George I

Henrietta Howard – Unlikely Feminist

Henrietta Howard by James Heath
Henrietta Howard by James Heath

George II’s longest-serving (and longest-suffering) mistress was famed for her submission and gentle behaviour. She was one of the few women who could listen to the king’s tirades and retain her tranquility. Her manners set a pattern for modesty, discretion and obedience. As one contemporary observed, she acted ‘as if she had never seen any ill nature, and had been bred among lambs and turtle-doves.’ Such a character may not strike you as an early champion of women’s rights, but in fact Henrietta held a number of views that were, for her time, bordering on the radical.

If you look at Henrietta’s formative years, it is easy to see why she came to the conclusion that women had ‘superior sense, superior fortitude and reason.’ Her father, Sir Henry Hobart, whilst much beloved by his wife and family, was an extravagant and hot-headed man. Tracy Borman describes him with a ‘quick temper and dictatorial manner’. Eight years the senior of Henrietta’s mother Elizabeth Maynard, he ran through her dowry of £10,000 at a rapid rate and left the estate heavily in debt. There were also rumours that he had deprived Elizabeth of her rightful income. Sir Henry’s tempestuous life ended when, incensed over a slander, he challenged his neighbour to a duel. He was skewered on a sword, leaving his wife and eight children with his bills.

Sir Henry did have a son and heir, but the boy was too young at the time of his death to take up the reins of management. A series of shocking deaths over the next few years left only Henrietta, her brother and two sisters remaining from the initial family of ten. As the eldest survivor Henrietta, a girl, had to take charge.

Blickling Hall - Henrietta's childhood home
Blickling Hall – Henrietta’s childhood home

It is interesting to see that even at this early age of sixteen, Henrietta was aware that she needed to use men to get what she wanted. She needed security and a husband to help her care for her younger siblings. She must have been thrilled when, in less than a year, she managed to secure an offer of marriage from a distant relation, Charles Howard. As the third son of the 5th Earl of Suffolk with a distinguished military career, he seemed like an excellent catch. But Henrietta’s youth and inexperience had failed to see his true character: ‘wrong-headed, ill-tempered, obstinate, extravagant and brutal.’ He sold his commission soon after their marriage and frittered the £700 away on drink, gaming and women. To make matters worse, he decided to sue the young brother Henrietta had tried so hard to protect. This must have been enormously distressing for poor Henrietta, who was by that time on the verge of giving birth to her first child.

We know of the terrible life Henrietta led between 1706 and 1713 thanks to a raging letter she wrote to Charles in 1728, listing all her wrongs. She was frequently starving, abandoned for weeks on end with no idea where he was, and ejected from lodgings where he did not pay the rent. This would have been bad enough, but Charles was also physically violent towards his wife. She describes ‘dreadful scenes…which humanity would force the most barbarous to commiserate.’ A neighbour confirmed that she treated Charles with ‘constant awe…scarce even daring to speak to him’.

Henrietta did, however, defy Charles in one essential way: she sold all their belongings without his knowledge and purchased two tickets to Hanover. Her object was to secure a post in the household of the Hanoverian royal family, who were next in line to the British throne. Happily, she succeeded.  Under the auspices of Princess Caroline, she began to see a very different model of marriage from her own.

Caroline
Caroline

I’ve written at length in other blog posts about the balance of power between Caroline and George II. Here, it is only necessary to say that any feminist views Henrietta nurtured must have received encouragement from observing the relationship. She saw how expertly a clever woman could manage her husband without seeming to. In fact, Caroline’s tactics of apparent submission and gentle agreement were exactly those Henrietta would use when she herself became George’s lover.

In my last post, I explained why I think Henrietta did have some genuine affection for George. But it cannot be doubted that she also used him for protection from her brutal husband  – and money. She also made use of other men at the court, whether it was to raise her political status, provoke her royal lover or help her with building projects. In later years, Swift and Pope wrote of her as if they had been mistreated by a femme fatale. Whatever the truth about her flirtations, I find Henrietta’s views on love very interesting. In her court career, she was faced with ludicrous love letters by an elderly admirer, the Earl of Peterborough (and they are TEDIOUS, believe me). With the help of her great friend John Gay, she replied by expressing her opinions on the subject of courtship. Although she aimed many good-humoured jests at her own sex, the  picture that emerges is a woman who expects to be addressed as an equal, rational creature rather than a swooning stereotype. My favourite excerpts from these letters are show below

 If you will allow a woman ever to think, I must beg your lordship to give me leave to tell you what I think of your letters… I fancy the man who first treated the ladies with that celestial complaisance used it in contempt of their understandings… But perhaps you will ask me, if a woman be neither like angel nor devil, what is she like? I answer that the only thing that is like a woman is – another woman… The most agreeable compliment to a woman is to persuade her she is a very fine woman. No reasonable woman desires more… I think every man is in the wrong who talks to a woman of dying for her; the only women that can have received a benefit from such a protestation are the widows.

