I promised in my previous post about The Strange Death of Queen Caroline that I would keep you updated with the evidence I found. I’ve unearthed many interesting facts, but as always with Caroline, the truth is unclear.
In support of a suicide theory, we have the opinion of her contemporaries. Henry Edward Fox certainly thought her capable of harming herself, during the trial for adultery in 1820, when he wrote: “Poor maniac! They say she means to kill herself. I should not be surprised.” We also have the rather gruesome information that Caroline’s body was swollen and black a few hours after death. One of her physicians, suspecting poisoning, wanted to open the body and establish the cause of death. He was told the Queen herself had forbidden any post-mortem. That, in itself, suggests she had something to hide.
Her physicians suspected a blockage in the bowels. They specified “a blockage of magnesia”. Given the paste-like mixture of magnesia and laudanum Caroline had forced down shortly before her illness, this seems very likely. Did that hideous do-it-yourself medicine, which her ladies urged her not to take, end her life? If it caused the blockage that the physicians diagnosed, then the answer seems to be yes.
The records say Queen Caroline seemed “much surprised” to discover her illness and asked “Do you think I am poisoned?” While I can’t discredit the idea that she was genuinely shocked, I don’t trust Caroline. The question is so inflammatory, so aimed at her husband. It seems typical that, whether she was dying through natural causes or her own intervention, she would make sure to implicate George in a scandal.
Historians agree that she was mentally unbalanced around the time of her death, and even refer to her as “the manic-depressive Queen Caroline”. But would she really, through motives of vengeance, go so far? The correspondence that could answer our questions has, frustratingly, disappeared. As foolish at it was, Caroline wrote to Pergami frequently during her trial for adultery with him. It seems to me that, while Caroline loved and had a hope of returning to Pergami, she would be unlikely to commit suicide. But life wasn’t that simple.
Despite her new Queenly allowance, Caroline had to remain in England following her trial, as she was too deep in debt to travel back to Italy. She was separated for goodness knew how long from the man she loved. If in fact, she did still love him. It’s bizarre to consider that through the delirium during the last hours of her life, she never mentioned Pergami. She mentioned his daughter and the children of Alderman Wood. But no Pergami. Is it possible the pair had quarrelled? Had she ceased to think of him with affection? Or had she simply trained her tongue not to mention him? There is always the possibility, of course, that the witnesses to her death lied. They were her most loyal supporters. Still, I would expect at least one source to creep out if Caroline had actually talked about Pergami when she died.
We also have to balance Caroline’s motives for suicide against a long history of stomach spasms and cramps. About two years before her death, she was suffering acutely with pain in that area. This would suggest a slow-forming blockage or tumour. As I mentioned before, Caroline faced her death with remarkable calmness. Perhaps she had suspected the illness for some time and felt it increasing. Perhaps she had hastened it. Or perhaps she was just showing the Brunswicker courage that remains of her more loveable characteristics.
The verdict I have come to is that Caroline was partly to blame for her own death. It appears she originally became ill through natural causes, but she lost the will to fight against the disease. I also believe she did all she could to make it worse and hasten the inevitable, through her strange medicines and her failure to consult a doctor early on. Whatever the truth, we can be sure her end was sudden and painful. I sincerely hope the “unruly Queen” is now resting in a well-deserved peace.