Mistress of the Court

Dukes of Cumberland Part 1 – William

Names can be a tricky thing in historical fiction. While working on Mistress of the Court, I was faced with several name-related challenges. Firstly, nearly every male character was called George. I managed to get around this by using the German version of George I’s name, Georg Ludwig, and I felt this was appropriate as his heart always remained in Hanover. A later character, George Berkeley, was simply always referred to by his surname.

Then there were the changing titles. For example, at the beginning of my narrative, Lord Chesterfield would have been called Stanhope. But with so many characters at court, I didn’t feel my readers would be able to keep up with changes like these, so I just referred to him as Chesterfield from the very start. A cheat, but I hope a forgivable one.

Titles are tricky, because so many people end up holding them. Since I research a period ranging from 1714-1837, dukedoms and earldoms change hands many times. So when I’m reading a book and they mention the Duke of York, I have to do a quick double-think to remember who it actually was at that time.

One title, however, seems to crop up a lot, and it always means trouble. The title Duke of Cumberland came to be infamous, at least for the Georgian era. In the period of my research, three different princes held the dukedom – and all three of them were scandalous in their way!

Over the next few weeks, I will give you a run down of the dastardly dukes, in chronological order.

We start with William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, (1721-1765). William holds the distinction of being the first Hanoverian prince born on English soil. He was a precious child, a much wanted son for George II and Caroline, who had lost three babies before his birth and were separated from their only other boy.

William as a boy
William as a boy

Today we remember him as ‘Butcher’ Cumberland, due to the role he played in the battle of Culloden. This final decisive clash of the Jacobite rebellion resulted in the death of many Scots who, despite their inferior firepower, were shown no quarter. Wounded men on the battlefield were shot dead and even worse, the surrounding areas were pillaged and burnt. The King’s army were determined to show that treason would not be tolerated; raping, hanging and eradicating the Highland way of life. Great as the tragedy was, I think it is a little unfair to blame the entire thing on William. Instead of the Butcher of Culloden, I think he should be called a Butcher of Culloden – for there were certainly many other men involved in the atrocities. Indeed, William was originally hailed as a hero when he returned – it was only as details of the battle and its aftermath crept out that public opinion began to turn.

Refreshingly, when writing Mistress of the Court, I got to look at William from his doting mother’s point of view. She died some nine years before Culloden, so it could not figure in her assessment of him at all. What I found behind the soldier was a spoilt, rather precocious child of great physical courage.

Leanach Cottage, Culloden Moor
Leanach Cottage, Culloden Moor

From the start, his parents lavished attention on him. He had leather cushions for his dogs and and entire suite to himself in Hampton Court Palace. His mother took him everywhere with her, and he particularly like to throw silver coins from her carriage. His father encouraged him in a military life from an early age, giving him a troop of small boys to drill. Rather predictably, William began to get a sense of pride and answer his parents back back. He refused to fast on 30 January in remembrance of King Charles I’s death, saying he did not know that the people were wrong to execute Charles –  he hadn’t read that history book yet! But he also showed some signs of refinement, taking no food at his birthday ball because he ‘didn’t think it looked well to be pulling greasy bones about in a room full of princesses.’

It seems William was a handsome child and young man, although later on a battle wound to his leg would prevent him from exercising and make him extremely corpulent. Despite wishing to reform the army and introduce new discipline, he was not a very successful soldier. He certainly tried hard to serve his father the King, but after years of service the two quarreled. In his usual tempestuous way, George II heaped blame on William for misunderstanding his orders and greeted his son with the words, ‘Here is my son who has ruined me and disgraced himself, ruined his country and his army, has spoiled everything and lost his own reputation.’ Having become very familiar with George II’s furious tirades, I must say I admire the way William responded to the outburst. He very calmly told the King’s mistress that he was tendering his resignation. When George II inevitably calmed down later and tried to make amends, William was firm. He would always show the greatest respect for his father the King, but he would never again serve under him as a soldier.

Soldier William
Soldier William

William’s career therefore ended at the age of thirty-eight. It was just as well, for in the coming years he fell prey to a series of strokes that left him partially paralysed. He amused himself by following horseracing and boxing and throwing himself into the office of Ranger of Windsor Forest. He constructed Virginia Water and a private zoo.

Whilst William had a few brief mistresses, there was no lasting romantic attachment in his life. He never married, living instead with his sister Emily (Amelia). After his elder brother’s death in 1751, William tried to gain influence with and advise his nephew the future King George III. However, George and his mother Augusta distrusted William, seeming to see him as another Richard III.

The old battle wound on William’s thigh continued to trouble his health. With more strokes and complications caused by his corpulence, he was not long for the world. He died aged only 44, in his chair – not the glorious end on a battlefield he might have envisaged for himself. But though his life was short and not, after childhood, particularly happy, the reputation he had earned in the Jacobite rebellion would see him go down in history as one of the great villains.

William in later years
William in later years

 

Caroline’s Secret

Circa 1730, Portrait of Caroline of Ansbach (1683 - 1737). Queen of George II of England and Ireland, gathered distinguished circle including, Pope, Gay, and Chesterfield, kept Sir Robert Walpole in power, acted as regent during king's absences. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Circa 1730, Portrait of Caroline of Ansbach (1683 – 1737). Queen of George II of England and Ireland, gathered distinguished circle including, Pope, Gay, and Chesterfield, kept Sir Robert Walpole in power, acted as regent during king’s absences. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Writing about real-life historical figures is difficult. Because if there’s one thing readers expect from a ‘character’, it’s consistency. Unfortunately, in the realm of the real world, things don’t always work like that. I’m sure we’ve all had an experience of a friend or colleague acting ‘out of character’. Real people are often contradictory – and this makes it extremely hard to craft them into a novel!

Beta-readers, critique partners and editors have often pulled me up on the ‘real-life’ elements of my novel. Actual quotes from correspondence have been marked as ‘sounding out of period’, so I have been obliged to change the ‘character’s’ own words. More recently, a reader was surprised by George II’s reaction to the news that he had become king. They didn’t think anyone would respond the way he did. I agree that George’s shout of, ‘That is one big lie!’ was an unusual response, but what can I do? More than one primary source quotes him – it just happened like that.

Similarly confusing is an episode involving George’s wife, Caroline. Caroline was a well-educated and intelligent woman with an inquisitive mind. She was interested in science and entertained ‘natural philosophers’ such as Isaac Newton to hear their ideas. Along with Lady Wortley Montagu, Caroline is credited with introducing the smallpox inoculation to Britain (this was different from Jenner’s later, safer vaccination).

Alongside her ideas of progress, Caroline had an earthy sense of humour. She was not ashamed to speak of sex or bodily functions. Nothing suggests she was ever squeamish. You would think that a Queen such as Caroline would be the first to turn to science in the case of her own illness. But in fact, when Caroline found an umbilical hernia after the birth of her last child, Louisa, she did . . . nothing.

Why exactly did Caroline not only ignore, but attempt to conceal, her illness? Lord Hervey states that she had ‘strong apprehensions of making her person distasteful to the king’. It is true that she exerted great sexual power of her husband. Moreover, George II was a man who showed impatience when others were ill. But I do not think we can blame him for this piece of folly on Caroline’s part. As we can see from George’s confession to Hervey, shortly before Caroline’s death from the hernia, he had actually been concerned and supportive.