Henrietta’s beliefs were to be put to the test in the winter of 1717. The great Christening quarrel split the royal household apart. She was faced with the choice of either staying with her son and abusive husband, who served George I, or following Prince George and Princess Caroline into exile. Never before had she been given the opportunity to break away from the terror of her marriage. She longed to escape, yet she knew it would bring disgrace and separation from her son. It was an agonising decision which she wrote about at length, trying to establish whether she could keep her own honour free from her husband’s taint, and listing the many wives she knew who were made miserable through ‘man’s tyranick (sic) power.’ ‘Self preservation is the first law of human nature,’ she wrote, ‘are married women then the only part of human nature that must not follow it?’ In the end, she did follow that law of nature and took the brave step to leave.

Of course, a man like Charles Howard did not give up easily. Over the next eleven years, he would continue to threaten and torment her. Not only did he deny any access to their son, he secured a warrant to legally kidnap her, even making an attempt to break into the palace and seize her. He blackmailed, he enlisted the views of bishops, he referred to the law. You can tell what a horrendous man he was by the fact that his own brother Edward died leaving all his money to Henrietta – not Charles. And in true form, Charles tried to go against the deceased’s wishes. When Edward passed away on 22 June, Charles ‘took possession of body and goods, and was not prevailed upon till yesterday (28 June) to resign the former for burial’.

Naturally, Henrietta wanted to free herself from association with this man. She felt that being mistress to a prince did not demean her honour half as much as marriage to such a wretch. But her options were severely limited. Divorce was so unusual that it would need an Act of Parliament – an expense far beyond her means. Legal separation was only possible if the wife could prove adultery and life-threatening cruelty. Henrietta had certainly endured both, but had kept it well hidden from the world. Not to be deterred, she took the astonishing step of suing for a private deed of separation. Such deeds were extremely rare and would have been viewed with censure. At first, Charles resisted all negotiation. It was then that Henrietta penned her furious letter demanding justice. ‘You have called me named and have threatened to kick me and break my neck,’ she complained. ‘I have often laid abed with you when I have been under apprehensions of your doing me a mischief.’ She made it very clear that she felt the failure of the marriage was his fault:‘the marriage duty, which I have performed and you have violated…you who have made marriage an instrument of cruelty.’ It was money, rather than a sense of shame, that softened Charles in the end. However, one way or the other, Henrietta achieved her aim of independence at the beginning of 1729.

Four years later, her freedom was secured. Her husband and lifelong tormentor finally died. But there is another twist to the tale. Rather than relishing the single life she had worked so hard to obtain, Henrietta threw herself into the protection of another man just two years later. Caroline thought it an unaccountable piece of folly. But you have only to read the tender correspondence between Henrietta and her second husband, George Berkeley, to see why she acted as she did. Berkeley was everything Charles had not been: intelligent, humorous and kind. He did not scruple to marry the prince’s ‘damaged goods’ and gave up his own home to live with her at her precious house of Marble Hill. He cared for her when she was ill, he missed her when she was away. He helped her to raise her nephew and niece, Dorothy Hobart, who may actually have been Henrietta’s illegitimate child. Berkeley understood the secret strength of the woman he was marrying and accepted her views. The pair often engaged in a playful war of the sexes. ‘The actions of women are too inconsiderable to draw consequences from them: thus I know your pride and arrogance in power makes all you men reason,’ Henrietta wrote to him. ‘But I do not despair to see some of my sex vindicate us, and make a figure that will make some of you tremble.’ The pair were exquisitely happy until Berkeley’s death 11 years later.

Marble Hill
Marble Hill

But Henrietta’s fight for troubled women did not end with the happy resolution of her own story. Her niece beloved Dorothy fell in love with a soldier considered unsuitable by her family. In despair of receiving permission to marry, they pair eloped. When they were finally discovered (unmarried), Henrietta took an interesting course of action. She continued to urge Dorothy to save her own future and stay away from the man. In a society that would condemn a woman for running away with a suitor and not marrying him, Henrietta’s advice is unusual. It almost echoes the progressive Lizzy Bennet in Pride and Prejudice when Lydia elopes with Wickham: ‘And they must marry! Yet he is such a man!’.  As it turned out, Dorothy was entangled far deeper than suspected and could not take her aunt’s advice  – she was with child. She made the marriage, but fortunately it turned out to be a very happy one.

