Caroline of Brunswick

Willikin, The Deptford Boy

 William AustinOn Saturday 23 October 1802, Mrs Sophia Austin began the two mile trek from her home in Deptford to Blackheath. Little did she know that her actions would spark one of the biggest royal scandals in decades.  Her destination was Montague House where Caroline, Princess of Wales, was living estranged from her royal husband. Mrs Austin hoped that the charitable princess would be able to exert her influence on behalf of Mr Austin, who had recently been dismissed from his job at the Dockyard. If all else failed, she had heard that the princess provided food for poor women in her kitchens. But as luck would have it, Mrs Austin had brought along the most effective bargaining chip she could: her three month old son, William.

On her initial application, Mrs Austin was interviewed by Caroline’s page, Stikeman, who was able to offer her husband some work turning the mangle at a laundry in Pimlico. However, he urged Mrs Austin to return again soon, as the princess might take an interest in her son. Return she did. This time, on 6 November, she met Caroline herself in the blue room. Caroline took an instant fancy to William, touching him under the chin and exclaiming,’Oh what a nice one! How old is it?’ At length Mrs Austin was informed that, if she could make up her mind to part with William, he would be adopted by Caroline and treated like a young prince. Mrs Austin, who was poor with many children, said she would ‘rather part with him to a lady like [Caroline] than keep him to want’. The deal was struck, and Mrs Austin was given a pound note and arrowroot to begin weaning William at once.

Separated from her legitimate daughter, Caroline threw her heart and soul into carrying for little William, who was henceforth known as Willy or Willikin. Rather than packing him off to the nursery quarters, she let her royal house become littered with spoons, plates and feeding boats. A row of Willy’s nappies were constantly drying before the fire, as she changed them herself. Perhaps because of this treatment, the child become loud, rude and spoilt. There are many anecdotes of Willy at Caroline’s famous supper parties, none of them endearing. He was dangled over the dining table to snatch his favourite food, knocking over the wine in the process. He leafed through hideously expensive books with inky fingers and ruined them. Another time, he threw an epic tantrum because of a spider on the ceiling. The hapless footmen were called in with long sticks to try and poke the spider away. Caroline, who was boisterous herself, could not see her darling’s faults. ‘Isn’t he a nice boy, Mr Pitt?’ she asked the Prime Minister. Pitt showed the diplomacy of his office by offering the evasive reply, ‘I don’t understand anything about children’. Pitt’s niece Lady Hester Stanhope was less tactful, referring to the boy as a ‘nasty, vulgar-looking brat.’

It all would have remained rather funny and charming, had anyone but Caroline adopted Willy. For with Caroline, mischief was never far behind. Prior to Willy’s arrival, she had been regaling her friend Lady Douglas with symptoms of a pregnancy. This may have been real, phantom, or one of Caroline’s beloved practical jokes. Either way, her tales of breast milk, ravenous hunger and increasing girth served to convince Lady Douglas that Willy was in fact Caroline’s illegitimate son. When questioned about this, Caroline laughed and said she would claim the child belonged to her husband the Prince of Wales. This was a dangerous jest, throwing the royal succession into jeopardy. Before long, The Delicate Investigation was launched by the King and Prince of Wales to examine Caroline’s behaviour and establish if she had in fact born an illegitimate child.

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While the Investigation ruined Caroline’s reputation, it proved that Willy was the son of Sophia and Samuel Austin. In later life, Willy grew up to be the spit of his mother and elder brother. However, the rumours surrounding his birth didn’t fade away. As late as 1814, the Prince of Wales was still questioning Caroline’s daughter Charlotte about Willy. Charlotte believed Willy was her mother’s ‘bastard’ and suspected Captain Manby of being the father. She was also constantly afraid that Caroline would put Willy on the throne in her place. These fears seemed well founded when in later years, Caroline was hailed with the cry ‘God bless Queen Caroline and her son, King Austin!’

But Caroline had her own story, which wildly denied Willy belonged to either her or the Austins. She did not tell this tale for many years, swearing that nobody would know who the boy really was until after her death. However, Caroline could never keep a secret, real or imaginary, and told her legal adviser that Willy was in fact the natural son of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. Louis Ferdinand had been a candidate for Caroline’s hand before she married the Prince of Wales, but the negotiations foundered. According to Caroline, the pair had continued a desperate romance, and Louis Ferdinand entrusted his son to her. The boy was supposedly brought over by a German woman and swapped with Willy Austin, all unbeknownst to his parents. Caroline said the real Willy Austin had been ‘taken God knows where, but sent away.’ It seems an unlikely story, although Caroline did repeat a variant of it on her deathbed. She informed Dr Lushington that Willy was ‘a son of a brother or friend in Brunswick who was dead…he had been clandestinely brought over from the continent.’

Willy remained a part of Caroline’s life up until her death in 1821. He accompanied her on exile across Europe and stood weeping outside the sickroom at her last illness. However, there is some evidence that her affection waned after his infancy. She began to look out for another little boy when Willy became a teenager. For a long time, Willy slept on a couch in Caroline’s own bedroom, but as soon as she found an Italian lover she ousted the boy without a second’s hesitation. This was just the beginning of the slippery slope for poor Willy, whose tale ends tragically. He should have been a rich 19 year old man after Caroline’s death but she died insolvent. He was not left destitute – she had put aside £200 per annum for the last three years and invested it into government stock for her young charge – but while £600 was a good prize for a labourer’s son, it wasn’t the royal fortune Willy was raised to expect. He had remained in contact with his natural parents through out his life and presumably returned to their neighbourhood after losing his patroness. I have not researched the following years of Willy’s life in depth, but it is recorded that he died aged just 47 in a lunatic asylum in Chelsea. Enemies of the eccentric Caroline would say this was a natural end for the boy she had raised. But I feel truly sorry for the man who must have lived a confusing and conflicted life. It would not be surprising if the scandal surrounding his birth, the dual roles of Deptford boy and princess’s son, and the destruction of his hopes served to unbalance his mind. Let us hope he found peace, and the truth about his identity, when he was released from his suffering.

Happily Ever After?

Anne 1736It’s easy to get carried away in romance, especially where history is concerned. We imagine fine dresses and top hats, forgetting about lack of sanitation and bad personal hygiene. When we study historical princesses, the temptation to lapse into fairytale is even greater. But as you will know, if you have read my blog for a while, the life of a Georgian princess was anything but romantic!

So what happened when a prince finally did come along to sweep our heroines away? Well, settle down and I will tell you the unromantic story of George II’s eldest daughter, Princess Anne.

Assertive and ambitious, it was always Anne’s intention to marry well. But as a princess whose father’s throne depended on his Protestant religion, her choice was limited. After failed negotiations with the French and Prussian courts, it became clear there was only one path for Anne to travel down. Since the days of William III, England had looked kindly on the House of Orange as their liberators from Catholic oppression. An alliance with young William, Prince of Orange, would be joyfully received. Not that there was any alternative. As Lord Hervey put it, Anne’s choice lay between hell and Holland.