The first symptoms I ever perceived of it were fourteen years ago, just after the Queen lay in of Louisa and she then told me . . that it was nothing more than what was common for almost every woman to have after a hard labour. . . it grew better and continued better afterwards for several years. When it grew worse again, I persuaded her to consult some surgeon, which she declined and was so uneasy . . . that I knew not how to press her . .. I again spoke to her, told her it was certainly a rupture and that she ran great risks in taking no care of it. . . [She] spoke so much more peevishly to me on this occasion than she had ever done in her life . . . every time I mentioned it, more and more hurt and angry

It is here I begin to suspect that Caroline, usual so astute, misjudged both the situation and her husband. While George was only concerned by the rupture she perceived that he was disgusted:

The Queen had received what he had said to her on the subject, upon his return from Hanover, as if she had reproached him with being grown wear of her person, and endeavouring to find blemishes in it that did not belong to her.

In short, her own fears preyed upon her mind, and she started to hear things the King was not actually saying. You cannot help but pity Caroline. To think that her devoted husband of many years would fail to love her because of an illness shows a touching vulnerability. Most of her life she had been commanding and assured. She used to be so confident in George’s love that she turned a blind eye to any mistresses he took. As one of the closest courtiers of her last years, Lord Hervey was also puzzled. ‘People may think this weakness little of a piece with the greatness of the rest of her character,’ he wrote.

Perhaps Caroline, so used to playing the all-ruling Queen, did not like to be reminded that she was mortal. She tried to face the hernia down with the same resilience as she endured her gout. Pride kept her silent, and she found it impossible to accept weakness. The shame she felt about her condition was so acute, that she would rather die under the symptoms than let another person examine it. Even in her last days, she was furious that George wanted the doctors to look at the hernia:

He whispered to her that he was afraid her illness proceeded from a thing he had promised never to speak of again; but that now his duty to her called upon him to tell the physician all he knew and all he apprehended. She begged and entreated him . . . and spoke with more warmth and peevishness than she showed at any other minute during her whole illness.

As it turns out, Caroline was probably right to try and elude the doctors. Their botched attempts at a cure rather prolonged the suffering of her last days. You can read a grizzly account of the facts here, or my short story here.

In writing Mistress of the Court, I tried to explore Caroline’s feelings and the extraordinary, elaborate cover-up of her illness. You might enjoy this deleted scene, where she and George argue over the hernia.

It was even better than Caroline had hoped. Only a single lamp lit the corridor between her window and Henrietta’s chamber, but she recognised the ill-formed shape of Chesterfield. He was a smear on the glass, Henrietta another. They did not appear to embrace or go near the bed. That was a disappointment, but Caroline still had ammunition. The mere fact that Chesterfield was in Henrietta’s room when she asked to be left alone spoke volumes. George would not need more evidence than this one imperfect sighting.

Ladies stood beside the bed, ready to unlace Caroline’s mantua and deliver her into a nightgown. She kept them waiting. She was full of a bitter glee. Mrs Howard thought she had won, did she? Spreading her poisonous poem, turning George against Caroline’s advice. Begging cap in hand. Soon enough, the whore would see who held the winning cards. She was not mistress of this court yet.

When George’s footsteps finally sounded on the stairs, Caroline was disappointed to hear them stop outside her own door. On the one night she would have him go his mistress, he came to her! ‘Leave us,’ she told the ladies as George knocked on her door. ‘I will speak to the King alone before I sleep.’

The ladies retreated, leaving a single candle burning upon her dressing table. Yellow light danced across the wood, glinting off her silver brush and comb. She opened the door. In the shadows, George spread his arms, letting Caroline slump into his embrace. His body felt softer these days, cushioned by fat, with no hard muscle beneath.

‘You are tired tonight, my love,’ he breathed into her hair as he pushed her gently back into the room and closed the door behind him.

‘I am always tired. There is much on my mind. Anne talks only of marriage, Carrie gains weight every day and Emily is running wild.’ She paused, weighing his reaction, listening to his body. Gently, she slipped in the fatal words. ‘Then there is this business with Mrs Howard and her husband.’

He tensed beneath her hands. She buried her face in his velvet waistcoat and held her tongue, allowing him time to simmer.

‘Henrietta is not your concern,’ George said at last. ‘I have raised her allowance to pay off that dog Howard. She will not trouble you again.’ He put his hands on her shoulders and tilted her back to gaze into her face. ‘It vexed me to hear she approached you for money. I’ve made my displeasure very clear.’

She painted on a grateful smile, but it hurt her cheeks. How long would that woman suck at the King’s funds? Even leeches dropped off when they had drunk their fill. ‘I’m glad of it. You are very kind, my dear.’

George’s face softened under the candlelight. She swallowed, feeling the chemistry between them. It was still there, the fizz of desire, after all these years. Amorously, he ran a hand over her curves, shaping her breast, her waist. After unpinning her stomacher, his warm fingers strayed to her petticoat, where he tugged at the waistband, searching for the ties. Pain scorched through her belly. Caroline gasped. Winded by agony, she stumbled back and leant on the bedpost.

‘What is it?’

She shook her head, unable to speak. Her vision flickered, split by undulating lines. In a moment, she would fall . . .

George moved behind her and dropped to his knees. Flicking up her heavy train, he rustled beneath it, unhooking first her petticoat and then her panniers. Relief swamped her as the weight fell away and landed on the floor with a hiss. The tender nub on her stomach throbbed like a pulse, but it was better without pressure on it.

George poked his head up. His face was red and his wig disheveled. ‘It’s that lump again, isn’t it?’

That lump. He had noticed, then. Caroline felt it on her body like a stain, a wretched fungus she could not uproot. ‘No,’ she lied. ‘It has nothing to do with that. I came over faint.’

Streaks of gold and black danced before her eyes; she realised they were full of tears. Her knees shook. After all that careful concealment, she had been exposed. He had seen the lump. Remembered it. What if he found her repulsive? What if she couldn’t make love to him, with the constant pain in her belly? She needed him in thrall to her. He was already suspicious of her guiding his policies. If he became weary of her person too, all her power was lost. A younger, able-bodied mistress would take her place.

George crawled out from beneath her skirts and stood. ‘You must consult a surgeon. It is a strange growth.’

Caroline felt disgusting, abhorrent. She twisted and turned from her shame like a child refusing food. ‘Nonsense! Nothing unusual. Many women acquire one after a hard labour.’

He shook his head. Shadows heightened the gravity in his face; the long nose and high cheekbones. ‘It is certainly a rupture. You run great risks, taking no care of it.’

A dark whisper told her he was right, but she couldn’t acknowledge it. She could not face her own body’s decay. ‘Oh, I see what this is!’ she cried, flinging away from him. Her unsupported skirts were too long and heavy; she tripped, causing a spurt of fresh pain. ‘You are tired of me. That ridiculous poem has turned you against me. You endeavour to find blemishes where there are none.’

‘Don’t be foolish. My concern is for your health – ’

‘So I am foolish now, too?’ Her voice quavered. ‘Well you need not stay with me if I am so ugly and stupid. Go and fawn over your mistress.’

‘Caroline . . .’

She pointed to the door, her throat raw with tears. ‘Go!’ she screamed.

Fury clouded his features. Picking up his hat, he cast her a glare and stomped from the room. He slammed the door, extinguishing her candle.

