Hanoverian Mothers

Hanoverian Mothers Part 4 – Augusta and George III

Augusta and her brood

I’ve been rather unfair to Augusta of Saxe-Gotha in God Save the King. Since I had to show her through Queen Charlotte’s point of view, she comes across as a controlling and bullying mother-in-law. While it’s documented that the pair had run-ins during Queen Charlotte’s early married life, there’s much more to Augusta than the in-law from hell. In fact, judging by the devotion with which Charlotte attended Augusta’s sick-bed in her last days, it seems she also came to appreciate these other qualities.

If you look at Augusta through the political propaganda of the 1760s and 1770s, you are encouraged to see a harridan, a woman with her son firmly tied to her apron strings. There’s a caricature of her as “The Wanton Widow”, instructing her great friend Bute to pour poison in the sleeping George III’s ear. Augusta and Bute were burnt in effigy in the streets of London many times, most famously in the riots stirred up by John Wilkes and his seditious paper the North Briton. Even in death, Augusta couldn’t escape censure. At her funeral the mob huzzaed for joy and stripped the black cloth from the wooden platform at Westminster Abbey.

So who are we examining – some kind of dominating, devil’s consort, surely? Well, no. Actually, Augusta was a mild-mannered, shy princess when she washed up on English shores in 1736 to marry the eldest son of George II, Frederick. She arrived gawky, long-limbed, unable to speak a word of English and clutching a doll. She was fortunate in her new husband, who took an immediate shine to her, but the rest of the royal family regarded her as a dullard. Queen Caroline grew exasperated with her tedious conversation, while Princess Caroline had to explain very carefully that while there was nothing wrong with playing with dolls per-se, Augusta really shouldn’t do it in front of the windows where the public could see her. This naivety was something George II had hoped for when he selected a wife for his son; he wanted a woman who would pose no threat. He was already tired of his son trying to outwit him, without enlisting a clever wife’s help. Augusta seemed a good choice. Far from standing up to the King and Queen, she threw herself trembling at their feet.

Queen Caroline took Augusta under her wing by explaining the words of the Marriage Ceremony to her and offering to make a sign when she ought to kneel. The terrified Augusta clutched Caroline’s skirts and said, “For Heaven’s sake, please don’t leave me.”  A far cry from the controlling hag the late Georgians dreamed up! Indeed, Augusta behaved so well in submission to the King and Queen that she earned the nickname “Princess Prudence.” Even when the King and Queen came to blows with Frederick, Caroline attached no blame to Augusta. She said that even if Augusta were to spit in her face, she would only pity her for being under the direction of a fool (ie Frederick).

Young Augusta

It seems to me Augusta really was under Frederick’s control, though it was devotion that kept her loyal, not force. For example, when their first child was due, Frederick left off telling his parents until very late in the pregnancy. He didn’t want them to know of his cowardly delay in announcing the news, so bid Augusta to answer Caroline’s questions about her health and the due date with “I don’t know.” Naivety and a lack of guile were cloaks Augusta hid behind, and they worked to fabulous effect. Caroline was so astounded by Augusta’s lack of knowledge that she began to suspect there was no baby at all.

As I explained in earlier posts, Frederick did not wish his child to be born under the same roof as his parents. In the middle of the night, he rushed the labouring Augusta from Hampton Court to St. James’s Palace. She was in great danger and suffered extremely, according to all accounts crying and begging to go back. And yet, when Fred was blamed for his actions, she took his part. Her letters insist it was her express wish to be carried to St. James’s. Caroline came to visit her new grandchild the next day. She’d heard of Augusta’s ordeal and commiserated with her, only to receive the blunt reply, “It was nothing.” Caroline tried to reach out to her and asked “My good princess, is there anything you want, anything you would have me do? Here I am – you have but to ask and whatever is in my power, I promise you I will do”. Augusta said she had nothing to trouble her with.  It’s here, I believe, that we begin to see the real determination of Augusta’s character. Ever polite and respectful, she still refused to be won over with emotional entreaties or tricks. She knew her part and she played it.

Over the years, Augusta proved herself an able hostess to Frederick’s friends and opposition politicians. She returned every entreaty with a sweet answer, saying she knew nothing about politics but would pass the request onto her husband. In truth, she probably knew a lot more than she let on. When Frederick died in 1751, Augusta showed herself prudent again, casting herself and her children on the mercy of the King. It was a wise move – the King came to commiserate with her, weeping and looking at his two grandsons. “They must be brave boys,” he said, “obedient to their mother and deserve the fortune to which they were born.”

This was the first of the intensively heavy expectations piled on George, the new heir to the throne. A puny, premature child, he had not been expected to live and was Christened in haste. He was given to a gardener’s wife to nurse, and it was said she saved the sickly baby’s life – this is corroborated by the fact he paid her and her descendants a pension throughout his reign. But it was clear Frederick expected his frail baby boy to “restore honour to the crown”. He sent him endless advice about being the perfect prince. It was all kindly intentioned – but Frederick’s untimely death made these injunctions something more: a duty to one beyond the grave, a legacy that must not fail. I believe Augusta felt this pressure just as acutely as George. Determined not to disappoint her sainted husband, she kept George close – too close.

younggeorge

Caution was the key word for Augusta. Raised in obscurity herself, she was keen to keep her children sheltered from the wicked, sinful world. George was the only one inclined to listen to these warnings. Amongst his siblings there were unsuitable marriages, divorce scandals, early death from binge-drinking and the most salacious of all, his sister Caroline Matilda’s exile. George was, according to his grandfather “fit only to read the Bible to his mother”.  I believe it was care and not a lust for power that made Augusta keep George under her thumb. George himself evidently felt so too; in later life he was to complain about the press, “They have treated my Mother in a cruel manner, which I shall never forget nor forgive until the day of my death. I do therefore … promise that I will remember the insults and never will forgive anyone who shall venture to speak disrespectfully of her.”

Augusta clearly feared for George: he was considered a slow child. She fretted he was not progressing well enough in his lessons and constantly despaired of the comparisons made between him and his precocious younger brothers. In fact, he seemed much like Augusta in her youth. Both George and his mother felt what he needed was a “dear friend, who will always tell you the truth” – something that had been recommended by Frederick before his death. This friend was not to come from the royal family. After all Frederick’s quarrels, Augusta continued to eye them with mistrust. The natural choice of friend and adviser would have been George’s uncle, the Duke of Cumberland. Yet Augusta hated the Duke and resented the lack of attention he paid to her. She effectively brain-washed George into thinking his uncle meant him harm. When the young George went to visit the Duke, his uncle thought he might like to see one of his swords from his recent army campaign. As he drew it from its scabbard, George turned pale and began to tremble. The Duke was horrified that his nephew not only lacked trust in him, but feared murder!

This wasn’t Augusta’s only stand against the Duke of Cumberland. When the King’s health began to fail, it was deemed prudent to draw up a Regency Act, lest he should die before George attained his majority. While the King chose the Duke to act as Regent, Augusta again showed the steel in her nature by protesting until the bill of 1751 was changed to name her as Regent, supported by a council including the Duke. So much for knowing nothing of politics! But while it was admirable that Augusta fought for the right to her son and guarded him against what she felt to be threats, she inadvertently harmed George by this display. George’s relations with his grandfather went from bad to worse and each time, she had a hand in it.