William was neither important or handsome, in the grand scheme of things. Moreover, he had a severely hunched shoulder, with increasing curvature of the back and chest. Considering the deformity, George II asked Anne if she was sure she wanted to proceed with the marriage. When she assured her father she would marry William even if he were a baboon, he replied, “There is baboon enough for you.”

William of orangeConcerned for her daughter, Queen Caroline sent Lord Hervey to look at William and tell her “what sort of animal I must prepare myself to see.” Hervey assured her the prince’s body was as bad as possible, with a short waist, long legs and no calves. It seemed William’s breath was also distasteful. But, Hervey conceded, his countenance was “engaging and noble”.

Te treaty concluded, William arrived at Greenwich to wed the English princess. In true George II style, the King snubbed the new prince. In his opinion, William would be nothing until he married his daughter. But the people of London were excited by the young prince’s arrival, wearing orange cockades and decorating the streets with orange ribbon. This popularity sent George II into one of his famous rages.

Very soon after his arrival, poor William collapsed at church. He lay ill with pneumonia for three weeks, his life in danger. The wedding had to be postponed and George II forbade his wife and daughters from visiting the sick prince. While her fiance stood at death’s door, Princess Anne was calmly playing on her harpsichord. To do the females credit, they did have William over when he was well again – only to be told by the King that he didn’t want such an episode repeated.

The wedding finally took place on 14 March at seven in the evening, four months after William’s arrival. The Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace was fitted up suitably for the occassion with crimson velvet and tafetta, studded with golden roses. Anne wore blue silk looped with diamonds and robes of silver tissue, her train being six yards long. She was accompanied to the altar by her eldest brother Prince Frederick, which must have been an uncomfortable business. Not only did the siblings quarrel in private about music, running rival operas, Fred was resentful that his sister was marrying first – with a dowry of £80,000 – while he was strapped for money. Anne’s family (brother Frederick excepted) wept throughout the ceremony, making it “more like the mournful pomp of a sacrifice than the joyful celebration of a marriage.”

220px-George_II,_Queen_Caroline,_and_childrenWhilst taking his vows, William was “a less shocking and less ridiculous figure” with a long peruke to cover his bad shoulder. But when the time came to put the couple to bed, the poor prince could no longer hide his deformity. In a rare act of sensitivity, the King arranged for William to be behind a curtain, so that the assembling masses in the bedchamber could only see his cap and brocade nightgown.But Lord Hervey glimpsed William’s body, and thought that from behind the prince looked as if he had no neck. Queen Caroline was frantic at the idea of her daughter going to sleep with “this monster”, owning his appearance had “stunned” her to the point where she might pass out.

The couple left England at the end of April – not soon enough for George II, who was jealous of the popularity William excited wherever he went. However, Anne’s stay in Holland was remarkably short. With war brewing in Europe, her new husband went to join Dutch troops on the Rhine, and she seized the opportunity to return to England. Her mother was overjoyed to see her again, especially when she confided she was with child.

Time passed. Neither sense nor politics could tempt Anne away from her family. She was constantly pressured to return to her new people by the Dutch ambassador. If she carried William’s heir, he argued, it was imperative the boy should be born at the Hague. But Anne clung to the hope she would give birth in England. It wasn’t until William sent Anne a letter announcing he would be home in two weeks that she finally set off – and even then, she had to be urged by her parents. Caroline had to remind her daughter: “You are now William’s wife – God has given you skill and judgement, you are no longer a child.”

AnneWhen Anne reached my home town of Colchester, she received a letter from her husband saying he was delayed for a few days. She took this opportunity to return to London, despite the fact poor William was traveling day and night in a quest to get home on time. She managed to stay with her family another week before her exasperated parents packed her off again. Her ship actually set sail from Harwich on 7 November, but Anne pleaded sickness and convulsions, forcing the vessel to turn around. The King was at the end of his patience. He refused to receive his daughter back at St. James’s Palace. Anne’s exploits had cost him nearly £20,000 and earned her universal condemnation. She went back to Holland with her tail between her legs.

Sadly, Anne’s child turned out to be a phantom, and she was to suffer several horrific stillbirths and miscarriages in the course of her marriage. However, she finally had a healthy son and daughter. Even her thirst for power was eventually satisfied when, in 1751, poor William died aged just 40 and Anne was appointed regent for her three-year-old son.  But  I won’t leave you entirely devoid of romance. I can tell you that, despite Anne’s reluctance to return to Holland, she and William became a happy couple, addressing each other affectionately in letters as “Pepin” and “Annin”. Here is one of the last notes he wrote to her:

Farewell dear heart, pearl among women, my joy whom I love more every day. As God is my witness, you are my life’s good fortune. Know that I am your most faithful, most tender and best of friends, Pepin

Princess Charlotte’s Christmas

CharlotteChristmas can be a difficult season. Tradition dictates we spend time with our families, a test that truly proves if we can wish peace and goodwill to all men! Warring relatives and Christmas arguments are familiar to many of us. But if you have a difficult family situation this holiday season, you’re in good company. Meet Princess Charlotte, daughter to one of royalty’s most dysfunctional couples.

Charlotte’s mother Caroline and her father, the Prince Regent, hated each other with a mortal passion. Charlotte grew up tossed between the two. The Prince Regent’s position of authority meant he got more access to her. But in character, Charlotte was more like her mother – fun-loving and spirited. She didn’t fit in with the meek and demure role the royal family expected her to play.

It was Charlotte’s misfortune to spend much of her time at Windsor with her grandmother, the Queen, and her aunts. Whilst they were all kind and devoted to her, they were simply boring to a girl of Charlotte’s age and disposition. What’s more, Aunts Mary and Elizabeth were out to manipulate her and bend her to her father’s will. Charlotte often described Windsor as a prison, writing I think of nothing but how I can get out of their clutches and torment them afterwards.

Having briefly escaped captivity in Cranbourne Lodge, where she was watched like a dangerous criminal, Charlotte was forced to return from her summer resort of Weymouth and spend Christmas 1814 at Windsor. She was in poor spirits, suffering from bad health and disappointment in love. Her journey was very uncomfortable, punctuated by the “eternal fidgets and frights” of her lady companion.

Like many interfering relatives, the royals wanted to see Charlotte married.On Christmas Eve the year before, Charlotte’s grandmother had attempted to give her some “good advice” on her love life, and we can imagine how this was received. But to the Queen’s credit, she did implore her granddaughter never to marry a man she did not like, as it would cause her endless misery. Although the Queen did not advocate Charlotte disobeying her father, she believed she had a right to her own opinion, and to stand firm by it.

