Marrying into Madness

A mad ruler makes an exciting premise for a story (if I do say so myself!). The idea has been used in subplots for both A Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings but it also has a basis in history. I’m not just talking about George III; Juana La Loca of Castille and the ‘sleeping king’ Henry Plantagenet spring to my mind first, but there are a lot more (follow Joan Bos on Twitter using @madmonarchs – she posts great facts!). One Georgian Princess, however, had the singular  misfortune of being sister to one ‘mad’ king and wife to another.

Caroline Matilda was George III’s youngest sibling. Tragically, her father died before she was born, leaving George as a substitute. He felt this responsibility deeply and, as was so often the case with him, became overbearing in his desire to do right. However, Caroline was not subject to any of her brother’s ‘mad’ fits. No action during his guardianship suggested the whim of a lunatic. She would have witnessed an illness in 1765 where George was delirious and expected to die, but it’s unlikely she would have considered him insane. Like others at the time, she thought this an isolated incident of delirium brought on by a fever.

Caroline Matilda’s husband, however, was another kettle of fish. He was her – and George’s – first cousin, Christian King of Denmark. It’s fascinating to compare the mental troubles of these two cousins and the reaction of their wives, which were wildly different. One reason I am a supporter of the porphyria theory in George III’s case is that he showed no signs of instability or mania in his youth. He was a little slow to learn, rather shy and apt to blame himself, but that was all. Whereas Christian disturbed his family from an early age.

According to Veronica Baker-Smith in Royal Discord, Christian was already showing signs of instability by the time his mother, Louisa, died when he was two. She ascribes the King of Denmark’s early re-marriage to the fact that Christian was displaying overt mental illness, hence leaving the succession of Denmark in question. This would make sense, as the Danish King certainly loved his first wife and spoke of her on his deathbed. Following her sudden and tragic demise at age 27, from a similar internal rupture to the one that killed her mother Queen Caroline of Ansbach, he took to the bottle and then married Juliane Marie of Brunswick.

Juliane Marie took little interest in her step-children. She wasn’t unkind or unfair, just indifferent. She was far more interested in her own son, Frederick, when he was born and devoted her life to him. Christian, already troubled, was cut adrift after his mother died, and only had the familiar comfort of his sisters until he was six.  At this time, he was put under the care of a tutor named Reventlow, who was reported to be a harsh man. Of course, you only have to look at the upbringing of the Hanoverian princes to understand that most tutors were harsh at this time, but the circumstance certainly didn’t help the sensitive Christian. A new, softer tutor, Reverdil, came when Christian was eleven and was shocked at what he found. The boy had retreated to an intense inner life. He was petrified at the idea of becoming King, wanting nothing to do with it. Demons stalked his mind and he was determined to repel them by making himself as physically perfect as possible. If he was strong, he reasoned, he could fight of the monsters and become capable of fulfilling the roll of King. Quite heartbreaking words to hear from a thin, exquisite little boy, as handsome as a china doll.

It was to such a man that the fifteen-year-old Caroline Matilda was married. Whilst she didn’t seem to know the worst of his mental state, she was reluctant to marry and to leave England. She resented her brother for bundling her off into a dynastic match for political reasons and wept all through her proxy wedding ceremony. It’s rather ironic, considering George III’s daughters were later to complain that he didn’t find them husbands. It’s tough being King – you just can’t win! Caroline Matilda had grown up closely sheltered by her mother, Augusta, but she had a mind of her own. She listened to the endless harangues of how to behave, who to butter-up, who to avoid, and most of all, how to push the British influence over the French at the Danish court. It wasn’t long before she ignored these instructions, choosing instead to forge her own identity.

Despite Christian’s mania, he was not a bad prospect altogether. He was handsome and could be charming and witty. But there was no chance for Caroline Matilda to form an emotional bond with him. She was just part and parcel of the hereditary duties of kingship which so scared him. While Christian wanted to retire, she wanted to lead and make a place for herself at court. She tried hard to learn Danish and ingratiate herself with her new husband, but she met with indifference. He was quite happy to go travelling with his friends and leave her alone. This is why, I feel, Caroline Matilda and Charlotte differed so much in their responses to their husbands’ illnesses. While Charlotte, who was less independent-minded to start with, had a former love binding her loyalty, Caroline Matilda was free in her affections. She did have a child to tie her to Christian, born when she was just sixteen: heir to the throne, another Christian. However, his birth doesn’t seem to have bridged the pit of apathy between his parents.

Caroline Matilda chose instead to bestow her love on a court physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee. Her reasons for doing so were manifold. Not only did she need a plug to fill the emotional vacancy in her life, but Christian’s fits pushed her further and further away – and often placed her in need of protector. I’ve written in God Save the King about the emotional trauma caused to Queen Charlotte by George III’s bouts of mania, but quite frankly, his episodes were a walk in the park compared to Christian’s. Christian could often be violent, choosing to smash and destroy things, often throwing them from windows. He became obsessed with a prostitute and went out on the town in disguise, drinking and generally debauching with his friends. As you can imagine, the alcohol did nothing to ease his mental state. It’s little wonder Caroline Matilda had her head turned by the attentions of the handsome, charming, intelligent Struensee.

Caroline Matilda adopted Struensee’s radical, atheistical views for herself. The two made a little paradise, raising her son along Rousseau’s ideals and reforming the political world. It was a strange menage a trois: Christian was almost certainly aware of their relationship, but he viewed Struensee as his dearest friend and was quite happy to be guided by him. He was also probably relieved to have the responsibility of  a wife taken from him. Christian remained fond of Caroline Matilda, though he seemed to fear her in equal measure, and would do anything she said. Hence, it became quite easy for the lovers to pass their reforms through, since obtaining the King’s signature was no problem. It is widely accepted they also had a daughter, Louisa, and persuaded Christian to acknowledge her as his own. It is possible, of course, that Louisa was Christian’s child, but if you see portraits of her she has an unmistakable Struensee nose!

I have neither the space or the expertise to cover, in this post, the radical changes Caroline Matilda and Struensee brought about in Denmark and their political impact. If you would like to know the full story I can recommend Stella Tillyard’s  A Royal Affair or, if you want historical fiction, read The Visit of the Royal Physician by Per Olov Enquist. What is clear, however,  is that Caroline Matilda was a driving force in the changes. George III liked to believe that his sister was a “good girl”, corrupted by a wicked court. He couldn’t be more wrong. Caroline Matilda knew her own mind and seized her opportunities. I like to contrast this with the behaviour of Queen Charlotte during the Regency crisis. Although Charlotte’s son the Prince of Wales criticised her for dabbling in politics, she was, in fact, only trying to keep her husband’s government in power, ready for him to return. If she had wanted, she could have easily cast her lot in with her son and changed the political scene – but she had none of Caroline Matilda’s ambition. The irony was that Charlotte’s son wanted political power but didn’t have support, whilst Charlotte had the influence but didn’t want to rock the boat. Another thing to note is that Charlotte was accused by some papers of having an affair with the Prime Minister Pitt. Unlike the situation in Denmark, there was no basis for this scandal. A preliminary look into the characters of both Charlotte and Pitt will show you how unlikely this was.

