Hampton Court Palace

A Fragrant Court

HogarthWanstead

When historical novelists try to the capture the past for readers, they have to skilfully manipulate the senses. Dress looked different, speech sounded different, food tasted different. But I think the change we’d notice most, coming from the 21st century, would be the smell.

Let’s face it: our characters were stinky. For the most part, their fellows wouldn’t notice it, being in an equal state of uncleanliness. Who knows, perhaps they would think a freshly bathed person smelt strange, since they weren’t used to it. In general, it was only the hands, face and sometimes the feet and personal areas that were washed everyday. Full immersion in water was rare, as was laundering the heavy, expensive materials that made up court dress. For the most part, they would have been packed away with herbs in hopes of keeping both smells and parasites away. I’m in a unique position at the moment, writing about Caroline of Ansbach, who was a frequent bather. Some contemporaries found her washing excessive and blamed her of putting her health at risk. As someone so careful of her own hygiene, she must have been particularly sensitive to smells. It therefore beholds me, when I’m writing from her point of view, to understand the olfactory world in which she lived.

rose

I recently attended a workshop at Historic Royal Palaces called Fragrances of the Georgian Court, lead by Tanya Moulding. Tanya fully earned her title of “The Perfume Mistress”, opening our nostrils to a whole new world. I get the feeling some of my classmates didn’t enjoy sampling the unpleasant side of the court smells quite as much as I did – of course, they were repugnant, but I need to write about them, so I was sniffing to my heart’s content. I always prefer it in historical fiction when heroes are ascribed realistic scents, such as horses, sweat and leather than fresh lye soap and cologne. Yes, gentlemen of the court, particularly in the Regency period, may have used heavy feminine scents – but we have to remember this was screening something muskier and altogether less sweet beneath.

In particular, London was little better than an open sewer. With everything from human waste to rotting animal carcasses in the kennel, there was also the heaving, poisonous Thames. Although it hadn’t yet reached the proportions that would lead to “The Great Stink” in Victorian times, the odours that the river carried with it would have been sharp and pungent. Think rotting fish and plant matter and you’ll start to get an idea. To help recreate these smells for us, Tanya made concoctions featuring the stale, acidic scents of civet and castoreum . Both these come from the anal glands of animals – cats and beavers respectively – and were certainly stinky. What is surprising, however, is that these aromas were sometimes used as base notes in fragrances of the time – apparently, some people relished the warm musky quality at the heart of these animal scents.

Victorian cartoon showing the stinky Thames

So, how to mask all this unpleasantness without a can of  modern-day Febreeze? Well, firstly there was the Royal Herb Strewer. Although the role became more ceremonial as the Georgian age progressed, this busy figure would have been wafting her way around the court, trying her best to sweeten the air. The herbs she would lay amongst rushes and sometimes straw would depend, firstly, on the nature of the floor – no ruining expensive Turkey carpets! – and then the use of that room. For example, southernwood or wormwood was considered to be an aphrodisiac and may well have circled the royal bed.  To repel insects, chamomile, lavender, penny royal and rosemary would have come to the fore. Another lovely little gem was sweetflag – it smelt fatty and almost cinammony, with a seductive quality about it. So much for the rooms But what did the people use to hide their own bodily odour?

Orange blossom

Pomanders and scented gloves were dropping out of fashion, but everything from the pomade to the face powder of the Georgian toilette would have carried a scent. Men might favour spicier aromas such as clove, cinnamon and nutmeg, while women went for header notes of orange and rose. At Tanya’s workshop, we were given some of the following scents to sample and use to make our own Georgian inspired perfume. I wrote down my thoughts and descriptive words as I sniffed – you may well find these descriptions in some of my books now! – but I thought I would share them with you.