The Prince Regent wanted Charlotte the marry the thin, plain though good-humoured Prince of Orange. She had serious reservations about the young man, whose family her mother disapproved of. Not only was he far below her standards of a dream-prince, he would force her to live abroad for much of the year. Charlotte feared her mother would become lonely and her father would try to remarry and get another heir in her absence. But most importantly, Charlotte was still in love with a philanderer, Prince Augustus. Although she had recently been disillusioned, she was not ready to move on yet. But Charlotte’s only advocates against the Orange match were her Aunt Sophia and grandmother the Queen.

William of OrangeOn Christmas Day 1814, Charlotte found herself forced to spend time alone with Aunt Mary and her father. A kind of interrogation began. First, the Prince Regent confided that he had been making inquiries into the parentage of Willy Austin, a young boy her mother had adopted.  He warned Charlotte that after his death, Caroline may claim the boy was actually his and true heir to the throne. He knew, presumably, the jealous dislike Charlotte had always nurtured against the boy. Seizing the advantage of her shock, he pressed her for information about the men who hung around her mother – could any of them be her lovers? Unsure what to say, Charlotte admitted she had suspected Captain Manby.

Switching tactic, the Prince began to talk of the 18th Hussars, then stationed at Windsor. Charlotte was coerced into revealing her past feelings for Captain Hesse of that regiment. He had ridden beside her carriage, they had written, exchanged presents and he had often visited her mother’s apartments at Kensington Palace. On one occasion, in fact, her mother had locked them in a bedroom and said “I leave you to enjoy yourselves.”

“God knows,” Charlotte said, “What would have become of me if he had not behaved with so much respect.”

This was just what the Prince Regent and Aunt Mary wanted to hear. They could use this against Charlotte’s mother. Whilst sympathetic to Charlotte’s plight, the Regent advised her it was Providence alone that had saved her virtue from Hesse. Caroline had been extremely wicked. The family was then called in for Christmas dinner.

MaryThat wasn’t the end of Charlotte’s trials, though. The Prince Regent returned to London, but Aunt Mary kept up the questions. She asked Charlotte if it was Caroline who had made her adverse to the Prince of Orange. Did Charlotte not see, Mary asked, that her mother didn’t want her to marry respectably? She suggested Caroline had orchestrated the whole Captain Hesse affair to shame and discredit Charlotte, in order to put her bastard boy Willy on the throne. Poor Charlotte was forced to admit, “I never knew whether Captain Hesse was my mother’s lover or mine.”

Charlotte slept ill that Christmas night. She was horrified that she’d incriminated her mother.  She still loved Caroline, swearing that, “There is no hazard or risk to serve my poor mother that I would not run, if it would be of any avail”.

Consequently, a tense Charlotte wrote to Aunt Mary on Boxing Day to beg for her discretion. Except it be absolutely necessary, I hope all that passed in your room yesterday will be kept sacred within your bosom. Not much chance of that. Ever eager to please her brother, Aunt Mary had reported to the Prince Regent almost the moment Charlotte left her the previous evening.

Unsurprisingly, Charlotte was less fond of Aunt Mary after this Christmas!

 

Hanoverian Mothers – Part 2

Charlotte, Princess of Wales

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

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

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

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

Caroline and Charlotte

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline and Charlotte by Lawrence

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

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

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

Charlotte

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

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

 

Prinny’s Women

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As Prince of Wales, Prince Regent and finally King George IV, one thing was certain: George Augustus Frederick liked his women. Thanks to Cruikshank’s caricatures and popular legend, we have the image of lecherous, womanizing prince embedded in our minds.  But just how many women was George – how shall we put it – intimately acquainted with? And how on earth did he avoid contracting a venereal disease with his track record?

In biographies of George, you will come across the ladies I call the big five: official mistresses who made it into the history books. Here is a summary.

Mary Robinson

1) Mary Robinson. An actress, unhappily married, who caught George’s attention playing the role of Perdita in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. His wild love letters to her were signed in the name of the role’s hero, Florizel. A romantic and slightly vain young lady, Mary always cherished her connection with the prince and kept his portrait into old age. But more than George himself – who she only managed to meet on a few, short, breathless occasions –  Mary relished the style in which he set her up. She was shrewd and managed to make the prince come good on his promises when he finally tired of her. Her imprint on the history of George IV is mainly financial – he had to ask his father for help when he realised how much he had promised her, and she received a considerable annuity from the royal coffers for her brief “services”. There’s a lot more to Mary than her affair with the prince, however, and I would highly recommend Paula Byrne’s biography of her. In historical fiction, she has appeared in Jean Plaidy’s Perdita’s Prince and I understand Freda Lightfoot’s next book will be about her.

1784_gainsborough_fitzherbert

2) Maria Fitzherbert. I – and Maria herself – would debate the term “mistress” when it came to her relationship with George. He married her before a priest, although the ceremony was considered null and void in law due to the Royal Marriages Act. George could not marry without the permission of his father or parliament – permission which would never be granted, because the woman of his choice was Catholic. As I covered in my previous post, there were many reasons the English were adverse to Catholics near the throne, but the main obstacle in George’s case was that  marriage to a person of this religion excluded him from inheriting the throne. As such, he conveniently “forgot” this marriage when it suited him. However, the Catholic church and even the Pope himself declared the union to be binding, which explains why poor Maria continually returned to George when he summoned her, despite much provocation.  I don’t want to give away too much here because Maria is a heroine in A Forbidden Crown, but here is an old post about her from my early research. Two great biographies, each with a different approach to this complicated woman, were particularly helpful: one by James Munson and one by Valerie Irvine.

lady jersey

3) Lady Jersey As a rival to both Mrs Fitzherbert and Queen Caroline, Lady Jersey is the villain of my piece. The actual woman wasn’t all bad, but she certainly wasn’t someone I’d pick as a friend. She was famously described as a serpent, a lady who was not happy unless she had a rival to torment. Married to an older but fashionable peer, she was already a grandmother by the time she took up with George. Her influence over him was a key factor in breaking up his relationship with Mrs Fitzherbert (the first time round!) and she made Caroline’s early married life a misery. It is often said that Lady Jersey persuaded George to marry Caroline, having picked her out on purpose as a wife he would hate. Supposedly, she thought animosity towards his wife would secure her position as mistress. However, we don’t have any proof of this, or the other allegation that she helped smuggle copies of Caroline’s incriminating letters to the Queen. Whatever this fashionable beauty’s sins, she was amply punished by the hatred of the common people, who took the side of their princess. A good blog post (not mine!) on Lady Jersey can be found here.