Sadly, Caroline Matilda and Struensee’s ideals ultimately cost her freedom and his life. In a skillful coup, Struensee’s enemies and Juliane Marie arranged for the lovers to be arrested and took Christian into their own keeping. He was as pliable with them as he had been with his wife; he was quite willing to sign whatever was put before him. Struensee was executed for his relationship with the Queen, whilst Caroline Matilda was imprisoned and separated from her children. Eventually, after a highly fraught struggle, George III managed to get her released into his own keeping, but for safety and diplomacy, Caroline Matilda still had to live a hermit’s existence in Celle. This, strangely enough, was the home town of George I’s wife Sophia Dorothea – also imprisoned for adultery. Caroline Matilda continued to plot and plan in secret. She was part of many schemes to return her to Denmark – and the throne – when her sudden death at the tender age of 23 cut all  hopes short. Scarlet fever put an end to her brief, but eventful life.

I think it’s quite clear that Caroline Matilda’s story is a fascinating one that historical novelists should be drooling over. However, I only write things that have already been done if I think (a) I can do it better or, (b) I have something new to say. Quite frankly, I found The Visit of the Royal Physician so amazing, so exquisitely done, that I dare not follow it. However, Caroline Matilda’s story will feature in my novel about her mother, Augusta, and I look forward to interpreting this astonishing woman into fiction.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Marrying into Madness

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.


Daughters of England

“It’s only a girl . . . hardly worth waiting so long for, as there are quite enough princesses in the world, and we are often most useless beings.” So said the grandmother of Brunswick’s Princess Augusta, upon the occasion of her birth in 1765. A sad, but perhaps accurate remark. Few of the Georgian princesses are remembered today. Even in their own time, they were largely dismissed once out of sight and married to a foreign prince. There are too many of these unfortunate girls for me to write at length about them here, but I thought you might like an introduction to some of the princesses England forgot. If you want the full story – well, I’m working on the novels!

The picture above is one of George II’s three eldest daughters: Anne, Caroline and Amelia. They weren’t actually born in England, but they became English princesses from a young age. They filled a large gap in George I’s court, left empty as it was by his imprisoned wife and one daughter who was already married to the King of Prussia by the time he ascended the throne. Indeed, George I took possession of the three girls, at one time separating them from their parents completely.

The eldest, Anne, was her father’s favourite at first. A determined and astute young woman, she rarely provoked George II’s famous temper in her younger days.  She married William IV of Orange who was a sensitive, slightly deformed man. They loved one another deeply, but their marriage was to be a difficult one. Rebellion tormented their days and they were spectacularly unlucky in their reproductive efforts. Poor Anne suffered several miscarriages, a stillborn child, a daughter who died a few days after her birth and, most horrific of all, a labour of some four days before the decision had to be made to crush the unborn baby’s skull to get it out. Thankfully, they did end up with two living children, Carolina and William. But their happiness was cut short by William’s death, the curvature of his spine causing all manner of medical difficulties under which he suffered bravely before expiring and leaving Anne alone. Alone to rule a foreign country in her own right. She is the only English princess to ever do this. Unfortunately, Anne’s duties to her new country, coupled with a very foolish attempt to out-stay her welcome on a visit to England, alienated her from her father. Far from being the favourite, she was now described by him as “arrogant, imperious, false and foolish.”

The second daughter, Caroline, is a shadowy figure who evokes my pity. When the family first travelled to England in 1714, she had to be left behind with her brother Frederick due to her delicate health. Plagued by illness, she simply wanted to be on good terms with everyone. This was not a possibility in a warring Hanoverian household. She took comfort in food, growing extremely fat and developing a reputation for indolence. She also obsessed over her health, becoming a hypochondriac in later life. After a time, this behaviour estranged her from the rest of her family and she withdrew, barely trying to relate to others. Having said that, she did take pleasure in attending the opera and theatre with her family and was, when Queen Caroline died in 1737, entrusted with the education of her two youngest sisters.

Amelia is perhaps my favourite of George II’s daughters. Eccentric and irreverent, she lived life on her own terms. My favourite snippet from her life is the fact that she used to take her dogs to church with her. She was mad about horses and hunting, hated her eldest brother Frederick and her father’s mistress Henrietta Howard.  Her strange taste in fashion was often commented on, and is quite wonderfully reproduced in the TV series The Aristocrats.  Most scandalous of all, she had a lover, Grafton, and made no secret about it. As a consequence, she was rarely granted access to her nieces and nephews, being considered a bad influence. She was close to her brother William, the infamous “Butcher” Duke of Cumberland and took interest in his plans to develop Virginia Water. She became very close to George II in his later life, staying with him until the end. Even George III and George IV had a fondness for her – despite, or perhaps because of her rakish nature.

The two youngest daughters, Mary and Louisa, married abroad. Neither were fortunate in their unions. Mary, diffident and gentle, was doomed from the start when she married Frederick of Hesse, whose drinking and cold manner towards her caused comment even at their wedding. She bore him three sons, one of which died in infancy. It was perhaps fortunate that war forced her to flee into exile with her father in law and two sons, escaping her drunken and sometimes abusive husband.

Louisa, the youngest, fared better in her marriage to the King of Denmark. The couple were very popular and got along well together. But once again, childbirth was to prove this princess’ downfall. Her first son died at the age of three, to be followed by the birth of two useless daughters. The much-needed heir did finally arrive in 1749, but he was to prove insane – the same Christian of Denmark who was disastrously married to Caroline Matilda of Great Britain years later. Poor Christian was doomed to create havoc wherever he went – his birth injured his mother and two years later, she had to have an operation on her intestine. This went badly wrong, killing Louisa at the age of only twenty-seven. Her husband was  devastated.

These are just very brief summaries of the lives of these astonishing and tragic princesses. And yet, who has even heard of them? I hope, in time, I will be able to show you their amazing characters through my novels. But if you would like to know more in the meantime, I would recommend the book Royal Discord by Veronica Baker-Smith.


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.

