George III

Dukes of Cumberland Part 1 – William

Names can be a tricky thing in historical fiction. While working on Mistress of the Court, I was faced with several name-related challenges. Firstly, nearly every male character was called George. I managed to get around this by using the German version of George I’s name, Georg Ludwig, and I felt this was appropriate as his heart always remained in Hanover. A later character, George Berkeley, was simply always referred to by his surname.

Then there were the changing titles. For example, at the beginning of my narrative, Lord Chesterfield would have been called Stanhope. But with so many characters at court, I didn’t feel my readers would be able to keep up with changes like these, so I just referred to him as Chesterfield from the very start. A cheat, but I hope a forgivable one.

Titles are tricky, because so many people end up holding them. Since I research a period ranging from 1714-1837, dukedoms and earldoms change hands many times. So when I’m reading a book and they mention the Duke of York, I have to do a quick double-think to remember who it actually was at that time.

One title, however, seems to crop up a lot, and it always means trouble. The title Duke of Cumberland came to be infamous, at least for the Georgian era. In the period of my research, three different princes held the dukedom – and all three of them were scandalous in their way!

Over the next few weeks, I will give you a run down of the dastardly dukes, in chronological order.

We start with William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, (1721-1765). William holds the distinction of being the first Hanoverian prince born on English soil. He was a precious child, a much wanted son for George II and Caroline, who had lost three babies before his birth and were separated from their only other boy.

William as a boy
William as a boy

Today we remember him as ‘Butcher’ Cumberland, due to the role he played in the battle of Culloden. This final decisive clash of the Jacobite rebellion resulted in the death of many Scots who, despite their inferior firepower, were shown no quarter. Wounded men on the battlefield were shot dead and even worse, the surrounding areas were pillaged and burnt. The King’s army were determined to show that treason would not be tolerated; raping, hanging and eradicating the Highland way of life. Great as the tragedy was, I think it is a little unfair to blame the entire thing on William. Instead of the Butcher of Culloden, I think he should be called a Butcher of Culloden – for there were certainly many other men involved in the atrocities. Indeed, William was originally hailed as a hero when he returned – it was only as details of the battle and its aftermath crept out that public opinion began to turn.

Refreshingly, when writing Mistress of the Court, I got to look at William from his doting mother’s point of view. She died some nine years before Culloden, so it could not figure in her assessment of him at all. What I found behind the soldier was a spoilt, rather precocious child of great physical courage.

Leanach Cottage, Culloden Moor
Leanach Cottage, Culloden Moor

From the start, his parents lavished attention on him. He had leather cushions for his dogs and and entire suite to himself in Hampton Court Palace. His mother took him everywhere with her, and he particularly like to throw silver coins from her carriage. His father encouraged him in a military life from an early age, giving him a troop of small boys to drill. Rather predictably, William began to get a sense of pride and answer his parents back back. He refused to fast on 30 January in remembrance of King Charles I’s death, saying he did not know that the people were wrong to execute Charles –  he hadn’t read that history book yet! But he also showed some signs of refinement, taking no food at his birthday ball because he ‘didn’t think it looked well to be pulling greasy bones about in a room full of princesses.’

It seems William was a handsome child and young man, although later on a battle wound to his leg would prevent him from exercising and make him extremely corpulent. Despite wishing to reform the army and introduce new discipline, he was not a very successful soldier. He certainly tried hard to serve his father the King, but after years of service the two quarreled. In his usual tempestuous way, George II heaped blame on William for misunderstanding his orders and greeted his son with the words, ‘Here is my son who has ruined me and disgraced himself, ruined his country and his army, has spoiled everything and lost his own reputation.’ Having become very familiar with George II’s furious tirades, I must say I admire the way William responded to the outburst. He very calmly told the King’s mistress that he was tendering his resignation. When George II inevitably calmed down later and tried to make amends, William was firm. He would always show the greatest respect for his father the King, but he would never again serve under him as a soldier.

Soldier William
Soldier William

William’s career therefore ended at the age of thirty-eight. It was just as well, for in the coming years he fell prey to a series of strokes that left him partially paralysed. He amused himself by following horseracing and boxing and throwing himself into the office of Ranger of Windsor Forest. He constructed Virginia Water and a private zoo.

Whilst William had a few brief mistresses, there was no lasting romantic attachment in his life. He never married, living instead with his sister Emily (Amelia). After his elder brother’s death in 1751, William tried to gain influence with and advise his nephew the future King George III. However, George and his mother Augusta distrusted William, seeming to see him as another Richard III.

The old battle wound on William’s thigh continued to trouble his health. With more strokes and complications caused by his corpulence, he was not long for the world. He died aged only 44, in his chair – not the glorious end on a battlefield he might have envisaged for himself. But though his life was short and not, after childhood, particularly happy, the reputation he had earned in the Jacobite rebellion would see him go down in history as one of the great villains.

William in later years
William in later years

 

Death by Cricket?

Frederick as Prince of WalesI was so sad to hear about the recent deaths of cricketer Philip Hughes and umpire Hillel Oscar in tragic mid-game accidents. With our modern safety equipment we no longer expect these awful occurrences. I guess that these days we think of cricket as rather gentle game compared to heavier contact sports. But back in 1751, the sport was blamed (falsely, in this instance) for another death –  one that changed the history of Britain.

Frederick, Prince of Wales, was the cricketer in question. As heir to the British throne, he did all he could to please his future subjects, but having spent the first 21 years of his life in Hanover, he started at a disadvantage. Nonetheless, he soon became the darling of the Londoners by flying in the face of his unpopular father’s rules. He took care to charm the ‘common folk’ by interacting with them  – whether he was walking in local parks or playing popular sports. When he became father to a large family, it was only natural that he spent more time playing games like tennis and cricket with his little ones.

However, all this joy and popularity was to be cut short when, at the age of just 44, Frederick died after a short illness. His death left his 12-year-old son, a minor, as heir to the throne. Considering that the present King was 68, an approaching Regency seemed all too likely. Amidst the rumours that swirled – one being that Frederick’s wife, Augusta, poisoned him to boost her own importance –  came the report that the cause of death was a burst abscess in the prince’s side. Supposedly, the abscess had been broken by a blow received while playing cricket at Cliveden some years earlier. But if we look at the facts of Frederick’s death, this theory seems unlikely.

