Caroline of Ansbach

Caroline’s Secret

Circa 1730, Portrait of Caroline of Ansbach (1683 - 1737). Queen of George II of England and Ireland, gathered distinguished circle including, Pope, Gay, and Chesterfield, kept Sir Robert Walpole in power, acted as regent during king's absences. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Circa 1730, Portrait of Caroline of Ansbach (1683 – 1737). Queen of George II of England and Ireland, gathered distinguished circle including, Pope, Gay, and Chesterfield, kept Sir Robert Walpole in power, acted as regent during king’s absences. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Writing about real-life historical figures is difficult. Because if there’s one thing readers expect from a ‘character’, it’s consistency. Unfortunately, in the realm of the real world, things don’t always work like that. I’m sure we’ve all had an experience of a friend or colleague acting ‘out of character’. Real people are often contradictory – and this makes it extremely hard to craft them into a novel!

Beta-readers, critique partners and editors have often pulled me up on the ‘real-life’ elements of my novel. Actual quotes from correspondence have been marked as ‘sounding out of period’, so I have been obliged to change the ‘character’s’ own words. More recently, a reader was surprised by George II’s reaction to the news that he had become king. They didn’t think anyone would respond the way he did. I agree that George’s shout of, ‘That is one big lie!’ was an unusual response, but what can I do? More than one primary source quotes him – it just happened like that.

Similarly confusing is an episode involving George’s wife, Caroline. Caroline was a well-educated and intelligent woman with an inquisitive mind. She was interested in science and entertained ‘natural philosophers’ such as Isaac Newton to hear their ideas. Along with Lady Wortley Montagu, Caroline is credited with introducing the smallpox inoculation to Britain (this was different from Jenner’s later, safer vaccination).

Alongside her ideas of progress, Caroline had an earthy sense of humour. She was not ashamed to speak of sex or bodily functions. Nothing suggests she was ever squeamish. You would think that a Queen such as Caroline would be the first to turn to science in the case of her own illness. But in fact, when Caroline found an umbilical hernia after the birth of her last child, Louisa, she did . . . nothing.

Why exactly did Caroline not only ignore, but attempt to conceal, her illness? Lord Hervey states that she had ‘strong apprehensions of making her person distasteful to the king’. It is true that she exerted great sexual power of her husband. Moreover, George II was a man who showed impatience when others were ill. But I do not think we can blame him for this piece of folly on Caroline’s part. As we can see from George’s confession to Hervey, shortly before Caroline’s death from the hernia, he had actually been concerned and supportive.

The first symptoms I ever perceived of it were fourteen years ago, just after the Queen lay in of Louisa and she then told me . . that it was nothing more than what was common for almost every woman to have after a hard labour. . . it grew better and continued better afterwards for several years. When it grew worse again, I persuaded her to consult some surgeon, which she declined and was so uneasy . . . that I knew not how to press her . .. I again spoke to her, told her it was certainly a rupture and that she ran great risks in taking no care of it. . . [She] spoke so much more peevishly to me on this occasion than she had ever done in her life . . . every time I mentioned it, more and more hurt and angry

It is here I begin to suspect that Caroline, usual so astute, misjudged both the situation and her husband. While George was only concerned by the rupture she perceived that he was disgusted:

The Queen had received what he had said to her on the subject, upon his return from Hanover, as if she had reproached him with being grown wear of her person, and endeavouring to find blemishes in it that did not belong to her.

In short, her own fears preyed upon her mind, and she started to hear things the King was not actually saying. You cannot help but pity Caroline. To think that her devoted husband of many years would fail to love her because of an illness shows a touching vulnerability. Most of her life she had been commanding and assured. She used to be so confident in George’s love that she turned a blind eye to any mistresses he took. As one of the closest courtiers of her last years, Lord Hervey was also puzzled. ‘People may think this weakness little of a piece with the greatness of the rest of her character,’ he wrote.

Perhaps Caroline, so used to playing the all-ruling Queen, did not like to be reminded that she was mortal. She tried to face the hernia down with the same resilience as she endured her gout. Pride kept her silent, and she found it impossible to accept weakness. The shame she felt about her condition was so acute, that she would rather die under the symptoms than let another person examine it. Even in her last days, she was furious that George wanted the doctors to look at the hernia:

He whispered to her that he was afraid her illness proceeded from a thing he had promised never to speak of again; but that now his duty to her called upon him to tell the physician all he knew and all he apprehended. She begged and entreated him . . . and spoke with more warmth and peevishness than she showed at any other minute during her whole illness.

As it turns out, Caroline was probably right to try and elude the doctors. Their botched attempts at a cure rather prolonged the suffering of her last days. You can read a grizzly account of the facts here, or my short story here.

In writing Mistress of the Court, I tried to explore Caroline’s feelings and the extraordinary, elaborate cover-up of her illness. You might enjoy this deleted scene, where she and George argue over the hernia.

It was even better than Caroline had hoped. Only a single lamp lit the corridor between her window and Henrietta’s chamber, but she recognised the ill-formed shape of Chesterfield. He was a smear on the glass, Henrietta another. They did not appear to embrace or go near the bed. That was a disappointment, but Caroline still had ammunition. The mere fact that Chesterfield was in Henrietta’s room when she asked to be left alone spoke volumes. George would not need more evidence than this one imperfect sighting.

Ladies stood beside the bed, ready to unlace Caroline’s mantua and deliver her into a nightgown. She kept them waiting. She was full of a bitter glee. Mrs Howard thought she had won, did she? Spreading her poisonous poem, turning George against Caroline’s advice. Begging cap in hand. Soon enough, the whore would see who held the winning cards. She was not mistress of this court yet.

When George’s footsteps finally sounded on the stairs, Caroline was disappointed to hear them stop outside her own door. On the one night she would have him go his mistress, he came to her! ‘Leave us,’ she told the ladies as George knocked on her door. ‘I will speak to the King alone before I sleep.’

The ladies retreated, leaving a single candle burning upon her dressing table. Yellow light danced across the wood, glinting off her silver brush and comb. She opened the door. In the shadows, George spread his arms, letting Caroline slump into his embrace. His body felt softer these days, cushioned by fat, with no hard muscle beneath.

‘You are tired tonight, my love,’ he breathed into her hair as he pushed her gently back into the room and closed the door behind him.

‘I am always tired. There is much on my mind. Anne talks only of marriage, Carrie gains weight every day and Emily is running wild.’ She paused, weighing his reaction, listening to his body. Gently, she slipped in the fatal words. ‘Then there is this business with Mrs Howard and her husband.’

He tensed beneath her hands. She buried her face in his velvet waistcoat and held her tongue, allowing him time to simmer.

‘Henrietta is not your concern,’ George said at last. ‘I have raised her allowance to pay off that dog Howard. She will not trouble you again.’ He put his hands on her shoulders and tilted her back to gaze into her face. ‘It vexed me to hear she approached you for money. I’ve made my displeasure very clear.’

