The Hanoverian dynasty boasts two Queen Carolines, both remarkable in their own way. Trust me when I say you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of either of them. The second Queen Caroline, estranged wife of George IV, would probably spread vicious rumours about you then burn your effigy in the form of a wax doll. But this blog post concerns the first Queen Caroline, consort to George II. She was more to be feared, due to her superior intelligence and endless patience. Like a hunting cat, she knew how long to lie in wait, and when to pounce.
Despite her overall good-nature, revenge was Caroline’s specialty. She punished her father-in-law, George I, for stealing her children by making a lively court and winning the hearts of his subjects away from him. She managed to have Lord Chesterfield, who mocked her in private, banished to the Hague on an ambassadorial mission by telling her husband he was having an affair with his mistress. When Caroline’s daughter Anne became so haughty that she kept a servant reading by her bed until the unfortunate woman fell asleep on her feet, Caroline gave Anne a taste of her own medicine. Caroline made Anne read by her own bed until the girl wept to sit down.
In my work in progress, Mistress of the Court, Henrietta Howard finds out just how cold Caroline’s shoulder is. As both a Woman of the Bedchamber and mistress to Caroline’s husband, Henrietta was a woman the queen wanted to keep firmly in her place. When Henrietta started to get above herself, Caroline insisted that she kneel to her in the morning to present a basin of washing water. It is testament to how devastating Caroline’s manner could be that the famously cool and controlled Henrietta lost her temper on this occasion, refusing to kneel. But Caroline, ever poised, laughed at her and treated her like a child. Predictably, the queen got her way in the end.
Indeed, Caroline had much practice at keeping her cool. Her King was a fiery man, stubborn in his opinions and wary of being influenced. Lord Hervey records how many times the King shouted at Caroline and put her down in public. Yet Caroline “could work him by degrees to any point where she had a mind to drive him…with great caution; for he was never to be led but by invisible reins”. She had a knack of agreeing with the King’s opinions at first, then “made him imagine any change she wrought in them to be an afterthought of his own”. A skill all us wives must envy! However, Hervey acknowledged all this required “a superiority of understanding, thorough knowledge of his temper and much patience of her own”.
As a sensible queen, Caroline knew when to let go of a grudge.She famously supported Sir Robert Walpole as First Minister, despite the fact he’d betrayed her in the past and called her “a fat bitch”. Hervey records that Caroline believed “wise princes always made their resentment yield to their prudence, and their passion to their interest; and that enmity as well as friendship in royal breasts should always give way to policy”.
The incident I particularly wanted to share was Lord Stair’s remonstrance to Queen Caroline on the Excise Bill. The Bill, proposed by Sir Robert Walpole, caused great unrest. Initially intended to put an end to wholesale smuggling and lower the land tax by converting customs on tobacco and wine into excises, the Excise Bill soon became a byword for tyranny. Gossip and general ignorance made people fearful Excise officers would burst into their houses and loot. Lord Stair begged an interview with Caroline to inform her of the public view.
Now, I’ve read many accounts of lords speaking to Caroline, begging favours and remonstrating with policy. But reading Lord Stair’s words made my mouth hang open. He was so disrespectful and warm I expected Caroline to finally lose her temper. Knowing her pride and her character, all I could think as I read was, “Why would you say that to her?” and “Oh God, what is she going to do to him?” Here are some of Lord Stair’s most inflammatory sentences.
Your Majesty knows nothing of this man [Walpole] but what he tells you himself…His power being thus universally dreaded, and his measures universally disliked, and your Majesty being thought his protectress; give me leave to say, Madam, the odium incurred by his oppressions and injustice is not entirely confined to his own person. If your Majesty thinks the English so degenerated, and the minds of the people so enslaved, as to receive chains without struggling against those who endeavour to fasten them…you are right to persevere in the maintenance of this project. That [Walpole] governs your Majesty nobody doubts, and very few scruple to say. No greater proof can be given of the infinite sway this man has usurped over you, Madam…for what cannot that man persuade you to, who can make you, Madam, love a Campbell [Lord Isla and his brother the Duke of Argyle]?
Caroline’s response was superb. She stopped him at one point to remind him he was talking to the King’s wife, and when Lord Stair dwelt upon his conscience she laughed and said “Ah, my lord, do not speak to me of conscience, you make me faint!” She then responded with:
Surely, my lord, you think you are either talking to a child or one that doats… You have made so very free with me personally in this conference, my lord, that I hope you will think I am entitled to speak my mind with very little reserve to you… I am no more to be imposed upon by your professions than I am to be terrified by your threats.
Caroline then demolished both his arguments and the reasons he had given for them, delivering a thrust to Lord Stair’s honour by turning his accusation of betraying the country back on him.
Remember the Peerage Bill, my lord. Who then betrayed the interest of their constituents?The English Lords in passing that Bill were only guilty of tyranny, but every Scotch Lord was guilty of the last treachery; and whether you were one of the sixteen traitors, your own memory, I believe, will serve to tell you without the assistance of mine.
Caroline then laid waste to Lord Stair’s pretensions of political intelligence by stating he got his system of politics from the newspaper The Craftsman and his sentiments from Lord Bolingbroke and Lord Carteret “two worthless men…the greatest liars and knaves in any country”. The queen finished her devastating response with word of advice:
If you are a friend to the King, detach yourself from his enemies; if you are a friend to truth, take your intelligence for the future from those who deal in it; if you are a friend to honest, do not heard with those who disclaim it.
I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly want Queen Caroline on my side in an argument!