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Benjamin Franklin House

benjamin-franklin-house1A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to take an architectural tour around the Benjamin Franklin House in Craven Street. A delicious little Georgian townhouse hidden off the Strand, it is full of wonderful period features.

I have to admit, I knew very little about Franklin before attending the tour. Obviously I knew about his experiment with lightning and his involvement with the Declaration of Independence, but that was about the sum of my knowledge. The visit really piqued my interest; Franklin was a man at the center of diplomacy who lived through an astonishing time. Part spy, part scientist, diplomat, inventor and philosopher, he was a fascinating man. Franklin lived in London for nearly sixteen years in his role as Postmaster for American, returning home in 1775 with the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Sadly, his Craven Street house is the last of his residences to survive.

I have visited many Grade II listed buildings, but Benjamin Franklin House tops the bill at Grade I – a place of exceptional interest to our heritage. The restoration project completed to bring the house up to its present condition was a huge undertaking. Fortunately for us, lots of love and devotion have rescued the place from dereliction and you can now see a genuine example of an everyday Georgian townhouse.

imagesI say ‘everyday’ – in fact, it seems 36 Craven Street was far from ordinary! Not only did you have Franklin lodging there with his experiments and important dinners, but there was an anatomy school running downstairs. A collection of bones found during conservation were on display, from where the school had practiced cutting up bodies – either obtained from the gallows or the resurrection men! I rather feel for the poor landlady, Margaret Stevenson, with such strange lodgers, but it seems she rather enjoyed her eccentric household.

One of my favourite parts of the tour was a chance to play Franklin’s famous glass armonica. You can get some seriously spooky sounds from this instrument, but also great music – Mozart and Beethoven both composed pieces for it. My musical skills were sadly lacking – still, I had fun!

glassHopefully I will be returning to Benjamin Franklin House later this year to take part in their Historical Experience. Through this attraction, the house is brought to life in its Georgian splendour. Actors read excerpts from Franklin’s writing and recreate every day scenes from the house. Using light projectors, the interior is returned to something like its original decoration, immersing you in the smells, sights and sounds of the era. I can’t wait!

You can find out more about Benjamin Franklin House here.

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Death by Cricket?

Frederick as Prince of WalesI was so sad to hear about the recent deaths of cricketer Philip Hughes and umpire Hillel Oscar in tragic mid-game accidents. With our modern safety equipment we no longer expect these awful occurrences. I guess that these days we think of cricket as rather gentle game compared to heavier contact sports. But back in 1751, the sport was blamed (falsely, in this instance) for another death –  one that changed the history of Britain.

Frederick, Prince of Wales, was the cricketer in question. As heir to the British throne, he did all he could to please his future subjects, but having spent the first 21 years of his life in Hanover, he started at a disadvantage. Nonetheless, he soon became the darling of the Londoners by flying in the face of his unpopular father’s rules. He took care to charm the ‘common folk’ by interacting with them  – whether he was walking in local parks or playing popular sports. When he became father to a large family, it was only natural that he spent more time playing games like tennis and cricket with his little ones.

However, all this joy and popularity was to be cut short when, at the age of just 44, Frederick died after a short illness. His death left his 12-year-old son, a minor, as heir to the throne. Considering that the present King was 68, an approaching Regency seemed all too likely. Amidst the rumours that swirled – one being that Frederick’s wife, Augusta, poisoned him to boost her own importance –  came the report that the cause of death was a burst abscess in the prince’s side. Supposedly, the abscess had been broken by a blow received while playing cricket at Cliveden some years earlier. But if we look at the facts of Frederick’s death, this theory seems unlikely.

FrederickSince his birth, Frederick had suffered from indifferent health. As I mentioned in a previous post, he was considered a slow and sickly child. It was his reliance on restoratives such as ass’s milk that led to his mother concluding he would be an impotent man. It is possible he was never destined for a long life. In fact, in 1750, there were signs that he at least suspected his impending doom. He visited fortune tellers but would not reveal what they saw. When reproached for working too hard in his garden at Kew, he replied that he wanted to finish the work as soon as possible, for he was persuaded he would not live long. Most importantly, he wrote out instructions to his eldest son George ‘for his good, that of my family and for that of his people’. This letter, which I have seen with my own eyes (eeek!) was essentially advice on how to be a good king and seems to assume that Frederick would never inherit. One quote is all too poignant, given the circumstances:

Retrieve the glory of the throne. I shall have no regret never to have won the crown, if you but fill it worthily.

No wonder the future George III was to feel continually under pressure! But in spite of, or perhaps because of, these bleak forebodings, Frederick took very little care of his health. His adviser, Bubb Doddington, records in his diary ‘Went to Leicester House where the Prince told me he had catched cold the day before at Kew.’ Rather than nursing his ailment – a course of action that would have been wise considering he had suffered from pleurisy before – Frederick continued life at a hectic pace. He spent a busy day in the House of Lords sweltering under state robes. Ironically, he went there to assess his father’s state of health, for their were rumours the King was on his way out. After this, he changed into thin clothing and worked in his gardens at Kew in a brisk March wind. Then, tired out, he came home and fell asleep for three hours on the couch. The rest would have done him good, except that he left the window open onto the bitter air. (For all readers not resident in the British Isles, it can get very cold here in March. We’ve had snow.)

