I Suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself “attached & affectionate’ to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad — I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. –”
Jane Austen to Martha Lloyd
February 16th, 1813
Princess Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel was born on May 17, 1768 at Brunswick (German:Braunschweig) in Germany, daughter of Karl William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and Princess Augusta Charlotte of Wales, eldest sister of King George III.
She married the British king’s eldest son, her first cousin, in an arranged marriage on April 8, 1795 at St. James’s Palace in London. Her new husband, the future George IV then Prince of Wales, regarded Caroline as unattractive and unhygienic.
Even as Presumptive Monarch, the Prince of Wales, known as Prinny, had no choice. Despite a previous marriage, he was deeply in debt and only by marrying an approved Royal Princess and furnishing the country with an heir, would parliament agree to settle accounts.
The Prince was introduced to his potential bride only days before their planned wedding. Caroline was short, fat, never changed her undergarments, and rarely washed. According to Court insiders, her body odour was overwhelming.
After embracing her, Prinny retired to the far end of the room and said to the Earl of Malmesbury – “Harris, I am not very well, pray get me a glass of brandy”.
He continued to drink brandy for three days until the morning of the wedding.
Dressed in extremely rich and heavy clothing including a dress of silver tissue and lace and a robe of ermine-lined velvet, the bride found standing and walking difficult. She was attended by Lady Mary Osborne the daughter of the fifth Duke of Leeds, Lady Charlotte Spencer the daughter of the third Duke of Marlborough, Lady Charlotte Legge the daughter of the second Earl of Dartmouth, and Lady Caroline Villiers the daughter of the fourth Earl of Jersey. The Prince of Wales was attended by the unmarried 5th Duke of Bedford and 3rd Duke of Roxburghe. The Prince was also attended by the 17 year old Coronet George Brummell. The ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Moore. Guests included the Prince of Wales’s parents King George III and Queen Charlotte and his sisters. The Princes Ernest, Adolphus, and William were not in attendance as the King thought it best for them to remain with their military regiments.*
The Prince of Wales arrived for the wedding very drunk and obviously reluctant to proceed with the ceremony. The King actually urged him to finish the ceremony at one point. The Prince looked not at all at his bride but frequently at his favorite the 42-year-old Lady Jersey, the wife of the 60 year old fourth Earl of Jersey, George Bussey Villiers.
After the ceremony, the King and Queen held a drawing-room for the couple in the Queen’s apartments. Caroline seemed pleased and chatty. The Prince was silent and morose until near the end of the evening when he recovered his composure enough to become “very civil and gracious”. The couple honeymooned in the Marine Pavilion at Brighton. The Prince of Wales was so drunk when he came to bed that he passed out on the floor in front of the fireplace and spent the night there. He finally awakened early the next morning. Princess Charlotte Augusta, George’s only legitimate child, was born nine months later, on January 7, 1796.
Prinny found Caroline so disgusting that he refused to live with her. For her part, she found him equally unattractive. A year after their wedding he sent her a note tactfully informing her that she could do as she liked. Caroline took this to mean that she could do as she wished and so she did. The Prince and Princess of Wales never lived together afterwards, and appeared separately in public, both becoming involved in numerous extramarital affairs.
Caroline was prevented from seeing her daughter on a day-to-day basis, and was eventually banished in 1799 to a private residence (‘The Pagoda’) in Blackheath, where she allegedly had affairs with the politician George Canning and the admiral Sir Sidney Smith.
In 1806 rumours began to circulate that a four year-old child in her entourage William Austin was her son. His father was said to be a footman.
A Royal Commission was set-up, called the ‘Delicate Investigation’ but nothing could be proved against her.
Following this investigation into her personal affairs by her husband, she left the country and went to live abroad, running up large debts throughout Europe and taking other lovers. During this period, the couple’s daughter, who had married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, died after giving birth to her only child, a stillborn son.
Her estranged husband’s accession to the Throne in 1820 brought Caroline back to Britain. The government in England offered Caroline £50,000 if she would stay out of the country, but she refused and came back where she settled in Hammersmith to the intense embarrassment of all concerned.
On the 17th August the House of Lords took the offensive by demanding that Caroline appear before them. The Pains and Penalties Bill 1820 was introduced in Parliament in order to strip Caroline of the title of Queen and dissolve her marriage to the King.
The aim of the House of Lords was to dissolve the marriage on the grounds that Caroline had been involved with a man called Bartolomeo Bergami, (“a foreigner of low station“) in a most degrading intimacy.
Caroline was very popular with the London ‘mob’, King George was not, and each day they surrounded the House of Lords, her coach escorted by the cheering mob whenever she had to appear there. The evidence against her was plentiful. After 52 days the divorce clause was carried but after the brilliant oratory of Lord Brougham in her defense, the Lords decided to drop it.
George IV’s Coronation was to be the 29th of April, 1821. Caroline asked the Prime Minister what dress to wear for the ceremony and was told that she would not be taking part in it.
Nevertheless Caroline arrived at the Abbey door on the day demanding to be admitted. She shouted “The Queen…Open” and the pages opened the door. “I am the Queen of England,” she shouted, when an official roared at the pages “Do your duty…shut the door”, whereupon the door was slammed in her face.
Undaunted, Caroline drove back to her house and sent a note to the King asking for a Coronation ‘next Monday’!
She died 19 days after her frustrated attempt to get into the Abbey. The exact cause of her death has never been ascertained, not least because Caroline herself, knowing she would die, had decreed that no autopsy was to be carried out.
She was buried in Brunswick, and on her coffin was inscribed… ‘CAROLINE THE INJURED QUEEN OF ENGLAND’.