Top Notes – mainly citrus and sweet

  • Orange – As you would expect, sweet and zesty
  • Grapefruit – Like orange, but juicier and less overpowering
  • Lime – Fresh and sharp
  • Bitter orange – This one smelt like Christmas. Think orange peel, a deeper smell with a decided tang
  • Bergamont – A green smell, more delicate in nature than the others

Middle Notes – Flowers, herbs and spices

  • Lavender – Always a favourite of mine, powdery and soothing.
  • Jasmine – Delicious and heady but sickly sweet
  • Rose Otto – I’ll go into more detail on this later, but Rose Otto is not the same as a simple rose scent. It is deeper, slightly less floral and has notes of honey and wax to it.
  • Orange blossom – This didn’t smell like I thought it would. I expected the zing of the original orange, but this was less zesty and more musky
  • Geranium – Surprisingly unlike the geraniums I sniff in my mum’s garden. Minty and peppery.
  • Rosemary – Lemony, a little peppery. It has a very strong undertone and screams “I am a herb!” Again, this oil smelt different from the fresh rosemary you would crush in your hands to get the scent of.
  • Violet leaf – A wet scent, putting me in mind of leaves after a downpour.
  • Black pepper – Smokey and chocolatey, this was another scent famed as an aphrodisiac.

Base notes – Woods and resins

  • Cedarwood – there were two varieties of the cedarwood, but the one I smelt reminded me of wax and leather. It had a watered-down sweetness to it.
  • Frankincense – Musky and spicy with the merest hint of lemon. A smell that goes deep down into your nostrils.
  • Benzoin – I loved this one! It smelt like caramel and alcohol, reminding me of liquers
  • Vanilla – Creamy and smooth as always
  • As described above, civet and castoreum were also an option, but they just reminded me too much of a kitty-litter tray.

For my own Georgian perfume, I wanted to get sweet scents throughout, nothing too floral. I find overly flowery perfumes don’t sit well on my skin – I’m better with vanillas and honeys. Tanya was on hand for advice throughout, and I started off with the following blend of my favourites:

Bergamont – 1 drop

Orange blossom – 4 drops

Lavender – 1 drop

Benzoin – 1 drop

Distilled in this way, the lavender wasn’t over-powering. While I like the smell, it has a tendency to sweep all others aside and that wasn’t what I wanted. Pleased with the results, I repeated the recipe to make it stronger. I still liked it, but wanted to add a touch more sweetness. Tanya recommended some mandarin. I added a drop of this and it worked, but something was still missing. There was a slight kick I needed that I couldn’t describe. I found myself sniffing the rose otto again and again. It’s another strong scent that claims its own ground and I was apprehensive of using it, lest I drown out all my hard work. Finally biting the bullet, I added just one drop. As I expected, it was a little too strong. By now my nose was accustomed to what would balance things out, and I added three drops of vanilla and another of mandarin and stirred . . . It was perfect! I had my own Georgian perfume, a mixture of seven very different scents that somehow combined together into something sweet, tangy and lightly floral all at once. For full Georgian effect, I will be wearing my new perfume when I appear dressed as a Georgian at the Festival of Romance in November. I’m  hoping it will complement my orange blossom pomade and lavender hair powder – you’ll certainly smell me from a long way off!

marriage-a-la-mode-the-toilette-by-william-hogarth

Several members of the class had dizzy spells and needed to seek some air. In between sniffing, we were offered pots of freshly ground coffee to refresh the nostrils. I found myself thinking how overpowering it must have been to spend a day in the Georgian court. Not only would you have the nauseous smells turning your stomach, you would have all this fragrance fizzing in your brain, trying to mask it but probably just blending with it. It made me wonder how people managed to breathe! The only modern comparison I can think of is being on the tube in summer in rush hour, with a group of people who forgot their deodorant, and letting a big bottle of Chanel Number 5 smash on the floor and puddle around your feet. Feeling faint? I know I am.

Caroline's bathroom

I promised you a little bit more about rose otto. I think the reason I was drawn to it was that it reminded me of the scent in Queen Caroline’s bathroom at Hampton Court.  The best post I can refer you to about the Georgian rooms at Hampton Court is by the wonderful Brimstone Butterfly who has sadly passed away but continues to inspire me with her blog. I had always assumed the rose smell in Queen Caroline’s bathroom was added on purpose, but as you will read in the blog post, it seems to be something of a phenomenon that not all people can smell. Rosewater that seeped into the porous walls? Who knows? The funny thing is, the scent seems to travel. For me it is there on some days, not on others. On one trip to Hampton Court I could smell it the whole way through Queen Caroline’s private apartments, another only in the bathroom. The more superstitious suggest it is the dead queen’s lingering spirit. I can’t say I fully subscribe to this theory, but I can tell you of one rather odd thing that happened to me. I was visiting on a weekday and the apartments were practically deserted except for a few staff. I walked up and down again and again, taking notes and familiarising myself with the rooms and their order for my novel. No rose scent that day. I must have been there for the best part of an hour. Just as I walked up to the bedroom to make my final round, I said, rather sadly to myself, since there was no one nearby to think me a weirdo, “Oh, so you’re not with me today, then, Caroline?” Almost at once the smell of rose otto enveloped me, stronger than I had ever smelt it before. I wasn’t scared at all, but smiled. As I completed my last walk up and down the apartments, the scent lingered protectively around me and followed me all the way down to Fountain Court. Very strange, but I swear to you, entirely true. For this reason, rose otto will always be special to me.

