Prince Regent

Mrs Fitzherbert’s Grand Tour

Maria Fitzherbert, Royal Collection
Maria Fitzherbert, Royal Collection

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

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

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

Lady Anne
Lady Anne

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

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

Princess Louise
Princess Louise

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

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

Prince Heinrich
Prince Heinrich

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

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Princess Charlotte’s Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Secret Wife of George IV

Book Cover

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

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

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

As a Reader

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

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

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

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

I would certainly recommend this book to others.

As a Historian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prinny’s Women

marie antoinette ish vintage image graphicsfairy2tealb

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

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

Mary Robinson

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

1784_gainsborough_fitzherbert

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

lady jersey

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

Lady Hertford

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

Lady Conyngham

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

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

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

220px-GeorgeIV1780

“A Catholic Whore”

Maria

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newgate in Flames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Royal Pregnancy and Tragedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Brighton

I’m very lucky to be within reach of many places featured in my novels. Only recently I found out that Henrietta Howard spent time living at Blickling Hall and Audley End – both places I visited and enjoyed without even knowing! In preparation for A Forbidden Crown, Brighton was a key place to visit. It’s a very different place now to the resort that Maria, Caroline and Charlotte knew, but somehow just being there helped me to get a feel for their lives. Of course, the building at the centre of my research was that famous “monstrosity”: The Royal Pavilion.

In A Forbidden Crown, the Pavilion serves as a symbol for Maria’s relationship with George IV. It goes from being a simple farmhouse to an elegant Marine Pavilion under her watch. But by the time it becomes an exotic, sprawling folly, both the building and the Prince have grown far past her recognition. In fiction, I’m taking the view that most contemporaries shared: it was over-the-top and gaudy. But I must admit, on a personal level, that I rather like it!

You have to use your imagination as you walk through the small remnant of the gardens, towards the towering domes. A busy road and a pavement would not be running right alongside – there was a drive and a little wilderness before you reached the Steine. There probably wouldn’t have been so many tall buildings blocking your view of the sea. The modern-day care-takers of the Pavilion have given you a wonderful feel of what the gardens may have been like: bright flowers, palm trees and exotic plants, all taken from contemporary accounts. A lovely place to walk on a sunny day – but, as I was there in November and the wind was pretty high, we hurried inside.

Of all my heroines, only Princess Charlotte would have experienced the interior of the Pavilion in its current state. She rather dreaded visits to her father and, as luck would have it, the building works with me to create an unsettling atmosphere. In A Forbidden Crown, Charlotte will walk down the corridors, uneasy to see the dark faces of the Chinese figures watching her with sharp, wooden eyes. The roaring dragons and snakes entwining themselves round the furniture will make her think she is walking into a monster’s lair. She will feel, as I could not, the suffocating heat of the air, which her father tinged with the smell of burning incense and spices to give it an oriental flavour. Indeed, many ladies were frightened by the decoration, refusing to sit under the dragon chandelier. In the dark, it looked like the dragons really were breathing flames of fire, rather than supporting candles.

For me, of course, the place was far from frightening. Most rooms spoke of splendour and elegant parties. I understood that, if the place looked incredible to me, it must have been truly extraordinary for the lucky ladies and gentlemen of the period who got an invite. The painted bamboo and palm-trees were as close as many visitors would get to seeing the real things in their natural habitat. The Banqueting Room and the Music Room were works of art. In fact, George loved the decor of the music room so much that he wept when he first saw it. My audio-guide said the carpet was so thick and luxurious that people would sink into it. Whole teams of servants would have to scour the palace after each party, to clean off the melted wax and wine stains on the wall. Apparently, stale bread was good for cleaning walls and tea-leaves for cleaning carpets. Both the party and the clean-up operations must have been some sight!