The_Family_of_Frederick,_Prince_of_Wales

The “friend” chosen by Augusta for George was the 3rd Earl of Bute. She and Frederick had met Lord Bute when stuck in a picnic tent on the Epsom race course in the midst of torrential rain. They asked him to make up a fourth at their whist table. The friendship that blossomed led to Bute becoming a Lord of the Bedchamber in Frederick’s household, although Bute had more in common with Augusta than her husband, including a love of botany and a grave manner. No doubt, Augusta wanted a friend and adviser every bit as much as her son did, and consulted her own personal inclination when selecting Bute.

I do not believe, as the press of the time did, that Augusta and Bute were lovers. They may well have felt love for each other, but the rigid moral code and horror of vice that Augusta showed make an affair inconsistent with her personality. However, her infatuation and trust in Bute were to cause perhaps the greatest troubles of her son’s early reign. Augusta told George that his own capacity was limited and he should trust Bute, who had remarkable talents. Ever obedient and self-effacing, George took her advice. His letters to Bute show the extent of his trust and indeed, the pressure Bute was under to be a second father to this heir to the throne.

Alas, this devotion to Bute was to prove another sticky issue with the King. In 1756, George was generously offered his own establishment with Lord Waldegrave acting as Groom of the Stole. Not only did he refuse to leave his mother’s neighbourhood, he managed to insult Waldegrave by saying the head of his household must be a man in whom he could confide or he would consider those “placed about him as his enemies”. It’s telling that the fumbling George had to get his mother to apologise to Waldegrave on his behalf. At this point, it truly does seem George was being warped by his mother’s close watching, however well-meant. Such strong expressions as “enemies” were to define him in later life and clearly show a child raised to mistrust. As evidence that Augusta and Bute encouraged George to reject the new establishment and appoint Bute as his Groom of the Stole instead, historian Christopher Hibbert lists the young man’s unguarded expressions of gratitude: “What! Has the King granted me both my requests? He has always been extremely good to me. If I have ever offended him I am extremely sorry for it. It was not my own act or my own doing . . . ” After which words George bit his tongue.

John_Stuart__Earl_of_Bute

Marriage was a further obstacle. The King proposed Sophie Caroline of Brunswick as a bride for George, but this was rejected. George seems to have been reluctant anyway, but he was certainly encouraged in this by his mother. Both Augusta and Bute wanted a dull-witted bride who wouldn’t have too much influence over their boy. In this one instance, it does appear Augusta’s jealousy and desire for pre-eminence outweighed her care for George.  She snubbed Lady Sarah Lennox, who George fell in love with, and as I have intimated, was keen to keep George’s eventual wife Charlotte firmly in her place. Even Bute was emotionally manipulating George. “I have often heard you say you don’t think I shall have the same friendship for you when I am married as I do now,” he wrote to Bute. “I shall never change in that.” Indeed, George kept his word and made Bute his first Prime Minister. It lead to nothing but disaster for both of them.

Stella Tillyard has described Augusta as “an undemonstrative mother, aloof and nervously obsessed with protocol”. I feel this is a little harsh. She did love her children, and this is shown not only in her care for their intellectual and moral progression, but by her trips to Denmark, despite failing health, to remonstrate with Caroline Matilda over her affair. However, the words “nervously obsessed with protocol” ring true. Inexperienced and relying on her husband, she suddenly found herself in the role of  protector and teacher to the next King of England. For Frederick’s sake she wanted to keep George under her care and make sure he grew up to be the man his father intended. Sadly her own fears and ill-judgement hampered her son. She tried her best by providing him with Bute, but didn’t foresee the political outcry that would arise over such favoritism.  In short, she molly coddled a boy who needed experience of the world above all else for his future role in life.

I do believe Augusta came to like her position of power and, bereft of a husband, was fiercely jealous of George’s love. However, in the main, her intentions were good. Far from resenting her parenting methods, George adopted a similar system for his children: raising  them in ignorance of vice and sin – and as we can see from the way George IV turned out, it had equally poor results. But whatever Augusta’s virtues and failings, she was instrumental in forming the character of George III, and he always loved her for the care she took of him.

Augusta in later life

Hanoverian Mothers 3.2 – Caroline and Frederick in the later years

Frederick as Prince of Wales

Hello and welcome back! You may remember we left Caroline and Frederick still estranged and living in separate countries. I’d like to pick up a few years forward, when George I died, leaving his son George II to inherit the throne. After years of separation, the gate-keeper forcing Frederick to stay away from his parents was finally gone.

George I died in the summer of 1727 and yet Frederick didn’t arrive in England until December 1728. What caused the delay? I’m sure there were affairs he had to settle in Hanover and several difficulties attendant on relocating a royal household. But should it really take that long? The sad truth was probably that George II no longer foresaw the reunion with his son as a happy event. George II and his own father had been constantly at odds with one another. He suspected Frederick was just a new rival waiting to replace the old. Caroline initially wanted Frederick to have his own household and started to search London for a suitable place. She came across a house she liked in George Street, Hanover Square, but her husband refused to supply her with funds to purchase it. He wanted to keep Frederick in his place and firmly under his control.

King George II

George started this regime of snubbing by pretty much ignoring Frederick’s arrival in London. No fanfare greeted his landing; he alighted at the Friary and walked down the Queen’s back stairs. It is perhaps noteworthy that Frederick went first to his mother, not his father. It was hardly the way for a Prince of Wales to enter London, but I must point out that Frederick was not unique in being treated like this. George II responded exactly the same way to foreign princes and princesses who came to wed his sons and daughters. It seems this was his method of putting himself in the dominant role at the beginning of any relationship.

At first, things seemed to be going well. George II declared that the young man was “not a son I need be much afraid of”. The young Frederick had lively grey eyes, an obliging address and his mother’s fine fair hair. His legs were still skinny from his childhood rickets and he was slightly myopic, but it seems his manners made up for these short-comings. However, he was entering hostile territory. Caroline seemed inclined to give him a chance, and must have been pleased that he shared her interests in art and poetry, but she was still resentful that he would be supplanting her favourite, William. Frederick’s sister Anne had enjoyed the role of senior child up until this point and did not take kindly to being supplanted by him. Anne’s implacable hatred of Frederick took a very public form when the two set up rival opera houses and fought for control of the paying audiences. It appeared that another sister, Amelia, was getting on well with Frederick when she got him to confide in her about the debts he had incurred. However, the catty Amelia had other motives – she promptly ran and told tales to the King and Queen.

Frederick with Anne, Caroline and Amelia

Frederick was naive and impressionable, and sadly his behaviour soon began to confirm his parents’ bad opinion of him. He joined the wild Harry the Fifth Club, who went around the streets incognito, smashing windows and beating up the night watch. Lord and Lady Berkshire had their window broken and suspected it was the Prince who had attacked their property. They demanded an apology from the palace and would not return to court until they got one. If this wasn’t embarrassing enough,  Frederick started frequenting St. James’s Park at night, a notorious place to find prostitutes. He ended up having his wallet, seals and a gold medal stolen by a light-fingered doxy.

Frederick’s reckless actions, coupled with the fact that George II was being stingy with his allowance, meant he soon ran up huge debts. He was prepared to do anything to reduce these – even if it meant siding with politicians from the Opposition. MPs promised to speak up for the Prince and move to increase his allowance in exchange for promises of a place in power when he finally came to the throne. It was this flirtation with the enemy that really damaged Frederick’s relationship with his parents. Caroline loved to be in control and prided herself on “managing” the King and country through her great ally, Robert Walpole. As far as she was concerned, an attack on Walpole and his politics was an attack on her. Moreover, one of the Opposition MPs Frederick took up with was no other than Bolingbroke – a man who had formerly been exiled from Britain for trying to put the great Hanoverian rival, The Old Pretender, on the throne in place of George I. It was this that led Caroline to believe her son was avaricious and would do anything for money. She once said Frederick would sell the crown to The Pretender for £50,000.

