I object to: it’s the claim from others that Charlotte was an illegitimate child, whose father was black, and thus earned the eighteenth-century term “mulatto”. It would take a lot of swallowing not only to believe that Charlotte’s mother was unfaithful, but that her father would agree to take on and raise such a child as his own. But then, of course, there’s the marriage to King George III. Obviously, it would depend on how dark Charlotte’s skin actually was, but surely the family would have been horrified at the chance of their secret being revealed? Why would they agree to give Charlotte in marriage and not push for her elder, unmarried sister to wed the King in order to save the family name?
Even supposing all these hurdles could be overcome, there’s George himself. While certainly a sympathetic and kind man, I can’t imagine him agreeing to cover up such a secret for Charlotte. He was disappointed with her looks at first, and discovery of illegitimacy would have been a great excuse to get rid of her. Moreover, neither George nor Charlotte would have been able to hide the truth from the servants. Gossip would have spread far and wide. George’s mother Augusta would have found out – and, I verily believe, sent Charlotte packing. But in fact, there were no contemporary speculations about the Queen’s ethnicity. At a time when the royal family hovered on the brink of revolution and came in for a good deal of battering and satire in caricatures, who would let the suspicion that the Queen was half black slide? The observation that she had ” a true mulatto face” referred to in the article wasn’t followed by any questions about her ancestry – but the commenter did go on to say she had grown fat. Poor Charlotte.
If there was African ancestry, it certainly didn’t rub off on the children. The majority of Charlotte’s fifteen offspring were blonde-haired, blue-eyed dolls with porcelain skin. This would be possible if Charlotte had African descent deep in her roots, but I’m not sure this would be the case if she was half black. And what about her son, William, who spoke out loudly in favour of the slave trade? Would he really do such a thing with a mulatto mother?
I guess another possibility that has to be listed, for the sake of covering all bases, is that Charlotte was an albino mulatto. I found this very interesting article with some beautiful pictures. But it’s a stretch to believe that, as well as the unlikely illegitimate conception and cover up, Charlotte had a rare genetic condition. Anything is possible, but somethings are not probable.
My last point revolves around the make-up Charlotte would have to use in order to “paste for white”. Remember the tragic society beauty Maria Gunning, who died in 1760 after using too much ceruse? Well, her beauty routine would have been mild compared to Charlotte’s. Again, depending on the shade of her skin, she would have needed to cover every inch of her body day and night, for there would hardly be a moment when she didn’t have ladies in waiting in attendance. Over-use of this paint or paste often resulted in hair loss, tooth decay and premature death. But Charlotte showed none of these symptoms and lived to a ripe age of seventy-four. In fact, talking of hair loss, we have existing specimens of her hair. They are, as George III described the one sent to him before their marriage, “light and remarkably fine.”
I truly hope we will have a black queen one day. But much as I would like Charlotte to be the one to carry that torch, the evidence doesn’t stack up for me. Still, in the interest of historical debate, here are some images of Charlotte that have given rise to speculation.
And here are pictures of Charlotte’s family from Wikipedia.
One of the reasons Sophia, fifth daughter of George III, attracts attention is that she probably bore an illegitimate child. Although some historians still dispute the idea, I am convinced by the evidence. There is too much smoke for there to be no fire. According to Flora Fraser, author of the biography Princesses a letter Sophia wrote to her old nurse in 1805 “shows plainly” that she was a mother - although frustratingly, Fraser doesn’t quote the correspondence. But if an illegitimate birth wasn’t scandalous enough, Sophia earned another slur against her name: the suggestion that her child’s father was in fact her brother, Ernest, later King of Hanover.
What could give rise to such a shocking rumour and could it be true? It is within the realm of possibility; Ernest’s close relationship with Sophia was noted, and he present at Windsor in the winter of 1799, when Sophia would have conceived. But so was the other candidate for the father of Sophia’s child: General Thomas Garth.
The story of Sophia’s baby starts in July 1800, when she and her sister Amelia set off for the annual trip to Weymouth a day before the rest of their family, staying at a trusted servant’s house along the way. Sophia was so ill that the royals extended their usual holiday all the way until early October. Legend has it George III believed his daughter was suffering from dropsy, a common complaint in the family, and was informed she had been cured by eating roast beef. Her real complaint may have been the late stages pregnancy.