There were also rooms with a simple kind of elegance – the type I imagine Maria approving of and Caroline hiding in during her first and only stay in Brighton.  Both of these ladies would have experienced a smaller and more restrained Pavilion, clad in glazed Hampshire tiles. The main room would have been the current saloon, which is undergoing work to return it to Regency glory. I lingered here a while, trying to absorb the feel of it. This was a room in which Maria would have stood, many a time. A room in which she was probably happy.  It would have had a plain, neo-classical look back then, when she laughed at the hi-jinks of her Prince and his companions. Going off either side would be rooms where she played cards, acted as hostess – and at last, was humiliated by George’s mistresses. I made a little trip to Maria’s house, close by, which is now a YMCA. I felt there the more calming, elegant influence she would have exuded over the Pavilion. Some say there is an underground tunnel from it to the Pavilion – I rather like that idea, but I think Maria would feel it beneath her dignity to be sneaking around underground like a rat in a sewer. Near Maria’s house, there is a hotel where William and Adelaide stayed on some visits. It was wonderful to picture them all, on their holidays by the sea, swarming around the hub of the Prince’s fantasy playground.

The main purpose of my visit was to see the exhibition on Princess Charlotte – “The Forgotten Princess”. It was smaller than I imagined, but I’m glad I saw it. Not only did I finally find the Maria Cosway painting of Caroline and Charlotte leaning against Britannia that I had read so much about, I saw some items that were, to a historical novelist, a bit like relics. Firstly, Charlotte’s baby shift. I could just see her chubby little arms filling up the sleeves, her constantly working legs kicking out beneath. Caroline would have hugged her daughter close, marvelling over the tiny cuffs and detailed stitching. She would probably have felt, at that time, that her daughter was the only thing she had to connect to in all of England. Perhaps she would also have experienced a stab of annoyance that she had not been able to order the baby clothes herself – it would have all been Queen Charlotte’s doing.

There was another baby shift on display, more poignant. The warm, squirming body that was to give it a purpose never breathed. It was part of the clothing set ordered for Charlotte and Leopold’s baby boy. He was stillborn. I remember reading that Charlotte ordered the baby clothes with great care, enjoying choosing patterns and materials. But when they arrived, she didn’t want to look at them. Fear of the birth, or perhaps a premonition of her own dark fate, had sapped her enjoyment from them. She folded the baby clothes and put them away. Did her hands fold the delicate, wispy material of that shift? I like to think so.

Lastly, la pièce de résistance: Charlotte’s wedding dress. They think the dress in its current form is the original wedding gown and three other court costumes cobbled together,  but the tampering didn’t really bother me. What bowled me over was the proportions of it. I’ve seen many paintings of Charlotte – the high, ample bosom, the short but pleasantly plump figure. I have to say, they were spot on. Suddenly she was there before me – about my height, pleasingly rounded. I could see her, adjusting her hair in the mirror, trying to calm her fluttering stomach. Whether the gown was entirely original or not, it was very beautiful. If only the happiness it promised could have lasted a little longer for poor old Charlotte.

If you are reading or writing about the Regency period, I would thoroughly recommend a visit to the Pavilion. The Charlotte exhibition is on until the end of March 2013 so you have a few more months to catch it. It’s sad that we no longer have Carlton House to marvel at or Charlotte’s prison, Warwick House. At Brighton Pavilion, at least,  we can get a taste of George’s extraordinary decorations, and a feel for the royals who are now long gone.

Why I love Queen Charlotte

 

It struck me, as I wrote my post about Caroline of Ansbach, that I haven’t blogged purely about Charlotte and how great she was. Yes, I’ve given snippets of her life in other blog posts, but nothing to tell you just why you should want to read about her. She was truly a remarkable woman, often eclipsed by the “brighter” personalities of the era.  I’m bound to forget something, but here’s a summary of the reasons I love her so much.

Her intelligence. I remember reading an interview with Philippa Gregory about how she chose her heroines – she said you were going to spend years of your life with this person and you needed to make sure you didn’t choose an idiot. This is so true. Thankfully, I selected a woman with a deep interest in academia and the arts. Despite her upbringing in an obscure Duchy, Charlotte was educated to a high level and made sure her daughters were too. She went to the lengths of stealing a French teacher from another family to ensure her Princesses got the very best tuition. My favourite quote from her: “I am of the opinion that if women had the same advantages as men in their education, they would do as well.”

Artistic flair. Charlotte was both an amateur artist and a skilled harpsichord player. She acted as patron for many artistic societies and famously encouraged the young Mozart. Musical scores, books on  botany and countless other endeavours were dedicated to her. For her encouragement of exploration, a flower from the Cape of Good Hope was named after her – Strelitza Regina – you may know it better as the bird of paradise flower. Charlotte was always seeking out new books and new things to learn. Although the novelist Fanny Burney didn’t enjoy being kept at Charlotte’s court, she certainly received praise of her work from the Queen. Burney’s third novel, Camilla, is dedicated to Charlotte and she took great pride in presenting it to her royal mistress on bended knee.