She painted on a grateful smile, but it hurt her cheeks. How long would that woman suck at the King’s funds? Even leeches dropped off when they had drunk their fill. ‘I’m glad of it. You are very kind, my dear.’

George’s face softened under the candlelight. She swallowed, feeling the chemistry between them. It was still there, the fizz of desire, after all these years. Amorously, he ran a hand over her curves, shaping her breast, her waist. After unpinning her stomacher, his warm fingers strayed to her petticoat, where he tugged at the waistband, searching for the ties. Pain scorched through her belly. Caroline gasped. Winded by agony, she stumbled back and leant on the bedpost.

‘What is it?’

She shook her head, unable to speak. Her vision flickered, split by undulating lines. In a moment, she would fall . . .

George moved behind her and dropped to his knees. Flicking up her heavy train, he rustled beneath it, unhooking first her petticoat and then her panniers. Relief swamped her as the weight fell away and landed on the floor with a hiss. The tender nub on her stomach throbbed like a pulse, but it was better without pressure on it.

George poked his head up. His face was red and his wig disheveled. ‘It’s that lump again, isn’t it?’

That lump. He had noticed, then. Caroline felt it on her body like a stain, a wretched fungus she could not uproot. ‘No,’ she lied. ‘It has nothing to do with that. I came over faint.’

Streaks of gold and black danced before her eyes; she realised they were full of tears. Her knees shook. After all that careful concealment, she had been exposed. He had seen the lump. Remembered it. What if he found her repulsive? What if she couldn’t make love to him, with the constant pain in her belly? She needed him in thrall to her. He was already suspicious of her guiding his policies. If he became weary of her person too, all her power was lost. A younger, able-bodied mistress would take her place.

George crawled out from beneath her skirts and stood. ‘You must consult a surgeon. It is a strange growth.’

Caroline felt disgusting, abhorrent. She twisted and turned from her shame like a child refusing food. ‘Nonsense! Nothing unusual. Many women acquire one after a hard labour.’

He shook his head. Shadows heightened the gravity in his face; the long nose and high cheekbones. ‘It is certainly a rupture. You run great risks, taking no care of it.’

A dark whisper told her he was right, but she couldn’t acknowledge it. She could not face her own body’s decay. ‘Oh, I see what this is!’ she cried, flinging away from him. Her unsupported skirts were too long and heavy; she tripped, causing a spurt of fresh pain. ‘You are tired of me. That ridiculous poem has turned you against me. You endeavour to find blemishes where there are none.’

‘Don’t be foolish. My concern is for your health – ’

‘So I am foolish now, too?’ Her voice quavered. ‘Well you need not stay with me if I am so ugly and stupid. Go and fawn over your mistress.’

‘Caroline . . .’

She pointed to the door, her throat raw with tears. ‘Go!’ she screamed.

Fury clouded his features. Picking up his hat, he cast her a glare and stomped from the room. He slammed the door, extinguishing her candle.

Caroline slumped to the floor. She knelt for a few moments, wetting the carpet with her tears. What had come over her? She feared losing George, yet here she was pushing him away. Awkwardly, she pulled off her mantua and threw a powdering gown over her shoulders. She would go after him and apologise. Where would he be? She stopped. Guilty pleasure stole up her spine. Henrietta’s apartments in Stone Gallery. He would want someone to shout at, and when he reached her rooms, he would find her ensconced with Lord Chesterfield . . .

Caroline pressed her face against her cool palms. Luck favoured her. The lump on her belly would soon pale into insignificance beside Henrietta’s sins.

Queen Caroline’s Bath

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I’ve been guest posting again! The lovely ladies at All Things Georgian have invited me to talk about Queen Caroline of Ansbach’s bathing habits on their blog. You can read the post here.

Mistress of the Court

A03973(2)I’m very pleased to announce that I now have a date for the second book in my Hanoverian series, Mistress of the Court. The good folk at Myrmidon books will be sending it out into the world on 4 August 2015!

I thought I’d be slightly less excited about the publication of my second book than I was about the first, but this is not the case. As you’ve probably seen from my numerous posts about them, Henrietta Howard and Caroline of Ansbach have become extremely dear to me. I simply can’t wait to introduce them to you in fictionalised form. It seems a very long time ago I was talking about Caroline’s rooms in Hampton Court on television. I feel like I’ve taken a huge journey with these ‘characters’ already, but it’s far from over!

We don’t have a cover yet, but if you would like a visual taster of the world you will enter in Mistress of the Court, please visit my Pinterest board. It’s a work in progress but already has some beautiful images. You can also explore my archives, which discuss Henrietta’s early feminism, Caroline’s quick and vengeful wit, and the gentler side of George II. However I must warn you – they may contain spoilers!

To further whet your appetite, here’s the blurb for the book. Roll on August!

Orphaned and trapped in an abusive marriage, Henrietta Howard has little left to lose. She stakes everything on a new life in Hanover with its royal family, the heirs to the British throne. Henrietta’s beauty and intelligence soon win her the friendship of clever Princess Caroline and her mercurial husband Prince George. But as time passes, it becomes clear that friendship is the last thing on the hot-blooded young prince’s mind. Dare Henrietta give into his advances and anger her violent husband? Dare she refuse?

Whatever George’s shortcomings, Princess Caroline is determined to make the family a success. Yet the feud between her husband and his obstinate father threatens all she has worked for. As England erupts in Jacobite riots, her family falls apart. She vows to save the country for her children – even if it costs her pride and her marriage.

Set in the turbulent years of the Hanoverian accession, Mistress of the Court tells the story of two remarkable women at the centre of George II’s reign.

Henrietta Howard
Henrietta Howard

 

Humanising King George

George II
Bust of George II

There’s no denying it: the Hanoverian kings were an odd bunch. But while this makes them fascinating to study, it also makes them difficult to write. I recently attended a talk by Tracy Borman, in which she described George IV as the ‘most normal’ amongst the Hanoverian monarchs. When the ‘normal’ one is a vain fantasist addicted to drink and opium, you know you have a problem.

It is amazing just how readily these kings lend themselves to farce. Now, while I like a little bit of comedy in my novels, I also want people to take the characters seriously as human beings. When working on George III for Queen of Bedlam, I had to prize away the image of a tyrant passed down in American legend and the anecdotes of his madness, such as the one where he shook hands with a tree (this didn’t actually happen, but many people still believe it did). Fortunately, George III had so many good qualities and such tragically bad health that it was not hard to redeem him. But what of his predecessor, George II?

I have to admit that George II has been my greatest challenge yet. Many of his failings were just so . . . funny. At the time of his reign, he was the subject of intense satire. Every contemporary account has some comic element; his short temper, his obsession with lists or his boring conversation. It was important to me that I got this peppery character across and made use of the comedy, but I was not content with letting him become a mere caricature. As I considered him through the eyes of his women, he began to change.