Caroline slumped to the floor. She knelt for a few moments, wetting the carpet with her tears. What had come over her? She feared losing George, yet here she was pushing him away. Awkwardly, she pulled off her mantua and threw a powdering gown over her shoulders. She would go after him and apologise. Where would he be? She stopped. Guilty pleasure stole up her spine. Henrietta’s apartments in Stone Gallery. He would want someone to shout at, and when he reached her rooms, he would find her ensconced with Lord Chesterfield . . .

Caroline pressed her face against her cool palms. Luck favoured her. The lump on her belly would soon pale into insignificance beside Henrietta’s sins.

Deaf, peevish old beast

Henrietta_Howard

There are many reasons why Henrietta Howard, the heroine of my new book Mistress of the Court, is a fascinating woman to write about. In previous posts I’ve covered her determination, early feminism and struggle against domestic abuse. However, the aspect of her life that contemporaries at court chose to concentrate on, in poems and in jests, was her partial deafness.

Not all of these were malicious. Pope charmingly uses the affliction to highlight Henrietta’s modest nature:

When all the world conspires to praise her

The woman’s deaf and does not hear

Indeed, Henrietta herself was inclined to make light of her condition with her friends, writing to Lord Chesterfield

I know you so indulgent to your friends, that you would not interrupt their diversions . . . you always affirmed pain was my particular one

But this frivolous comment hid, as so often with Henrietta’s life, a world of pain and suffering. She was not born with any hearing impediment. Her biographer Tracy Borman believes the trouble began in Henrietta’s late 20s or early 30s. The cause is not clear, although for dramatic effect in Mistress of the Court, I attribute the damage to a blow received by her husband.

Henrietta’s was certainly a painful deafness; she often described her ‘poor pain in the face’ and letters from her correspondents are rife with regrets that she is not in  better health. Her friend Dr Arbuthnot constantly treated her for headaches. It may be that Henrietta started to have difficulty hearing her own voice and adopted some signs; one of her letters refers to ‘that gesticulation of the hand for which I am so famous.’

Despite the fact that George II, in one of his rages, referred to her as a ‘deaf, peevish old beast’, it appears Henrietta was perfectly stoical about her condition. In fact, one wonders if she could have born for so long with George II if she were not partially deaf. With the writer Jonathan Swift, she engaged in a kind of playful competition to see who was the most unwell.  ‘I should make you the best husband in the world,’ wrote Swift,’for I am ten times deafer than ever you were in your life.’ Henrietta, however, beat him by showing superior fortitude. Deafness and headache were ‘misfortunes I have laboured under these many years,’ she boasted, ‘and yet never was peevish with myself or the world.’

Eventually, the agony became too severe. Something had to be done. In the summer of 1728, Henrietta consulted the eminent surgeon Mr Cheselden. He suggested an operation – something to be feared and dreaded in the pre anesthetic/disinfectant era. One only has to read Fanny Burney’s account of her own mastectomy to swoon in horror.

Horace Walpole makes an interesting reference to Henrietta’s operation in his anecdotes. He claims that Henrietta heard a condemned man at Newgate, who suffered from the same condition. According to Walpole, Cheselden arranged for the prisoner to be pardoned, on the condition that he submitted to an experimental operation. This is not impossible – Queen Caroline made a similar deal when testing her smallpox inoculations.

Despite reading treatise and advice on treatment for bad ears, I could not establish the exact nature of the procedure Henrietta underwent. Suffice to say, it involved some sort of boring tool. Her own description is rather chilling, calling to mind a sweating surgeon and horrific instruments.

I sent for Mr Cheselden, who, give him his due, worked very hard, but found so much resistance, that I was justified to inquire no further then into my jaw; besides, finding nothing there, we were afraid to proceed.

Henrietta admits that the pain of the operation was ‘almost unbearable’, but it seemed to do good. ‘‘I am much better;’ she reported to John Gay in August. ‘Whether I owe it to the operation I underwent, or to my medicines, I cannot tell.’

When I write biographical novels, I often draft little scenes that I have no intention of putting in the final draft. I like to explore important events in the subject’s life and see even the mundane parts of life through their eyes. As I wanted to get a feel for the medicines Henrietta would take daily, and think about how she would cope with an operation, I wrote the following scene with my research into hearing difficulties.  It is not in the novel, but I hope you will enjoy it.

The doctor peered down his nose at Henrietta. He was dressed in black and white like a parson; as if he was prepared to perform the funeral rites, should she take a turn for the worse. A short, unpowdered wig sat beneath his hat. He looked eminently respectable, but Henrietta eyed him warily. Could this man help her? No doctor had been able to save her parents or siblings from their fate. In her experience medical men were mere harbingers of death; crows that sat on the lychgate and cawed as the coffin passed by.

‘Mrs Howard. An honour.’ He bowed, keeping his eyes fixed on her ear.

Suddenly, pain pulsed through her head, nearly felling her. She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed a hand to her brow. This would not do. The pangs were coming frequently now, with greater strength. She had to try something to stop them.

A whiff of smelling salts beneath her nose jerked her back to her senses. She looked up gratefully at the doctor, who now stood beside her. ‘Thank you Mr Cheselden. I came over most queer.’

Her frowned. ‘It is your head that troubles you?’

‘Yes, my head and my ears. I do not hear well at all. My friends Dr Arbuthnot and Lord Chesterfield have spoken very highly of your skill with such things. They believe you can help me.’

He wet his lips. His face was plump and ruddy; like most doctors, he looked astonishingly well living off others’ pain. ‘Perhaps I can. Tell me how this first came about.’

With lowered eyes, she explained the gradual loss of her hearing and the headaches that arrested her, especially in times of distress. She told him she had knocked her head many times in the past, but attributed it to riding accidents instead of Charles’s well-aimed fist.

He lifted his bag and began to rummage in it. ‘And what have you taken so far?’

‘Some pills made of Jesuits’ Bark and gillyflower syrup. Laudanum, of course. I try to sleep with half an onion on the bad ear.’

‘With this type of pain, you should be kept cool and take emollient substances such as milk and spinach. Did you never think to shave your head?’

She could just imagine George’s reaction to that. ‘I wish to keep my hair. But I did have a blister, here.’ She ran her finger along her jawbone from the side her chin to just below her earlobe.

‘Yes. The corner of your jaw, just there. That is where we should concentrate.’ He drew out a small wooden case and laid it on a side table. Then, with his index finger, he tilted her chin to the light.

She swallowed. ‘What – what do you mean to do?’

‘You are familiar with the theory behind bleeding? Letting the ill humours flow out?’ She could not nod while he held her head, so she blinked. ‘Then there is a process where we go deeper, especially in cases of lunacy. You may have heard of trepanning?’

She froze. Everyone knew of the horrific procedure where a hole was drilled in the skull to release pressure in the brain. Sometimes discs of bone were removed permanently.

Mr Cheselden smiled. ‘Do not turn so pale, dear madam. I only mean to say that whatever obstructs the flow of blood through the head may cause the ache. With an instrument similar to the trepan, I can bore a small hole in the angle of your jaw to unblock it.’

Her heart bounded within her. Suddenly she did not want any help; she would rather be left alone. ‘Would it hurt?’

Evading her question, he gestured to an armchair. ‘We might do it just there. You could sit comfortably with a cambric handkerchief over your eyes; you would not see a thing. Have you an old sheet, and some lint?’