The same could not be said of the last woman Henrietta tried to save. I have written a little before about Lady Mary Coke, who was forced into a miserable marriage. Mary’s husband was every bit as cruel as Charles and, I suspect, mentally disturbed. Mary complained that he ‘tore my ruffle all to pieces and told me I deserved to be assassinated.’ Henrietta acted as friend and adviser to the distressed Mary, even finding her legal aid and trying to get her a separation. Sadly, Mary was not quite as brave as Henrietta. She hesitated to take the radical step and was discovered. Her punishment was imprisonment in her room without food.

The fact that this treatment of Lady Mary was still considered legal really highlights what Henrietta and her contemporaries were up against. For one, I admire the spirit that kept Henrietta true to herself through a life of hardship. Her ‘feminism’, however primitive, was truly brave and, I think, remarkable for its time.

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.

P1000653
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.

P1000319
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 First Georgians

Caroline

Last Wednesday, I made my way through the push of children enjoying their Easter holidays and a hive of tourists to the Queen’s Gallery at to Buckingham Palace. The gallery hosts a wealth of exhibitions – I remember particularly enjoying one about Victoria and Albert  – but this year its subject is The First Georgians. Huzza! The exhibition celebrates the House of Hanover’s accession to the English throne 300 years ago in 1714 and runs up until 12 October 2014. I would encourage any Georgian junkie to go and see the beautiful art and historic documents on display.

‘The First Georgians’ in this context are the early Hanoverian monarchs George I, George II and his wife Queen Caroline, and Frederick Prince of Wales. Although Frederick didn’t live to become King I am glad he got a mention, because he certainly deserves one as a connoisseur of art and literature. His tastes were to inspire his son George III, and in turn his grandson George IV, both of them avid collectors.One of the most poignant documents on display is a letter from Frederick to George III, advising him how to be a good King. He writes in a bold, clear hand – isn’t it wonderful when historic letters are actually legible?  It is as if Frederick knew he would not wear the crown himself and left these instructions to live after him. In fact, several sources I have come across mention Frederick’s premonitions of a short life.

Frederick

The first things you encounter when entering the exhibition are busts of Caroline and George II. I was ridiculously excited to see 3D representations of my royal ‘friends’, they really give you a feel for the features and you can imagine having a conversation with them. With so many paintings, our images of kings and queens tend to become cartoonish and two dimensional, but these busts help you to see the real people. Many of the busts on display were commissioned by Caroline herself to decorate ‘Merlin’s Cave’, a quaint thatched cottage she constructed at Kensington Palace. You entered the cave through a maze of clipped hedges to find wax works, allegorical figures, books and all manner of curiosities.

Caroline contributes further to the exhibition with her private collections. She greatly admired Queen Elizabeth I and owned many cameos of the Tudor monarchs. We also have to thank Caroline for rediscovering some of the most iconic images of the Tudor period – the sketches of Hans Holbein. It was while rummaging in Mary II’s bureau at Kensington that Caroline discovered Holbein’s work, along with drawings by Da Vinci. Caroline’s other pieces are charming miniatures of her children and acquaintance.

Speaking of Caroline’s children, there are also some document from the most infamous, William Duke of Cumberland. I think there is more to William than his title of Butcher of Culloden, but I will discuss this in another post. You get to see battle plans drawn in William’s own hand, guns of the period and many documents relating to the attempted Jacobite invasions of 1715 and 1745. I found a letter from James Stuart, ‘The Old Pretender’ to his son ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ particularly touching. Much as I love the Hanoverians, I do feel bad for the Stuarts. I think they had the legitimate claim to the throne. However, my mum has been well trained and is firmly in the Hanover camp. She viewed a Jacobite handbill with a portrait of James, turned up her nose and said she didn’t like the look of him!

George I and George II have the reputation of Goths and Vandals, unable to appreciate art and literature. George II famously stated he hated ‘boets and bainters’. But in The First Georgians exhibition, you can see they were not completely adverse to the visual arts. George I in particular had great architectural plans, transforming Kensington Palace and improving the King’s rooms at Hampton Court. In later years, George II was to continue work and build a whole new suite of apartments in Hampton Court for his beloved son William.