Her charity. Charlotte often had to apply to the King for extra funds, because she had overspent on charitable donations. Much of her charity focused on women and their plight – childbirth hospitals and even a society for the reformation of fallen women. She may have been the first woman in England, but she never forgot how difficult life was for those less fortunate. Linking her love of music and charity together, she paid for the composer Bach’s funeral and granted his widow an allowance. It may seem  bizarre that she acquired a reputation for penny-pinching and financial austerity, but in this she was copying the King. They both tried to live as economically as possible, to set an example to their people and lessen the burden their family exerted on the tax payer.

Impeccable taste. When Charlotte did get the chance to spend money on luxuries, she could keep up with the best of them. I often think George IV inherited his good taste from her – although with him, it often flared out into gaudiness. Charlotte paid great attention to the details in her dresses, the arrangement of her daughters’ hair (even consulting artist Benjamin West about where the jewels should be placed) and her jewellery. Jewellery was a passion with Charlotte and one which I think many of us women can sympathise with. Although Charlotte was never beautiful, she acquired a reputation for elegance and grace – she knew how to do the best with what she  had. In fact, her”ugliness” is another thing I love about Charlotte. I’m bored with hopelessly attractive Queens – I have nothing in common with them!

When it came to interior design and flower arranging, her enthusiasm knew no bounds. Her taste was neither as bland and simple as the King’s nor as decadently riotous as her son’s. Very little of Charlotte’s decoration remains at Windsor, Frogmore or Buckingham Palace, but if you read the accounts of her dimity curtains, gilt frames and embroidered chairs,  you get a feel for the gentle prettiness of her style.

Her quiet faith. Charlotte was a devout woman and used her religion to strengthen her. She had a deep interest in theology and even belonged to a Protestant convent in her youth. She was not pushy or preachy but believed in setting an example for others to follow. The strength of her convictions is shown early on in discussions with her mother in law, Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales – this was the one part of her life Charlotte would not allow anyone else to influence or dictate to her in. She certainly need the consolation of religion in the life that lay ahead of her. She was aware that even the plans of a Queen could be shot off course by higher powers – one of her favourite phrases was: “Man proposes; God disposes.”

Motherhood. In a time when childbirth was a dangerous activity, you can’t help but admire a woman who survived fifteen labours. Although Charlotte’s frame was slight, there was remarkable strength in it. Charlotte was also what I call a “normal” mother – neither outrageously devoted to or indifferent to her children. When I imagine being responsible for fifteen children, my first thought is: “What a nightmare.” And Charlotte was duly annoyed and frustrated by her brood many times. She suffered from depression during her pregnancies, wished she would have no more children and often found it hard to share her love equally among them. But she wrote to all her children when they were absent from home – even those the King forgot – and was devastated when she lost two baby boys. Her tough love approach to education may have distanced some of her daughters, but she was adored by both Princess Elizabeth and George IV. She stood up for her beloved eldest son on many occasions and was a great support to him during his Regency. It is worth noting that she went from being a widely popular Queen to a rather disliked figure amongst some circles at the time of her death – all because she stood by her son. Having said that, she also took George IV to task when he needed it. I particularly love the instance of her having a go at him because he had failed to pay her granddaughter’s (another Charlotte) allowance on time. She was, in fact, a good grandmother, which perhaps the young Charlotte didn’t appreciate until later years. It is touching to see how Charlotte tried to promote her granddaughter’s marriage to Prince Leopold and took pains to get acquainted with the young man.

