Queen of Bedlam

Travelling again . . .

The Constant Couple

It’s exactly two months since Queen of Bedlam launched and my life has been busy! But busy in a good way. I’ve had the honour to feature on some wonderful history blogs and even a national newspaper. I thought you might like to follow me on my adventures and read my articles.

The Six Daughters of George III

Royalty and Literature

Queen Charlotte’s Dogs

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Queen Charlotte’s Ladies in Waiting

10 Shocking Facts about Georgian Women

The King’s Palaces

When we think of the British royal family, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle immediately spring to mind. But it’s interesting to discover both these iconic residences owe much of their modern prominence to a relatively recent king: George III.

 

George III came to the throne in 1760, determined to live in a different style from his forebears. He disliked the formal, stately palaces of Kensington and Hampton Court, which he associated with his hated grandfather. While he was happy to perform ceremonial duties in St. James’s Palace, he wanted a peaceful home for his wife and children. To this end he purchased a modest red brick house from the Duke of Buckingham, informing his Prime Minister it was “not meant for a palace, but a retreat”.

Naturally, Buckingham House required some remodelling to become “Queen’s House” – the name it went by during George III’s reign. But rather than vamping it up, George actually had the house toned down. Grand iron screens were replaced by simple railing, while the elaborate formal gardens were simplified.

This was in keeping with George’s modest tastes. His apartments, on the ground floor were sparsely decorated by royal standards, painted green-grey “without the smallest affectation, ostentation or meanness.” The grandest rooms were the King’s great libraries; the two storey octagon library that could only be entered through his bedchamber and the west library, connected directly to the weather-vane so the King could see how his fleet fared at sea.

However, George and his young wife Charlotte were not adverse to a little splendour. The Queen’s rooms, on the next floor, were a show case for her collections of watches and curiosities. Mrs Powys notes the queen had “the most capital pictures, the finest Dresden…besides the gilt plate, innumerable nick-nacks”.It seems that then, as today, decorative touches and fashionable décor were considered part of the women’s realm. We can glimpse red damask walls and marble chimney pieces in paintings of Charlotte with her young children, as well as black and gold “japanned” panels in her breakfast room. Antique roman ceilings and crystal chandeliers blocked out the next storey, which held the nursery and the servants. Rather usefully, the upper storey had “floors so contrived as to prevent all noise” from disturbing the queen.

Although George and Charlotte succeeded in making Queen’s House a family home, where the majority of their children were born, it didn’t fulfill their need to improve and develop. Windsor Castle was another project taken up by the royal couple. Long disused, the castle itself was unfit for habitation, so they bought up two lodges nearby, one of which used to belong to Queen Anne, the other to Charles II’s mistress Nell Gwynn. Vast extensions were made to accommodate George and Charlotte’s swelling family, giving the buildings the look of a barracks. Nonetheless, only the finest decorations were to be found inside; paper hangings, carved gilt frames, curtains of white dimity with cotton fringes, Portland stone staircases and chairs knotted with floss silk.

Once more, Windsor became a focal point of royal life, as it was in the Stuart days. George liked the country life at Windsor, building his own mill and miniature farm. I get the feeling that Charlotte was less keen, staying indoors with a migraine while her husband took the children on long, muddy, “barbaric” walks about the countryside.

George III

Between 1781 and 1804 renovation work took place at the castle. While apartments remained unfinished, courtiers often urged one another to bring warm cloaks for the drafty corridors and thick boots for the gravel of the terrace. Even when building was complete, the rooms remained cold. Charlotte complained of needing to huddle up with her daughters in furs beside the fire. She was not allowed carpets as the King said they harboured dust. I imagine she would have rather stayed in her lodge, but alas it was demolished. Luckily for Charlotte, she was able to buy Frogmore House as her little retreat within the grounds of Windsor, and decorate it more to her own taste.

Charlotte and George’s son, George IV, remodelled Queen’s House into Buckingham Palace and restored Windsor Castle to a state of pure opulence, making them the grand houses we know today. However, amongst these success stories for the family there is one poignant project that was never finished: George III’s “Castellated Palace” at Kew. A gothic wonder of turrets, the Castellated Palace was conceived in one of George’s many bouts of illness. He was to make “Ludlow Castle, improved”, a fortress in stone. But with an eccentric, sick king, an architect with “a certain lack of diligence” and a shortage of workmen, the plan was doomed to failure. Running up bills of £100,000 – over twice its original estimate- the Castellated Palace was finally abandoned when George became incurable in 1810. The shell remained, “an image of distempered reason”, until George IV demolished it in the late 1820s, using the building materials for other projects.