Unsurprisingly, Frederick’s cold grew much worse and he was confided to bed. There he endured the ever unhelpful eighteenth-century treatments of being bled and blistered. At this time Augusta was about 5 months pregnant with her last child but refused to leave her husband’s side. Moreover, she would not let many people come near him. Of course these actions would fuel the later rumours about poison, but when questioned Augusta revealed that she had an inkling the end was near – Frederick had confided in her about his suspected short life span. Indeed, Frederick’s symptoms must have been prolonged and disturbing, for the King actually sent to inquire after his health. Father and son had long been at daggers drawn. Frederick was so touched by this olive branch that he burst into tears.

Young George
Young George

After a while, things seemed to be improving. Frederick slept for a solid eight hours and was well enough to desire a little entertainment. For his amusement, the children’s French dancing master Desnoyers took up station in a nearby room and played softly on his fiddle. The family themselves were playing at cards, and in this happy state of affairs the doctors prepared to leave. But just as they were going, Frederick was seized by a coughing fit. He was not able to stop. Dashing to his side,  one doctor became alarmed and said ‘Here is something I do not like.’ Frederick clutched his stomach, gasped ‘I feel death,’ and expired.

Much as I like the idea of British history being altered by a ‘cricket ball of doom’, I think it is more likely that Frederick’s abscess burst naturally or through violent coughing. Furthermore, it seems clear there were underlying health problems, particularly pleurisy and lung complaints, that would have caused mischief without cricket balls. Frederick’s descendants were to suffer from tubercular and scrofulous illnesses, and these conditions were blamed for the deaths of his grandsons Octavius and Alfred, and his granddaughter Amelia.

Sad as this taint in the blood would turn out, the immediate aftermath of Frederick’s death was even more tragic. Clearly, his young family were devastated, with little 12 year-old George likening the sensation in his chest to the one he felt watching construction workers falling from the scaffold at Kew. The King received the news somewhat more calmly. He was playing cards with his mistress when the fatal note was passed to him. He exclaimed, ‘Why, they told me he was better!’ before explaining simply to his mistress, ‘Fritz is dead.’ While it is terrible for a father to have such a lack of emotion over own his son, it’s somewhat pleasing to know that the King, who had long despised Frederick, did not have the hypocrisy to put on displays of grief. He was, however, genuinely sorry for the little fatherless family and shed tears when he saw them, telling them they must be ‘brave boys’.

Despite this, the King still managed to bungle Frederick’s funeral. It wasn’t for lack of money – the expense was only £500 less than the King’s own funeral would cost 9 years later. But invitations were sent out only eight hours before the ceremony, with the result that no English lord or bishop was able to attend. In the pouring rain, poor Fred, the king that never was, was laid to rest without even a family member to see him off (it was not customary for women or children to attend funerals). While court mourning was prescribed, there was one glaring omission: coloured ribbon was allowed. This was practically unheard of in the past and I cannot imagine how hurt Augusta would have been. Whatever she felt, she was wise enough to disguise it – she had to stay on good terms with the King to survive. It seems this crotchety old King spoke truly when he later said, ‘I lost my eldest son, but I was glad of it.’

The widow Augusta
The widow Augusta

 

 

The First Georgians

Caroline

Last Wednesday, I made my way through the push of children enjoying their Easter holidays and a hive of tourists to the Queen’s Gallery at to Buckingham Palace. The gallery hosts a wealth of exhibitions – I remember particularly enjoying one about Victoria and Albert  – but this year its subject is The First Georgians. Huzza! The exhibition celebrates the House of Hanover’s accession to the English throne 300 years ago in 1714 and runs up until 12 October 2014. I would encourage any Georgian junkie to go and see the beautiful art and historic documents on display.

‘The First Georgians’ in this context are the early Hanoverian monarchs George I, George II and his wife Queen Caroline, and Frederick Prince of Wales. Although Frederick didn’t live to become King I am glad he got a mention, because he certainly deserves one as a connoisseur of art and literature. His tastes were to inspire his son George III, and in turn his grandson George IV, both of them avid collectors.One of the most poignant documents on display is a letter from Frederick to George III, advising him how to be a good King. He writes in a bold, clear hand – isn’t it wonderful when historic letters are actually legible?  It is as if Frederick knew he would not wear the crown himself and left these instructions to live after him. In fact, several sources I have come across mention Frederick’s premonitions of a short life.

Frederick

The first things you encounter when entering the exhibition are busts of Caroline and George II. I was ridiculously excited to see 3D representations of my royal ‘friends’, they really give you a feel for the features and you can imagine having a conversation with them. With so many paintings, our images of kings and queens tend to become cartoonish and two dimensional, but these busts help you to see the real people. Many of the busts on display were commissioned by Caroline herself to decorate ‘Merlin’s Cave’, a quaint thatched cottage she constructed at Kensington Palace. You entered the cave through a maze of clipped hedges to find wax works, allegorical figures, books and all manner of curiosities.

Caroline contributes further to the exhibition with her private collections. She greatly admired Queen Elizabeth I and owned many cameos of the Tudor monarchs. We also have to thank Caroline for rediscovering some of the most iconic images of the Tudor period – the sketches of Hans Holbein. It was while rummaging in Mary II’s bureau at Kensington that Caroline discovered Holbein’s work, along with drawings by Da Vinci. Caroline’s other pieces are charming miniatures of her children and acquaintance.

