Mistress of the Court

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!

Happily Ever After?

Anne 1736It’s easy to get carried away in romance, especially where history is concerned. We imagine fine dresses and top hats, forgetting about lack of sanitation and bad personal hygiene. When we study historical princesses, the temptation to lapse into fairytale is even greater. But as you will know, if you have read my blog for a while, the life of a Georgian princess was anything but romantic!

So what happened when a prince finally did come along to sweep our heroines away? Well, settle down and I will tell you the unromantic story of George II’s eldest daughter, Princess Anne.

Assertive and ambitious, it was always Anne’s intention to marry well. But as a princess whose father’s throne depended on his Protestant religion, her choice was limited. After failed negotiations with the French and Prussian courts, it became clear there was only one path for Anne to travel down. Since the days of William III, England had looked kindly on the House of Orange as their liberators from Catholic oppression. An alliance with young William, Prince of Orange, would be joyfully received. Not that there was any alternative. As Lord Hervey put it, Anne’s choice lay between hell and Holland.

William was neither important or handsome, in the grand scheme of things. Moreover, he had a severely hunched shoulder, with increasing curvature of the back and chest. Considering the deformity, George II asked Anne if she was sure she wanted to proceed with the marriage. When she assured her father she would marry William even if he were a baboon, he replied, “There is baboon enough for you.”

William of orangeConcerned for her daughter, Queen Caroline sent Lord Hervey to look at William and tell her “what sort of animal I must prepare myself to see.” Hervey assured her the prince’s body was as bad as possible, with a short waist, long legs and no calves. It seemed William’s breath was also distasteful. But, Hervey conceded, his countenance was “engaging and noble”.

Te treaty concluded, William arrived at Greenwich to wed the English princess. In true George II style, the King snubbed the new prince. In his opinion, William would be nothing until he married his daughter. But the people of London were excited by the young prince’s arrival, wearing orange cockades and decorating the streets with orange ribbon. This popularity sent George II into one of his famous rages.

Very soon after his arrival, poor William collapsed at church. He lay ill with pneumonia for three weeks, his life in danger. The wedding had to be postponed and George II forbade his wife and daughters from visiting the sick prince. While her fiance stood at death’s door, Princess Anne was calmly playing on her harpsichord. To do the females credit, they did have William over when he was well again – only to be told by the King that he didn’t want such an episode repeated.

The wedding finally took place on 14 March at seven in the evening, four months after William’s arrival. The Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace was fitted up suitably for the occassion with crimson velvet and tafetta, studded with golden roses. Anne wore blue silk looped with diamonds and robes of silver tissue, her train being six yards long. She was accompanied to the altar by her eldest brother Prince Frederick, which must have been an uncomfortable business. Not only did the siblings quarrel in private about music, running rival operas, Fred was resentful that his sister was marrying first – with a dowry of £80,000 – while he was strapped for money. Anne’s family (brother Frederick excepted) wept throughout the ceremony, making it “more like the mournful pomp of a sacrifice than the joyful celebration of a marriage.”

220px-George_II,_Queen_Caroline,_and_childrenWhilst taking his vows, William was “a less shocking and less ridiculous figure” with a long peruke to cover his bad shoulder. But when the time came to put the couple to bed, the poor prince could no longer hide his deformity. In a rare act of sensitivity, the King arranged for William to be behind a curtain, so that the assembling masses in the bedchamber could only see his cap and brocade nightgown.But Lord Hervey glimpsed William’s body, and thought that from behind the prince looked as if he had no neck. Queen Caroline was frantic at the idea of her daughter going to sleep with “this monster”, owning his appearance had “stunned” her to the point where she might pass out.

The couple left England at the end of April – not soon enough for George II, who was jealous of the popularity William excited wherever he went. However, Anne’s stay in Holland was remarkably short. With war brewing in Europe, her new husband went to join Dutch troops on the Rhine, and she seized the opportunity to return to England. Her mother was overjoyed to see her again, especially when she confided she was with child.

Time passed. Neither sense nor politics could tempt Anne away from her family. She was constantly pressured to return to her new people by the Dutch ambassador. If she carried William’s heir, he argued, it was imperative the boy should be born at the Hague. But Anne clung to the hope she would give birth in England. It wasn’t until William sent Anne a letter announcing he would be home in two weeks that she finally set off – and even then, she had to be urged by her parents. Caroline had to remind her daughter: “You are now William’s wife – God has given you skill and judgement, you are no longer a child.”

AnneWhen Anne reached my home town of Colchester, she received a letter from her husband saying he was delayed for a few days. She took this opportunity to return to London, despite the fact poor William was traveling day and night in a quest to get home on time. She managed to stay with her family another week before her exasperated parents packed her off again. Her ship actually set sail from Harwich on 7 November, but Anne pleaded sickness and convulsions, forcing the vessel to turn around. The King was at the end of his patience. He refused to receive his daughter back at St. James’s Palace. Anne’s exploits had cost him nearly £20,000 and earned her universal condemnation. She went back to Holland with her tail between her legs.

Sadly, Anne’s child turned out to be a phantom, and she was to suffer several horrific stillbirths and miscarriages in the course of her marriage. However, she finally had a healthy son and daughter. Even her thirst for power was eventually satisfied when, in 1751, poor William died aged just 40 and Anne was appointed regent for her three-year-old son.  But  I won’t leave you entirely devoid of romance. I can tell you that, despite Anne’s reluctance to return to Holland, she and William became a happy couple, addressing each other affectionately in letters as “Pepin” and “Annin”. Here is one of the last notes he wrote to her:

Farewell dear heart, pearl among women, my joy whom I love more every day. As God is my witness, you are my life’s good fortune. Know that I am your most faithful, most tender and best of friends, Pepin

Don’t mess with Queen Caroline

The Hanoverian dynasty boasts two Queen Carolines, both remarkable in their own way. Trust me when I say you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of either of them. The second Queen Caroline, estranged wife of George IV, would probably spread vicious rumours about you then burn your effigy in the form of a wax doll. But this blog post concerns the first Queen Caroline, consort to George II. She was more to be feared, due to her superior intelligence and endless patience. Like a hunting cat, she knew how long to lie in wait, and when to pounce.