Caroline : a sweet smelling companion

Hanoverian Mothers 3.2 – Caroline and Frederick in the later years

Frederick as Prince of Wales

Hello and welcome back! You may remember we left Caroline and Frederick still estranged and living in separate countries. I’d like to pick up a few years forward, when George I died, leaving his son George II to inherit the throne. After years of separation, the gate-keeper forcing Frederick to stay away from his parents was finally gone.

George I died in the summer of 1727 and yet Frederick didn’t arrive in England until December 1728. What caused the delay? I’m sure there were affairs he had to settle in Hanover and several difficulties attendant on relocating a royal household. But should it really take that long? The sad truth was probably that George II no longer foresaw the reunion with his son as a happy event. George II and his own father had been constantly at odds with one another. He suspected Frederick was just a new rival waiting to replace the old. Caroline initially wanted Frederick to have his own household and started to search London for a suitable place. She came across a house she liked in George Street, Hanover Square, but her husband refused to supply her with funds to purchase it. He wanted to keep Frederick in his place and firmly under his control.

King George II

George started this regime of snubbing by pretty much ignoring Frederick’s arrival in London. No fanfare greeted his landing; he alighted at the Friary and walked down the Queen’s back stairs. It is perhaps noteworthy that Frederick went first to his mother, not his father. It was hardly the way for a Prince of Wales to enter London, but I must point out that Frederick was not unique in being treated like this. George II responded exactly the same way to foreign princes and princesses who came to wed his sons and daughters. It seems this was his method of putting himself in the dominant role at the beginning of any relationship.

At first, things seemed to be going well. George II declared that the young man was “not a son I need be much afraid of”. The young Frederick had lively grey eyes, an obliging address and his mother’s fine fair hair. His legs were still skinny from his childhood rickets and he was slightly myopic, but it seems his manners made up for these short-comings. However, he was entering hostile territory. Caroline seemed inclined to give him a chance, and must have been pleased that he shared her interests in art and poetry, but she was still resentful that he would be supplanting her favourite, William. Frederick’s sister Anne had enjoyed the role of senior child up until this point and did not take kindly to being supplanted by him. Anne’s implacable hatred of Frederick took a very public form when the two set up rival opera houses and fought for control of the paying audiences. It appeared that another sister, Amelia, was getting on well with Frederick when she got him to confide in her about the debts he had incurred. However, the catty Amelia had other motives – she promptly ran and told tales to the King and Queen.

Frederick with Anne, Caroline and Amelia

Frederick was naive and impressionable, and sadly his behaviour soon began to confirm his parents’ bad opinion of him. He joined the wild Harry the Fifth Club, who went around the streets incognito, smashing windows and beating up the night watch. Lord and Lady Berkshire had their window broken and suspected it was the Prince who had attacked their property. They demanded an apology from the palace and would not return to court until they got one. If this wasn’t embarrassing enough,  Frederick started frequenting St. James’s Park at night, a notorious place to find prostitutes. He ended up having his wallet, seals and a gold medal stolen by a light-fingered doxy.

Frederick’s reckless actions, coupled with the fact that George II was being stingy with his allowance, meant he soon ran up huge debts. He was prepared to do anything to reduce these – even if it meant siding with politicians from the Opposition. MPs promised to speak up for the Prince and move to increase his allowance in exchange for promises of a place in power when he finally came to the throne. It was this flirtation with the enemy that really damaged Frederick’s relationship with his parents. Caroline loved to be in control and prided herself on “managing” the King and country through her great ally, Robert Walpole. As far as she was concerned, an attack on Walpole and his politics was an attack on her. Moreover, one of the Opposition MPs Frederick took up with was no other than Bolingbroke – a man who had formerly been exiled from Britain for trying to put the great Hanoverian rival, The Old Pretender, on the throne in place of George I. It was this that led Caroline to believe her son was avaricious and would do anything for money. She once said Frederick would sell the crown to The Pretender for £50,000.