FrederickSince his birth, Frederick had suffered from indifferent health. As I mentioned in a previous post, he was considered a slow and sickly child. It was his reliance on restoratives such as ass’s milk that led to his mother concluding he would be an impotent man. It is possible he was never destined for a long life. In fact, in 1750, there were signs that he at least suspected his impending doom. He visited fortune tellers but would not reveal what they saw. When reproached for working too hard in his garden at Kew, he replied that he wanted to finish the work as soon as possible, for he was persuaded he would not live long. Most importantly, he wrote out instructions to his eldest son George ‘for his good, that of my family and for that of his people’. This letter, which I have seen with my own eyes (eeek!) was essentially advice on how to be a good king and seems to assume that Frederick would never inherit. One quote is all too poignant, given the circumstances:

Retrieve the glory of the throne. I shall have no regret never to have won the crown, if you but fill it worthily.

No wonder the future George III was to feel continually under pressure! But in spite of, or perhaps because of, these bleak forebodings, Frederick took very little care of his health. His adviser, Bubb Doddington, records in his diary ‘Went to Leicester House where the Prince told me he had catched cold the day before at Kew.’ Rather than nursing his ailment – a course of action that would have been wise considering he had suffered from pleurisy before – Frederick continued life at a hectic pace. He spent a busy day in the House of Lords sweltering under state robes. Ironically, he went there to assess his father’s state of health, for their were rumours the King was on his way out. After this, he changed into thin clothing and worked in his gardens at Kew in a brisk March wind. Then, tired out, he came home and fell asleep for three hours on the couch. The rest would have done him good, except that he left the window open onto the bitter air. (For all readers not resident in the British Isles, it can get very cold here in March. We’ve had snow.)

Unsurprisingly, Frederick’s cold grew much worse and he was confided to bed. There he endured the ever unhelpful eighteenth-century treatments of being bled and blistered. At this time Augusta was about 5 months pregnant with her last child but refused to leave her husband’s side. Moreover, she would not let many people come near him. Of course these actions would fuel the later rumours about poison, but when questioned Augusta revealed that she had an inkling the end was near – Frederick had confided in her about his suspected short life span. Indeed, Frederick’s symptoms must have been prolonged and disturbing, for the King actually sent to inquire after his health. Father and son had long been at daggers drawn. Frederick was so touched by this olive branch that he burst into tears.

Young George
Young George

After a while, things seemed to be improving. Frederick slept for a solid eight hours and was well enough to desire a little entertainment. For his amusement, the children’s French dancing master Desnoyers took up station in a nearby room and played softly on his fiddle. The family themselves were playing at cards, and in this happy state of affairs the doctors prepared to leave. But just as they were going, Frederick was seized by a coughing fit. He was not able to stop. Dashing to his side,  one doctor became alarmed and said ‘Here is something I do not like.’ Frederick clutched his stomach, gasped ‘I feel death,’ and expired.

Much as I like the idea of British history being altered by a ‘cricket ball of doom’, I think it is more likely that Frederick’s abscess burst naturally or through violent coughing. Furthermore, it seems clear there were underlying health problems, particularly pleurisy and lung complaints, that would have caused mischief without cricket balls. Frederick’s descendants were to suffer from tubercular and scrofulous illnesses, and these conditions were blamed for the deaths of his grandsons Octavius and Alfred, and his granddaughter Amelia.

Sad as this taint in the blood would turn out, the immediate aftermath of Frederick’s death was even more tragic. Clearly, his young family were devastated, with little 12 year-old George likening the sensation in his chest to the one he felt watching construction workers falling from the scaffold at Kew. The King received the news somewhat more calmly. He was playing cards with his mistress when the fatal note was passed to him. He exclaimed, ‘Why, they told me he was better!’ before explaining simply to his mistress, ‘Fritz is dead.’ While it is terrible for a father to have such a lack of emotion over own his son, it’s somewhat pleasing to know that the King, who had long despised Frederick, did not have the hypocrisy to put on displays of grief. He was, however, genuinely sorry for the little fatherless family and shed tears when he saw them, telling them they must be ‘brave boys’.

Despite this, the King still managed to bungle Frederick’s funeral. It wasn’t for lack of money – the expense was only £500 less than the King’s own funeral would cost 9 years later. But invitations were sent out only eight hours before the ceremony, with the result that no English lord or bishop was able to attend. In the pouring rain, poor Fred, the king that never was, was laid to rest without even a family member to see him off (it was not customary for women or children to attend funerals). While court mourning was prescribed, there was one glaring omission: coloured ribbon was allowed. This was practically unheard of in the past and I cannot imagine how hurt Augusta would have been. Whatever she felt, she was wise enough to disguise it – she had to stay on good terms with the King to survive. It seems this crotchety old King spoke truly when he later said, ‘I lost my eldest son, but I was glad of it.’

The widow Augusta
The widow Augusta

 

 

Travelling again . . .

The Constant Couple

It’s exactly two months since Queen of Bedlam launched and my life has been busy! But busy in a good way. I’ve had the honour to feature on some wonderful history blogs and even a national newspaper. I thought you might like to follow me on my adventures and read my articles.

The Six Daughters of George III

Royalty and Literature

Queen Charlotte’s Dogs

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Queen Charlotte’s Ladies in Waiting

10 Shocking Facts about Georgian Women

The King’s Palaces

When we think of the British royal family, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle immediately spring to mind. But it’s interesting to discover both these iconic residences owe much of their modern prominence to a relatively recent king: George III.

 

George III came to the throne in 1760, determined to live in a different style from his forebears. He disliked the formal, stately palaces of Kensington and Hampton Court, which he associated with his hated grandfather. While he was happy to perform ceremonial duties in St. James’s Palace, he wanted a peaceful home for his wife and children. To this end he purchased a modest red brick house from the Duke of Buckingham, informing his Prime Minister it was “not meant for a palace, but a retreat”.