Caroline surrounded by angels

Despite her overall good-nature, revenge was Caroline’s specialty. She punished her father-in-law, George I, for stealing her children by making a lively court and winning the hearts of his subjects away from him. She managed to have Lord Chesterfield, who mocked her in private, banished to the Hague on an ambassadorial mission by telling her husband he was having an affair with his mistress. When Caroline’s daughter Anne became so haughty that she kept a servant reading by her bed until the unfortunate woman fell asleep on her feet, Caroline gave Anne a taste of her own medicine. Caroline made Anne read by her own bed until the girl wept to sit down.

In my work in progress, Mistress of the Court, Henrietta Howard finds out just how cold Caroline’s shoulder is. As both a Woman of the Bedchamber and mistress to Caroline’s husband, Henrietta was a woman the queen wanted to keep firmly in her place. When Henrietta started to get above herself, Caroline insisted that she kneel to her in the morning to present a basin of washing water. It is testament to how devastating Caroline’s manner could be that the famously cool and controlled Henrietta lost her temper on this occasion, refusing to kneel. But Caroline, ever poised, laughed at her and treated her like a child. Predictably, the queen got her way in the end.

Henrietta_Howard

Indeed, Caroline had much practice at keeping her cool. Her King was a fiery man, stubborn in his opinions and wary of being influenced. Lord Hervey records how many times the King shouted at Caroline and put her down in public. Yet Caroline “could work him by degrees to any point where she had a mind to drive him…with great caution; for he was never to be led but by invisible reins”. She had a knack of agreeing with the King’s opinions at first, then “made him imagine any change she wrought in them to be an afterthought of his own”. A skill all us wives must envy! However, Hervey acknowledged all this required “a superiority of understanding, thorough knowledge of his temper and much patience of her own”.

As a sensible queen, Caroline knew when to let go of a grudge.She famously supported Sir Robert Walpole as First Minister, despite the fact he’d betrayed her in the past and called her “a fat bitch”. Hervey records that Caroline believed “wise princes always made their resentment yield to their prudence, and their passion to their interest; and that enmity as well as friendship in royal breasts should always give way to policy”.

The incident I particularly wanted to share was Lord Stair’s remonstrance to Queen Caroline on the Excise Bill. The Bill, proposed by Sir Robert Walpole, caused great unrest. Initially intended to put an end to wholesale smuggling and lower the land tax by converting customs on tobacco and wine into excises, the Excise Bill soon became a byword for tyranny. Gossip and general ignorance made people fearful Excise officers would burst into their houses and loot. Lord Stair begged an interview with Caroline to inform her of the public view.

John_Dalrymple_2nd_Earl_of_Stair_(1673-1747)_General_and_Diplomat

Now, I’ve read many accounts of lords speaking to Caroline, begging favours and remonstrating with policy. But reading Lord Stair’s words made my mouth hang open. He was so disrespectful and warm I expected Caroline to finally lose her temper. Knowing her pride and her character, all I could think as I read was, “Why would you say that to her?” and “Oh God, what is she going to do to him?” Here are some of Lord Stair’s most inflammatory sentences.

Your Majesty knows nothing of this man [Walpole] but what he tells you himself…His power being thus universally dreaded, and his measures universally disliked, and your Majesty being thought his protectress; give me leave to say, Madam, the odium incurred by his oppressions and injustice is not entirely confined to his own person. If your Majesty thinks the English so degenerated, and the minds of the people so enslaved, as to receive chains without struggling against those who endeavour to fasten them…you are right to persevere in the maintenance of this project. That [Walpole] governs your Majesty nobody doubts, and very few scruple to say. No greater proof can be given of the infinite sway this man has usurped over you, Madam…for what cannot that man persuade you to, who can make you, Madam, love a Campbell [Lord Isla and his brother the Duke of Argyle]?

Caroline’s response was superb. She stopped him at one point to remind him he was talking to the King’s wife, and when Lord Stair dwelt upon his conscience she laughed and said “Ah, my lord, do not speak to me of conscience, you make me faint!” She then responded with:

Surely, my lord, you think you are either talking to a child or one that doats… You have made so very free with me personally in this conference, my lord, that I hope you will think I am entitled to speak my mind with very little reserve to you… I am no more to be imposed upon by your professions than I am to be terrified by your threats.

Caroline then demolished both his arguments and the reasons he had given for them, delivering a thrust to Lord Stair’s honour by turning his accusation of betraying the country back on him.

Remember the Peerage Bill, my lord. Who then betrayed the interest of their constituents?The English Lords in passing that Bill were only guilty of tyranny, but every Scotch Lord was guilty of the last treachery; and whether you were one of the sixteen traitors, your own memory, I believe, will serve to tell you without the assistance of mine.

Caroline then laid waste to Lord Stair’s pretensions of political intelligence by stating he got his system of politics from the newspaper The Craftsman and his sentiments from Lord Bolingbroke and Lord Carteret “two worthless men…the greatest liars and knaves in any country”. The queen finished her devastating response with word of advice:

If you are a friend to the King, detach yourself from his enemies; if you are a friend to truth, take your intelligence for the future from those who deal in it; if you are a friend to honest, do not heard with those who disclaim it.

I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly want Queen Caroline on my side in an argument!

Molly Lepell

220px-Mary_HerveyWhen writing about the courts of the Hanoverian monarchs, I often come across women whose lives would make fascinating stories all on their own. In the course of my career, I hope to branch out and give these lovely ladies a novel for themselves. The one uppermost in my mind at present is Molly Lepell, later Lady Hervey. The darling of George II’s court, wife to a handsome wit, she seemed to have it all. But if you scratch beneath the beautiful surface, you find a very different story.

