Month: September 2012

God Save the King

Huzzah! The post I’ve been working towards for so long – God Save the King is now available for you to purchase!

I have to offer my heartfelt thanks to my husband Kevin, who not only helped with cover design, typesetting and beta reading, but also managed to squeeze the release into George III’s coronation day :) His is the rating of five stars you will see on the product page – I’ve told you before, he’s biased! Other thanks go to beta readers Anna Roche, Dan Payne and Hannah Renowden, as well as my great editor Jennifer Quinlan.

God Save the King is currently printing through Lulu and you can purchase it by clicking on the above image or here. The ISBN is 9780956161017 and will soon be showing on Amazon and Barnes and Noble – I understand it can take up to a week to appear there.  For all of you on the Kindle, don’t despair, the ebook is on its way! We just have a bit of tweaking to do to make sure it’s perfect for you.

I can’t wait for you all to meet Queen Charlotte and I really hope you come to love her as sincerely as I do.

Happy reading and thank you for all your support!

Coronation Day

George III’s sixty year reign began when his grandfather, George II, died at Kensington Palace in 1760. However, he wasn’t crowned King until Tuesday, 22 September 1761 – by which time he had a Queen to share the ceremony with.

Just two weeks after arriving in England and marrying George, Charlotte was on display once more. The hot sun that had blessed her wedding was still burning bright and she had yet more heavy robes to drag through the day.

Above is the Allan Ramsay portrait of George III in his coronation robes. It is one of the few portraits of George dressed in regal splendour – later pictures reflect his humble tastes, showing him in his Windsor uniform or a red jacket frogged in gold lace. The robes are currently on display at Kensington Palace, and I had the good fortune to see them for myself. One can only imagine how young George, still only 23, felt wearing them for his big moment. When writing God Save the King, I used the Ramsay portrait as inspiration  for Charlotte’s love of George. When we see portraits of the older, portly man with bulging blue eyes and a long nose, we often forget that George was a handsome young Prince. Joshua Reynolds painted a portrait of him as Prince of Wales in 1759 which shows a dashing young man, hand on hip, staring at the artist with confidence. However, the Ramsay portrait appeals to me more, because I think it catches an important expression in George’s face. He is serene and noble, gazing out across his reign as if seeing he has a lot of work to do, but feeling capable and sure of himself. In the long years of political turmoil and illness ahead, it must have been an expression Charlotte remembered fondly and longed to see return to her husband’s features.

Charlotte was also painted by Ramsay, albeit with a less flattering brush. Her face betrays just how young she is – and the wide mouth and pointed noise which the public would criticise as “ugly”.  Personally, I like the fact that Charlotte wasn’t the typical “beautiful” Queen. We see a gauche, vulnerable girl who we can relate to. You can practically feel her fatigue as she tries to hold up her costume, described as “a stiffened bodied robe, embroidered. Gold tissue petticoat, diamond stomacher, purple velvet sleeves. Diamonds, pearls as big as cherries, girdle. Purple velvet surcoat and mantle with ermine and lace, purple velvet cap.” To all this finery was added a sweet little crown George had given her for a wedding present, a mother of pearl fan and a set of “coronation locks”. It was tradition for Queens to be crowned with long curls flowing around their shoulders. Although Charlotte had perfectly lovely hair, it seems that on this occasion, fake extensions were brought in to add to its lustre.

Charlotte was the last English Queen to take part in a true coronation procession. She walked along a railed platform, carpeted in blue, from Westminster Hall to the west door of the Abbey. As maids dressed in blue and white sprinkled her path with herbs and rosebuds, she glided along with her seven train-bearers holding her steady. Above her head was a canopy of gold cloth. which tinkled when the breeze caught the silver bells tied to its corners. It must have been a magnificent sight.

When at last the King and Queen ducked out of the autumn sunlight into the cool splendour of Westminster abbey, a chorus rose up to meet their ears. Fifes, kettle drums, the organ and the constant chant of “Vivat Georgius Rex! Vivat Regina Charlotta!” This enthusiasm was to wane a little as the ceremony dragged by – it is reported that some people took to eating cold chicken and ham, quite drowning out the words with the clatter of their cutlery. However, Charlotte and George were to take their vows seriously for the rest of their lives. George in particular was dogged by the oath he made to uphold the Protestant religion. As the years went by and Catholic emancipation became expedient,  he would find his conscience severely tested.