Naturally, Buckingham House required some remodelling to become “Queen’s House” – the name it went by during George III’s reign. But rather than vamping it up, George actually had the house toned down. Grand iron screens were replaced by simple railing, while the elaborate formal gardens were simplified.

This was in keeping with George’s modest tastes. His apartments, on the ground floor were sparsely decorated by royal standards, painted green-grey “without the smallest affectation, ostentation or meanness.” The grandest rooms were the King’s great libraries; the two storey octagon library that could only be entered through his bedchamber and the west library, connected directly to the weather-vane so the King could see how his fleet fared at sea.

However, George and his young wife Charlotte were not adverse to a little splendour. The Queen’s rooms, on the next floor, were a show case for her collections of watches and curiosities. Mrs Powys notes the queen had “the most capital pictures, the finest Dresden…besides the gilt plate, innumerable nick-nacks”.It seems that then, as today, decorative touches and fashionable décor were considered part of the women’s realm. We can glimpse red damask walls and marble chimney pieces in paintings of Charlotte with her young children, as well as black and gold “japanned” panels in her breakfast room. Antique roman ceilings and crystal chandeliers blocked out the next storey, which held the nursery and the servants. Rather usefully, the upper storey had “floors so contrived as to prevent all noise” from disturbing the queen.

Although George and Charlotte succeeded in making Queen’s House a family home, where the majority of their children were born, it didn’t fulfill their need to improve and develop. Windsor Castle was another project taken up by the royal couple. Long disused, the castle itself was unfit for habitation, so they bought up two lodges nearby, one of which used to belong to Queen Anne, the other to Charles II’s mistress Nell Gwynn. Vast extensions were made to accommodate George and Charlotte’s swelling family, giving the buildings the look of a barracks. Nonetheless, only the finest decorations were to be found inside; paper hangings, carved gilt frames, curtains of white dimity with cotton fringes, Portland stone staircases and chairs knotted with floss silk.

Once more, Windsor became a focal point of royal life, as it was in the Stuart days. George liked the country life at Windsor, building his own mill and miniature farm. I get the feeling that Charlotte was less keen, staying indoors with a migraine while her husband took the children on long, muddy, “barbaric” walks about the countryside.

George III

Between 1781 and 1804 renovation work took place at the castle. While apartments remained unfinished, courtiers often urged one another to bring warm cloaks for the drafty corridors and thick boots for the gravel of the terrace. Even when building was complete, the rooms remained cold. Charlotte complained of needing to huddle up with her daughters in furs beside the fire. She was not allowed carpets as the King said they harboured dust. I imagine she would have rather stayed in her lodge, but alas it was demolished. Luckily for Charlotte, she was able to buy Frogmore House as her little retreat within the grounds of Windsor, and decorate it more to her own taste.

Charlotte and George’s son, George IV, remodelled Queen’s House into Buckingham Palace and restored Windsor Castle to a state of pure opulence, making them the grand houses we know today. However, amongst these success stories for the family there is one poignant project that was never finished: George III’s “Castellated Palace” at Kew. A gothic wonder of turrets, the Castellated Palace was conceived in one of George’s many bouts of illness. He was to make “Ludlow Castle, improved”, a fortress in stone. But with an eccentric, sick king, an architect with “a certain lack of diligence” and a shortage of workmen, the plan was doomed to failure. Running up bills of £100,000 – over twice its original estimate- the Castellated Palace was finally abandoned when George became incurable in 1810. The shell remained, “an image of distempered reason”, until George IV demolished it in the late 1820s, using the building materials for other projects.

 

Meet My Main Character

I’m a little bit slow to join this Blog Hop, which has been going round for a few weeks now. The lovely Margaret Evans Porter has kindly tagged me to talk about my main character.

1. What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person? The heroine of my novel is Queen Charlotte of England, originally Princess Sophie Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. She is a historic person that I admire.

Charlotte with George and Frederick2. When and where is the story set? The story covers a period of twenty-seven years between 1783 and 1810. Then there is an epilogue, set in 1818. Most of the action takes place in palaces in and around London: Buckingham Palace (then called Queen’s House), Kew Palace and Windsor Castle.

Kew 3. What should we know about him/her?  Charlotte has risen from an obscure upbringing to take one of the greatest thrones in Europe. She accepts her exalted role with humility and determination, but she still experiences self-doubt, especially over her plain looks. She is devoted to her husband George – a fact their fifteen children bear testimony to!

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?  The death of Charlotte’s two youngest sons around the time of the American Revolution starts a downward spiral in her happy marriage. Her husband shows alarming symptoms of mental instability, which progress into violence and indecency. Her family is split into factions over the King’s treatment and she is left holding the reins of an unstable country. When revolutionary fever spreads to France, things only get worse . . .

5. What is the personal goal of the character? Charlotte desperately wants to do her duty. She wants to be a good queen, wife and mother, but her task proves impossible. Deep down she is just a woman who yearns for her beloved husband to recover, and feels she can do nothing until he is well again.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it? Queen of Bedlam will be published by Myrmidon on 10 June 2014. It can be purchased at:

Amazon

Foyles

Waterstones

Barnes & Noble

WH Smith

BedlamI’ve tagged the talented Jen Black to continue the blog hop. She will post on 14 May 2014.

Posted in Writing | Comments Off on Meet My Main Character

Queen Charlotte and Debutantes

TLS Slider 3 Debutantes

You might think, with all my writing and research, that I’d be right at home in a royal court. But the truth is, I only like to visit from my imagination, where I’m protected from snubs and the inevitable humiliation. I may fanaticise about time-travelling and attending one of Queen Charlotte’s Drawing Rooms at St. James’s Palace, but it would all end in tears. I’m gauche and I have two left feet. I shake when nervous. Under pressure, my voice, which is otherwise quite normal, becomes loud and twangs with an Essex accent.

A quick visit to The London Season website confirmed my misgivings. It may come as a surprise but yes, there still is a London season. However, people like you and I only read about it in history novels – we are just not grand enough to be part of the modern day equivalent. I don’t know about you, but I get sweaty and short of breath just looking at the courses on offer. The correct way to enter a room. How to move politely in a group. The art of making small talk. How to end a conversation politely. It makes me feel like I’ve been doing everything wrong my entire life.

