Queen of Misrule

Princess Charlotte

Followers of my blog will know I am always bewailing the fate of the Georgian queens. Or, more accurately, bewailing the fact that so few people know about them. This looks set to change, for Queen Charlotte at least, with the birth of the Princess of Cambridge. Huzzah!

My publisher has asked me to write something in honour of royal Charlottes. I am therefore pleased to present a potted biography of my very favourite Georgian, Princess Charlotte of Wales. You can see the full article below.

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On 2 May 2015, a tiny baby took the nation by storm. TV channels went wild and the fountains in Trafalgar Square ran pink to celebrate her birth. Leaving St. Mary’s Hospital in her mother’s arms, she managed to charm without even opening her eyes. It seems fitting that this little princess should be called Charlotte. She shares the name with one of the most beloved heirs to the British throne.

Princess Charlotte of Wales was born on the morning of 7 January 1796, following a ‘terrible hard’ labour. Her birth was much anticipated; despite raising a family of fifteen with his faithful consort, another Charlotte, George III had yet to become grandfather to a legitimate child. He was delighted with the arrival of this little girl, who secured the succession as third in line to the throne. ‘If the Prince of Wales is blessed with such a daughter as mine are to me, he will be a very happy man indeed,’ he wrote.

But all was not as it seemed. Princess Charlotte had arrived in the midst of a failing marriage. Her mother, Caroline, was living a life of slow humiliation. Her indifferent looks and coarse manners had estranged her from Charlotte’s father, who now paraded a mistress before her. Not that the Prince of Wales was without his own troubles. He had illegally married a Catholic widow before Caroline, and the birth of his first child caused a crisis of conscience. He spent the night of Charlotte’s birth writing a wild and passionate Will – one suspects under the influence of much alcohol. In this strange document, he made it very clear that he wanted his new daughter to be protected from what he saw as the evil influence of his wife.

This was to be an ill omen for Charlotte’s childhood. She lived as a continual bone of contention between her parents, who fought for control of her. It is no wonder that she grew up to be an unconventional princess. Her laugh was too loud; she wiped her nose on her sleeve. She did not mind showing her drawers when she climbed out of the carriage. As a horse-mad tomboy, she picked up habits from the grooms in the stables, nodding at people rather than bowing to them and adopting a slouched standing position.

Despite, or perhaps because of these eccentricities, Charlotte was immensely popular with the public. After a few failed love affairs a broken engagement, she finally found happiness with Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. The nation rejoiced over the marriage of this golden couple. Their fame grew to such a degree, that Charlotte’s father became jealous.

Tragically, on the eve of starting her own family and providing another male heir to the throne, Charlotte’s life was cut short. She delivered a stillborn son on 5 November 1817 and experienced complications after the birth. Less than twenty four hours later, Charlotte was dead, aged just twenty-one.

The outpouring of grief from the British nation was unprecedented. Shops closed for a fortnight, even the poor went into morning. ‘It is difficult for persons not living at the time to believe . . .’ wrote Henry Brougham. ‘It really was as if every household throughout Great Britain had lost a favourite child.’

But Charlotte’s legacy lives in. Her death paved the way for one of Britain’s most famous queens, Victoria, to take the crown. Victoria’s beloved consort, Albert, was coached in his role by none other than Charlotte’s widower, Leopold. The stage was set for another great royal love story. And now, this generation has its very own Princess Charlotte to love. She looks set to become every bit as popular as her namesake.

If you would like more in depth information about Charlotte of Wales – I am your girl! You can read about her relationship with her mother, trips to Brighton, her death, her husband’s life, a longer biography and a particularly unpleasant Christmas for a start. Also, look out for my novel about Charlotte and her mother, which will be coming in the Georgian series. Provisional title is Queen of Misrule.

Willikin, The Deptford Boy

 William AustinOn Saturday 23 October 1802, Mrs Sophia Austin began the two mile trek from her home in Deptford to Blackheath. Little did she know that her actions would spark one of the biggest royal scandals in decades.  Her destination was Montague House where Caroline, Princess of Wales, was living estranged from her royal husband. Mrs Austin hoped that the charitable princess would be able to exert her influence on behalf of Mr Austin, who had recently been dismissed from his job at the Dockyard. If all else failed, she had heard that the princess provided food for poor women in her kitchens. But as luck would have it, Mrs Austin had brought along the most effective bargaining chip she could: her three month old son, William.

On her initial application, Mrs Austin was interviewed by Caroline’s page, Stikeman, who was able to offer her husband some work turning the mangle at a laundry in Pimlico. However, he urged Mrs Austin to return again soon, as the princess might take an interest in her son. Return she did. This time, on 6 November, she met Caroline herself in the blue room. Caroline took an instant fancy to William, touching him under the chin and exclaiming,’Oh what a nice one! How old is it?’ At length Mrs Austin was informed that, if she could make up her mind to part with William, he would be adopted by Caroline and treated like a young prince. Mrs Austin, who was poor with many children, said she would ‘rather part with him to a lady like [Caroline] than keep him to want’. The deal was struck, and Mrs Austin was given a pound note and arrowroot to begin weaning William at once.

Separated from her legitimate daughter, Caroline threw her heart and soul into carrying for little William, who was henceforth known as Willy or Willikin. Rather than packing him off to the nursery quarters, she let her royal house become littered with spoons, plates and feeding boats. A row of Willy’s nappies were constantly drying before the fire, as she changed them herself. Perhaps because of this treatment, the child become loud, rude and spoilt. There are many anecdotes of Willy at Caroline’s famous supper parties, none of them endearing. He was dangled over the dining table to snatch his favourite food, knocking over the wine in the process. He leafed through hideously expensive books with inky fingers and ruined them. Another time, he threw an epic tantrum because of a spider on the ceiling. The hapless footmen were called in with long sticks to try and poke the spider away. Caroline, who was boisterous herself, could not see her darling’s faults. ‘Isn’t he a nice boy, Mr Pitt?’ she asked the Prime Minister. Pitt showed the diplomacy of his office by offering the evasive reply, ‘I don’t understand anything about children’. Pitt’s niece Lady Hester Stanhope was less tactful, referring to the boy as a ‘nasty, vulgar-looking brat.’

It all would have remained rather funny and charming, had anyone but Caroline adopted Willy. For with Caroline, mischief was never far behind. Prior to Willy’s arrival, she had been regaling her friend Lady Douglas with symptoms of a pregnancy. This may have been real, phantom, or one of Caroline’s beloved practical jokes. Either way, her tales of breast milk, ravenous hunger and increasing girth served to convince Lady Douglas that Willy was in fact Caroline’s illegitimate son. When questioned about this, Caroline laughed and said she would claim the child belonged to her husband the Prince of Wales. This was a dangerous jest, throwing the royal succession into jeopardy. Before long, The Delicate Investigation was launched by the King and Prince of Wales to examine Caroline’s behaviour and establish if she had in fact born an illegitimate child.

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While the Investigation ruined Caroline’s reputation, it proved that Willy was the son of Sophia and Samuel Austin. In later life, Willy grew up to be the spit of his mother and elder brother. However, the rumours surrounding his birth didn’t fade away. As late as 1814, the Prince of Wales was still questioning Caroline’s daughter Charlotte about Willy. Charlotte believed Willy was her mother’s ‘bastard’ and suspected Captain Manby of being the father. She was also constantly afraid that Caroline would put Willy on the throne in her place. These fears seemed well founded when in later years, Caroline was hailed with the cry ‘God bless Queen Caroline and her son, King Austin!’