The ache in her head was dull now; terror drove it off. She moved her dry tongue. ‘I believe I do. But sir, pray tell me how much it will hurt. I must prepare myself.’ She watched him as he passed to the side table and opened his box. Polished steel glinted from within. She turned her face away, sick with horror.

‘I do not believe it will be much greater than the pain you already labour under,’ he said gently. ‘Unless . . . Perhaps you do not feel yourself equal to withstand it?’

Unexpected pride kicked in her chest. Unequal to withstand it indeed! This man had no idea what she had been through. ‘I am accustomed to discomfort, I assure you. What is your price?’ He named a large sum. ‘For such a fee sir, you must be sure of success.’ He inclined his head.

It did not feel right to spend so much, after begging George for more money. But didn’t she deserve some relief; a slither of money to spend on herself, instead of Charles and his blasted debts? ‘If you are certain, I will proceed, Mr Cheselden.’ Fear crept through her as the words left her lips.

‘I must ask for the payment upfront. In case of . . . difficulty.’

Trembling, she told the money into his hand. George’s impassive profile stared back at her from a coin. Despite everything, her lip twitched. It seemed absurd to pay out such a great sum, when George would gladly put a hole in her head for no charge at all.

Queen Caroline’s Bath

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I’ve been guest posting again! The lovely ladies at All Things Georgian have invited me to talk about Queen Caroline of Ansbach’s bathing habits on their blog. You can read the post here.

Henry Howard

Mistress of the CourtEvery novel has its minor characters. Sometimes, they can be even more interesting than the protagonist. In fiction these ‘bit part’ characters can create spin offs, but in fact-based historical fiction they are real people with rich lives of their own. Today I want to consider the life of Henry Howard, who features in my story about his mother, Henrietta, titled Mistress of the Court.

On New Year’s day 1707, Henrietta Howard gave birth to a son. First child and heir to his father, Charles, who was in turn the son of an Earl, you would think his future would be bright. Unfortunately, the boy was to live a confusing and emotionally traumatic life.

Named for his maternal grandfather, the young Henry Howard arrived in a family already at odds with one another. His father Charles was in the process of suing Henrietta’s brother over her dowry. Money was short, and so was the love between the two parents. From Henrietta’s writings, we know that Charles was a drunkard, gambler and abusive husband. When his lawsuit failed, the family were left more in debt than ever. Depositing Henrietta and the infant Henry in ‘mean lodgings’ in Berkshire, Charles returned to London to live his life unencumbered by their presence.

This abandonment lasted some two years. Henry was deprived of a father for the earliest part of his life – and any form of financial aid from that father. Even when Henrietta, finally at her wits end, set off in search of Charles, the family did not enjoy a happy reunion. They boarded with Charles’ brother at Audley End house for a year and a half. However, Charles was again frequently absent, deserting mother and child for months on end. They were finally expelled from Audley End for failing to pay the rent. It is testimony to Charles’s bad behaviour that he was evicted by his own brother.

Audley End House
Audley End House

If this constant movement and upheaval was confusing for the young Henry, it was about to get worse. He was dragged across the roughest parts of London under the assumed surname of Smith to avoid his father’s debtors. Every so often, his father would run away under fear of arrest and leave him with his mother. Unsurprisingly, mother and child grew close. Henry was Henrietta’s only comfort and gave her the affection she did not receive from Charles. They were both ‘under the pressure and smart of hunger’ most of the time.

In Mistress of the Court, Henrietta travels to Hanover in order to make money and a future for her son. While this probably was her main motivation for going abroad, it is distressing to think that she must have further traumatised Henry by depriving him of his only friend. She only raised enough money for herself and Charles to go to the Hanoverian court and woo the next monarch. Henry was left behind, though it is not clear with whom.

My knowledge of Henry’s life comes solely from Tracy Boreman’s excellent biography of Henrietta and Henrietta’s published correspondence. I have not seen any letters Henry wrote about his childhood, if indeed any survive. But it is hard to conceive that he was not deeply affected by these strange early years of his life. He had been passed from pillar to post like a package, half-starved through most of his formative years. He was a frequent witness to the abusive relationship between his parents. At the age of barely seven, he was abandoned by them both for just over a year. Little wonder he appears as a strange and rather prickly child in my book.

Henrietta Howard
Henrietta Howard

Prospects improved for Henry with the death of Queen Anne in 1714. His parents arrived back in England shortly before the coronation of George I and were granted places at court. However, their new lodgings in St James’s palace were not as grand as they sound. It was a horrid place, rife with damp and the necessity of sharing chamber pots between families. One wonders if Henry was altogether pleased to be reunited with his parents under these circumstances.

The domestic situation certainly did not ease up. Henrietta and Charles were constantly coming to blows. He disapproved of her clothes and her friends. He was annoyed that her service to the Princess of Wales interrupted her attendance on him. Henrietta confessed to getting out of bed several times a night for fear he would kill her. Not precisely an ideal environment for a child under 10 to grow up in.

Things finally came to head with the split of the royal household in 1718. Henry’s parents worked for different factions of the court and were both unwilling to give up their roles. After a furious row, Henrietta stormed out without even stopping to take her belongings. Charles sent a bitter letter after her, saying he no longer considered her to be his wife.

In Mistress of the Court, I have Henrietta separated from her son unwittingly. But the sad truth is that she actually made the decision to leave him. It was certainly not something she did lightly. Her writings show she agonised over the choice and genuinely feared for her life if she stayed with Charles. But what a blow it must have been for Henry, just eleven years old! It was a breach of trust that he would never forgive.

Henrietta was in fact, extremely naive about her son. At first she thought Charles would allow her to visit him – an illusion which he quickly dispelled. She then remained convinced that Henry would take her side, despite her actions. She was determined not to pressure him but ‘leave all to his natural inclinations’. What she actually did was leave him to the insidious ways of Charles. And Charles, accordingly, was raising the child to despise his mother.

This was all the easier when Henrietta became mistress to the Prince of Wales. While it was necessary for her survival, you can imagine how it looked to Henry. He probably thought his mother had deserted him to run off with her lover. And though it was far from the truth, Charles would have encouraged the idea. Charles wrote to tell Henrietta that their son was forced to ‘hear the reproaches of your public defiance to me, and what the world will interpret as the occasion of it.’

George II, Henrietta's lover
George II, Henrietta’s lover

Henrietta was only able to obtain sketchy details of her son’s life over the next few years. She discovered he was at a school near Salisbury and sent her cousin to visit, but he was removed to a private school before she arrived. In 1720, he attended Magdalene College at Cambridge. His studies were followed up at an academy in Paris. Henrietta’s friend Lord Peterborough sent his son to the same academy, hoping to glean some further information. It does not seem he was successful. Whether in or out his father’s company, Henry made no effort to contact his mother.

It appeared that Charles was right when he wrote that ‘No artifice or temptation . . . will every prevail with [Henry] to desert me.’ This is surprising, considering Charles’ behaviour through Henry’s childhood. Henrietta was certainly shocked, and disbelieving. ‘I wish to God [Henry] was of a riper age to be judge between us,’ she wrote. ‘I am not willing to suppose he will long neglect a parent who has not forfeited the duty he owes her.’ Nor was she alone in her hopes. From Alexander Pope’s letter of 1727, we can see that Henry was not treated particularly well by his father:

And yet, as to the last thing that troubles you (the odd useage of Mr H towards his son) I would fain hope some good may be derived from it. It may turn him to a reflection, that possibly his mother may be yet worse used than himself; and make him think of some means to comfort himself in comforting her.