A Royal Wedding

This Saturday, 8th September, is an important date in the Georgian calendar – it marks the marriage of George III and Queen Charlotte in 1761. But just why did the King of England wind up marrying a seventeen year old Princess from a minor Duchy? Well…

Early biographers of Charlotte suggest that she first came to George’s attention after writing a letter to Frederick the Great of Prussia. Her correspondence begged for justice on behalf of the poor of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, after Prussian troops devastated the country. The alleged letter begins:

May it please your Majesty, I am at a loss whether I should congratulate or condole with you on your late victory; since the same success which has covered you with laurels has overspread the country of Mecklenburg  with desolation. I know, Sire, that it seems unbecoming of my sex, in this age of vicious refinement, to feel for one’s country, to lament the horrors of war, or wish for a return of peace; I know you may think it more properly my province to study the arts of pleasing, or to inspect subjects of a more domestic nature: but however unbecoming it may be in me, I cannot resist the desire of interceding for this unhappy people.

Sadly, the letter is almost certainly a forgery and the story that goes with it false, but I do like the idea. It wouldn’t be out of character for Charlotte to intercede on behalf of the injured, or for George to admire a woman who did. But I’m afraid the truth is a bit less romantic!

Since falling in love with the beautiful Lady Sarah Lennox who, as well as being an unequal match for a King, also failed to return his affection, George had been desperate to marry. His choices were limited – she must be Protestant and she must be a Princess. With his mother Augusta, he poured through a list of prospective brides in the New Berlin Almanack. Augusta had already persuaded her son to reject several suits, largely because his hated grandfather George II approved of them. George himself was less fussy. His preference was a wife with a good understanding, a pleasant disposition and no inclination to meddle in politics.

Scouts were sent out to size up the prospective candidates, without much success. The Princesses of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttle had an interest in philosophy and one was only fourteen. Princess Philippa of Brandenburg-Schwedt was found obstinate and disobliging. For a time, the Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt looked like a good bet, until it was discovered her father was mentally unstable. The only Princess nearly fit for George to present to his people was Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

The main criticism levelled at Charlotte revolved around her plain looks and sheltered upbringing. People feared she would not have received the education befitting a Queen of England, but this was all worry in vain; Charlotte was a remarkably intelligent young woman. She had a “natural, easy and composed carriage” and a “mild temper”. George was convinced, but not overjoyed: “I own it is not in every particular as I could wish, but yet I am resolved to fix here”.

His cool detachment was in stark contrast to Charlotte’s emotional leave of her home. It would have been difficult travelling so far away to marry a man she had never met under any circumstances, but hers were particularly painful. Her mother died soon after the engagement was announced – the last words she spoke to Charlotte were full of wishes for her happiness. Charlotte’s elder sister, Christiane, was not in a position to comfort her; by an unlucky coincidence, she was in love with an English Duke. Now that Charlotte was going to be Queen of England, it made Christiane’s marriage to her lover impossible. Their father had died 1752, so it was only her brother that Charlotte could depend upon – and he was soon to be taken from her. Due to George’s dislike of foreigners and meddling women, Charlotte was only allowed to take two women of the bedchamber to join her in her new life. She didn’t even see her wedding trousseau: it was to be purchased in England, with her brother’s money, by Lady Bute.

It must have cheered her up to receive George’s portrait, set with diamonds, and a diamond rose from her fiance in England. In return, she sent her own portrait and a lock of her hair, which he found “fine and remarkably soft”.  At last George put aside fantasies of Sarah Lennox and concentrated on his bride to be. He was fond of her portrait, guarding it with typical jealousy, and began to tie a handkerchief to his whip and hold it up in the wind to see when he could expect his bride’s ship to arrive.

Poor Charlotte, who had never even seen the sea before, was whisked across country in a finery she was not yet accustomed to and “whipped” onto her ship. This meant she sat on a chair slung across two cables which was hoisted up onto the deck – sounds like a scary experience! To make matters worse, her voyage was plagued by storms, thunder, gales and hail. When she finally arrived in England, she travelled through Essex, taking refreshment in Colchester (my town! yay!), and then straight onto St. James’s Palace.  Understandably, she was so tired and wracked with nerves about meeting her new family that she half-fell out of the carriage. Prince Edward was quick to step in and hand her down, while George opened the gate. The terrified Princess “threw herself” at her future husband’s feet. He raised her, embraced her, and led her through the gardens and up the steps into the palace.

There were beautiful surprises awaiting her, but I doubt Charlotte could take in the sky-blue rooms the King had decorated for her, or his wedding gifts of a crown, pearl bracelets and a diamond stomacher. Indeed, she hardly had time to meet the numerous members of her new family before being packed into her wedding finery. For on that night – one of the hottest of the year and the very night of her arrival – Charlotte was to marry the King of England.

We have the following description of Charlotte’s bridal-wear – considering how hot it was and how tired she felt, it must have been suffocating:

A silver tissue, stiffen bodied gown, embroidered and trimmed with silver. On her head a little cap of purple velvet quite covered with diamonds, a diamond aigrette in the form of a crown, 3 dropped diamond earrings, diamond necklace, diamond sprigs of flowers on her sleeves and to clasp back her robe, a diamond stomacher. Her purple velvet mantle was laced with gold and lined with ermine. It was fastened on the shoulders with large tassells of pearls.

The fear and heat began to get to Charlotte; she trembled when her new brother-in-law, Prince Edward, led her out to her bridesmaids.  He kindly whispered “Courage, Princess,” and she tried to smile for him. The bridesmaids – Lady Sarah Lennox amongst them – could not have eased her nerves. They all looked splendid and much cooler in white silk trimmed with silver and jewels. The peeresses were to be greeted with a kiss on the cheek and the lesser ladies were supposed to come forward and kiss her hand. Poor Charlotte was confused and still unable to speak a word of English. She had to face the humiliation of her sister-in-law seizing her hand and giving it to the ladies until she understood what she was meant to do.

Unlike our modern ceremony, the bride entered the chapel first and waited under a canopy until the King arrived. The chapel was hung with fine tapestry and paintings in crimson velvet frames, beneath the gold and blue panelled ceiling. When the King finally came, resplendent in silver, the service commenced in English. Charlotte had been given an order of service in German, but as you can imagine, she was scarcely able to concentrate on it. After the King made his vows with one hand laid solemnly on his breast, he prompted Charlotte to say the only two words she spoke in the service: “Ich will”.

George’s customary consideration spared Charlotte the ordeal of a public bedding. They left their company at the door of the bedroom and retired to their domed, canopied, four-poster mahogany bed with Corinthian columns. The mattresses were stuffed with fine wool and covered with white satin. Although they had little need for them on such a warm night, George and Charlotte nestled down amongst swanskin blankets and a coverlet filled with eider-down. There was just one more trial to face before Charlotte could rest at last.