There is another scandal associated with Frederick’s early years in England: his relationship with Caroline’s favourite, Lord Hervey. The two got on well to start with and were certainly close friends. It is possible that Frederick and Hervey also shared a sexual relationship. Hervey was famously bisexual and it seems Frederick was jealous of his close relationship with Stephen Fox. Intriguingly,  the pages of Hervey’s memoir relating to this period of his friendship with the Prince have been cut out of the manuscript. Obviously something has been hidden. But if Frederick was bisexual, this would not be a major reason for his parents to dislike him. Caroline was extremely close to Hervey and treated him like another son, even though she knew of his sexuality. In fact, she might have been glad to think Frederick would never marry and have an heir to supplant William. At best, rumours of Frederick’s “sodomy” would be great fuel to help discredit their son’s political aspirations, but nothing that need affect them on a personal level. What Caroline may have blamed Frederick for, however, was the bitter end to the relationship between the two men. Whether it was platonic or sexual, it is clear that Frederick dropped Hervey rather brusquely. Not only would this make Caroline angry with her son, but it would fuel Hervey’s wrath and possibly lead to him putting his own words in the Queen’s mouth when he wrote his memoirs.

Anne Vane

Frederick and Hervey’s tussle came to a crescendo when they fought over a mistress, one of Caroline’s Maid’s of Honour, Anne Vane. Vane started off as Hervey’s and was seemingly planted around Fred to gather gossip about him. However, she knew how to play her men off against one another. By the time Vane fell pregnant, no one was sure who the father was. She insisted it was Frederick’s – after all, a royal child was worth more – and had her son Christened Cornwell FitzFrederick. Caroline firmly believed the baby was Hervey’s and thought Fred hopelessly naive for paying out so much money to house the mother and infant.

The years that followed were tough ones for Caroline. She faced political defeat over Walpole’s Excise Bill and her health was dire. She was suffering acutely from gout and a hernia but her pride, and a fear of her husband’s anger, prevented her from seeking medical help. Emotionally, she was drained too. Henrietta Howard, the King’s long-term mistress, had left court, forcing her to spend more time with her irate husband and fear the next woman he would take up with. Her daughter Anne had married William of Orange, leaving the English court behind. Caroline was particularly distressed by William’s physical deformities and wept to think of her daughter being left to “such a monster”. She was inconsolable for days after Anne left and sent her this touching note:

Dear heart, my sadness is indescribable. I never had any sorrows over you , Anne, and this first is a cruel one. Orange is a good man and will ever be a great favourite of mine.

Frederick’s good nature is shown in the fact he tried to comfort his mother. She found it hard to bear, knowing he had always hated Anne. One of the main things she criticised Frederick for was his insincerity – it seems she took this kind gesture from her son as just more lip-service. Still, Anne’s removal did signal a momentary softening in Frederick’s favour. Caroline was proud when he asked to join the armed forces against the French, even though he was not permitted. She also took time to talk to him and encourage him away from Opposition politics. “What concerns me most, my dear Fretz, is to see you can be so weak as to listen to people who are trying to make a fool of you, who think of nothing but distressing the King,” she told him. “They would sacrifice not only your interest but the interest of our whole family to … gratify their personal resentment.”

These words make a strong contrast to the violent language Hervey records later on. If we look at the evidence accumulating over the years, this gentle scolding is much more in character with Caroline than the alleged hell-fire outbursts. “I have scolded the Queen for taking the rascal’s [Frederick’s] part,” George said. “I have had more quarrels with her when she has been making silly excuses for his silly conduct than I ever had with her on all other subjects”. It was Caroline who objected to the idea of splitting the ruler-ship of England and Hanover, granting one to William and one to Fred. She thought it “unjust” to her eldest. It was George II’s decided opinion that Frederick was ungrateful to his mother for all the times she took his side. “I must say you have been an excellent mother to all your children, and if any of them behave ill to you they deserve to be hanged. I never loved the puppy [Frederick] well enough to have him ungrateful to me, but to you he is a monster and the greatest villain that ever was born.”

Caroline in the last years of her life

If worry about her daughter Anne, who experienced some horrific stillbirths, and her own health problems weren’t enough, Caroline was to suffer even more as time passed by. Just as she feared, George found a new mistress and began to treat her with disdain. He went to Hanover to spend more time with his lover and left Caroline to act as Regent for him. Annoyed at being passed over for the Regency, Frederick showed his displeasure by turning up late to Council meetings and treating his mother with general disrespect. Caroline could tolerate this, but she finally broke when his behaviour became cruel.

During this Regency, Caroline dealt with corn riots in the West Country, Spitalfields weavers attacking and killing the Irish undercutters, the Porteous Riots, an explosion in Westminster Hall and outcry against the Gin Act. Fred used these opportunities to soak up popularity, even drinking gin to show his support of the common people. He was given the Freedom of  the City of London. Caroline declared his antics made her sick.

In the autumn,  further disaster struck. It appeared the King’s ship had been lost at sea. With a violent storm raging and no news from Hanover, Caroline feared the worst. The court was in uproar – except for Fred. He was excited at the prospect of becoming King himself. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he didn’t show grief or regret at the idea of his father’s death. This hardened Caroline towards him: “I heard that yesterday they talked of the King’s being cast away with the same sang-froid as you would talk of a coach being overturned, and that my good son strutted about as if he had been already King”. It was also at this time that Caroline’s long illness began to manifest itself in fevered imaginings. Her previous attitude to Fred was: “I believe he has no inveterate hatred of me, but for love I cannot say I see any great sign of it, though I must own he has a really good heart.” Now, she began to worry about him becoming King, even fearing for her life. She considered Fred would be quite capable of murdering her in her sleep, imprisoning and starving his sisters and flaying Whig politicians. Such ideas were utter nonsense – Fred was by no means this brutal – but Caroline’s fear was genuine. Long pain and stress had warped her mind and she was unlike her usual self. Indeed, she records that she was ready to weep with fatigue. But it is interesting to note Caroline was not the only one overcome with fear at the idea of Fred in power. Her daughters swore they would leave the palace at a gallop.

Fortunately for Caroline, George returned from Hanover alive – albeit with painful piles. But the quarrel with Frederick was far from over. He chose this sensitive moment to push his claims for a higher allowance. Considering the short-tempered George was both penny-pinching and suffering, his timing could not have been worse. Fred also alleged that he had spoken with Caroline while his father was out of the country and warned her of his money difficulties. She fiercely resented this implication. Bringing her name into an  argument between the King and his son was, to her mind, unpardonable. Whether or not Fred was telling the truth is unclear – could Caroline have simply forgotten, or was she angry with herself for making promises she couldn’t honour? Either way, the financial squabble put strain on the bond between both parent and child and husband and wife.