It was not to be. Henrietta legally separated from Charles in 1728. This proceeding was highly usual at the time, considered as something only resorted to by ‘blasphemous, trouble-making’ women. Henry would have felt humiliated by this public end to his parents’ marriage, and the wide spread gossip of his mother’s infidelity.

This separation was the final nail in the coffin of the mother/child relationship. Charles died just five years later in 1733, but still Henry made no contact. In fact, Henrietta appeared afraid of seeing him. Lord Bathhurst could only convince her to visit by assuring her that ‘my castle is not molested by your son.’

Henry became Earl of Suffolk upon Charles’ death and enjoyed some success in his life. He was elected. Member of Parliament for Bere Alston and married a wealthy heiress, Sarah Inwen, on 13 May 1735. Her dowry cleared Audley End house of its debts. It was the kind of shrewd action Henrietta herself would take.

Sadly, Henry’s life was not destined to be long. He had no children and died in 1745, aged just 39 years old. I like to think his young widow was deeply in love for him, for she left it a good seven years before remarrying. She became the second wife of Lucius Cary, 7th Viscount of Falkland, though still remained childless.

It is so sad to consider that Henry’s short and tragic life is completely of a piece with the miserable, tempestuous marriage that created him. The one good thing to come of the union, he did not survive long enough to carry on the bloodline or find reconciliation with his mother. We can only imagine Henrietta’s feelings when she lost her son, some twenty-two years before her own death. But I hope that at least, in his earldom and his marriage, Henry was able to find some of the happiness that eluded his early days.

 

Caroline and George

caroline-of-brandenburgThe relationship between George II and his Queen, Caroline of Ansbach, was far from simple. The love they shared is hardly the stuff that dreams are made of – she manipulated him; he cheated on and humiliated her. And yet this partnership was the most successful of the Hanoverian dynasty, ending only with Caroline’s death after thirty-two years of marriage. In the spirit of Valentine’s day, I thought I would dwell on the romantic aspects of their love. There are many sweet anecdotes, not to mention George’s famous love letters.

Their story starts off like a fairy-tale. Caroline was a beautiful, orphaned princess growing up under the protection of George’s aunt, nicknamed Figuelotte. Figuelotte wanted Caroline to wed her own son, but the princess was not keen on the young man. As fame of Caroline’s beauty and intellect spread, she attracted many suitors, among them Archduke Charles of Austria. But the right marriage came in the most unlikely form.

406073_151546_LPR_0_0In June 1705, Caroline received three unexpected visitors: Baron von Eltz, his servant and Monsieur de Busch. They stopped, supposedly, on their way back to Hanover, to present compliments from the Hanoverian Chief Minister. But in fact, ‘Monsieur de Busch’ was George Augustus in disguise. He came to spy on the princess he had heard so much about and see if she was as agreeable as everyone said. She was – George was instantly smitten. From then on ‘he would not think of anybody else’. He ran back home and told his father he wanted to marry Caroline. The proposals were made immediately, George being ‘seized with such an affection and desire for her, that he is most eager to marry her without delay.’ The ceremony took place on 2 September, just three months after the initial meeting of Caroline and ‘Monsieur de Busch’.

In February 1707, Caroline produced her first child, the desired son and heir, Frederick. But her health remained poor following the birth. By July she had come down with smallpox and pneumonia – a deadly combination. The distraught George refused to leave her side, nursing her through the illness and finally contracting it himself.This sacrificial devotion served to bring the couple even closer together and, thankfully, they both recovered.

By 1709 a second child was born, Anne. George was away at the time of the birth but wrote Caroline one of his fabulously romantic letters.

I have just received the good news of the birth of a daughter at which  feel all imaginable pleasure… I am only a little bit angry that it caused you pain. You should know me well enough my very dear Caroline to believe that everything that concerns you is infinitely precious to me. This new token of your love attaches me the more deeply to you and I assure you dear heart that I love the baby without having seen it. Adieu my dearest heart, for God’s sake take care of yourself and the young family, particularly the new-born infant who at present has the most need of care. The peace of my life depends upon knowing you in good health and upon the conviction of your continued affection for me. I shall endeavour to attract it by all imaginable passion and love and I shall never omit any way of showing you that o one could be more wholly yours dear Caroline than is your George Augustus.

George would continue to show attention to his wife in her childbearing. In later years, he entered the birthing chamber itself to resolve a quarrel between her ladies and the midwife. And the letters didn’t stop, either. In his memoirs, Lord Hervey recalled couriers arriving weekly with ‘a letter of sometimes sixty pages, never less than forty.’

Caroline was to prove the strength of her attachment to George in 1718, when she was faced with an impossible choice: leaving her husband or her children. She was a fond and good mother, but she said her children were not worth ‘a grain of sand’ in comparison to him. Her sacrifice was rewarded richly by the time she became Queen . She was entrusted with the Regency of Britain on several occasions. George fixed her jointure at £100,000, then made Richmond Lodge and Somerset House over to her. Happily, by this time, she was also reunited with the children.

The last few years of Caroline’s life were not easy ones. Her relationship with George was rocky and he was frequently scolding her. He also sought her advice and opinion on his love affairs, of all things. But all this was forgotten when Caroline collapsed in November 1737. Once again George became the devoted husband, sleeping fitfully at the foot of her bed and kissing her hand repeatedly. This time there was no hope of recovery. The couple’s parting was both touching and comical. To quote from my previous post about Caroline’s death:

Caroline … urged him to marry again. Crying, he said he would have mistresses instead. Still unable to resist a joke, Caroline cried “My God! That never stopped you before.”  But George would stand by his words – he never took another wife. As he explained, he never saw another woman “fit to buckle Caroline’s shoe”. Caroline removed the ruby ring placed on her finger at the coronation and put it in her husband’s hand, saying “This is the last thing I have to give you. All I ever possessed came from you. My will you will find a very short one: I give all I have to you.”

The strength of George’s grief took everyone by surprise. He ‘showed a tenderness of which the world thought him before utterly incapable’. He cried when giving speeches and left drawing rooms early. His daughter Amelia removed the queens from his pack of cards to save his feelings. George was once again ‘Monsieur de Busch’, devoted to his departed wife. In a frenzy almost worth of Wuthering Heights, he ordered a hackney chair to take him to the vault where Caroline was buried and spent hours by her tomb. Then, to end the love story with the romance that it had begun, George wrote down his wishes for his own burial. Not only did he want to be buried next to Caroline, but he ordered for the sides of the coffins to be removed, so that their ashes might mingle. It was a very sweet end to what was, undoubtedly, an extremely strange marriage.

If you want to find out more about George and Caroline, look out for my book Mistress of the Court in August!

Mistress of the Court

A03973(2)I’m very pleased to announce that I now have a date for the second book in my Hanoverian series, Mistress of the Court. The good folk at Myrmidon books will be sending it out into the world on 4 August 2015!

I thought I’d be slightly less excited about the publication of my second book than I was about the first, but this is not the case. As you’ve probably seen from my numerous posts about them, Henrietta Howard and Caroline of Ansbach have become extremely dear to me. I simply can’t wait to introduce them to you in fictionalised form. It seems a very long time ago I was talking about Caroline’s rooms in Hampton Court on television. I feel like I’ve taken a huge journey with these ‘characters’ already, but it’s far from over!