We can pretty safely assume that the sexual relationship between George and Charlotte was a happy one, given their evident affection for one another and constant production of children. Their wedding night was to forge their close bond: a tie of love that was worn away, but not quite severed, only by George’s recurrent “madness” in later life.

If you would like to find out more about Charlotte, George and their marriage, get ready for God Save the King on 22 September 2012!



That Wicked Princess on the Heath

Put a Queen on trial for adultery and you’re bound to create factions. Even today, Anne Boleyn is represented alternatively as a pure innocent and an incestuous witch with six fingers. Similarly, Queen Caroline, consort of George IV, gets an uneven treatment in the history books. There are those that see an affair lurking with any man she spoke to, and those that naively discredit some strong evidence. Either way, no one seems able to entirely acquit this Princess who, in her own servant’s words, was “very fond of f*cking”.

The scandals about Caroline date right back to her youth in Brunswick. She often met a little shepherd boy out in her walks and went back to his “hovel” with him to see how his family did. To me, this fits in perfectly with Caroline’s life-long obsession with children and general inquisitiveness. Moreover, she was always generous to the poor. But rumours flew about that this little shepherd boy was actually her son.

It seems likely that Caroline did have a love affair while at Brunswick, though I doubt she went so far as to  bear an illegitimate child. She was kept under close guard by her parents and watched constantly, lest she talk to and flirt with young men on the dance floor. There must have been a reason for this. Her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Brunswick, were not the type of people to overreact and be needlessly strict. I imagine that Caroline’s winningly honest and open conversation got her into some early scrapes, from which they were keen to protect her in future.

Caroline spoke, with her usually lack of tact, of a man she had been very much in love with but was forbidden to marry, due to his low rank. Perhaps this was an Irish officer in her father’s army, who she was seen to be partial to. Or perhaps, as is often the case with Caroline, it was a blatant lie.  She said this to Lady Jersey, her husband’s mistress, almost immediately after her arrival in England, when Lady Jersey had openly insulted her. I consider it a proud backlash, a kind of “well, it doesn’t matter to me if the Prince loves you; he’s not my first choice.”

There was a Prince, however, whom Caroline insisted she had loved her whole life long. This was Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. Her father wanted the match as badly as she did. But the Prussian suit, like so many others in Caroline’s teenage years, mysteriously dissolved. The very lack of evidence as to why the matches were given up is telling. It seems to me that there was some stain upon Caroline’s character that the European monarchies, once they discovered it, were unwilling to forgive.

George IV was later to state his conviction that Caroline was not a virgin when she came to his marriage bed in 1795. Unfortunately, his testimonies are about as trustworthy as Caroline’s. George’s friends admitted that, if he told a story often enough, he came to believe it was the truth. Not content with complaining about Caroline’s smell and generally horrid body, he insisted she was “not new” and mentioned that on the second night, seeing his suspicions, she mixed up some tooth powder and water to stain her nightgown. However, his only “evidence” of her experience is that she made a complimentary comment about the size of his wedding tackle (notice how George always manages to chuck in a comment about how great he is, even when slagging off others). One can’t help but feeling this is just a furious response to Caroline’s allegations that he was impotent. If Caroline did make the comment, I see nothing in it to suggest she wasn’t a virgin. It could either be another desperate attempt to win the affection of her stroppy husband or a natural remark of surprise; Caroline never was one to use the brain to mouth filter.

However, it was when Caroline moved to Blackheath, after her unofficial separation with George, that the rumours really started. Caroline delighted in pronouncing herself “that wicked Princess on the heath, she is such a rake, such a rioter, and such an irregular person, that she makes rebellions, and mutinies, in every well-regulated house – but she comes from abroad and so she is good for nothing”. It seems very natural that the affectionate Princess, who always was fond of flirting, went a little overboard when she found her freedom. Moreover, she loved to cause a scandal. But I don’t subscribe to the view that she pretty much humped anything in trousers during her years on the Heath. She had been told early on by Lord Malmesbury that she would incur the death penalty by committing adultery, and was clearly much struck by it.

George Canning, a promising Pittite MP, had known Caroline before her exile to the Heath and the pair were clearly in love. Some historians have decided the affair wasn’t very serious, given that he married another woman soon after. But Canning confessed that if he had not met his wife, Miss Scott, “I know not how I should have resisted, as I ought to do, the abundant and overpowering temptation to the indulgence of a passion which must have been dangerous, perhaps ruinous, to her who was the cause of it.” Apparently, Caroline and he agreed together that his marriage was the only “effectual remedy to all the danger and…our escape”.  Caroline continued friendly with the Cannings all of her life. When she was put on trial for adultery in 1820, Canning risked the fury of the King and refused to have anything to do with the proceedings.  His writing about escaping danger and ruin suggest that he and Caroline did not consummate their love, but there was clearly much foreplay. When she received a letter from George telling her they “should not be answerable to one another”, she showed it to Canning and asked what it meant. He told her it “freed her entirely” and they “took advantage of it on the spot”.

The next of Caroline’s lovers on the Heath was a dashing naval hero, Sir Sidney Smith. In character, he seemed much like Caroline and I am not surprised to two hit it off. But Smith came hand in hand with the friends he was staying with, the Douglases. And this is where it all gets a bit complicated.

The Douglases and Smith were Caroline’s bosom friends until, without much explanation, she threw them over and took up with Captain Mamby instead. The Douglases later insisted that Caroline had been pregnant and confided in them alone. But if that was the case, she would have kept thick with them. She may have been giddy, but Caroline was certainly not fool enough to tell someone such an explosive secret then make an enemy of them. It is my opinion that Caroline purposefully wound up the Douglases with tall tales, due to her own jealousy.

Her first attack on the Douglases was to send anonymous letters to Lord Douglas, featuring pictures of Lady Douglas and Sir Sidney Smith in amorous situations; or, as Caroline put it “Sir Sidney Smith doing your amiable wife”. Although Lady Douglas maintained that her husband always believed in her innocence, he didn’t act that way. He went storming over to Smith and demanded an explanation. Naturally, Smith denied everything – but was he telling the truth?

If Caroline had found out, mid-affair with Smith, that he was also a past or present lover of Lady Douglas, it would explain her sudden hatred of her friend. It would also explain why she purposefully infuriated Smith by playing footsie with Mamby at a dinner party. She was jealous, and wanted to make him jealous too. It seems that, after all the hoo-ha, she decided she liked Mamby better anyway.