In a rather lovely piece of showmanship, Westminster Hall – where the coronation banquet was to take place – was kept in complete darkness until the Queen arrived. As she walked through the door, a single candle flared up against the black background. The light ran along a string, all the way around the hall, igniting wick after wick until a thousand candles illuminated the gold plates and exquisite court costumes. The hot, dripping wax was later to cause much inconvenience as it “rained down fire” upon the spectators’ heads.

The rest of the banquet was less stately. George and Charlotte, always criticised for their plain tastes, ate “like farmers”. Hungry guests in the galleries dangled down baskets, and even knotted garters, to catch a share of the 300 dishes on offer. The great tradition of the King’s Champion – where a man in armour rides a horse into the hall, throws down a gauntlet, and challenges anyone to dispute the King’s right to rule – turned into a farce. The horse was supposed to back out of the King’s presence like any trained courtier, but he forgot his manners. He advanced towards George rear first, rather ruining the effect of the crimson, gold and ostrich feathers that had been designed to give him and his rider much aplomb.

Another gaffe occurred when a large jewel fell out of George’s crown. In later years, people were to speculate that this was an omen – they thought the large jewel represented America, which would be lost in George’s reign.

You have to feel for poor George as the day descended into dignified chaos. The young King had only just set out upon his long career, but already shadows were looming – even his coronation didn’t seem to go his way. It is sad to reflect that one of his last appearances in public was at his Golden Jubilee where, confused and over-excited, he was a shadow of the man once crowned beside Charlotte.

This Saturday marks the 251st anniversary of George and Charlotte’s coronation and I hope to release the print edition of God Save the King on this day. A few unexpected hiccups with typesetting have slowed me down so I do apologise if it isn’t ready quite on time – but hopefully it will be! The Purcell household are working round the clock :) Due to these delays, the Kindle edition will be along a little later, probably late next week. I sincerely hope you will think it worth the wait.

A Royal Wedding

This Saturday, 8th September, is an important date in the Georgian calendar – it marks the marriage of George III and Queen Charlotte in 1761. But just why did the King of England wind up marrying a seventeen year old Princess from a minor Duchy? Well…

Early biographers of Charlotte suggest that she first came to George’s attention after writing a letter to Frederick the Great of Prussia. Her correspondence begged for justice on behalf of the poor of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, after Prussian troops devastated the country. The alleged letter begins:

May it please your Majesty, I am at a loss whether I should congratulate or condole with you on your late victory; since the same success which has covered you with laurels has overspread the country of Mecklenburg  with desolation. I know, Sire, that it seems unbecoming of my sex, in this age of vicious refinement, to feel for one’s country, to lament the horrors of war, or wish for a return of peace; I know you may think it more properly my province to study the arts of pleasing, or to inspect subjects of a more domestic nature: but however unbecoming it may be in me, I cannot resist the desire of interceding for this unhappy people.

Sadly, the letter is almost certainly a forgery and the story that goes with it false, but I do like the idea. It wouldn’t be out of character for Charlotte to intercede on behalf of the injured, or for George to admire a woman who did. But I’m afraid the truth is a bit less romantic!

Since falling in love with the beautiful Lady Sarah Lennox who, as well as being an unequal match for a King, also failed to return his affection, George had been desperate to marry. His choices were limited – she must be Protestant and she must be a Princess. With his mother Augusta, he poured through a list of prospective brides in the New Berlin Almanack. Augusta had already persuaded her son to reject several suits, largely because his hated grandfather George II approved of them. George himself was less fussy. His preference was a wife with a good understanding, a pleasant disposition and no inclination to meddle in politics.

Scouts were sent out to size up the prospective candidates, without much success. The Princesses of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttle had an interest in philosophy and one was only fourteen. Princess Philippa of Brandenburg-Schwedt was found obstinate and disobliging. For a time, the Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt looked like a good bet, until it was discovered her father was mentally unstable. The only Princess nearly fit for George to present to his people was Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

The main criticism levelled at Charlotte revolved around her plain looks and sheltered upbringing. People feared she would not have received the education befitting a Queen of England, but this was all worry in vain; Charlotte was a remarkably intelligent young woman. She had a “natural, easy and composed carriage” and a “mild temper”. George was convinced, but not overjoyed: “I own it is not in every particular as I could wish, but yet I am resolved to fix here”.