Lady Hertford

4) Lady Hertford A haughty Tory matriarch, not much to look at, Lady Hertford seemed an unlikely match for George. But his devotion to her was undoubted, driving him to fits of tears and days locked up in his room refusing to eat when she initially rejected his advances. It has been argued that Lady Hertford probably didn’t play a sexual role in George’s life – she and her family were there as bosom buddies and companions. Whether she granted the “last favours” or not, Lady Hertford must have persuaded George she returned his love, even if her marriage prevented her acting upon it. Either way, George was obsessed with the family and unhappy when out of their company. Rather cruelly, Lady Hertford used Maria to cover her reputation, making sure she was present when they met so no gossip got out. But Maria was there under duress: Lady Hertford had it in her power to take away her adopted daughter – a thing which Maria would do anything to prevent. However, George’s continual mania for the Hertfords did eventually lead to his second and final break with his patient Catholic wife.

Lady Conyngham

5) Lady Conyngham George’s last mistress made no secret of her motives – at least not to her friends. She was in it for the power and the money. As George’s health deteriorated, she found herself bored with him and is recorded as departing Windsor after his death with “wagon-loads of treasure”. However, she has often been underestimated by historians. Though she came from what was regarded a “low” background at the time, she was by no means stupid and actively pushed George towards Catholic Emancipation. George was not her first lover, but he was certainly her greatest triumph. With her ambitious husband, she managed to see many dreams come true for the family and their children thanks to her “services”. However, accounts of her time with George are tinged with sadness. We hear of him constantly kissing her, staring at her dewy-eyed all through his Coronation and other such foolish marks of devotion. He was besotted, but she was clearly indifferent.  Perhaps he deserved such treatment after all the women he had disappointed over the years, but I do feel sorry for the elderly, doting George.

Although these five were the main influences in George’s life, there are countless others. He reputedly seduced one of his mother’s ladies-in-waiting, attempted to start an affair with his sisters’ subgoverness (she was far too sensible to say yes), had two affairs with Elizabeth Armistead, who was later to marry his friend Charles Fox, and nearly broke up the marriage of a foreign ambassador. Amongst his female friends, he attempted but failed to take up with the Duchess of Devonshire, her sister and Madame de Lieven in turn. He was married to Caroline and although he hated her, clearly slept with her at least once to produce his heir Princess Charlotte. In my notes I have so many names of women he dallied with: Lady Bamfylde, Mrs Clare, Lady Melbourne, Mrs Johnstone, Mrs Crouch, Lady Archer, Miss Paget, Harriet Wilson, Mrs Crole, Mrs Davies, Grace Dalrymple Eliot.

It would appear, on paper, that George was a heartless seducer. The strange thing was, he genuinely believed himself desperately in love each time over. He had frenzies over women, falling dangerously ill with despair if he couldn’t get his way. He would weep copious tears and promise them the world. With such a strange and self-destructive compulsion, his life was ultimately a very lonely one. For all the women who had been happy to take his money, none were by his death-bed; only his faithful first wife, Maria, had written to him and her letter remained under his pillow. It has been suggested that George had mother issues, which led to his preference for managing, older women. While his relationship with Queen Charlotte wasn’t easy, I don’t feel it can adequately explain his behaviour, and I will discuss this fully in a later post. But isn’t it sad to think that a young man who started out so handsome and with so much promise ended alone, discarded, having alienated all the women who had ever given him a piece of their heart? He wanted to be loved so desperately – yet he betrayed that love when he got it.  He was, indeed, a complicated man to involve yourself with!

220px-GeorgeIV1780

A Taint in the Blood

On the whole, I’d rather risk my chances than put myself in the hands of 18th Century doctors. All I find are horror stories, particularly around childbirth. Who can forget Sir Richard Croft, accoucheur to Princess Charlotte? After starving and bleeding the girl in the late stages of her pregnancy, he failed to intervene when the baby was in trouble and then warmed the mother up when she showed signs of haemorrhaging (the accepted method then was to apply a cold compress, so goodness knows why he decided a fire and blankets were in order). Just look at the unpromising trio above! As George III was to find out, 18th Century doctors may have been foolish when it came matters of the body, but they were even less equipped to deal with matters of the mind.

Blistering, leeches, mustard plasters, purges: these are just some of the miseries George had to endure. There were other favoured methods for treating madness: plunging the suffer in cold water repeatedly, restricting them to a diet of only apples for a month. As you can imagine, none of these really worked. But even if they had been effectual, it doesn’t follow they would have helped the King. Personally, I lean towards the theory that George III had acute porphyria. It was something his doctors stood no chance of diagnosing.

It is interesting to speculate who else in the royal family may have suffered from this metabolic disorder – or indeed, madness, if that truly was the trouble with George. Porphyria’s symptoms can include purple urine, skin sensitivity, abdominal pain, mood swings, delirium, sensitivity to sunlight, weakness, insomnia, and breathing problems. When I look at other members of George’s family who were accused of being “mad”, some of these crop up too.

Firstly, let’s consider George’s daughter, Princess Sophia. Sources confirm she was troubled with ill health all her life, but if we look at the symptoms in closer detail, we can see hints of porphyria. Described as a “moody” Princess, she certainly experienced the mood swings and insomnia detailed above. We also see repeated “spasms”, particularly in her stomach. She and George both experienced visual symptoms with their illnesses, and indeed both were to die completely blind. Interestingly, there was a period in 1793-4 when Sophia started to show alarming symptoms of her father’s “madness”. Her correspondence from the time shows a worrying tendency to paranoia; she writes to tell her father unpleasant things are happening and she is sure “Princess Royal is behind everything”. Her family was certainly worried enough to ship her away from sight for rest and recuperation; in a tactic that echoed the removal of King to Kew in his madness, she was not told she was going away and simply woke up one day to find her family had deserted her and a carriage ready at the door. What porphyria doesn’t account for are the fits Sophia used to fall into or her “swallow”, as she refers to it.  She never really elaborates on what this was – it could literally be a problem with swallowing, a sore throat or a breathing difficulty.

From Sophia it’s natural to move on to Ernest, a brother with whom she shared a close relationship. By his behaviour, Ernest certainly merited suspicions of mental instability. But I can locate no physical symptoms or episodes of delirium; on the whole, Ernest was fit as a fiddle, always well amidst ailing brothers at Gottingen University. I think we simply have to accept Ernest was boisterous and a bit of a rotter. The reports that he supposed attacked women and wanted to seduce nuns may or may not be true. But with Ernest, I can see only character flaws – no hint of the “King’s Evil”.

Travelling from “characters” in God Save the King to those in A Forbidden Crown, we find a wealth of new material. I have written in other posts about Caroline of Brunswick’s eccentricity; I literally cannot count the sources I have found from contemporaries swearing she was mad. Even her mother broke down in tears before Queen Charlotte and asked her to excuse Caroline because she was (tapping her head) “Not quite right in here”. Could the same be said of her sister Augusta, who Friedrich of Wurttemberg was so eager to separate from? It’s also interesting to note some of Caroline’s brothers played a shadowy role in the court of Brunswick because they were “idiots” (18th century term, certainly not mine). But with Caroline we can chart the physical symptoms too. From an early age, she had “cramps, nervous debility and hysteria. All that excites her arouses the disorder”.  Her mother was terrified. Indeed, all the way up to her death she suffered with pains in her stomach, although the symptoms could point towards a cancer that eventually killed her.