The love-struck Caroline followed Mamby across the country to the docks of his ships and entrusted two of her “charity boys” to his care. She was later to claim that Mamby had smuggled an illegitimate son of her old flame, Prince Louis Ferdinand, across the seas for her. This was the boy Willy Austin, the “Deptford child”, whom the Douglases claimed was the Princesses own. I think both sides are lying here. I believe Willy was the son of Sophia Austin; Caroline, as always, loved making mischief and found she could do so here with a good excuse for trailing after Mamby.

It was around this point that George III reluctantly agreed to investigate her behaviour – “The Delicate Investigation” – and Caroline appears to have pulled her act together after this.  A few rumours circulated in the following years about Captain Hesse, who was courting Caroline’s daughter, Charlotte. Hesse followed Caroline on her Continental journey and remained a loyal attendant. Personally, I believe he was sincerely attached to the family and loved only Charlotte. But many people, Charlotte included, thought otherwise.

It was on this trip to the Continent that Caroline met the man who was to be her downfall: Pergami. This was the adulterous relationship she was put on charge for. She was lucky that, since it took place abroad, the death sentence could not apply. I, along with Georgian contemporaries, believe that the relationship was “pure in-no-sense”. But Caroline’s guilt or innocence was not what mattered to the mobs of the day; they were more concerned with humiliating the King.

But despite my belief in her guilt, I don’t think Caroline’s relationship with Pergami was as bad as it was represented. Her lawyer Brougham did a brilliant job of highlight that the witnesses against her were bribed for their evidence. They had been rehearsed for certain questions and answers and were completely clueless when asked things not on their script: “I do not remember” being a favourite answer. There were others who were downright liars. One mentioned riding beside Caroline’s coach, looking through the curtains and seeing her and Pergami with their hands placed on one another’s private parts. This was later exposed as complete nonsense; the man in question never rode beside the coach, the coach had blinds, not curtains, a third person always travelled with them and the set up of the coach made it impossible for anyone to sit in that position.

Brougham, who confessed to disliking Caroline, later decided that Pergami’s swift promotions through her household had more to do with his child than anything else. It is true that Caroline adored children and made friends with anyone who had them. Pergami’s daughter slept in her bed and called her “Mamma”. But while pictures of this little girl littered Caroline’s houses, so did pictures of her father. He was always moved into bedrooms near Caroline’s. And while his family were all invited to become members of Caroline’s staff, there was one glaring exception: his wife.

It is my belief that Caroline really loved Pergami and would have been happy living with her adopted Italian “family”. But her pride and her need to beat George IV summoned her back to England, where she ultimately died. She did not speak of Pergami at the end, although she wrote to him a few times while in England and remembered his daughter in her will.

As for the other lovers, I can’t be sure how far the relationships went. I am sure there was much kissing and, as Flora Fraser puts it,  “heavy petting” going on, but I’m not convinced Caroline would risk full on sexual affairs in England under the noses of her husband and uncle. But by the time she was with Pergami, free on the Continent and past the age where pregnancy was a risk, it was a different story.

Should she be condemned? England did not believe so; after all, her husband’s affairs were more numerous and sordid. And is it any wonder that a poor Princess, shunned and called ugly by the only man she was legally allowed to sleep with, was delighted to find others who thought her attractive? No; it seems quite natural to me that Caroline succumbed to Pergami and his wonderful moustachios.

Posted in Queen of Misrule | Comments Off on That Wicked Princess on the Heath

Georgian Splendour

You often hear me whine about palaces and country houses that big up their Tudor and Victorian links, while virtually ignoring Georgian and other less “mainstream” periods. Not so with Historic Royal Palaces. I have to hand it to them, they do an excellent job of balancing the different eras of history associated with their buildings. Even Hampton Court, while clearly and quite rightly dedicated to Henry VIII, is rich in information about William and Mary, who started to renovate it, and the Georgians who held court there.

Kensington Palace is bursting at the seams with history, and in less capable hands, could easily have turned into a Victoria or a Diana fest. But while these wonderful Princesses are remembered and paid homage to, HRP are careful not to let them steal the show.

On Friday night, I attended a late night opening at Kensington for an evening dedicated to Georgian splendour. Tickets were a steal at £10 each and the entertainment lasted from 6 until 10. I was truly excited to find an event revolving around the Georgians; usually the best I can get is a Regency ball. Having said that, HRP are absolute stars and do Georgian dinners and talks at Kew Palace throughout the year; I REALLY want to attend the one on George III’s father, Prince Frederick, but with tickets at £100 a head it’s not likely to happen.

My plan was to amaze and astound you with photography of the great palace, but alas the combination of low lighting and a photographer with incredibly shaky hands (me, must have been the excitement) threw a spanner in the works. I’ll provide you with what useable photos I have, though, and talk you through my evening.

It would have been easy to merely run from talk to talk, so frequent were the pop up history sessions and workshops. Almost the moment we walked in the door (a little late, us office works can’t usually get anywhere before 7), we were viewing the “Trunk of Terror”, comically displayed by two charlatan “adventurers”. The worrying thing is such figures would be rife on the streets of Georgian London, with their “real” dragons, mummies and pickled embryos. My gentleman attendant, Kevin, proved himself extremely courageous and braved the mummy’s curse by touching it.

Next we were treated to a bit of gossip in the Queen’s apartments as a lady in a rather ravishing dress talked us through some of the Court’s secrets. I have to admit, as I’ve been focused on the later Hanoverians for my current projects, my knowledge of the early Georgians is sketchier than I would like. I was therefore thrilled to find out the woman at George II’s court who I’d instinctively felt I could write a book about, Henrietta Howard, was everything and more that I want in a “character”. I left almost desperate to put pen to paper and write her book. But of course she wasn’t the only interesting woman; Queen Caroline herself deserves a narrative, as does her predecessor, the lovely Sophia who was locked up in a remote castle for adultery.  You really couldn’t make up better storylines than the ones the Georgians actually lived through.

From here we went onto another talk – this one rather juicier. On the magnificent King’s Staircase, an “explainer” told us all about sex and the muckier aspects of life at a Georgian court.  I knew the men often urinated beside the fireplaces, but I hadn’t heard of the bourdaloue – a rather wonderful little pot shaped like a gravy boat that could go up ladies’ skirts for a discreet wee. Such contraptions were essential in a place where you couldn’t go anywhere without the Queen’s consent; we heard some mortifying stories of poor ladies who just couldn’t hold on and left truly gigantic puddles on the floor. Wetting  yourself in front of royalty; that has to be an all time low.

Of course the King’s staircase itself is a wonder just to look at, even if you aren’t listening to stories of Georgian wee at the same time. Kent painted it with the main characters from the court, some of which are still to be identified. The people who once traipsed or sallied up and down the stairs watch over you as you follow in their footsteps – how amazing is that?