Speaking of Caroline’s children, there are also some document from the most infamous, William Duke of Cumberland. I think there is more to William than his title of Butcher of Culloden, but I will discuss this in another post. You get to see battle plans drawn in William’s own hand, guns of the period and many documents relating to the attempted Jacobite invasions of 1715 and 1745. I found a letter from James Stuart, ‘The Old Pretender’ to his son ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ particularly touching. Much as I love the Hanoverians, I do feel bad for the Stuarts. I think they had the legitimate claim to the throne. However, my mum has been well trained and is firmly in the Hanover camp. She viewed a Jacobite handbill with a portrait of James, turned up her nose and said she didn’t like the look of him!

George I and George II have the reputation of Goths and Vandals, unable to appreciate art and literature. George II famously stated he hated ‘boets and bainters’. But in The First Georgians exhibition, you can see they were not completely adverse to the visual arts. George I in particular had great architectural plans, transforming Kensington Palace and improving the King’s rooms at Hampton Court. In later years, George II was to continue work and build a whole new suite of apartments in Hampton Court for his beloved son William.

George II

As someone interested in the day to day life of the royal family, I was fascinated with pieces such as the footstools placed in Caroline’s withdrawing room and George I’s dining chairs. There was also an exquisite gold dining set belonging to Frederick, decorated with mermen, shells and all manner of nautical motifs. I didn’t know before attending the exhibition that Frederick was a big fan of shellfish, particularly oysters. I will certainly be including this in my novel about his wife!

Again, many of my favourite paintings related to the royals. It was moving to see portraits of George III’s sisters Elizabeth and Louisa, who both died young. They tend to be forgotten in the mists of history and it was good to see them back in their rightful place. However, the paintings on display are by no means limited to royal people. You can see Hogarth’s original prints, paintings by Rubens and many other legendary artists. My favourite was the main image used for the exhibition, a playful portrait of Garrick and his wife.

Princess Elizabeth Caroline

When booking my ticket, I opted to visit the Royal Mews as well. I’m always a sucker for carriages. I particularly wanted to see George III’s state coach, now the traditional coronation coach. It didn’t disappoint! However, before you dream about riding in it, you might like to know it’s very uncomfortable! William IV, ‘the sailor king’, who would certainly know, likened his ride in it to being tossed in a tempest on the sea.

George III coach

To find out more about The First Georgians and plan your visit, click on this link to The Royal Collection website.

 

Hanoverian Mothers Part 4 – Augusta and George III

Augusta and her brood

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

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

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

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

Young Augusta

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

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

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

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

younggeorge

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

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

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

The_Family_of_Frederick,_Prince_of_Wales

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

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

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

John_Stuart__Earl_of_Bute

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

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

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

Augusta in later life

A Fragrant Court

HogarthWanstead

When historical novelists try to the capture the past for readers, they have to skilfully manipulate the senses. Dress looked different, speech sounded different, food tasted different. But I think the change we’d notice most, coming from the 21st century, would be the smell.

Let’s face it: our characters were stinky. For the most part, their fellows wouldn’t notice it, being in an equal state of uncleanliness. Who knows, perhaps they would think a freshly bathed person smelt strange, since they weren’t used to it. In general, it was only the hands, face and sometimes the feet and personal areas that were washed everyday. Full immersion in water was rare, as was laundering the heavy, expensive materials that made up court dress. For the most part, they would have been packed away with herbs in hopes of keeping both smells and parasites away. I’m in a unique position at the moment, writing about Caroline of Ansbach, who was a frequent bather. Some contemporaries found her washing excessive and blamed her of putting her health at risk. As someone so careful of her own hygiene, she must have been particularly sensitive to smells. It therefore beholds me, when I’m writing from her point of view, to understand the olfactory world in which she lived.

rose

I recently attended a workshop at Historic Royal Palaces called Fragrances of the Georgian Court, lead by Tanya Moulding. Tanya fully earned her title of “The Perfume Mistress”, opening our nostrils to a whole new world. I get the feeling some of my classmates didn’t enjoy sampling the unpleasant side of the court smells quite as much as I did – of course, they were repugnant, but I need to write about them, so I was sniffing to my heart’s content. I always prefer it in historical fiction when heroes are ascribed realistic scents, such as horses, sweat and leather than fresh lye soap and cologne. Yes, gentlemen of the court, particularly in the Regency period, may have used heavy feminine scents – but we have to remember this was screening something muskier and altogether less sweet beneath.

In particular, London was little better than an open sewer. With everything from human waste to rotting animal carcasses in the kennel, there was also the heaving, poisonous Thames. Although it hadn’t yet reached the proportions that would lead to “The Great Stink” in Victorian times, the odours that the river carried with it would have been sharp and pungent. Think rotting fish and plant matter and you’ll start to get an idea. To help recreate these smells for us, Tanya made concoctions featuring the stale, acidic scents of civet and castoreum . Both these come from the anal glands of animals – cats and beavers respectively – and were certainly stinky. What is surprising, however, is that these aromas were sometimes used as base notes in fragrances of the time – apparently, some people relished the warm musky quality at the heart of these animal scents.