The doctor in attendance, Millman, received a baronetcy for his care of the princess – a nice gesture, but also one that could be viewed as a bribe to keep certain facts secret. In the same August, Mr and Mrs Sharland, tailors living on the Weymouth esplanade, adopted a newborn foundling “Thomas Ward, stranger” to nurse alongside their own baby son. It is this little Thomas, or Tommy, who Sophia supposedly bore.
I’ve recently finished reading A Humble Companion by Laurie Graham, a historical fiction novel told from the point of view of Sophia’s companion. I was interested to find that Graham, rather bravely, chose to run with the incest theory. I’ve never found the idea convincing, but I have to say Graham gave me food for thought. After all, wasn’t Sophia’s son Tommy a reckless womanizer, very much like Ernest in character? Well, that could happen if Ernest was just his uncle, I suppose. But then, if General Garth was the father, how was it he stayed in favour with the royal family? Queen Charlotte treated the lovers of Princesses Amelia and Augusta with disdain, yet she was always cordial towards Garth, as was the Prince Regent, who gave him a place in his daughter’s household. Would they really treat a seducer with such respect?
Graham suggests that Garth was a loyal servant who placed Sophia and Ernest’s child with a good family and later agreed to adopt and raise him, at the request of the Queen. In A Humble Companion, it was Garth’s duty and good nature that kept his mouth shut. But this overlooks a very important fact: Princess Sophia had certainly fallen in love with General Garth.
One of the Queen’s ladies records Sophia’s violent passion for the equerry in 1798, which was visible to the whole court. “She could not contain herself in his presence”, we are told. At the same time, Sophia’s sister Mary wrote about Garth and “the purple light of love”. A letter from Sophia to Garth still exists, in which she mentions rings they exchanged as gifts and addresses him with wild terms of endearment. “Your calling me your S makes me as proud as Lucifer…I love you more and more every day. God bless you, my dearest dear General.” It seems to me that Garth must have been Tommy’s father. The child was named for its father, and Garth later adopted the child, raising him with his correct surname and referring to him as “mine, if there is faith in woman”.
But while there is, in my opinion, stronger evidence for Garth’s claim, the Ernest theory is not without basis. While I consider Ernest rather harshly treated by history, there is no pretending he was a pleasant person. He had a dry, cruel wit and seduced across the Continent. Neither nuns nor married women were safe from his attentions. The husband of one of his lovers committed suicide. In the course of his life, Ernest leant his name to rumours of sodomy and murder. Controversy could have been his middle name. His sisters made it clear from correspondence that they didn’t like to be left in a room alone with him, but whether this was due to his scathing humour or something more sinister, we are not told. Sophia’s words were these: ” Dear Ernest is as kind to me as it is possible, rather a little imprudent at times, but when told of it never takes it ill.” Who will ever know what his imprudence was?
Glenbervie states in his diary that the court “in a manner admitted” that Sophia was Tommy’s mother, “as the story generally goes by General Garth… the Queen thinks Garth the father”. But he also records “the Princess of Wales told Lady Sheffield there is great reason to suspect the father to be the Duke of Cumberland (Ernest)”. I don’t set much store by this. Caroline, Princess of Wales, was famous for tall and wild tales. In her life she tried to convince people she was pregnant when she wasn’t, spoke of past lovers she didn’t have and pretended her ward, Willy Austin, was the son of a foreign prince smuggled over to England for safety. She isn’t one to stake your hopes on for truth. Having said that, it does seem remarkable that Caroline would start such a vicious rumour against Sophia, who was always kind to her.
Sophia was prone to fantastic adoration of all her brothers. In later life, Frederick Duke of York became her whole world. Yet the rumour of incest only haunted Ernest. It could well be that the ultra-Tory, abrasive Ernest earned more political enemies than the other brothers, leading to malicious gossip. It’s certainly a hard stretch of the imagination to picture Sophia, often timid, sheltered and raised with devout religion, consenting to an incestuous relationship. But the other theory, which paints Ernest in an even darker light, is that she was raped.
Could this be possible? I think not. Many of Sophia’s siblings knew about Tommy, but their attitude towards Ernest didn’t change. Would they have been able to love him and Sophia, as they continued to do, if they had committed incest? Would Sophia be able to speak of Ernest with affection and receive his visits if he’d put her through such an ordeal? Would Queen Charlotte or the Prince Regent tolerate him in England? It seems highly unlikely.