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Bust of Caroline

George’s wife Caroline was a clever woman who undoubtedly used her beauty to manipulate him. In her last years, she endured cruel insults and humiliation from him. But I found that some elements of George and Caroline’s relationship could have come straight from a romance novel. At their first meeting, George was in disguise. He visited her court posing as a travelling count – rather like the games Henry VIII used to play, but with much more success. He was able to observe Caroline and decide she was the wife for him. Despite  taking many mistresses over the course of his life,  George never really lost his devotion to Caroline. He wrote her beautiful love letters and was inconsolable when she died. One account says that all the queens had to be removed from his deck of cards to save him from bursting into tears. He asked to be buried beside her with the side of his coffin removed, so that their ashes might mingle. These actions do not tie up with the coarse, unfeeling man that history has traditionally presented to us.

Then we have Henrietta Howard, George’s long-serving mistress. It is generally agreed that George and Henrietta shared a highly cynical relationship; she needed his money, he needed a mistress for his masculine pride. But I think there may have been a little more to it than that. George was famous for being a miserly king, yet he gave Henrietta many gifts, long after he was supposedly tiring of her. One present was a whopping £11,500 in the stocks. This was specifically designed to free Henrietta from dependence on her abusive husband – a special contract was drawn up to specify that he could not touch it. Thanks to George’s foresight, Henrietta was able to build Marble Hill, her home for the rest of her life.

Henrietta’s awful husband continued to plague her for money, but miraculously her allowance increased by just the sum he was demanding each year. Since it is recorded by Hervey that Caroline turned down all Henrietta’s requests for pecuniary aid, we are safe to assume that the extra money came from George. It would have been easy for him to leave Henrietta to her fate and take up with a new mistress, but he didn’t. In fact, even when she left him in disgrace, she still received a court pension.

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Marble Hill

None of this ties up with the comical George II so often portrayed. While we usually see a king that no woman could tolerate, let alone love, the real man seems to have inspired some affection in return. Caroline may have relied on him mainly for power, but during a time of crisis she preferred to sacrifice her children rather than leave him. In her own words, they were not worth ‘a grain of sand’ in comparison to her husband. To Henrietta, George was ‘dearer than my own brother’. And while we must allow for some court sycophancy, the last letter she wrote to him suggests that real feeling had once been there. She writes of ‘the honour of [his] esteem’ and how it had made ‘the happiness of my life’. She ends mournfully, ‘The years to come must be employed in the painful task to forget you as my friend; but no years can ever make me forget you as my King.’

So was there something about women that softened George? I found my own key to his character in this portrait.

Sophie Dorothea and children
Sophia Dorothea and her children

Isn’t it beautiful? It’s not difficult to see who the favourite child is. The son and heir is lovingly held in his mother’s arms and clings to her in return. The daughter is somewhat in the shadows, a little apart from the group. Well, this little boy is George II and the woman is his mother Sophia Dorothea.

George was close to his mother, resembling her in feature and quick feelings. But his world was torn apart when, at the age of nine, his parents separated for good. Caught in adultery, his mother was banished to the Castle of Ahlden and never saw him again. Her portraits were taken down; he was not allowed to mention her. His father mocked him for his grief; the only comfort left was his grandmother. I don’t think we can underestimate how fundamentally this episode would have affected a child. It could offer an explanation for both his gruff behaviour and his softer attitude toward some women. Is it too much of a leap to conjecture that he saw his mother in Henrietta Howard, another desperately unhappy young wife? Was Caroline, with her firm advice and unswerving loyalty, the maternal figure he yearned to replace?

While the legends of George trying to swim across a moat to reach his mother have been proved false, I think the spirit of the story is very true. He certainly intended to free Sophia Dorothea and make her Regent of Hanover if she outlived his father. Sadly, this did not happen. Mother and son were kept apart by less than a year; she died at the end of 1726, he gained his throne too late in June 1727.

Where George's mother was imprisoned
Where George’s mother was imprisoned

Interestingly, George’s mother crops up in my research again a few years after her decease. Once more she seems to herald a change to her son’s behaviour. On a trip to Herrenhausen, George stumbled across his mother’s personal papers. He evidently found something he did not like there. Perhaps he had always believed her innocent of adultery and had a nasty shock. Whatever it was, it shattered his image of her. He never spoke of his mother again.

Perhaps it is a coincidence that his behaviour toward Henrietta and Caroline deteriorated after this trip. However, I think that George’s discovery about his mother may have had a direct impact on his relationship with the woman he clung to for reassurance, and the woman he was trying in some small degree to save.

Looking through the eyes of a little boy caught in a family crisis, I hope I have managed to make George into a more three-dimensional and believable character. But I am conscious that in doing so, I have come down rather hard on the father he despised, George I. Rest assured that George I will get his own humanising treatment – watch this space!

The Other Caroline

Princess_Caroline_Elizabeth_(1713-1757),_by_Jacopo_AmigoniWhen you buy Queen of Bedlam next Tuesday (which you’re obviously going to do, right?) you will see an advert in the back for next year’s novel Mistress of the Court. This will tell the story of George II’s mistress Henrietta Howard and her formidable mistress Queen Caroline. There was literally so much to squeeze into this book that I didn’t get as much space as I wanted to explore the life of George II’s five daughters – maybe another novel in the future! But it’s George and Caroline’s third daughter, another Caroline, who I want to tell you about today. In Mistress of the Court I refer to her as Carrie to avoid confusion with her mother, and will do so here too.

Carrie was always a sickly child. In her infancy, her ill health forced her to remain behind in Hanover with Prince Frederick while the rest of her family went to take the British throne. Inured to suffering, she was an empathetic child who took on the role as peacemaker between her siblings. She was extremely close to her eldest sister Anne, but when Anne married Carrie became the confidante and main companion of her mother. Despite her mild nature, Carrie shared her mother’s disgust with the behaviour of her brother Prince Frederick and vowed she would leave the palace at a grand gallop the moment he became king. Another thing she shared with her mother was a tendency to hold onto weight. It doesn’t show in the portrait above, but Carrie became hugely fat.

Three of George II’s five daughters married – the spinsters were Amelia and Carrie. Amelia was quite content with her unmarried state, as she explained in an impassioned letter to her sister Anne, but Carrie was not. She had an affectionate heart and it seems she had bestowed it on her mother’s servant Lord Hervey. Not only was Hervey married, he took both male and female lovers. But Carrie was not one of them. While Hervey’s memoirs show he had a high respect and friendship for the princess, he had no romantic interest in her.

Carrie was devastated by the death of her mother and the love of her life, which came within a few years of each other. However, she managed to drag on her sad existence, taking comfort in charitable work before she died at the age of just 44.

