George IV

Mrs Fitzherbert’s Grand Tour

Maria Fitzherbert, Royal Collection
Maria Fitzherbert, Royal Collection

As you may have guessed, the drab way in which Maria Fitzherbert is often presented by history has become one of my bugbears. While I’m sure she would have loved the tragic, sainted image that has survived her, it is not strictly true. Don’t get me wrong – she was a good woman. But she was a woman of her time, and a lot more fun than many people realise. She certainly wasn’t a prude.

My novel about Maria and George (working title A Forbidden Crown) starts with her escape to the Continent in a bid to make the Prince of Wales forget about her. Or, as she termed it, ‘throwing cold water’ on him. Traditionally, this has been seen as a journey of quiet reflection for Maria. Yet when you look at the facts, she had an awful lot of fun. There are many episodes from her travels that I would have loved to write about in my novel, but since I make it a rule only to include scenes that push the plot on or reveal more about the character, they didn’t make the final cut. So, I thought I would tell you a little more on my blog about the wanderings of Mrs Fitzherbert.

First of all, let us talk about her traveling companions. For a lady so concern with her reputation, Maria was intimate with some lively characters. Her closest friend, Lady Anne Lindsay, was not considered spotless. Her engagements had all sizzled out – one, because her fiance would not give up his mistress and illegitimate children. There had even been rumours about Lady Anne’s own relationship with the Prince of Wales. Lady Anne’s sister, Lady Margaret Fordyce, was an abandoned wife whose husband had gone bankfrupt in 1774 and fled the country. Along with these two interesting ladies, Maria also had male travelling companions. Her brother brother Jack and her country squire brother-in-law, Basil Fitzherbert were both with her on separate stages of her journey. So from the start, it was clear that Maria did not intend to spend lonely days in total seclusion.

Lady Anne
Lady Anne

While Maria disliked traveling, especially over the sea, she made sure that she did it in style. Sailing in her own packet, she took her carriage and all her servants. There is even some evidence that she helped smuggle a debtor out of England on her packet by disguising him as one of her household. Once on the Continent, she started off with a visit to the convent at Dunkirk where she had been schooled and gave all the old nuns a feast. She then moved onto Spa with its casinos and balls.

What interests me is that Maria did not seek to conceal herself from notice or shun all connection with royalty. In fact, she positively courted notice from the European monarchs ad Stadtholders. She visited the Haig, where she was received cordially by Willem V and formed a friendship his daughter Louise – somewhat awkward, since the Haig were half in hopes that Louise herself would make a match with the Prince of Wales. Maria made such an impression that Willem V loaned her his  royal barge to take the next step of her journey.

Princess Louise
Princess Louise

When the travelling party made it to France, they went wild for every bit of royal paraphanlia. They saw the crown jewels, the death masks of kings and the coronation robes of Louis XVI. Lady Anne had great fun trying out Louis XV’s bed, before they visited the coffin of that same monarch. They called on the Duc de Chartres at the Palais Royal and met Madame du Barry before moving on to the famous palace of Versailles. Their visit attracted such interest from the French royals that Marie Antoinette sent her own hairdresser to prepare Maria’s long golden locks. Powdered and poufed, Maria and her companions went to the grand couvert to watch the royal family eat in public, where they spent most of the meal peering through their quizzing glasses at her. Lady Anne ‘saw she was gratified.’ On the final part of her travels in Switzerland, Maria spent a good deal of time with the prince’s paternal uncle and aunt, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. These do not strike me as the actions of a woman who wanted to hide from the prince’s attentions and had no ambition – whatever she might profess. I think, deep down, Maria longed for the life she was seeing played out in European courts, but she could not decide how to obtain it legally and without damaging her conscience.

While I believe Maria truly loved the prince, there is no doubt that she enjoyed a bit of flirtation in his absence. To modern eyes, Maria does not look particularly striking. Her large face and aquiline nose would be mocked in cartoons over the coming years. But there is no doubt she had an irresistible charm and was considered an attractive woman in her day. Lady Anne’s travel journal reads like a list of men who fell in love with ‘the Fitz’. Captain Conway was smitten at Spa. When they toured a hospital for the mentally ill, a young surgeon ‘was making love to Mrs F… begging to know when he might wait on her.’ She  had to pay off a man she had once flirted with in Florence years ago, to avoid him revealing her letters to the world. Her departure from the Haig was hastened when the attentions of Prince Heinrich Reuss XIII became too pressing. Most impressive of all, when she visited Plombiere, Maria received an offer of marriage from Marquis de Bellois.