But Caroline had her own story, which wildly denied Willy belonged to either her or the Austins. She did not tell this tale for many years, swearing that nobody would know who the boy really was until after her death. However, Caroline could never keep a secret, real or imaginary, and told her legal adviser that Willy was in fact the natural son of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. Louis Ferdinand had been a candidate for Caroline’s hand before she married the Prince of Wales, but the negotiations foundered. According to Caroline, the pair had continued a desperate romance, and Louis Ferdinand entrusted his son to her. The boy was supposedly brought over by a German woman and swapped with Willy Austin, all unbeknownst to his parents. Caroline said the real Willy Austin had been ‘taken God knows where, but sent away.’ It seems an unlikely story, although Caroline did repeat a variant of it on her deathbed. She informed Dr Lushington that Willy was ‘a son of a brother or friend in Brunswick who was dead…he had been clandestinely brought over from the continent.’

Willy remained a part of Caroline’s life up until her death in 1821. He accompanied her on exile across Europe and stood weeping outside the sickroom at her last illness. However, there is some evidence that her affection waned after his infancy. She began to look out for another little boy when Willy became a teenager. For a long time, Willy slept on a couch in Caroline’s own bedroom, but as soon as she found an Italian lover she ousted the boy without a second’s hesitation. This was just the beginning of the slippery slope for poor Willy, whose tale ends tragically. He should have been a rich 19 year old man after Caroline’s death but she died insolvent. He was not left destitute – she had put aside £200 per annum for the last three years and invested it into government stock for her young charge – but while £600 was a good prize for a labourer’s son, it wasn’t the royal fortune Willy was raised to expect. He had remained in contact with his natural parents through out his life and presumably returned to their neighbourhood after losing his patroness. I have not researched the following years of Willy’s life in depth, but it is recorded that he died aged just 47 in a lunatic asylum in Chelsea. Enemies of the eccentric Caroline would say this was a natural end for the boy she had raised. But I feel truly sorry for the man who must have lived a confusing and conflicted life. It would not be surprising if the scandal surrounding his birth, the dual roles of Deptford boy and princess’s son, and the destruction of his hopes served to unbalance his mind. Let us hope he found peace, and the truth about his identity, when he was released from his suffering.

Princess Charlotte’s Christmas

CharlotteChristmas can be a difficult season. Tradition dictates we spend time with our families, a test that truly proves if we can wish peace and goodwill to all men! Warring relatives and Christmas arguments are familiar to many of us. But if you have a difficult family situation this holiday season, you’re in good company. Meet Princess Charlotte, daughter to one of royalty’s most dysfunctional couples.

Charlotte’s mother Caroline and her father, the Prince Regent, hated each other with a mortal passion. Charlotte grew up tossed between the two. The Prince Regent’s position of authority meant he got more access to her. But in character, Charlotte was more like her mother – fun-loving and spirited. She didn’t fit in with the meek and demure role the royal family expected her to play.

It was Charlotte’s misfortune to spend much of her time at Windsor with her grandmother, the Queen, and her aunts. Whilst they were all kind and devoted to her, they were simply boring to a girl of Charlotte’s age and disposition. What’s more, Aunts Mary and Elizabeth were out to manipulate her and bend her to her father’s will. Charlotte often described Windsor as a prison, writing I think of nothing but how I can get out of their clutches and torment them afterwards.

Having briefly escaped captivity in Cranbourne Lodge, where she was watched like a dangerous criminal, Charlotte was forced to return from her summer resort of Weymouth and spend Christmas 1814 at Windsor. She was in poor spirits, suffering from bad health and disappointment in love. Her journey was very uncomfortable, punctuated by the “eternal fidgets and frights” of her lady companion.

Like many interfering relatives, the royals wanted to see Charlotte married.On Christmas Eve the year before, Charlotte’s grandmother had attempted to give her some “good advice” on her love life, and we can imagine how this was received. But to the Queen’s credit, she did implore her granddaughter never to marry a man she did not like, as it would cause her endless misery. Although the Queen did not advocate Charlotte disobeying her father, she believed she had a right to her own opinion, and to stand firm by it.

The Prince Regent wanted Charlotte the marry the thin, plain though good-humoured Prince of Orange. She had serious reservations about the young man, whose family her mother disapproved of. Not only was he far below her standards of a dream-prince, he would force her to live abroad for much of the year. Charlotte feared her mother would become lonely and her father would try to remarry and get another heir in her absence. But most importantly, Charlotte was still in love with a philanderer, Prince Augustus. Although she had recently been disillusioned, she was not ready to move on yet. But Charlotte’s only advocates against the Orange match were her Aunt Sophia and grandmother the Queen.

William of OrangeOn Christmas Day 1814, Charlotte found herself forced to spend time alone with Aunt Mary and her father. A kind of interrogation began. First, the Prince Regent confided that he had been making inquiries into the parentage of Willy Austin, a young boy her mother had adopted.  He warned Charlotte that after his death, Caroline may claim the boy was actually his and true heir to the throne. He knew, presumably, the jealous dislike Charlotte had always nurtured against the boy. Seizing the advantage of her shock, he pressed her for information about the men who hung around her mother – could any of them be her lovers? Unsure what to say, Charlotte admitted she had suspected Captain Manby.

Switching tactic, the Prince began to talk of the 18th Hussars, then stationed at Windsor. Charlotte was coerced into revealing her past feelings for Captain Hesse of that regiment. He had ridden beside her carriage, they had written, exchanged presents and he had often visited her mother’s apartments at Kensington Palace. On one occasion, in fact, her mother had locked them in a bedroom and said “I leave you to enjoy yourselves.”

“God knows,” Charlotte said, “What would have become of me if he had not behaved with so much respect.”

This was just what the Prince Regent and Aunt Mary wanted to hear. They could use this against Charlotte’s mother. Whilst sympathetic to Charlotte’s plight, the Regent advised her it was Providence alone that had saved her virtue from Hesse. Caroline had been extremely wicked. The family was then called in for Christmas dinner.

MaryThat wasn’t the end of Charlotte’s trials, though. The Prince Regent returned to London, but Aunt Mary kept up the questions. She asked Charlotte if it was Caroline who had made her adverse to the Prince of Orange. Did Charlotte not see, Mary asked, that her mother didn’t want her to marry respectably? She suggested Caroline had orchestrated the whole Captain Hesse affair to shame and discredit Charlotte, in order to put her bastard boy Willy on the throne. Poor Charlotte was forced to admit, “I never knew whether Captain Hesse was my mother’s lover or mine.”

Charlotte slept ill that Christmas night. She was horrified that she’d incriminated her mother.  She still loved Caroline, swearing that, “There is no hazard or risk to serve my poor mother that I would not run, if it would be of any avail”.

Consequently, a tense Charlotte wrote to Aunt Mary on Boxing Day to beg for her discretion. Except it be absolutely necessary, I hope all that passed in your room yesterday will be kept sacred within your bosom. Not much chance of that. Ever eager to please her brother, Aunt Mary had reported to the Prince Regent almost the moment Charlotte left her the previous evening.

Unsurprisingly, Charlotte was less fond of Aunt Mary after this Christmas!