Victorian cartoon showing the stinky Thames

So, how to mask all this unpleasantness without a can of  modern-day Febreeze? Well, firstly there was the Royal Herb Strewer. Although the role became more ceremonial as the Georgian age progressed, this busy figure would have been wafting her way around the court, trying her best to sweeten the air. The herbs she would lay amongst rushes and sometimes straw would depend, firstly, on the nature of the floor – no ruining expensive Turkey carpets! – and then the use of that room. For example, southernwood or wormwood was considered to be an aphrodisiac and may well have circled the royal bed.  To repel insects, chamomile, lavender, penny royal and rosemary would have come to the fore. Another lovely little gem was sweetflag – it smelt fatty and almost cinammony, with a seductive quality about it. So much for the rooms But what did the people use to hide their own bodily odour?

Orange blossom

Pomanders and scented gloves were dropping out of fashion, but everything from the pomade to the face powder of the Georgian toilette would have carried a scent. Men might favour spicier aromas such as clove, cinnamon and nutmeg, while women went for header notes of orange and rose. At Tanya’s workshop, we were given some of the following scents to sample and use to make our own Georgian inspired perfume. I wrote down my thoughts and descriptive words as I sniffed – you may well find these descriptions in some of my books now! – but I thought I would share them with you.

Top Notes – mainly citrus and sweet

  • Orange – As you would expect, sweet and zesty
  • Grapefruit – Like orange, but juicier and less overpowering
  • Lime – Fresh and sharp
  • Bitter orange – This one smelt like Christmas. Think orange peel, a deeper smell with a decided tang
  • Bergamont – A green smell, more delicate in nature than the others

Middle Notes – Flowers, herbs and spices

  • Lavender – Always a favourite of mine, powdery and soothing.
  • Jasmine – Delicious and heady but sickly sweet
  • Rose Otto – I’ll go into more detail on this later, but Rose Otto is not the same as a simple rose scent. It is deeper, slightly less floral and has notes of honey and wax to it.
  • Orange blossom – This didn’t smell like I thought it would. I expected the zing of the original orange, but this was less zesty and more musky
  • Geranium – Surprisingly unlike the geraniums I sniff in my mum’s garden. Minty and peppery.
  • Rosemary – Lemony, a little peppery. It has a very strong undertone and screams “I am a herb!” Again, this oil smelt different from the fresh rosemary you would crush in your hands to get the scent of.
  • Violet leaf – A wet scent, putting me in mind of leaves after a downpour.
  • Black pepper – Smokey and chocolatey, this was another scent famed as an aphrodisiac.

Base notes – Woods and resins

  • Cedarwood – there were two varieties of the cedarwood, but the one I smelt reminded me of wax and leather. It had a watered-down sweetness to it.
  • Frankincense – Musky and spicy with the merest hint of lemon. A smell that goes deep down into your nostrils.
  • Benzoin – I loved this one! It smelt like caramel and alcohol, reminding me of liquers
  • Vanilla – Creamy and smooth as always
  • As described above, civet and castoreum were also an option, but they just reminded me too much of a kitty-litter tray.

For my own Georgian perfume, I wanted to get sweet scents throughout, nothing too floral. I find overly flowery perfumes don’t sit well on my skin – I’m better with vanillas and honeys. Tanya was on hand for advice throughout, and I started off with the following blend of my favourites:

Bergamont – 1 drop

Orange blossom – 4 drops

Lavender – 1 drop

Benzoin – 1 drop

Distilled in this way, the lavender wasn’t over-powering. While I like the smell, it has a tendency to sweep all others aside and that wasn’t what I wanted. Pleased with the results, I repeated the recipe to make it stronger. I still liked it, but wanted to add a touch more sweetness. Tanya recommended some mandarin. I added a drop of this and it worked, but something was still missing. There was a slight kick I needed that I couldn’t describe. I found myself sniffing the rose otto again and again. It’s another strong scent that claims its own ground and I was apprehensive of using it, lest I drown out all my hard work. Finally biting the bullet, I added just one drop. As I expected, it was a little too strong. By now my nose was accustomed to what would balance things out, and I added three drops of vanilla and another of mandarin and stirred . . . It was perfect! I had my own Georgian perfume, a mixture of seven very different scents that somehow combined together into something sweet, tangy and lightly floral all at once. For full Georgian effect, I will be wearing my new perfume when I appear dressed as a Georgian at the Festival of Romance in November. I’m  hoping it will complement my orange blossom pomade and lavender hair powder – you’ll certainly smell me from a long way off!

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Several members of the class had dizzy spells and needed to seek some air. In between sniffing, we were offered pots of freshly ground coffee to refresh the nostrils. I found myself thinking how overpowering it must have been to spend a day in the Georgian court. Not only would you have the nauseous smells turning your stomach, you would have all this fragrance fizzing in your brain, trying to mask it but probably just blending with it. It made me wonder how people managed to breathe! The only modern comparison I can think of is being on the tube in summer in rush hour, with a group of people who forgot their deodorant, and letting a big bottle of Chanel Number 5 smash on the floor and puddle around your feet. Feeling faint? I know I am.