We don’t have a cover yet, but if you would like a visual taster of the world you will enter in Mistress of the Court, please visit my Pinterest board. It’s a work in progress but already has some beautiful images. You can also explore my archives, which discuss Henrietta’s early feminism, Caroline’s quick and vengeful wit, and the gentler side of George II. However I must warn you – they may contain spoilers!

To further whet your appetite, here’s the blurb for the book. Roll on August!

Orphaned and trapped in an abusive marriage, Henrietta Howard has little left to lose. She stakes everything on a new life in Hanover with its royal family, the heirs to the British throne. Henrietta’s beauty and intelligence soon win her the friendship of clever Princess Caroline and her mercurial husband Prince George. But as time passes, it becomes clear that friendship is the last thing on the hot-blooded young prince’s mind. Dare Henrietta give into his advances and anger her violent husband? Dare she refuse?

Whatever George’s shortcomings, Princess Caroline is determined to make the family a success. Yet the feud between her husband and his obstinate father threatens all she has worked for. As England erupts in Jacobite riots, her family falls apart. She vows to save the country for her children – even if it costs her pride and her marriage.

Set in the turbulent years of the Hanoverian accession, Mistress of the Court tells the story of two remarkable women at the centre of George II’s reign.

Henrietta Howard
Henrietta Howard

 

An Undignified Death

George II

One thing you can say for the Hanoverian royal family – they certainly knew how to die in interesting ways. George I had a series of strokes in his carriage but insisted on continuing the journey, finally laying down to expire in the same room he had been born in. His grandson Frederick, Prince of Wales, was famously but inaccurately said to have been killed by a cricket ball. And as you have seen from my post and short story, Queen Caroline died in a thoroughly gruesome way with great courage. Some twenty-three years later, her husband George II was to meet his own infamous death.

I have already written at great length about the farcical nature of George II. This comedy carried over into all the main events of his life. He fell asleep during the sermon at his own wedding. The news of his accession to the throne in 1727 reached him during another afternoon nap; he doddered out to meet Sir Robert Walpole with his wig askew and unbuttoned breeches. When the minister informed George that he had become king, he yelled that it was ‘one big lie’ and stormed off again. It should come as little surprise that this monarch with a penchant for comedy would top it off by dying on the toilet.

George spent his last hours in the first floor private apartments of Kensington Palace, by far his favourite London residence. He had once boasted that he would never die at Kensington, which, if you ask me, was rather tempting fate! On the morning of 25th October he rose from his small hair mattress bed at the usual hour of six ‘ o clock. Neither the King nor those about him had any apprehension of what was about to happen. His German valet de chambre, Schroder, thought the King had ‘never looked better’ than when he received his cup of chocolate that morning.

After chocolate, George threw up the window and looked out onto the south-east gardens that his bedroom faced. He asked Schroder about the weather and direction of the wind – since he received favourable answers, he announced his intention of walking in the gardens.

Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace

At quarter past seven, George retired to ‘a little closet’ to empty his bowels. After a time, Schroder heard what Walpole humorously describes as ‘a noise louder than the royal wind’, followed by a groan and a thud. The poor man was put in a terrible predicament. Dare he enter the royal toilet? It sounded like the King needed help, but he had never presumed on such a step before. At last, Schroder made the agonising decision to enter the room and found George on the floor.

It was clear that the King had tried to call for assistance, for his hand was reached out toward the bell. As he had fallen from the close-stool, he had hit his head on the side of a bureau, leaving a deep cut on his face. Help was summoned; he was dragged to the bed a blooded, but ‘not a drop flowed’.

In the throes of death, George tried to call for Amelia, but his speech was not intelligible. There was also some confusion over which ‘Amelia’ was meant – his mistress, Amalie, or his daughter commonly called Emily? Some accounts say both the mistress and daughter were summoned, while others only mention the daughter. Either way, we can be sure that Emily was there, for the last seconds at least. She did not get the chance to hear her father’s last commands, for as she put her face close to his, she felt his cheek was cold and recoiled – he was already dead.

Close-stool at Hampton Court
Close-stool at Hampton Court

To add to the indignity of George’s death, his burial was delayed. An investigation was required to ascertain the cause if his sudden demise and an autopsy performed. The reports, that I have combined her, do not make for pleasant reading.

Upon opening the body of his late Majesty the right ventricle of the heart was found burst & the pericardium filled with a great quantity of extravasated & coagulated blood, nearly a pint . . .the whole heart was so compressed as to prevent any blood contained in the veins from being forced into the auricles; therefore the ventricles were found absolutely void of blood . . . and in the trunk of the aorta we found a transverse fissure on its inner side, about an inch and a half long, through which some blood had recently passed under its external coat . . .His Majesty had been frequently out of order of late, and his pulse so extremely low that the physicians could scarce perceive any motion in it at all. 

The conclusion was that a ventricle of the poor man’s heart had burst. While it sounds very painful, at least it was mercifully sudden.

George II's heart
George II’s heart

Being a royal corpse, George II’s body was embalmed. This meant that his bowels were removed first for the embalming process and buried separately – another thing that strikes me as undignified, but it was the custom for all princes, and we should not see it as something special to him. It is only unfortunate that, having died in the process of emptying his bowels, such focus should later be put on the organ!

George was finally laid to rest in Westminster Abbey on 11 November, 1760. He was the last monarch to be buried there, according to the Abbey’s website, as subsequent rulers preferred Windsor. And here is the sweetener to George’s tempestuous life and his unrefined death – he was buried like a romantic hero. Not only did he get the full burial rights of a King, but he was laid beside his beloved wife Caroline. In accordance with his will, the sides of the two coffins were removed so that the ashes could mingle. A rather touching end, I feel, to what is so often described as comical death.

Lady Chapel, Westminster Abbey
Lady Chapel, Westminster Abbey

 

Henrietta Howard – Unlikely Feminist

Henrietta Howard by James Heath
Henrietta Howard by James Heath

George II’s longest-serving (and longest-suffering) mistress was famed for her submission and gentle behaviour. She was one of the few women who could listen to the king’s tirades and retain her tranquility. Her manners set a pattern for modesty, discretion and obedience. As one contemporary observed, she acted ‘as if she had never seen any ill nature, and had been bred among lambs and turtle-doves.’ Such a character may not strike you as an early champion of women’s rights, but in fact Henrietta held a number of views that were, for her time, bordering on the radical.

If you look at Henrietta’s formative years, it is easy to see why she came to the conclusion that women had ‘superior sense, superior fortitude and reason.’ Her father, Sir Henry Hobart, whilst much beloved by his wife and family, was an extravagant and hot-headed man. Tracy Borman describes him with a ‘quick temper and dictatorial manner’. Eight years the senior of Henrietta’s mother Elizabeth Maynard, he ran through her dowry of £10,000 at a rapid rate and left the estate heavily in debt. There were also rumours that he had deprived Elizabeth of her rightful income. Sir Henry’s tempestuous life ended when, incensed over a slander, he challenged his neighbour to a duel. He was skewered on a sword, leaving his wife and eight children with his bills.

