Month: January 2013

The Death of a King

George III in old age

After the action of my novel, God Save the King, George III spent his life in a lonely, twilight world, cooped up with his doctors in the north apartments of  Windsor castle. He had tried, in vain, to help organise the execution of his daughter Amelia’s will, but his comprehension began to fail him. For some time, the public still hoped he would recover, especially when they saw him walking on the terrace of Windsor castle with the two doctors Willis and Dr Heberden. He even rode down the Long Walk with his daughters and seemed in recovered spirits. But it wasn’t to be.  By the end of May 1811, he was giving instructions to imaginary servants again. In stark contrast to the Regency scuffle that marked the last prolonged bout of his insanity in 1788/89, the 1811 Regency bill was passed “with much composure and calmness”, according to Princess Mary. The Prince of Wales was in power and the Regency period had begun.

For the years 1811-1820, the spotlight swung round to the future George IV, leaving his father in the shadows. Information about George III’s final years is patchy and heartbreaking. All communication with his family was dropped, while his faithful pages were replaced with intimidating asylum keepers. This didn’t mean his family were hard-hearted to his plight.  As his daughter Augusta explained “Probably I shall never see him again…as I cannot serve him. I could do him no good and he would not know me.” Consequently, the Queen and her daughters were shut up on one side of the quadrangle, coping with a reduced income, while the King occupied the other. Flora Fraser says that Windsor took on an “Asiatic stillness” at this time.  It’s no surprise to find out that young Princess Charlotte found visiting duller than death. Indeed, it was a strange purgatory existence and the King’s death would have been a great relief to all. But his famously strong constitution kept him going, refusing to be shaved, talking to his dead children and planning to send his Queen to Botany Bay.

At times George III had to put his hands over his ears to shut out the voices that troubled him. But he was not always unhappy in his delusions. We have records of him playing (very tunelessly, one imagines!) on his flute and the harpsichord and eating cherry tarts. Most moving of all is the account of his behaviour as his wife, Charlotte, lay ill and then died in 1818. Up to her last breath, she was thinking of her husband and longing to be back at Windsor so she could at least die near him. But the King no longer remembered who she was. He was happy with his music and make-believe world throughout the funeral and beyond. When he mentioned George III, he spoke in the third person. “He was a good man,” he said.

Remarkably, the King’s strength held out until a massive paroxysm at Christmas 1819. He neither slept nor stopped talking for two days straight.  After this he began to weaken and gave up eating. Finally, at 8.32pm on 29 January 1820, the long-tortured man breathed his last.  He was 81 years old. Quite astonishing, when you consider that very few of his fifteen children lived to this age. George IV, now King, received the news with a “burst of grief” and his sisters were devastated. But in truth, they had lost their father long ago. As Princess Mary had written 9 years before, “Nobody who loves the poor King can wish his life to be prolonged an hour”.

It would have pleased George III to know that he died just before the anniversary of Charles I’s death, as he revered the Stuart King and applauded his collection of art. However, it made things difficult for his son, who was unable to be proclaimed King until the last day of January 1820. That wasn’t the end of the tragedy for the family, though. One of the sons, Edward, Duke of Kent and father to the future Queen Victoria had died unexpectedly during the same month. Then, on 1st February 1820, the new King George IV was struck down with an inflammation of the lungs. He suffered severe difficulty in breathing and his death seemed imminent. The public were expecting him to set a new record for the shortest reign in history. As Princess Lieven wrote, “Father and son have been buried together in the past – but two Kings!”

Thankfully, the King recovered, though not in time to attend his father’s funeral. This must have weighed on his conscience. Father and son had shared a difficult relationship and the ceremony may have given him some closure.   For two days, George III lay in state in the Audience chamber at Windsor, raised on a dais, under a rich black canopy. The town was packed full of people, from all classes, coming to pay their final respects to a beloved King.

The courtyard was still full of spectators when the funeral took place on 16 February. The corpse was bound in waxed linen before being placed in a mahogany coffin, lined with white satin. This was sealed in a second, lead, coffin before being put in a third coffin, Russian-doll style. Then, as night fell on Ash Wednesday – a suitably solemn day –  the  body was carried into St George’s chapel to the Dead March from Handel’s Saul.  George III would have approved of this, and the second Handel anthem that ended his committal service. Amid the light of flambeaux, he sank down into the family vault, to rest beside his beloved wife, daughter, granddaughter and stillborn great-grandson. Although people were relieved that his suffering was over, they could not help but “shed a last tear over the grave of a father and a friend”.