 

Royal Pregnancy and Tragedy

I doubt there’s anyone reading this who hasn’t heard about the hoax call from an Australian radio-station that ended in tragedy this week. I would like to think this terrible incident would cause people to think twice before harassing the royals – at least for the sake of other people caught up in the stories, if not for the royals themselves – but hey, I also thought that when Princess Diana died.

Obviously the main tragedy lies with the nurse and her poor family, but I’m also sad for this unborn, future monarch. It’s a horrible shadow to have hanging over your birth and you can tell it will be mentioned in every future history book about him or her.  This particular situation reminded me so forcibly of another person whose life was devastated by a royal pregnancy and his part in it that I felt compelled to write a blog post about him. Ladies and gentlemen, spare a thought for the unfortunate Sir Richard Croft.

Croft was an eminent London physician who had worked alongside such names as Dr John Hunter and Dr Matthew Baille. I appreciate these doctors may mean nothing to you, but I can tell you they were highly esteemed. Croft had worked as one of the physicians to the royal family for years, even treating George III himself at times.

As such a respected doctor, he seemed to perfect choice to supervise the pregnancy and labour of George IV’s only daughter, Princess Charlotte. Charlotte had suffered two miscarriages previous to this pregnancy, so they were being extra careful. Alongside Croft, a nurse called Mrs Griffiths, who had 30 years midwifery experience, was in attendance.

Described as a long, thin, fidgety man, Croft was not the most popular person in Charlotte’s home of Claremont. The princess liked her own way and was not prepared for the strict regime he imposed. Firstly, there was the matter of her weight. The princess’ grandmother, Queen Charlotte, felt distinctly uneasy about her size. She was a voice of some experience, having given birth to fifteen children of her own. Croft shared the Queen’s concerns and subjected young Charlotte to a strict diet. She liked to have a mutton chop and a glass of port for her lunch, but this was now exchanged for tea and toast. While this seems a wise measure to modern eyes (can you imagine a pregnant woman drinking port these days?), his other treatments of bleeding and purges leave us feeling horrified. But as I’m sure you are aware, bleeding was considered a healthy thing to do in the period. Only Stockmar, physician to Charlotte’s husband, Leopold, demurred. “This lowering treatment is no longer regarded as sensible in Europe”, he explained. However, he let Croft get on with his job.

One sensible thing Croft did do was persuade Charlotte to stop wearing stays. Such a bodily restriction could hardly have been healthy for the baby’s growth. Unfortunately, he didn’t express himself in the most flattering way. “A cow does not wear stays,” said Croft. “Why should the Princess Charlotte?”

Perhaps unsurprisingly. Charlotte was left feeling depressed by the “lowering treatment” and dwelt on death. She had picked out patterns for the baby’s clothes with glee but didn’t want to see them when they arrived. All the same, when her pains finally began, she climbed into bed with courage, assuring Mrs Griffiths she would neither bawl nor shriek. It was a promise she kept.

It was an extremely difficult labour. The progress was slow, but this didn’t bother Croft at first. He allowed Leopold in the room to hold Charlotte’s hand, lie down beside her on the bed or walk in front of the fire as the hours passed by.  One thing he would not tolerate, however, was eating. As fifty excruciating hours rolled by, Charlotte had neither sleep nor food.

Witnesses for the royal birth began to arrive at Claremont and gathered in the breakfast room. They had a long wait ahead of them. Even Charlotte’s parrot, Coco, had had enough and began to sqwark. Croft realised that the baby was lying at a strange angle and, to make matters more troublesome, was an unusually large child.  He began to think surgical intervention may be required in the form of forceps. This was no light matter. Forceps were considered extremely dangerous at the time and would only be used in dire emergency. He summoned Dr Sims, an expert in the use of surgical instruments in pregnancy, who, despite being on call in the case of the princess,  took hours to arrive. He assured Croft that the labour was moving along gradually and there was no need to intervene.

Poor Charlotte’s labour lasted another day and there were signs the infant was in trouble. The child’s first faeces – which usually appear after birth – oozed out onto the sheets. A further three hours went by before the royal baby finally emerged into the world – large, male and stillborn. Everything was tried to restore the young prince. He was slapped, shaken, plunged into hot water, rubbed with salt and mustard, all to no avail. His little life was over before it began.

Croft, Mrs Griffiths and Leopold were devastated. Charlotte bore it better, seeming unnaturally composed – I expect she was far too exhausted to let her real emotions show, and she had always been a brave woman. While Leopold retired to a sedated sleep, Croft and Sims were disturbed by the fact that Charlotte continued to bleed. They decided to remove her placenta by hand, rather than wait for it to come naturally. After they had done so, the bleeding stopped and Charlotte was finally allowed chicken broth – her first food in two days. She was given camphor julep  as a stimulant and seemed relatively cheerful, teasing Mrs Griffiths about her gown before drifting off into a well deserved sleep.

Around midnight, Charlotte awoke to unbearable pain and a singing in her head. She threw up all the broth and, clutching her stomach, cried “Oh, what a pain! It is all here!” The terrified Mrs Griffiths ran out to fetch Croft, who found his patient freezing cold and unable to remain in the same posture for more than a minute, due to her intense pain. Though she struggled to breath, she complained about the cold. In a moment of blind panic, Croft and Griffiths did all they could to warm her up. They forced alcohol down her, stoked up the fire, and put down a deluge of blankets. Had they been calmer, they would have noticed she was bleeding again. They would also have remembered that the medical practice of their time recommended cold compresses in such cases – not the inferno they were creating.

Stockmar, disturbed by the fracas, came in to hear Charlotte’s complaints that the doctors had made her tipsy. He was horrified by the heat in the room but his protests came too late. All he could do was try to wake Leopold so he could say goodbye to his darling wife. Even these efforts were in vain – Leopold’s sedatives had done their trick. Without him, Charlotte turned onto her face, drew her knees up to her chest and breathed her last.

The outpouring of national grief can scarcely be imagined. The death of two heirs to the throne at once left England with only George III’s ageing sons to inherit. They were hardly popular, while the people had adored Charlotte. It is natural, when tragedy strikes, to want someone to blame – whether that person be yourself or another individual. England chose Croft. While the royal family thanked him for his care of Charlotte and showed no signs of hostility, the public were another matter. Even today, Croft seems to be branded as the man who “killed” Princess Charlotte. It was true that he had an over-confident manner and made mistakes, but I was astonished to find historian James Chambers describing him as “not an eminent or even qualified physician. He was merely the most fashionable of the many accoucheurs…and his title was an inherited baronetcy rather than a well-earned knighthood”. Such censure is, I feel, grossly unfair. It was hardly likely that a family as used to needing doctors asthe royals (remember the King’s still ongoing madness? The childhood ailments of fifteen children, let alone their births?) would make a choice on the whim of fashion.

George IV wrote to Croft to assure him of his “confidence in the medical skill and ability which he displayed during the arduous and protracted labour”. It was a confidence that at least some others must have shared, for Croft continued to get work. But the continual morning for Charlotte – the poems, the full churches, the shops draped in black – were an ever-present nettle on his conscience. You can picture him reliving the hours again and again, seeing things he could have done differently, cursing himself for the panic which led him to heat Charlotte up rather than cool her down.  He finally broke when attending the wife of a rich clergyman in Harley Street. Her case bore similarities to Charlotte’s, although there was no cause for extreme concern as yet. While awaiting the next contractions, he left husband and wife alone and retired to the study. There, he sat in a wing-chair and opened a volume of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost on a significant quote: “Fair sir, God save you! Where is the Princess?” He then took a pair of pistols and shot himself through the head.

