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Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821)

Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821)

Queen of Great Britain and Ireland who was locked out of Westminster by her husband George IV on coronation day. Name variations: Caroline Amelia Augusta; Caroline Amelia Elizabeth; Queen Caroline; Caroline Amelia of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel; Princess of Wales. Born Caroline Amelia Augusta on May 17, 1768, in Brunswick, Lower Saxony, Germany; died at Brandenburg House, Hammersmith, London, England, on August 7, 1821; buried in Brunswick, Lower Saxony, Germany; second daughter of Charles William Ferdinand Bevern, duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and Augusta Guelph (1737–1813, sister of George III, king of England); married George IV (1762–1821), king of England (r. 1820–1830), on April 8, 1795; children: Charlotte Augusta (1796–1817, who married Leopold I, king of the Belgians); (adopted) William Austin and Edwina Kent.

Born in Germany on May 17, 1768, Caroline of Brunswick was the second daughter of the duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and Augusta Guelph , sister of King George III of England. The education of the fun-loving, vivacious, and outspoken Caroline did little to prepare her for a future as queen and long-suffering wife of a disreputable monarch.

Her marriage to the dissolute and much-opposed George, prince of Wales (future King George IV), was arranged in 1795 by his father George III who was also her uncle. The 33-year-old prince, who disliked his cousin intensely, had a preference for older, sophisticated, highly cultivated women. His 27-year-old bride-to-be did not fit this criteria; so candid was Caroline as a teenager that she was often accused of inappropriate utterances, especially about sex, so much so that her parents hired a moral guardian to police her tongue.

As if the prince's lack of affection for Caroline weren't enough, he was already illegally wed to the Roman Catholic widow Maria Anne Fitzherbert and was in the process of replacing their ten-year liaison with a stable of mistresses. George III, however, offered to pay off his son's huge debt if he acquiesced. Agreeing in word, if not in deed, the prince heartlessly named his mistress Frances, countess of Jersey , Lady of the Bedchamber to the German princess who was to be his bride. He then sent Lady Jersey and her retinue to greet Caroline as she arrived in England, aware that the group would delight in mocking a foreign princess. They did not disappoint, telling all who would hear that the German princess was in need of a wash, especially when it came to body linen. (Personal cleanliness was just becoming fashionable in England's upper ranks.)

At first sight of his bride-to-be, the prince reportedly staggered backward and asked for brandy. Caroline, on her part, found her future husband to be "very fat and not half as handsome as his portrait." Unfortunately, with Caroline's propensity for blunt truths, this was said to his face. At the wedding, the prince of Wales was deep into his cups. Caroline was quoted as saying, with a hint of a German accent: "Judge what it was to have a drunken husband on one's wedding day and one who passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate, where he fell and where I left him. If anybody say to me at dis moment—will you pass your life over again or be killed? I would choose death, for you know, a little sooner or later we must all die, but to live a life of wretchedness twice over—oh, mine God, no!"

Days into the marriage, as soon as the royal couple had done their all for England to conceive a legal heir, the prince deserted his wife for his mistresses, who over the years included Lady Jersey, Mrs. Perdita Robinson (Mary Robinson ), Countess von Hardenburg, Anna Maria Crouch , and Lady Melbourne . As soon as Caroline's daughter Charlotte Augusta , the princess royale, was born on January 7, 1796, she was taken from her mother, and Caroline was given permission to see her for about two hours a week.

Thus, Caroline, princess of Wales, resided alone at Blackheath, entertaining writers and artists, selling produce from her garden to subsidize the education of nine local orphans. To replace the loss of her daughter, she adopted William Austin, the four-month-old son of a destitute woman, and a girl, Edwina Kent . Sexually frustrated, socially ignored, mocked by her husband's mistresses, and supported with meager finances, Caroline lapsed into rebellious conduct. But the sympathies of the people of England were strongly in her favor: she was thought to have been badly treated by her profligate husband.

Rumors abounded that the adopted children were her own, rumors possibly started by her husband. (The prince of Wales was no stranger to slander; it was he who went around convincing others that his father George III was insane.) About 1806, gossip regarding Caroline's behavior was circulated so openly that George III ordered an investigation. The princess was acquitted of any serious offense when two English ladies of her household testified that, though she may have been foolish in her indiscretions, she had never committed adultery. Even so, various improprieties in her deportment were pointed out and censured. When the acquittal was announced, English subjects put lights in every window in support of the decision.

In 1814, Caroline left England with her adopted children to escape the persecutions of the king and his friends and traveled on the Continent, living principally in Italy. The prince of Wales continued to try to shed his wife, even after their only daughter Charlotte Augusta died in childbirth in 1817, age 20, leaving no heirs.

On the accession of the prince to the throne of England as George IV in 1820, orders were given that the English ambassadors should halt the recognition of the princess as queen at any foreign court. Her name was also formally omitted from the liturgy, meaning that British subjects could not pray for her in church, and that she must not be thought of as queen. These acts once again roused widespread pity for the princess of Wales among the English. She immediately made arrangements to return to England to claim her rights as queen, rejecting a proposal that she should receive an annuity of £50,000 a year on condition of renouncing her title and remaining abroad.