Right from her birth in 1700, Molly was placed in the role of courtier. Her father was Nicholas Wedig Lepell, who had come over to England with Queen Anne’s husband Prince George of Denmark. Mr Lepell, although partial to King James II, managed to survive the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and stay with the court all the way to the end of the Stuart reign, having won the highly prized favour of Queen Anne’s bosom pal, Sarah Churchill. The friendship of this important lady, along with Lepell’s German blood, ensured that when George I came to the throne in 1714, Molly secured a place in the royal household as Maid of Honour to the Princess of Wales, Caroline.

Nowhere could be more exciting to a teenage girl than Caroline’s witty, fashionable court. The Maids of Honour were known trouble makers, waking up in the night to rattle on windows, involving themselves in endless scandal and even flirting with the young men of the court throughout divine service, forcing Caroline to build a screen over their pew! Although they were all young and beautiful, the two stars were Molly and her friend Mary Bellenden. Molly’s court nickname was the Schatz, which is German from Treasure. Thanks to their friendship with poets such as John Gay and Alexander Pope, Molly and Mary were immortalized in verse at this time, described as the perfect nymphs. Indeed, Molly was once suspected of being mistress and spy to George I, although these claims are largely unfounded.

Beneath the gaiety, Molly was prone to bouts of depression. But it seemed she had put lonely times behind her when, in April 1720, she secretly married John Hervey, second son of the Earl of Bristol. Femininely pretty, full of wit and ability, Hervey was considered the perfect match for such a beautiful star of the court. The couple told their families but did not formally announce the wedding until October of the same year, presumably in fear of royal anger.

Lord HerveyAt first the couple were very much in love, embarrassing other courtiers with their affection. Lord Bristol wrote to tell Molly that his son “loves you so much above himself”. However, the marriage was not to be everything Molly hoped.

Although she had little fortune, Molly managed to win over Hervey’s devoted father, Lord Bristol. The two remained close until his death. She did not succeed in the same way with Hervey’s fractious mother. Before long the two were arguing like Billingsgate fishwives, though one is tempted to side with Molly in every squabble. Lady Bristol was, by all accounts, a most unreasonable woman. Hervey once described his mother as being like Mount Vesuvius, throwing out fire and rubbish.

The two ladies argued about the upbringing of Molly’s children. Molly was forced to send her first son, George, to the Hervey estate of Ickworth to be with his over-protective grandmother long before she was recovered enough from childbirth to make the journey with him. It isn’t surprising that, with a throb of possessiveness, Molly wanted to at least have some influence over her first daughter by calling her Lepell. Lady Bristol objected strongly – she was the girl’s godmother, and should be her namesake. At last Molly carried her point and managed to call her daughter Lepell, but it was a hard won victory and left a taint of bitterness.

Before long, Hervey’s health problems drew him to Europe. Rather than taking his devoted wife with him, he chose as a companion Mr Stephen Fox. Hervey had a long standing close relationship with both Fox brothers, but his relationship with “Ste” rapidly turned into something more. It is hard to tell whether Molly knew her husband had fallen in love with another man, but I believe she did. It is immensely to her credit that, despite the jealousy she must have felt, she remained on good terms with the Fox brothers even after their common link, Hervey, had passed away. It is tragic to see Molly’s needy correspondence from this time, as she writes to Stephen to beg for news that Hervey will not send her. After a long entreaty for information about the state of his health, she finishes by telling Stephen, “I beg my lord mayn’t know about this letter”. Indeed, in his voluminous correspondence, Hervey barely refers to his wife at all, as if she was a thing of no consequence.

Back in England, marooned in Ickworth with her husband’s family, Molly had few comforts. Her friends all accused her of taking on her husband’s affected mannerisms. If they had known the whole story, they might’ve realised Molly’s attempts to be witty and scathing like Hervey were a desperate woman’s tactics to win back his love. Books were her only companions in the long days she spent nursing Hervey’s sickly sisters. “My spirits,” she wrote to Henrietta Howard, “which, as you know were once very good, are so much impaired that I question if even Hampton Court breakfasts could recover them or revive the Schatz, who is extinguished in a fatigued nurse, a grieved sister and a melancholy wife.”

The death of Hervey’s elder brother, Carr, in 1723 made Molly Lady, rather than Mrs Hervey, and her husband heir to the title and estate. Despite this, and the fact that Hervey became Vice-Chamberlain to Queen Caroline in 1727, Molly didn’t get much chance to return to court and find out if Hampton Court suppers could indeed revive the Schatz. She spent some time in her husband’s chambers when he was in London and visited court to greet Prince Frederick from Hanover in 1728. But after playing second fiddle to Stephen Fox for so long, it became clear that she was now expected to come second best to her former mistress, Queen Caroline. Whenever there was an emotional void in Hervey’s life, he didn’t turn to his waiting and ready wife – he found someone else.

Caroline in later yearsTo top it all off, Hervey continued to take mistresses, such as Anne Vane, and other male lovers. It is hardly surprising that Molly grew to resent him, finding solace instead in gossip at Bath, fashionable saloons and her children. As the end of Hervey’s life approached, their marriage deteriorated rapidly. Molly was at Ickworth trying to nurse her husband in his final days, but he refused to have her near him. As a further slap in the face, he cut her out of his will, leaving all the money to her younger children “born in wedlock”. This implies Molly had been unfaithful to him (and I for one wouldn’t blame her!) but there is no gossip or evidence from the period I have found yet to suggest a lover. Could it be that it was all in the ill and crotchety Hervey’s drugged mind? Either way, he also sought to separate Molly from her youngest daughter Carolina, who he wanted to be raised by a Mrs Horner. Luckily for Molly, sense prevailed and Mrs Horner refused to obey Hervey’s will.

Considering all of this, it must have been some relief for Molly when her once beloved husband finally passed away on 5 August, 1743. She was to outlive her spouse by 28 years, although she never married again – once bitten, twice shy, I presume! Molly spent her widowhood traveling, gossiping, flirting and caring for her wayward children.

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Prince George’s Christening

Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge

Last week, Kensington Palace announced the Christening date for Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge.  The ceremony will take place on 23 October 2013 in the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace and will no doubt be an occasion of much joy. But when you watch the news and see the pictures, spare a thought for another little Prince George, born nearly 300 years ago, also Christened at St. James’s Palace. This child, second son of George II and Caroline of Ansbach, was less lucky than our third in line to the throne. Innocently, he became the object of a quarrel which rocked the nation.