George II

As someone interested in the day to day life of the royal family, I was fascinated with pieces such as the footstools placed in Caroline’s withdrawing room and George I’s dining chairs. There was also an exquisite gold dining set belonging to Frederick, decorated with mermen, shells and all manner of nautical motifs. I didn’t know before attending the exhibition that Frederick was a big fan of shellfish, particularly oysters. I will certainly be including this in my novel about his wife!

Again, many of my favourite paintings related to the royals. It was moving to see portraits of George III’s sisters Elizabeth and Louisa, who both died young. They tend to be forgotten in the mists of history and it was good to see them back in their rightful place. However, the paintings on display are by no means limited to royal people. You can see Hogarth’s original prints, paintings by Rubens and many other legendary artists. My favourite was the main image used for the exhibition, a playful portrait of Garrick and his wife.

Princess Elizabeth Caroline

When booking my ticket, I opted to visit the Royal Mews as well. I’m always a sucker for carriages. I particularly wanted to see George III’s state coach, now the traditional coronation coach. It didn’t disappoint! However, before you dream about riding in it, you might like to know it’s very uncomfortable! William IV, ‘the sailor king’, who would certainly know, likened his ride in it to being tossed in a tempest on the sea.

George III coach

To find out more about The First Georgians and plan your visit, click on this link to The Royal Collection website.

 

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 3.1 – Caroline and Frederick

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know that I don’t buy into the theory that a bad mother equals a bad person. I find that notion as outdated as the one that a less-than-perfect wife is a failure as a woman. The word that gets my goat most is “unnatural”. I went to Colchester zoo last week and saw the following sign: “This baby gibbon has been moved to a separate enclosure as its mother had neither milk nor maternal care”. See, it happens in nature too: some just aren’t born with the skill-set for the role of mother. Do I think this gibbon was evil? Of course not. Heck, some mother hamsters eat their babies. So let’s not get started on “natural”.

Caroline of Ansbach has fallen under the taint of “unnatural mother”, and in her case the appellation is particularly unfair.  As I will show you, she was in fact a very caring and indulgent mother, who suffered agonies for her children. This is particularly impressive, given that Caroline’s own parents died so early on. She didn’t have an example to follow but managed admirably with her brood of seven surviving offspring.

CarolineofAnsbach

The words that have damned Caroline to infamy were recorded by Lord Hervey. Allegedly, on catching sight of her eldest son, Frederick, she said, “Look, there he goes! That wretch, that villain! I wish the ground would open at this moment and sink the monster into the lowest hole in hell.” Another supposed outrage went: “My dear first-born is the greatest ass, and the greatest liar, and the greatest canaille, and the greatest beast in the whole world, and I heartily wish he was out of it.” When first researching Caroline and finding these sentences, I thought two things. The first was “How could a person wish death and eternal damnation to their own child?”  The second was, “What on earth did Frederick do to her, to make her feel that way?”

It’s puzzling, because these speeches seem very out of keeping, not only with Caroline in general but with her behaviour toward Frederick. I have to say, I have doubts about their veracity. Lord Hervey, waspish and gossipy, is considered by many historians to be an unreliable source. Moreover, he had his own axe to grind with Frederick. Could it be that Hervey transferred his opinions into Caroline’s mouth, then professed himself “shocked” by them to save face? It’s certainly possible. But let us suppose Hervey is telling the truth in all his accounts of the Georgian Court. He records violent language, just as bad if not worse than the speeches I have quoted above, from all of Frederick’s family. Particularly vicious words come from Caroline’s third daughter, who I will refer to as Young Caroline to avoid confusion.  It is worth considering that Young Caroline was held to be the mildest mannered of the three elder Princesses. She was called upon to act as mediator between her two sisters and was always applied to when courtiers wanted to know the truth of a matter. It is inconceivable that a girl of Young Caroline’s character would adopt such a strong hatred for no reason. Was there a dark secret at the center of the Hanoverian Court? What exactly did Frederick do?

Lord Hervey

My investigations into this strange relationship began with Caroline’s pregnancy. I wanted to see if perhaps she had experienced a bad bout of ante-natal depression and an inability to connect with her baby which she never recovered from. It is possible, or even probable, that the pressure Caroline was under to produce a male heir skewed her bond with her first child. Her husband’s grandfather, Ernst, had introduced primogeniture into the Hanoverian dynasty in a bid to win the Electoral cap for his state and make it part of the Holy Roman Empire. He succeeded, but this meant all territory and rights would now pass solely to the eldest son, rather than be split between children as in previous generations. Therefore, no son equaled no inheritance and no continuation of the family line.