The answer to our questions lies a box of documents, which Garth gave to Tommy, revealing the truth about his birth. Conveniently, the box was “lost” at the bank, disappearing into a great black void. Obviously the royal family wanted the documents suppressed, but this would be true whether Garth or Ernest were the father. Newspapers suggested the box contained letters from Sophia to Garth, complaining about Ernest’s “attempts on her person”. If these letters did exist, they raise another dramatic possibility: that Sophia and Garth were lovers but her brother raped and impregnated her, leaving Garth to adopt the child for the sake of his princess.
Whether it was over Ernest or not, Sophia and Garth did quarrel and separate. They never married, even after Queen Charlotte died, when the indulgent George IV may have permitted it. The subject of disagreement was the thing that should have bound them together: Tommy himself. “It is very, very desirable that some check should be put to the odd conduct of a certain person…” wrote Sophia to Mrs Villiers from Weymouth. “That person is very difficult to manage”. A proud father, Garth paraded Tommy up and down the Esplanade at Weymouth and forced him on the attention of Princess Charlotte when she visited – actions that suggest, again, Tommy was not the product of incest. But Garth couldn’t understand Sophia’s reluctance to see her child. She writes “…what hurt me the more was the indelicacy this year of knowing it so near to me and that I never could go through the town without the dread of meeting what would have half killed me, had I met it.” Once more, there are two ways we can interpret the letter. The first is that Sophia was resolved to keep Tommy secret and George III’s state of mind intact by distancing herself. She was so overcome with emotion she didn’t want to see him, lest she broke down, and she didn’t refer to him by name or even gender in her letters to preserve the secret. Then again, you could say Sophia was in dread of an unnatural, incestuous child who reminded her of an attack, and referred to him as “it”.
What does Sophia herself have to say? In the early days of the scandal, when even her sister Elizabeth didn’t know the truth, Sophia wrote to Lady Harcourt. She denied the rumours about Tommy, but acknowledged “I have partially myself to blame for them”. In other letters, she also agrees her behaviour was at fault. But the most striking sentence is this: “It is grievous to think what a little trifle will slur a young woman’s character forever”. Surely if she had borne an illegitimate child – much lest an incestuous one – she wouldn’t consider it a little trifle?
In my novel about Sophia, I chose Garth as Tommy’s father. Since I was writing from Sophia’s point of view, I didn’t make Ernest a villain. Whether he really raped her or not, he was always a dear brother in her eyes. Not only was it easier for me to write, it was easier for me to believe a naive, sheltered girl could fall in love with an “ugly” equerry twice her age. The Sophia in my mind would never consent to an incestuous relationship with her dashing, dangerous brother. But as for the truth – I’ll let you make up your own minds.
When writing about the courts of the Hanoverian monarchs, I often come across women whose lives would make fascinating stories all on their own. In the course of my career, I hope to branch out and give these lovely ladies a novel for themselves. The one uppermost in my mind at present is Molly Lepell, later Lady Hervey. The darling of George II’s court, wife to a handsome wit, she seemed to have it all. But if you scratch beneath the beautiful surface, you find a very different story.
Right from her birth in 1700, Molly was placed in the role of courtier. Her father was Nicholas Wedig Lepell, who had come over to England with Queen Anne’s husband Prince George of Denmark. Mr Lepell, although partial to King James II, managed to survive the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and stay with the court all the way to the end of the Stuart reign, having won the highly prized favour of Queen Anne’s bosom pal, Sarah Churchill. The friendship of this important lady, along with Lepell’s German blood, ensured that when George I came to the throne in 1714, Molly secured a place in the royal household as Maid of Honour to the Princess of Wales, Caroline.
Nowhere could be more exciting to a teenage girl than Caroline’s witty, fashionable court. The Maids of Honour were known trouble makers, waking up in the night to rattle on windows, involving themselves in endless scandal and even flirting with the young men of the court throughout divine service, forcing Caroline to build a screen over their pew! Although they were all young and beautiful, the two stars were Molly and her friend Mary Bellenden. Molly’s court nickname was the Schatz, which is German from Treasure. Thanks to their friendship with poets such as John Gay and Alexander Pope, Molly and Mary were immortalized in verse at this time, described as the perfect nymphs. Indeed, Molly was once suspected of being mistress and spy to George I, although these claims are largely unfounded.