 

Queen Charlotte and Debutantes

TLS Slider 3 Debutantes

You might think, with all my writing and research, that I’d be right at home in a royal court. But the truth is, I only like to visit from my imagination, where I’m protected from snubs and the inevitable humiliation. I may fanaticise about time-travelling and attending one of Queen Charlotte’s Drawing Rooms at St. James’s Palace, but it would all end in tears. I’m gauche and I have two left feet. I shake when nervous. Under pressure, my voice, which is otherwise quite normal, becomes loud and twangs with an Essex accent.

A quick visit to The London Season website confirmed my misgivings. It may come as a surprise but yes, there still is a London season. However, people like you and I only read about it in history novels – we are just not grand enough to be part of the modern day equivalent. I don’t know about you, but I get sweaty and short of breath just looking at the courses on offer. The correct way to enter a room. How to move politely in a group. The art of making small talk. How to end a conversation politely. It makes me feel like I’ve been doing everything wrong my entire life.

As in the late Georgian period, the big event of the modern London season is still Queen Charlotte’s ball. The website says that:

“Parents and potential debutantes are invited to attend interviews at Boodles… Debutantes embark on a one-year programme of etiquette classes, and charity events crowned by the world famous Queen Charlotte’s Ball in which they appear in white gowns and jewels lent by eminent couturiers and jewellery houses… Today, officially, the focus is not on marriage but on giving ambitious girls the opportunity to further their careers and develop in social confidence.”

That sounds intimidating enough. But what would it have been like to appear before the real Queen Charlotte, over 200 years ago?

Queen Charlotte
Queen Charlotte

The first thing to worry about would be your dress. St. James’s Palace was a place of antiquated fashion and tradition. Hoops, swords and powdered hair took centre stage – loose Regency styles would be frowned upon. It seems that Charlotte enjoyed watching her subjects fall over themselves to impress her with their clothes, and even took a catty delight in seeing them get it wrong. In her letters, she faults an unfortunate duo, Mrs Eden and Mrs Goulborn, for wearing an enormous quantity of rouge. Poor Mrs Goulborn made a further error by sporting three huge feathers in her headdress “which so directly ran into my eyes when she was presented, I was under the necessity of drawing myself back”. Charlotte, who clearly disliked both ladies “rejoiced a little in Lady Clements’ distress, who presented her.”

Indeed, feathers were a recurring problem for Charlotte. After the Duchess of Devonshire began a craze for expensive ostrich feathers, Charlotte had to temporarily ban them from court, in order to prevent ladies ruining themselves over the fashion accessory.  But she would rather deal with a whole headful of feathers than repeat her experience with Andreossi, Napoleon’s ambassador. He was a man who “breakfasted upon onions…he looks so dirty”.

However, looking your best wasn’t always enough for Charlotte; you had to fit your station. When interviewing a potential wet-nurse for her children in 1779, she saw a woman dressed in blue and silver. The hapless applicant was dismissed with the comment, “Your appearance is that of a queen, and not of a nurse.”

There were also those who purposefully went against the court’s rigid dress codes. On 26 March 1789, Charlotte held a Drawing Room to celebrate George III’s recovery from a bout of “madness”. In a direct challenge to the Duchess of Devonshire, who had introduced “Regency caps” with the Prince of Wales’s three feathers, Charlotte ordered that all ladies were to wear “God Save the King” in their caps. In the event, the Duchess and her party couldn’t bring themselves to toe the line. They went with their heads bare. The Duchess’s sister, Harriet, recorded how the queen was cool to them and noted that “she looked up at our heads as we passed her”.

Duchess of Devonshire and her feathers

You’d be right in thinking Charlotte didn’t make many friends with this behaviour; she wasn’t supposed to. From the start of her time in England, she was discouraged from forming acquaintances. The King did not want her relying on anyone but him. “He always used to say that in this country it was difficult to know where to draw a line…” she later confessed.  ”There never could be kept a society without party, which was always dangerous for any woman to take part in.”

This didn’t stop Charlotte being lively and good-natured amongst the friends she was allowed to make. We have a delightfully absurd glimpse of a Drawing Room in 1785, where the fog was so dark “there was no seeing any thing, and knowing any body”.  Charlotte and her favourite companion, Lady Harcourt, were obliged to stop and stand still. She reasoned the courtiers would “all come up in the end, and we must ask them who they are, and if I have spoke to them yet”. Even in low visibility, Charlotte recognised the Duke of Dorset by the twisting of his bow and Mrs Dayrolles by her laugh. This suggests she knew them rather well.

The Queen’s venom, it seems, was reserved for those who vexed her. I love seeing the human side of monarchs, and some of Charlotte’s little stabs are delicious. You may have heard of Lady Sarah Lennox (more of her in later blogs!) who George III loved before he married Charlotte. Lady Sarah ended up unhappily wed to Sir Charles Bunbury. She later came to St. James’s to present her daughter before George and his wife – an experience which I imagine was very awkward! George, clearly still a fan of Sarah’s beauty, enthused that her daughter was “the finest girl I have seen in a long while”. Charlotte, very coolly, and rather loudly observed, “I wonder you should think so.”

