|Princess Caroline of Brunswick|
from Huish's Memoirs of her late
royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
Princess Caroline of Brunswick (17 May 1768 - 7 August 1821) was the hated wife of George IV. Her reckless behaviour was investigated twice by parliament and although the King failed to divorce her, she was deprived of being crowned as Queen.
Caroline Amelia Elizabeth was born on 17 May 1768, the second daughter of Karl Wilhelm, the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel, and Princess Augusta, the eldest sister of George III. She was brought up in the German principality with a great deal of freedom, resulting in unrestrained speech which tended to be vulgar and lacking in respect, particularly towards her mother. Unfortunately, her personal cleanliness also left much to be desired.
A disastrous marriage
On 8 April 1795, Princess Caroline and George, Prince of Wales, were married. From the outset, the prospects of a happy union were slim; in the event, it was an unmitigated disaster. The prince’s motivation for getting married was to appease parliament and persuade them to pay his enormous debts. Although he had separated from Maria Fitzherbert, his long-term mistress, George was at this time infatuated with Frances, Countess of Jersey, who had encouraged him to marry to shield their relationship.
from La Belle Assemblée (1830)
George disliked Princess Caroline on sight. He heartlessly made his mistress a Lady of the Bedchamber for his new wife and did not scruple to advertise that she was her rival. Lady Jersey’s behaviour towards Caroline was unkind and cruel; the prince treated Caroline with disdain and rudeness.
The royal couple only remained together as man and wife for a few weeks, but Caroline fell pregnant; she gave birth to a daughter, Princess Charlotte Caroline Augusta, on 7 January 1796.
from La Belle Assemblée (1816)
By March 1796, George wanted an official separation from his wife, but his father would not allow it. The prince refused to see his wife except on formal occasions, but nevertheless restricted Caroline’s freedom and access to her daughter. In 1805, the king, George III, made her Ranger of Greenwich Park allowing her greater independence and financial security.
The Delicate Investigation
In 1806, Lady Douglas, a former companion of the Princess of Wales, accused her of having given birth to an illegitimate child in 1802. The government made a thorough investigation into the claims which were proved to be unfounded. It appears that the child Caroline was accused of conceiving out of wedlock was William Austin whom she had legally adopted.
Spencer Perceval threatened to publish the findings of the investigation if Caroline was not fully restored to her royal position; “The Book” was printed despite Caroline being hastily received at Court and provided fuel for her supporters for many years.
The wayward wife
In 1814, Caroline was given leave to travel abroad, firstly to Germany and then on to Italy. Her behaviour at this time can only be described as reckless; she publicly engaged in adulterous affairs without the least discretion, the most notable of which was with Barolomeo Bergami, also known as Count Pergami.
The Queen Caroline Affair
When George acceded to the throne in 1820, Caroline technically became the Queen Consort of England and on 5 June, she arrived from Italy, amidst public rejoicing, to claim her rights as queen. George wanted to divorce his adulterous wife and deprive her of her rank.
In response, the cabinet introduced what is commonly known as the Bill of Pains and Penalties, which would have dissolved the king’s marriage and deprived her of her title. Her adultery was easily proven and the bill was passed by a small majority in the House of Lords, but it was dropped because of its widespread unpopularity.
Although championed by ardent supporters such as Sarah, Lady Jersey, Caroline’s popularity waned; she withdrew from public view, accepting a house and an allowance of £50,000 a year. She made one final attempt to be recognised as Queen; she attempted to enter the abbey for the coronation and be crowned alongside her estranged husband. She was refused admittance, despite the sympathy of the crowd, and gave up the attempt. She died just a few weeks later, on 7 August 1821, at Brandenburg House, the house of Elizabeth, Margravine of Brandenburg-Ansbach-Bayreuth.
Sources used include:
Chedzoy, Alan, Seaside Sovereign - King George III at Weymouth, (2003)
Fry, Plantagenet Somerset, The Kings & Queens of England & Scotland, (1990)
Harris, James, First Earl of Malmesbury, Diaries and Correspondence of James Harris, First Earl of Malmesbury, Volume III (1834)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of her late royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
Parissien, Steven, George IV, The Grand Entertainment (2001)
Watson, J. Steven, Oxford History of England: The Reign of George III 1760-1815, (1960)