Beneath the gaiety, Molly was prone to bouts of depression. But it seemed she had put lonely times behind her when, in April 1720, she secretly married John Hervey, second son of the Earl of Bristol. Femininely pretty, full of wit and ability, Hervey was considered the perfect match for such a beautiful star of the court. The couple told their families but did not formally announce the wedding until October of the same year, presumably in fear of royal anger.
At first the couple were very much in love, embarrassing other courtiers with their affection. Lord Bristol wrote to tell Molly that his son “loves you so much above himself”. However, the marriage was not to be everything Molly hoped.
Although she had little fortune, Molly managed to win over Hervey’s devoted father, Lord Bristol. The two remained close until his death. She did not succeed in the same way with Hervey’s fractious mother. Before long the two were arguing like Billingsgate fishwives, though one is tempted to side with Molly in every squabble. Lady Bristol was, by all accounts, a most unreasonable woman. Hervey once described his mother as being like Mount Vesuvius, throwing out fire and rubbish.
The two ladies argued about the upbringing of Molly’s children. Molly was forced to send her first son, George, to the Hervey estate of Ickworth to be with his over-protective grandmother long before she was recovered enough from childbirth to make the journey with him. It isn’t surprising that, with a throb of possessiveness, Molly wanted to at least have some influence over her first daughter by calling her Lepell. Lady Bristol objected strongly – she was the girl’s godmother, and should be her namesake. At last Molly carried her point and managed to call her daughter Lepell, but it was a hard won victory and left a taint of bitterness.
Before long, Hervey’s health problems drew him to Europe. Rather than taking his devoted wife with him, he chose as a companion Mr Stephen Fox. Hervey had a long standing close relationship with both Fox brothers, but his relationship with “Ste” rapidly turned into something more. It is hard to tell whether Molly knew her husband had fallen in love with another man, but I believe she did. It is immensely to her credit that, despite the jealousy she must have felt, she remained on good terms with the Fox brothers even after their common link, Hervey, had passed away. It is tragic to see Molly’s needy correspondence from this time, as she writes to Stephen to beg for news that Hervey will not send her. After a long entreaty for information about the state of his health, she finishes by telling Stephen, “I beg my lord mayn’t know about this letter”. Indeed, in his voluminous correspondence, Hervey barely refers to his wife at all, as if she was a thing of no consequence.
Back in England, marooned in Ickworth with her husband’s family, Molly had few comforts. Her friends all accused her of taking on her husband’s affected mannerisms. If they had known the whole story, they might’ve realised Molly’s attempts to be witty and scathing like Hervey were a desperate woman’s tactics to win back his love. Books were her only companions in the long days she spent nursing Hervey’s sickly sisters. “My spirits,” she wrote to Henrietta Howard, “which, as you know were once very good, are so much impaired that I question if even Hampton Court breakfasts could recover them or revive the Schatz, who is extinguished in a fatigued nurse, a grieved sister and a melancholy wife.”
The death of Hervey’s elder brother, Carr, in 1723 made Molly Lady, rather than Mrs Hervey, and her husband heir to the title and estate. Despite this, and the fact that Hervey became Vice-Chamberlain to Queen Caroline in 1727, Molly didn’t get much chance to return to court and find out if Hampton Court suppers could indeed revive the Schatz. She spent some time in her husband’s chambers when he was in London and visited court to greet Prince Frederick from Hanover in 1728. But after playing second fiddle to Stephen Fox for so long, it became clear that she was now expected to come second best to her former mistress, Queen Caroline. Whenever there was an emotional void in Hervey’s life, he didn’t turn to his waiting and ready wife – he found someone else.
To top it all off, Hervey continued to take mistresses, such as Anne Vane, and other male lovers. It is hardly surprising that Molly grew to resent him, finding solace instead in gossip at Bath, fashionable saloons and her children. As the end of Hervey’s life approached, their marriage deteriorated rapidly. Molly was at Ickworth trying to nurse her husband in his final days, but he refused to have her near him. As a further slap in the face, he cut her out of his will, leaving all the money to her younger children “born in wedlock”. This implies Molly had been unfaithful to him (and I for one wouldn’t blame her!) but there is no gossip or evidence from the period I have found yet to suggest a lover. Could it be that it was all in the ill and crotchety Hervey’s drugged mind? Either way, he also sought to separate Molly from her youngest daughter Carolina, who he wanted to be raised by a Mrs Horner. Luckily for Molly, sense prevailed and Mrs Horner refused to obey Hervey’s will.