In many respects Carrie is now a forgotten princess. Given her good nature and courage, she does not deserve to be so. To give her a voice, I have written as short story about her experience as I imagine it when Queen Caroline died. I hope you will enjoy it. Please remember, as always, it is my copyright.

Caroline’s End

Nothing prepares you for the loss of a mother. It is a secret terror; a scream locked deep inside your head. You are never ready; not even when the colour drains from her eyes and age folds her skin. It is always too soon.

I was with her inspecting work on the new library, dizzy with the scent of shaved wood and paint, when she fell. One moment she stood tall, barking orders to the builders. Then she collapsed, her limbs folding like a marionette with its strings cut.

Help. The word stuck in my throat, blocked by terror. She lay, a mountain of flesh with brocade puddled around her. I yearned to run, to help, to scream, but I could do nothing. My body froze to the spot.

Servants swarmed around my mother, calling. I couldn’t hear them. It all moved around me in a magic lantern show, as if I had no part in the proceedings.

At last, someone shoved me forward and I bent over her prone form. “Mama?” My voice came strangled. “Did your legs give way, Mama? Is it the gout?”

Her red, blotchy face gaped at me, a landed carp. She couldn’t speak. I had never known my indomitable mother lost for words before.

They put her to bed at St. James’s Palace, shutting daylight out of her room and burning sour vinegar. I took my usual place, the favourite daughter’s place: at her side. It was cruel to see pain carved into those beloved features. I thought of all the times I had fallen down as a child and she had picked me up, the many nights she’d sat by my sickbed. Now I had to be strong for her. Alas, I never had the steely character of my mother, the Queen. Soft as a bag of feathers, she called me. But I knew, as I watched her sweaty head toss and turn on the pillow, grey curls plastered to her forehead, that she was a part of me. Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. I was even named for her.

At last, Lord Hervey came. When his elegant form swept into the room, a vision of peacock silk and silver embroidery, my shoulders relaxed. This man I worshipped and admired in secret would make everything right.

Lord Hervey clamped his hat under his elbow. “My dear Princess Caroline! What is this? What ails the Queen?”

I started up, knocking my knees against the side of the mattress. My cheeks burnt, as they always did in his presence. “She fell,” I gasped. “She fell.”

My mother shifted on the bed, groaning. “My Lord Hervey, it is that nasty colic I had at Hampton Court. It’s intolerable to be plagued with a new distemper, at my age.” Her chest moved – she tried to laugh, but it turned into a retch. I grabbed a bowl and ran forward, turning her head as vomit spilled from her mouth.

Panic scrabbled inside me. “My lord, you suffer from colic. What do you take? The doctors will administer nothing until the King returns.”

He drew away, nose wrinkled at the stench of sick. “Er – snake-root. Brandy.”

My eyes filled with tears. “Fetch some, for mercy’s sake. Please. I must give her some relief.”

We tried everything: Sir Walter Rayleigh’s Cordial, Daffy’s Elixir, usquebaugh, mint water. She brought them back up.

She held my arm, blue eyes shining like chips of ice. “Poor Caroline, you are very ill too. We will soon meet in a better place.”

By the time the King arrived, I was frantic. I don’t recall anything but the blare of his voice. I’d cried my eyes in to swollen, puffy slots. Exhausted pressure swam around my head until finally it erupted in a nosebleed. They sent me to bed, stained red and brown.

In the morning, my father unravelled. Enormous bags circled his eyes. He’d removed his wig to show a tender, stubbly scalp. His clothes were tousled; he must have laid the whole night beside her on the coverlet. “How the devil can you expect to sleep?” he barked. “You are always moving about.”

I bristled; would he continue to berate my mother, even now? But when I looked into his face I saw my own stark terror staring back at me. He shouted only from fear.

“It hurts,” the Queen gasped. “I have to move when it hurts.”

The doctors cut into the crook of her elbow and caught dark blood in a porcelain bowl. They heated cups and made blisters on her legs. My mother wept. With every tear that fell from her eye, another piece of my world crumbled.

The next day my father spoke to Dr Ranby. “I know what this illness proceeds from. But I promised the Queen I would never speak of it.”

A strange sound rose from the bed; something between a wheeze and groan. “What are you saying, you lying fool?” I’d never heard that venom in my mother’s voice.

The King’s face drooped and he shook his head. “She has a rupture.”

“I don’t! You blockhead! All the pain is here!” She clamped a hand to her stomach.

The King nodded to Dr Ranby. They moved forward; my father held her down as she screamed. Ranby probed her abdomen; his eyes grew dull. “It is a rupture. Your Majesty has concealed it too long already. There is no time to be lost.”

My mind twirled with the news, imagining a rupture in her stomach, in my family. How long had it been there? And my father knew? Jealousy teased my thoughts. My mother shared all with me – I couldn’t imagine why she’d conceal something like this.

Lord Hervey held my hand through the operation. In spite of everything, a chink of my soul rejoiced at his touch. It was a sickening business. The rupture swelled red and fierce, a rosebud pushing out beneath the skin. The surgeons cut away until sweat drenched through their clothes and they were obliged to change.

“You are the best woman in the world,” my father repeated. “The very best.”

He was right. My mother was braver than us all. Even when she groaned, there was an apology. “Don’t mind me. I know you’re only trying to help.”

I yearned to be like her. But I was a brunette to her blonde, plain before her beauty, weak beside her strength. They put me in the ante-room and bled me from both arms. My hope seeped away with the dark, red liquid. What was I without her? I cared for no other in my family. No one understood me.

When I awoke in the night, I found him, curled on a couch at the foot of my bed. My Lord Hervey; his soft feminine features, grey in the gloom. I longed to reach out and touch him, to plant a kiss on those delicate lips. He must care for me. Why else would he come? He couldn’t love his wife, when he spent so many hours here.I thought then that perhaps the operation would work. The Queen’s illness would turn into a blessing. I would lie in the same room as my secret love and watch him sleep, and tomorrow he would show his heart.

But it was a fantasy. All that met me in the morning was a hideous squelching sound. I dashed into the Queen’s room. Tangy, rotten smells clawed at the back of my throat. I danced back, eyes watering, as something wet seeped through the toe of my stockings.  It couldn’t be . . .

Horror possessed me. My mother’s stomach was a fountain, oozing brown filth. Reeking liquid soaked through her shift, her coverlets, and dripped onto the floor. My knees gave way. Crawling in muck, I vomited.

“I wish it was at an end!” she wailed, splashing her hands on the stained bed. “But my nasty heart will not break.”

Hers was the only one that did not. Dr Ranby whispered to my father with tears in his eyes, his voice like gravel. “Your Majesty, I fear there is no hope.”

My father whipped round and punched him in the face.

When they’d cleaned and stopped the vile flow, we clustered round her. Everything still smelt of manure.

My head buzzed. I couldn’t believe this would be the last time. How could I put what she meant to me into words, into a look? My mind groped the black void of a future without her. It was cold and airless. I would never survive.