After the trauma of leaving her eldest son, Frederick, behind in Hanover, Caroline, then Princess of Wales, struggled to get a second boy. In 1716, she gave birth to a stillborn son, which nearly killed her. However, she fell pregnant again very soon and was finally delivered of little George on 20 October 1717 (Old Style calendar, 2 November in the New Style), in her chambers at St. James’s Palace. George’s birth was witnessed by – amongst others –  his father, the Archbishop of Canterbury, four Duchesses and five Countesses. I think any woman who has been through childbirth will feel how awful it must have been to labour while all those people watched on! In her last confinement, Caroline had insisted on sticking with the German tradition of having one female midwife attend the birth. It is significant to note that, after the last year’s tragedy, Caroline employed two male midwives for George’s birth: a much more English procedure.

out of; (c) Warwick Shire Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Caroline’s  joy in the delivery of a healthy boy was echoed by the public.  Cannon salutes and fireworks displays marked the first birth of a Hanoverian prince on British soil. George was also the first royal child to be born in some years, Hanoverian or not. The last one had been James Stuart, commonly known as The Old Pretender and the Warming Pan Baby. The celebrations for James’s birth were marred by his Catholic decent. People believed – or pretended to believe – that he was not a prince at all, but smuggled into the birthing chamber in a warming-pan. There were no such doubts or wild stories about little George.  But while the baby himself was not controversial, his Christening was to prove an event that divided the English court.

The King, George I, had been spoiling for a fight with his son, the Prince of Wales, for some time. Only the year before little George’s birth, the King had visited his domains in Hanover and been outraged to find the Prince and Princess of Wales entertaining his political enemies and winning the country over with their lively personalities in his absence. Unwittingly, this new baby was a powder keg who would ignite the family quarrel that had been coming for many years.

St. James's Palace

At first, the King seemed happy with the little prince’s birth and amenable to his parent’s wishes. He came every day “to watch the baby suck” although it was noted he didn’t speak to his own son on these occasions. He was also agreeable to Caroline’s choice of name for the boy, which was William. However, when English ministers began to get involved, the situation quickly turned ugly. The ministers insisted that, as the King was to be one of the baby’s godfathers, it should be named after him. As a compromise, the King suggested George William. Unfortunately, he didn’t go to the child’s parents himself to explain this change and the reasons behind it. Instead, he sent a man hated by the Prince and Princess of Wales to deliver the message: the Duke of Newcastle.

Tracy Borman describes Newcastle as “a mean-spirited and obnoxious noble man whose eccentricities rendered him a laughing-stock” and Lord Hervey is hardly more complimentary about the man in his memoirs. One can imagine the fuss and importance with which the Duke delivered such wounding news. However, there was worse to come. The King was advised that, although the Prince of Wales wished to appoint his uncle as the second godfather, it was custom for the monarch to choose the second godfather himself from amongst the principal lords at court. In a move that must have been intended to provoke, the King settled on the Duke of Newcastle. In vain did the Prince of Wales protest and beg his father to make another choice. Newcastle was the man, and he must have felt very puffed up about it too.

The state bed at Hampton Court

So when the Christening finally took place on 28 November 1717 (Old Style calendar), tensions were running high. It was the custom at the time for a royal baby to be Christened in its mother’s chambers, rather than the chapel. Caroline lay in a grand state bed to watch the proceedings – and doubtlessly felt frustrated and powerless.  She had to watch as her husband tried to suppress his famous temper and everything happened against her wishes. Here is a little excerpt of the Christening scene from my work in progress about Caroline, Mistress of the Court:

 “The King, the King!”

On cue, the court dipped into a reverence. Caroline merely bent her neck. She was glad her position in the bed prevented her from curtseying – she couldn’t stomach cringing before the King now. She saw the effort it cost George – the tremors in his calf and his quaking shoulders. He gripped his hat so hard it bent the rim.

The King nodded at Georgie, bawling his little heart out. “Well, he certainly has a voice on him.”

Men came to wrench him from Caroline’s arms. Georgie’s fingers clasped the lace at her neck, but he was too weak to cling on. It was as if he knew they meant to foist a false name and a false godfather on him and fought against them with furious wails. Caroline twisted her lips in a grim smile. He had his father’s temper and he wouldn’t make it easy for them. She was proud of him for that.

The ceremony itself passed smoothly but when the Bishop closed, and the Prince of Wales escorted the King from the room, tempers finally broke. The Prince of Wales flew at the Duke of Newcastle, holding his hand and extended-forefinger in his face in a menacing way. What he said next remains one of history’s great unanswered questions. Newcastle reported that the prince hollered “You are a rascal, but I shall fight you.” The Prince of Wales, on the other hand, maintained he had said “You are a rascal, but I shall find you out” i.e get even with you. Perhaps the confusion arose from the prince’s thick German accent, but either way, Newcastle remained convinced he had been challenged. He flew straight to the King to tittle-tattle.

Angered, the King sent a deputation of ministers to his son to find out the truth. In great indignation, the Prince of Wales expressed his astonishment that the issue had escalated and said the difference in rank between him and Newcastle made the very idea of a duel insulting. However, on the advice of the cabinet, full of ministers who disliked the Prince of Wales, and perhaps to settle old scores, the King chose to believe Newcastle. As a punishment for undutiful behavior, he then ejected the Prince and Princess of Wales from the royal palaces.

King George II

This blow would have been bad enough on its own. But to add insult to injury, the King ruled that the Prince and Princess would have to leave their children behind in his care – all three daughters and the newborn George. Emotionally destroyed and still weak from giving birth, poor Caroline had to drag herself across London to a duke’s house without a royal guard, where she and the Prince remained until they purchased Leicester House for themselves.