Considering all of this, it must have been some relief for Molly when her once beloved husband finally passed away on 5 August, 1743. She was to outlive her spouse by 28 years, although she never married again – once bitten, twice shy, I presume! Molly spent her widowhood traveling, gossiping, flirting and caring for her wayward children.
I realised it was unforgivable, in a blog about Georgian historical fiction, not to provide reviews for the novels I read set in this period. So from now on, I’m going to include occasional posts about other books to stop you getting bored with mine!
I’ve recently finished reading Diane Haeger’s The Secret Wife of George IV. I must admit, I’d been putting off reading this for a while, because I didn’t want to be influenced by another work when writing my own story about Maria Fitzherbert. So when a rough draft of A Forbidden Crown was complete, I decided I’d give it a try. But then, two fears crept up on me. Firstly, what if I hated it? There’s nothing more annoying than reading a book where the time period and characters you love are gradually destroyed. What’s more, if I did hate it and then reviewed it, I’d be suspected of trying to take down the competition maliciously. But the second fear was even worse – what if I adored it? What if it was the best story in the world about Maria, said everything I wanted to say, was far better than anything I could ever do and made me want to rip A Forbidden Crown into teeny tiny shreds?
Happily, I fell in between these two extremes. I found Haeger’s work to be a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience, sprinkled with delightful period detail. However, her interpretations of Maria and George are rather different from mine and the focus of her story is romance. This means A Forbidden Crown still has something new to say about the characters – hooray! Naturally, I’m hard to please when it comes to interpretations of the Hanoverian dynasty. For fairness, I’m going to split my review into one of a reader’s perspective and one of a historian’s. The historical review will have spoilers!
As a Reader
I’ve never read stories by Diane Haeger before, but I’ll certainly download some more. The writing style draws you in right from the start. Haeger is gifted at painting characters and descriptions. There were many scenes where I felt I was really there with the characters in Almack’s or on the sea front.
In this tragic love story, she does a magnificent job of handling emotions, capturing perfectly the despair and desire felt by the couple. There were times when I felt the romance was perhaps a little overblown – lots of “You are my soul”. However, this is a romance novel, and if anyone was over the top in protestations of love, it was George IV.
The novel uses multiple points of view, which gave a good insight into the world outside of the couple’s bubble and took a look at interesting figures such as Charles James Fox. Although I didn’t mind switching viewpoint in general, I did get frustrated when it happened within the same scene. Haeger “head-hops” between characters quite a bit. I got confused when I walked into a room with Maria, found out what Fox and Georgiana thought about her, then left the scene in George’s head. Some readers might not mind this but it spoiled my enjoyment a little.
In the main, there’s lot of action. However, I did find the last few years were rushed through, with lots more telling than showing. Having said that, the end strikes just the right note and is packed with emotion, despite a few “listing” chapters leading up to it.
I would certainly recommend this book to others.
As a Historian
There’s no doubt that George IV is treated harshly by fiction and history alike. It was refreshing to read something sympathetic to his predicament – but I have to say, I found Haeger’s approach rather too sympathetic.
Characters refer to the prince as “wild” and a drunk, and on his death-bed he mourns his “petty selfishness”, yet we never see any of it. All we see are noble actions. He talks of his demons, but they don’t seem to haunt him. He finds it astonishingly easy to give up alcohol with no backsliding and only lies to protect people. I feel we need to see George’s bad side for a fair assessment. My fascination for the man stems from his contradictions; at the same time he was a rash fool, he was also a lovely and kind man. He was petulant, childish and selfish; loving, devoted and charitable. To fully understand Maria’s difficulty in this relationship, I needed to see more of this contrast. As it was, I felt George was an utter victim and had never done a bad thing in his life. One of the great stage-moments of his wooing/bullying Maria into marrying him was an attempted suicide – Haeger leaves this out completely.
Haeger’s theory has George taking up with his mistress Lady Jersey under duress, caring nothing for her, and marrying Caroline of Brunswick to save Maria from hideous gossip. Jersey is his “foil”, used to fool Maria into believing he has gone back to his old ways and make her angry enough to leave him. Personally, I don’t buy this. George was besotted with Lady Jersey and endured the hatred of the nation for her sake. He also used her to taunt Caroline. No mention is made of George marrying Caroline for money, as he certainly did. The choice of bride is also foisted on George III. In fact, the bridegroom suggested Caroline himself. George III was not usually in favour of cousins marrying.