Sir Henry did have a son and heir, but the boy was too young at the time of his death to take up the reins of management. A series of shocking deaths over the next few years left only Henrietta, her brother and two sisters remaining from the initial family of ten. As the eldest survivor Henrietta, a girl, had to take charge.

Blickling Hall - Henrietta's childhood home
Blickling Hall – Henrietta’s childhood home

It is interesting to see that even at this early age of sixteen, Henrietta was aware that she needed to use men to get what she wanted. She needed security and a husband to help her care for her younger siblings. She must have been thrilled when, in less than a year, she managed to secure an offer of marriage from a distant relation, Charles Howard. As the third son of the 5th Earl of Suffolk with a distinguished military career, he seemed like an excellent catch. But Henrietta’s youth and inexperience had failed to see his true character: ‘wrong-headed, ill-tempered, obstinate, extravagant and brutal.’ He sold his commission soon after their marriage and frittered the £700 away on drink, gaming and women. To make matters worse, he decided to sue the young brother Henrietta had tried so hard to protect. This must have been enormously distressing for poor Henrietta, who was by that time on the verge of giving birth to her first child.

We know of the terrible life Henrietta led between 1706 and 1713 thanks to a raging letter she wrote to Charles in 1728, listing all her wrongs. She was frequently starving, abandoned for weeks on end with no idea where he was, and ejected from lodgings where he did not pay the rent. This would have been bad enough, but Charles was also physically violent towards his wife. She describes ‘dreadful scenes…which humanity would force the most barbarous to commiserate.’ A neighbour confirmed that she treated Charles with ‘constant awe…scarce even daring to speak to him’.

Henrietta did, however, defy Charles in one essential way: she sold all their belongings without his knowledge and purchased two tickets to Hanover. Her object was to secure a post in the household of the Hanoverian royal family, who were next in line to the British throne. Happily, she succeeded.  Under the auspices of Princess Caroline, she began to see a very different model of marriage from her own.

Caroline
Caroline

I’ve written at length in other blog posts about the balance of power between Caroline and George II. Here, it is only necessary to say that any feminist views Henrietta nurtured must have received encouragement from observing the relationship. She saw how expertly a clever woman could manage her husband without seeming to. In fact, Caroline’s tactics of apparent submission and gentle agreement were exactly those Henrietta would use when she herself became George’s lover.

In my last post, I explained why I think Henrietta did have some genuine affection for George. But it cannot be doubted that she also used him for protection from her brutal husband  – and money. She also made use of other men at the court, whether it was to raise her political status, provoke her royal lover or help her with building projects. In later years, Swift and Pope wrote of her as if they had been mistreated by a femme fatale. Whatever the truth about her flirtations, I find Henrietta’s views on love very interesting. In her court career, she was faced with ludicrous love letters by an elderly admirer, the Earl of Peterborough (and they are TEDIOUS, believe me). With the help of her great friend John Gay, she replied by expressing her opinions on the subject of courtship. Although she aimed many good-humoured jests at her own sex, the  picture that emerges is a woman who expects to be addressed as an equal, rational creature rather than a swooning stereotype. My favourite excerpts from these letters are show below

 If you will allow a woman ever to think, I must beg your lordship to give me leave to tell you what I think of your letters… I fancy the man who first treated the ladies with that celestial complaisance used it in contempt of their understandings… But perhaps you will ask me, if a woman be neither like angel nor devil, what is she like? I answer that the only thing that is like a woman is – another woman… The most agreeable compliment to a woman is to persuade her she is a very fine woman. No reasonable woman desires more… I think every man is in the wrong who talks to a woman of dying for her; the only women that can have received a benefit from such a protestation are the widows.

Henrietta’s beliefs were to be put to the test in the winter of 1717. The great Christening quarrel split the royal household apart. She was faced with the choice of either staying with her son and abusive husband, who served George I, or following Prince George and Princess Caroline into exile. Never before had she been given the opportunity to break away from the terror of her marriage. She longed to escape, yet she knew it would bring disgrace and separation from her son. It was an agonising decision which she wrote about at length, trying to establish whether she could keep her own honour free from her husband’s taint, and listing the many wives she knew who were made miserable through ‘man’s tyranick (sic) power.’ ‘Self preservation is the first law of human nature,’ she wrote, ‘are married women then the only part of human nature that must not follow it?’ In the end, she did follow that law of nature and took the brave step to leave.

Of course, a man like Charles Howard did not give up easily. Over the next eleven years, he would continue to threaten and torment her. Not only did he deny any access to their son, he secured a warrant to legally kidnap her, even making an attempt to break into the palace and seize her. He blackmailed, he enlisted the views of bishops, he referred to the law. You can tell what a horrendous man he was by the fact that his own brother Edward died leaving all his money to Henrietta – not Charles. And in true form, Charles tried to go against the deceased’s wishes. When Edward passed away on 22 June, Charles ‘took possession of body and goods, and was not prevailed upon till yesterday (28 June) to resign the former for burial’.

Naturally, Henrietta wanted to free herself from association with this man. She felt that being mistress to a prince did not demean her honour half as much as marriage to such a wretch. But her options were severely limited. Divorce was so unusual that it would need an Act of Parliament – an expense far beyond her means. Legal separation was only possible if the wife could prove adultery and life-threatening cruelty. Henrietta had certainly endured both, but had kept it well hidden from the world. Not to be deterred, she took the astonishing step of suing for a private deed of separation. Such deeds were extremely rare and would have been viewed with censure. At first, Charles resisted all negotiation. It was then that Henrietta penned her furious letter demanding justice. ‘You have called me named and have threatened to kick me and break my neck,’ she complained. ‘I have often laid abed with you when I have been under apprehensions of your doing me a mischief.’ She made it very clear that she felt the failure of the marriage was his fault:‘the marriage duty, which I have performed and you have violated…you who have made marriage an instrument of cruelty.’ It was money, rather than a sense of shame, that softened Charles in the end. However, one way or the other, Henrietta achieved her aim of independence at the beginning of 1729.

Four years later, her freedom was secured. Her husband and lifelong tormentor finally died. But there is another twist to the tale. Rather than relishing the single life she had worked so hard to obtain, Henrietta threw herself into the protection of another man just two years later. Caroline thought it an unaccountable piece of folly. But you have only to read the tender correspondence between Henrietta and her second husband, George Berkeley, to see why she acted as she did. Berkeley was everything Charles had not been: intelligent, humorous and kind. He did not scruple to marry the prince’s ‘damaged goods’ and gave up his own home to live with her at her precious house of Marble Hill. He cared for her when she was ill, he missed her when she was away. He helped her to raise her nephew and niece, Dorothy Hobart, who may actually have been Henrietta’s illegitimate child. Berkeley understood the secret strength of the woman he was marrying and accepted her views. The pair often engaged in a playful war of the sexes. ‘The actions of women are too inconsiderable to draw consequences from them: thus I know your pride and arrogance in power makes all you men reason,’ Henrietta wrote to him. ‘But I do not despair to see some of my sex vindicate us, and make a figure that will make some of you tremble.’ The pair were exquisitely happy until Berkeley’s death 11 years later.

