Hanoverian

Hanoverian Mothers 3.1 – Caroline and Frederick

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 I find that notion as outdated as the one that a less-than-perfect wife is a failure as a woman.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

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

CarolineofAnsbach

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

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

Lord Hervey

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

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

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

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

Mohammed and Mustapha

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

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

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

Frederick

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

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

George_I_as_Prince_of_Hanover

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

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

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

Elder daughters of George II

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

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

Caroline with William

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

Caroline of Ansbach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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