Caroline's bathroom

I promised you a little bit more about rose otto. I think the reason I was drawn to it was that it reminded me of the scent in Queen Caroline’s bathroom at Hampton Court.  The best post I can refer you to about the Georgian rooms at Hampton Court is by the wonderful Brimstone Butterfly who has sadly passed away but continues to inspire me with her blog. I had always assumed the rose smell in Queen Caroline’s bathroom was added on purpose, but as you will read in the blog post, it seems to be something of a phenomenon that not all people can smell. Rosewater that seeped into the porous walls? Who knows? The funny thing is, the scent seems to travel. For me it is there on some days, not on others. On one trip to Hampton Court I could smell it the whole way through Queen Caroline’s private apartments, another only in the bathroom. The more superstitious suggest it is the dead queen’s lingering spirit. I can’t say I fully subscribe to this theory, but I can tell you of one rather odd thing that happened to me. I was visiting on a weekday and the apartments were practically deserted except for a few staff. I walked up and down again and again, taking notes and familiarising myself with the rooms and their order for my novel. No rose scent that day. I must have been there for the best part of an hour. Just as I walked up to the bedroom to make my final round, I said, rather sadly to myself, since there was no one nearby to think me a weirdo, “Oh, so you’re not with me today, then, Caroline?” Almost at once the smell of rose otto enveloped me, stronger than I had ever smelt it before. I wasn’t scared at all, but smiled. As I completed my last walk up and down the apartments, the scent lingered protectively around me and followed me all the way down to Fountain Court. Very strange, but I swear to you, entirely true. For this reason, rose otto will always be special to me.

Caroline : a sweet smelling companion

What’s new at Kew

Kew

You might have guessed from the header of my blog that Kew is my favourite palace. It might not be the biggest or the fanciest (the big fancy stuff was knocked down by George IV) but it has the best atmosphere. It’s strange because, given the history, the remaining palace shouldn’t have the feel of gentle contentment that it carries. It oversaw some strict training regimes for young princes, the illness of George III and the tearful death of Queen Charlotte. Yet even in the very room Charlotte passed away, all I feel is peace. It is fitting, then, that this year’s displays show the young family at their most happy and intimate.

If you watched BBC’s Fit to Rule series, you may have caught a glimpse of the lovely baby items recently acquired by Historic Royal Palaces. With a royal infant just arrived, these are particularly apt! The many, many tokens of George III and Charlotte’s fifteen offspring were often passed to the nurses – keepsakes, if you will, of their foster children. It is touching to report that the items just purchased at auction have remained in the nurse’s family for years, passed down from generation to generation. Having said that, I’m glad they finally sold so I could see the wonderful little relics!

Palace gardens

The first thing to catch my attention was the bonnet of the baby Prince Edward – Queen Victoria’s father. This is truly exquisite, so tiny and delicately made. It’s hard to comprehend the soft-skulled infant whose miniscule head fitted inside that grew up to acquire a reputation for harshness amounting to cruelty among the troops he managed! Alongside the bonnet is a case containing some of the hair that once was tucked under it, along with hair from other members of the family. There’s something about seeing locks of hair from long dead people that gives me the shivers, in a good way. You read about them, you see portraits and you imagine them but then you suddenly have an actual part of them before your eyes. I try to imagine how it curled round an ear, or bounced delicately about their shoulders.  Similarly, I was fascinated by a pair mittens belonging to the young Princess Royal. Having spent so long with Royal in research and writing, it was breathtaking to have something tangible of hers that she wore there in front of me. There were also sweet leather gloves belonging to the future William IV – those chubby, childish hands were to see action in the navy before finally holding a scepter. But perhaps the most poignant item was the measuring tape with the little princes’ heights marked on it as they grew. Such treasures really highlight that these royals were, after all, a human family, who relished seeing their little ones grow like any other parents. The curator of Kew, Polly Putnam, informed the group of us that came in for tea and a tour after hours that the previous owner of the measuring tape had it tacked up beside one for her own children and compared their growth to that of the Georgian princes. What a wonderful thought!

Day to day family occupations

There are, of course, sad connections with some of the items. A beautiful silver sipping cup (imagine a modern-day Tommy-Tippy in silver with fine engraving) was made for the young royals, but may have also been used to feed George III when illness rendered him incapable. The delightful gold breakfast set, newly on display, was purchased as a get well present from the princesses to George. However, even in these more sombre items, you get a feel for the family life behind them. The golden breakfast set includes an ingenious little egg cooker, complete with timer, which would exactly appeal to George’s taste for gadgets and new inventions. You can see him fiddling with it and the family laughing as he tried to use it.

One of the things I love most about the Historic Royal Palaces is the way the walls whisper.  Some new “whispers” have been added to Kew, amongst them many dialogues between George III and his children. These were lovely to sit and listen to. I was pleased to hear they covered the “nursery revolt” staged by Princes George and Frederick in an attempt to oust their tutor – an important reminder that little Kew Palace – or the Dutch House, as it was then – was originally used as a schooling place for future monarchs. The whispers of Queen Charlotte and Elizabeth arguing over newspapers have disappeared from the Queen’s Boudoir, but who knows, they may return in future!

Another set of fabulous items on display consisted of jewellery either belonging to or commemorating the family. My favourite were a set of elaborate buttons, once belonging to George III and later made into a necklace, bracelet and earring set by Queen Adelaide. Two royal connections in one! Despite all the books I’ve read about George III, I never knew that he had a passion for button-making as a young man.  You never stop learning! The rest of the jewellery was gorgeous – so sparkly! I loved the brooch with a profile of Queen Charlotte picked out in diamonds. I came across more hair samples, too – this time in a bracelet belonging to Charlotte. She had a little see-through section for each link, housing locks from her, George and every one of their children. Charlotte often complained about being separated from her children and I like to think she wore this bracelet when she missed them.