“I leave you a legacy, Caroline.” Her watery eyes bored into mine. “You must care for your little sisters. Supervise their education.”

I would rather act like a soldier and follow my leader into death. I wish she’d asked it of me. But what she required was much harder: she wanted me to live. To go on, without her.

The King blubbered like a boy. I hadn’t consider, until then, that my parents were in love. Perhaps my mother meant as much to him as Lord Hervey did to me.

“I have nothing to tell you, my dear.” She reached out, wincing, to take his hand. “I always told you my thoughts as fast as they arose. You know all.”

Absurd jealousy prickled my ribs. She was mine, not his. She had been there every minute of my life, even before I drew breath.

She withdrew her hand. A large, ruby ring sat on her stout finger, a glob of blood. I recognised it as the one she received at her Coronation; that day when she’d sparkled like sunshine on water. She pulled it off with difficulty and held it out to the King. “This is the last thing I have to give you. All I ever possessed came from you. My Will you will find a very short one: I give all I have to you.”

The King shielded his eyes. “Ah, God, let it alone! Is it not perfectly safe on your finger?” It occurred to me how solid the hand would turn after death. Waxy skin, frozen forever. Would we be able to prize her ring away? “You will grow well again,” the King said, leaning down to kiss her. Tears rolled down her cheeks, but they were not her own. “The doctors tell me you are better.”

Cruel hope shoved forward, seducing me with honeyed words. Why did it rear its head now, when I knew all was lost? Couldn’t it be kind and let me surrender?

My mother shook her head. “Remarry, when I’m gone.”

Sobs cracked from his chest. He cuffed his eyes again and again, but still the tears came. “No,” he panted. “Never! There is no woman fit to buckle your shoe! I will take mistresses.”

And suddenly, there it was: my mother’s wry smile. Her thin eyebrows arched. “My God, that never stopped you before.”

I was asleep in my room when the death rattle began. Satin and soft pillows shielded me from reality. But then Mrs Purcell’s cold hand darted beneath my quilt and clamped on my arm. I woke with a start. My chest was tight; I couldn’t fill my lungs.

Her gaunt face swam toward me through the shadows. Her eyes were wild. “It is the end.”

Somehow I gained my feet and dashed through the palace. I had to see her before, before . . . Only one candle burnt beside the bed. By the flickering flame, I saw her face, puffed and blue.

My father was there, and my sister Emily. The Queen wheezed at them. “Open the window. Pray.”

As the King darted to open the casement, Emily dropped to her knees. “Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

There was a long, low creak, like the groan of a ship.

“No. It can’t be.” Grabbing a hand mirror from the Queen’s dressing table, I ran to her side and held it before her parched lips. No mist came; no drops of damp. It was over.

Just then, a gust of wind blew through the window and extinguished the candle. She was gone, leaving nothing but the aura of royalty, the ghost of her orange-blossom perfume. With no one to remain strong for, I broke down, my life ripped at the seams.

The King wept. I wanted none of his tears, the louse. He’d never been faithful; he’d distressed my mother with graphic tales of his conquests and hung portraits of his mistresses in their bedchamber. Now he had the hypocrisy to sob his heart out, as if he were the one to be pitied.

Lord Hervey practically carried me to my room, somehow supporting my bulky frame with his slender arms. I clung to him, desperate. My anchor, the only shred of humanity I still cared about. We sat together on my bed in silence, letting time stretch.

Grief numbed me to the core. Like a leech, it drained my vitality until there was nothing but a raw absence. The truth rattled in my skull but I couldn’t grab hold; it was hot enough to sear the skin from my hands. “What will I do?” I croaked.

He started from his reverie. “I don’t know.”

“What will you do? Your office dies with her.” A chasm opened inside me. Surely he wouldn’t leave the palace, rob me of my last comfort? “Will you ask the King for a place?”

He shook his head. “I don’t think so. Without her . . .” He didn’t finish.

Misery took me in a stranglehold. Burning tears rushed from my eyes. I couldn’t endure it. Fevered from lack of sleep, beaten down with grief, and now heartbroken too. I wished God had taken me, instead of the Queen. “You cannot leave.” I looked earnestly into his face, trying to convey my need in a single glance. But even as I did it, I knew my countenance was too pudgy and plain to touch his heart. “Please don’t leave me,” I whispered. “Whatever would I do without you?”

He took my hand and squeezed. My skin quivered with excitement. “You will marry, my dear princess. Duty no longer binds you. Fly free.”

Cruel man. Didn’t he realise I wanted none but him? The idea he could so happily consign me to another man mortified me. “Duty does bind me. I promised the Queen I would care for the little ones.”

Hervey’s eyes filled. Tears for her, not for me. “She would have wanted you to be happy.”

I deflated onto my bed. “Marriage would not make me happy,” I told the painted ceiling. “Because I cannot marry for love.”

I heard Hervey shift on the bed. “It doesn’t signify. I married for love, yet I am not happy.”

My pulse skittered. It was rare that he spoke of his wife, that goddess of shining black hair and lively eyes. “You do not love her, now?” I whispered with hope. “Your passion has burnt out?”

His voice came soft as velvet.  “No. Transferred. The person I love is . . . unattainable.”

Every fibre thrilled. He couldn’t mean…? I propped myself up on my elbows, greedy for his words.

“You love another?” I panted, breathless. “A person barred to you from society and custom?”

He put one hand over his face. The other laced its trembling fingers through mine. “Oh, Caroline. It is such a relief to tell you at last.”

Joy rushed through me, warm as spirit. Only a few hours had passed since my mother’s death, but perhaps this was her last gift to me. My life would begin at her end.

I huddled against his arm, my heart in my throat. “The one I love is out of my reach, too.”

His hand squeezed mine. “Then, gentle Caroline, you will understand.”

“I do understand you.” Need throbbed through my voice. “I am always here to listen.”

He dropped the hand from his pale forehead and turned to face me. His eyes bore into my soul. Surely he saw my love, raw and naked in my look?

I swept down my eyelashes and wet my lips with the tip of my tongue. Blessed, blessed moment. It was going to happen at last: the dream I never dared hope would become reality.

But he kiss didn’t me. Instead, Hervey groaned. “It is churlish of me to burden you with my woes, at a time such as this.”

“No, not at all. Speak.”

He tilted his head in the shadows. I felt his breath, hot and sweet, brush my skin. “Sometimes I have thought you half-suspected the truth. But I couldn’t tell your mother. It would have slain me to see disgust or horror in her eyes.”

I couldn’t let him tread this path. He wouldn’t use my mother as an excuse to make us both miserable. He wasn’t so very low, to love a princess. Were it not for his wife, the Queen might have smiled on his suit.

“You should have confessed. She may have looked kindly upon you.” Upon us.