George’s debt is imputed to the King being stingy, rather than his own carelessness. In truth, it was a mixture of both, but it sat ill with me to read of George ordering staff to sell all his luxury items and “see the profit divided equally between my staff and their families for the money they are owed.” – George was notorious for never paying staff. However, this novel has him determined to pay his devoted servants “even if he had to sell every last stick of furniture and precious art in Carlton House”. I don’t think so. The other miracle is that George never seems to get fat. In his old age, we have one scene of him on the porky side, but he’s still described as muscular and handsome at periods when he weighed at least 17 stone.
It saddened me that the complex relationship between George and his parents was only just touched on. George III was made out to be a monster; we only saw him and Charlotte twice throughout the whole book. What’s more, the Regency crisis – perhaps the most important incident in any story about George IV – was reduced to one argument with the Queen. George wasn’t shown taking advantage of his father, hungering after power or trying to organise the next government.. He made a brief trip down to London and only wanted to be King so he could make Maria Queen.
Other characters were strangely skewed, too. Maria’s great friend Lady Anne Lindsay hardly features, but when she does it is to inform the lovestruck George where Maria is travelling in France. Lady Anne was against the marriage and although she did help George in the end, it was very reluctantly, not at all in an attempt to trap Maria as it seems to be here. Maria’s companion Belle Pigot becomes a sort of foster-mother for George, a person he was apparently closer to than the Queen, but I’ve never come across anything like this in the history books. Then there was Captain Jack Payne – somehow transmuted here into a butler called Jacko Payne. Why? Maria’s butler was Whale. There was no obvious reason for these changes. I did feel, however, that Lord and Lady Seymour were drawn well, and also Lady Sefton. These characters had traits I had read about in the past and made for a richer story.
Maria was well interpreted and I was pleased Haeger had included her temper and her pride – characteristics that are often overlooked. I found her a likeable character, but hard to understand towards the end. Her ambition was left out, I believe in an attempt to heighten the disinterested romance. I laughed aloud when she cried “I do not want his wretched money!” – since Maria spent many years trying to get her allowance paid by George. Maria’s longing for a child is well described, although she seems to mistakenly think the laws of England could not take a bastard by George away from her.
The main problem with Maria’s character in this portrayal arises over the Lady Hertford issue. Again protecting George from any possible slur on his character, Haeger has him flirt with Lady Hertford only to keep her sweet and let Maria look after Minney Seymour. I could potentially believe this (although he later clearly chose Lady Hertford over Maria) and it might have worked for the story, if not for one thing: in this book, he explains his actions to Maria. When she challenges him about Lady Hertford, he confesses it is a deception to make sure she can retain custody of Minney. Given these circumstances, it is almost incomprehensible why Maria leaves him for the last time. It seems whimsical. When it’s clear she loves him so much, it’s hard to believe something he is doing for her could cause them to split.
Haeger also explores Maria’s admirers outside of the royal circle, which I was glad of, for she was a woman much in demand. I think history tends to see her like the caricatures – dull, fat and old – when in truth she was quite the toast of society. I had heard the Duke of Bedford loved Maria, but I feel a little too much was made of it in this story. Not only does the Duke follow her to France, he later sleeps with her and takes her to St. James’s Palace on the day of George’s wedding. In fact, Maria was at Marble Hill and refused to believe the messenger who told her George had gone through with the ceremony. I also don’t think she’d ever sleep with someone outside of marriage, let alone the Duke.
From a research point of view, there were little inaccuracies peppered throughout. One that glared at me was the mention of a vase, which apparently George’s “grandfather had given to him personally shortly before his own death.” Both George’s grandfathers were long dead before his parents were even married. I nearly blew a gasket when Sheridan was described as Scottish. And then the beach at Brighton was described as sandy, when it’s shingle or pebble. These things are perhaps fussy, but they bothered me. A turn of phrase upset me as well. Maria was making up her mind up to something and thought “That’s it. Period.” Not only is this far too modern a phrase for the eighteenth-century mind, but it’s an American word. If Maria thought that, she would have thought “Full stop”. Yes, it’s petty, but these are the kinds of things my critique group would pick up in a first reading. I just wonder how they made it through.
In summary, I would say the history and characters of Maria and George are recognisable but not entirely accurate in this portrayal. Many concessions have been made to make a better romance. I would recommend this book as a good read and something for people who already know the history. It gives a lovely flavour of the period but, I feel, an idealised view of the people who lived through it.