The Drawing Room

Perhaps the most exciting new acquisition at Kew is a flamboyant red suit, probably belonging to the young King George. I say probably . . . Polly Putnam explained it was picked up from a costume collection that had always referred to it as “George III’s suit”. Polly has been researching tirelessly to see if the claim is accurate. It seems highly likely – the velvet is the finest possible for that era.  The suit is lined with silk, unlike its contemporaries, and has leather pockets. The height and measurements are a good fit with the young George and it is well known that he liked to wear red suits for his birthday. Although the colour has faded, the restoration team at Historic Royal Palaces have done a wonderful job with the material. You can picture the young King, dapper, slim and handsome, striding around the drawing-room at St. James’s Palace, hands folded behind his back, nodding and talking to his courtiers. Definitely worth going for a look! I was thrilled to hear Polly say she wants to focus on the young George and his father, Prince Frederick, next year. Frederick spent time at Kew Palace and was famously painted in front of it with his three eldest sisters. His engraving is also on some of the locks. “Poor Fred”, as he was dubbed by the Georgians, is a sadly neglected figure in history. It will be wonderful to bring the spotlight onto him, and no doubt it will provide me with further inspiration for my book about his wife, Augusta!

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Aside from the displays in the actual palace, I must mention the kitchens. Although they opened last year, I haven’t had the chance to get down to Kew and see them until now. It’s always wonderful to glimpse any remnant of the sprawling complex that was once The White House and its attendant buildings. The kitchens add another layer of intrigue, hidden away through a twisting path behind a little kitchen garden – a real taste of the “downstairs”, servant aspect of the palace. Historic Royal Palaces have kept the kitchens in line with palace – restoring some rooms, while leaving others relatively untouched to show the original architecture. It’s an effective combination.

The clerk's office

The kitchens are focused around a particular date – 6 February 1789 – when George III was sufficiently recovered to eat with a knife and fork once more. You can see the preparation rooms for the ingredients before progressing to the Great Kitchen, where projecting figures on the walls give you taste for the hustle and stress that was going on behind the scenes! Upstairs, you will find the clerk’s office complete with ledgers, keys and prices for all the food purchased. In fact, you will find out so much about the meal the family ate on 6 February 1789, that when you go back to the palace you may well recognise it . . . In a particularly nice touch, they have replicated the dishes and laid them on the table in the King’s Dining Room.

The meal of 6 February 1789

I must just mention one more thing about the kitchens – George III’s bath tub. He chose to take his baths near the Great Kitchen, rather in the comfort of his own palace, so the servants wouldn’t be put to the trouble of bringing the hot water too far. “Oh yes,” I found myself saying about this man I have never met, “that’s just like him”. Funny, how well you feel you get to know a person from studying their reign.

George's bath tub

Vauxhall Gardens – A Georgian Elysium

Today we are lucky enough to have a guest post by author Grace Elliot! Vauxhall Gardens has to be one of the most splendid destinations of the Georgian/Regency era and one we all wish we could go to. Let’s allow Grace to take us on a journey back in time . . .

Vauxhall Gardens

Vauxhall Gardens – that marvel of Georgian design and creativity, a place to enjoy art, dancing, music and theatre, where the Georgian man or woman could forget the drudgery of daily routine and pretend themselves in an earthly paradise. Such was Vauxhall’s attraction that the gardens were linked to two of the 18th centuries creative geniuses- the artist William Hogarth and composer George Frederick Handel.

The force behind the creation of Vauxhall Gardens was Jonathan Tyers, who started out as a simple tradesman from Bermondsey in London. Tyers realised that the ordinary people who lived and worked in the crowded, dirty, smelly city of London, would pay to escape that environment, if even for an evening, in order to visit an ‘Elysium’ or paradise on earth.

It was through Tyers foresight and idealism that the woods around a former tavern were transformed into a veritable cornucopia of verdant delight. [On a different note, it seems likely Tyers suffered from bipolar disorder. Accounts suggest he oscillated between a state of euphoric exhilaration when he drove forward his designs, and deep melancholy when he withdrew from the world, including his family.]

“That delicious sweetness of the place; the enchanting charms of music, and the satisfaction which appears in every one’s countenance, carried my soul almost to heaven.” Henry Fielding’s ‘Amelia’ (1752)

vauxgdn

Part of the genius of Tyers design was that he made the gardens appeal to the senses. Take as an example, sound. The average visitor to Vauxhall lived in a city of constant noise;  clattering hooves, grinding cart wheels, shouting street vendors, coal tipped into cellars – day and night there was noise and bustle. But at Vauxhall there was peace sufficient to hear the birds, specifically nightingales, singing.

Added to that there were pleasant sounds; an orchestra played in the middle of a grove.  Such was Vauxhall’s association with music that Handel composed new pieces to debut there. Later in the day, strolling singers serenaded the ladies – although after dark the songs became more daring and bawdy! In my latest release, Verity’s Lie, the heroine of the title has been told by her father that Vauxhall is a place of debauchery and best avoided. However, the hero, Lord Ryevale, is keen that Verity’s forms her own opinion:

They [Verity and Ryevale] moved on, subconsciously drawn to the sound of music.  Verity tried not to stare at the passers-by but it was difficult.  The gowns were so daring: transparent muslins and tissue-thin silks.  But Verity found she was no longer shocked, in fact, to see strangers laughing and smiling lifted her spirits.  Is this what her father sought to protect her from?  Did she have the same weakness for pleasure that her mother did? Suddenly, Verity needed to know.  She didn’t want to be protected, but to face the truth.  If Ryevale was her test, then so be it.