His cool detachment was in stark contrast to Charlotte’s emotional leave of her home. It would have been difficult travelling so far away to marry a man she had never met under any circumstances, but hers were particularly painful. Her mother died soon after the engagement was announced – the last words she spoke to Charlotte were full of wishes for her happiness. Charlotte’s elder sister, Christiane, was not in a position to comfort her; by an unlucky coincidence, she was in love with an English Duke. Now that Charlotte was going to be Queen of England, it made Christiane’s marriage to her lover impossible. Their father had died 1752, so it was only her brother that Charlotte could depend upon – and he was soon to be taken from her. Due to George’s dislike of foreigners and meddling women, Charlotte was only allowed to take two women of the bedchamber to join her in her new life. She didn’t even see her wedding trousseau: it was to be purchased in England, with her brother’s money, by Lady Bute.

It must have cheered her up to receive George’s portrait, set with diamonds, and a diamond rose from her fiance in England. In return, she sent her own portrait and a lock of her hair, which he found “fine and remarkably soft”.  At last George put aside fantasies of Sarah Lennox and concentrated on his bride to be. He was fond of her portrait, guarding it with typical jealousy, and began to tie a handkerchief to his whip and hold it up in the wind to see when he could expect his bride’s ship to arrive.

Poor Charlotte, who had never even seen the sea before, was whisked across country in a finery she was not yet accustomed to and “whipped” onto her ship. This meant she sat on a chair slung across two cables which was hoisted up onto the deck – sounds like a scary experience! To make matters worse, her voyage was plagued by storms, thunder, gales and hail. When she finally arrived in England, she travelled through Essex, taking refreshment in Colchester (my town! yay!), and then straight onto St. James’s Palace.  Understandably, she was so tired and wracked with nerves about meeting her new family that she half-fell out of the carriage. Prince Edward was quick to step in and hand her down, while George opened the gate. The terrified Princess “threw herself” at her future husband’s feet. He raised her, embraced her, and led her through the gardens and up the steps into the palace.

There were beautiful surprises awaiting her, but I doubt Charlotte could take in the sky-blue rooms the King had decorated for her, or his wedding gifts of a crown, pearl bracelets and a diamond stomacher. Indeed, she hardly had time to meet the numerous members of her new family before being packed into her wedding finery. For on that night – one of the hottest of the year and the very night of her arrival – Charlotte was to marry the King of England.

We have the following description of Charlotte’s bridal-wear – considering how hot it was and how tired she felt, it must have been suffocating:

A silver tissue, stiffen bodied gown, embroidered and trimmed with silver. On her head a little cap of purple velvet quite covered with diamonds, a diamond aigrette in the form of a crown, 3 dropped diamond earrings, diamond necklace, diamond sprigs of flowers on her sleeves and to clasp back her robe, a diamond stomacher. Her purple velvet mantle was laced with gold and lined with ermine. It was fastened on the shoulders with large tassells of pearls.

The fear and heat began to get to Charlotte; she trembled when her new brother-in-law, Prince Edward, led her out to her bridesmaids.  He kindly whispered “Courage, Princess,” and she tried to smile for him. The bridesmaids – Lady Sarah Lennox amongst them – could not have eased her nerves. They all looked splendid and much cooler in white silk trimmed with silver and jewels. The peeresses were to be greeted with a kiss on the cheek and the lesser ladies were supposed to come forward and kiss her hand. Poor Charlotte was confused and still unable to speak a word of English. She had to face the humiliation of her sister-in-law seizing her hand and giving it to the ladies until she understood what she was meant to do.

Unlike our modern ceremony, the bride entered the chapel first and waited under a canopy until the King arrived. The chapel was hung with fine tapestry and paintings in crimson velvet frames, beneath the gold and blue panelled ceiling. When the King finally came, resplendent in silver, the service commenced in English. Charlotte had been given an order of service in German, but as you can imagine, she was scarcely able to concentrate on it. After the King made his vows with one hand laid solemnly on his breast, he prompted Charlotte to say the only two words she spoke in the service: “Ich will”.

George’s customary consideration spared Charlotte the ordeal of a public bedding. They left their company at the door of the bedroom and retired to their domed, canopied, four-poster mahogany bed with Corinthian columns. The mattresses were stuffed with fine wool and covered with white satin. Although they had little need for them on such a warm night, George and Charlotte nestled down amongst swanskin blankets and a coverlet filled with eider-down. There was just one more trial to face before Charlotte could rest at last.

We can pretty safely assume that the sexual relationship between George and Charlotte was a happy one, given their evident affection for one another and constant production of children. Their wedding night was to forge their close bond: a tie of love that was worn away, but not quite severed, only by George’s recurrent “madness” in later life.

If you would like to find out more about Charlotte, George and their marriage, get ready for God Save the King on 22 September 2012!