At first, things seemed to be going well in the child-stakes for George and Caroline.  They were married in September 1705 and Caroline suspected she was pregnant by May 1706. But she was by no means certain what was happening to her body. In  November 1706, the doctors suggested she might be suffering from dropsy  instead. Perhaps there was no baby and never had been. This idea must have been a humiliating blow for Caroline, reminiscent of the doomed Queen Mary I, whose history she was familiar with. But happily her doctors were wrong. She gave birth to a healthy son three months later in February 1707.

All the stress and anxiety in the months leading up to the birth had a palpable effect on Caroline. She kept to her room for a long period and was very reluctant to let others see the baby Frederick. So great was her aversion to going out that the Christening for the heir actually took place privately in her bedroom. One has to wonder what was going on in Caroline’s mind at this time. It doesn’t seem normal behaviour for a healthy new mother. Nonetheless, there is no evidence that she disliked her baby.

Unfortunately, Caroline’s temporary withdrawal from the world  gave rise to rumours. This gossip, if true, would provide a plausible reason for her tense relationship with Frederick in later years. However, I don’t believe it is true.  The scandle-mongers’ theory was based on  George II’s speech in the heat of his temper. During his rages, he referred to Frederick  as a “changeling” and “no son of his”, nicknaming him the “Griff”. In some languages, griff or griffe could mean a person of mixed race. It seems highly unlikely that George II was using the word in in this context, but some have chosen to interpret it that way. They suggest Frederick was the the produce of either an affair or a rape, and that the father was one of George I’s Turkish servants. As thrilling as this idea is, it is unfeasible. George I placed an enormous amount of trust in his Turkish servants, but he would never stand for such blatant ill-behaviour from them. If such an event had occurred,  he would dismiss them or at least treat them with increasing coolness – but on the contrary, he trusted them more and more throughout life.  And would Caroline’s strong tempered husband really sit back while his honour was insulted? Hardly. But even supposing the wild theory was true and George II did decide to keep his mouth shut for the prospect of a male heir, surely the birth of his second son would have prompted him to confess the truth and grant all rights to his true child? Although it would be a great motive for dislike, I’m afraid the illegitimate theory doesn’t have legs to stand on.

Mohammed and Mustapha

What is clear from the early years in Hanover is that Frederick’s parents didn’t start off disliking him. Caroline said that back then, she loved Frederick better than all her other children and would have given them up for him. But I do wonder if her image of her son started to disintegrate when he had health problems. I don’t mean she disliked him for them or didn’t look after him – more that she began to suspect he wasn’t the strong heir she needed. At the age of 2, little Fretz or Fritzchen as they nicknamed him was only speaking a few words and had made no attempts to stand. Through further investigation, he was found to have rickets. Although he received all the attention and care possible, Caroline remained unconvinced that her son had made a full recovery. Later on in life, she was to doubt his ability to have children.  Did the fact that she viewed Frederick as a sickly child make her realise she needed a spare son – just in case? His appearance was a constant reminder of her fears – Frederick was to retain slim, fragile-looking legs his entire life.

Very few historians can doubt that the main damage to the relationship between parent and child was done in the year 1714.  Frederick’s grandfather George I inherited the throne of Great Britain, although he was reluctant to leave his Hanoverian domains without a family representative. After deliberation, he decreed that the seven-year-old Frederick was to stay behind. As you can imagine, his parents were distraught, but nothing they could say or do would change the King’s mind.

Caroline’s maternal tenderness is shown by the fact she stayed behind in Hanover for a while after her husband and the King left for England.  She nursed her poorly young daughter and spent precious last moments with her son. No doubt she thought she would soon persuade the King to let Frederick join his family when they were settled – she was generally good at making him do what she wanted. She probably had no idea she was about to endure 14 years of separation from her boy.

Frederick

Life in England swept the new Prince and Princess of Wales up in a social whirl, but they didn’t forget their son. There is evidence that Caroline plagued visitors from Hanover for any news they had of Frederick. Both mother and father attempted to get him back on various occasions, without success. An example is the time that the King told George he must pay more money for Frederick’s education. George replied that he would gladly give up £100,000 a year, so long as his son came to complete his studies in England. Suddenly, the King stopped asking for more money ant the subject was closed.