            Deep in thought, Verity drifted, letting Ryevale steer her along avenues, passing groves and grottos.  He seemed content to wander, assuming her lost in the wonders of the gardens.  The orchestra grew louder.  The chirp of violas and violins comfortingly familiar, and Verity rallied.  Surely there was a middle path where one could enjoy oneself but not be a slave to lust?  She lifted her chin, proud to be strolling on the arm of a handsome man and, for the first time, feeling the joy of being alive seeped into her consciousness.  Was this so very wrong?

            “This is the bandstand.”

            For the umpteenth time that evening, Verity caught her breath.  The bandstand put Verity in mind of a giant’s crown, rising out of a fairy tale grotto.  A tall, round building topped with spires where red, yellow and blue lanterns hung from the balconies, glittering like jewels.  The musicians played on the first floor, jolly in cockaded hats and red jackets, whilst below people danced amidst trees ringed by lamps.

            The swish of skirts and the thud of boots made Verity pause.

            “Would you like to dance?” Ryevale asked.

            She considered being held against his hard body, and suddenly the sounds of the gardens melted away, making her conscious only of her own breathing.  Dangerous.  Ryevale was far too dangerous to dance with.  Mustering a prim smile, she shook her head.  “No, thank you.”

            He hesitated, as if wanting to press her but changing his mind.  “Then, come.  I have something to show you.”

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Verity’s Lie

Charles Huntley, Lord Ryevale, infamous rogue…and government agent.

In unsettled times, with England at war with France, Ryevale is assigned to covertly protect a politician’s daughter, Miss Verity Verrinder. To keep Verity under his watchful eye, Ryevale plots a campaign of seduction that no woman can resist– except it seems, Miss Verrinder. In order to gain her trust Ryevale enters Verity’s world of charity meetings and bookshops…where the unexpected happens and he falls in love with his charge.

When Lord Ryevale turns his bone-melting charms on her, Verity questions his lordship’s motivation. But with her controlling father abroad, Verity wishes to explore London and reluctantly accepts Ryevale’s companionship. As the compelling attraction between them strengthens, Verity is shattered to learn her instincts are correct after all – and Ryevale is not what he seems. So if Lord Ryevale can lie, so can she… with disastrous consequences.

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About Grace

Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and author of historical romance by night. Grace lives near London and is passionate about history, romance and cats! She is housekeeping staff to five cats, two sons, one husband and a bearded dragon (not necessarily listed in order of importance). “Verity’s Lie” is Grace’s fourth novel.

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Hanoverian Mothers 3.2 – Caroline and Frederick in the later years

Frederick as Prince of Wales

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

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

King George II

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

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

Frederick with Anne, Caroline and Amelia

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

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

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

Anne Vane

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline in the last years of her life

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

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

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

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

Frederick's wife Augusta

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

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

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

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

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

Frederick

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

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

Royal Dining – Summer Banquet Hop

summer-banquet-hop

This is my contribution to the English Historical Fiction Authors’ Summer Banquet Blog hop. Keep reading until the end to visit other posts, or leave a comment to enter my giveaway! I’m offering three lucky winners a free Kindle copy of God Save the King. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. WINNERS WILL BE ANNOUNCED 10 JUNE 2013.

Good ladies and gentlemen, welcome! I hope you’ve brought your tickets. Come closer, fill up all the gaps. Press yourself against the rail, as much as your mantua will let you. There isn’t room for silly things like “personal space”. You’ll taste the breath, feel the sweat of the person next to you. What, you expected a chair? Outrageous! Just what kind of banquet did you have in mind? You should count yourself privileged to be here. Your blessed eyes will behold a spectacle: the royal family at dinner.

The idea royals dining in public came over from the Continent with Charles I. While the Stuart monarchs were happy to put on a show, their Hanoverian cousins proved somewhat less willing. George I submitted to it on a few occasions, mainly against his will, preferring to take supper privately with his mistress Melusine. George III was far too down-to-earth for such pomp and ceremony, although he found a compromise by parading his family up and down the terrace at Windsor Castle instead. As for George IV – well, he ate a lot. I don’t think I’d really want to stand and watch him gobble down his food, do you? And sadly, George IV didn’t have the foil of a dutiful family to sit at his side. If you imagine him sitting at table with his hated, frivolous wife and sulking daughter, you can see why he never dared to try it.

But George II was quite a different creature. He and his clever wife, Caroline, knew that the key to power lay in public opinion. They were tireless self-promoters and would do anything to raise their profile – or get one over on George I. This post is going to explore the fascinating ritual of dining in public at the court of the second George.

The spectacle usually took place on a Sunday, although the venue was varied: public dining rooms existed in Hampton Court, St. James’s and Kensington. The royal family would enter the room to a flourish of trumpets and sit, surrounded by officers of their household. The onlookers – admitted by ticket only – would be railed off, giving the whole thing a very zoo-like quality. In some accounts, benches are mentioned. I sincerely hope the spectators had somewhere to sit, but it may not have been the case in all the palaces. In Courtiers, Lucy Worsley recounts an incident where the press of people was so great that the rail broke, sending the public tumbling wig over heel. The good-humoured King and Queen laughed heartily. If the noise of chatter wasn’t enough to make them dizzy, the courtiers also had a band playing in their ear for the entire duration of the meal.  Added to the heat and the smell created by the crowds, there must have been a cacophony of noise.