As in the late Georgian period, the big event of the modern London season is still Queen Charlotte’s ball. The website says that:

“Parents and potential debutantes are invited to attend interviews at Boodles… Debutantes embark on a one-year programme of etiquette classes, and charity events crowned by the world famous Queen Charlotte’s Ball in which they appear in white gowns and jewels lent by eminent couturiers and jewellery houses… Today, officially, the focus is not on marriage but on giving ambitious girls the opportunity to further their careers and develop in social confidence.”

That sounds intimidating enough. But what would it have been like to appear before the real Queen Charlotte, over 200 years ago?

Queen Charlotte
Queen Charlotte

The first thing to worry about would be your dress. St. James’s Palace was a place of antiquated fashion and tradition. Hoops, swords and powdered hair took centre stage – loose Regency styles would be frowned upon. It seems that Charlotte enjoyed watching her subjects fall over themselves to impress her with their clothes, and even took a catty delight in seeing them get it wrong. In her letters, she faults an unfortunate duo, Mrs Eden and Mrs Goulborn, for wearing an enormous quantity of rouge. Poor Mrs Goulborn made a further error by sporting three huge feathers in her headdress “which so directly ran into my eyes when she was presented, I was under the necessity of drawing myself back”. Charlotte, who clearly disliked both ladies “rejoiced a little in Lady Clements’ distress, who presented her.”

Indeed, feathers were a recurring problem for Charlotte. After the Duchess of Devonshire began a craze for expensive ostrich feathers, Charlotte had to temporarily ban them from court, in order to prevent ladies ruining themselves over the fashion accessory.  But she would rather deal with a whole headful of feathers than repeat her experience with Andreossi, Napoleon’s ambassador. He was a man who “breakfasted upon onions…he looks so dirty”.

However, looking your best wasn’t always enough for Charlotte; you had to fit your station. When interviewing a potential wet-nurse for her children in 1779, she saw a woman dressed in blue and silver. The hapless applicant was dismissed with the comment, “Your appearance is that of a queen, and not of a nurse.”

There were also those who purposefully went against the court’s rigid dress codes. On 26 March 1789, Charlotte held a Drawing Room to celebrate George III’s recovery from a bout of “madness”. In a direct challenge to the Duchess of Devonshire, who had introduced “Regency caps” with the Prince of Wales’s three feathers, Charlotte ordered that all ladies were to wear “God Save the King” in their caps. In the event, the Duchess and her party couldn’t bring themselves to toe the line. They went with their heads bare. The Duchess’s sister, Harriet, recorded how the queen was cool to them and noted that “she looked up at our heads as we passed her”.

Duchess of Devonshire and her feathers

You’d be right in thinking Charlotte didn’t make many friends with this behaviour; she wasn’t supposed to. From the start of her time in England, she was discouraged from forming acquaintances. The King did not want her relying on anyone but him. “He always used to say that in this country it was difficult to know where to draw a line…” she later confessed.  ”There never could be kept a society without party, which was always dangerous for any woman to take part in.”

This didn’t stop Charlotte being lively and good-natured amongst the friends she was allowed to make. We have a delightfully absurd glimpse of a Drawing Room in 1785, where the fog was so dark “there was no seeing any thing, and knowing any body”.  Charlotte and her favourite companion, Lady Harcourt, were obliged to stop and stand still. She reasoned the courtiers would “all come up in the end, and we must ask them who they are, and if I have spoke to them yet”. Even in low visibility, Charlotte recognised the Duke of Dorset by the twisting of his bow and Mrs Dayrolles by her laugh. This suggests she knew them rather well.

The Queen’s venom, it seems, was reserved for those who vexed her. I love seeing the human side of monarchs, and some of Charlotte’s little stabs are delicious. You may have heard of Lady Sarah Lennox (more of her in later blogs!) who George III loved before he married Charlotte. Lady Sarah ended up unhappily wed to Sir Charles Bunbury. She later came to St. James’s to present her daughter before George and his wife – an experience which I imagine was very awkward! George, clearly still a fan of Sarah’s beauty, enthused that her daughter was “the finest girl I have seen in a long while”. Charlotte, very coolly, and rather loudly observed, “I wonder you should think so.”

Lady Sarah Lennox/Bunbury

With such a tongue ready to sting, it must have been a fearful experience to make your debut as a young lady. You would slowly approach Charlotte and curtsey to your knees. If you were the daughter of a peer, you would hold that position while she kissed you on the forehead. Perhaps she would bestow a kind comment upon you; perhaps not. After receiving this favour and stammering some kind of reply, you would stand, curtsey again to the queen and any other royal who happened to be with her. Then came the hardest part. Having to resist the urge to simply dash off, you would have to walk backwards out of the room – no mean feat in a Georgian dress – keeping your eyes on the throne. Small wonder debutantes received so many bouquets from well-wishers; they would need all the luck they could get!

The (not) Black Queen

Many people have been asking me if Queen Charlotte was black – or telling me that she certainly was. Wouldn’t that be an amazing piece of history? It would also be fascinating, from my perspective, to write a book about a queen who secretly concealed the colour of her skin. But sadly, the I have to say that most of my research seems to prove that popular theory is largely unfounded. Here is a list of the reasons that I believe we are still waiting for England’s first black queen.

A good starting place is this Guardian article from 2009. As it explains, there’s a historian called Mario de Valdes y Cocom who claims Charlotte was descended from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family, related to Margarita de Castro e Souza, a 15th-century Portuguese noblewoman nine generations removed. Although it has some flaws, I support this theory that there were African roots in Charlotte’s blood. Her features, more prominent in her youth, do suggest an African ancestry somewhere along the line. Most of us have a rich and mixed heritage in our blood, and that’s one of the many reasons racism and xenophobia are so ridiculous.

While Valdes’ ideas give me no problems, I cannot find evidence to support the other theory: that Charlotte was an illegitimate child, whose father was black, and thus earned the eighteenth-century term “mulatto”. Going by the standards of the day, it is hugely unlikely that Charlotte’s mother, in a prominent position, would be unfaithful with a servant – even less likely that her cuckholded father would agree to take on and raise such a child as his own. But moreover, I think the marriage of King George III to the illegitimate princess would have caused huge panic in the family . Obviously, it would depend on how dark Charlotte’s skin actually was, but surely the family would have been horrified at the chance of their secret being revealed? Why would they agree to give Charlotte in marriage and not push for her elder, unmarried sister to wed the King in order to save the family name?