Prince Heinrich
Prince Heinrich

I don’t mean to down-play the awkward and distressing position Maria found herself in when the prince fell in love with her. She was certainly very unhappy and homesick toward the end of her journey, when she was in Switzerland with only her brother Jack, having spent well over a year separated from her home, family and friends. Such extensive travel in the eighteenth century was full of inconvenience. She must have felt truly exiled towards the end. Indeed, it was the prolonged indecision and life in virtual stasis that wore upon her, prompting her to capitulate: ‘I feel so worn out… the length of time it has gone on, and the continual prey it has been on my spirits makes me sometimes think that nothing can happen to make me more thoroughly wretched than I am.’ But I hope this post has shown that Maria’s escape to the Continent wasn’t one long journey of misery, reflection and preparation to become a semi Princess of Wales. Like any other young woman of time, she was trying to enjoy her life in the pursuit of pleasure. And I think we can see, from her visits to court and flirtation with young men, that this was a woman who, all along, secretly wanted to accept the prince long before she actually did.

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Willikin, The Deptford Boy

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

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

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

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

walker-condescension

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

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

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

Princess Charlotte’s Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Secret Wife of George IV

Book Cover

I realised it was unforgivable, in a blog about Georgian historical fiction, not to provide reviews for the novels I read set in this period. So from now on, I’m going to include occasional posts about other books to stop you getting bored with mine!

I’ve recently finished reading Diane Haeger’s The Secret Wife of George IV. I must admit, I’d been putting off reading this for a while, because I didn’t want to be influenced by another work when writing my own story about Maria Fitzherbert. So when a rough draft of A Forbidden Crown was complete, I decided I’d give it a try. But then, two fears crept up on me. Firstly, what if I hated it? There’s nothing more annoying than reading a book where the time period and characters you love are gradually destroyed. What’s more, if I did hate it and then reviewed it, I’d be suspected of trying to take down the competition maliciously. But the second fear was even worse – what if I adored it? What if it was the best story in the world about Maria, said everything I wanted to say, was far better than anything I could ever do and made me want to rip A Forbidden Crown into teeny tiny shreds?

Happily, I fell in between these two extremes. I found Haeger’s work to be a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience, sprinkled with delightful period detail. However, her interpretations of Maria and George are rather different from mine and the focus of her story is romance. This means A Forbidden Crown still has something new to say about the characters – hooray! Naturally, I’m hard to please when it comes to interpretations of the Hanoverian dynasty. For fairness, I’m going to split my review into one of a reader’s perspective and one of a historian’s. The historical review will have spoilers!

As a Reader

I’ve never read stories by Diane Haeger before, but I’ll certainly download some more. The writing style draws you in right from the start. Haeger is gifted at painting characters and descriptions. There were many scenes where I felt I was really there with the characters in Almack’s or on the sea front.

In this tragic love story, she does a magnificent job of handling emotions, capturing perfectly the despair and desire felt by the couple. There were times when I felt the romance was perhaps a little overblown – lots of “You are my soul”. However, this is a romance novel, and if anyone was over the top in protestations of love, it was George IV.

The novel uses multiple points of view, which gave a good insight into the world outside of the couple’s bubble and took a look at interesting figures such as Charles James Fox. Although I didn’t mind switching viewpoint in general, I did get frustrated when it happened within the same scene. Haeger “head-hops” between characters quite a bit. I got confused when I walked into a room with Maria, found out what Fox and Georgiana thought about her, then left the scene in George’s head. Some readers might not mind this but it spoiled my enjoyment a little.

In the main, there’s lot of action. However, I did find the last few years were rushed through, with lots more telling than showing. Having said that, the end strikes just the right note and is packed with emotion, despite a few “listing” chapters leading up to it.

I would certainly recommend this book to others.

As a Historian

There’s no doubt that George IV is treated harshly by fiction and history alike. It was refreshing to read something sympathetic to his predicament – but I have to say, I found Haeger’s approach rather too sympathetic.