Frederick's wife Augusta

Worse was to come. Frederick’s wife Augusta fell pregnant with a child which, male or female, would oust Caroline’s beloved William from his position as second in line to the throne. Had the King and Queen  been given time to get used to the idea, things may have turned out differently. Unluckily Fred was afraid of their reaction and left it until very late in the pregnancy before informing them. Caroline smelled a rat. She knew her son was fond of  practical jokes and her fevered mind convinced itself that he was playing a trick to spite them. Given Fred’s weak health, she considered him incapable of fathering a child. She thought that perhaps he was planning to smuggle a baby into the room and get ultimate revenge on his parents by pushing William off the throne with a foundling child. Wild ideas, certainly, but we have to remember it was not many years ago that James II had fallen from grace over the famous bed-pan scandal. People believed – or said they believed – that James’s heir was not his true son, but a child brought into the room secretly in a bed-pan. Caroline could not bear the idea that her own royal house should be subject to such suspicions.

Consequently, she made arrangements for the birth to take place at Hampton Court, under her strict supervision. But when Augusta’s labour pains started, Fred thwarted her. Smuggling his wife out of the palace in the dead of night, he carried her across London in a bumpy carriage to St. James’s, where she gave birth on a table. Caroline and George’s were livid. However, it was Caroline who sped after them in her nightgown to check on Augusta’s health. She was kind to her daughter-in-law, sympathising with her sufferings. “My good Princess, is there anything you want, anything you wish, anything you would have me do?” she asked. “Here I am – you have but to speak and ask, and whatever is in my power … I promise you I will do”. Her conversation with Fred was more awkward. Since the child was a puny, premature girl, she no longer suspected that her son had put a false child on them – had it been a bouncing, strong boy, she would have thought otherwise. Frederick did not apologise for his actions, but made an attempt at reconciliation by asking her and the King to be godparents. He suggested returning to Hampton Court with her to make the request in person. “I fancy you had better not come today,” Caroline said wisely. “To be sure the King is not well pleased with the bustle you have made and should you attempt coming, nobody can answer what your reception may be”. This was an understatement. George was angered beyond the point of no return.

Although Fred later wrote letters of apology, and notes thanking his mother for her visit, her made some glaring errors. He omitted, in every case, to refer to his mother as Your/Her Majesty. This was no small slip up – it was an insult. However, Caroline did not stop visiting her new grandchild.

As the divide between Frederick and George widened, Caroline’s visits were received with less and less warmth. Eventually Frederick was silent and sullen, only seeing her to the door of the chamber and ignoring his sisters. Caroline expressed a hope she was not being troublesome – to which she received no answer. It angered her beyond expression when, after treating her so coldly inside the house, Frederick insisted on accompanying her outside and making a grand show of filial duty to the crowds. He knelt in the mud to kiss her hand. The hypocrisy made Caroline sick. Her husband was typically unsympathetic and told her it served her right for “sticking her nose where it had already been shit on”.

In a strange echo of history, George II expelled his son and family from the royal palaces. It was a cruel step, although less harsh than the exile Caroline and George faced. For starters, Frederick and Augusta were allowed to stay until she had fully recovered from childbirth. Secondly, and most importantly, George made no move to separate the newborn Princess from her parents. It strikes me that Caroline played a very minor role in this action and may have even tried to dissuade her husband from it. She seemed very concerned that sending the Prince and his family out into the world would give him the reputation of a martyr.

Frederick

The final chapter of Caroline and Frederick’s story revolves around her death in 1737. Caroline’s last illness was truly horrific and I intend to dedicate a separate post to it. She left detailed instructions and bequests to all her family – except Fred. Was she so embittered that she couldn’t forgive her scape-grace son even on her death-bed? I think there’s more to it. For a start, accounts differ. Some courtiers say she sent him a message of forgiveness; others that she was glad to die because she would never be forced to see his face again. The truth is probably somewhere in between this. Caroline’s sense of humour was dark, and she certainly made some desperate jokes to lighten the mood around the time of her death. For example, she asked the surgeon operating on her if he wouldn’t rather be cutting his wife. I can imagine her joking about never having to set eyes on Fred again, but I doubt she really meant it. What we can be sure of is that Caroline asked the King if Frederick had tried to see her. The answer was yes, but he had refused him entry. George II thought Frederick was being hypocritical, coming to his mother’s death-bed and trying to torment her in her last moments, scoring more popularity points with the general public. Such an idea is hardly fair, but Caroline accepted George’s decision. She lived her life bending to his will, trying to avoid irritating or embarrassing him at all. Her last moments were no exception. One account says although Caroline did not see Frederick, she desired George not to forget that he was her son. To me, this sounds like the truth and in keeping with Caroline’s character. It is even echoed in her last words to William: “You know I have always loved you tenderly and I place my chief hope in you. Show your gratitude to me in your behaviour to the King. Attempt nothing ever against your brother and endeavour to mortify him in no other way than by showing  superior merit.” These hardly seem like the words of a woman with an implacable grudge.

I hope this blog has given you a slightly better opinion of Caroline as a mother, and if not, at least a wider understanding of the pressures she was under. Personally, I like both Caroline and Frederick and think their relationship is one of tragedy. One can’t help but wonder how they would have got along had they never been separated. But did Caroline really say all those terrible words about her son? I remain sceptical. Yet it appears to me that  even if Caroline really was as cruel and angry and Hervey says she was during the year of 1737, we should not take this as a reflection of her true character. What I see is a sick, tired old woman pushed beyond her endurance.

Hanoverian Mothers 3.1 – Caroline and Frederick

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know that I don’t buy into the theory that a bad mother equals a bad person. I find that notion as outdated as the one that a less-than-perfect wife is a failure as a woman. The word that gets my goat most is “unnatural”. I went to Colchester zoo last week and saw the following sign: “This baby gibbon has been moved to a separate enclosure as its mother had neither milk nor maternal care”. See, it happens in nature too: some just aren’t born with the skill-set for the role of mother. Do I think this gibbon was evil? Of course not. Heck, some mother hamsters eat their babies. So let’s not get started on “natural”.

Caroline of Ansbach has fallen under the taint of “unnatural mother”, and in her case the appellation is particularly unfair.  As I will show you, she was in fact a very caring and indulgent mother, who suffered agonies for her children. This is particularly impressive, given that Caroline’s own parents died so early on. She didn’t have an example to follow but managed admirably with her brood of seven surviving offspring.

CarolineofAnsbach

The words that have damned Caroline to infamy were recorded by Lord Hervey. Allegedly, on catching sight of her eldest son, Frederick, she said, “Look, there he goes! That wretch, that villain! I wish the ground would open at this moment and sink the monster into the lowest hole in hell.” Another supposed outrage went: “My dear first-born is the greatest ass, and the greatest liar, and the greatest canaille, and the greatest beast in the whole world, and I heartily wish he was out of it.” When first researching Caroline and finding these sentences, I thought two things. The first was “How could a person wish death and eternal damnation to their own child?”  The second was, “What on earth did Frederick do to her, to make her feel that way?”

It’s puzzling, because these speeches seem very out of keeping, not only with Caroline in general but with her behaviour toward Frederick. I have to say, I have doubts about their veracity. Lord Hervey, waspish and gossipy, is considered by many historians to be an unreliable source. Moreover, he had his own axe to grind with Frederick. Could it be that Hervey transferred his opinions into Caroline’s mouth, then professed himself “shocked” by them to save face? It’s certainly possible. But let us suppose Hervey is telling the truth in all his accounts of the Georgian Court. He records violent language, just as bad if not worse than the speeches I have quoted above, from all of Frederick’s family. Particularly vicious words come from Caroline’s third daughter, who I will refer to as Young Caroline to avoid confusion.  It is worth considering that Young Caroline was held to be the mildest mannered of the three elder Princesses. She was called upon to act as mediator between her two sisters and was always applied to when courtiers wanted to know the truth of a matter. It is inconceivable that a girl of Young Caroline’s character would adopt such a strong hatred for no reason. Was there a dark secret at the center of the Hanoverian Court? What exactly did Frederick do?