Even supposing all these hurdles could be overcome, there’s George himself. While certainly a sympathetic and kind man, I can’t imagine him agreeing to cover up such a secret for Charlotte. He was disappointed with her looks at first, and discovery of illegitimacy would have been a great excuse to get rid of her. Moreover, neither George nor Charlotte would have been able to hide the truth from the servants. Gossip would have spread far and wide. George’s mother Augusta would have found out – and, I verily believe, sent Charlotte packing. But in fact, there were no contemporary speculations about the Queen’s ethnicity. At a time when the royal family hovered on the brink of revolution and came in for a good deal of battering and satire in caricatures, who would let the suspicion that the Queen was half black slide? The observation that she had ” a true mulatto face” referred to in the article wasn’t followed by any questions about her ancestry. It seems the horrible person was using the term as an insult.

If Charlotte was mixed race, it seems strange that it didn’t rub off on the children. The majority of Charlotte’s fifteen offspring were blonde-haired, blue-eyed dolls with porcelain skin. I’m not sure this would be the case if she was half black. It is genetically possible, of course, but what are the chances it would happen like this fifteen times? On the topic of children, I also have to highlight Charlotte’s son, William, who spoke out loudly in favour of the slave trade? Would he really do such a thing with a mulatto mother?

An interesting possibility we can list for the sake of thoroughness is that Charlotte was an albino mulatto. I found this very interesting article with some beautiful pictures. But it’s a stretch for me to believe that, as well as the unlikely illegitimate conception and cover up, Charlotte had a rare genetic condition. Anything is possible, but some things are not probable.

If Charlotte was illegitimate and happened to veer on the side of dark skin, the amount of make-up she would have to use in order to “paste for white” would be phenomenal. Remember the tragic society beauty Maria Gunning, who died in 1760 after using too much ceruse? Well, her beauty routine would have been mild compared to Charlotte’s. Again, depending on the shade of her skin, she would have needed to cover every inch of her body day and night, for there would hardly be a moment when she didn’t have ladies in waiting in attendance.  Over-use of this paint or paste often resulted in hair loss, tooth decay and premature death. But Charlotte showed none of these symptoms and lived to a ripe age of seventy-four. In fact, talking of hair loss, we have existing specimens of her hair. They are, as George III described the one sent to him before their marriage, “light and remarkably fine.”

Here are some images of Charlotte that have given rise to speculation.

Charlotte with George and Frederick1769_Dance_QCharlotteCharlotteCh1scharlotte1And here are pictures of Charlotte’s family from Wikipedia. I don’t see anything to suggest that she was only a half-sister to these people or very different in appearance. This, in my opinion, implies that the whole family had African blood, as Valdes claimed.

220px-1742_Ernst220px-1748_Georg_August220px-Adolf_Friedrich_IV,_Duke_of_Mecklenburg-Strelitz220px-Elizabeth_Albertine_of_Saxe-Hildburghausen220px-ZiesenisKarlMecklenburgHaving said all that, history is not a science. The great thing is that we will probably never know for sure. A kind research friend has made me aware that the University of Virginia and the town of Charlottesville are doing some amazing work about Charlotte, George and their role in abolishing slavery. A letter has been discovered in the Georgia Historical Society Archives from George Baille, a slave owner objecting to the British raids and liberation of slaves in 1812. He gives us a clue to how the rumour may have started:

‘It is well known that they seduced & carried off with them the greater part of the Negroes . . . They were seduced by the most absurd & fallicious tales . . . they were informed that the Queen of England was a Negro woman – that in England, whither they were to about to be carried, the Ladies preferred Negro Men as husbands, and the Gentlemen Negro Women as wives.’

There is also a fascinating portrait by Alan Ramsey of a beautiful mixed race woman that appears in Alastair Smart’s biography of the painter. It is not available to public view. Like so many paintings, the sitter cannot be proven, but there are suggestions that it could be Charlotte. She is certainly not dissimilar. This painting is in the Earl of Seafield’s private collection, with no clear path of how it got there. We can, however, trace back the ancestory of the Earl and find a lady connected to the family who was bridesmaid to Charlotte. Could this picture of the ‘true’ Charlotte have been a private gift?

I truly hope we will have a black queen one day. But much as I would like Charlotte to be the one to carry that torch, the evidence doesn’t stack up for me. I am, however, very willing to be convinced if some good concrete evidence shows up!

Sophia and Ernest

Princess Sophia (1777-1848) by Anne Mee 1800-1806One of the reasons Sophia, fifth daughter of George III, attracts attention is that she probably bore an illegitimate child. Although some historians still dispute the idea, I am convinced by the evidence. There is too much smoke for there to be no fire. According to Flora Fraser, author of the biography Princesses a letter Sophia wrote to her old nurse in 1805 “shows plainly” that she was a mother –  although frustratingly, Fraser doesn’t quote the correspondence. But if an illegitimate birth wasn’t scandalous enough, Sophia earned another slur against her name: the suggestion that her child’s father was in fact her brother, Ernest, later King of Hanover.

What could give rise to such a shocking rumour and could it be true? It is within the realm of possibility; Ernest’s close relationship with Sophia was noted, and he present at Windsor in the winter of 1799, when Sophia would have conceived. But so was the other candidate for the father of Sophia’s child: General Thomas Garth.

The story of Sophia’s baby starts in July 1800, when she and her sister Amelia set off for the annual trip to Weymouth a day before the rest of their family, staying at a trusted servant’s house along the way. Sophia was so ill that the royals extended their usual holiday all the way until early October. Legend has it George III believed his daughter was suffering from dropsy, a common complaint in the family, and was informed she had been cured by eating roast beef. Her real complaint may have been the late stages pregnancy.