It seems strange and almost heartless that George I, who was by no means a cruel person, should be desperate to keep control over his grandson. He certainly didn’t like George II, so maybe he thought he was protecting the young heir from his father’s influence. Or maybe it was all a game of power and Frederick was merely a pawn. But either way, he broke a vital bond in the family chain. On the King’s visits to Hanover, George and Caroline were never allowed to come and see their son. I have also read that they weren’t allowed to write to him, although I don’t know how true that statement is. Soon, the only family Frederick had access to was his grandfather, and unsurprisingly he grew close to him. Given the tense relationship between Frederick’s father and grandfather, this is the worst thing he could have done. No doubt George II felt his son had been “stolen” and warped to be like a man he quietly despised. The boy certainly did seem to be changing. When his governor, Neibourg, resigned from his appointment, he told Caroline that Frederick had “the most vicious nature and false heart that ever man had. Nor are his vices the vices of a gentleman but the mean base tricks of a knavish footman”. Upon hearing this, Caroline burst into tears.

George_I_as_Prince_of_Hanover

It would have comforted Caroline to have another son to stand in for her missing Frederick. Tragically, she was not to gain more children, but lose them. During the years of Frederick’s absence, she gave birth to a stillborn son and suffered a miscarriage. Yet these were small trials of motherhood compared with what she was about to face.  In 1717, what started off as a happy event – the arrival of a second, healthy son – soon turned into a violent family row. After they had been forced by the King’s ministers to set aside the name they had selected and give up the idea of having George’s uncle as a godfather, Caroline and George were understandably angry. A shouting match broke out between George and the Duke of Newcastle. in which Newcastle mistakenly thought George had challenged him to a duel. He went running to the King – who promptly dismissed his son from the royal palaces.

This would have been cruel enough, but the King decreed that his grandchildren should remain with him. To Caroline, he presented an impossible decision: stay with her children on the condition she didn’t see her husband, or follow her husband into exile and leave her children behind. Caroline chose to go with George. Perhaps this was not a decision many women would make, but Caroline had a strong emotional bond with her husband and they truly needed one another. She was a good wife above all else and wouldn’t abandon him. However, for all her brave talk, she didn’t take the step lightly. There are accounts of her weeping and falling into one faint after another as she was separated from her daughters and literally had her baby boy taken from her arms.

Once away from her darlings, Caroline went on a mission to reclaim them. She befriended Robert Walpole, who was later to become her great ally, on the promise that he would help her get the children back. “This will be no jesting matter to me,” she told him. “You will hear of this, and my complaints, every day and hour, and in every place, if I have not my children again”. It is clear that the little princesses, much as they loved their grandfather, were not happy with the change either. “We have excellent parents and yet we are orphans,” one of the little girls mourned. They took every opportunity to send secret notes and gifts to their missing parents. Once, Caroline and George risked the King’s wrath and snuck in a secret visit with their daughters. The emotion was too much for all. Caroline fainted with shock and her husband wept continually. Are these really the actions of unloving, unnatural parents? I think not, but it can’t be doubted that these years of hardship had a deep psychological effect on the couple. They would learn to lean toward each other rather than their children. They were being told that their offspring did not belong to them, but the King. Moreover, their already fragile emotional state was shattered by a deeper grief. At the same time as their eldest daughter, Anne, came down with the life-threatening smallpox, their baby boy sickened with an unknown malady. Anne recovered, but the precious second son was not so lucky. Finally granted access to him, Caroline sped to Kensington Palace just in time to hold her baby in her arms before he died.

Elder daughters of George II

Who can doubt that Caroline and George resented the King, even blamed him for their baby’s death? Although an autopsy proved the little one would have died regardless, they must have been devastated that they hadn’t been able to spend even the short months of his life with him. I suspect that this strong, negative feeling toward the King also branched out to encompass Frederick. Of course, none of this was remotely connected to him, but in their minds George and Caroline labelled their son as the King’s creature. It may have been subconscious, but I am convinced it happened.

Poor Fred’s fate was sealed when, in 1721, his parents had another son, William. Precocious, strong and devoted to the military, William was the ideal child for Caroline and George. Beloved by his parents and the nation – after all, he was an English-born Prince, unlike Fred – William seemed a better candidate for the British throne than his unfortunate, exiled brother. Given that she suspected Fred of being infertile, Caroline may have dared to hope her “worthy” heir would find his way to the crown one day. Fred, if not forgotten, was certainly eclipsed. This preference for the younger son was to add another layer to the complex feelings Caroline nursed toward Fred. Just how much their relationship had changed would be seen when, after years of separation, they finally met again in 1727 . . .