Hundreds of servants were caught in the turmoil of this family separation. Members of the court had to pick a side to favour, knowing full well that if they visited the Prince and Princess of Wales, the King would never see them again. Many people suffered from this rift, which was never fully healed. Although in later years the royals got back on speaking terms, and the Prince and Princess of Wales were allowed to visit the King’s court, they didn’t stay in the palaces or have full charge of their children again until the King’s death ten years later.

But the real tragedy of this story remains with little George. In February 1718, he fell ill with “an oppression upon his breast, accompanied with a cough, which increased . . . a fever succeeded with convulsions”. The King arranged for him to be moved out of smoky St. James’s Palace to Kensington – which, sadly, was not much better, due to the damp problems it suffered from. He was sufficiently alarmed by this stage to inform the Prince and Princess of Wales that they might visit the baby as often as they pleased. It was as well he did; not long after, George breathed his last tiny breath inside the palace. His mother was present at his death.

Kensington Palace

A later autopsy found that George had a large amount of water on the brain and a polyp on his heart. He was never destined for a long life, and the King was cleared from blame. However, I imagine many people still felt that separation from his mother had hastened the child’s death. With “a pitiful amount of black crepe” baby George was buried privately at night in Henry VII’s Chapel at Westminster Abbey.

A sad tale if ever there was one. Let us hope and pray our little Prince George’s Christening is a far happier event, and that he lives a long and joyful life as England’s future King.

A Grizzly End

Caroline in later years

I have to admit it: I’m a bit weird. Why? Because I actually enjoy writing death scenes. With so many emotions at play – terror, relief, despair, regret and resignation to name but a few – the author has rich material to work with. Now that I write about real people and events, I no longer suffer the customary guilt at killing off a character. It actually happened, so it’s not my fault!

However, not all biographical fiction should follow the protagonist all the way to their final moments. There are times where, quite frankly, you need a happier ending. My original plan for Mistress of the Court included Caroline of Ansbach’s death, but I’ve come to realise it will fit in better to my novel about Augusta, which starts in the year of Caroline’s demise. Also, by using Augusta’s point of view, I won’t have to put my readers through the gory details. But for you, my dear blog followers, I will give a true Horrible History.

The main reason I wanted to write Caroline’s death scene is that it demonstrates, more than any other event in her remarkable life, the extraordinary courage of the woman. To the very end, she was more concerned about her husband and retained her sense of humour. This would be admirable in any death, but in Caroline’s grim circumstances it was nothing short of miraculous. I’m currently in a lot of pain myself, suffering from a protruding spinal disc that’s pressing on my sciatic nerve. When I find this hard to bear, I think of Caroline and try to be as brave as she was!

Caroline's memorial by the Serpentine

The story of Caroline’s death begins in December 1724, nearly thirteen years before she actually passed away. At this time, Caroline was 41 and gave birth to the last of her children, a daughter named Louisa. During the difficult labour, Caroline suffered from a rupture or an umbilical hernia. Rather than telling her doctors, she chose to conceal her injury. Just why she did this is hard to comprehend, but it is inextricably tied up with the pride inherent in Caroline’s character. She was no prude, but she was ashamed of her hernia. It occurred at a period in her life when she feared she was losing her hold on her husband, George II, as her physical attractions began to wane. Her great friend and advisor Robert Walpole told her bluntly that she couldn’t expect to have the same sexual influence over the King as she used to. Somehow, it seems, having the hernia made her feel less attractive and less of a woman. Moreover, she knew George II had little sympathy with any illness other than his own. To avoid annoying and bothering him, she took part in an elaborate cover-up, which would ultimately cost her life.

There are clues to Caroline’s state of health littered through the court journals, which we can see now in hindsight. Firstly, she took to wearing the soft stays, later known as “jumps”, which were designed for pregnancy, at all times. This must have been a measure to avoid added pressure on her hernia. She questioned Sir Robert Walpole closely about the death of his wife, because she thought she detected some symptoms similar to her own. And then there was the strange closeness between Caroline and her woman of the bedchamber Mrs Clayton, who had always been a favourite. Mrs Clayton suddenly acquired a power over the formidable queen – no doubt she had discovered the hernia in performing one of her daily duties and was paid to keep her mouth shut.

These seem extraordinary lengths to go to over a hernia. But the behaviour is consistent with Caroline’s other health problems. She was a martyr to gout, but refused to admit it, plunging her feet into ice-cold water to reduce the swelling so she could squeeze shoes on and limp around the gardens with her husband. There were times when she had to be wheeled around in a chair by her favourite son, the Duke of Cumberland. Caroline found it almost impossible to accept weakness, though she admitted to her folly at the end. “Remember,” she told her daughter Louisa, “I die by being giddy and obstinate in keeping my disorder secret”.

Umbilical Hernia Illustration

It appears George II discovered Caroline’s hernia when he returned from a perilous sea voyage in 1736. Reconciled after a long period of hostility, the couple were sexually active once more. However, the charade went on, to the extent that Caroline forced herself to attend drawing rooms in the evening after being confined to bed with pain most of the day. It is typical of George II that he encouraged her to do this rather than make a fuss. It seems heartless – and yet, when his wife finally collapsed, the King was devastated.

On 9 November 1737, Caroline walked over to supervise the work on a private library she was building for herself in St. James’s Palace. She was seized with pain and dropped down. She retired to bed for the whole afternoon and George II was so concerned that this time, he offered to excuse her from attending the drawing-room. In typical Caroline style, she persuaded her husband the ailment was temporary and forced herself through what must have been an agonising ordeal. The social duties over, she returned to the quiet sanctuary of her bedroom and the companionship of her daughter, Princess Caroline, and Lord Hervey. Both Hervey and young Caroline were delicate and suggested hundreds of their own remedies to heal the ailing queen. Nothing was effectual. Snakeroot made her feverish and she could only keep down a slug of brandy for half an hour. As the queen’s illness increased, so did that of her daughter, and in the end young Caroline had to be rushed from the room with rheumatic pains and nosebleeds. It must have been a scene of pure uproar.