Poor Sir Richard Croft became the third victim of the national tragedy, although few people mourned for his wife and four children as intensely as they did for their princess. There were even wicked people who thought justice had been served on him. I always wonder about the vicar’s wife – what did she do without his help in the birth? Did she survive? And again, what about the unfortunate baby whose birth was preceded by bloody scene downstairs?  Perhaps I will never find out. They were just another set of innocents caught up in a national tragedy, more ripples skating across the pool that we fail to see, because we are focusing on where the stone dropped.

 

Brighton

I’m very lucky to be within reach of many places featured in my novels. Only recently I found out that Henrietta Howard spent time living at Blickling Hall and Audley End – both places I visited and enjoyed without even knowing! In preparation for A Forbidden Crown, Brighton was a key place to visit. It’s a very different place now to the resort that Maria, Caroline and Charlotte knew, but somehow just being there helped me to get a feel for their lives. Of course, the building at the centre of my research was that famous “monstrosity”: The Royal Pavilion.

In A Forbidden Crown, the Pavilion serves as a symbol for Maria’s relationship with George IV. It goes from being a simple farmhouse to an elegant Marine Pavilion under her watch. But by the time it becomes an exotic, sprawling folly, both the building and the Prince have grown far past her recognition. In fiction, I’m taking the view that most contemporaries shared: it was over-the-top and gaudy. But I must admit, on a personal level, that I rather like it!

You have to use your imagination as you walk through the small remnant of the gardens, towards the towering domes. A busy road and a pavement would not be running right alongside – there was a drive and a little wilderness before you reached the Steine. There probably wouldn’t have been so many tall buildings blocking your view of the sea. The modern-day care-takers of the Pavilion have given you a wonderful feel of what the gardens may have been like: bright flowers, palm trees and exotic plants, all taken from contemporary accounts. A lovely place to walk on a sunny day – but, as I was there in November and the wind was pretty high, we hurried inside.

Of all my heroines, only Princess Charlotte would have experienced the interior of the Pavilion in its current state. She rather dreaded visits to her father and, as luck would have it, the building works with me to create an unsettling atmosphere. In A Forbidden Crown, Charlotte will walk down the corridors, uneasy to see the dark faces of the Chinese figures watching her with sharp, wooden eyes. The roaring dragons and snakes entwining themselves round the furniture will make her think she is walking into a monster’s lair. She will feel, as I could not, the suffocating heat of the air, which her father tinged with the smell of burning incense and spices to give it an oriental flavour. Indeed, many ladies were frightened by the decoration, refusing to sit under the dragon chandelier. In the dark, it looked like the dragons really were breathing flames of fire, rather than supporting candles.

For me, of course, the place was far from frightening. Most rooms spoke of splendour and elegant parties. I understood that, if the place looked incredible to me, it must have been truly extraordinary for the lucky ladies and gentlemen of the period who got an invite. The painted bamboo and palm-trees were as close as many visitors would get to seeing the real things in their natural habitat. The Banqueting Room and the Music Room were works of art. In fact, George loved the decor of the music room so much that he wept when he first saw it. My audio-guide said the carpet was so thick and luxurious that people would sink into it. Whole teams of servants would have to scour the palace after each party, to clean off the melted wax and wine stains on the wall. Apparently, stale bread was good for cleaning walls and tea-leaves for cleaning carpets. Both the party and the clean-up operations must have been some sight!

There were also rooms with a simple kind of elegance – the type I imagine Maria approving of and Caroline hiding in during her first and only stay in Brighton.  Both of these ladies would have experienced a smaller and more restrained Pavilion, clad in glazed Hampshire tiles. The main room would have been the current saloon, which is undergoing work to return it to Regency glory. I lingered here a while, trying to absorb the feel of it. This was a room in which Maria would have stood, many a time. A room in which she was probably happy.  It would have had a plain, neo-classical look back then, when she laughed at the hi-jinks of her Prince and his companions. Going off either side would be rooms where she played cards, acted as hostess – and at last, was humiliated by George’s mistresses. I made a little trip to Maria’s house, close by, which is now a YMCA. I felt there the more calming, elegant influence she would have exuded over the Pavilion. Some say there is an underground tunnel from it to the Pavilion – I rather like that idea, but I think Maria would feel it beneath her dignity to be sneaking around underground like a rat in a sewer. Near Maria’s house, there is a hotel where William and Adelaide stayed on some visits. It was wonderful to picture them all, on their holidays by the sea, swarming around the hub of the Prince’s fantasy playground.

The main purpose of my visit was to see the exhibition on Princess Charlotte – “The Forgotten Princess”. It was smaller than I imagined, but I’m glad I saw it. Not only did I finally find the Maria Cosway painting of Caroline and Charlotte leaning against Britannia that I had read so much about, I saw some items that were, to a historical novelist, a bit like relics. Firstly, Charlotte’s baby shift. I could just see her chubby little arms filling up the sleeves, her constantly working legs kicking out beneath. Caroline would have hugged her daughter close, marvelling over the tiny cuffs and detailed stitching. She would probably have felt, at that time, that her daughter was the only thing she had to connect to in all of England. Perhaps she would also have experienced a stab of annoyance that she had not been able to order the baby clothes herself – it would have all been Queen Charlotte’s doing.

There was another baby shift on display, more poignant. The warm, squirming body that was to give it a purpose never breathed. It was part of the clothing set ordered for Charlotte and Leopold’s baby boy. He was stillborn. I remember reading that Charlotte ordered the baby clothes with great care, enjoying choosing patterns and materials. But when they arrived, she didn’t want to look at them. Fear of the birth, or perhaps a premonition of her own dark fate, had sapped her enjoyment from them. She folded the baby clothes and put them away. Did her hands fold the delicate, wispy material of that shift? I like to think so.

Lastly, la pièce de résistance: Charlotte’s wedding dress. They think the dress in its current form is the original wedding gown and three other court costumes cobbled together,  but the tampering didn’t really bother me. What bowled me over was the proportions of it. I’ve seen many paintings of Charlotte – the high, ample bosom, the short but pleasantly plump figure. I have to say, they were spot on. Suddenly she was there before me – about my height, pleasingly rounded. I could see her, adjusting her hair in the mirror, trying to calm her fluttering stomach. Whether the gown was entirely original or not, it was very beautiful. If only the happiness it promised could have lasted a little longer for poor old Charlotte.

If you are reading or writing about the Regency period, I would thoroughly recommend a visit to the Pavilion. The Charlotte exhibition is on until the end of March 2013 so you have a few more months to catch it. It’s sad that we no longer have Carlton House to marvel at or Charlotte’s prison, Warwick House. At Brighton Pavilion, at least,  we can get a taste of George’s extraordinary decorations, and a feel for the royals who are now long gone.

A King’s Obsession

I first came across Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg in a book about Jane Austen’s life. As the book detailed Royal antics shortly before Jane’s death, it mentioned the wedding of Princess Charlotte to this obscure German Prince. It also included a picture of the couple. I was smitten.