But what of Caroline’s husband, George IV (who I will refer to as Prinny to avoid confusion with his father)? We often laugh at Prinny for behaving like a toddler and mock his severe mood swings. Few people have considered his behaviour in the light of an illness. I find it extremely telling that Prinny was always eager to conceal any illness that befell him (I mean real illness – he was keen for people to know about the ones he staged for attention) for fear of rumours that he suffered with his father’s malady. It’s hard to tell with a flamboyant character like Prinny what is fact and what is fiction. But he certainly had worrying mental symptoms; contemporaries joked that he could tell a story so many times that he actually came to believe it. This has darker undertones than the light Regency banter suggests. Prinny really did believe his fantasies and definitely suffered from acute paranoia. At the first Regency crisis, Prinny turned on his hitherto (and later) adored mother, convinced she was out to poison the government against all her children. When he married Caroline, his suspicions took on farcical proportions. Again, a contemporary declares that “nothing but madness” could explain the way he treated his wife.  Prinny’s physical symptoms are difficult to extract – so many could be caused by the opulent lifestyle he led. All the same, he was addicted to opium in later life and repeatedly bled himself – he even had a special lancet secreted for the purpose when the doctors refused to cut him.

It’s easy to see how the gene pool had got into this state – and a state it was, regardless of whether anyone had porphyria or not. Continual intermarriage had brought things to a level where even George III disapproved of unions between first cousins. The necessity to marry within their Protestant religion and royal blood limited most Hanoverians to Germany, where they hailed from. It was impossible to marry someone who was not at least distantly related. Moreover, if you follow the madness theory, this strict circle of acceptable spouses was mentally suffocating. For each royal that showed signs of delirium, there were certainly surrounding circumstances that could conceivably have driven a person “mad”.

What I find most interesting is the way madness stalked George III through life. I don’t mean just his own disorder – I am talking the mental derangement of others. His sister Caroline Matilda (later referred to as Caroline Mathilde) married Christian of Denmark, another famously mad King. Christian’s disorder was perhaps more disturbing than George’s, given the violent nature of it. George himself declined marrying the Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt for fear that her father, who claimed to be able to talk with the spirit world, was mad. Oh, the irony! And then there were  the assassins lurking in the shadows. The first, Margaret Nicholson, who tried to stab George outside St. James’s Palace, was carted off to the mad-house. She thought England’s crown was hers by right and the country would be deluged in blood for a thousand years if she didn’t get it. Poignantly, the King – who had not experienced “madness” himself at this point – urged people not to hurt her, because she was only a poor mad woman.  There was another man ruined by the war-time effect on the stock market that killed himself right in front of George. More famously, we have the case of James Hadfield: the man who tried to assassinate George at Drury Lane Theatre. His trial led to the Criminal Lunatics Act 1800 which is rather fabulously represented in one of my favourite programmes, Garrow’s Law.

As you can see, poor George was pretty much surrounded by “madness”. If you would like find out more about him and his illness, and read fictionalised accounts of some of these events, look out for my novel God Save the King at the end of September 2012.

 

The Strange Death of Queen Caroline Part 2

I promised in my previous post about The Strange Death of Queen Caroline that I would keep you updated with the evidence I found.  I’ve unearthed many interesting facts, but as always with Caroline, the truth is unclear.

In support of a suicide theory, we have the opinion of her contemporaries. Henry Edward Fox certainly thought her capable of harming herself, during the trial for adultery in 1820, when he wrote: “Poor maniac! They say she means to kill herself. I should not be surprised.” We also have the rather gruesome information that Caroline’s body was swollen and black a few hours after death. One of her physicians, suspecting poisoning, wanted to open the body and establish the cause of death. He was told the Queen herself had forbidden any post-mortem. That, in itself, suggests she had something to hide.

Her physicians suspected a blockage in the bowels. They specified “a blockage of magnesia”. Given the paste-like mixture of magnesia and laudanum Caroline had forced down shortly before her illness, this seems very likely. Did that hideous do-it-yourself medicine, which her ladies urged her not to take, end her life? If it caused the blockage that the physicians diagnosed, then the answer seems to be yes.

The records say Queen Caroline seemed “much surprised” to discover her illness and asked “Do you think I am poisoned?” While I can’t discredit the idea that she was genuinely shocked, I don’t trust Caroline. The question is so inflammatory, so aimed at her husband. It seems typical that, whether she was dying through natural causes or her own intervention, she would make sure to implicate George in a scandal.

Historians agree that she was mentally unbalanced around the time of her death, and even refer to her as “the manic-depressive Queen Caroline”. But would she really, through motives of vengeance, go so far? The correspondence that could answer our questions has, frustratingly, disappeared. As foolish at it was, Caroline wrote to Pergami frequently during her trial for adultery with him. It seems to me that, while Caroline loved and had a hope of returning to Pergami, she would be unlikely to commit suicide. But life wasn’t that simple.

Despite her new Queenly allowance, Caroline had to remain in England following her trial, as she was too deep in debt to travel back to Italy. She was separated for goodness knew how long from the man she loved. If in fact, she did still love him. It’s bizarre to consider that through the delirium during the last hours of her life, she never mentioned Pergami. She mentioned his daughter and the children of Alderman Wood. But no Pergami. Is it possible the pair had quarrelled? Had she ceased to think of him with affection? Or had she simply trained her tongue not to mention him?  There is always the possibility, of course, that the witnesses to her death lied. They were her most loyal supporters. Still, I would expect at least one source to creep out if Caroline had actually talked about Pergami when she died.

We also have to balance Caroline’s motives for suicide against a long history of stomach spasms and cramps. About two years before her death, she was suffering acutely with pain in that area. This would suggest a slow-forming blockage or tumour. As I mentioned before, Caroline faced her death with remarkable calmness. Perhaps she had suspected the illness for some time and felt it increasing. Perhaps she had hastened it. Or perhaps she was just showing the Brunswicker courage that remains of her more loveable characteristics.

The verdict I have come to is that Caroline was partly to blame for her own death. It appears she originally became ill through natural causes, but she lost the will to fight against the disease. I also believe she did all she could to make it worse and hasten the inevitable, through her strange medicines and her failure to consult a doctor early on. Whatever the truth, we can be sure her end was sudden and painful. I sincerely hope the “unruly Queen” is now resting in a well-deserved peace.

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That Wicked Princess on the Heath

Put a Queen on trial for adultery and you’re bound to create factions. Even today, Anne Boleyn is represented alternatively as a pure innocent and an incestuous witch with six fingers. Similarly, Queen Caroline, consort of George IV, gets an uneven treatment in the history books. There are those that see an affair lurking with any man she spoke to, and those that naively discredit some strong evidence. Either way, no one seems able to entirely acquit this Princess who, in her own servant’s words, was “very fond of f*cking”.