With touching devotion, George II slept beside Caroline outside of her coverlet all night. However, she probably wished him away quite soon, when he complained that she wouldn’t lie still. “How the devil can you expect to sleep? You want to rest and the doctors tell you nothing can do so much good, yet you are always moving about”. When she obeyed his commands – a difficult enough thing to do in pain – she was upbraided for “lying and staring like a calf that just had its throat cut”. This sounds brutal to our ears, but Caroline would have understood these outbursts were the blustery George’s way of coping with his overpowering emotions. If he lost Caroline, his world would fall apart, and when he couldn’t control something he feared, he shouted at it.

Mourning ring for Caroline from "The art of mourning" website

Some historians lump the days following Caroline’s collapse together, highlighting her most significant words and gestures. What this approach fails to convey is firstly, the court hoped she might recover, and secondly that the poor woman lingered in agony for nearly two weeks. On 10th November she underwent those classic Georgian treatments, blistering and purging, probably doing more harm than good. Using her highly developed acting skills,  she persuaded her husband to attend his evening social duties with Princess Amelia (Emily) taking the queen’s place. But when George left, Caroline’s condition worsened – or, perhaps, showed truly for the first time that day, now she could let the pretence down. She wept and said she had “a pain nobody knows of”. Absurdly, royal etiquette didn’t allow the physicians to examine her without express permission, so the rupture remained, festering away undiscovered.

It was George who finally cracked and made Caroline give up her vain charade. After spending the 11th debating whether their eldest son, currently out of favour, should be permitted in to the sick room and assuring Caroline repeatedly that she was the best woman ever born, he betrayed her secret for her own good. On the 12th, despite Caroline’s protestations, George told Dr Ranby about the hernia. Caroline’s response was to turn her face to the wall and call him a  “lying fool”.  But the cat was out of the bag and Ranby made her put her hand where the pain was.

What the doctor found appalled him. “There is no more time to be lost, your majesty has concealed it too long already”. Part of the decayed bowel was infected and Ranby feared this would spread “until it reached a vital part”. He took the decision to operate. But whereas now we’d push the hernia back in, the Georgian doctors simply cut it off – thus unwittingly destroying Caroline’s entire bowel system. Unsurprisingly, there was a horrific stench.

Yet the court was optimistic the butchery would work. Even Caroline, on 13th, astonishingly attested she felt better and would last three more days. She thought she would die on a Wednesday, since she was born, married, gave birth to her first child, heard of her accession to the throne and had her coronation on a Wednesday.But she was selling her sturdy frame short – she would endure for a further seven painful days.

Mourning plate for Caroline - from the art of mourning website

Although they were operating on her almost daily, Caroline kept her wicked sense of humour. She asked the doctor to stop “before you begin and let me have a full view of your comical face”.  She joked that Ranby “would rather be cutting his wife”, and fell into fits of laughter when old Dr Bussier, who stood observing the operation, leaned in too close and set his wig on fire. From these bursts of merriment you would suppose the operations were not major, but this was far from the case. Dr Ranby had to change his cap and waistcoat half way through each session since he’d soaked them in sweat. Caroline occasionally let out a groan, but quickly apologised and assured the doctors she knew they were only trying to help her.

In the days that followed, Caroline had several visitors. Her minister Walpole practically begged her not to die, assuring her “Your life is of such consequence to your husband, your children, to this country and indeed to many other countries”. Resigned to her fate, Caroline told him “I have nothing to say to you but to recommend the King, my children and the Kingdom to your care”.

It was on the 17th things took a turn for the worse. Most historians skirt around the grim details, but good old Lucy Worsley gives a full account in Courtiers when she asserts “Caroline’s stomach practically exploded”. And no wonder, considering the doctors had removed part of her bowel. Her violent vomiting recommenced and excrement seeped out of her wound, soaking through the quilts and flowing onto the floor. It must have been a truly horrific sight, and we can only imagine Caroline’s horror. She’d certainly had enough of her ordeal. “I wish it was at an end,” she sighed, “but my nasty heart will not break.” At last, the doctor had to confess there was no hope left for the queen. In characteristic style, George II punched him in the face.

Long accustomed to the idea of death, Caroline had prepared what she wanted to say to her children. She charged Princess Caroline with the education of her two youngest daughters, Mary and Louisa – “It is a fine legacy I leave you.” Poor, distraught Princess Caroline wailed that she wouldn’t survive her mother for a year, her heart would be broken. Broken it was, but the Princess outlived her mother by 20 years. I’ve discussed Caroline’s feelings toward her eldest son, Frederick, in my Hanoverian Mothers series. From her favourite son, William, she parted tenderly, encouraging him to look after his father. “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”.

George towards the end of his life

But it’s the parting from George II that touches the heart keenly. Strange and unconventional as their royal romance was, it had foundations in true love. Caroline didn’t want George to be lonely and 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.”

Death finally came from Caroline on 20th November 1737. Yet until the end, she remained more considerate for her family than herself. It was about 10 o’clock at night. Princess Amelia dozed on a couch in the corner of the room and George slept at the foot of the bed, when Caroline suddenly asked her bedchamber woman to take the candle away. Princess Amelia asked if the light was hurting her eyes, to which Caroline replied: “No – I would spare you the affliction of seeing me die.”  Almost at once, the death rattle began in her throat. She begged her daughter to open the window and pray. Obediently, Amelia sat down and read aloud from the prayer-book as the last few breaths left Caroline’s body. In one last gesture, Caroline covered her mouth and whispered “I am going”. She died holding George’s hand.

The grief of the family and indeed the nation was acute. George almost started crying when he gave his opening speech to parliament and for a time all queens had to be removed from his card deck, lest they made him weep. Caroline lay in state in a coffin of lead and English oak, guarded by soldiers with their axes reversed. Tapers burnt night and day, casting doleful shadows on the walls hung with black and purple. It was George’s express wish that one side of Caroline’s coffin would be opened when he finally came to rest beside her, that their ashes might intermingle. For all the bluster, he was a softy at heart!

Caroline surrounded by angels

Britain feared that, without Caroline’s wily politics, the remainder of George’s reign would be an unstable one. This was somewhat true – he went to war and also faced off the claims of Bonnie Prince Charlie – but he held the throne in a good position for his grandson, George III, to take it in 1760.