Characters refer to the prince as “wild” and a drunk, and on his death-bed he mourns his “petty selfishness”, yet we never see any of it. All we see are noble actions. He talks of his demons, but they don’t seem to haunt him. He finds it astonishingly easy to give up alcohol with no backsliding and only lies to protect people. I feel we need to see George’s bad side for a fair assessment. My fascination for the man stems from his contradictions; at the same time he was a rash fool, he was also a lovely and kind man. He was petulant, childish and selfish; loving, devoted and charitable. To fully understand Maria’s difficulty in this relationship, I needed to see more of this contrast. As it was, I felt George was an utter victim and had never done a bad thing in his life. One of the great stage-moments of his wooing/bullying Maria into marrying him was an attempted suicide – Haeger leaves this out completely.

Haeger’s theory has George taking up with his mistress Lady Jersey under duress, caring nothing for her, and marrying Caroline of Brunswick to save Maria from hideous gossip. Jersey is his “foil”, used to fool Maria into believing he has gone back to his old ways and make her angry enough to leave him. Personally, I don’t buy this. George was besotted with Lady Jersey and endured the hatred of the nation for her sake. He also used her to taunt Caroline. No mention is made of George marrying Caroline for money, as he certainly did. The choice of bride is also foisted on George III. In fact, the bridegroom suggested Caroline himself. George III was not usually in favour of cousins marrying.

George’s debt is imputed to the King being stingy, rather than his own carelessness. In truth, it was a mixture of both, but it sat ill with me to read of George ordering staff to sell all his luxury items and “see the profit divided equally between my staff and their families for the money they are owed.” – George was notorious for never paying staff. However, this novel has him determined to pay his devoted servants “even if he had to sell every last stick of furniture and precious art in Carlton House”. I don’t think so. The other miracle is that George never seems to get fat. In his old age, we have one scene of him on the porky side, but he’s still described as muscular and handsome at periods when he weighed at least 17 stone.

It saddened me that the complex relationship between George and his parents was only just touched on. George III was made out to be a monster; we only saw him and Charlotte twice throughout the whole book. What’s more, the Regency crisis – perhaps the most important incident in any story about George IV – was reduced to one argument with the Queen. George wasn’t shown taking advantage of his father, hungering after power or trying to organise the next government.. He made a brief trip down to London and only wanted to be King so he could make Maria Queen.

Other characters were strangely skewed, too. Maria’s great friend Lady Anne Lindsay hardly features, but when she does it is to inform the lovestruck George where Maria is travelling in France. Lady Anne was against the marriage and although she did help George in the end, it was very reluctantly, not at all in an attempt to trap Maria as it seems to be here. Maria’s companion Belle Pigot becomes a sort of foster-mother for George, a person he was apparently closer to than the Queen, but I’ve never come across anything like this in the history books. Then there was Captain Jack Payne – somehow transmuted here into a butler called Jacko Payne. Why? Maria’s butler was Whale. There was no obvious reason for these changes. I did feel, however, that Lord and Lady Seymour were drawn well, and also Lady Sefton. These characters had traits I had read about in the past and made for a richer story.

Maria was well interpreted and I was pleased Haeger had included her temper and her pride – characteristics that are often overlooked. I found her a likeable character, but hard to understand towards the end. Her ambition was left out, I believe in an attempt to heighten the disinterested romance.  I laughed aloud when she cried “I do not want his wretched money!” – since Maria spent many years trying to get her allowance paid by George. Maria’s longing for a child is well described, although she seems to mistakenly think the laws of England could not take a bastard by George away from her.

The main problem with Maria’s character in this portrayal arises over the Lady Hertford issue. Again protecting George from any possible slur on his character, Haeger has him flirt with Lady Hertford only to keep her sweet and let Maria look after Minney Seymour. I could potentially believe this (although he later clearly chose Lady Hertford over Maria) and it might have worked for the story, if not for one thing: in this book, he explains his actions to Maria. When she challenges him about Lady Hertford, he confesses it is a deception to make sure she can retain custody of Minney. Given these circumstances, it is almost incomprehensible why Maria leaves him for the last time. It seems whimsical. When it’s clear she loves him so much, it’s hard to believe something he is doing for her could cause them to split.

Haeger also explores Maria’s admirers outside of the royal circle, which I was glad of, for she was a woman much in demand. I think history tends to see her like the caricatures – dull, fat and old – when in truth she was quite the toast of society. I had heard the Duke of Bedford loved Maria, but I feel a little too much was made of it in this story. Not only does the Duke follow her to France, he later sleeps with her and takes her to St. James’s Palace on the day of George’s wedding. In fact, Maria was at Marble Hill and refused to believe the messenger who told her George had gone through with the ceremony. I also don’t think she’d ever sleep with someone outside of marriage, let alone the Duke.