She was a woman of her time. Let’s face the truth: Charlotte lived in a time when women were the weaker sex. She may not always have agreed with it, but she didn’t rail against it either. It’s interesting to work out the psychology of a woman who, although she may have known better, submitted to her husband’s opinion at all times. She had a crushing sense of duty and that duty was to the King. She allowed him to dictate the way she would behave towards certain children – the ones not in favour! – and the people she took into her household. She stayed out of politics to please him, even though her mind was more than capable of handling its complexities. For a writer, this is brilliant. The internal conflict caused by such devoted duty is pure gold. Here was a woman, not blindly following, but forcing herself to obey. There are delightful little moments where the real Charlotte peeps out – throwing her lot in unashamedly with the Tories after they stood by her during the King’s illness, intervening for George IV, trying to persuade the King to let her daughters marry. But for the main part, Charlotte was a model wife of the time. I admire this. It may seem strange, but I can see more strength in her behaviour than I can in those women that shouted and screamed at their husbands. It would have been easy – if inadvisable –  for Charlotte to speak her mind and defy the King.  But she managed to restrain herself with mind-boggling self-control. I’m not saying I advocate this behaviour in the least. I can just see that in her, it was strength, not weakness, that held her tongue.

Her death. Most Queens die like martyrs. Both Caroline of Ansbach and Caroline of Brunswick endured agonising deaths with supreme courage – they were not afraid to die. I admire this more than I can say, but it doesn’t necessarily resonate with me. If I was about to die, I would be terrified. And so was Charlotte. She spent many of her last days crying, worrying over her will and wishing she had all her children with her. She prayed constantly. Most touching of all, she wanted to force her sick body to travel to Windsor so she could die near the King. It wasn’t to be. She died quietly at Kew, closing a tumultuous life with a peaceful slumber.

I hope I haven’t bored you too much with my Charlotte obsession. If you would like to read more about Charlotte and her life, why not try my novel God Save the King? Or if you are looking for history books, I would recommend Olwen Hedley’s Queen Charlotte, Flora Fraser’s Princesses (as always!) or Christopher Hibbert’s George III: A Personal History.

A Taint in the Blood

On the whole, I’d rather risk my chances than put myself in the hands of 18th Century doctors. All I find are horror stories, particularly around childbirth. Who can forget Sir Richard Croft, accoucheur to Princess Charlotte? After starving and bleeding the girl in the late stages of her pregnancy, he failed to intervene when the baby was in trouble and then warmed the mother up when she showed signs of haemorrhaging (the accepted method then was to apply a cold compress, so goodness knows why he decided a fire and blankets were in order). Just look at the unpromising trio above! As George III was to find out, 18th Century doctors may have been foolish when it came matters of the body, but they were even less equipped to deal with matters of the mind.

Blistering, leeches, mustard plasters, purges: these are just some of the miseries George had to endure. There were other favoured methods for treating madness: plunging the suffer in cold water repeatedly, restricting them to a diet of only apples for a month. As you can imagine, none of these really worked. But even if they had been effectual, it doesn’t follow they would have helped the King. Personally, I lean towards the theory that George III had acute porphyria. It was something his doctors stood no chance of diagnosing.

It is interesting to speculate who else in the royal family may have suffered from this metabolic disorder – or indeed, madness, if that truly was the trouble with George. Porphyria’s symptoms can include purple urine, skin sensitivity, abdominal pain, mood swings, delirium, sensitivity to sunlight, weakness, insomnia, and breathing problems. When I look at other members of George’s family who were accused of being “mad”, some of these crop up too.

Firstly, let’s consider George’s daughter, Princess Sophia. Sources confirm she was troubled with ill health all her life, but if we look at the symptoms in closer detail, we can see hints of porphyria. Described as a “moody” Princess, she certainly experienced the mood swings and insomnia detailed above. We also see repeated “spasms”, particularly in her stomach. She and George both experienced visual symptoms with their illnesses, and indeed both were to die completely blind. Interestingly, there was a period in 1793-4 when Sophia started to show alarming symptoms of her father’s “madness”. Her correspondence from the time shows a worrying tendency to paranoia; she writes to tell her father unpleasant things are happening and she is sure “Princess Royal is behind everything”. Her family was certainly worried enough to ship her away from sight for rest and recuperation; in a tactic that echoed the removal of King to Kew in his madness, she was not told she was going away and simply woke up one day to find her family had deserted her and a carriage ready at the door. What porphyria doesn’t account for are the fits Sophia used to fall into or her “swallow”, as she refers to it.  She never really elaborates on what this was – it could literally be a problem with swallowing, a sore throat or a breathing difficulty.