Caroline with William

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I have a lot to say about Caroline. To prevent overwhelming you with information, I’m splitting my thoughts on her into two separate blogs. Watch out for Hanoverian Mothers 3.2, which will cover the later years of Caroline’s life and her final quarrel with her son.  Coming soon to a screen near you!

Caroline of Ansbach

As you may have seen from my Twitter feed, I’ve been invited to appear on a TV documentary about Hampton Court Palace (I understand this will be on PBS, although I don’t know when). What absolute bliss! A palace I love and a chance to witter away about the Georgians, all rolled into one! The only problem I could foresee was that most my research for the Hampton Court years revolved around Caroline of Ansbach and my great admiration for her. Although I adore her, and I hope you will all adore my novel about her when I come to write it, I was worried I might come across as a Caroline-obsessed weirdo. But when I spoke to the director, he too was fascinated by Caroline and wanted to hear my stories about her. So just what is it about this Georgian Queen that holds us in her thrall?

We’re not the first to be touched by her magic. She had a gift of inspiring the utmost devotion in her circle of close servants. This was an exclusive club you had to work hard to get into, but once you were there, Caroline would show you the human face behind the monarch. This was the Caroline who had to run from the room in tears when a woman begged her to save the life of a Jacobite rebel. And as for her husband, George II, he was besotted. He took mistresses for the sake of his male, Kingly pride, but always insisted they were not fit to buckle Caroline’s shoe. When arriving home after absences in Hanover, he would be quick to whisk his wife away to the bedroom, no matter who was looking. His grief on her death was profound and touching. He had a gem of a Queen and he knew it.

Caroline was not a conventional woman, nor a conventional Princess. She was orphaned at the age of only 13 and sent to live in Brandenburg with the elector Frederick and his wife Sophie Charlotte. This was the perfect place for the intelligent, quick young Princess to spread her wings. Sophie Charlotte was the aunt of Caroline’s future husband, George II. She entertained the great scholars and philosophers of the age, absorbing their knowledge and debating with them. Her husband, Frederick, loved fashion and splendour. No wonder Caroline learned to be fiercely intelligent with a keen sense of style. This court formed her at an impressionable age – but sadly, when Sophie Charlotte died, she was forced to return to the backwater of Ansbach.

Back home, she kept up her studies, concentrating on theology, philosophy and metaphysics. At some point – whether early on or shortly before her marriage is unclear -Caroline taught herself to write. Naturally, her self-taught hand was badly formed, causing George II to pronounce that she wrote ‘like a cat’, but you have to admire the ambition and tenacity that carried her through. Caroline certainly knew her own mind. Although she had no dowry at all, she refused a highly desirable offer of marriage because her prospective bridegroom was Catholic. Caroline herself was a devout Lutheran and there was no way she was converting.

The intelligent, lively Princess from Ansbach earned herself a glowing reputation. George II’s grandmother Sophia, who took the place of his absent mother, told him she was the loveliest Princess to be found. However, he was unwilling to plunge into a marriage without making his own decision. Disguising himself as a travelling count, he gathered his entourage and set out on a scouting mission to Ansbach.

Of course, the disguise didn’t fool a sharp young Princess like Caroline, but she played along. Her charms soon had George smitten. As George himself was far from interested in the “stuff and nonsense” Caroline liked, such as poetry, art, theology etc, it’s unlikely she captivated him with her scholarly conversation.  More prominent in the wooing, I imagine, were her graceful manner, long blonde hair and soon to be legendary bosom. Either way, he returned home with his head full of her and determined to marry.

Caroline knew exactly how to work her husband. Her influence was of such a subtle, manipulative nature that it was extremely hard to trace. She was careful to “say what she did not think, assent to what she did not believe and praise what she did not approve” so that George thought she agreed with all his opinions. She would then slowly, almost imperceptibly, change these views to her own. George, carried along with the gradual process, always believed he had come to the new conclusions all by himself. Caroline was strongly supported in her role by Walpole and Hervey, who shared her Whiggish viewpoint. She needed all the allies she could get, as George was determined not to be ruled by women like his father. When rumours flew about that he was governed by his wife, he would do everything in his power to contradict them. He would humiliate Caroline in front of the court, laughing at her ignorance or shouting down her opinions in one of his famous rages.  Astonishingly, Caroline always responded with sweetness and light. She flattered, she agreed and she let him think he had put her in her place. It was the same tactic she used when hearing of his mistresses – she encouraged him to tell her about them and keep her informed of every stage of the conquest, as if anything which brought him pleasure was the greatest delight to her. It couldn’t have been an easy course, but it was a brilliant one.  Through it she ensured George remained bound to her heart and soul.