The doctor in attendance, Millman, received a baronetcy for his care of the princess – a nice gesture, but also one that could be viewed as a bribe to keep certain facts secret. In the same August, Mr and Mrs Sharland, tailors living on the Weymouth esplanade, adopted a newborn foundling “Thomas Ward, stranger” to nurse alongside their own baby son. It is this little Thomas, or Tommy, who Sophia supposedly bore.

I’ve recently finished reading A Humble Companion by Laurie Graham, a historical fiction novel told from the point of view of Sophia’s companion. I was interested to find that Graham, rather bravely, chose to run with the incest theory. I’ve never found the idea convincing, but I have to say Graham gave me food for thought. After all, wasn’t Sophia’s son Tommy a reckless womanizer, very much like Ernest in character? Well, that could happen if Ernest was just his uncle, I suppose. But then, if General Garth was the father, how was it he stayed in favour with the royal family? Queen Charlotte treated the lovers of Princesses Amelia and Augusta with disdain, yet she was always cordial towards Garth, as was the Prince Regent, who gave him a place in his daughter’s household. Would they really treat a seducer with such respect?

Graham suggests that Garth was a loyal servant who placed Sophia and Ernest’s child with a good family and later agreed to adopt and raise him, at the request of the Queen. In A Humble Companion, it was Garth’s duty and good nature that kept his mouth shut. But this overlooks a very important fact: Princess Sophia had certainly fallen in love with General Garth.

One of the Queen’s ladies records Sophia’s violent passion for the equerry in 1798, which was visible to the whole court. “She could not contain herself in his presence”, we are told. At the same time, Sophia’s sister Mary wrote about Garth and “the purple light of love”. A letter from Sophia to Garth still exists, in which she mentions rings they exchanged as gifts and addresses him with wild terms of endearment. “Your calling me your S makes me as proud as Lucifer…I love you more and more every day. God bless you, my dearest dear General.” It seems to me that Garth must have been Tommy’s father. The child was named for its father,  and Garth later adopted the child, raising him with his correct surname and referring to him as “mine, if there is faith in woman”.

But while there is, in my opinion, stronger evidence for Garth’s claim, the Ernest theory is not without basis. While I consider Ernest rather harshly treated by history, there is no pretending he was a pleasant person. He had a dry, cruel wit and seduced across the Continent. Neither nuns nor married women were safe from his attentions. The husband of one of his lovers  committed suicide. In the course of his life, Ernest leant his name to rumours of sodomy and murder. Controversy could have been his middle name. His sisters made it clear from correspondence that they didn’t like to be left in a room alone with him, but whether this was due to his scathing humour or something more sinister, we are not told. Sophia’s words were these: ” Dear Ernest is as kind to me as it is possible, rather a little imprudent at times, but when told of it never takes it ill.” Who will ever know what his imprudence was?

220px-Ernest_Augustus_by_Fischer_1823Glenbervie states in his diary that the court “in a manner admitted” that Sophia was Tommy’s mother, “as the story generally goes by General Garth… the Queen thinks Garth the father”. But he also records “the Princess of Wales told Lady Sheffield there is great reason to suspect the father to be the Duke of Cumberland (Ernest)”.  I don’t set much store by this. Caroline, Princess of Wales, was famous for tall and wild tales. In her life she tried to convince people she was pregnant when she wasn’t, spoke of past lovers she didn’t have and pretended her ward, Willy Austin, was the son of a foreign prince smuggled over to England for safety. She isn’t one to stake your hopes on for truth. Having said that, it does seem remarkable that Caroline would start such a vicious rumour against Sophia, who was always kind to her.

Sophia was prone to fantastic adoration of all her brothers. In later life, Frederick Duke of York became her whole world. Yet the rumour of incest only haunted Ernest. It could well be that the ultra-Tory, abrasive Ernest earned more political enemies than the other brothers, leading to malicious gossip. It’s certainly a hard stretch of the imagination to picture Sophia, often timid, sheltered and raised with devout religion, consenting to an incestuous relationship. But the other theory, which paints Ernest in an even darker light, is that she was raped.

Could this be possible? I think not. Many of Sophia’s siblings knew about Tommy, but their attitude towards Ernest didn’t change. Would they have been able to love him and Sophia, as they continued to do, if they had committed incest? Would Sophia be able to speak of Ernest with affection and receive his visits if he’d put her through such an ordeal? Would Queen Charlotte or the Prince Regent tolerate him in England? It seems highly unlikely.

200px-Princess_Sophia_portraitThe answer to our questions lies a box of documents, which Garth gave to Tommy, revealing the truth about his birth. Conveniently, the box was “lost” at the bank, disappearing into a great black void. Obviously the royal family wanted the documents suppressed, but this would be true whether Garth or Ernest were the father. Newspapers suggested the box contained letters from Sophia to Garth, complaining about Ernest’s “attempts on her person”. If these letters did exist, they raise another dramatic possibility: that Sophia and Garth were lovers but her brother raped and impregnated her, leaving Garth to adopt the child for the sake of his princess.

Whether it was over Ernest or not, Sophia and Garth did quarrel and separate. They never married, even after Queen Charlotte died, when the indulgent George IV may have permitted it. The subject of disagreement was the thing that should have bound them together: Tommy himself. “It is very, very desirable that some check should be put to the odd conduct of a certain person…” wrote Sophia to Mrs Villiers from Weymouth. “That person is very difficult to manage”. A proud father, Garth paraded Tommy up and down the Esplanade at Weymouth and forced him on the attention of Princess Charlotte when she visited – actions that suggest, again, Tommy was not the product of incest. But Garth couldn’t understand Sophia’s reluctance to see her child. She writes “…what hurt me the more was the indelicacy this year of knowing it so near to me and that I never could go through the town without the dread of meeting what would have half killed me, had I met it.” Once more, there are two ways we can interpret the letter. The first is that Sophia was resolved to keep Tommy secret and George III’s state of mind intact by distancing herself. She was so overcome with emotion she didn’t want to see him, lest she broke down, and she didn’t refer to him by name or even gender in her letters to preserve the secret. Then again, you could say Sophia was in dread of an unnatural, incestuous child who reminded her of an attack, and referred to him as “it”.