Lord Hervey

My investigations into this strange relationship began with Caroline’s pregnancy. I wanted to see if perhaps she had experienced a bad bout of ante-natal depression and an inability to connect with her baby which she never recovered from. It is possible, or even probable, that the pressure Caroline was under to produce a male heir skewed her bond with her first child. Her husband’s grandfather, Ernst, had introduced primogeniture into the Hanoverian dynasty in a bid to win the Electoral cap for his state and make it part of the Holy Roman Empire. He succeeded, but this meant all territory and rights would now pass solely to the eldest son, rather than be split between children as in previous generations. Therefore, no son equaled no inheritance and no continuation of the family line.

At first, things seemed to be going well in the child-stakes for George and Caroline.  They were married in September 1705 and Caroline suspected she was pregnant by May 1706. But she was by no means certain what was happening to her body. In  November 1706, the doctors suggested she might be suffering from dropsy  instead. Perhaps there was no baby and never had been. This idea must have been a humiliating blow for Caroline, reminiscent of the doomed Queen Mary I, whose history she was familiar with. But happily her doctors were wrong. She gave birth to a healthy son three months later in February 1707.

All the stress and anxiety in the months leading up to the birth had a palpable effect on Caroline. She kept to her room for a long period and was very reluctant to let others see the baby Frederick. So great was her aversion to going out that the Christening for the heir actually took place privately in her bedroom. One has to wonder what was going on in Caroline’s mind at this time. It doesn’t seem normal behaviour for a healthy new mother. Nonetheless, there is no evidence that she disliked her baby.

Unfortunately, Caroline’s temporary withdrawal from the world  gave rise to rumours. This gossip, if true, would provide a plausible reason for her tense relationship with Frederick in later years. However, I don’t believe it is true.  The scandle-mongers’ theory was based on  George II’s speech in the heat of his temper. During his rages, he referred to Frederick  as a “changeling” and “no son of his”, nicknaming him the “Griff”. In some languages, griff or griffe could mean a person of mixed race. It seems highly unlikely that George II was using the word in in this context, but some have chosen to interpret it that way. They suggest Frederick was the the produce of either an affair or a rape, and that the father was one of George I’s Turkish servants. As thrilling as this idea is, it is unfeasible. George I placed an enormous amount of trust in his Turkish servants, but he would never stand for such blatant ill-behaviour from them. If such an event had occurred,  he would dismiss them or at least treat them with increasing coolness – but on the contrary, he trusted them more and more throughout life.  And would Caroline’s strong tempered husband really sit back while his honour was insulted? Hardly. But even supposing the wild theory was true and George II did decide to keep his mouth shut for the prospect of a male heir, surely the birth of his second son would have prompted him to confess the truth and grant all rights to his true child? Although it would be a great motive for dislike, I’m afraid the illegitimate theory doesn’t have legs to stand on.

Mohammed and Mustapha

What is clear from the early years in Hanover is that Frederick’s parents didn’t start off disliking him. Caroline said that back then, she loved Frederick better than all her other children and would have given them up for him. But I do wonder if her image of her son started to disintegrate when he had health problems. I don’t mean she disliked him for them or didn’t look after him – more that she began to suspect he wasn’t the strong heir she needed. At the age of 2, little Fretz or Fritzchen as they nicknamed him was only speaking a few words and had made no attempts to stand. Through further investigation, he was found to have rickets. Although he received all the attention and care possible, Caroline remained unconvinced that her son had made a full recovery. Later on in life, she was to doubt his ability to have children.  Did the fact that she viewed Frederick as a sickly child make her realise she needed a spare son – just in case? His appearance was a constant reminder of her fears – Frederick was to retain slim, fragile-looking legs his entire life.

Very few historians can doubt that the main damage to the relationship between parent and child was done in the year 1714.  Frederick’s grandfather George I inherited the throne of Great Britain, although he was reluctant to leave his Hanoverian domains without a family representative. After deliberation, he decreed that the seven-year-old Frederick was to stay behind. As you can imagine, his parents were distraught, but nothing they could say or do would change the King’s mind.

Caroline’s maternal tenderness is shown by the fact she stayed behind in Hanover for a while after her husband and the King left for England.  She nursed her poorly young daughter and spent precious last moments with her son. No doubt she thought she would soon persuade the King to let Frederick join his family when they were settled – she was generally good at making him do what she wanted. She probably had no idea she was about to endure 14 years of separation from her boy.

Frederick

Life in England swept the new Prince and Princess of Wales up in a social whirl, but they didn’t forget their son. There is evidence that Caroline plagued visitors from Hanover for any news they had of Frederick. Both mother and father attempted to get him back on various occasions, without success. An example is the time that the King told George he must pay more money for Frederick’s education. George replied that he would gladly give up £100,000 a year, so long as his son came to complete his studies in England. Suddenly, the King stopped asking for more money ant the subject was closed.

It seems strange and almost heartless that George I, who was by no means a cruel person, should be desperate to keep control over his grandson. He certainly didn’t like George II, so maybe he thought he was protecting the young heir from his father’s influence. Or maybe it was all a game of power and Frederick was merely a pawn. But either way, he broke a vital bond in the family chain. On the King’s visits to Hanover, George and Caroline were never allowed to come and see their son. I have also read that they weren’t allowed to write to him, although I don’t know how true that statement is. Soon, the only family Frederick had access to was his grandfather, and unsurprisingly he grew close to him. Given the tense relationship between Frederick’s father and grandfather, this is the worst thing he could have done. No doubt George II felt his son had been “stolen” and warped to be like a man he quietly despised. The boy certainly did seem to be changing. When his governor, Neibourg, resigned from his appointment, he told Caroline that Frederick had “the most vicious nature and false heart that ever man had. Nor are his vices the vices of a gentleman but the mean base tricks of a knavish footman”. Upon hearing this, Caroline burst into tears.

George_I_as_Prince_of_Hanover

It would have comforted Caroline to have another son to stand in for her missing Frederick. Tragically, she was not to gain more children, but lose them. During the years of Frederick’s absence, she gave birth to a stillborn son and suffered a miscarriage. Yet these were small trials of motherhood compared with what she was about to face.  In 1717, what started off as a happy event – the arrival of a second, healthy son – soon turned into a violent family row. After they had been forced by the King’s ministers to set aside the name they had selected and give up the idea of having George’s uncle as a godfather, Caroline and George were understandably angry. A shouting match broke out between George and the Duke of Newcastle. in which Newcastle mistakenly thought George had challenged him to a duel. He went running to the King – who promptly dismissed his son from the royal palaces.

This would have been cruel enough, but the King decreed that his grandchildren should remain with him. To Caroline, he presented an impossible decision: stay with her children on the condition she didn’t see her husband, or follow her husband into exile and leave her children behind. Caroline chose to go with George. Perhaps this was not a decision many women would make, but Caroline had a strong emotional bond with her husband and they truly needed one another. She was a good wife above all else and wouldn’t abandon him. However, for all her brave talk, she didn’t take the step lightly. There are accounts of her weeping and falling into one faint after another as she was separated from her daughters and literally had her baby boy taken from her arms.