The scandals about Caroline date right back to her youth in Brunswick. She often met a little shepherd boy out in her walks and went back to his “hovel” with him to see how his family did. To me, this fits in perfectly with Caroline’s life-long obsession with children and general inquisitiveness. Moreover, she was always generous to the poor. But rumours flew about that this little shepherd boy was actually her son.

It seems likely that Caroline did have a love affair while at Brunswick, though I doubt she went so far as to  bear an illegitimate child. She was kept under close guard by her parents and watched constantly, lest she talk to and flirt with young men on the dance floor. There must have been a reason for this. Her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Brunswick, were not the type of people to overreact and be needlessly strict. I imagine that Caroline’s winningly honest and open conversation got her into some early scrapes, from which they were keen to protect her in future.

Caroline spoke, with her usually lack of tact, of a man she had been very much in love with but was forbidden to marry, due to his low rank. Perhaps this was an Irish officer in her father’s army, who she was seen to be partial to. Or perhaps, as is often the case with Caroline, it was a blatant lie.  She said this to Lady Jersey, her husband’s mistress, almost immediately after her arrival in England, when Lady Jersey had openly insulted her. I consider it a proud backlash, a kind of “well, it doesn’t matter to me if the Prince loves you; he’s not my first choice.”

There was a Prince, however, whom Caroline insisted she had loved her whole life long. This was Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. Her father wanted the match as badly as she did. But the Prussian suit, like so many others in Caroline’s teenage years, mysteriously dissolved. The very lack of evidence as to why the matches were given up is telling. It seems to me that there was some stain upon Caroline’s character that the European monarchies, once they discovered it, were unwilling to forgive.

George IV was later to state his conviction that Caroline was not a virgin when she came to his marriage bed in 1795. Unfortunately, his testimonies are about as trustworthy as Caroline’s. George’s friends admitted that, if he told a story often enough, he came to believe it was the truth. Not content with complaining about Caroline’s smell and generally horrid body, he insisted she was “not new” and mentioned that on the second night, seeing his suspicions, she mixed up some tooth powder and water to stain her nightgown. However, his only “evidence” of her experience is that she made a complimentary comment about the size of his wedding tackle (notice how George always manages to chuck in a comment about how great he is, even when slagging off others). One can’t help but feeling this is just a furious response to Caroline’s allegations that he was impotent. If Caroline did make the comment, I see nothing in it to suggest she wasn’t a virgin. It could either be another desperate attempt to win the affection of her stroppy husband or a natural remark of surprise; Caroline never was one to use the brain to mouth filter.

However, it was when Caroline moved to Blackheath, after her unofficial separation with George, that the rumours really started. Caroline delighted in pronouncing herself “that wicked Princess on the heath, she is such a rake, such a rioter, and such an irregular person, that she makes rebellions, and mutinies, in every well-regulated house – but she comes from abroad and so she is good for nothing”. It seems very natural that the affectionate Princess, who always was fond of flirting, went a little overboard when she found her freedom. Moreover, she loved to cause a scandal. But I don’t subscribe to the view that she pretty much humped anything in trousers during her years on the Heath. She had been told early on by Lord Malmesbury that she would incur the death penalty by committing adultery, and was clearly much struck by it.

George Canning, a promising Pittite MP, had known Caroline before her exile to the Heath and the pair were clearly in love. Some historians have decided the affair wasn’t very serious, given that he married another woman soon after. But Canning confessed that if he had not met his wife, Miss Scott, “I know not how I should have resisted, as I ought to do, the abundant and overpowering temptation to the indulgence of a passion which must have been dangerous, perhaps ruinous, to her who was the cause of it.” Apparently, Caroline and he agreed together that his marriage was the only “effectual remedy to all the danger and…our escape”.  Caroline continued friendly with the Cannings all of her life. When she was put on trial for adultery in 1820, Canning risked the fury of the King and refused to have anything to do with the proceedings.  His writing about escaping danger and ruin suggest that he and Caroline did not consummate their love, but there was clearly much foreplay. When she received a letter from George telling her they “should not be answerable to one another”, she showed it to Canning and asked what it meant. He told her it “freed her entirely” and they “took advantage of it on the spot”.

The next of Caroline’s lovers on the Heath was a dashing naval hero, Sir Sidney Smith. In character, he seemed much like Caroline and I am not surprised to two hit it off. But Smith came hand in hand with the friends he was staying with, the Douglases. And this is where it all gets a bit complicated.

The Douglases and Smith were Caroline’s bosom friends until, without much explanation, she threw them over and took up with Captain Mamby instead. The Douglases later insisted that Caroline had been pregnant and confided in them alone. But if that was the case, she would have kept thick with them. She may have been giddy, but Caroline was certainly not fool enough to tell someone such an explosive secret then make an enemy of them. It is my opinion that Caroline purposefully wound up the Douglases with tall tales, due to her own jealousy.

Her first attack on the Douglases was to send anonymous letters to Lord Douglas, featuring pictures of Lady Douglas and Sir Sidney Smith in amorous situations; or, as Caroline put it “Sir Sidney Smith doing your amiable wife”. Although Lady Douglas maintained that her husband always believed in her innocence, he didn’t act that way. He went storming over to Smith and demanded an explanation. Naturally, Smith denied everything – but was he telling the truth?

If Caroline had found out, mid-affair with Smith, that he was also a past or present lover of Lady Douglas, it would explain her sudden hatred of her friend. It would also explain why she purposefully infuriated Smith by playing footsie with Mamby at a dinner party. She was jealous, and wanted to make him jealous too. It seems that, after all the hoo-ha, she decided she liked Mamby better anyway.

The love-struck Caroline followed Mamby across the country to the docks of his ships and entrusted two of her “charity boys” to his care. She was later to claim that Mamby had smuggled an illegitimate son of her old flame, Prince Louis Ferdinand, across the seas for her. This was the boy Willy Austin, the “Deptford child”, whom the Douglases claimed was the Princesses own. I think both sides are lying here. I believe Willy was the son of Sophia Austin; Caroline, as always, loved making mischief and found she could do so here with a good excuse for trailing after Mamby.

It was around this point that George III reluctantly agreed to investigate her behaviour – “The Delicate Investigation” – and Caroline appears to have pulled her act together after this.  A few rumours circulated in the following years about Captain Hesse, who was courting Caroline’s daughter, Charlotte. Hesse followed Caroline on her Continental journey and remained a loyal attendant. Personally, I believe he was sincerely attached to the family and loved only Charlotte. But many people, Charlotte included, thought otherwise.