Counting our blessings with modern lavatories, we went down the staircase straight into a dancing lesson. Having danced Tudor style for a few years, I managed to pick up the long set dance quite quickly and had the added advantage of a musician I was used to – my friend Lizzie Gutteridge on the fiddle, and I didn’t even realise she’d be there! My lord husband coped very well, I thought, and doffed his hat beautifully. Although it was tiring, I was quite relieved at the pace after my experience with quadrilles; those Regency girls must have had stamina!

After all that dancing it was time for a drink. Georgian inspired food and drink had been advertised but the only liquid I could see that seemed to fit the period was arrack punch. I took a glass in the gardens. It was lovely, but boy was it strong!  The gardens were just gorgeous, I wish we’d had time to explore them properly. Oh well, I suppose we’ll just have to go back….Shame!

There were plenty of other talks to listen to, but we chose to explore the King’s apartments for ourselves. This, dear readers, is where my photography skills truly failed. But I’m almost glad they did because it means you have to go and see it yourself! I loved the warren of rooms that wound deeper and deeper as you tried to approach the King in his innermost sanctum. My favourite for sheer beauty was the Cupola room; the very place where Prinny made poor Queen Victoria’s Christening an awkward business.

On display were some beautiful gowns and suits, complete with lappets (the essential headwear). I even saw King George III’s coronation robes. You know, the one from that famous portrait?  Many squeals from me, and groans from the long-suffering Kevin. Also of overwhelming interest to me was Prince Frederick’s chair, well-worn by time, holding court in the presence chamber.

As much as I enjoyed running around squeaking at Georgian things, I also took pleasure in the displays about William, Mary and Queen Anne. Perhaps the most poignant thing in the palace was Anne’s “Eighteen Little Hopes” – deserted chairs for her dead children. I’ve always fancied writing about Anne, but I think it’s one you have to build up to; there’s just so much tragedy to handle in the tale of the last Protestant Stuart. It was, of course, her failure to provide a surviving heir that opened up the throne for the House of Hanover.

But of all these wonders, I have to say, the thing that delighted me most was the amount of people who turned up. Nothing makes me happier than seeing people learning about Georgian history – and later Stuart history, for that matter – two periods often neglected. What’s more, they seemed to love it! I strongly believe people are interested in the eras, they just haven’t had as much exposure to them at school, or hit HBO shows like The Tudors, to point them in the right direction. While we still have Historic Royal Palaces, I can rest assured there are others out there defending “forgotten” history.

Click here to book your tickets for the next night of Georgian decadence!

A Princess at War

As you’ve probably noticed by now, it’s the psychology of historical figures that really interests me. I’ve covered many “characters”, but I believe there are few as fascinating as Princess Charlotte of Wales, only child of George IV and Queen Caroline.

Not only was Charlotte born in the midst of Revolutionary War, she entered life as a main playing piece in the battle between her estranged parents. Sadly for Charlotte, she took after both her mother and father and in different ways. Since they couldn’t live together happily, how was she supposed to juggle these irreconcilable personalities within herself? It wasn’t easy and there were few people to help her.

Both George and Caroline loved their daughter, but it was a love tinged with darker emotions. She was an instrument of revenge to use against the other. Moreover, she reminded them of their less than happy union. She looked very much like her father and her manners at times brought her mother vividly to life. Neither could love her without reserve.

Caroline doted on the young Charlotte. Throughout her life, she was obsessed with babies and children, but I can’t help feeling that as Charlotte grew up, Caroline’s interest waned. It was very clear that Charlotte was to be raised away from her “polluting influence” and though Caroline tried to gain more frequent access to her daughter, the struggle soon became more about annoying George than actually seeing Charlotte. Besides, Caroline had adopted countless other waifs and strays to live with her at Blackheath, all of a younger, cuter age. To some extent, poor Charlotte must have felt replaced.

In my post Sweet Caroline, I discussed how difficult it is to form an opinion of Caroline. It comes as no surprise to me that her daughter also struggled. On the one hand, Caroline was a slice of fun punctuating the dreary monotony of Charlotte’s school room life. It must have been blissful to be swept away from the dull aunts at Windsor to Blackheath’s riotous parties. Charlotte was soon telling her governess she didn’t mind showing her legs when she got into the carriage – she had nice legs, after all. This is pure Caroline talking; a sign that perhaps Charlotte looked up to her mother as a kind of role model, an outspoken woman amongst her more retiring aunts. But Charlotte was not solely Caroline’s daughter, and she began to doubt her mother was quite so wonderful as she first thought. The findings of the Delicate Investigation of 1806 shocked Charlotte to the core. She was enough of George’s daughter to disapprove strongly of her mother’s actions, and begin to question her motives.

Caroline had once helped Charlotte conduct a love affair with Captain Hesse, carrying correspondence for them. At this time, her mother probably seemed like a godsend, wanting her to find true love. It was only later that Charlotte began to wonder if her mother was trying to ruin her reputation, thus punishing George and the entire royal family. Her fears seemed justified when the time came to arrange her marriage. Charlotte asked her mother for advice about accepting the Prince of Orange, but Caroline refused to give any. She was far more concerned that Charlotte should cause a fuss about Caroline’s exclusion from the recent festivities at Carlton House. When, desperate to avoid the match, Charlotte fled her house and cast herself on Caroline’s protection, she was told to go back home! Soon after, Caroline quit the country and left Charlotte to cope with the fall out alone.

It was no easier to trust her father. Personally, I think that George did love his daughter and wanted to do the  best by her. But he had a remarkably short memory. As an heir to the throne who had chaffed under the strict education imposed on him, you would expect his rearing of Charlotte to be more liberal. Alas, he was so terrified of Caroline’s influence that he kept her on a tight rein. He made it very clear that Charlotte was to have “no will of her own”. I doubt anyone would like being told that, but for the spirited Charlotte it was doubly exasperating.  She began to see him as a jailor. Since he hated and banned visits to Caroline, they became a kind of illicit treat. Another rod George made for his own back was raising Charlotte with Whig values. As heir presumptive, he had subscribed to the party views, but the tables turned when he became Prince Regent. Not only were the Whigs infuriating him with their party squabbles but they were determined to end the war. For the sake of what he believed best for England, George was forced to break with his old party and stick with the Tories. This widened the gap between father and daughter; Charlotte burst into tears at dinner when he gave an anti-Whig speech.