Lady Sarah Lennox/Bunbury

With such a tongue ready to sting, it must have been a fearful experience to make your debut as a young lady. You would slowly approach Charlotte and curtsey to your knees. If you were the daughter of a peer, you would hold that position while she kissed you on the forehead. Perhaps she would bestow a kind comment upon you; perhaps not. After receiving this favour and stammering some kind of reply, you would stand, curtsey again to the queen and any other royal who happened to be with her. Then came the hardest part. Having to resist the urge to simply dash off, you would have to walk backwards out of the room – no mean feat in a Georgian dress – keeping your eyes on the throne. Small wonder debutantes received so many bouquets from well-wishers; they would need all the luck they could get!

The (not) Black Queen

Many people have been asking me if Queen Charlotte was black – or telling me that she certainly was. Wouldn’t that be an amazing piece of history? It would also be fascinating, from my perspective, to write a book about a queen who secretly concealed the colour of her skin. But sadly, the I have to say that most of my research seems to prove that popular theory is largely unfounded. Here is a list of the reasons that I believe we are still waiting for England’s first black queen.

A good starting place is this Guardian article from 2009. As it explains, there’s a historian called Mario de Valdes y Cocom who claims Charlotte was descended from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family, related to Margarita de Castro e Souza, a 15th-century Portuguese noblewoman nine generations removed. Although it has some flaws, I support this theory that there were African roots in Charlotte’s blood. Her features, more prominent in her youth, do suggest an African ancestry somewhere along the line. Most of us have a rich and mixed heritage in our blood, and that’s one of the many reasons racism and xenophobia are so ridiculous.

While Valdes’ ideas give me no problems, I cannot find evidence to support the other theory: that Charlotte was an illegitimate child, whose father was black, and thus earned the eighteenth-century term “mulatto”. Going by the standards of the day, it is hugely unlikely that Charlotte’s mother, in a prominent position, would be unfaithful with a servant – even less likely that her cuckholded father would agree to take on and raise such a child as his own. But moreover, I think the marriage of King George III to the illegitimate princess would have caused huge panic in the family . Obviously, it would depend on how dark Charlotte’s skin actually was, but surely the family would have been horrified at the chance of their secret being revealed? Why would they agree to give Charlotte in marriage and not push for her elder, unmarried sister to wed the King in order to save the family name?

Even supposing all these hurdles could be overcome, there’s George himself. While certainly a sympathetic and kind man, I can’t imagine him agreeing to cover up such a secret for Charlotte. He was disappointed with her looks at first, and discovery of illegitimacy would have been a great excuse to get rid of her. Moreover, neither George nor Charlotte would have been able to hide the truth from the servants. Gossip would have spread far and wide. George’s mother Augusta would have found out – and, I verily believe, sent Charlotte packing. But in fact, there were no contemporary speculations about the Queen’s ethnicity. At a time when the royal family hovered on the brink of revolution and came in for a good deal of battering and satire in caricatures, who would let the suspicion that the Queen was half black slide? The observation that she had ” a true mulatto face” referred to in the article wasn’t followed by any questions about her ancestry. It seems the horrible person was using the term as an insult.

If Charlotte was mixed race, it seems strange that it didn’t rub off on the children. The majority of Charlotte’s fifteen offspring were blonde-haired, blue-eyed dolls with porcelain skin. I’m not sure this would be the case if she was half black. It is genetically possible, of course, but what are the chances it would happen like this fifteen times? On the topic of children, I also have to highlight Charlotte’s son, William, who spoke out loudly in favour of the slave trade? Would he really do such a thing with a mulatto mother?

An interesting possibility we can list for the sake of thoroughness is that Charlotte was an albino mulatto. I found this very interesting article with some beautiful pictures. But it’s a stretch for me to believe that, as well as the unlikely illegitimate conception and cover up, Charlotte had a rare genetic condition. Anything is possible, but some things are not probable.

If Charlotte was illegitimate and happened to veer on the side of dark skin, the amount of make-up she would have to use in order to “paste for white” would be phenomenal. Remember the tragic society beauty Maria Gunning, who died in 1760 after using too much ceruse? Well, her beauty routine would have been mild compared to Charlotte’s. Again, depending on the shade of her skin, she would have needed to cover every inch of her body day and night, for there would hardly be a moment when she didn’t have ladies in waiting in attendance.  Over-use of this paint or paste often resulted in hair loss, tooth decay and premature death. But Charlotte showed none of these symptoms and lived to a ripe age of seventy-four. In fact, talking of hair loss, we have existing specimens of her hair. They are, as George III described the one sent to him before their marriage, “light and remarkably fine.”

Here are some images of Charlotte that have given rise to speculation.

