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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.