Leopold was devastatingly handsome. Napoleon described him as “the handsomest man that ever set foot in the Tuileries”. How appropriate that poor Princess Charlotte, doomed to a short and turbulent life, managed to catch such a man. But aside from his good looks, and the fact that he made Charlotte happy, what else do we know about Leopold?

I recently read James Chambers wonderful book “Charlotte & Leopold” to discover more about my historic crush. My findings have only increased it. I knew before that Leopold was uncle to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and I had heard that Leopold trained Albert for the difficult role he was to undertake. What I didn’t realise was how poignant that really was, given Leopold’s life after Charlotte.

The marriage of Charlotte and Leopold was by no means a fairytale romance. She wanted him to gain independence and avoid the Prince of Orange; he wanted her for her social position. Leopold travelled to England solely with the hope of catching Charlotte if he could, even though he had never met her. It is clear that his great advocates, the Tsar of Russia and the Grand Duchess, strategically placed him in situations where he would meet Charlotte. But what started off as a marriage of convenience swiftly become a love match.

Leopold was a wonderful husband. To quote Charlotte, he was “the perfection of a lover”.  He was attentive, caring and corrected his wife where she needed it. While I, as a modern woman, would probably throw things at Leopold for trying to correct my posture and speech, Charlotte was delighted. She was, after all, destined to become Queen of England and needed to deport herself accordingly. Up until now, she had fought against all instruction,  because she couldn’t respect those who gave it to her. Now she had Leopold to look up to and admire, she was ready to be obedient. And besides, the whole thing was done lovingly. He would not openly upbraid, but whisper to her “Douchemont, chere, douchemont”. The fact that Charlotte then nicknamed her husband Douchemont shows that the advice was taken in the affectionate spirit it was given.

It would be easy to suspect that Leopold’s devotion rose out of motives of self-interest. After all, the more power he had over Charlotte, the more power he had over England. He did certainly drive a rift between his wife and her long-term friend, Mercer Elphinstone, when he disapproved of her husband. But we can see, from Leopold’s behaviour after Charlotte’s death, how genuine his love really was.

Throughout Charlotte’s long labour, he had been a model husband. He walked her up and down in front of the fire, he lay down on the bed with her. In fact he exhausted himself so greatly that, after consoling her for the loss of their stillborn son, he was dosed up by his doctor and went to bed. Due to the opiates, he was not present for Charlotte’s actual death. But when his doctor, Stockmar, broke the news, he sat by her bed kissing her cold hands. At last, he threw himself into the doctor’s arms and whispered: “I am now quite desolate. Promise to stay with me always.”

In the years of grief that followed, Leopold’s focus was on the wife, not the Kingdom, he had lost. He sat with her corpse constantly until it was buried. He walked around the gardens with Stockmar, weeping and clutching her portrait. He refused to let Charlotte’s bonnet and cloak be moved from the screen where she had flung them, and could not suffer her watch to be taken off the mantlepiece. He still felt he was destined to be a King. He tried to join in the social scene as the years passed. But he was always happiest at his marital home at Claremont, lost in memories of happier times.

Leopold had taken mistresses before he met Charlotte, most notably Napoleon’s step-daughter Hortense, and continued to take them after she died. But his heart had by no means healed. No matter how old he grew, the women he selected were around the age of Charlotte when she died. He even took up with Caroline Bauer just because she looked like Charlotte. There’s a lovely anecdote of Ms Bauer adopting Charlotte’s parrot, Coco, and taking it on her Continental travels. But while Coco found an adequate replacement for his dead mistress, Leopold could not.

He finally fulfilled the destiny he knew was his by becoming King of the Belgians. He married again, although this time round he was not the ideal husband. By degrees, Leopold had been growing colder and colder. He infuriated his mistresses with his indifference. While his wife, Louise-Marie, continued to love him, she knew she would never take the place of his first wife. She was married to a man in love with a ghost. She knew this so well that she raised no objections when Leopold insisted on their only daughter being named Charlotte.

Leopold’s daughter, known more often as Carlotta than Charlotte, would make a wonderful subject for historical fiction. Despite being the name-sake of her father’s one true love, she was never high up in his affections. The only child he seemed capable of loving was his niece Victoria.  I have a few theories as to why this was. Firstly, Victoria was Charlotte’s replacement as heir presumptive, filling the exact same position Charlotte had occupied before her death. Then there is Victoria’s appearance. Her fleshy cast and large eyes were typical of the House of Hanover, which linked her to Charlotte. Lastly, Leopold would have remembered the days he sat at Claremont with Charlotte and her uncle, the Duke of Kent, Victoria’s father. He would certainly remember recommending his sister, Victoria’s mother, as a suitable bride for the Duke; advice that was swiftly followed.

Carlotta did finally manage to please her father by becoming the Empress of Mexico, but  she inherited the tragedy of her name-sake. Mexico did not want their new Emperor and Empress. While Carlotta ran about the courts of Europe, begging for help, her beloved Maximilian was captured and shot. The ordeal drove her mad. She ended her days in a Belgian castle, gabbling on about her husband and her Empire. How apt, that Leopold’s daughter should also obsess over the spouse she lost. It was a family trait; Victoria was never to recover from the loss of Albert.

As for Leopold, his obsession lasted until the end. He died whispering “Charlotte, Charlotte.”  He wanted, of course, to be buried in England by his first wife and still-born son, but it was not permitted. He was King of the Belgians; although in his heart, he was still Consort to a Queen who never was.

 

 

 

The Strange Death of Queen Caroline Part 2

I promised in my previous post about The Strange Death of Queen Caroline that I would keep you updated with the evidence I found.  I’ve unearthed many interesting facts, but as always with Caroline, the truth is unclear.

In support of a suicide theory, we have the opinion of her contemporaries. Henry Edward Fox certainly thought her capable of harming herself, during the trial for adultery in 1820, when he wrote: “Poor maniac! They say she means to kill herself. I should not be surprised.” We also have the rather gruesome information that Caroline’s body was swollen and black a few hours after death. One of her physicians, suspecting poisoning, wanted to open the body and establish the cause of death. He was told the Queen herself had forbidden any post-mortem. That, in itself, suggests she had something to hide.

Her physicians suspected a blockage in the bowels. They specified “a blockage of magnesia”. Given the paste-like mixture of magnesia and laudanum Caroline had forced down shortly before her illness, this seems very likely. Did that hideous do-it-yourself medicine, which her ladies urged her not to take, end her life? If it caused the blockage that the physicians diagnosed, then the answer seems to be yes.

The records say Queen Caroline seemed “much surprised” to discover her illness and asked “Do you think I am poisoned?” While I can’t discredit the idea that she was genuinely shocked, I don’t trust Caroline. The question is so inflammatory, so aimed at her husband. It seems typical that, whether she was dying through natural causes or her own intervention, she would make sure to implicate George in a scandal.

Historians agree that she was mentally unbalanced around the time of her death, and even refer to her as “the manic-depressive Queen Caroline”. But would she really, through motives of vengeance, go so far? The correspondence that could answer our questions has, frustratingly, disappeared. As foolish at it was, Caroline wrote to Pergami frequently during her trial for adultery with him. It seems to me that, while Caroline loved and had a hope of returning to Pergami, she would be unlikely to commit suicide. But life wasn’t that simple.