He shrugged. I wished I could make out his expression in the shifting darkness. “These things are too dangerous to speak of, without being sure.”

Words crowded my mouth. Hang the danger. I will run with you, anywhere. Defy the King. Defy them all. Let us be together.

“But now . . .?

He blew out his breath. “Now he is married. He loves his wife, and I have lost him.”

Reality slammed into me with the weight of a cannon ball. Tears pricked my eyes like tiny bayonets. “H-Him?” I stumbled. Then, the terrible image of Hervey, my love, holding another crystallised in my mind. “A man?”

He hung his head. “Stephen Fox.” Nausea pushed at the back of my throat; a sickness borne of jealousy and profound disappointment. Not mine, after all. Never mine. “You won’t tell, will you?” he asked anxiously.

I thought of my love, pushing through the soil like a green spear in springtime. Without light or heat, it would decay before a single bud showed, tainting the chill soil of my heart. A secret no one must know.

“No,” I whispered. “I will never tell a soul.”

Caroline

Don’t mess with Queen Caroline

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.

Caroline surrounded by angels

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.

Henrietta_Howard

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.

John_Dalrymple_2nd_Earl_of_Stair_(1673-1747)_General_and_Diplomat

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!

Prince George’s Christening

Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge

Last week, Kensington Palace announced the Christening date for Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge.  The ceremony will take place on 23 October 2013 in the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace and will no doubt be an occasion of much joy. But when you watch the news and see the pictures, spare a thought for another little Prince George, born nearly 300 years ago, also Christened at St. James’s Palace. This child, second son of George II and Caroline of Ansbach, was less lucky than our third in line to the throne. Innocently, he became the object of a quarrel which rocked the nation.

After the trauma of leaving her eldest son, Frederick, behind in Hanover, Caroline, then Princess of Wales, struggled to get a second boy. In 1716, she gave birth to a stillborn son, which nearly killed her. However, she fell pregnant again very soon and was finally delivered of little George on 20 October 1717 (Old Style calendar, 2 November in the New Style), in her chambers at St. James’s Palace. George’s birth was witnessed by – amongst others –  his father, the Archbishop of Canterbury, four Duchesses and five Countesses. I think any woman who has been through childbirth will feel how awful it must have been to labour while all those people watched on! In her last confinement, Caroline had insisted on sticking with the German tradition of having one female midwife attend the birth. It is significant to note that, after the last year’s tragedy, Caroline employed two male midwives for George’s birth: a much more English procedure.

out of; (c) Warwick Shire Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Caroline’s  joy in the delivery of a healthy boy was echoed by the public.  Cannon salutes and fireworks displays marked the first birth of a Hanoverian prince on British soil. George was also the first royal child to be born in some years, Hanoverian or not. The last one had been James Stuart, commonly known as The Old Pretender and the Warming Pan Baby. The celebrations for James’s birth were marred by his Catholic decent. People believed – or pretended to believe – that he was not a prince at all, but smuggled into the birthing chamber in a warming-pan. There were no such doubts or wild stories about little George.  But while the baby himself was not controversial, his Christening was to prove an event that divided the English court.

The King, George I, had been spoiling for a fight with his son, the Prince of Wales, for some time. Only the year before little George’s birth, the King had visited his domains in Hanover and been outraged to find the Prince and Princess of Wales entertaining his political enemies and winning the country over with their lively personalities in his absence. Unwittingly, this new baby was a powder keg who would ignite the family quarrel that had been coming for many years.

St. James's Palace

At first, the King seemed happy with the little prince’s birth and amenable to his parent’s wishes. He came every day “to watch the baby suck” although it was noted he didn’t speak to his own son on these occasions. He was also agreeable to Caroline’s choice of name for the boy, which was William. However, when English ministers began to get involved, the situation quickly turned ugly. The ministers insisted that, as the King was to be one of the baby’s godfathers, it should be named after him. As a compromise, the King suggested George William. Unfortunately, he didn’t go to the child’s parents himself to explain this change and the reasons behind it. Instead, he sent a man hated by the Prince and Princess of Wales to deliver the message: the Duke of Newcastle.

Tracy Borman describes Newcastle as “a mean-spirited and obnoxious noble man whose eccentricities rendered him a laughing-stock” and Lord Hervey is hardly more complimentary about the man in his memoirs. One can imagine the fuss and importance with which the Duke delivered such wounding news. However, there was worse to come. The King was advised that, although the Prince of Wales wished to appoint his uncle as the second godfather, it was custom for the monarch to choose the second godfather himself from amongst the principal lords at court. In a move that must have been intended to provoke, the King settled on the Duke of Newcastle. In vain did the Prince of Wales protest and beg his father to make another choice. Newcastle was the man, and he must have felt very puffed up about it too.

The state bed at Hampton Court

So when the Christening finally took place on 28 November 1717 (Old Style calendar), tensions were running high. It was the custom at the time for a royal baby to be Christened in its mother’s chambers, rather than the chapel. Caroline lay in a grand state bed to watch the proceedings – and doubtlessly felt frustrated and powerless.  She had to watch as her husband tried to suppress his famous temper and everything happened against her wishes. Here is a little excerpt of the Christening scene from my work in progress about Caroline, Mistress of the Court:

 “The King, the King!”

On cue, the court dipped into a reverence. Caroline merely bent her neck. She was glad her position in the bed prevented her from curtseying – she couldn’t stomach cringing before the King now. She saw the effort it cost George – the tremors in his calf and his quaking shoulders. He gripped his hat so hard it bent the rim.

The King nodded at Georgie, bawling his little heart out. “Well, he certainly has a voice on him.”

Men came to wrench him from Caroline’s arms. Georgie’s fingers clasped the lace at her neck, but he was too weak to cling on. It was as if he knew they meant to foist a false name and a false godfather on him and fought against them with furious wails. Caroline twisted her lips in a grim smile. He had his father’s temper and he wouldn’t make it easy for them. She was proud of him for that.

The ceremony itself passed smoothly but when the Bishop closed, and the Prince of Wales escorted the King from the room, tempers finally broke. The Prince of Wales flew at the Duke of Newcastle, holding his hand and extended-forefinger in his face in a menacing way. What he said next remains one of history’s great unanswered questions. Newcastle reported that the prince hollered “You are a rascal, but I shall fight you.” The Prince of Wales, on the other hand, maintained he had said “You are a rascal, but I shall find you out” i.e get even with you. Perhaps the confusion arose from the prince’s thick German accent, but either way, Newcastle remained convinced he had been challenged. He flew straight to the King to tittle-tattle.

Angered, the King sent a deputation of ministers to his son to find out the truth. In great indignation, the Prince of Wales expressed his astonishment that the issue had escalated and said the difference in rank between him and Newcastle made the very idea of a duel insulting. However, on the advice of the cabinet, full of ministers who disliked the Prince of Wales, and perhaps to settle old scores, the King chose to believe Newcastle. As a punishment for undutiful behavior, he then ejected the Prince and Princess of Wales from the royal palaces.