From a research point of view, there were little inaccuracies peppered throughout. One that glared at me was the mention of a vase, which apparently George’s “grandfather had given to him personally shortly before his own death.” Both George’s grandfathers were long dead before his parents were even married. I nearly blew a gasket when Sheridan was described as Scottish.  And then the beach at Brighton was described as sandy, when it’s shingle or pebble. These things are perhaps fussy, but they bothered me. A turn of phrase upset me as well. Maria was making up her mind up to something and thought “That’s it. Period.” Not only is this far too modern a phrase for the eighteenth-century mind, but it’s an American word. If Maria thought that, she would have thought “Full stop”. Yes, it’s petty, but these are the kinds of things my critique group would pick up in a first reading. I just wonder how they made it through.

In summary, I would say the history and characters of Maria and George are recognisable but not entirely accurate in this portrayal. Many concessions have been made to make a better romance. I would recommend this book as a good read and something for people who already know the history. It gives a lovely flavour of the period but, I feel, an idealised view of the people who lived through it.

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Hanoverian Mothers – Part 2

Charlotte, Princess of Wales

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

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

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

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

Caroline and Charlotte

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline and Charlotte by Lawrence

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

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

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

Charlotte

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

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

 

Prinny’s Women

marie antoinette ish vintage image graphicsfairy2tealb

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

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

Mary Robinson

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

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

lady jersey

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

Lady Hertford

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

Lady Conyngham

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

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

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

220px-GeorgeIV1780

The Death of a King

George III in old age

After the action of my novel, God Save the King, George III spent his life in a lonely, twilight world, cooped up with his doctors in the north apartments of  Windsor castle. He had tried, in vain, to help organise the execution of his daughter Amelia’s will, but his comprehension began to fail him. For some time, the public still hoped he would recover, especially when they saw him walking on the terrace of Windsor castle with the two doctors Willis and Dr Heberden. He even rode down the Long Walk with his daughters and seemed in recovered spirits. But it wasn’t to be.  By the end of May 1811, he was giving instructions to imaginary servants again. In stark contrast to the Regency scuffle that marked the last prolonged bout of his insanity in 1788/89, the 1811 Regency bill was passed “with much composure and calmness”, according to Princess Mary. The Prince of Wales was in power and the Regency period had begun.

For the years 1811-1820, the spotlight swung round to the future George IV, leaving his father in the shadows. Information about George III’s final years is patchy and heartbreaking. All communication with his family was dropped, while his faithful pages were replaced with intimidating asylum keepers. This didn’t mean his family were hard-hearted to his plight.  As his daughter Augusta explained “Probably I shall never see him again…as I cannot serve him. I could do him no good and he would not know me.” Consequently, the Queen and her daughters were shut up on one side of the quadrangle, coping with a reduced income, while the King occupied the other. Flora Fraser says that Windsor took on an “Asiatic stillness” at this time.  It’s no surprise to find out that young Princess Charlotte found visiting duller than death. Indeed, it was a strange purgatory existence and the King’s death would have been a great relief to all. But his famously strong constitution kept him going, refusing to be shaved, talking to his dead children and planning to send his Queen to Botany Bay.

At times George III had to put his hands over his ears to shut out the voices that troubled him. But he was not always unhappy in his delusions. We have records of him playing (very tunelessly, one imagines!) on his flute and the harpsichord and eating cherry tarts. Most moving of all is the account of his behaviour as his wife, Charlotte, lay ill and then died in 1818. Up to her last breath, she was thinking of her husband and longing to be back at Windsor so she could at least die near him. But the King no longer remembered who she was. He was happy with his music and make-believe world throughout the funeral and beyond. When he mentioned George III, he spoke in the third person. “He was a good man,” he said.

Remarkably, the King’s strength held out until a massive paroxysm at Christmas 1819. He neither slept nor stopped talking for two days straight.  After this he began to weaken and gave up eating. Finally, at 8.32pm on 29 January 1820, the long-tortured man breathed his last.  He was 81 years old. Quite astonishing, when you consider that very few of his fifteen children lived to this age. George IV, now King, received the news with a “burst of grief” and his sisters were devastated. But in truth, they had lost their father long ago. As Princess Mary had written 9 years before, “Nobody who loves the poor King can wish his life to be prolonged an hour”.