What does Sophia herself have to say? In the early days of the scandal, when even her sister Elizabeth didn’t know the truth, Sophia wrote to Lady Harcourt. She denied the rumours about Tommy, but acknowledged “I have partially myself to blame for them”. In other letters, she also agrees her behaviour was at fault. But the most striking sentence is this: “It is grievous to think what a little trifle will slur a young woman’s character forever”. Surely if she had borne an illegitimate child – much lest an incestuous one – she wouldn’t consider it a little trifle?

In my novel about Sophia, I chose Garth as Tommy’s father. Since I was writing from Sophia’s point of view, I didn’t make Ernest a villain. Whether he really raped her or not, he was always a dear brother in her eyes. Not only was it easier for me to write, it was easier for me to believe a naive, sheltered girl could fall in love with an “ugly” equerry twice her age. The Sophia in my mind would never consent to an incestuous relationship with her dashing, dangerous brother. But as for the truth – I’ll let you make up your own minds.

Duke of Cumberland from Duke of York memoirs by Watkins

Hanoverian Mothers Part 4 – Augusta and George III

Augusta and her brood

I’ve been rather unfair to Augusta of Saxe-Gotha in God Save the King. Since I had to show her through Queen Charlotte’s point of view, she comes across as a controlling and bullying mother-in-law. While it’s documented that the pair had run-ins during Queen Charlotte’s early married life, there’s much more to Augusta than the in-law from hell. In fact, judging by the devotion with which Charlotte attended Augusta’s sick-bed in her last days, it seems she also came to appreciate these other qualities.

If you look at Augusta through the political propaganda of the 1760s and 1770s, you are encouraged to see a harridan, a woman with her son firmly tied to her apron strings. There’s a caricature of her as “The Wanton Widow”, instructing her great friend Bute to pour poison in the sleeping George III’s ear. Augusta and Bute were burnt in effigy in the streets of London many times, most famously in the riots stirred up by John Wilkes and his seditious paper the North Briton. Even in death, Augusta couldn’t escape censure. At her funeral the mob huzzaed for joy and stripped the black cloth from the wooden platform at Westminster Abbey.

So who are we examining – some kind of dominating, devil’s consort, surely? Well, no. Actually, Augusta was a mild-mannered, shy princess when she washed up on English shores in 1736 to marry the eldest son of George II, Frederick. She arrived gawky, long-limbed, unable to speak a word of English and clutching a doll. She was fortunate in her new husband, who took an immediate shine to her, but the rest of the royal family regarded her as a dullard. Queen Caroline grew exasperated with her tedious conversation, while Princess Caroline had to explain very carefully that while there was nothing wrong with playing with dolls per-se, Augusta really shouldn’t do it in front of the windows where the public could see her. This naivety was something George II had hoped for when he selected a wife for his son; he wanted a woman who would pose no threat. He was already tired of his son trying to outwit him, without enlisting a clever wife’s help. Augusta seemed a good choice. Far from standing up to the King and Queen, she threw herself trembling at their feet.

Queen Caroline took Augusta under her wing by explaining the words of the Marriage Ceremony to her and offering to make a sign when she ought to kneel. The terrified Augusta clutched Caroline’s skirts and said, “For Heaven’s sake, please don’t leave me.”  A far cry from the controlling hag the late Georgians dreamed up! Indeed, Augusta behaved so well in submission to the King and Queen that she earned the nickname “Princess Prudence.” Even when the King and Queen came to blows with Frederick, Caroline attached no blame to Augusta. She said that even if Augusta were to spit in her face, she would only pity her for being under the direction of a fool (ie Frederick).

Young Augusta

It seems to me Augusta really was under Frederick’s control, though it was devotion that kept her loyal, not force. For example, when their first child was due, Frederick left off telling his parents until very late in the pregnancy. He didn’t want them to know of his cowardly delay in announcing the news, so bid Augusta to answer Caroline’s questions about her health and the due date with “I don’t know.” Naivety and a lack of guile were cloaks Augusta hid behind, and they worked to fabulous effect. Caroline was so astounded by Augusta’s lack of knowledge that she began to suspect there was no baby at all.

As I explained in earlier posts, Frederick did not wish his child to be born under the same roof as his parents. In the middle of the night, he rushed the labouring Augusta from Hampton Court to St. James’s Palace. She was in great danger and suffered extremely, according to all accounts crying and begging to go back. And yet, when Fred was blamed for his actions, she took his part. Her letters insist it was her express wish to be carried to St. James’s. Caroline came to visit her new grandchild the next day. She’d heard of Augusta’s ordeal and commiserated with her, only to receive the blunt reply, “It was nothing.” Caroline tried to reach out to her and asked “My good princess, is there anything you want, anything you would have me do? Here I am – you have but to ask and whatever is in my power, I promise you I will do”. Augusta said she had nothing to trouble her with.  It’s here, I believe, that we begin to see the real determination of Augusta’s character. Ever polite and respectful, she still refused to be won over with emotional entreaties or tricks. She knew her part and she played it.

Over the years, Augusta proved herself an able hostess to Frederick’s friends and opposition politicians. She returned every entreaty with a sweet answer, saying she knew nothing about politics but would pass the request onto her husband. In truth, she probably knew a lot more than she let on. When Frederick died in 1751, Augusta showed herself prudent again, casting herself and her children on the mercy of the King. It was a wise move – the King came to commiserate with her, weeping and looking at his two grandsons. “They must be brave boys,” he said, “obedient to their mother and deserve the fortune to which they were born.”

This was the first of the intensively heavy expectations piled on George, the new heir to the throne. A puny, premature child, he had not been expected to live and was Christened in haste. He was given to a gardener’s wife to nurse, and it was said she saved the sickly baby’s life – this is corroborated by the fact he paid her and her descendants a pension throughout his reign. But it was clear Frederick expected his frail baby boy to “restore honour to the crown”. He sent him endless advice about being the perfect prince. It was all kindly intentioned – but Frederick’s untimely death made these injunctions something more: a duty to one beyond the grave, a legacy that must not fail. I believe Augusta felt this pressure just as acutely as George. Determined not to disappoint her sainted husband, she kept George close – too close.

younggeorge

Caution was the key word for Augusta. Raised in obscurity herself, she was keen to keep her children sheltered from the wicked, sinful world. George was the only one inclined to listen to these warnings. Amongst his siblings there were unsuitable marriages, divorce scandals, early death from binge-drinking and the most salacious of all, his sister Caroline Matilda’s exile. George was, according to his grandfather “fit only to read the Bible to his mother”.  I believe it was care and not a lust for power that made Augusta keep George under her thumb. George himself evidently felt so too; in later life he was to complain about the press, “They have treated my Mother in a cruel manner, which I shall never forget nor forgive until the day of my death. I do therefore … promise that I will remember the insults and never will forgive anyone who shall venture to speak disrespectfully of her.”