King George II

This blow would have been bad enough on its own. But to add insult to injury, the King ruled that the Prince and Princess would have to leave their children behind in his care – all three daughters and the newborn George. Emotionally destroyed and still weak from giving birth, poor Caroline had to drag herself across London to a duke’s house without a royal guard, where she and the Prince remained until they purchased Leicester House for themselves.

Hundreds of servants were caught in the turmoil of this family separation. Members of the court had to pick a side to favour, knowing full well that if they visited the Prince and Princess of Wales, the King would never see them again. Many people suffered from this rift, which was never fully healed. Although in later years the royals got back on speaking terms, and the Prince and Princess of Wales were allowed to visit the King’s court, they didn’t stay in the palaces or have full charge of their children again until the King’s death ten years later.

But the real tragedy of this story remains with little George. In February 1718, he fell ill with “an oppression upon his breast, accompanied with a cough, which increased . . . a fever succeeded with convulsions”. The King arranged for him to be moved out of smoky St. James’s Palace to Kensington – which, sadly, was not much better, due to the damp problems it suffered from. He was sufficiently alarmed by this stage to inform the Prince and Princess of Wales that they might visit the baby as often as they pleased. It was as well he did; not long after, George breathed his last tiny breath inside the palace. His mother was present at his death.

Kensington Palace

A later autopsy found that George had a large amount of water on the brain and a polyp on his heart. He was never destined for a long life, and the King was cleared from blame. However, I imagine many people still felt that separation from his mother had hastened the child’s death. With “a pitiful amount of black crepe” baby George was buried privately at night in Henry VII’s Chapel at Westminster Abbey.

A sad tale if ever there was one. Let us hope and pray our little Prince George’s Christening is a far happier event, and that he lives a long and joyful life as England’s future King.

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 Grizzly End

Caroline in later years

I have to admit it: I’m a bit weird. Why? Because I actually enjoy writing death scenes. With so many emotions at play – terror, relief, despair, regret and resignation to name but a few – the author has rich material to work with. Now that I write about real people and events, I no longer suffer the customary guilt at killing off a character. It actually happened, so it’s not my fault!

However, not all biographical fiction should follow the protagonist all the way to their final moments. There are times where, quite frankly, you need a happier ending. My original plan for Mistress of the Court included Caroline of Ansbach’s death, but I’ve come to realise it will fit in better to my novel about Augusta, which starts in the year of Caroline’s demise. Also, by using Augusta’s point of view, I won’t have to put my readers through the gory details. But for you, my dear blog followers, I will give a true Horrible History.

The main reason I wanted to write Caroline’s death scene is that it demonstrates, more than any other event in her remarkable life, the extraordinary courage of the woman. To the very end, she was more concerned about her husband and retained her sense of humour. This would be admirable in any death, but in Caroline’s grim circumstances it was nothing short of miraculous. I’m currently in a lot of pain myself, suffering from a protruding spinal disc that’s pressing on my sciatic nerve. When I find this hard to bear, I think of Caroline and try to be as brave as she was!

Caroline's memorial by the Serpentine

The story of Caroline’s death begins in December 1724, nearly thirteen years before she actually passed away. At this time, Caroline was 41 and gave birth to the last of her children, a daughter named Louisa. During the difficult labour, Caroline suffered from a rupture or an umbilical hernia. Rather than telling her doctors, she chose to conceal her injury. Just why she did this is hard to comprehend, but it is inextricably tied up with the pride inherent in Caroline’s character. She was no prude, but she was ashamed of her hernia. It occurred at a period in her life when she feared she was losing her hold on her husband, George II, as her physical attractions began to wane. Her great friend and advisor Robert Walpole told her bluntly that she couldn’t expect to have the same sexual influence over the King as she used to. Somehow, it seems, having the hernia made her feel less attractive and less of a woman. Moreover, she knew George II had little sympathy with any illness other than his own. To avoid annoying and bothering him, she took part in an elaborate cover-up, which would ultimately cost her life.

There are clues to Caroline’s state of health littered through the court journals, which we can see now in hindsight. Firstly, she took to wearing the soft stays, later known as “jumps”, which were designed for pregnancy, at all times. This must have been a measure to avoid added pressure on her hernia. She questioned Sir Robert Walpole closely about the death of his wife, because she thought she detected some symptoms similar to her own. And then there was the strange closeness between Caroline and her woman of the bedchamber Mrs Clayton, who had always been a favourite. Mrs Clayton suddenly acquired a power over the formidable queen – no doubt she had discovered the hernia in performing one of her daily duties and was paid to keep her mouth shut.

These seem extraordinary lengths to go to over a hernia. But the behaviour is consistent with Caroline’s other health problems. She was a martyr to gout, but refused to admit it, plunging her feet into ice-cold water to reduce the swelling so she could squeeze shoes on and limp around the gardens with her husband. There were times when she had to be wheeled around in a chair by her favourite son, the Duke of Cumberland. Caroline found it almost impossible to accept weakness, though she admitted to her folly at the end. “Remember,” she told her daughter Louisa, “I die by being giddy and obstinate in keeping my disorder secret”.

Umbilical Hernia Illustration

It appears George II discovered Caroline’s hernia when he returned from a perilous sea voyage in 1736. Reconciled after a long period of hostility, the couple were sexually active once more. However, the charade went on, to the extent that Caroline forced herself to attend drawing rooms in the evening after being confined to bed with pain most of the day. It is typical of George II that he encouraged her to do this rather than make a fuss. It seems heartless – and yet, when his wife finally collapsed, the King was devastated.

On 9 November 1737, Caroline walked over to supervise the work on a private library she was building for herself in St. James’s Palace. She was seized with pain and dropped down. She retired to bed for the whole afternoon and George II was so concerned that this time, he offered to excuse her from attending the drawing-room. In typical Caroline style, she persuaded her husband the ailment was temporary and forced herself through what must have been an agonising ordeal. The social duties over, she returned to the quiet sanctuary of her bedroom and the companionship of her daughter, Princess Caroline, and Lord Hervey. Both Hervey and young Caroline were delicate and suggested hundreds of their own remedies to heal the ailing queen. Nothing was effectual. Snakeroot made her feverish and she could only keep down a slug of brandy for half an hour. As the queen’s illness increased, so did that of her daughter, and in the end young Caroline had to be rushed from the room with rheumatic pains and nosebleeds. It must have been a scene of pure uproar.

With touching devotion, George II slept beside Caroline outside of her coverlet all night. However, she probably wished him away quite soon, when he complained that she wouldn’t lie still. “How the devil can you expect to sleep? You want to rest and the doctors tell you nothing can do so much good, yet you are always moving about”. When she obeyed his commands – a difficult enough thing to do in pain – she was upbraided for “lying and staring like a calf that just had its throat cut”. This sounds brutal to our ears, but Caroline would have understood these outbursts were the blustery George’s way of coping with his overpowering emotions. If he lost Caroline, his world would fall apart, and when he couldn’t control something he feared, he shouted at it.