There is another scandal associated with Frederick’s early years in England: his relationship with Caroline’s favourite, Lord Hervey. The two got on well to start with and were certainly close friends. It is possible that Frederick and Hervey also shared a sexual relationship. Hervey was famously bisexual and it seems Frederick was jealous of his close relationship with Stephen Fox. Intriguingly,  the pages of Hervey’s memoir relating to this period of his friendship with the Prince have been cut out of the manuscript. Obviously something has been hidden. But if Frederick was bisexual, this would not be a major reason for his parents to dislike him. Caroline was extremely close to Hervey and treated him like another son, even though she knew of his sexuality. In fact, she might have been glad to think Frederick would never marry and have an heir to supplant William. At best, rumours of Frederick’s “sodomy” would be great fuel to help discredit their son’s political aspirations, but nothing that need affect them on a personal level. What Caroline may have blamed Frederick for, however, was the bitter end to the relationship between the two men. Whether it was platonic or sexual, it is clear that Frederick dropped Hervey rather brusquely. Not only would this make Caroline angry with her son, but it would fuel Hervey’s wrath and possibly lead to him putting his own words in the Queen’s mouth when he wrote his memoirs.

Anne Vane

Frederick and Hervey’s tussle came to a crescendo when they fought over a mistress, one of Caroline’s Maid’s of Honour, Anne Vane. Vane started off as Hervey’s and was seemingly planted around Fred to gather gossip about him. However, she knew how to play her men off against one another. By the time Vane fell pregnant, no one was sure who the father was. She insisted it was Frederick’s – after all, a royal child was worth more – and had her son Christened Cornwell FitzFrederick. Caroline firmly believed the baby was Hervey’s and thought Fred hopelessly naive for paying out so much money to house the mother and infant.

The years that followed were tough ones for Caroline. She faced political defeat over Walpole’s Excise Bill and her health was dire. She was suffering acutely from gout and a hernia but her pride, and a fear of her husband’s anger, prevented her from seeking medical help. Emotionally, she was drained too. Henrietta Howard, the King’s long-term mistress, had left court, forcing her to spend more time with her irate husband and fear the next woman he would take up with. Her daughter Anne had married William of Orange, leaving the English court behind. Caroline was particularly distressed by William’s physical deformities and wept to think of her daughter being left to “such a monster”. She was inconsolable for days after Anne left and sent her this touching note:

Dear heart, my sadness is indescribable. I never had any sorrows over you , Anne, and this first is a cruel one. Orange is a good man and will ever be a great favourite of mine.

Frederick’s good nature is shown in the fact he tried to comfort his mother. She found it hard to bear, knowing he had always hated Anne. One of the main things she criticised Frederick for was his insincerity – it seems she took this kind gesture from her son as just more lip-service. Still, Anne’s removal did signal a momentary softening in Frederick’s favour. Caroline was proud when he asked to join the armed forces against the French, even though he was not permitted. She also took time to talk to him and encourage him away from Opposition politics. “What concerns me most, my dear Fretz, is to see you can be so weak as to listen to people who are trying to make a fool of you, who think of nothing but distressing the King,” she told him. “They would sacrifice not only your interest but the interest of our whole family to … gratify their personal resentment.”

These words make a strong contrast to the violent language Hervey records later on. If we look at the evidence accumulating over the years, this gentle scolding is much more in character with Caroline than the alleged hell-fire outbursts. “I have scolded the Queen for taking the rascal’s [Frederick’s] part,” George said. “I have had more quarrels with her when she has been making silly excuses for his silly conduct than I ever had with her on all other subjects”. It was Caroline who objected to the idea of splitting the ruler-ship of England and Hanover, granting one to William and one to Fred. She thought it “unjust” to her eldest. It was George II’s decided opinion that Frederick was ungrateful to his mother for all the times she took his side. “I must say you have been an excellent mother to all your children, and if any of them behave ill to you they deserve to be hanged. I never loved the puppy [Frederick] well enough to have him ungrateful to me, but to you he is a monster and the greatest villain that ever was born.”