Charlotte with George and Frederick1769_Dance_QCharlotteCharlotteCh1scharlotte1And here are pictures of Charlotte’s family from Wikipedia. I don’t see anything to suggest that she was only a half-sister to these people or very different in appearance. This, in my opinion, implies that the whole family had African blood, as Valdes claimed.

220px-1742_Ernst220px-1748_Georg_August220px-Adolf_Friedrich_IV,_Duke_of_Mecklenburg-Strelitz220px-Elizabeth_Albertine_of_Saxe-Hildburghausen220px-ZiesenisKarlMecklenburgHaving said all that, history is not a science. The great thing is that we will probably never know for sure. A kind research friend has made me aware that the University of Virginia and the town of Charlottesville are doing some amazing work about Charlotte, George and their role in abolishing slavery. A letter has been discovered in the Georgia Historical Society Archives from George Baille, a slave owner objecting to the British raids and liberation of slaves in 1812. He gives us a clue to how the rumour may have started:

‘It is well known that they seduced & carried off with them the greater part of the Negroes . . . They were seduced by the most absurd & fallicious tales . . . they were informed that the Queen of England was a Negro woman – that in England, whither they were to about to be carried, the Ladies preferred Negro Men as husbands, and the Gentlemen Negro Women as wives.’

There is also a fascinating portrait by Alan Ramsey of a beautiful mixed race woman that appears in Alastair Smart’s biography of the painter. It is not available to public view. Like so many paintings, the sitter cannot be proven, but there are suggestions that it could be Charlotte. She is certainly not dissimilar. This painting is in the Earl of Seafield’s private collection, with no clear path of how it got there. We can, however, trace back the ancestory of the Earl and find a lady connected to the family who was bridesmaid to Charlotte. Could this picture of the ‘true’ Charlotte have been a private gift?

I truly hope we will have a black queen one day. But much as I would like Charlotte to be the one to carry that torch, the evidence doesn’t stack up for me. I am, however, very willing to be convinced if some good concrete evidence shows up!

Sophia and Ernest

Princess Sophia (1777-1848) by Anne Mee 1800-1806One of the reasons Sophia, fifth daughter of George III, attracts attention is that she probably bore an illegitimate child. Although some historians still dispute the idea, I am convinced by the evidence. There is too much smoke for there to be no fire. According to Flora Fraser, author of the biography Princesses a letter Sophia wrote to her old nurse in 1805 “shows plainly” that she was a mother –  although frustratingly, Fraser doesn’t quote the correspondence. But if an illegitimate birth wasn’t scandalous enough, Sophia earned another slur against her name: the suggestion that her child’s father was in fact her brother, Ernest, later King of Hanover.

What could give rise to such a shocking rumour and could it be true? It is within the realm of possibility; Ernest’s close relationship with Sophia was noted, and he present at Windsor in the winter of 1799, when Sophia would have conceived. But so was the other candidate for the father of Sophia’s child: General Thomas Garth.

The story of Sophia’s baby starts in July 1800, when she and her sister Amelia set off for the annual trip to Weymouth a day before the rest of their family, staying at a trusted servant’s house along the way. Sophia was so ill that the royals extended their usual holiday all the way until early October. Legend has it George III believed his daughter was suffering from dropsy, a common complaint in the family, and was informed she had been cured by eating roast beef. Her real complaint may have been the late stages pregnancy.

The doctor in attendance, Millman, received a baronetcy for his care of the princess – a nice gesture, but also one that could be viewed as a bribe to keep certain facts secret. In the same August, Mr and Mrs Sharland, tailors living on the Weymouth esplanade, adopted a newborn foundling “Thomas Ward, stranger” to nurse alongside their own baby son. It is this little Thomas, or Tommy, who Sophia supposedly bore.

I’ve recently finished reading A Humble Companion by Laurie Graham, a historical fiction novel told from the point of view of Sophia’s companion. I was interested to find that Graham, rather bravely, chose to run with the incest theory. I’ve never found the idea convincing, but I have to say Graham gave me food for thought. After all, wasn’t Sophia’s son Tommy a reckless womanizer, very much like Ernest in character? Well, that could happen if Ernest was just his uncle, I suppose. But then, if General Garth was the father, how was it he stayed in favour with the royal family? Queen Charlotte treated the lovers of Princesses Amelia and Augusta with disdain, yet she was always cordial towards Garth, as was the Prince Regent, who gave him a place in his daughter’s household. Would they really treat a seducer with such respect?

Graham suggests that Garth was a loyal servant who placed Sophia and Ernest’s child with a good family and later agreed to adopt and raise him, at the request of the Queen. In A Humble Companion, it was Garth’s duty and good nature that kept his mouth shut. But this overlooks a very important fact: Princess Sophia had certainly fallen in love with General Garth.