I end with a quote from a contemporary poem written on Caroline’s death. The last line in particular makes me sad, as so many people have forgotten about her. Let’s hope this post and Mistress of the Court go some way towards solving that problem :)

The Lord hath taken away His anointed with a stroke;the breath of our nostrils is taken away.

The great Princess is no more, under whose shadow we said we should be safe, and promised ourselves lasting peace – she, who future generations will know as Caroline the Illustrious.

 

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!

Marble Hill

Marble Hill

The lovely Palladian villa of Marble Hill at Twickenham is place of refuge and escape. Maria Fitzherbert retreated there when her lover, the future George IV, decided he was going to ditch her and marry Caroline of Brunswick instead. Legends tell of him riding up and down the road nearby on the night before his wedding, tormented with indecision. We also have the account that a mutual friend rode to Marble Hill and informed Maria when George had actually gone through with the marriage ceremony. Upon hearing the news, she fainted away. But it wasn’t just Maria who fled to Marble Hill. Before her time, the house was a sanctuary for a Hanoverian mistress who led, to make a massive understatement, a difficult life. Her name was Henrietta Howard.

I was lucky enough to take part in Historic Royal Palaces’ study day on 2 May 2013, which was all about Henrietta. It’s simply wonderful that a whole day was devoted to finding out more about this truly admirable woman. We were treated to an overview of Henrietta’s life from Tracy Borman, author of King’s Mistress, Queen’s Servant. I can thoroughly recommend the book, which Tracy clearly poured much love and research into. She delivered an excellent talk and held a question and answer session afterwards, where I was able to find out how Henrietta dyed her hair blond (horse urine. Nice). As Tracy explained, not much was known about Henrietta until she undertook to write her biography. We knew she was a mistress of George II and built Marble Hill, but other details were lacking. Thank goodness Tracy decided to find out more, because what we uncover is a complicated and resourceful woman who it’s hard not to love.

Henrietta grew up as a minor aristocrat, part of the Hobart family at Blickling Hall. Tudor fans will know this is the house where Anne Boleyn was probably born. But despite her privileged start, Henrietta was doomed by the extravagance of her spend-thrift, dominating father. His death in a rash duel threw the family upon hard times. In the next few years, Henrietta’s mother and all her elder siblings were to follow her father to the grave – leaving the impoverished Henrietta responsible for the family.

Luckily, Henrietta had a connection to the Earl and Countess of Suffolk, who welcomed her into their home. But what seemed like a safe haven turned out to be a gilded trap.  It was while staying with the Earl and Countess that she met their youngest son, Charles. Young and in need of stability, she was won over by the handsome soldier. Henrietta married Charles aged just 19. It was to prove a dreadful mistake.

Charles was a drunken, gambling, cheating husband. He was also mentally and physically abusive. Only one child was born of this ill-made union: a son, Henry. Though Henrietta adored her boy, she struggled to raise him. Often going without food, fleeing from mean dwelling to mean dwelling, she had to assume the name of Mrs Smiths to dodge her husband’s creditors. There were years when he abandoned her altogether. Most women would have given up. But not Henrietta. By selling all she had, and frequently starving herself, she managed to raise the money to take herself and Charles to Hanover. Here, she hoped to win favour at the court and ingratiate herself with the next King of England. You might ask why she took such a terrible husband with her on this venture. Sadly for Henrietta, it was his noble name of Howard that was the key to the inner sanctum of royalty.

Henrietta_Howard

Henrietta soon won the friendship of Princess Caroline and secured a position in her household. Charles, somehow got himself a job under King George I. The pair were still stuck together, but at least they had income and a roof over their heads. Just as Henrietta had planned, they were able to come back to England when George ascended the throne, jewels in the new and sparkling court.

It was only during the fateful years of 1717 and 1718 that Henrietta finally escaped the clutches of her husband. The establishments of King George and the Prince and Princess of Wales dramatically split over a young prince’s Christening. Servants were forced to chose a side and Henrietta was swift to attach herself to Caroline – leaving the fuming Charles behind with the old King. Tragically, Henrietta’s decision meant she had to leave her son darling in Charles’ “care”. The boy was raised to hate her.

About this time, Henrietta’s close friendship with the Prince of Wales turned into something more. She became mistress to the future George II – although it was by no means a passionate or romantic love story! George was short-tempered, brutally frank and given to long, boring conversations. It was sense, not emotion, that lured Henrietta into his bed. But while the new position earned Henrietta money and status, it also soured her relationship with George’s wife, Caroline. Henrietta soon found herself the object of jealous spite and longed to flee the court.

In secret, Henrietta planned and saved for Marble Hill. She was intimately involved in every detail of the design. This place was her dream, her safe haven after a life of torment. But getting there was difficult. Charles threatened to abduct her if she left royal protection. Henrietta was trapped for years, until Charles finally did her one good service: he left her a widow. Now her life of freedom in Marble Hill could begin. The study group were lucky enough to have a private tour of this stunning building.

Supper and gambling took place here

In all things, Henrietta seemed to defy convention. Not only did she manage to formally separate from her husband (something practically unheard of in those times) she took a masculine approach to her building. The Palladian style was considered a logical, mathematical, and thereby male province. Henrietta took the basic concepts and made them her own.  The superbly balanced rooms should have been left with with minimal decoration. However, Henrietta thumbed her nose at this rule of style and cluttered shelves with her collections of blue and white china porcelain.

I was surprised by the small rooms and narrow doorways in the house. How, one wonders, did Henrietta get through them in her skirts? She must have turned sideways! We started the tour downstairs, taking in the coolly elegant hall. Now relatively empty, it would have been crowded with people and gaming tables.  Next, there was a beautiful little breakfast parlor – too cramped for much company, but you can imagine Henrietta sitting their sipping tea. But my favourite place on the bottom floor was the magnificent room hung with fashionable India paper (and not just because there were coffee and biscuits waiting for me there. This room cost Henrietta a fortune to have installed (and English heritage a fortune to restore!).  The hand-painted paper would have been imported from China by the East India company and stuck to a silk canvas with a mixture of flour and water.  A painfully slow, highly skilled task to accomplish. Apparently, Henrietta quarreled with the workmen over the bill. It seems her famously meek and gentle temper had frayed by the time she finally escaped court life!

