Crowds pack the street, waving flags and singing. People are so eager for a view of the procession that they hang out of windows, scramble onto rooftops. Every mouth, every banner proclaims ‘God Save the Queen’. Is it the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II? No; it is a far more infamous occasion: the trial of Queen Caroline for adultery.
To punish his estranged wife for returning to England and stealing the thunder of his ascension, George IV subjected her to the ultimate shame. Unfortunately for him, Caroline soon became a focus point for the common people and radicals to rally around. So why did the people of England love Caroline? She suspected their support had more to do with politics than the plight of an injured woman. But it cannot be denied that many people were caught by her frank, easy manners and found her a breath of fresh air compared to the stuffy monarchy they were used to. These are the same reasons I still find Caroline appealing in the 21st century. She was a determined woman who wasn’t afraid to be herself. Her sense of mischief makes her a joy to write. Yet I have to admit, if I was George, or even a lady in high society at the time, I would find her company less appealing.
For a start, she smelt. Several people testify that she hated to wash and seldom changed her underclothes. We also have a few anecdotes of her sitting on the floor eating raw onions, so I doubt her breath was enchanting. Her wit was coarse, she liked to flirt and she loved to shock. She would lie to people just for effect – even big lies, like telling her parents she was pregnant. I can’t say I’d want her as a friend. George, used to society darlings, certainly didn’t want her as his wife. Perhaps if he had tried more with her early on she would have improved, but I have my doubts. When Lord Malmesbury informed her of the virtues she would need as Queen of England, she pretty much argued them down.
Although the upper crust, who depended on the King for their patronage, shunned her when she returned to fight her cause, she found friends among the commoners. She played the part of a wronged heroine superbly, rallying the crowds to her side. But perhaps their enthusiasm had more to do with the eloquence of her radical supporters, using the case to further their own means, than her innate charms. It was also a case of the underdog against the establishment – we English are never able to resist that. And, perhaps most importantly, it was a cry against George, his ministers and their despised articles and taxes. Caroline was just the figurehead.
Bizarrely, the public who had shown so much support at the trial, turned against Caroline when she tried to storm George’s coronation. Her popularity only returned with her death. The sentiments of the nation towards this exceptional woman were confused – and so are my own. She was admirable – but was she likeable?
I can’t wait to get stuck into writing A Forbidden Crown and seeing what you guys think of her!