One of the Queen’s ladies records Sophia’s violent passion for the equerry in 1798, which was visible to the whole court. “She could not contain herself in his presence”, we are told. At the same time, Sophia’s sister Mary wrote about Garth and “the purple light of love”. A letter from Sophia to Garth still exists, in which she mentions rings they exchanged as gifts and addresses him with wild terms of endearment. “Your calling me your S makes me as proud as Lucifer…I love you more and more every day. God bless you, my dearest dear General.” It seems to me that Garth must have been Tommy’s father. The child was named for its father,  and Garth later adopted the child, raising him with his correct surname and referring to him as “mine, if there is faith in woman”.

But while there is, in my opinion, stronger evidence for Garth’s claim, the Ernest theory is not without basis. While I consider Ernest rather harshly treated by history, there is no pretending he was a pleasant person. He had a dry, cruel wit and seduced across the Continent. Neither nuns nor married women were safe from his attentions. The husband of one of his lovers  committed suicide. In the course of his life, Ernest leant his name to rumours of sodomy and murder. Controversy could have been his middle name. His sisters made it clear from correspondence that they didn’t like to be left in a room alone with him, but whether this was due to his scathing humour or something more sinister, we are not told. Sophia’s words were these: ” Dear Ernest is as kind to me as it is possible, rather a little imprudent at times, but when told of it never takes it ill.” Who will ever know what his imprudence was?

220px-Ernest_Augustus_by_Fischer_1823Glenbervie states in his diary that the court “in a manner admitted” that Sophia was Tommy’s mother, “as the story generally goes by General Garth… the Queen thinks Garth the father”. But he also records “the Princess of Wales told Lady Sheffield there is great reason to suspect the father to be the Duke of Cumberland (Ernest)”.  I don’t set much store by this. Caroline, Princess of Wales, was famous for tall and wild tales. In her life she tried to convince people she was pregnant when she wasn’t, spoke of past lovers she didn’t have and pretended her ward, Willy Austin, was the son of a foreign prince smuggled over to England for safety. She isn’t one to stake your hopes on for truth. Having said that, it does seem remarkable that Caroline would start such a vicious rumour against Sophia, who was always kind to her.

Sophia was prone to fantastic adoration of all her brothers. In later life, Frederick Duke of York became her whole world. Yet the rumour of incest only haunted Ernest. It could well be that the ultra-Tory, abrasive Ernest earned more political enemies than the other brothers, leading to malicious gossip. It’s certainly a hard stretch of the imagination to picture Sophia, often timid, sheltered and raised with devout religion, consenting to an incestuous relationship. But the other theory, which paints Ernest in an even darker light, is that she was raped.

Could this be possible? I think not. Many of Sophia’s siblings knew about Tommy, but their attitude towards Ernest didn’t change. Would they have been able to love him and Sophia, as they continued to do, if they had committed incest? Would Sophia be able to speak of Ernest with affection and receive his visits if he’d put her through such an ordeal? Would Queen Charlotte or the Prince Regent tolerate him in England? It seems highly unlikely.

200px-Princess_Sophia_portraitThe answer to our questions lies a box of documents, which Garth gave to Tommy, revealing the truth about his birth. Conveniently, the box was “lost” at the bank, disappearing into a great black void. Obviously the royal family wanted the documents suppressed, but this would be true whether Garth or Ernest were the father. Newspapers suggested the box contained letters from Sophia to Garth, complaining about Ernest’s “attempts on her person”. If these letters did exist, they raise another dramatic possibility: that Sophia and Garth were lovers but her brother raped and impregnated her, leaving Garth to adopt the child for the sake of his princess.

Whether it was over Ernest or not, Sophia and Garth did quarrel and separate. They never married, even after Queen Charlotte died, when the indulgent George IV may have permitted it. The subject of disagreement was the thing that should have bound them together: Tommy himself. “It is very, very desirable that some check should be put to the odd conduct of a certain person…” wrote Sophia to Mrs Villiers from Weymouth. “That person is very difficult to manage”. A proud father, Garth paraded Tommy up and down the Esplanade at Weymouth and forced him on the attention of Princess Charlotte when she visited – actions that suggest, again, Tommy was not the product of incest. But Garth couldn’t understand Sophia’s reluctance to see her child. She writes “…what hurt me the more was the indelicacy this year of knowing it so near to me and that I never could go through the town without the dread of meeting what would have half killed me, had I met it.” Once more, there are two ways we can interpret the letter. The first is that Sophia was resolved to keep Tommy secret and George III’s state of mind intact by distancing herself. She was so overcome with emotion she didn’t want to see him, lest she broke down, and she didn’t refer to him by name or even gender in her letters to preserve the secret. Then again, you could say Sophia was in dread of an unnatural, incestuous child who reminded her of an attack, and referred to him as “it”.