It would have pleased George III to know that he died just before the anniversary of Charles I’s death, as he revered the Stuart King and applauded his collection of art. However, it made things difficult for his son, who was unable to be proclaimed King until the last day of January 1820. That wasn’t the end of the tragedy for the family, though. One of the sons, Edward, Duke of Kent and father to the future Queen Victoria had died unexpectedly during the same month. Then, on 1st February 1820, the new King George IV was struck down with an inflammation of the lungs. He suffered severe difficulty in breathing and his death seemed imminent. The public were expecting him to set a new record for the shortest reign in history. As Princess Lieven wrote, “Father and son have been buried together in the past – but two Kings!”

Thankfully, the King recovered, though not in time to attend his father’s funeral. This must have weighed on his conscience. Father and son had shared a difficult relationship and the ceremony may have given him some closure.   For two days, George III lay in state in the Audience chamber at Windsor, raised on a dais, under a rich black canopy. The town was packed full of people, from all classes, coming to pay their final respects to a beloved King.

The courtyard was still full of spectators when the funeral took place on 16 February. The corpse was bound in waxed linen before being placed in a mahogany coffin, lined with white satin. This was sealed in a second, lead, coffin before being put in a third coffin, Russian-doll style. Then, as night fell on Ash Wednesday – a suitably solemn day –  the  body was carried into St George’s chapel to the Dead March from Handel’s Saul.  George III would have approved of this, and the second Handel anthem that ended his committal service. Amid the light of flambeaux, he sank down into the family vault, to rest beside his beloved wife, daughter, granddaughter and stillborn great-grandson. Although people were relieved that his suffering was over, they could not help but “shed a last tear over the grave of a father and a friend”.

While these sad events were taking place, George III’s niece, Caroline, the prodigal Princess of Wales, was living the high life in Italy with her lover. All at once, her beloved uncle was dead and she was Queen of England. However, her estranged husband was less than keen to grant her any new title. Bitter arguments ensued and spurred her to return to England, determined on claiming her rights. If you want to find out more about the chaos caused by Caroline’s fight, look out for my next novel, A Forbidden Crown.

Funeral of George III

“A Catholic Whore”

Maria

You’ve got to feel sorry for Maria Fitzherbert. Despite her efforts to live a respectful life and protect her all-important public image, she came in for a large amount of bashing from the press. Why, you might ask, were the artists so keen to mock in caricature a woman who encouraged the Prince of Wales to drink less and retrench to Brighton? And why was her being Catholic so vitally important?

Unfortunately, Maria’s Catholicism wasn’t just a difference of religious belief. If it had been, she and George IV would have coped well. Maria’s beliefs were not the sort she felt she had to preach, or convert others to. She was content to live and let live. The problem was, history had set her – and her “kind” – up as a dangerous enemy to England, and more pertinently, to the crown.

It all started with James II and what we English then termed the “Glorious Revolution”. After fathering two Protestant girls, James married again and became more pronounced in his Catholicism. This led to the English nation deciding to depose him from the throne, and ban his Catholic son from inheriting. (Stuart fans, please forgive this simplistic summary. My Stuart knowledge has a way to go yet!)

Catholicism was, in a nutshell, why the Hanoverians inherited the crown. Their adherence to the Protestant religion was the only thing that marked them apart from various other claimants. Without it, they would be toppled – there were plenty of Catholics with a better blood-claim to the throne.  The law became so stringent that it not only barred a Catholic from inheriting the throne, but anyone married to Catholic. It was typical, really, that the contrary George IV should find his only true love in a woman of this religion!

For the Great British public, Catholics were the enemy. Not only were many of the countries they had fought in previous wars Catholic, but there had been blood shed on their own shores in the name of that religion. Violent attempts to get the Stuarts back on the throne in 1715 and 1745 led to massacres such as Culloden. Englishmen loyal to their King and country began to see Catholics as wannabe “kingmakers” and resented the supposed authority of the Pope to depose monarchs. In short, they were branded trouble-makers.