There was also a more human, earthy side to Caroline to add to this picture of the sainted wife. She was devoutly religious, but she also revelled in the risqué humour of Lord Hervey, who was known to take both male and female lovers. Her court was bright and lively, full of naughty, flirtatious maids of honour who danced at masquerades and giggled during sermons. She was also not above some petty jealousy towards George’s mistress Henrietta Howard. Although I like Henrietta and feel sorry for her, I can understand the emotions which led Caroline to remind her of her place. She had always been fond of Henrietta until she started sleeping with her husband.  When the affair started, Caroline never openly reproached, but gave Henrietta more menial tasks to do and insisted she hold her wash basin on bended knee. I rather like this glint of a jealous woman showing through the veneer of a perfect Queen.

Since George I’s wife was imprisoned in a German castle for her infidelity, Caroline took on the role of Queen long before it was her actual title. She led the fashions and added some much needed gaiety to George I’s court. It is worth noting that in some of the early squabbles between George I and George II, the elder George remained tolerant of her while he hated her husband. Sadly, this was all to change. Following a huge row over the Christening of the couple’s son – another George – Caroline was separated from her children. George I did offer to let her come back and live with them if she would abandon her husband – but this was a thing she would never agree to. It took the death of the poor baby George to reunite the family. I doubt if Caroline ever forgave her father in law for separating her from her child before he died. She had already lost a son, and nearly died herself in giving birth to him. This was yet another blow.

Caroline the mother is a bit of a mystery. Her daughters praised both her and George II as wonderful parents and pined to return to them when they were separated. William, Duke of Cumberland (later to be known as Butcher), was clearly spoilt by his mother, receiving the beautiful Cumberland suite of rooms at Hampton Court palace, all carefully redecorated for him in fashionable blue mohair. But what about poor Frederick, her eldest, who she had been forced to leave in Hanover when she came to Britain? This child she completely detested, calling him “the greatest ass that ever lived”. Her venom towards him is extremely hard to reconcile with her behaviour towards her other children.  Of course, she disapproved of his rakish behaviour when he came to England and knew he was close to George I, but these are hardly strong enough factors to turn a mother against her firstborn son. I can only imagine it was his interference in opposition politics which really got her goat. Caroline loved power, and anyone who threatened hers was an instant enemy.

Another great thing about Caroline was her cleanliness. We have accounts of how she cleaned her teeth with a sponge on a stick and various references to her constant bathing, which earned her the name “clean Caroline.” She would sit in a bath lined with linen, on a little stool, clothed in shift. Ewers of hot water would be brought to her and little soapy concoctions whipped up out of rose water and orange water.  Her bathroom at Hampton Court Palace still retains a decidedly floral and spicy scent, helping you to imagine those bathtimes long ago. No doubt, her servants would think her slightly mad. Everyone knew bathing could be dangerous to your health. But a Queen will have her whims…

Caroline predeceased her husband in 1737 in a truly tragic way. She knew death was coming, because she had been hiding the cause of it for a long time. An umbilical rupture, endured at the birth of her last child, was slowly killing her, along with the gout to which she was a martyr. But why did she keep walking with gout, instead of letting William wheel her around in her merlin chair? Why didn’t she tell someone about the rupture? The answer was simple and definitive of Caroline: George. George hated anything to do with illness – hated even more the fuss that went with it. A perfect wife to the end, Caroline refused to trouble him with her agony. It is almost too sad for words. As you can imagine, George was inconsolable when he found out the truth. He spent hours lying on the death-bed beside her, assuring her she was the best woman who ever lived. He remonstrated against her constant plea that he would marry again. And then, in true Caroline style, when the hour of death was upon her, she ordered the candles extinguished so that he wouldn’t have to suffer the horror of watching her die. A truly courageous end for a remarkable Queen.

I think you can see why I’m so eager to start my novel about Caroline and her life. She is one of my heroines in a writing sense and a personal sense. But for now I am concentrating on one of her ancestors – another Caroline – who was less subtle, less clean but no less remarkable in her way.