The India paper

Once we mounted the mahogany staircase, we found ourselves in the entertaining rooms. The first floor – the piano nobile –  was where the parties took place. Right at the centre is the Great Room: a  masterpiece of white panelling and gilt detail. You can just imagine the literary Georgian circles in which Henrietta moved (she was friends with people such as John Gay, Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope) flocking to this beautiful chamber. Today, the Great Room contains the house’s treasures: some of the few remaining items of furniture that belonged to Henrietta.

On the same floor we found the bedrooms of Henrietta and George Berkeley, her second husband. Berkeley had been Henrietta’s friend for some time before their marriage, and many believe they had a secret romance while still living under the roof of George II. Ironically, it was Berkeley, not her royal lover, who turned out to be Henrietta’s Prince Charming. Soon after leaving court, Henrietta scandalised society by marrying him in a private ceremony. Henrietta’s new husband was was younger than her and riddled with gout. Although contemporary gossips mocked the match, Henrietta was to finally find the happiness she so deserved.  The couple were deeply devoted to one another.

The Great Room

Interestingly,  the bedrooms were not considered “private” in Marble Hill. The entire house was made for entertaining. This is clear from the vi

Daughters of England

“It’s only a girl . . . hardly worth waiting so long for, as there are quite enough princesses in the world, and we are often most useless beings.” So said the grandmother of Brunswick’s Princess Augusta, upon the occasion of her birth in 1765. A sad, but perhaps accurate remark. Few of the Georgian princesses are remembered today. Even in their own time, they were largely dismissed once out of sight and married to a foreign prince. There are too many of these unfortunate girls for me to write at length about them here, but I thought you might like an introduction to some of the princesses England forgot. If you want the full story – well, I’m working on the novels!

The picture above is one of George II’s three eldest daughters: Anne, Caroline and Amelia. They weren’t actually born in England, but they became English princesses from a young age. They filled a large gap in George I’s court, left empty as it was by his imprisoned wife and one daughter who was already married to the King of Prussia by the time he ascended the throne. Indeed, George I took possession of the three girls, at one time separating them from their parents completely.

The eldest, Anne, was her father’s favourite at first. A determined and astute young woman, she rarely provoked George II’s famous temper in her younger days.  She married William IV of Orange who was a sensitive, slightly deformed man. They loved one another deeply, but their marriage was to be a difficult one. Rebellion tormented their days and they were spectacularly unlucky in their reproductive efforts. Poor Anne suffered several miscarriages, a stillborn child, a daughter who died a few days after her birth and, most horrific of all, a labour of some four days before the decision had to be made to crush the unborn baby’s skull to get it out. Thankfully, they did end up with two living children, Carolina and William. But their happiness was cut short by William’s death, the curvature of his spine causing all manner of medical difficulties under which he suffered bravely before expiring and leaving Anne alone. Alone to rule a foreign country in her own right. She is the only English princess to ever do this. Unfortunately, Anne’s duties to her new country, coupled with a very foolish attempt to out-stay her welcome on a visit to England, alienated her from her father. Far from being the favourite, she was now described by him as “arrogant, imperious, false and foolish.”

The second daughter, Caroline, is a shadowy figure who evokes my pity. When the family first travelled to England in 1714, she had to be left behind with her brother Frederick due to her delicate health. Plagued by illness, she simply wanted to be on good terms with everyone. This was not a possibility in a warring Hanoverian household. She took comfort in food, growing extremely fat and developing a reputation for indolence. She also obsessed over her health, becoming a hypochondriac in later life. After a time, this behaviour estranged her from the rest of her family and she withdrew, barely trying to relate to others. Having said that, she did take pleasure in attending the opera and theatre with her family and was, when Queen Caroline died in 1737, entrusted with the education of her two youngest sisters.

Amelia is perhaps my favourite of George II’s daughters. Eccentric and irreverent, she lived life on her own terms. My favourite snippet from her life is the fact that she used to take her dogs to church with her. She was mad about horses and hunting, hated her eldest brother Frederick and her father’s mistress Henrietta Howard.  Her strange taste in fashion was often commented on, and is quite wonderfully reproduced in the TV series The Aristocrats.  Most scandalous of all, she had a lover, Grafton, and made no secret about it. As a consequence, she was rarely granted access to her nieces and nephews, being considered a bad influence. She was close to her brother William, the infamous “Butcher” Duke of Cumberland and took interest in his plans to develop Virginia Water. She became very close to George II in his later life, staying with him until the end. Even George III and George IV had a fondness for her – despite, or perhaps because of her rakish nature.

The two youngest daughters, Mary and Louisa, married abroad. Neither were fortunate in their unions. Mary, diffident and gentle, was doomed from the start when she married Frederick of Hesse, whose drinking and cold manner towards her caused comment even at their wedding. She bore him three sons, one of which died in infancy. It was perhaps fortunate that war forced her to flee into exile with her father in law and two sons, escaping her drunken and sometimes abusive husband.

Louisa, the youngest, fared better in her marriage to the King of Denmark. The couple were very popular and got along well together. But once again, childbirth was to prove this princess’ downfall. Her first son died at the age of three, to be followed by the birth of two useless daughters. The much-needed heir did finally arrive in 1749, but he was to prove insane – the same Christian of Denmark who was disastrously married to Caroline Matilda of Great Britain years later. Poor Christian was doomed to create havoc wherever he went – his birth injured his mother and two years later, she had to have an operation on her intestine. This went badly wrong, killing Louisa at the age of only twenty-seven. Her husband was  devastated.

These are just very brief summaries of the lives of these astonishing and tragic princesses. And yet, who has even heard of them? I hope, in time, I will be able to show you their amazing characters through my novels. But if you would like to know more in the meantime, I would recommend the book Royal Discord by Veronica Baker-Smith.

 

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