It was hardly true. In 1780, it was actually the Anglicans – or those claiming to be Anglican and looking for an excuse for a fight – who caused the mayhem, when Lord Gordon headed a protest against a bill to grant the Catholics some concessions. This bill was motivated by practicality, rather than religious freedom. The government needed more troops and were keen to recruit Catholic Highlanders. To help them do so, they proposed a few sweeteners: they would grant Catholics the right to buy and inherit land and  they would waive the sentence of life imprisonment for being a Catholic bishop or priest, providing the Catholics were willing to take an oath of loyalty that renounced the Stuart claim and said the Pope could not depose sovereigns. Maria’s then-husband, Thomas Fitzherbert, was a strong supporter of the bill.  Sadly, the public were not.

Newgate in Flames

Gordon’s rioters, fierce in their blue cockades, tore London apart. They gutted chapels, burnt down the houses of well-known Catholics, set the prisoners free from Newgate and chalked No Popery on doors. In this chaos Thomas Fitzherbert ventured out to check on his property. I have imagined what Maria would feel in my little practice chapter here and hinted at the illness that overtook him shortly after. Some historians actually claim Thomas was killed as a direct result of injuries sustained in the Gordon Riots. This doesn’t seem to be true, but it certainly was the beginning of the end for poor Tom.

In researching Maria, I’ve made some discoveries about the challenges Catholics faced at the time. While I don’t claim to be an expert on this particular topic, here are some interesting tit-bits I’ve found:

  • Penal Laws prevented  a Catholic from being a Justice of the Peace, Lord Lieutenant or Sheriff. As these offices were usually held by people of high standing in the locally society, it would be a significant snub to Catholic squires.
  • Catholics could not become officers in the county militia or take a seat in the house of Lords. They could not get a degree from Oxford, Cambridge, Trinity or Dublin. Rather a blow to the prospects of any young man!
  • Catholics could not act as guardians, executors or suitors in any court of law. They could not inherit or purchase property. Talk about injustice!
  • They could send their children abroad to be educated in their faith but they had to get a special licence.
  • A Catholic could not own arms, ammunition or a horse exceeding the value of £5
  • Catholics had to pay special taxes
  • Mass was illegal. Maria and her family would have been careful to refer to it as “prayers” or “high prayers”. They would also make sure they referred to the Pope as “our chief Bishop”. Similarly, there was no way they would dare call a priest “Father”. The priest would need to wear non-distinct clothing and be referred to as “Mr.”
  • If a Catholic couple wanted to marry, they would need to have an Anglican service. They could have a private Catholic one, but they would then need to have a second, public, Anglican ceremony. Failure to do so could result in a sentence of 14 years transportation! As both the Catholic and the Anglican ceremonies were valid in Catholic teaching, most just opted for the Anglican.

As you can see, life as a Catholic wasn’t easy! It’s no wonder that Maria grew up with such a sense of identity and belonging that was linked to her religion. Her parents had secret masses said in their manor and even set up a house in the village as a secret chapel. They would sneak priests in and allow all the local Catholics to come and hear the contraband service. Her great-grandfather was a baronet (and I believe I read somewhere this was conferred on him by Charles II for his loyalty to the Catholic Charles I) and her second husband Thomas was descended from Throckmorton blood. Those of you familiar with Tudor history may remember Throckmorton’s support of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. One of Maria’s uncles joined a committee to protect the interests of Catholics and appeal for the right to build churches and live in the cities of Westminster and London (yes, Catholics couldn’t even live in the cities of Westminster and London at one point) The religion was in her family, in her blood.

Is it any surprise that Maria refused to cast this heritage aside for the love of a man? She had a great sense of her own self-worth and would never betray who she was. I admire her the more for refusing to give up her history for a chance of glory as the Prince’s wife. It is too often the way with historians to represent Maria as deeply pious – they forget her adhesion to her faith had more to do with identity than theological differences.

"What's a fellow to do about these darned Catholics?"
“What’s a fellow to do about these darned Catholics?”

As for George IV, his opinions towards Catholicism underwent stupendous changes. At one time quoted as saying Catholicism “was the only religion for a gentleman”, he progressed to wary indifference and finally antagonism. As Regent, he refused to discuss Catholic emancipation, and with good reason. His father, George III, was vehemently against it, and after all, he was only ruling in his father’s name. When the time came for him to rule in his own right as George IV, his feelings altered again. Once he had made the coronation oath, he began to feel the same way as his father: granting the Catholics freedom would be going directly against the vow he had made to uphold the Protestant religion before God.  Part of me also feels that, even after all this time, he was still secretly seeking the approval of his deceased parent, which he hardly ever gained in life.