While these sad events were taking place, George III’s niece, Caroline, the prodigal Princess of Wales, was living the high life in Italy with her lover. All at once, her beloved uncle was dead and she was Queen of England. However, her estranged husband was less than keen to grant her any new title. Bitter arguments ensued and spurred her to return to England, determined on claiming her rights. If you want to find out more about the chaos caused by Caroline’s fight, look out for my next novel, A Forbidden Crown.

Funeral of George III

“A Catholic Whore”

Maria

You’ve got to feel sorry for Maria Fitzherbert. Despite her efforts to live a respectful life and protect her all-important public image, she came in for a large amount of bashing from the press. Why, you might ask, were the artists so keen to mock in caricature a woman who encouraged the Prince of Wales to drink less and retrench to Brighton? And why was her being Catholic so vitally important?

Unfortunately, Maria’s Catholicism wasn’t just a difference of religious belief. If it had been, she and George IV would have coped well. Maria’s beliefs were not the sort she felt she had to preach, or convert others to. She was content to live and let live. The problem was, history had set her – and her “kind” – up as a dangerous enemy to England, and more pertinently, to the crown.

It all started with James II and what we English then termed the “Glorious Revolution”. After fathering two Protestant girls, James married again and became more pronounced in his Catholicism. This led to the English nation deciding to depose him from the throne, and ban his Catholic son from inheriting. (Stuart fans, please forgive this simplistic summary. My Stuart knowledge has a way to go yet!)

Catholicism was, in a nutshell, why the Hanoverians inherited the crown. Their adherence to the Protestant religion was the only thing that marked them apart from various other claimants. Without it, they would be toppled – there were plenty of Catholics with a better blood-claim to the throne.  The law became so stringent that it not only barred a Catholic from inheriting the throne, but anyone married to Catholic. It was typical, really, that the contrary George IV should find his only true love in a woman of this religion!

For the Great British public, Catholics were the enemy. Not only were many of the countries they had fought in previous wars Catholic, but there had been blood shed on their own shores in the name of that religion. Violent attempts to get the Stuarts back on the throne in 1715 and 1745 led to massacres such as Culloden. Englishmen loyal to their King and country began to see Catholics as wannabe “kingmakers” and resented the supposed authority of the Pope to depose monarchs. In short, they were branded trouble-makers.

It was hardly true. In 1780, it was actually the Anglicans – or those claiming to be Anglican and looking for an excuse for a fight – who caused the mayhem, when Lord Gordon headed a protest against a bill to grant the Catholics some concessions. This bill was motivated by practicality, rather than religious freedom. The government needed more troops and were keen to recruit Catholic Highlanders. To help them do so, they proposed a few sweeteners: they would grant Catholics the right to buy and inherit land and  they would waive the sentence of life imprisonment for being a Catholic bishop or priest, providing the Catholics were willing to take an oath of loyalty that renounced the Stuart claim and said the Pope could not depose sovereigns. Maria’s then-husband, Thomas Fitzherbert, was a strong supporter of the bill.  Sadly, the public were not.

Newgate in Flames

Gordon’s rioters, fierce in their blue cockades, tore London apart. They gutted chapels, burnt down the houses of well-known Catholics, set the prisoners free from Newgate and chalked No Popery on doors. In this chaos Thomas Fitzherbert ventured out to check on his property. I have imagined what Maria would feel in my little practice chapter here and hinted at the illness that overtook him shortly after. Some historians actually claim Thomas was killed as a direct result of injuries sustained in the Gordon Riots. This doesn’t seem to be true, but it certainly was the beginning of the end for poor Tom.

In researching Maria, I’ve made some discoveries about the challenges Catholics faced at the time. While I don’t claim to be an expert on this particular topic, here are some interesting tit-bits I’ve found:

  • Penal Laws prevented  a Catholic from being a Justice of the Peace, Lord Lieutenant or Sheriff. As these offices were usually held by people of high standing in the locally society, it would be a significant snub to Catholic squires.
  • Catholics could not become officers in the county militia or take a seat in the house of Lords. They could not get a degree from Oxford, Cambridge, Trinity or Dublin. Rather a blow to the prospects of any young man!
  • Catholics could not act as guardians, executors or suitors in any court of law. They could not inherit or purchase property. Talk about injustice!
  • They could send their children abroad to be educated in their faith but they had to get a special licence.
  • A Catholic could not own arms, ammunition or a horse exceeding the value of £5
  • Catholics had to pay special taxes
  • Mass was illegal. Maria and her family would have been careful to refer to it as “prayers” or “high prayers”. They would also make sure they referred to the Pope as “our chief Bishop”. Similarly, there was no way they would dare call a priest “Father”. The priest would need to wear non-distinct clothing and be referred to as “Mr.”
  • If a Catholic couple wanted to marry, they would need to have an Anglican service. They could have a private Catholic one, but they would then need to have a second, public, Anglican ceremony. Failure to do so could result in a sentence of 14 years transportation! As both the Catholic and the Anglican ceremonies were valid in Catholic teaching, most just opted for the Anglican.