It was on this trip to the Continent that Caroline met the man who was to be her downfall: Pergami. This was the adulterous relationship she was put on charge for. She was lucky that, since it took place abroad, the death sentence could not apply. I, along with Georgian contemporaries, believe that the relationship was “pure in-no-sense”. But Caroline’s guilt or innocence was not what mattered to the mobs of the day; they were more concerned with humiliating the King.

But despite my belief in her guilt, I don’t think Caroline’s relationship with Pergami was as bad as it was represented. Her lawyer Brougham did a brilliant job of highlight that the witnesses against her were bribed for their evidence. They had been rehearsed for certain questions and answers and were completely clueless when asked things not on their script: “I do not remember” being a favourite answer. There were others who were downright liars. One mentioned riding beside Caroline’s coach, looking through the curtains and seeing her and Pergami with their hands placed on one another’s private parts. This was later exposed as complete nonsense; the man in question never rode beside the coach, the coach had blinds, not curtains, a third person always travelled with them and the set up of the coach made it impossible for anyone to sit in that position.

Brougham, who confessed to disliking Caroline, later decided that Pergami’s swift promotions through her household had more to do with his child than anything else. It is true that Caroline adored children and made friends with anyone who had them. Pergami’s daughter slept in her bed and called her “Mamma”. But while pictures of this little girl littered Caroline’s houses, so did pictures of her father. He was always moved into bedrooms near Caroline’s. And while his family were all invited to become members of Caroline’s staff, there was one glaring exception: his wife.

It is my belief that Caroline really loved Pergami and would have been happy living with her adopted Italian “family”. But her pride and her need to beat George IV summoned her back to England, where she ultimately died. She did not speak of Pergami at the end, although she wrote to him a few times while in England and remembered his daughter in her will.

As for the other lovers, I can’t be sure how far the relationships went. I am sure there was much kissing and, as Flora Fraser puts it,  “heavy petting” going on, but I’m not convinced Caroline would risk full on sexual affairs in England under the noses of her husband and uncle. But by the time she was with Pergami, free on the Continent and past the age where pregnancy was a risk, it was a different story.

Should she be condemned? England did not believe so; after all, her husband’s affairs were more numerous and sordid. And is it any wonder that a poor Princess, shunned and called ugly by the only man she was legally allowed to sleep with, was delighted to find others who thought her attractive? No; it seems quite natural to me that Caroline succumbed to Pergami and his wonderful moustachios.

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The Strange Death of Queen Caroline

 

One of the joys of being a historical novelist is getting to sift through all the theories that have gone before, examine the evidence, and draw your own conclusions. When faced with the mystery of Caroline’s death, I can’t sit on the fence. I have to choose which version of “the truth” to put in my story and go with it.

Over the years, medical historians have tried to surmise the cause of Caroline’s death at the age of just 53. Stomach cancer, or a blockage of the bowels, are the most frequent diagnoses. There are good arguments for these, and it could be that Caroline’s demise was completely natural. But timed as it was, so soon after her victory at her trial and her shame at George IV’s coronation, I can’t help listening to the scandalous suspicions of the time. These are what I want to dwell upon today.

It is far too easy to cast George IV as the villain of the piece. I hope I show in my work that although he was one of the worst husbands ever to sully a marriage, he was generous and a good brother – even occasionally a good son, to  Queen Charlotte at least. I cannot credit the rumours that flew about, in true Regency style, that George poisoned his wife. Yes, he was conveniently out of the country when she died and prescribed the bare minimum of mourning for her – just three weeks. Undoubtedly he hated her with a maniacal frenzy. But poisoning just doesn’t seem like his style. Besides, what had he to gain?   He had already triumphed over her at his coronation, thwarting her attempts to gain access to the Cathedral while she was booed home. One might argue he wanted her out of the way to marry again – but he didn’t marry again. There was little in it for him but peace of mind, knowing she would not rear her ugly head again to make more mischief.

The person who stood to gain most through Caroline’s death was, bizarrely, Caroline herself. Which has led me to a rather disturbing theory: did Caroline, in fact, hasten her own death?

Perhaps I’m overly perceptive to signs of mental health, but it is safe to say Caroline was never completely stable. As early on as her exile at Blackheath, visitors reported her violent mood swings; prancing through the house in a wild conga one minute, despairing and repining over her lot in life the next. But it is not this aspect of her character which fuels my suspicions: it is her determination.

Contemporaries confirm that once she had set her mind on something, she would follow it through to the point of death. Worryingly, the things she set her mind on weren’t the products of careful deliberation. She was “caught by the first impulse”, “recklessness was central to her personality” and she would “risk solid  benefits” to gratify her desire to scandalise others whilst amusing and revenging herself. Could it possibly be that after the glory of her trial had faded away and she was nothing but a Queen snubbed at her own coronation, she took it into her head to revenge herself on George once and for all?

For Caroline’s popularity certainly did return with her death. Right up until her last breath, she was trying to get the sympathy vote from the people; she wanted her coffin to say “The Injured Queen of England”. Admittedly, it would be an extreme measure to go to. But this is the lady that sent obscene drawings by the penny post to revenge herself on a neighbour. Moreover, she was in a bad way.

For the first time in the many years of her horrid marriage, Caroline’s spirit was visibly broken.  She was disillusioned with even the victory of her trial, soon realising that no one had cared for her as “a poor forlorn woman”, but had followed their own political agendas. After being hissed away from her coronation (where, it is worth noting, her nervousness made her laugh hysterically) Caroline insisted on attending a pageant of the ceremony, performed at Drury Lane. Lady Anne Barnard, present at the show, reported the following:

“[The Queen] got up and curtsied to the manager, the pit, galleries and boxes in a manner so marked – so wild – with a countenance so haggard… I burst into tears to see royalty and pride so humbled and broken down.”

It was on the return from this performance that she began to vomit and her pulse grew fast and erratic. It could be that she had been unwell for some time and her body was finally breaking down at this stage. But the scenes that followed  remind me vividly of the end of Madame Bovary. She dosed herself up, without consultation, bleeding herself profusely, taking opium and enough castor oil “to turn the stomach of a horse”. Lady Anne Hamilton said:

“Her Majesty put on the semblance of unusual gaiety…but while she laughed, the tears rolled down her face – tears of anguish so acute that she seemed to dread the usual approach of rest.”

The Queen finally retired at 3am, taking a glass of water with a huge quantity of Magnesia and a few drops of laudanum. Lady Anne tried to stop her from taking such a strange concoction but she downed it with the use of a spoon.

The doctors called to consult on her later suspected she had, herself, caused a blockage with all her weird mixtures of medicines. Whether this was true, or intentional, we will never know. What we can be sure of is Caroline faced her death with a remarkable bravery and resignation. Perhaps I am just mistaking her strong courage and confusing it with the idea that she had planned to bring her death about all along. But the following exchanges are rather speaking.