But George IV did finally sign the Catholic Relief Bill in 1829, a year before his death. He was reluctant to let it pass, to say the least. He became violently ill and desperate in trying to stop it – some also suggest this huge upset hastened his death. But George IV knew when he was beaten by public opinion, and took the brave step of signing despite his own feelings. He was able to put his own opinions aside for the good of the nation – a step his proud, stubborn father would never have been able to do. This was a great leap towards religious freedom in Britain and one for which, I’m sure, Maria would have been proud of him.

 

Royal Pregnancy and Tragedy

I doubt there’s anyone reading this who hasn’t heard about the hoax call from an Australian radio-station that ended in tragedy this week. I would like to think this terrible incident would cause people to think twice before harassing the royals – at least for the sake of other people caught up in the stories, if not for the royals themselves – but hey, I also thought that when Princess Diana died.

Obviously the main tragedy lies with the nurse and her poor family, but I’m also sad for this unborn, future monarch. It’s a horrible shadow to have hanging over your birth and you can tell it will be mentioned in every future history book about him or her.  This particular situation reminded me so forcibly of another person whose life was devastated by a royal pregnancy and his part in it that I felt compelled to write a blog post about him. Ladies and gentlemen, spare a thought for the unfortunate Sir Richard Croft.

Croft was an eminent London physician who had worked alongside such names as Dr John Hunter and Dr Matthew Baille. I appreciate these doctors may mean nothing to you, but I can tell you they were highly esteemed. Croft had worked as one of the physicians to the royal family for years, even treating George III himself at times.

As such a respected doctor, he seemed to perfect choice to supervise the pregnancy and labour of George IV’s only daughter, Princess Charlotte. Charlotte had suffered two miscarriages previous to this pregnancy, so they were being extra careful. Alongside Croft, a nurse called Mrs Griffiths, who had 30 years midwifery experience, was in attendance.

Described as a long, thin, fidgety man, Croft was not the most popular person in Charlotte’s home of Claremont. The princess liked her own way and was not prepared for the strict regime he imposed. Firstly, there was the matter of her weight. The princess’ grandmother, Queen Charlotte, felt distinctly uneasy about her size. She was a voice of some experience, having given birth to fifteen children of her own. Croft shared the Queen’s concerns and subjected young Charlotte to a strict diet. She liked to have a mutton chop and a glass of port for her lunch, but this was now exchanged for tea and toast. While this seems a wise measure to modern eyes (can you imagine a pregnant woman drinking port these days?), his other treatments of bleeding and purges leave us feeling horrified. But as I’m sure you are aware, bleeding was considered a healthy thing to do in the period. Only Stockmar, physician to Charlotte’s husband, Leopold, demurred. “This lowering treatment is no longer regarded as sensible in Europe”, he explained. However, he let Croft get on with his job.

One sensible thing Croft did do was persuade Charlotte to stop wearing stays. Such a bodily restriction could hardly have been healthy for the baby’s growth. Unfortunately, he didn’t express himself in the most flattering way. “A cow does not wear stays,” said Croft. “Why should the Princess Charlotte?”

Perhaps unsurprisingly. Charlotte was left feeling depressed by the “lowering treatment” and dwelt on death. She had picked out patterns for the baby’s clothes with glee but didn’t want to see them when they arrived. All the same, when her pains finally began, she climbed into bed with courage, assuring Mrs Griffiths she would neither bawl nor shriek. It was a promise she kept.

It was an extremely difficult labour. The progress was slow, but this didn’t bother Croft at first. He allowed Leopold in the room to hold Charlotte’s hand, lie down beside her on the bed or walk in front of the fire as the hours passed by.  One thing he would not tolerate, however, was eating. As fifty excruciating hours rolled by, Charlotte had neither sleep nor food.

Witnesses for the royal birth began to arrive at Claremont and gathered in the breakfast room. They had a long wait ahead of them. Even Charlotte’s parrot, Coco, had had enough and began to sqwark. Croft realised that the baby was lying at a strange angle and, to make matters more troublesome, was an unusually large child.  He began to think surgical intervention may be required in the form of forceps. This was no light matter. Forceps were considered extremely dangerous at the time and would only be used in dire emergency. He summoned Dr Sims, an expert in the use of surgical instruments in pregnancy, who, despite being on call in the case of the princess,  took hours to arrive. He assured Croft that the labour was moving along gradually and there was no need to intervene.