Once away from her darlings, Caroline went on a mission to reclaim them. She befriended Robert Walpole, who was later to become her great ally, on the promise that he would help her get the children back. “This will be no jesting matter to me,” she told him. “You will hear of this, and my complaints, every day and hour, and in every place, if I have not my children again”. It is clear that the little princesses, much as they loved their grandfather, were not happy with the change either. “We have excellent parents and yet we are orphans,” one of the little girls mourned. They took every opportunity to send secret notes and gifts to their missing parents. Once, Caroline and George risked the King’s wrath and snuck in a secret visit with their daughters. The emotion was too much for all. Caroline fainted with shock and her husband wept continually. Are these really the actions of unloving, unnatural parents? I think not, but it can’t be doubted that these years of hardship had a deep psychological effect on the couple. They would learn to lean toward each other rather than their children. They were being told that their offspring did not belong to them, but the King. Moreover, their already fragile emotional state was shattered by a deeper grief. At the same time as their eldest daughter, Anne, came down with the life-threatening smallpox, their baby boy sickened with an unknown malady. Anne recovered, but the precious second son was not so lucky. Finally granted access to him, Caroline sped to Kensington Palace just in time to hold her baby in her arms before he died.

Elder daughters of George II

Who can doubt that Caroline and George resented the King, even blamed him for their baby’s death? Although an autopsy proved the little one would have died regardless, they must have been devastated that they hadn’t been able to spend even the short months of his life with him. I suspect that this strong, negative feeling toward the King also branched out to encompass Frederick. Of course, none of this was remotely connected to him, but in their minds George and Caroline labelled their son as the King’s creature. It may have been subconscious, but I am convinced it happened.

Poor Fred’s fate was sealed when, in 1721, his parents had another son, William. Precocious, strong and devoted to the military, William was the ideal child for Caroline and George. Beloved by his parents and the nation – after all, he was an English-born Prince, unlike Fred – William seemed a better candidate for the British throne than his unfortunate, exiled brother. Given that she suspected Fred of being infertile, Caroline may have dared to hope her “worthy” heir would find his way to the crown one day. Fred, if not forgotten, was certainly eclipsed. This preference for the younger son was to add another layer to the complex feelings Caroline nursed toward Fred. Just how much their relationship had changed would be seen when, after years of separation, they finally met again in 1727 . . .

Caroline with William

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I have a lot to say about Caroline. To prevent overwhelming you with information, I’m splitting my thoughts on her into two separate blogs. Watch out for Hanoverian Mothers 3.2, which will cover the later years of Caroline’s life and her final quarrel with her son.  Coming soon to a screen near you!

Hanoverian Mothers – Part 2

Charlotte, Princess of Wales

D0es loving children make you a good mother? It’s hard to tell. Acceptance of other people’s children may seem easy, but how do you cope with your own child; a tight knot of your hopes and fears, a strange mirror image of yourself – the good parts and the bad?  What do you do if the child resembles its other parent in practically every way, and you happen to hate that parent? The situation suddenly becomes very different.

Princess Caroline of Brunswick adored children, especially babies. Tales of her infatuation date back to her youth, when she lavished so much attention upon a poor young boy the village that he was suspected of being her bastard son. Caroline always defended herself: “Everybody must love something in this world. I think my taste is the most natural and whoever may find fault with it may do it or not.” She went on to say that she could never attach herself to dogs and birds like other women – it had to be babies. How strange, then, that this woman would turn out a spectacularly bad mother to her only child, using her as a pawn in her political games! How could she possibly explain herself?

There are a few points to consider. Firstly, we have to look at Caroline herself and the eccentricity of her character. When Lord Malmesbury visited Brunswick to bring her to England, he found the young Princess shallow of mind. He considered her overly affectionate, a friend to everyone, but  “incapable of any strong or lasting feeling”.  She was “caught by the first impression, led by the first impulse”. In fact, she was remarkably like a child herself – never thinking about what she said, trusting, reckless, fond of practical jokes. Her attraction to children probably stemmed from the fact they resembled her. Other people scolded her for her behaviour, but with children there was no need to pretend. This made her a wonderful playmate, but woefully ill-equipped to be a parent – particularly the parent of a young lady. What was more, Caroline had no experience of good parenting to fall back on. Her own childhood was punctuated by her parents’ quarrels. Her father, the Duke of Brunswick, was a distant, strict man often occupied with military campaigns or his mistress. Her mother, Princess of Augusta of England, was considered remarkably silly. Though she upbraided Caroline for flirting with young men and making a spectacle of herself, she didn’t provide much of an example. Distanced from her husband, she took to grumbling about Brunswick and seeking solace in religion. Lord Malmesbury noted that Caroline had no respect at all for her mother.

When Caroline came to England in 1795, these faults were all too clear to her prospective husband, Prince George.  He began to nurture a hatred for her so intense that he described her as a “monster” and a “vile fiend”.  Despite his clear reluctance, he managed to impregnate Caroline – perhaps actually on their wedding night – since a daughter was born to them exactly nine months after their marriage. From the start, it was clear that Caroline was not to be consulted about her own child. It was her mother-in-law, Queen Charlotte, who ordered the linen, specified the crib design. When the little girl was born, she was not named after her own mother, which was usual at this time; she was called Charlotte Augusta, after both her grandmothers. Even at these early stages, Caroline was being wheedled out of her life. Prince George, in a violent and probably alcohol-induced rage, wrote a Will shortly after Charlotte’s  birth. He was explicit that “The mother of this child, called the Princess of Wales, should in no way either be concerned in the education or care of the child . . . [it is] incumbent on me and a duty, both as a parent and a man, to prevent by all means the child’s falling into such improper and bad hands as hers”. Even though Caroline never saw this Will, the message was clear to her: Charlotte belonged to her father.

Caroline and Charlotte

Not one to be beaten, Caroline made sure she spent as much time as possible with her baby girl. She sat for hours in the nursery, chose lace for the little one’s frocks and joined the attendants when they took the child out for air. Even when she and George unofficially separated and she was given her own house, she was always backwards and forwards to visit her daughter. But George was out to thwart her. He objected to her time in the nursery and laid down rules for the servants: Caroline was only to be permitted a morning visit.

Little Charlotte was kept on a tight rein through her childhood, which was a surprising parenting method for her father to take. He himself had complained of a strict education and lack of affection from his father. But Prince George was turning out an awfully lot like King George. It must have been exciting, then, for the girl to take trips to her mother’s house on Blackheath. The drunken congas, the games, the ability to sit on a floor cross-legged and eat a raw onion would have seemed like Heaven. Where her father was distant and god-like, her mother was warm and affectionate. It is clear from anecdotes in Charlotte’s youth that she took after Caroline.: the impetuosity of snatching a tutor’s wig off and throwing it into the fire, the delight in winding servants up by refusing to close the doors, the reckless joy in shocking when she drove her governess hell-for-leather across a bumpy field and told the screaming lady there was “nothing like exercise”. But tragically for Charlotte, this likeness was to put her out of favor with her father.

To add another blow, this mother who Charlotte looked up to was soon finding distractions elsewhere. It seems that when children grew to a certain age, Caroline simply lost interest in them. It was not long before she was looking after little boys and girls on the heath who had sores on their faces and standing Godmother for abandoned babies. But of all her little protégées, there was one who would hurt Charlotte particularly: Willy Austin. In the autumn of 1802, Caroline ordered her servants to keep an eye out for a baby she could take to live in the house. Luck would have it that Sophia Austin turned up on her doorstep, her three-month-old son in tow, begging the Princess to help her husband back into work. The offer was soon made – and accepted – to take the baby off her hands.