“I am going to die,” she told her lawyer Brougham, “but it does not signify.” He assured her that the doctors were of quite a different opinion. “I know better than they,” she said. “I tell you I shall die, but I don’t mind it.”

Lord Hood observed:

“I never beheld a firmer mind, or anyone with less feelings at the thought of dying.”

A controversial theory, but one I am surprised no one seems to have put forward before. I will keep on with the digging and let you know what I find!

A Princess at War

As you’ve probably noticed by now, it’s the psychology of historical figures that really interests me. I’ve covered many “characters”, but I believe there are few as fascinating as Princess Charlotte of Wales, only child of George IV and Queen Caroline.

Not only was Charlotte born in the midst of Revolutionary War, she entered life as a main playing piece in the battle between her estranged parents. Sadly for Charlotte, she took after both her mother and father and in different ways. Since they couldn’t live together happily, how was she supposed to juggle these irreconcilable personalities within herself? It wasn’t easy and there were few people to help her.

Both George and Caroline loved their daughter, but it was a love tinged with darker emotions. She was an instrument of revenge to use against the other. Moreover, she reminded them of their less than happy union. She looked very much like her father and her manners at times brought her mother vividly to life. Neither could love her without reserve.

Caroline doted on the young Charlotte. Throughout her life, she was obsessed with babies and children, but I can’t help feeling that as Charlotte grew up, Caroline’s interest waned. It was very clear that Charlotte was to be raised away from her “polluting influence” and though Caroline tried to gain more frequent access to her daughter, the struggle soon became more about annoying George than actually seeing Charlotte. Besides, Caroline had adopted countless other waifs and strays to live with her at Blackheath, all of a younger, cuter age. To some extent, poor Charlotte must have felt replaced.

In my post Sweet Caroline, I discussed how difficult it is to form an opinion of Caroline. It comes as no surprise to me that her daughter also struggled. On the one hand, Caroline was a slice of fun punctuating the dreary monotony of Charlotte’s school room life. It must have been blissful to be swept away from the dull aunts at Windsor to Blackheath’s riotous parties. Charlotte was soon telling her governess she didn’t mind showing her legs when she got into the carriage – she had nice legs, after all. This is pure Caroline talking; a sign that perhaps Charlotte looked up to her mother as a kind of role model, an outspoken woman amongst her more retiring aunts. But Charlotte was not solely Caroline’s daughter, and she began to doubt her mother was quite so wonderful as she first thought. The findings of the Delicate Investigation of 1806 shocked Charlotte to the core. She was enough of George’s daughter to disapprove strongly of her mother’s actions, and begin to question her motives.

Caroline had once helped Charlotte conduct a love affair with Captain Hesse, carrying correspondence for them. At this time, her mother probably seemed like a godsend, wanting her to find true love. It was only later that Charlotte began to wonder if her mother was trying to ruin her reputation, thus punishing George and the entire royal family. Her fears seemed justified when the time came to arrange her marriage. Charlotte asked her mother for advice about accepting the Prince of Orange, but Caroline refused to give any. She was far more concerned that Charlotte should cause a fuss about Caroline’s exclusion from the recent festivities at Carlton House. When, desperate to avoid the match, Charlotte fled her house and cast herself on Caroline’s protection, she was told to go back home! Soon after, Caroline quit the country and left Charlotte to cope with the fall out alone.

It was no easier to trust her father. Personally, I think that George did love his daughter and wanted to do the  best by her. But he had a remarkably short memory. As an heir to the throne who had chaffed under the strict education imposed on him, you would expect his rearing of Charlotte to be more liberal. Alas, he was so terrified of Caroline’s influence that he kept her on a tight rein. He made it very clear that Charlotte was to have “no will of her own”. I doubt anyone would like being told that, but for the spirited Charlotte it was doubly exasperating.  She began to see him as a jailor. Since he hated and banned visits to Caroline, they became a kind of illicit treat. Another rod George made for his own back was raising Charlotte with Whig values. As heir presumptive, he had subscribed to the party views, but the tables turned when he became Prince Regent. Not only were the Whigs infuriating him with their party squabbles but they were determined to end the war. For the sake of what he believed best for England, George was forced to break with his old party and stick with the Tories. This widened the gap between father and daughter; Charlotte burst into tears at dinner when he gave an anti-Whig speech.

We must remember that George hated Caroline with an almost inhuman frenzy. There were times when his daughter, as a reminder of that hated woman, was loathsome to him. It became far easier to spend time in Brighton with Mrs Fitzherbert and their adopted daughter, Minnie Seymour. Minnie was a winning child, dutiful and sweet – probably because she didnt have the Hanover genes in her. Once again, Charlotte was finding her place filled in a parent’s heart. She even began to suspect that George wanted her out of the country, married to a foreign Prince, so it would be easier to divorce her mother. In which case, he would probably marry again and produce an alternative heir to the throne. She stood to lose everything if she didn’t keep her father sweet – or, if she abandoned her mother. How was she supposed to do both?

Unsurprisingly, with all this pressure, Charlotte “played up”. She liked to be rough with her playmates, laugh loudly and swagger like an ostler boy. She delighted in a tom-boy image, yet never lost sight of the great situation to which she was born. When asked to close the door by her governess, she replied grandly, “Not I. If you want the door closed, ring the bell.” For a period of her childhood, she made herself as difficult as possible. Why not? Whatever she did, she was bound to displease one or other of her parents.

Charlotte did have true friends who cared for her, but she didn’t realise it. Her grandmother Queen Charlotte and the five of her daughters who remained in England were on her side. But as they all loved George, Charlotte suspected them of being nothing but his puppets. Moreover, they were all so boring to her youthful mind. She scarcely thought of confiding in them until much  later on in life. Meanwhile, her Aunt Royal frequently wrote from Wurttemberg with recommendations for Charlotte’s upbringing. If George had attended to them, Charlotte might have enjoyed a bit of an easier ride. The only one of the family Charlotte knew she could trust was her grandfather George III. They were devoted to each other. But the “madness” snatched him away from her so often, he was of very little use.

Charlotte did eventually find happiness with Prince Leopold, who she married. She calmed down from this point and truly seemed able to be herself. Her relationship with her father and aunts improved, and she wrote fondly to her mother on the Continent. It seemed she had at last reconciled some of the turmoil within. Yet when she was on the point of completing her own joy by adding a child to the family, and delighting the nation by giving birth to a Prince, Charlotte tragically died.

It seems so unfair that she was only able to enjoy a brief snatch of happiness. But from a literary point of view, it has the perfect symbolism. The rotten marriage of her parents tainted her luck throughout life. The only good thing to come of the union, like the marriage itself, broke down at an early age. Poor Charlotte. I often wonder what would have happened if she and her son had lived, thereby erasing the Victorian era. We will never know, but I certainly hope that she has found the peace she was seeking all that time, beneath this beautiful monument with her son and grandmother.

 

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