Augusta clearly feared for George: he was considered a slow child. She fretted he was not progressing well enough in his lessons and constantly despaired of the comparisons made between him and his precocious younger brothers. In fact, he seemed much like Augusta in her youth. Both George and his mother felt what he needed was a “dear friend, who will always tell you the truth” – something that had been recommended by Frederick before his death. This friend was not to come from the royal family. After all Frederick’s quarrels, Augusta continued to eye them with mistrust. The natural choice of friend and adviser would have been George’s uncle, the Duke of Cumberland. Yet Augusta hated the Duke and resented the lack of attention he paid to her. She effectively brain-washed George into thinking his uncle meant him harm. When the young George went to visit the Duke, his uncle thought he might like to see one of his swords from his recent army campaign. As he drew it from its scabbard, George turned pale and began to tremble. The Duke was horrified that his nephew not only lacked trust in him, but feared murder!

This wasn’t Augusta’s only stand against the Duke of Cumberland. When the King’s health began to fail, it was deemed prudent to draw up a Regency Act, lest he should die before George attained his majority. While the King chose the Duke to act as Regent, Augusta again showed the steel in her nature by protesting until the bill of 1751 was changed to name her as Regent, supported by a council including the Duke. So much for knowing nothing of politics! But while it was admirable that Augusta fought for the right to her son and guarded him against what she felt to be threats, she inadvertently harmed George by this display. George’s relations with his grandfather went from bad to worse and each time, she had a hand in it.

The_Family_of_Frederick,_Prince_of_Wales

The “friend” chosen by Augusta for George was the 3rd Earl of Bute. She and Frederick had met Lord Bute when stuck in a picnic tent on the Epsom race course in the midst of torrential rain. They asked him to make up a fourth at their whist table. The friendship that blossomed led to Bute becoming a Lord of the Bedchamber in Frederick’s household, although Bute had more in common with Augusta than her husband, including a love of botany and a grave manner. No doubt, Augusta wanted a friend and adviser every bit as much as her son did, and consulted her own personal inclination when selecting Bute.

I do not believe, as the press of the time did, that Augusta and Bute were lovers. They may well have felt love for each other, but the rigid moral code and horror of vice that Augusta showed make an affair inconsistent with her personality. However, her infatuation and trust in Bute were to cause perhaps the greatest troubles of her son’s early reign. Augusta told George that his own capacity was limited and he should trust Bute, who had remarkable talents. Ever obedient and self-effacing, George took her advice. His letters to Bute show the extent of his trust and indeed, the pressure Bute was under to be a second father to this heir to the throne.

Alas, this devotion to Bute was to prove another sticky issue with the King. In 1756, George was generously offered his own establishment with Lord Waldegrave acting as Groom of the Stole. Not only did he refuse to leave his mother’s neighbourhood, he managed to insult Waldegrave by saying the head of his household must be a man in whom he could confide or he would consider those “placed about him as his enemies”. It’s telling that the fumbling George had to get his mother to apologise to Waldegrave on his behalf. At this point, it truly does seem George was being warped by his mother’s close watching, however well-meant. Such strong expressions as “enemies” were to define him in later life and clearly show a child raised to mistrust. As evidence that Augusta and Bute encouraged George to reject the new establishment and appoint Bute as his Groom of the Stole instead, historian Christopher Hibbert lists the young man’s unguarded expressions of gratitude: “What! Has the King granted me both my requests? He has always been extremely good to me. If I have ever offended him I am extremely sorry for it. It was not my own act or my own doing . . . ” After which words George bit his tongue.

John_Stuart__Earl_of_Bute

Marriage was a further obstacle. The King proposed Sophie Caroline of Brunswick as a bride for George, but this was rejected. George seems to have been reluctant anyway, but he was certainly encouraged in this by his mother. Both Augusta and Bute wanted a dull-witted bride who wouldn’t have too much influence over their boy. In this one instance, it does appear Augusta’s jealousy and desire for pre-eminence outweighed her care for George.  She snubbed Lady Sarah Lennox, who George fell in love with, and as I have intimated, was keen to keep George’s eventual wife Charlotte firmly in her place. Even Bute was emotionally manipulating George. “I have often heard you say you don’t think I shall have the same friendship for you when I am married as I do now,” he wrote to Bute. “I shall never change in that.” Indeed, George kept his word and made Bute his first Prime Minister. It lead to nothing but disaster for both of them.

Stella Tillyard has described Augusta as “an undemonstrative mother, aloof and nervously obsessed with protocol”. I feel this is a little harsh. She did love her children, and this is shown not only in her care for their intellectual and moral progression, but by her trips to Denmark, despite failing health, to remonstrate with Caroline Matilda over her affair. However, the words “nervously obsessed with protocol” ring true. Inexperienced and relying on her husband, she suddenly found herself in the role of  protector and teacher to the next King of England. For Frederick’s sake she wanted to keep George under her care and make sure he grew up to be the man his father intended. Sadly her own fears and ill-judgement hampered her son. She tried her best by providing him with Bute, but didn’t foresee the political outcry that would arise over such favoritism.  In short, she molly coddled a boy who needed experience of the world above all else for his future role in life.

I do believe Augusta came to like her position of power and, bereft of a husband, was fiercely jealous of George’s love. However, in the main, her intentions were good. Far from resenting her parenting methods, George adopted a similar system for his children: raising  them in ignorance of vice and sin – and as we can see from the way George IV turned out, it had equally poor results. But whatever Augusta’s virtues and failings, she was instrumental in forming the character of George III, and he always loved her for the care she took of him.

Augusta in later life

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