Poor Charlotte’s labour lasted another day and there were signs the infant was in trouble. The child’s first faeces – which usually appear after birth – oozed out onto the sheets. A further three hours went by before the royal baby finally emerged into the world – large, male and stillborn. Everything was tried to restore the young prince. He was slapped, shaken, plunged into hot water, rubbed with salt and mustard, all to no avail. His little life was over before it began.

Croft, Mrs Griffiths and Leopold were devastated. Charlotte bore it better, seeming unnaturally composed – I expect she was far too exhausted to let her real emotions show, and she had always been a brave woman. While Leopold retired to a sedated sleep, Croft and Sims were disturbed by the fact that Charlotte continued to bleed. They decided to remove her placenta by hand, rather than wait for it to come naturally. After they had done so, the bleeding stopped and Charlotte was finally allowed chicken broth – her first food in two days. She was given camphor julep  as a stimulant and seemed relatively cheerful, teasing Mrs Griffiths about her gown before drifting off into a well deserved sleep.

Around midnight, Charlotte awoke to unbearable pain and a singing in her head. She threw up all the broth and, clutching her stomach, cried “Oh, what a pain! It is all here!” The terrified Mrs Griffiths ran out to fetch Croft, who found his patient freezing cold and unable to remain in the same posture for more than a minute, due to her intense pain. Though she struggled to breath, she complained about the cold. In a moment of blind panic, Croft and Griffiths did all they could to warm her up. They forced alcohol down her, stoked up the fire, and put down a deluge of blankets. Had they been calmer, they would have noticed she was bleeding again. They would also have remembered that the medical practice of their time recommended cold compresses in such cases – not the inferno they were creating.

Stockmar, disturbed by the fracas, came in to hear Charlotte’s complaints that the doctors had made her tipsy. He was horrified by the heat in the room but his protests came too late. All he could do was try to wake Leopold so he could say goodbye to his darling wife. Even these efforts were in vain – Leopold’s sedatives had done their trick. Without him, Charlotte turned onto her face, drew her knees up to her chest and breathed her last.

The outpouring of national grief can scarcely be imagined. The death of two heirs to the throne at once left England with only George III’s ageing sons to inherit. They were hardly popular, while the people had adored Charlotte. It is natural, when tragedy strikes, to want someone to blame – whether that person be yourself or another individual. England chose Croft. While the royal family thanked him for his care of Charlotte and showed no signs of hostility, the public were another matter. Even today, Croft seems to be branded as the man who “killed” Princess Charlotte. It was true that he had an over-confident manner and made mistakes, but I was astonished to find historian James Chambers describing him as “not an eminent or even qualified physician. He was merely the most fashionable of the many accoucheurs…and his title was an inherited baronetcy rather than a well-earned knighthood”. Such censure is, I feel, grossly unfair. It was hardly likely that a family as used to needing doctors asthe royals (remember the King’s still ongoing madness? The childhood ailments of fifteen children, let alone their births?) would make a choice on the whim of fashion.

George IV wrote to Croft to assure him of his “confidence in the medical skill and ability which he displayed during the arduous and protracted labour”. It was a confidence that at least some others must have shared, for Croft continued to get work. But the continual morning for Charlotte – the poems, the full churches, the shops draped in black – were an ever-present nettle on his conscience. You can picture him reliving the hours again and again, seeing things he could have done differently, cursing himself for the panic which led him to heat Charlotte up rather than cool her down.  He finally broke when attending the wife of a rich clergyman in Harley Street. Her case bore similarities to Charlotte’s, although there was no cause for extreme concern as yet. While awaiting the next contractions, he left husband and wife alone and retired to the study. There, he sat in a wing-chair and opened a volume of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost on a significant quote: “Fair sir, God save you! Where is the Princess?” He then took a pair of pistols and shot himself through the head.

Poor Sir Richard Croft became the third victim of the national tragedy, although few people mourned for his wife and four children as intensely as they did for their princess. There were even wicked people who thought justice had been served on him. I always wonder about the vicar’s wife – what did she do without his help in the birth? Did she survive? And again, what about the unfortunate baby whose birth was preceded by bloody scene downstairs?  Perhaps I will never find out. They were just another set of innocents caught up in a national tragedy, more ripples skating across the pool that we fail to see, because we are focusing on where the stone dropped.

 

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