Crouch, Anna Maria (1763–1805)

English opera singer. Born in 1763; died in 1805; married to a lieutenant in the Royal Navy.

A beautiful and talented singer, Anna Maria Crouch triumphed in the role of Polly Peachum in John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. Her relationship with George IV was brief and profitable. Her husband, a navy lieutenant, received £400 per annum for not suing the king, while Anna Maria received a £12,000 bond.

suggested reading:

Young, M.J. Memoirs of Mrs. Crouch. London, 1806.

Charlotte Augusta (1796–1817)

Princess of Wales. Name variations: Charlotte Augusta of Wales; Charlotte of Wales, Charlotte Guelph; Princess Charlotte. Born Charlotte Augusta at Carlton House, London, England, on January 7, 1796; died in childbirth in Esher, Surrey, England, on November 6, 1817; buried at St. George's Chapel, Windsor, Berkshire, England; daughter of George IV (1762–1821), king of England (r. 1820–1830), and Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821); married Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, also known as Leopold I (b. 1790), king of the Belgians (r. 1831–1865), on May 2, 1816; children: a son who died at birth.

Throughout all the rumors, innuendo, investigations, and trials revolving around her royal parents, Charlotte Augusta sided with her mother Caroline of Brunswick , rather than her father George IV. The cheerful and popular princess once said of them: "My mother was bad, but she would not have been as bad as she was if my father had not been infinitely worse."

When Charlotte's father planned to marry her off to Prince William of Orange, she fled in a hackney carriage to the house of her mother. Ordering her return, George IV promised a more suitable suitor, and Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (the future king of the Belgians) was happy to accept the honor. Though brief, theirs was a happy marriage. But at age 20, Charlotte died in childbirth, along with her still-born child, over ten years before Leopold came to the throne. Leopold's second wife was Louise d'Orleans (1812–1850).

When further efforts at compromise proved fruitless, Caroline arrived in England on June 6, 1820; the usual crowds came out to greet her and accompany her to London, bearing signs "The queen forever; the king in the river!" Intent on denying Caroline the crown on the grounds of adultery, the openly adulterous George IV had sent spies to glean information while she was overseas and claimed that she had lived in sin with Bartolomo Pergami, a chamberlain in the royal household. One month later, a bill to dissolve her marriage with the king was brought into the House of Lords. The so-called Trial of Queen Caroline began on August 17, 1820. The queen maintained that the only adultery she had committed was on her wedding night with the husband of Mrs. Fitzherbert. The public interest was intense, and the queen's counsel highly skilled. Though Caroline's behavior had often been scandalous, indiscreet, a bid for attention (e.g., she had a predilection for exposing her ample bosom), no one could prove adultery. The ministers felt that the narrowness of their majority would lead essentially to defeat of the bill. On November 10, after passing the third reading, the legislation was abandoned.

Though Caroline defeated her husband's efforts to divorce her and was permitted to assume the title of queen, she was forcibly prevented from attending the coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey on July 19, 1821, when her husband ordered the doors chained during the service. Caroline, arriving at the door in regal robes with friends in attendance, was refused admittance since she had no ticket. The crowd outside, up until that time firmly on her side, reacted with laughter. The details of her behavior served up at the trial had cost the queen her constituency. The humiliation as she drove away is thought to have hastened her death, which took place less than three weeks later, on August 7. She was 53.

Caroline had requested that she be buried in Brunswick with her parents. When George, in his last act of cruelty, wanted to have the funeral procession bypass the city of London, the crowd's sympathy turned toward Caroline once more. "Dawn in London on August 14th was wet and drizzly," writes Stanley H. Palmer. "Dirt streets became muddy pools. The hearse, elaborately decorated and drawn by eight horses, moved away from Caroline's residence, Brandenburgh House, at 8 a.m. The first test of the procession came in Kensington. A crowd had shut the gates to the Gardens, through which the hearse was to have gone, and chanted, 'The City, the City … the City or death!" During what is now known as the Caroline Riots, the military entourage accompanying the coffin ran into barricades at every turn. Serving as targets for stones, the nervous guards fired into the crowd, killing two and wounding several others. But, after seven hours of thwarted passage, the mob successfully diverted the procession through the streets of the city until the humiliated queen's coffin was placed on board a ship bound for her native country.

sources and suggested reading:

Carlton, Charles. Royal Mistresses. London: Routledge, 1990.

Clerici, Graziano Paolo. A Queen of Indiscretions: The Tragedy of Caroline of Brunswick, Queen of England. Translated by F. Chapman. London, 1907.

Fraser, Flora. The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline. NY: Knopf, 1996.

Palmer, Stanley H. "Before the Bobbies: The Caroline Riots of 1821," in History Today. October 1977.

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