Mourning ring for Caroline from "The art of mourning" website

Some historians lump the days following Caroline’s collapse together, highlighting her most significant words and gestures. What this approach fails to convey is firstly, the court hoped she might recover, and secondly that the poor woman lingered in agony for nearly two weeks. On 10th November she underwent those classic Georgian treatments, blistering and purging, probably doing more harm than good. Using her highly developed acting skills,  she persuaded her husband to attend his evening social duties with Princess Amelia (Emily) taking the queen’s place. But when George left, Caroline’s condition worsened – or, perhaps, showed truly for the first time that day, now she could let the pretence down. She wept and said she had “a pain nobody knows of”. Absurdly, royal etiquette didn’t allow the physicians to examine her without express permission, so the rupture remained, festering away undiscovered.

It was George who finally cracked and made Caroline give up her vain charade. After spending the 11th debating whether their eldest son, currently out of favour, should be permitted in to the sick room and assuring Caroline repeatedly that she was the best woman ever born, he betrayed her secret for her own good. On the 12th, despite Caroline’s protestations, George told Dr Ranby about the hernia. Caroline’s response was to turn her face to the wall and call him a  “lying fool”.  But the cat was out of the bag and Ranby made her put her hand where the pain was.

What the doctor found appalled him. “There is no more time to be lost, your majesty has concealed it too long already”. Part of the decayed bowel was infected and Ranby feared this would spread “until it reached a vital part”. He took the decision to operate. But whereas now we’d push the hernia back in, the Georgian doctors simply cut it off – thus unwittingly destroying Caroline’s entire bowel system. Unsurprisingly, there was a horrific stench.

Yet the court was optimistic the butchery would work. Even Caroline, on 13th, astonishingly attested she felt better and would last three more days. She thought she would die on a Wednesday, since she was born, married, gave birth to her first child, heard of her accession to the throne and had her coronation on a Wednesday.But she was selling her sturdy frame short – she would endure for a further seven painful days.

Mourning plate for Caroline - from the art of mourning website

Although they were operating on her almost daily, Caroline kept her wicked sense of humour. She asked the doctor to stop “before you begin and let me have a full view of your comical face”.  She joked that Ranby “would rather be cutting his wife”, and fell into fits of laughter when old Dr Bussier, who stood observing the operation, leaned in too close and set his wig on fire. From these bursts of merriment you would suppose the operations were not major, but this was far from the case. Dr Ranby had to change his cap and waistcoat half way through each session since he’d soaked them in sweat. Caroline occasionally let out a groan, but quickly apologised and assured the doctors she knew they were only trying to help her.

In the days that followed, Caroline had several visitors. Her minister Walpole practically begged her not to die, assuring her “Your life is of such consequence to your husband, your children, to this country and indeed to many other countries”. Resigned to her fate, Caroline told him “I have nothing to say to you but to recommend the King, my children and the Kingdom to your care”.

It was on the 17th things took a turn for the worse. Most historians skirt around the grim details, but good old Lucy Worsley gives a full account in Courtiers when she asserts “Caroline’s stomach practically exploded”. And no wonder, considering the doctors had removed part of her bowel. Her violent vomiting recommenced and excrement seeped out of her wound, soaking through the quilts and flowing onto the floor. It must have been a truly horrific sight, and we can only imagine Caroline’s horror. She’d certainly had enough of her ordeal. “I wish it was at an end,” she sighed, “but my nasty heart will not break.” At last, the doctor had to confess there was no hope left for the queen. In characteristic style, George II punched him in the face.

Long accustomed to the idea of death, Caroline had prepared what she wanted to say to her children. She charged Princess Caroline with the education of her two youngest daughters, Mary and Louisa – “It is a fine legacy I leave you.” Poor, distraught Princess Caroline wailed that she wouldn’t survive her mother for a year, her heart would be broken. Broken it was, but the Princess outlived her mother by 20 years. I’ve discussed Caroline’s feelings toward her eldest son, Frederick, in my Hanoverian Mothers series. From her favourite son, William, she parted tenderly, encouraging him to look after his father. “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”.

George towards the end of his life

But it’s the parting from George II that touches the heart keenly. Strange and unconventional as their royal romance was, it had foundations in true love. Caroline didn’t want George to be lonely and urged him to marry again. Crying, he said he would have mistresses instead. Still unable to resist a joke, Caroline cried “My God! That never stopped you before.”  But George would stand by his words – he never took another wife. As he explained, he never saw another woman “fit to buckle Caroline’s shoe”. Caroline removed the ruby ring placed on her finger at the coronation and put it in her husband’s hand, saying “This is the last thing I have to give you. All I ever possessed came from you. My will you will find a very short one: I give all I have to you.”

Death finally came from Caroline on 20th November 1737. Yet until the end, she remained more considerate for her family than herself. It was about 10 o’clock at night. Princess Amelia dozed on a couch in the corner of the room and George slept at the foot of the bed, when Caroline suddenly asked her bedchamber woman to take the candle away. Princess Amelia asked if the light was hurting her eyes, to which Caroline replied: “No – I would spare you the affliction of seeing me die.”  Almost at once, the death rattle began in her throat. She begged her daughter to open the window and pray. Obediently, Amelia sat down and read aloud from the prayer-book as the last few breaths left Caroline’s body. In one last gesture, Caroline covered her mouth and whispered “I am going”. She died holding George’s hand.

The grief of the family and indeed the nation was acute. George almost started crying when he gave his opening speech to parliament and for a time all queens had to be removed from his card deck, lest they made him weep. Caroline lay in state in a coffin of lead and English oak, guarded by soldiers with their axes reversed. Tapers burnt night and day, casting doleful shadows on the walls hung with black and purple. It was George’s express wish that one side of Caroline’s coffin would be opened when he finally came to rest beside her, that their ashes might intermingle. For all the bluster, he was a softy at heart!

Caroline surrounded by angels

Britain feared that, without Caroline’s wily politics, the remainder of George’s reign would be an unstable one. This was somewhat true – he went to war and also faced off the claims of Bonnie Prince Charlie – but he held the throne in a good position for his grandson, George III, to take it in 1760.

I end with a quote from a contemporary poem written on Caroline’s death. The last line in particular makes me sad, as so many people have forgotten about her. Let’s hope this post and Mistress of the Court go some way towards solving that problem :)

The Lord hath taken away His anointed with a stroke;the breath of our nostrils is taken away.

The great Princess is no more, under whose shadow we said we should be safe, and promised ourselves lasting peace – she, who future generations will know as Caroline the Illustrious.

 

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.

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