Despite her new Queenly allowance, Caroline had to remain in England following her trial, as she was too deep in debt to travel back to Italy. She was separated for goodness knew how long from the man she loved. If in fact, she did still love him. It’s bizarre to consider that through the delirium during the last hours of her life, she never mentioned Pergami. She mentioned his daughter and the children of Alderman Wood. But no Pergami. Is it possible the pair had quarrelled? Had she ceased to think of him with affection? Or had she simply trained her tongue not to mention him?  There is always the possibility, of course, that the witnesses to her death lied. They were her most loyal supporters. Still, I would expect at least one source to creep out if Caroline had actually talked about Pergami when she died.

We also have to balance Caroline’s motives for suicide against a long history of stomach spasms and cramps. About two years before her death, she was suffering acutely with pain in that area. This would suggest a slow-forming blockage or tumour. As I mentioned before, Caroline faced her death with remarkable calmness. Perhaps she had suspected the illness for some time and felt it increasing. Perhaps she had hastened it. Or perhaps she was just showing the Brunswicker courage that remains of her more loveable characteristics.

The verdict I have come to is that Caroline was partly to blame for her own death. It appears she originally became ill through natural causes, but she lost the will to fight against the disease. I also believe she did all she could to make it worse and hasten the inevitable, through her strange medicines and her failure to consult a doctor early on. Whatever the truth, we can be sure her end was sudden and painful. I sincerely hope the “unruly Queen” is now resting in a well-deserved peace.

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That Wicked Princess on the Heath

Put a Queen on trial for adultery and you’re bound to create factions. Even today, Anne Boleyn is represented alternatively as a pure innocent and an incestuous witch with six fingers. Similarly, Queen Caroline, consort of George IV, gets an uneven treatment in the history books. There are those that see an affair lurking with any man she spoke to, and those that naively discredit some strong evidence. Either way, no one seems able to entirely acquit this Princess who, in her own servant’s words, was “very fond of f*cking”.

The scandals about Caroline date right back to her youth in Brunswick. She often met a little shepherd boy out in her walks and went back to his “hovel” with him to see how his family did. To me, this fits in perfectly with Caroline’s life-long obsession with children and general inquisitiveness. Moreover, she was always generous to the poor. But rumours flew about that this little shepherd boy was actually her son.

It seems likely that Caroline did have a love affair while at Brunswick, though I doubt she went so far as to  bear an illegitimate child. She was kept under close guard by her parents and watched constantly, lest she talk to and flirt with young men on the dance floor. There must have been a reason for this. Her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Brunswick, were not the type of people to overreact and be needlessly strict. I imagine that Caroline’s winningly honest and open conversation got her into some early scrapes, from which they were keen to protect her in future.

Caroline spoke, with her usually lack of tact, of a man she had been very much in love with but was forbidden to marry, due to his low rank. Perhaps this was an Irish officer in her father’s army, who she was seen to be partial to. Or perhaps, as is often the case with Caroline, it was a blatant lie.  She said this to Lady Jersey, her husband’s mistress, almost immediately after her arrival in England, when Lady Jersey had openly insulted her. I consider it a proud backlash, a kind of “well, it doesn’t matter to me if the Prince loves you; he’s not my first choice.”

There was a Prince, however, whom Caroline insisted she had loved her whole life long. This was Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. Her father wanted the match as badly as she did. But the Prussian suit, like so many others in Caroline’s teenage years, mysteriously dissolved. The very lack of evidence as to why the matches were given up is telling. It seems to me that there was some stain upon Caroline’s character that the European monarchies, once they discovered it, were unwilling to forgive.

George IV was later to state his conviction that Caroline was not a virgin when she came to his marriage bed in 1795. Unfortunately, his testimonies are about as trustworthy as Caroline’s. George’s friends admitted that, if he told a story often enough, he came to believe it was the truth. Not content with complaining about Caroline’s smell and generally horrid body, he insisted she was “not new” and mentioned that on the second night, seeing his suspicions, she mixed up some tooth powder and water to stain her nightgown. However, his only “evidence” of her experience is that she made a complimentary comment about the size of his wedding tackle (notice how George always manages to chuck in a comment about how great he is, even when slagging off others). One can’t help but feeling this is just a furious response to Caroline’s allegations that he was impotent. If Caroline did make the comment, I see nothing in it to suggest she wasn’t a virgin. It could either be another desperate attempt to win the affection of her stroppy husband or a natural remark of surprise; Caroline never was one to use the brain to mouth filter.

However, it was when Caroline moved to Blackheath, after her unofficial separation with George, that the rumours really started. Caroline delighted in pronouncing herself “that wicked Princess on the heath, she is such a rake, such a rioter, and such an irregular person, that she makes rebellions, and mutinies, in every well-regulated house – but she comes from abroad and so she is good for nothing”. It seems very natural that the affectionate Princess, who always was fond of flirting, went a little overboard when she found her freedom. Moreover, she loved to cause a scandal. But I don’t subscribe to the view that she pretty much humped anything in trousers during her years on the Heath. She had been told early on by Lord Malmesbury that she would incur the death penalty by committing adultery, and was clearly much struck by it.

George Canning, a promising Pittite MP, had known Caroline before her exile to the Heath and the pair were clearly in love. Some historians have decided the affair wasn’t very serious, given that he married another woman soon after. But Canning confessed that if he had not met his wife, Miss Scott, “I know not how I should have resisted, as I ought to do, the abundant and overpowering temptation to the indulgence of a passion which must have been dangerous, perhaps ruinous, to her who was the cause of it.” Apparently, Caroline and he agreed together that his marriage was the only “effectual remedy to all the danger and…our escape”.  Caroline continued friendly with the Cannings all of her life. When she was put on trial for adultery in 1820, Canning risked the fury of the King and refused to have anything to do with the proceedings.  His writing about escaping danger and ruin suggest that he and Caroline did not consummate their love, but there was clearly much foreplay. When she received a letter from George telling her they “should not be answerable to one another”, she showed it to Canning and asked what it meant. He told her it “freed her entirely” and they “took advantage of it on the spot”.

The next of Caroline’s lovers on the Heath was a dashing naval hero, Sir Sidney Smith. In character, he seemed much like Caroline and I am not surprised to two hit it off. But Smith came hand in hand with the friends he was staying with, the Douglases. And this is where it all gets a bit complicated.

The Douglases and Smith were Caroline’s bosom friends until, without much explanation, she threw them over and took up with Captain Mamby instead. The Douglases later insisted that Caroline had been pregnant and confided in them alone. But if that was the case, she would have kept thick with them. She may have been giddy, but Caroline was certainly not fool enough to tell someone such an explosive secret then make an enemy of them. It is my opinion that Caroline purposefully wound up the Douglases with tall tales, due to her own jealousy.

Her first attack on the Douglases was to send anonymous letters to Lord Douglas, featuring pictures of Lady Douglas and Sir Sidney Smith in amorous situations; or, as Caroline put it “Sir Sidney Smith doing your amiable wife”. Although Lady Douglas maintained that her husband always believed in her innocence, he didn’t act that way. He went storming over to Smith and demanded an explanation. Naturally, Smith denied everything – but was he telling the truth?

If Caroline had found out, mid-affair with Smith, that he was also a past or present lover of Lady Douglas, it would explain her sudden hatred of her friend. It would also explain why she purposefully infuriated Smith by playing footsie with Mamby at a dinner party. She was jealous, and wanted to make him jealous too. It seems that, after all the hoo-ha, she decided she liked Mamby better anyway.