From Sophia it’s natural to move on to Ernest, a brother with whom she shared a close relationship. By his behaviour, Ernest certainly merited suspicions of mental instability. But I can locate no physical symptoms or episodes of delirium; on the whole, Ernest was fit as a fiddle, always well amidst ailing brothers at Gottingen University. I think we simply have to accept Ernest was boisterous and a bit of a rotter. The reports that he supposed attacked women and wanted to seduce nuns may or may not be true. But with Ernest, I can see only character flaws – no hint of the “King’s Evil”.

Travelling from “characters” in God Save the King to those in A Forbidden Crown, we find a wealth of new material. I have written in other posts about Caroline of Brunswick’s eccentricity; I literally cannot count the sources I have found from contemporaries swearing she was mad. Even her mother broke down in tears before Queen Charlotte and asked her to excuse Caroline because she was (tapping her head) “Not quite right in here”. Could the same be said of her sister Augusta, who Friedrich of Wurttemberg was so eager to separate from? It’s also interesting to note some of Caroline’s brothers played a shadowy role in the court of Brunswick because they were “idiots” (18th century term, certainly not mine). But with Caroline we can chart the physical symptoms too. From an early age, she had “cramps, nervous debility and hysteria. All that excites her arouses the disorder”.  Her mother was terrified. Indeed, all the way up to her death she suffered with pains in her stomach, although the symptoms could point towards a cancer that eventually killed her.

But what of Caroline’s husband, George IV (who I will refer to as Prinny to avoid confusion with his father)? We often laugh at Prinny for behaving like a toddler and mock his severe mood swings. Few people have considered his behaviour in the light of an illness. I find it extremely telling that Prinny was always eager to conceal any illness that befell him (I mean real illness – he was keen for people to know about the ones he staged for attention) for fear of rumours that he suffered with his father’s malady. It’s hard to tell with a flamboyant character like Prinny what is fact and what is fiction. But he certainly had worrying mental symptoms; contemporaries joked that he could tell a story so many times that he actually came to believe it. This has darker undertones than the light Regency banter suggests. Prinny really did believe his fantasies and definitely suffered from acute paranoia. At the first Regency crisis, Prinny turned on his hitherto (and later) adored mother, convinced she was out to poison the government against all her children. When he married Caroline, his suspicions took on farcical proportions. Again, a contemporary declares that “nothing but madness” could explain the way he treated his wife.  Prinny’s physical symptoms are difficult to extract – so many could be caused by the opulent lifestyle he led. All the same, he was addicted to opium in later life and repeatedly bled himself – he even had a special lancet secreted for the purpose when the doctors refused to cut him.

It’s easy to see how the gene pool had got into this state – and a state it was, regardless of whether anyone had porphyria or not. Continual intermarriage had brought things to a level where even George III disapproved of unions between first cousins. The necessity to marry within their Protestant religion and royal blood limited most Hanoverians to Germany, where they hailed from. It was impossible to marry someone who was not at least distantly related. Moreover, if you follow the madness theory, this strict circle of acceptable spouses was mentally suffocating. For each royal that showed signs of delirium, there were certainly surrounding circumstances that could conceivably have driven a person “mad”.

What I find most interesting is the way madness stalked George III through life. I don’t mean just his own disorder – I am talking the mental derangement of others. His sister Caroline Matilda (later referred to as Caroline Mathilde) married Christian of Denmark, another famously mad King. Christian’s disorder was perhaps more disturbing than George’s, given the violent nature of it. George himself declined marrying the Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt for fear that her father, who claimed to be able to talk with the spirit world, was mad. Oh, the irony! And then there were  the assassins lurking in the shadows. The first, Margaret Nicholson, who tried to stab George outside St. James’s Palace, was carted off to the mad-house. She thought England’s crown was hers by right and the country would be deluged in blood for a thousand years if she didn’t get it. Poignantly, the King – who had not experienced “madness” himself at this point – urged people not to hurt her, because she was only a poor mad woman.  There was another man ruined by the war-time effect on the stock market that killed himself right in front of George. More famously, we have the case of James Hadfield: the man who tried to assassinate George at Drury Lane Theatre. His trial led to the Criminal Lunatics Act 1800 which is rather fabulously represented in one of my favourite programmes, Garrow’s Law.

As you can see, poor George was pretty much surrounded by “madness”. If you would like find out more about him and his illness, and read fictionalised accounts of some of these events, look out for my novel God Save the King at the end of September 2012.

 

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.

 

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