Soon it was all about Willy. Caroline insisted on changing his clouts herself and having nursery paraphernalia around her. From contemporary reports, Willy was a spoilt brat. He was dangled over a table to pick his favourite sweetmeats, jamming his dirty little hands into everything and breaking plates. He caused such a fuss when a spider was in the room that an army of servants was unleashed with broomstick to get it off the ceiling and take it away. Charlotte hated him and resented being made to play with him. She had to sit by and watch herself eclipsed in her mother’s affections. Even worse, her father and his mistress Mrs Fitzherbert had also taken charge of a young child, Minnie Seymour, at about the same time. Each parent was finding a substitute for their unsatisfactory daughter.

From Caroline’s point of view, the adoption of Willy seems natural. She resented being kept out of her daughter’s life. Here, at last, was a child who was truly hers, to love and raise without restraint. Only, she didn’t do a particularly good job with Willy either. When he reached ten, she was already looking out for another baby. She let him sleep in her bedroom until he was about thirteen and then evicted him brusquely to admit her lover. She tried to provide for him in her Will but had squandered so much of his inheritance he only had £200 a year. He eventually died in a lunatic asylum in 1849. Ironically, Willy was also the catalyst of the “Delicate Investigation” into Caroline’s conduct. He was suspected of being her bastard son by either Sir Sidney Smith or Captain Mamby. Although Caroline encouraged the rumour and mixed it with one of her own – that Willy was the son of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, who she had smuggled into the country –  there was no truth to it. Willy was proven to be the son of the Austins. But Caroline hadn’t escaped. The Investigation put a deeper blot upon her character and led to even more limited access to Charlotte. The King, previously keen to champion Caroline’s rights to her daughter, saw her true colours and gave up his support. After all, this adopted child had only served to put her actual daughter further out of reach.

Caroline and Charlotte by Lawrence

Charlotte didn’t know the full extent of the charges against her mother until much later. She continued to heed the crowds in their constant cry: “Never desert your mother”. After all, didn’t her mother’s frequent letters to the newspapers harp upon how much she loved and missed her daughter? Wasn’t it natural to believe they were allies, united against her cruel father? It led Charlotte to a supreme act of courage: defying her father and fleeing a marriage she didn’t want to speed across London to her mother’s house. They would form an alliance, they would stand against her father, as they had always talked about. And yet suddenly Caroline was quiet, surprisingly circumspect. She encouraged Charlotte to return home, though she was kind enough to insist her beloved maid accompanied her. Charlotte’s bold gesture of confidence, her repeated insistence to her fiance that she could not marry him and leave her mother all alone in England, was met with a slap in the face. Just when Charlotte was giving up everything to take her mother’s side, she was betrayed. Caroline was planning to leave England and live on the Continent. “I am so hurt that I am very low”, poor Charlotte wrote. After an “indifferent” leave-taking, Caroline launched out across the ocean and left Charlotte to a fate of practical house-arrest. How could she do this to her only daughter?

Caroline’s attendants would insist that the repeated insults of George had finally overwhelmed her. She was mortally offended when Allied sovereigns visited England and completely ignored her. She wanted to live simply as Caroline, a free commoner. I suspect she also felt that she was doing Charlotte a favour by leaving. It was clear George would never love her while Caroline continued to torment him and she could see the strain on the poor child, constantly pulled between her parents. Perhaps to release the pressure, Caroline simply removed herself from the equation. Nevertheless, the action smacks of breath-taking selfishness. Charlotte would never fully forgive her, but it seems Caroline didn’t even notice she was hurting her child. In short, the action is typical of Caroline: rash, ill-considered and self-absorbed.

As Charlotte, by necessity, grew closer to her father, she began to find out more about her mother and her illicit lovers. She was shocked. The more she considered, the more she realised what Caroline truly was. She began to confess all the times Caroline had carried notes for her and encouraged her to make love to Captain Hesse – at one point, locking them in a bedroom and telling them to enjoy themselves. Though she would always have natural affection for, she could no longer respect Caroline. George unkindly suggested that Caroline had been trying to smirch Charlotte’s character to get revenge on him. I doubt Caroline would have had any such thought. As a young girl, she would have given anything to be locked up with a handsome officer for an hour. Her youth was full of thwarted flirtations and being kept separate for young men. She probably thought she was being a brilliant mother by setting Charlotte up with lover.

Charlotte

Although they wrote a little, Caroline and Charlotte never saw each other again. Charlotte was to die tragically in 1817, just twenty-one years old, in giving birth to a still-born son. Cruelly, Caroline had to find out about both her daughter’s marriage and death second-hand, like someone who had no connection to her. For all her faults, she didn’t deserve this. There was some motherly feeling left in her, despite it being at odds with her nature. Her eyes filled with tears when she left England and Charlotte’s death shook her to the core. She retreated into something like a stupor, plagued by headaches. She erected a monument in her garden to the memory of her lost daughter and described the loss as the “death warrant to her feelings”.  Surely these weren’t the signs of an indifferent mother.

I can’t defend Caroline’s mothering skills. She was undoubtedly ill-suited to the job and far too selfish to be the rock that her bewildered  daughter so sorely needed. But although many of her statements of love and affliction were carefully manipulated to rile up her husband’s enemies, they were not devoid of truth. She did love Charlotte and was proud of her. Sadly, in a world where the child belonged to its father, and in Charlotte’s case physically resembled her father, the relationship could never flourish. Caroline would never have the emotional depth of her husband or her daughter. While I must condemn her as a bad parent, I don’t think she was an unloving one. It was just a great tragedy that her love was never fixed and selfless. Had she been able to show Charlotte the scale of affection that her eventual husband, Leopold, did, the poor girl’s life might have been very different indeed.

 

Hanoverian Mothers: Part 1

Charlotte with George and Frederick

Much has been made of relationship between the Hanoverian Kings and their heirs to the throne. Petty jealousies and bitter feuds tore at the bonds between father and eldest son until, in some cases, they were virtually non-existent. With my interest in women’s history, I can’t help asking: what part did the mothers play in this? Did they stir the pot of broiling distrust or did they try to act as mediators? My new blog series, Hanoverian Mothers, will explore this.

I’m starting off with the relationship of Queen Charlotte with her son, George, Prince of Wales, later to become Prince Regent and George IV. I frequently get asked if Charlotte loved her son enough. Why didn’t she stand up for her children more? Some mistaken summaries of Charlotte’s life even assert that she hated her eldest son! Whilst theirs was certainly a complicated relationship, Charlotte and Prince George were devoted to one another throughout most of their lives. Sadly, their exalted positions in society put an unbearable strain on this natural love.

From the start, Charlotte was delighted with George, who was not only her first son but first child. At only eighteen years of age, she had produced an heir to the English throne and secured the Hanoverian succession. She had a life-size wax model made of him, which she kept on a satin cushion under a bell-jar. As he grew, she enjoyed his quick childish wit and gift for mimicry. However, her control over him was not to last for long. Sons belonged to the father and were encouraged to be amongst men once they were “breeched” – that is, they put off the girlish gowns and skeleton suits of infancy and wore the outfits of a miniature gentleman. At the tender age of 7, George and his brother Frederick were put into the hands of their male governors.