The love-struck Caroline followed Mamby across the country to the docks of his ships and entrusted two of her “charity boys” to his care. She was later to claim that Mamby had smuggled an illegitimate son of her old flame, Prince Louis Ferdinand, across the seas for her. This was the boy Willy Austin, the “Deptford child”, whom the Douglases claimed was the Princesses own. I think both sides are lying here. I believe Willy was the son of Sophia Austin; Caroline, as always, loved making mischief and found she could do so here with a good excuse for trailing after Mamby.

It was around this point that George III reluctantly agreed to investigate her behaviour – “The Delicate Investigation” – and Caroline appears to have pulled her act together after this.  A few rumours circulated in the following years about Captain Hesse, who was courting Caroline’s daughter, Charlotte. Hesse followed Caroline on her Continental journey and remained a loyal attendant. Personally, I believe he was sincerely attached to the family and loved only Charlotte. But many people, Charlotte included, thought otherwise.

It was on this trip to the Continent that Caroline met the man who was to be her downfall: Pergami. This was the adulterous relationship she was put on charge for. She was lucky that, since it took place abroad, the death sentence could not apply. I, along with Georgian contemporaries, believe that the relationship was “pure in-no-sense”. But Caroline’s guilt or innocence was not what mattered to the mobs of the day; they were more concerned with humiliating the King.

But despite my belief in her guilt, I don’t think Caroline’s relationship with Pergami was as bad as it was represented. Her lawyer Brougham did a brilliant job of highlight that the witnesses against her were bribed for their evidence. They had been rehearsed for certain questions and answers and were completely clueless when asked things not on their script: “I do not remember” being a favourite answer. There were others who were downright liars. One mentioned riding beside Caroline’s coach, looking through the curtains and seeing her and Pergami with their hands placed on one another’s private parts. This was later exposed as complete nonsense; the man in question never rode beside the coach, the coach had blinds, not curtains, a third person always travelled with them and the set up of the coach made it impossible for anyone to sit in that position.

Brougham, who confessed to disliking Caroline, later decided that Pergami’s swift promotions through her household had more to do with his child than anything else. It is true that Caroline adored children and made friends with anyone who had them. Pergami’s daughter slept in her bed and called her “Mamma”. But while pictures of this little girl littered Caroline’s houses, so did pictures of her father. He was always moved into bedrooms near Caroline’s. And while his family were all invited to become members of Caroline’s staff, there was one glaring exception: his wife.

It is my belief that Caroline really loved Pergami and would have been happy living with her adopted Italian “family”. But her pride and her need to beat George IV summoned her back to England, where she ultimately died. She did not speak of Pergami at the end, although she wrote to him a few times while in England and remembered his daughter in her will.

As for the other lovers, I can’t be sure how far the relationships went. I am sure there was much kissing and, as Flora Fraser puts it,  “heavy petting” going on, but I’m not convinced Caroline would risk full on sexual affairs in England under the noses of her husband and uncle. But by the time she was with Pergami, free on the Continent and past the age where pregnancy was a risk, it was a different story.

Should she be condemned? England did not believe so; after all, her husband’s affairs were more numerous and sordid. And is it any wonder that a poor Princess, shunned and called ugly by the only man she was legally allowed to sleep with, was delighted to find others who thought her attractive? No; it seems quite natural to me that Caroline succumbed to Pergami and his wonderful moustachios.

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The Strange Death of Queen Caroline

 

One of the joys of being a historical novelist is getting to sift through all the theories that have gone before, examine the evidence, and draw your own conclusions. When faced with the mystery of Caroline’s death, I can’t sit on the fence. I have to choose which version of “the truth” to put in my story and go with it.

Over the years, medical historians have tried to surmise the cause of Caroline’s death at the age of just 53. Stomach cancer, or a blockage of the bowels, are the most frequent diagnoses. There are good arguments for these, and it could be that Caroline’s demise was completely natural. But timed as it was, so soon after her victory at her trial and her shame at George IV’s coronation, I can’t help listening to the scandalous suspicions of the time. These are what I want to dwell upon today.

It is far too easy to cast George IV as the villain of the piece. I hope I show in my work that although he was one of the worst husbands ever to sully a marriage, he was generous and a good brother – even occasionally a good son, to  Queen Charlotte at least. I cannot credit the rumours that flew about, in true Regency style, that George poisoned his wife. Yes, he was conveniently out of the country when she died and prescribed the bare minimum of mourning for her – just three weeks. Undoubtedly he hated her with a maniacal frenzy. But poisoning just doesn’t seem like his style. Besides, what had he to gain?   He had already triumphed over her at his coronation, thwarting her attempts to gain access to the Cathedral while she was booed home. One might argue he wanted her out of the way to marry again – but he didn’t marry again. There was little in it for him but peace of mind, knowing she would not rear her ugly head again to make more mischief.

The person who stood to gain most through Caroline’s death was, bizarrely, Caroline herself. Which has led me to a rather disturbing theory: did Caroline, in fact, hasten her own death?

Perhaps I’m overly perceptive to signs of mental health, but it is safe to say Caroline was never completely stable. As early on as her exile at Blackheath, visitors reported her violent mood swings; prancing through the house in a wild conga one minute, despairing and repining over her lot in life the next. But it is not this aspect of her character which fuels my suspicions: it is her determination.

Contemporaries confirm that once she had set her mind on something, she would follow it through to the point of death. Worryingly, the things she set her mind on weren’t the products of careful deliberation. She was “caught by the first impulse”, “recklessness was central to her personality” and she would “risk solid  benefits” to gratify her desire to scandalise others whilst amusing and revenging herself. Could it possibly be that after the glory of her trial had faded away and she was nothing but a Queen snubbed at her own coronation, she took it into her head to revenge herself on George once and for all?

For Caroline’s popularity certainly did return with her death. Right up until her last breath, she was trying to get the sympathy vote from the people; she wanted her coffin to say “The Injured Queen of England”. Admittedly, it would be an extreme measure to go to. But this is the lady that sent obscene drawings by the penny post to revenge herself on a neighbour. Moreover, she was in a bad way.

For the first time in the many years of her horrid marriage, Caroline’s spirit was visibly broken.  She was disillusioned with even the victory of her trial, soon realising that no one had cared for her as “a poor forlorn woman”, but had followed their own political agendas. After being hissed away from her coronation (where, it is worth noting, her nervousness made her laugh hysterically) Caroline insisted on attending a pageant of the ceremony, performed at Drury Lane. Lady Anne Barnard, present at the show, reported the following:

“[The Queen] got up and curtsied to the manager, the pit, galleries and boxes in a manner so marked – so wild – with a countenance so haggard… I burst into tears to see royalty and pride so humbled and broken down.”

It was on the return from this performance that she began to vomit and her pulse grew fast and erratic. It could be that she had been unwell for some time and her body was finally breaking down at this stage. But the scenes that followed  remind me vividly of the end of Madame Bovary. She dosed herself up, without consultation, bleeding herself profusely, taking opium and enough castor oil “to turn the stomach of a horse”. Lady Anne Hamilton said:

“Her Majesty put on the semblance of unusual gaiety…but while she laughed, the tears rolled down her face – tears of anguish so acute that she seemed to dread the usual approach of rest.”