Caroline in the last years of her life

If worry about her daughter Anne, who experienced some horrific stillbirths, and her own health problems weren’t enough, Caroline was to suffer even more as time passed by. Just as she feared, George found a new mistress and began to treat her with disdain. He went to Hanover to spend more time with his lover and left Caroline to act as Regent for him. Annoyed at being passed over for the Regency, Frederick showed his displeasure by turning up late to Council meetings and treating his mother with general disrespect. Caroline could tolerate this, but she finally broke when his behaviour became cruel.

During this Regency, Caroline dealt with corn riots in the West Country, Spitalfields weavers attacking and killing the Irish undercutters, the Porteous Riots, an explosion in Westminster Hall and outcry against the Gin Act. Fred used these opportunities to soak up popularity, even drinking gin to show his support of the common people. He was given the Freedom of  the City of London. Caroline declared his antics made her sick.

In the autumn,  further disaster struck. It appeared the King’s ship had been lost at sea. With a violent storm raging and no news from Hanover, Caroline feared the worst. The court was in uproar – except for Fred. He was excited at the prospect of becoming King himself. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he didn’t show grief or regret at the idea of his father’s death. This hardened Caroline towards him: “I heard that yesterday they talked of the King’s being cast away with the same sang-froid as you would talk of a coach being overturned, and that my good son strutted about as if he had been already King”. It was also at this time that Caroline’s long illness began to manifest itself in fevered imaginings. Her previous attitude to Fred was: “I believe he has no inveterate hatred of me, but for love I cannot say I see any great sign of it, though I must own he has a really good heart.” Now, she began to worry about him becoming King, even fearing for her life. She considered Fred would be quite capable of murdering her in her sleep, imprisoning and starving his sisters and flaying Whig politicians. Such ideas were utter nonsense – Fred was by no means this brutal – but Caroline’s fear was genuine. Long pain and stress had warped her mind and she was unlike her usual self. Indeed, she records that she was ready to weep with fatigue. But it is interesting to note Caroline was not the only one overcome with fear at the idea of Fred in power. Her daughters swore they would leave the palace at a gallop.

Fortunately for Caroline, George returned from Hanover alive – albeit with painful piles. But the quarrel with Frederick was far from over. He chose this sensitive moment to push his claims for a higher allowance. Considering the short-tempered George was both penny-pinching and suffering, his timing could not have been worse. Fred also alleged that he had spoken with Caroline while his father was out of the country and warned her of his money difficulties. She fiercely resented this implication. Bringing her name into an  argument between the King and his son was, to her mind, unpardonable. Whether or not Fred was telling the truth is unclear – could Caroline have simply forgotten, or was she angry with herself for making promises she couldn’t honour? Either way, the financial squabble put strain on the bond between both parent and child and husband and wife.

Frederick's wife Augusta

Worse was to come. Frederick’s wife Augusta fell pregnant with a child which, male or female, would oust Caroline’s beloved William from his position as second in line to the throne. Had the King and Queen  been given time to get used to the idea, things may have turned out differently. Unluckily Fred was afraid of their reaction and left it until very late in the pregnancy before informing them. Caroline smelled a rat. She knew her son was fond of  practical jokes and her fevered mind convinced itself that he was playing a trick to spite them. Given Fred’s weak health, she considered him incapable of fathering a child. She thought that perhaps he was planning to smuggle a baby into the room and get ultimate revenge on his parents by pushing William off the throne with a foundling child. Wild ideas, certainly, but we have to remember it was not many years ago that James II had fallen from grace over the famous bed-pan scandal. People believed – or said they believed – that James’s heir was not his true son, but a child brought into the room secretly in a bed-pan. Caroline could not bear the idea that her own royal house should be subject to such suspicions.