We must remember that George hated Caroline with an almost inhuman frenzy. There were times when his daughter, as a reminder of that hated woman, was loathsome to him. It became far easier to spend time in Brighton with Mrs Fitzherbert and their adopted daughter, Minnie Seymour. Minnie was a winning child, dutiful and sweet – probably because she didnt have the Hanover genes in her. Once again, Charlotte was finding her place filled in a parent’s heart. She even began to suspect that George wanted her out of the country, married to a foreign Prince, so it would be easier to divorce her mother. In which case, he would probably marry again and produce an alternative heir to the throne. She stood to lose everything if she didn’t keep her father sweet – or, if she abandoned her mother. How was she supposed to do both?

Unsurprisingly, with all this pressure, Charlotte “played up”. She liked to be rough with her playmates, laugh loudly and swagger like an ostler boy. She delighted in a tom-boy image, yet never lost sight of the great situation to which she was born. When asked to close the door by her governess, she replied grandly, “Not I. If you want the door closed, ring the bell.” For a period of her childhood, she made herself as difficult as possible. Why not? Whatever she did, she was bound to displease one or other of her parents.

Charlotte did have true friends who cared for her, but she didn’t realise it. Her grandmother Queen Charlotte and the five of her daughters who remained in England were on her side. But as they all loved George, Charlotte suspected them of being nothing but his puppets. Moreover, they were all so boring to her youthful mind. She scarcely thought of confiding in them until much  later on in life. Meanwhile, her Aunt Royal frequently wrote from Wurttemberg with recommendations for Charlotte’s upbringing. If George had attended to them, Charlotte might have enjoyed a bit of an easier ride. The only one of the family Charlotte knew she could trust was her grandfather George III. They were devoted to each other. But the “madness” snatched him away from her so often, he was of very little use.

Charlotte did eventually find happiness with Prince Leopold, who she married. She calmed down from this point and truly seemed able to be herself. Her relationship with her father and aunts improved, and she wrote fondly to her mother on the Continent. It seemed she had at last reconciled some of the turmoil within. Yet when she was on the point of completing her own joy by adding a child to the family, and delighting the nation by giving birth to a Prince, Charlotte tragically died.

It seems so unfair that she was only able to enjoy a brief snatch of happiness. But from a literary point of view, it has the perfect symbolism. The rotten marriage of her parents tainted her luck throughout life. The only good thing to come of the union, like the marriage itself, broke down at an early age. Poor Charlotte. I often wonder what would have happened if she and her son had lived, thereby erasing the Victorian era. We will never know, but I certainly hope that she has found the peace she was seeking all that time, beneath this beautiful monument with her son and grandmother.


George IV and Henry VIII – BFF?

I went to great pains in my previous post, Less Henry, More George, to convince you the Hanoverians were at least as interesting (if not more interesting!) than the Tudors. Yet the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to see similarities between my two favourite periods.

As you may have seen from my Tweets, I’m deep in research for my next book, “A Forbidden Crown”, which revolves around Maria Fitzherbert and Caroline of Brunswick. I’m currently pouring over accounts of Caroline’s famous trial for adultery. In their political excesses, George’s enemies compared his behaviour throughout the whole with that of  Henry VIII.  My first response was to laugh at their exaggeration. But then I thought long and hard about the lives of these two monarchs… They have more in common than  you might think!

Both started life as remarkably handsome young men. Just look at the pictures at the top of the post! Henry was renowned for his jousting ability, athletic good looks and success with the ladies. As for young George, he was dubbed “the first gentleman in Europe”. He had it all: wit, brains and wealth. Is it any wonder they both thought so highly of themselves?

Each, in their way, was a mother’s darling. Henry was perhaps spoilt more by his grandmother, but he retained a great fondness for his mum Elizabeth of York too throughout life. Historians argue about George’s relationship with his mother, Queen Charlotte. It was tempestuous at times, but all the evidence suggests that she doted on him. She might not have been brave enough to take his part with the King on all occasions, but she spoilt him when she could. And although George III and Queen Charlotte prescribed a “plain” upbringing for their children, it was only simple in comparison to previous monarchies. I’ve seen George IV’s baby clothes and toys and there’s nothing plain about them!

Considering this, it’s interesting to examine Henry and George’s first marriages.  Both favoured an older woman, an almost maternal figure.  They also chose brides who raised religious issues and were not approved of by their families. Catherine of Aragon was Henry’s widowed sister-in-law, so the marriage required a Papal dispensation. This match was looked on unfavourably by Henry’s grandmother, Margaret Beaufort. George also married a widow, Maria Fitzherbert, who was a Catholic in a Protestant country. Needless to say, his parents failed to endorse the match.

Both these remarkable women, Catherine and Maria, had the knack of keeping their boisterous husbands in check. It was when the Kings strayed from their safe, mothering  first wives that life became rather more complicated for them…

We all know the story of how Henry fell head over heels for Anne Boleyn, tore the country apart for her, but ended up executing his once beloved wife. But few people realise the impact George’s marriage to Caroline, and his attempted divorce from her, had upon the country.

To marry Caroline, George had cast aside his first wife, Maria. But sources indicate the separation was mutual – or pushed more by Maria – so we must not see her as a Catherine of Aragon pining away. In fact, it was probably a lucky escape for Maria. If the marriage was proven, George could have been removed from the throne and Maria executed.

George’s choice of second bride had none of the romance of Henry and Anne – he had never met Caroline when he proposed to her. But all the same, he pursued the idea of marrying her with a frenzy that reminded me of the besotted Tudor. He redecorated apartments for her and imagined many perfections she did not have. He pushed for the marriage to happen sooner than it possibly could. And when he met her – well, the fallout was highly reminiscent of Henry with Anne of Cleves. George’s account of the wedding night echoes Henry’s criticisms of Anne – he points out her stench, her flabby body and suspects she is not a virgin.

Sadly, both Anne and Caroline were doomed to displease their husbands, and became loads that needed dumping.  It is when I read the accounts of George’s desperation to get rid of Caroline that I think most of Henry. He was frantic, he did not eat, he did not sleep. He was obsessed with clearing his wife right out of his life. He wanted, more than anything, to try her for High Treason – the penalty being death.

It is possible Caroline committed adultery many times, but fortunately for her, the only instance with anything like proof occurred on the Continent. This lessened her offence and she could not be sentenced to death. As matters stood, the matrimonial fracas threatened to rip the country apart, with Caroline being used as a figurehead for radicals and the disenfranchised, so it would have been extremely unwise to execute her even if the law allowed it. But the main point that stands out to me is this: George would have executed a wife if he could. With less restraints on his power, could he have been another Henry?

The role of the monarchy had altered by the time George came to the throne – he couldn’t reek bloody revenge on the people who protested against him.  He was thwarted by parliaments in both his public and private life. His temper tantrums were less terrifying than Henry’s because he had less power. Admittedly, George frequently burst into tears instead of bellowing, but this needs to be seen in the context of the era. It was fashionable for men to cry – it showed a superior sensibility. I always considered Henry a popular monarch and George an unpopular one, but I’m not sure this is fair. After all, there were the northern uprisings and the Pilgrimage of Grace. If the Tudor people had the same freedom of speech and press as the Georgians, would they have hissed at their King and gathered round his wronged Queens, like with Caroline? We will never know.