The Queen finally retired at 3am, taking a glass of water with a huge quantity of Magnesia and a few drops of laudanum. Lady Anne tried to stop her from taking such a strange concoction but she downed it with the use of a spoon.

The doctors called to consult on her later suspected she had, herself, caused a blockage with all her weird mixtures of medicines. Whether this was true, or intentional, we will never know. What we can be sure of is Caroline faced her death with a remarkable bravery and resignation. Perhaps I am just mistaking her strong courage and confusing it with the idea that she had planned to bring her death about all along. But the following exchanges are rather speaking.

“I am going to die,” she told her lawyer Brougham, “but it does not signify.” He assured her that the doctors were of quite a different opinion. “I know better than they,” she said. “I tell you I shall die, but I don’t mind it.”

Lord Hood observed:

“I never beheld a firmer mind, or anyone with less feelings at the thought of dying.”

A controversial theory, but one I am surprised no one seems to have put forward before. I will keep on with the digging and let you know what I find!

A Princess at War

As you’ve probably noticed by now, it’s the psychology of historical figures that really interests me. I’ve covered many “characters”, but I believe there are few as fascinating as Princess Charlotte of Wales, only child of George IV and Queen Caroline.

Not only was Charlotte born in the midst of Revolutionary War, she entered life as a main playing piece in the battle between her estranged parents. Sadly for Charlotte, she took after both her mother and father and in different ways. Since they couldn’t live together happily, how was she supposed to juggle these irreconcilable personalities within herself? It wasn’t easy and there were few people to help her.

Both George and Caroline loved their daughter, but it was a love tinged with darker emotions. She was an instrument of revenge to use against the other. Moreover, she reminded them of their less than happy union. She looked very much like her father and her manners at times brought her mother vividly to life. Neither could love her without reserve.

Caroline doted on the young Charlotte. Throughout her life, she was obsessed with babies and children, but I can’t help feeling that as Charlotte grew up, Caroline’s interest waned. It was very clear that Charlotte was to be raised away from her “polluting influence” and though Caroline tried to gain more frequent access to her daughter, the struggle soon became more about annoying George than actually seeing Charlotte. Besides, Caroline had adopted countless other waifs and strays to live with her at Blackheath, all of a younger, cuter age. To some extent, poor Charlotte must have felt replaced.

In my post Sweet Caroline, I discussed how difficult it is to form an opinion of Caroline. It comes as no surprise to me that her daughter also struggled. On the one hand, Caroline was a slice of fun punctuating the dreary monotony of Charlotte’s school room life. It must have been blissful to be swept away from the dull aunts at Windsor to Blackheath’s riotous parties. Charlotte was soon telling her governess she didn’t mind showing her legs when she got into the carriage – she had nice legs, after all. This is pure Caroline talking; a sign that perhaps Charlotte looked up to her mother as a kind of role model, an outspoken woman amongst her more retiring aunts. But Charlotte was not solely Caroline’s daughter, and she began to doubt her mother was quite so wonderful as she first thought. The findings of the Delicate Investigation of 1806 shocked Charlotte to the core. She was enough of George’s daughter to disapprove strongly of her mother’s actions, and begin to question her motives.

Caroline had once helped Charlotte conduct a love affair with Captain Hesse, carrying correspondence for them. At this time, her mother probably seemed like a godsend, wanting her to find true love. It was only later that Charlotte began to wonder if her mother was trying to ruin her reputation, thus punishing George and the entire royal family. Her fears seemed justified when the time came to arrange her marriage. Charlotte asked her mother for advice about accepting the Prince of Orange, but Caroline refused to give any. She was far more concerned that Charlotte should cause a fuss about Caroline’s exclusion from the recent festivities at Carlton House. When, desperate to avoid the match, Charlotte fled her house and cast herself on Caroline’s protection, she was told to go back home! Soon after, Caroline quit the country and left Charlotte to cope with the fall out alone.

It was no easier to trust her father. Personally, I think that George did love his daughter and wanted to do the  best by her. But he had a remarkably short memory. As an heir to the throne who had chaffed under the strict education imposed on him, you would expect his rearing of Charlotte to be more liberal. Alas, he was so terrified of Caroline’s influence that he kept her on a tight rein. He made it very clear that Charlotte was to have “no will of her own”. I doubt anyone would like being told that, but for the spirited Charlotte it was doubly exasperating.  She began to see him as a jailor. Since he hated and banned visits to Caroline, they became a kind of illicit treat. Another rod George made for his own back was raising Charlotte with Whig values. As heir presumptive, he had subscribed to the party views, but the tables turned when he became Prince Regent. Not only were the Whigs infuriating him with their party squabbles but they were determined to end the war. For the sake of what he believed best for England, George was forced to break with his old party and stick with the Tories. This widened the gap between father and daughter; Charlotte burst into tears at dinner when he gave an anti-Whig speech.

We must remember that George hated Caroline with an almost inhuman frenzy. There were times when his daughter, as a reminder of that hated woman, was loathsome to him. It became far easier to spend time in Brighton with Mrs Fitzherbert and their adopted daughter, Minnie Seymour. Minnie was a winning child, dutiful and sweet – probably because she didnt have the Hanover genes in her. Once again, Charlotte was finding her place filled in a parent’s heart. She even began to suspect that George wanted her out of the country, married to a foreign Prince, so it would be easier to divorce her mother. In which case, he would probably marry again and produce an alternative heir to the throne. She stood to lose everything if she didn’t keep her father sweet – or, if she abandoned her mother. How was she supposed to do both?

Unsurprisingly, with all this pressure, Charlotte “played up”. She liked to be rough with her playmates, laugh loudly and swagger like an ostler boy. She delighted in a tom-boy image, yet never lost sight of the great situation to which she was born. When asked to close the door by her governess, she replied grandly, “Not I. If you want the door closed, ring the bell.” For a period of her childhood, she made herself as difficult as possible. Why not? Whatever she did, she was bound to displease one or other of her parents.

Charlotte did have true friends who cared for her, but she didn’t realise it. Her grandmother Queen Charlotte and the five of her daughters who remained in England were on her side. But as they all loved George, Charlotte suspected them of being nothing but his puppets. Moreover, they were all so boring to her youthful mind. She scarcely thought of confiding in them until much  later on in life. Meanwhile, her Aunt Royal frequently wrote from Wurttemberg with recommendations for Charlotte’s upbringing. If George had attended to them, Charlotte might have enjoyed a bit of an easier ride. The only one of the family Charlotte knew she could trust was her grandfather George III. They were devoted to each other. But the “madness” snatched him away from her so often, he was of very little use.

Charlotte did eventually find happiness with Prince Leopold, who she married. She calmed down from this point and truly seemed able to be herself. Her relationship with her father and aunts improved, and she wrote fondly to her mother on the Continent. It seemed she had at last reconciled some of the turmoil within. Yet when she was on the point of completing her own joy by adding a child to the family, and delighting the nation by giving birth to a Prince, Charlotte tragically died.

It seems so unfair that she was only able to enjoy a brief snatch of happiness. But from a literary point of view, it has the perfect symbolism. The rotten marriage of her parents tainted her luck throughout life. The only good thing to come of the union, like the marriage itself, broke down at an early age. Poor Charlotte. I often wonder what would have happened if she and her son had lived, thereby erasing the Victorian era. We will never know, but I certainly hope that she has found the peace she was seeking all that time, beneath this beautiful monument with her son and grandmother.

 

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