As you can see, life as a Catholic wasn’t easy! It’s no wonder that Maria grew up with such a sense of identity and belonging that was linked to her religion. Her parents had secret masses said in their manor and even set up a house in the village as a secret chapel. They would sneak priests in and allow all the local Catholics to come and hear the contraband service. Her great-grandfather was a baronet (and I believe I read somewhere this was conferred on him by Charles II for his loyalty to the Catholic Charles I) and her second husband Thomas was descended from Throckmorton blood. Those of you familiar with Tudor history may remember Throckmorton’s support of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. One of Maria’s uncles joined a committee to protect the interests of Catholics and appeal for the right to build churches and live in the cities of Westminster and London (yes, Catholics couldn’t even live in the cities of Westminster and London at one point) The religion was in her family, in her blood.

Is it any surprise that Maria refused to cast this heritage aside for the love of a man? She had a great sense of her own self-worth and would never betray who she was. I admire her the more for refusing to give up her history for a chance of glory as the Prince’s wife. It is too often the way with historians to represent Maria as deeply pious – they forget her adhesion to her faith had more to do with identity than theological differences.

"What's a fellow to do about these darned Catholics?"
“What’s a fellow to do about these darned Catholics?”

As for George IV, his opinions towards Catholicism underwent stupendous changes. At one time quoted as saying Catholicism “was the only religion for a gentleman”, he progressed to wary indifference and finally antagonism. As Regent, he refused to discuss Catholic emancipation, and with good reason. His father, George III, was vehemently against it, and after all, he was only ruling in his father’s name. When the time came for him to rule in his own right as George IV, his feelings altered again. Once he had made the coronation oath, he began to feel the same way as his father: granting the Catholics freedom would be going directly against the vow he had made to uphold the Protestant religion before God.  Part of me also feels that, even after all this time, he was still secretly seeking the approval of his deceased parent, which he hardly ever gained in life.

But George IV did finally sign the Catholic Relief Bill in 1829, a year before his death. He was reluctant to let it pass, to say the least. He became violently ill and desperate in trying to stop it – some also suggest this huge upset hastened his death. But George IV knew when he was beaten by public opinion, and took the brave step of signing despite his own feelings. He was able to put his own opinions aside for the good of the nation – a step his proud, stubborn father would never have been able to do. This was a great leap towards religious freedom in Britain and one for which, I’m sure, Maria would have been proud of him.

 

Royalist Rebel

Royalist Rebel by Anita Seymour

I know I try to keep things on my blog firmly within the Hanoverian time period (1714-1837, or 1901 if we’re including Victoria, who was still of the line). However, I couldn’t resist telling you about Anita Seymour’s new novel, Royalist Rebel, out this month. Some of you may remember, from my post A Rush of Luck ,that meeting Anita at HNS 2012 and her kind invitation to dinner ultimately led to me signing with my agent Kate Nash. If Anita’s wonderful writing wasn’t enough, this is another reason to love her!

Royalist Rebel tells the inspiring story of Elizabeth Murray and her fight to hold her own during the English Civil War. I do hope you’ll want to find out more about her – I certainly do!

Royalist Rebel by Anita Seymour

Intelligent, witty and beautiful, Elizabeth Murray wasn’t born noble; her family’s fortunes came from her Scottish father’s boyhood friendship with King Charles. As the heir to Ham House, their mansion on the Thames near Richmond, Elizabeth was always destined for greater things.

Royalist Rebel is the story of Elizabeth’s youth during the English Civil War, of a determined and passionate young woman dedicated to Ham House, the Royalist cause and the three men in her life; her father William Murray, son of a minister who rose to become King Charles’ friend and confidant, the rich baronet Lionel Tollemache, her husband of twenty years who adored her and John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, Charles II’s favourite.

With William Murray at King Charles’ exiled court in Oxford, the five Murray women have to cope alone. Crippled by fines for their Royalist sympathies, and besieged by the Surrey Sequestration Committee, Elizabeth must find a wealthy, non-political husband to save herself, her sisters, and their inheritance.

Royalist Rebel by Claymore Books, an imprint of Pen and Sword, is released on 17th January 2013

http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Historical-Fiction/c/146/

 

For a little background on the novel, see Anita’s Book Blog

http://royalistrebel.blogspot.co.uk/

 

The National Trust Website of Elizabeth Murray’s former home, Ham House, at Petersham near Richmond, Surrey

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house/

 

Anita’s Blog

http://thedisorganisedauthor.blogspot.co.uk/