Consequently, she made arrangements for the birth to take place at Hampton Court, under her strict supervision. But when Augusta’s labour pains started, Fred thwarted her. Smuggling his wife out of the palace in the dead of night, he carried her across London in a bumpy carriage to St. James’s, where she gave birth on a table. Caroline and George’s were livid. However, it was Caroline who sped after them in her nightgown to check on Augusta’s health. She was kind to her daughter-in-law, sympathising with her sufferings. “My good Princess, is there anything you want, anything you wish, anything you would have me do?” she asked. “Here I am – you have but to speak and ask, and whatever is in my power … I promise you I will do”. Her conversation with Fred was more awkward. Since the child was a puny, premature girl, she no longer suspected that her son had put a false child on them – had it been a bouncing, strong boy, she would have thought otherwise. Frederick did not apologise for his actions, but made an attempt at reconciliation by asking her and the King to be godparents. He suggested returning to Hampton Court with her to make the request in person. “I fancy you had better not come today,” Caroline said wisely. “To be sure the King is not well pleased with the bustle you have made and should you attempt coming, nobody can answer what your reception may be”. This was an understatement. George was angered beyond the point of no return.

Although Fred later wrote letters of apology, and notes thanking his mother for her visit, her made some glaring errors. He omitted, in every case, to refer to his mother as Your/Her Majesty. This was no small slip up – it was an insult. However, Caroline did not stop visiting her new grandchild.

As the divide between Frederick and George widened, Caroline’s visits were received with less and less warmth. Eventually Frederick was silent and sullen, only seeing her to the door of the chamber and ignoring his sisters. Caroline expressed a hope she was not being troublesome – to which she received no answer. It angered her beyond expression when, after treating her so coldly inside the house, Frederick insisted on accompanying her outside and making a grand show of filial duty to the crowds. He knelt in the mud to kiss her hand. The hypocrisy made Caroline sick. Her husband was typically unsympathetic and told her it served her right for “sticking her nose where it had already been shit on”.

In a strange echo of history, George II expelled his son and family from the royal palaces. It was a cruel step, although less harsh than the exile Caroline and George faced. For starters, Frederick and Augusta were allowed to stay until she had fully recovered from childbirth. Secondly, and most importantly, George made no move to separate the newborn Princess from her parents. It strikes me that Caroline played a very minor role in this action and may have even tried to dissuade her husband from it. She seemed very concerned that sending the Prince and his family out into the world would give him the reputation of a martyr.

Frederick

The final chapter of Caroline and Frederick’s story revolves around her death in 1737. Caroline’s last illness was truly horrific and I intend to dedicate a separate post to it. She left detailed instructions and bequests to all her family – except Fred. Was she so embittered that she couldn’t forgive her scape-grace son even on her death-bed? I think there’s more to it. For a start, accounts differ. Some courtiers say she sent him a message of forgiveness; others that she was glad to die because she would never be forced to see his face again. The truth is probably somewhere in between this. Caroline’s sense of humour was dark, and she certainly made some desperate jokes to lighten the mood around the time of her death. For example, she asked the surgeon operating on her if he wouldn’t rather be cutting his wife. I can imagine her joking about never having to set eyes on Fred again, but I doubt she really meant it. What we can be sure of is that Caroline asked the King if Frederick had tried to see her. The answer was yes, but he had refused him entry. George II thought Frederick was being hypocritical, coming to his mother’s death-bed and trying to torment her in her last moments, scoring more popularity points with the general public. Such an idea is hardly fair, but Caroline accepted George’s decision. She lived her life bending to his will, trying to avoid irritating or embarrassing him at all. Her last moments were no exception. One account says although Caroline did not see Frederick, she desired George not to forget that he was her son. To me, this sounds like the truth and in keeping with Caroline’s character. It is even echoed in her last words to William: “You know I have always loved you tenderly and I place my chief hope in you. Show your gratitude to me in your behaviour to the King. Attempt nothing ever against your brother and endeavour to mortify him in no other way than by showing  superior merit.” These hardly seem like the words of a woman with an implacable grudge.

I hope this blog has given you a slightly better opinion of Caroline as a mother, and if not, at least a wider understanding of the pressures she was under. Personally, I like both Caroline and Frederick and think their relationship is one of tragedy. One can’t help but wonder how they would have got along had they never been separated. But did Caroline really say all those terrible words about her son? I remain sceptical. Yet it appears to me that  even if Caroline really was as cruel and angry and Hervey says she was during the year of 1737, we should not take this as a reflection of her true character. What I see is a sick, tired old woman pushed beyond her endurance.

Caroline of Ansbach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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