A court mantua

Serving the many dishes was a stressful affair. Not only were the household officers putting on a show for the public, but they had to beware of offending the monarchs – or, just as hazardous, inadvertently snubbing a colleague.  Food had to be kept flowing and its path was fixed: through the chain of command, from the lowliest hands to the most important. Each member of the King or Queen’s household would perform their own role, from taking off the covers and carving to tasting for poison. The luckiest of the lucky got to serve the monarch themselves on bended knee. One only hopes the luckless retainers had something in their own stomachs before performing this task. You can just imagine their mouths watering and bellies rumbling as they served choice dish after choice dish.

What, exactly, would King George II and Queen Caroline eat? The list is endless. Stewed venison, sausages, potted pork, pheasant with prune sauce, smoked salmon, prawns, fried sweetbread, mutton loaf, chicken and mushrooms, gooseberry tart, turnips, carrots, parsnips, whipped syllabub, jelly, sweetmeats, pineapples, peaches and grapes – to name but a few! Vegetables were generally considered bad for the health, so it’s refreshing to see such a number on the royal table. After all, Queen Caroline was an advocate of science and enjoyed a healthy breakfast of fruit and cream. You may think, with all this food and elaborate serving, the Queen could manage to get a drink by herself. Not so. A page would hand a glass to her Woman of the Bedchamber, who then gave it to a Lady of the Bedchamber, who had the honour of presenting it to the Queen’s lips.

Frederick with Anne, Caroline and Amelia

So who would you see, at this royal table? If you were visiting court before her marriage in 1734, you might get a glimpse of Anne, Princess Royal. Her face was badly marked by small-pox, but she had a commanding and imperious air.  She was known to wish her brothers out of the way, so that she could inherit the crown of England herself. Her younger sister, Amelia, might also be there. The tomboy of the family, she carried the smell of the stables and probably a few dog hairs on her sumptuous mantua. Amelia was blonde, clever and catty – she loved to gossip and, to use a modern term “wind people up”. Lord Hervey said she was never happy without a back to lash. The third daughter, Caroline, was a dark-haired, shy girl. She took the role of peacemaker in the family, though she often had recourse to food as a comfort. She would probably be eating at a great rate, talking little. The younger sisters, Mary and Louisa, were in all likelihood a little too young for public dining.

On rare occasions, you would see Prince Frederick of Wales and his bride Augusta at table. The atmosphere with them around would be tense, as Frederick didn’t get along with his family. You also needed to watch out for his practical jokes – he once tried to make his sisters sit on stools while he and his wife got armchairs. He then tried to insist that his sisters were not served on bended knee. The fiery trio of girls were having none of it: they got their chairs back, and simpering service, though they missed out on coffee.

Another brother, the Duke of Cumberland, might have been present when he was a little older. He was the darling and the pet of the family, a precocious child. However, he would grow up to be an obese soldier who suffered from strokes. By 1745, he would also have the black stain of the battle of Culloden next to his name, tarring him as “the Butcher”.

Then we move on to the King and Queen themselves. George II was short but dapper with bulging blue eyes. If he was not in one of his famous tempers, he would enjoy the meal. I only worry about his long periwig – it must have been difficult to keep it out of the various sauces. His wife, Caroline, would make no such blunders. She acted as the perfect Queenl chatting amiably, only “stuffing” herself if chocolate was on the menu. Described by Lucy Worsley as “fat, funny and adorable”, Caroline charmed many of her courtiers. A visitor at court might admire her famous large bosom, her long blonde hair and magnificent dresses. But I would ask you to spare a thought for the woman standing behind her, serving the meal: the sylph-like Henrietta Howard, the King’s mistress. Unhappy with her royal lover and the Queen’s jealousy, Henrietta exuded an air of gentle melancholy. Her large, soft eyes would fix on you and say: “Get me out of here. This fine banquet is not all it seems.”

King George II

If you enjoyed my summer banquet, follow the hop through history! Below are links to all the contributors. Please do visit:

  1. Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
  2. Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
  3. Anna Belfrage
  4. Debra Brown
  5.  Lauren Gilbert
  6. Gillian Bagwell
  7. Julie K. Rose
  8. Donna Russo Morin
  9. Regina Jeffers
  10. Shauna Roberts
  11. Tinney S. Heath
  12. Grace Elliot
  13. Diane Scott Lewis
  14. Ginger Myrick
  15. Helen Hollick
  16. Heather Domin
  17. Margaret Skea
  18. Yves Fey
  19. JL Oakley
  20. Shannon Winslow
  21. Evangeline Holland
  22. Cora Lee
  23. P. O. Dixon
  24. E.M. Powell
  25. Sharon Lathan
  26. Sally Smith O’Rourke
  27. Allison Bruning
  28. Violet Bedford
  29. Sue Millard
  30. Kim Rendfeld

Hanoverian Mothers – Part 2

Charlotte, Princess of Wales

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

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

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

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

Caroline and Charlotte

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline and Charlotte by Lawrence

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

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

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

Charlotte

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

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

 

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