Although Charlotte and George III were ‘modern’ parents who had their children inoculated against the smallpox and embraced Rousseau’s ideas of children growing up with nature, simple diets and simple clothing, their theories were to backfire on them. They had planned the perfect education, but it was naive and stifled their boys. Education has to be fitted to the individual child, and by this point, Charlotte and George III had many of them. Indeed, even if Charlotte had been allowed a closer interest in Prince George’s education, it is doubtful she would have had time. Between constant pregnancies and arranging the tutelage of her daughters, she didn’t get to see her children half as often as she wished. She bitterly complained in her letters of only being allotted two days with them a week. By the time her three youngest daughters came up through the ranks, she had lost her initial enthusiasm for shaping their minds. Consequently, compared to the eldest three, Mary, Sophia and Amelia were neglected.

This being the case, it wasn’t surprising that the boy George developed “duplicity” and a “habit of not telling the truth.”  This trait was to last his life long and no whipping would get it out. What might now be seen as a quick mind, vivid imagination and talent as an actor were repressed. Without further investigation, all George’s parents knew was that he was a liar and they were appalled. I’m not a mother, but I observe and I have an imagination. I’ve often seen the stress and amazement when a child isn’t turning out to be quite what its parents expected. Each child is born with its own personality and interests and you can only encourage what’s in them. They will not necessarily be a “mini-me” and share their parents hobbies, no matter how hard you try to push your mathematician son into the football team you loved so much as a boy. While a family of lower status may have been able to accept this, it was something a King and Queen could not ignore. This son was to be their legacy, to carry on all their plans and uphold what they had worked so hard to achieve. Had George been a younger son, he may have been let off a bit more lightly, or just ignored as several of his disappointing younger brothers were. Unluckily for George, his every move was inspected under a microscope.

Charlotte with George and Frederick in costume

Charlotte wrote to her son with advice. It is notable that some of the younger sons, who were later neglected abroad and never heard from the King, always got a letter from Charlotte. Here is what she wrote to George in August 1770:

I recommend unto you to fear God; a duty that must lead to all the rest with ease, as His assistance . . .will be your guide through every action of life. Abhor all vice . . . look upon yourself as obliged to set good examples. Disdain all flattery – it will corrupt your manners and render you contemptible before the world. Do justice unto everybody and avoid partiality. . . Love and esteem those that are about you. Confide in and act with sincerity towards them . . . Treat nobody with contempt . . . Be charitable to everyone, not forgetting your meaner servants.  Don’t use them with indifference; rather pity them that they are obliged to serve . . . you should not think yourself above doing good to them. The contrary will make you appear vain and vanity is the root of all vice . . . Lastly I recommend unto you the highest love, affection and duty towards the King. Look upon him as a friend. . . Try to imitate his virtues and look upon everything that is in opposition to that duty as destructive to yourself.

Rather high concepts for an eight-year-old to swallow! However, much as this looks like a lot of pressure to heap upon a young boy, it has to be remembered that George III himself was set equal, if not greater expectations in living up to the memory of his father, who never became King. Moreover, the letter shows a mother’s insight into the young George’s character – flattery and vanity were indeed to be his failings, and he was to get into serious hot-water by not obeying the King.

The King is the sticking point in this mother-son relationship. Charlotte had a natural preference for George, but his father preferred Frederick. It is interesting to read the Queen was “rather too formal with her children – especially the Duke of York (Frederick)”. One wonders if this was an unconscious snub of Daddy’s favourite. But other than these small slights, there was little she could do. With such a large family, the old rule of “Don’t contradict me in front of the children” became all the more vital. Charlotte and George III had to appear as a united front – and besides, Charlotte saw it as her duty to obey her husband, even in things her own judgement didn’t approve of. If she failed to argue her son’s case at first because of duty and timidity, she couldn’t make up for it in later life – by that time, George III had started to suffer from bouts of madness and it was feared any contradiction would bring a fresh one on.

It is interesting to see, though, that despite Charlotte’s limitations, George always went to her first. When in trouble over his affair with Madame Von Hardenburg, he flung himself at Charlotte’s feet and confessed all. When he saw his hated bride, Caroline of Brunswick, for the first time and suffered a bitter disappointment, his words were “I am going to the Queen”. He continued to send her appealing letters and share his agony throughout his unhappy marriage.

Despite all this, there was at least a year when mother and son could truly be said to hate one another. This was during the fateful Regency crisis of 1788-1789. As his father descended further into madness, George’s attitude changed from one of concern and duty to indecent excitement at the prospect of getting a throne. This was something Charlotte could not forgive. She urged him to wait and allow his father to recover – wise words, as it turned out – but George saw her as deluded and another barrier between him and his dreams. His behaviour grew cruel – he took the King’s jewels from her, separated her from his father and stopped paying her the customary courtesy of kissing her hand. Both mother and son were subject to paranoia; George became convinced his mother wanted the Regency for herself and was trying to destroy him, while Charlotte thought there were spies around her eager to report to the papers. It took Charlotte a lot of time, after the King’s recovery, to swallow this betrayal of her dear boy. She snubbed him frequently and failed to send him invitations to parties as they were “only meant for people who support us”.

But that the breach did heal cannot be doubted.  It is fascinating to see just how much Charlotte’s actions differed when her husband was out of the picture – that was, he became permanently deranged and was kept locked away in Windsor. Previously a popular Queen, she forfeited her reputation with the people by backing all her son’s measures for the country. While others reviled him for enlarging the Pavilion at Brighton, Charlotte gave him a considerable lump sum of £50,000 towards what she considered marvelous improvements. Mother and son shared a passion for decoration and architecture, as well as a “fascinating manner” that enchanted people.

As the Queen aged and grew increasingly bitter, George and his daughter, another Charlotte, were all that could bring joy to her life. She lit up whenever she spoke of them. George’s sister Elizabeth was indebted to him for numerous interventions between Charlotte and her daughters – he was the only one she would listen to. “All is sunshine since your visit,” Elizabeth dutifully reported.  It was also at this stage that Charlotte began to mediate between George and his own daughter. While taking young Charlotte’s part over her allowance and marriage choice, she reminded her granddaughter that ” she ought to look upon her father as the only source of happiness and that it was her duty to obey him everything” words that echoed the letter she wrote to George himself at age eight.

When George’s daughter died tragically young in 1818, his mother was there to support him again. She had lost three children and knew what a blow it was. “As I always share in  your prosperity most sincerely, so do I most deeply feel your present loss and misery,” she wrote. She tried to comfort him with the thought he had allowed his daughter to marry the man of her choice and be happy.Whether he would have done so without Charlotte’s influence is questionable.

It is very fitting that when Charlotte died a year later, she was holding her beloved George’s hand. Her daughter Elizabeth, who knew her best, wrote to George “No parent was ever more wrapt up in a child than she was in you, and I firmly believe she would with pleasure have sacrificed her life for you”. Poor George, grieving again after losing his daughter the previous year, was unable to bring himself to leave London for a month. He described his feelings : “the utmost extent of the bitterest anguish in the deepest recess (of his heart)”. He was “incapacitated for everything”.

These final years, in my opinion, show the true relationship between mother and son. Who could say, having considered the evidence, that Charlotte didn’t love her son?

Coming later in the series:

Caroline of Ansbach – Why did she hate Frederick so much?

Augusta, Princess of Wales – Pushy parent or model mother?

Caroline of Brunswick – How could she leave her daughter?