From love of women, we move onto love of food. These guys were big eaters. It’s common knowledge Henry was immensely fat in his old age, but did you know George was actually heavier than the Tudor monarch when he died? Both turned to food for comfort and refuge from their shattered love lives and ailing bodies. It makes me sad to see them, aged, as in the caricatures at the bottom of this post. Actually, the picture of George is not from old age – he took care that all the portraits of him, even in advanced years, were flattering –  but it suggests what he would have looked like as an overweight dandy. It’s hard to believe, but even as old, fat men, both George and Henry were sexually incontinent. All their lives, they were vain men, believing themselves irresistible to the opposite sex. The truth was by old age, Henry had a rotting leg and George looked like a pantomime dame, but no one was going to tell them that. Certainly not their many mistresses.

As well as being connoisseurs of the palate, our Kings were great patrons of the arts. Henry was fond of music (possibly composing some songs of his own), he designed palaces and patronised Holbein. As for George – I literally cannot list his collections. No monarch has done more, in my opinion, for the royal collection or the national treasures. Sadly, it was all at the expense of the tax payer…

Of course there are great differences between Henry and George, in their characters as well as the tone of their reigns.  All the same, I hope you have found it interesting and thought provking to see  what their lives look like side by side. I like to think they would have been buddies. At least until Henry tried to have George beheaded for eating the last pie and he burst into tears 😉

Less Henry, more George

On Monday night,  I joined my fellow history geeks for a Tudor dancing class.  The conversation turned – or more accurately, was turned by me – to historical fiction.

As we talked, we realised just how much Tudor fiction was out there. Of the commercial historical fiction we had read, the period was getting about a 70% share. Now, we’re not complaining. No one loves a bit of Tudor more than us. But isn’t the market at risk of becoming saturated with books set in Tudor times? Isn’t it time to try something – well, a bit more Georgian?

Below, I’ve compiled a list of reasons that make the Tudor era an exciting and compelling world to set a story in.  But, as you will see, each of them pales in comparison beside the Georgians, who are even better.

Historical Importance

It still baffles me why we teach school kids about the six wives of Henry VIII, Bloody Mary and Good Queen Bess but ignore the four Georges.  Yes, massively important things happened in the Tudor reigns – the formation of the Church of England, to name but one. But while the Hanoverians were on the throne, we won the Seven Years war, reformed Parliament, abolished the Slave Trade, lost America and, at times, stood alone against Napoleon as he tried to turn Europe into his personal Empire. Pretty darn important stuff! But most people look at me blankly when I talk about it.

Religious Strife

We forget that the Hanoverians were actually brought in to keep the Catholics off the throne. The Stuart line had a better blood claim, but the religious prejudice of the country was against them. In 1780, thanks to Lord Gordon’s efforts, violent riots swept through London with the cry of “No Popery”. Whether to emancipate the Catholics remained a major issue. Pitt resigned as Prime Minister at a vital point in the Napoleonic War, not the mention the Irish rebellion, over the issue. So imagine the reaction when rumours spread that the Prince of Wales, later George IV, had married a Catholic widow!

The Constant Threat of Death

The gallows cast their long shadow through the 1700s and beyond. The threat of corporal punishment was very real in the Georgian era. Princess Caroline-Matilda, unhappily married to the Prince of Denmark, was caught in her adultery with a young physician. Both he and his best friend were beheaded. If we hop over to France, we see yet more heads flying around in the Revolution. But even if you manage to keep your noggin on your neck, you weren’t safe from rampant disease.

Looking at the English monarchy, we can’t forget that Maria Fitzherbert put her life in serious peril by marrying the heir to the throne against the laws of the land. As I will cover in my next novel, there were several times she could have faced imprisonment and even death if her secret marriage was confirmed. Just imagine what would have happened to her if she’d married him before the Gordon Riots!

As for George IV’s other Queen, the wayward Caroline, she was almost certainly guilty of adultery. I believe Prinny would have had her killed if he thought he could possibly get away with it. Luckily for us, he knew there was no way.

Illicit Affairs

Well I’ll wait until I write my new book to tell you all about Caroline and her Italian lover, but there are plenty more to discuss. George III’s brothers enraged him with their unsuitable, secret marriages, while another family member was sued for adultery by his lover’s husband.
George II lived in thrall to his mistress and actually scared his grandson off women for a while. And then we have Prinny, a ladies’ man if ever there was one! I don’t think there was one love he didn’t cheat on. His brother William IV was little better, having numerous illegitimate children with Mrs Jordan before ditching her for a real Princess.

But the women gave as good as they got. We’ve listed Caroline and Caroline-Matilda, but there was also Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, infamously linked with her son’s tutor Lord Bute, and of course George III’s daughters, who you can read about in Queen of Bedlam.

Strong Women in a Man’s World

Personally, I consider Queen Charlotte a very strong woman, although this may sound strange when I tell you she was often afraid to contradict her husband. But there are other, less controversial claims. I present Caroline, so determined in her right to be crowned Queen, despite her long estrangement from her husband, that she tried to storm his coronation! I give you Augusta, thwarted from becoming Queen by her husband’s death, but able to control the throne long into her son’s reign. There are many more, but I’m not going to talk about them too much in this post. I’m going to write books about them. They’re that cool.

The Need for an Heir

There were many squabbles for the throne in the Georgian period. Who can forget Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Old Pretender? Bloody battles were fought over their claims to inherit for the House of Stuart.

In later years, when the young Princess of Wales died unexpectedly, there was a race amongst George III’s sons to give birth to an heir. Ok, a Georgian monarch was unlikely to chop your head off if you didn’t give him a son. But it was still a shock when, after decades of male rule, the crown was left to a young girl by the name of Victoria…


I admit partiality to a lovely French hood, but a bonnet is also very becoming. And what can Tudors really hold up next to powdered wigs and towering hair sculptures? Our dresses are more risqué and twice as flattering. Our men don’t have silly puffy legs or pointy beards – and they don’t need codpieces to show their manliness. As another bonus, hygeine has improved about 30% since the Tudor period!

So there you have it. Every point answered. And as you can see, I’ve focused mainly on George III and George IV – they’re uppermost in my thoughts at the moment because I’m working on their novels. I haven’t really started to mention what happened with George I and George II, but there’s already so much material! Go on – do it. I know you want to. Convert: go Georgian.

1 2