What does Sophia herself have to say? In the early days of the scandal, when even her sister Elizabeth didn’t know the truth, Sophia wrote to Lady Harcourt. She denied the rumours about Tommy, but acknowledged “I have partially myself to blame for them”. In other letters, she also agrees her behaviour was at fault. But the most striking sentence is this: “It is grievous to think what a little trifle will slur a young woman’s character forever”. Surely if she had borne an illegitimate child – much lest an incestuous one – she wouldn’t consider it a little trifle?

In my novel about Sophia, I chose Garth as Tommy’s father. Since I was writing from Sophia’s point of view, I didn’t make Ernest a villain. Whether he really raped her or not, he was always a dear brother in her eyes. Not only was it easier for me to write, it was easier for me to believe a naive, sheltered girl could fall in love with an “ugly” equerry twice her age. The Sophia in my mind would never consent to an incestuous relationship with her dashing, dangerous brother. But as for the truth – I’ll let you make up your own minds.

Duke of Cumberland from Duke of York memoirs by Watkins

The Death of a King

George III in old age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funeral of George III

Princess Amelia

This Sunday, 4 November, will be my 27th birthday. It’s rather a poignant one for me, as the age is linked in my mind to Princess Amelia, sixth daughter of George III. She died on 2 November aged just 27 years and three months.

When I first started reading about Amelia – never mind how many years ago now! – 27 didn’t sound so bad. She’d had time to do a bit in her life, unlike her brothers Alfred and Octavius who died aged (nearly) two and three. But now I’m almost 27 myself, I appreciate how shockingly young it really is. But at least I have, at this age, a husband, an ‘establishment’ as it were, two jobs (if you count writing) and I could have had children by now if I’d wanted them. I’ve travelled extensively. Amelia had none of this.

From the start, Amelia was labelled the family pet. Her birth, coming so soon upon the loss of America and the death of her brothers, was a much needed tonic to her parents. George III was obsessively fond of her, causing Fanny Burney to dub her the ‘little idol’. She adapted to the role well, holding her infant hand out to be kissed by courtiers and pulling all manner of adorable pranks. The family liked to dress her up and parade her – from the age of three she was strutting up and down the terrace at Windsor in her finery. Her eldest sister and godmother, Princess Royal, thought her the most beautiful child she had ever seen.

It sounds like a wonderful childhood, but it came at a price. Relying on Amelia for their own happiness, her family found it hard to understand, as she grew, that she had wants and needs of her own. More importantly, her elder sisters failed to take her seriously – until it was too late.

Amelia was a passionate young woman who longed for love and romance. But as a daughter of the King, she was guarded closely. Even if a handsome young Prince had come asking for Amelia, it’s doubtful her father would allow it. He had turned down numerous offers for her elder sisters, who were less necessary to his comfort. Not only did he despair at the thought of parting with his darling, but past experience had made him wary. His sisters had married eligible Princes – and been royally miserable. So Amelia found herself torn in several directions. She adored her father and wanted to make him happy – but she wanted her own life too.

Amelia’s romantic experiences remain a topic of hot debate. It’s rumoured that in Worthing, undergoing treatment for a sore knee, she had a sexual relationship with a young doctor. The fact that she was away from her parents lends some possibility to the assertion, yet she could hardly have conducted an affair without some observation. Common sense prompts us to think it was a mere flirtation, but Amelia’s later correspondence with the love of her life, Charles Fitzroy, raises questions. She worries about her ‘spot being out’ and asks him if it will affect her ability to bear children. This seems to imply her hymen was broken – but was the result of sex or her excessive horse-riding? The sexual ignorance screaming behind her questions implies the latter, but we will never know for sure. Whatever the truth, it’s clear that Amelia discussed her past experiences with Fitzroy.

The equerry Fitzroy was a good deal older than Amelia and a favourite of the King. To put it bluntly, Amelia was obsessed with him. She spent days planning their marriage, ordering furniture for their one-day home and cutlery engraved with their initials. Although they arranged to meet secretly and certainly had a few passionate trists, their love was unconsummated. Amelia complained about being unable to enjoy her ‘rights’. Compared to Amelia’s frantic letters, Fitzroy’s side of the correspondence seems a little cool. He was not as fiery as his lover and has even been accused of treating her harshly. But when you consider what he was risking, it’s hardly surprising. An illegal marriage, if discovered, would cost Amelia a wrap on the knuckles, closer imprisonment in the palaces and the distress – or possibly mad episode of her father. Fitzroy would lose everything. His marriage would be annulled, his goods forfeit to the crown, his post in the King’s household dissolved and his reputation torn to shreds. Excuse enough to be cautious, I think.

Despite Fitzroy’s best efforts, Queen Charlotte found out about the affair and urged Amelia to give him up. But a lifetime of spoiling had made Amelia stubborn and intractable. Charlotte must have been beside herself. She was already a little jealous of the attention the King lavished on his younger daughter, and now the ‘idol’ was proving unworthy of her pedestal. She genuinely could not believe Amelia was risking a scandal and the relapse of the King’s madness for an equerry. A coolness arose between mother and daughter that was to turn venomous.