Marble Hill
Marble Hill

But Henrietta’s fight for troubled women did not end with the happy resolution of her own story. Her niece beloved Dorothy fell in love with a soldier considered unsuitable by her family. In despair of receiving permission to marry, they pair eloped. When they were finally discovered (unmarried), Henrietta took an interesting course of action. She continued to urge Dorothy to save her own future and stay away from the man. In a society that would condemn a woman for running away with a suitor and not marrying him, Henrietta’s advice is unusual. It almost echoes the progressive Lizzy Bennet in Pride and Prejudice when Lydia elopes with Wickham: ‘And they must marry! Yet he is such a man!’.  As it turned out, Dorothy was entangled far deeper than suspected and could not take her aunt’s advice  – she was with child. She made the marriage, but fortunately it turned out to be a very happy one.

The same could not be said of the last woman Henrietta tried to save. I have written a little before about Lady Mary Coke, who was forced into a miserable marriage. Mary’s husband was every bit as cruel as Charles and, I suspect, mentally disturbed. Mary complained that he ‘tore my ruffle all to pieces and told me I deserved to be assassinated.’ Henrietta acted as friend and adviser to the distressed Mary, even finding her legal aid and trying to get her a separation. Sadly, Mary was not quite as brave as Henrietta. She hesitated to take the radical step and was discovered. Her punishment was imprisonment in her room without food.

The fact that this treatment of Lady Mary was still considered legal really highlights what Henrietta and her contemporaries were up against. For one, I admire the spirit that kept Henrietta true to herself through a life of hardship. Her ‘feminism’, however primitive, was truly brave and, I think, remarkable for its time.

Humanising King George

George II
Bust of George II

There’s no denying it: the Hanoverian kings were an odd bunch. But while this makes them fascinating to study, it also makes them difficult to write. I recently attended a talk by Tracy Borman, in which she described George IV as the ‘most normal’ amongst the Hanoverian monarchs. When the ‘normal’ one is a vain fantasist addicted to drink and opium, you know you have a problem.

It is amazing just how readily these kings lend themselves to farce. Now, while I like a little bit of comedy in my novels, I also want people to take the characters seriously as human beings. When working on George III for Queen of Bedlam, I had to prize away the image of a tyrant passed down in American legend and the anecdotes of his madness, such as the one where he shook hands with a tree (this didn’t actually happen, but many people still believe it did). Fortunately, George III had so many good qualities and such tragically bad health that it was not hard to redeem him. But what of his predecessor, George II?

I have to admit that George II has been my greatest challenge yet. Many of his failings were just so . . . funny. At the time of his reign, he was the subject of intense satire. Every contemporary account has some comic element; his short temper, his obsession with lists or his boring conversation. It was important to me that I got this peppery character across and made use of the comedy, but I was not content with letting him become a mere caricature. As I considered him through the eyes of his women, he began to change.

P1000653
Bust of Caroline

George’s wife Caroline was a clever woman who undoubtedly used her beauty to manipulate him. In her last years, she endured cruel insults and humiliation from him. But I found that some elements of George and Caroline’s relationship could have come straight from a romance novel. At their first meeting, George was in disguise. He visited her court posing as a travelling count – rather like the games Henry VIII used to play, but with much more success. He was able to observe Caroline and decide she was the wife for him. Despite  taking many mistresses over the course of his life,  George never really lost his devotion to Caroline. He wrote her beautiful love letters and was inconsolable when she died. One account says that all the queens had to be removed from his deck of cards to save him from bursting into tears. He asked to be buried beside her with the side of his coffin removed, so that their ashes might mingle. These actions do not tie up with the coarse, unfeeling man that history has traditionally presented to us.

Then we have Henrietta Howard, George’s long-serving mistress. It is generally agreed that George and Henrietta shared a highly cynical relationship; she needed his money, he needed a mistress for his masculine pride. But I think there may have been a little more to it than that. George was famous for being a miserly king, yet he gave Henrietta many gifts, long after he was supposedly tiring of her. One present was a whopping £11,500 in the stocks. This was specifically designed to free Henrietta from dependence on her abusive husband – a special contract was drawn up to specify that he could not touch it. Thanks to George’s foresight, Henrietta was able to build Marble Hill, her home for the rest of her life.

Henrietta’s awful husband continued to plague her for money, but miraculously her allowance increased by just the sum he was demanding each year. Since it is recorded by Hervey that Caroline turned down all Henrietta’s requests for pecuniary aid, we are safe to assume that the extra money came from George. It would have been easy for him to leave Henrietta to her fate and take up with a new mistress, but he didn’t. In fact, even when she left him in disgrace, she still received a court pension.

P1000319
Marble Hill

None of this ties up with the comical George II so often portrayed. While we usually see a king that no woman could tolerate, let alone love, the real man seems to have inspired some affection in return. Caroline may have relied on him mainly for power, but during a time of crisis she preferred to sacrifice her children rather than leave him. In her own words, they were not worth ‘a grain of sand’ in comparison to her husband. To Henrietta, George was ‘dearer than my own brother’. And while we must allow for some court sycophancy, the last letter she wrote to him suggests that real feeling had once been there. She writes of ‘the honour of [his] esteem’ and how it had made ‘the happiness of my life’. She ends mournfully, ‘The years to come must be employed in the painful task to forget you as my friend; but no years can ever make me forget you as my King.’

So was there something about women that softened George? I found my own key to his character in this portrait.

Sophie Dorothea and children
Sophia Dorothea and her children

Isn’t it beautiful? It’s not difficult to see who the favourite child is. The son and heir is lovingly held in his mother’s arms and clings to her in return. The daughter is somewhat in the shadows, a little apart from the group. Well, this little boy is George II and the woman is his mother Sophia Dorothea.

George was close to his mother, resembling her in feature and quick feelings. But his world was torn apart when, at the age of nine, his parents separated for good. Caught in adultery, his mother was banished to the Castle of Ahlden and never saw him again. Her portraits were taken down; he was not allowed to mention her. His father mocked him for his grief; the only comfort left was his grandmother. I don’t think we can underestimate how fundamentally this episode would have affected a child. It could offer an explanation for both his gruff behaviour and his softer attitude toward some women. Is it too much of a leap to conjecture that he saw his mother in Henrietta Howard, another desperately unhappy young wife? Was Caroline, with her firm advice and unswerving loyalty, the maternal figure he yearned to replace?

While the legends of George trying to swim across a moat to reach his mother have been proved false, I think the spirit of the story is very true. He certainly intended to free Sophia Dorothea and make her Regent of Hanover if she outlived his father. Sadly, this did not happen. Mother and son were kept apart by less than a year; she died at the end of 1726, he gained his throne too late in June 1727.

Where George's mother was imprisoned
Where George’s mother was imprisoned

Interestingly, George’s mother crops up in my research again a few years after her decease. Once more she seems to herald a change to her son’s behaviour. On a trip to Herrenhausen, George stumbled across his mother’s personal papers. He evidently found something he did not like there. Perhaps he had always believed her innocent of adultery and had a nasty shock. Whatever it was, it shattered his image of her. He never spoke of his mother again.

Perhaps it is a coincidence that his behaviour toward Henrietta and Caroline deteriorated after this trip. However, I think that George’s discovery about his mother may have had a direct impact on his relationship with the woman he clung to for reassurance, and the woman he was trying in some small degree to save.

Looking through the eyes of a little boy caught in a family crisis, I hope I have managed to make George into a more three-dimensional and believable character. But I am conscious that in doing so, I have come down rather hard on the father he despised, George I. Rest assured that George I will get his own humanising treatment – watch this space!

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