Amelia’s final illness was severe and painful. However, while she was sent away to Weymouth to recover, the Queen and her elder daughters were treating the matter lightly. There are several reasons they may have done this. Firstly, they had to keep cheerful for the King, who fondly hoped Amelia would get well again. Secondly, they may well have thought she was using illness as an excuse to withdraw from family life and meet up with Fitzroy. Another theory I have is that Charlotte was in a state of denial. She knew the death of her daughter would not only cost her emotionally, but it would destroy the King. Amelia saw none of this. She thought her mother cared nothing for her and, in the feverish grip of illness, ranted and raved about what a monster she was. It didn’t help that Charlotte became anxious that Mary would run herself into the ground looking after her sister. Her attempts to get Mary home further embittered the dying Princess.

It is suspected Amelia’s illness was tubercular, the most persistent symptom being a pain in her side. She suffered various agonising treatments – ‘electrifying’, bleeding, blistering, leeching, rides on a boat, bathing and the insertion of ‘setons’. Setons were cords drawn through a layer of skin in an attempt at drainage. At first these were silk but promptly thickened to india rubber. Caustic was applied to the painful skin around these setons and dressing them was a horrific experience both for patient and nurse. Amelia bore everything with astonishing bravery and apologised for being such a burden. But soon spasms began and she erupted in ‘St Antony’s fire’ a painful, red raw skin condition that coated her from head to toe.

Although the King saw her every day after her return from Weymouth, he was too blind to see the way illness had eaten away at her. It was therefore a shock to him when she gave him a ring with a lock of her hair in it and asked him to remember her. Knowing the effect it would have on his mental health, Mary begged her not to give it but she went ahead regardless. After much persuading, she agreed to also give a mourning gift to the Queen and mother and daughter were reconciled at last.

On 2 November 1810, Amelia fell into convulsions. Mary waited until these subsided into a catatonic slumber and the guarded Amelia’s rest. Her vigil was disturbed when she realised she could no longer hear Amelia’s breath. She got the doctor to look. He felt for a pulse – none. He held a candle to her lips – no flutter. He asked Mary to retire but she protested, saying she would never leave her sister while she was dying. ‘Madam, she is dead’, was the awful response. He closed the curtain and went downstairs to tell the Queen.

While Charlotte had to swallow the bitter pill of her own grief and face the realisation her husband would now lose his mind forever, Mary fell to writing. She told Fitzroy, as she had promised, that Amelia died blessing him.

Why I love Queen Charlotte

 

It struck me, as I wrote my post about Caroline of Ansbach, that I haven’t blogged purely about Charlotte and how great she was. Yes, I’ve given snippets of her life in other blog posts, but nothing to tell you just why you should want to read about her. She was truly a remarkable woman, often eclipsed by the “brighter” personalities of the era.  I’m bound to forget something, but here’s a summary of the reasons I love her so much.

Her intelligence. I remember reading an interview with Philippa Gregory about how she chose her heroines – she said you were going to spend years of your life with this person and you needed to make sure you didn’t choose an idiot. This is so true. Thankfully, I selected a woman with a deep interest in academia and the arts. Despite her upbringing in an obscure Duchy, Charlotte was educated to a high level and made sure her daughters were too. She went to the lengths of stealing a French teacher from another family to ensure her Princesses got the very best tuition. My favourite quote from her: “I am of the opinion that if women had the same advantages as men in their education, they would do as well.”

Artistic flair. Charlotte was both an amateur artist and a skilled harpsichord player. She acted as patron for many artistic societies and famously encouraged the young Mozart. Musical scores, books on  botany and countless other endeavours were dedicated to her. For her encouragement of exploration, a flower from the Cape of Good Hope was named after her – Strelitza Regina – you may know it better as the bird of paradise flower. Charlotte was always seeking out new books and new things to learn. Although the novelist Fanny Burney didn’t enjoy being kept at Charlotte’s court, she certainly received praise of her work from the Queen. Burney’s third novel, Camilla, is dedicated to Charlotte and she took great pride in presenting it to her royal mistress on bended knee.

Her charity. Charlotte often had to apply to the King for extra funds, because she had overspent on charitable donations. Much of her charity focused on women and their plight – childbirth hospitals and even a society for the reformation of fallen women. She may have been the first woman in England, but she never forgot how difficult life was for those less fortunate. Linking her love of music and charity together, she paid for the composer Bach’s funeral and granted his widow an allowance. It may seem  bizarre that she acquired a reputation for penny-pinching and financial austerity, but in this she was copying the King. They both tried to live as economically as possible, to set an example to their people and lessen the burden their family exerted on the tax payer.

Impeccable taste. When Charlotte did get the chance to spend money on luxuries, she could keep up with the best of them. I often think George IV inherited his good taste from her – although with him, it often flared out into gaudiness. Charlotte paid great attention to the details in her dresses, the arrangement of her daughters’ hair (even consulting artist Benjamin West about where the jewels should be placed) and her jewellery. Jewellery was a passion with Charlotte and one which I think many of us women can sympathise with. Although Charlotte was never beautiful, she acquired a reputation for elegance and grace – she knew how to do the best with what she  had. In fact, her”ugliness” is another thing I love about Charlotte. I’m bored with hopelessly attractive Queens – I have nothing in common with them!

When it came to interior design and flower arranging, her enthusiasm knew no bounds. Her taste was neither as bland and simple as the King’s nor as decadently riotous as her son’s. Very little of Charlotte’s decoration remains at Windsor, Frogmore or Buckingham Palace, but if you read the accounts of her dimity curtains, gilt frames and embroidered chairs,  you get a feel for the gentle prettiness of her style.

Her quiet faith. Charlotte was a devout woman and used her religion to strengthen her. She had a deep interest in theology and even belonged to a Protestant convent in her youth. She was not pushy or preachy but believed in setting an example for others to follow. The strength of her convictions is shown early on in discussions with her mother in law, Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales – this was the one part of her life Charlotte would not allow anyone else to influence or dictate to her in. She certainly need the consolation of religion in the life that lay ahead of her. She was aware that even the plans of a Queen could be shot off course by higher powers – one of her favourite phrases was: “Man proposes; God disposes.”

Motherhood. In a time when childbirth was a dangerous activity, you can’t help but admire a woman who survived fifteen labours. Although Charlotte’s frame was slight, there was remarkable strength in it. Charlotte was also what I call a “normal” mother – neither outrageously devoted to or indifferent to her children. When I imagine being responsible for fifteen children, my first thought is: “What a nightmare.” And Charlotte was duly annoyed and frustrated by her brood many times. She suffered from depression during her pregnancies, wished she would have no more children and often found it hard to share her love equally among them. But she wrote to all her children when they were absent from home – even those the King forgot – and was devastated when she lost two baby boys. Her tough love approach to education may have distanced some of her daughters, but she was adored by both Princess Elizabeth and George IV. She stood up for her beloved eldest son on many occasions and was a great support to him during his Regency. It is worth noting that she went from being a widely popular Queen to a rather disliked figure amongst some circles at the time of her death – all because she stood by her son. Having said that, she also took George IV to task when he needed it. I particularly love the instance of her having a go at him because he had failed to pay her granddaughter’s (another Charlotte) allowance on time. She was, in fact, a good grandmother, which perhaps the young Charlotte didn’t appreciate until later years. It is touching to see how Charlotte tried to promote her granddaughter’s marriage to Prince Leopold and took pains to get acquainted with the young man.

She was a woman of her time. Let’s face the truth: Charlotte lived in a time when women were the weaker sex. She may not always have agreed with it, but she didn’t rail against it either. It’s interesting to work out the psychology of a woman who, although she may have known better, submitted to her husband’s opinion at all times. She had a crushing sense of duty and that duty was to the King. She allowed him to dictate the way she would behave towards certain children – the ones not in favour! – and the people she took into her household. She stayed out of politics to please him, even though her mind was more than capable of handling its complexities. For a writer, this is brilliant. The internal conflict caused by such devoted duty is pure gold. Here was a woman, not blindly following, but forcing herself to obey. There are delightful little moments where the real Charlotte peeps out – throwing her lot in unashamedly with the Tories after they stood by her during the King’s illness, intervening for George IV, trying to persuade the King to let her daughters marry. But for the main part, Charlotte was a model wife of the time. I admire this. It may seem strange, but I can see more strength in her behaviour than I can in those women that shouted and screamed at their husbands. It would have been easy – if inadvisable –  for Charlotte to speak her mind and defy the King.  But she managed to restrain herself with mind-boggling self-control. I’m not saying I advocate this behaviour in the least. I can just see that in her, it was strength, not weakness, that held her tongue.

Her death. Most Queens die like martyrs. Both Caroline of Ansbach and Caroline of Brunswick endured agonising deaths with supreme courage – they were not afraid to die. I admire this more than I can say, but it doesn’t necessarily resonate with me. If I was about to die, I would be terrified. And so was Charlotte. She spent many of her last days crying, worrying over her will and wishing she had all her children with her. She prayed constantly. Most touching of all, she wanted to force her sick body to travel to Windsor so she could die near the King. It wasn’t to be. She died quietly at Kew, closing a tumultuous life with a peaceful slumber.

I hope I haven’t bored you too much with my Charlotte obsession. If you would like to read more about Charlotte and her life, why not try my novel God Save the King? Or if you are looking for history books, I would recommend Olwen Hedley’s Queen Charlotte, Flora Fraser’s Princesses (as always!) or Christopher Hibbert’s George III: A Personal History.

Coronation Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 2