Queen Caroline of Brunswick, wife of George IV
by Ben Johnson
Why the Prince of Wales, the son of King George III agreed to marry the fat, ugly and tactless Caroline of Brunswick is something of a mystery, except that he needed the money!
The Prince of Wales, know as Prinny, was a well known womaniser and at the age of 17 he had an affair with an actress Mary Robinson. When he was 23 he fell in love with a beautiful Catholic, Mrs Fitzherbert. He was so besotted with her that he persuaded her to go through with a secret marriage. The marriage was conducted in secrecy in her house where a Church of England clergyman performed the ceremony for a fee of £500.
They were very happy together for eight years but by then Prinny was in debt to the tune of £630,000, a tremendous sum in those days.
The only way that he could pay off his debts was to marry and furnish the country with an heir, then Parliament would pay his debts.
In 1795 Prinny was introduced to his potential bride, Caroline of Brunswick. Caroline was short, fat, ugly and never changed her undergarments, and rarely washed. 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.
He was so drunk on their wedding night that he collapsed into the bedroom grate and remained there until dawn. Nevertheless, their only child Princess Charlotte was conceived, so he obviously managed to do what was required of him by his country.
Prinny found Caroline so disgusting that he refused to live with her and a year after their wedding he sent her a note tactfully informing her that she could do as she liked, as he would not be having ‘relations’ with her again. Caroline took this to mean that she could do as she wished.
Rejected by her husband she went to live at Blackheath, London where her behaviour became more than a little extreme. In her room she had a clockwork Chinese figure that performed gross sexual movements when wound-up. She also was given to dancing around in front of her guests in a manner that was most indelicate, exposing most of her body.
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.
In 1814 Caroline left England and proceeded to shock the people of Europe. She danced at a ball in Geneva naked to the waist, and in Naples she became the mistress of King Joachim, Napoleon’s brother-in-law.
In January 1820 King George III died and Prinny became King George IV and so Caroline became Queen.
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 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’ whilst King George was not. They surrounded the House of Lords every day; her coach was escorted by the cheering mob whenever she had to appear there. The evidence against her was plentiful. It seems that during a cruise she slept on deck in a tent with Bergami and took her baths with him in full view of the other servants. In Italy her mode of dress was bizarre to say the least; she was in the habit of wearing dresses open to the waist.
(detail from) The Trial of Queen Caroline 1820 by Sir George Hayter
After 52 days the divorce clause was carried but after the brilliant oratory of Lord Brougham in her defence, the Lords decided to drop it.
George IV’s Coronation was to be the 29th 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 door of Westminster Abbey 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 and an official roared at the pages “Do your duty…shut the door” and 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.
She was buried in Brunswick, and on her coffin was inscribed… ‘CAROLINE THE INJURED QUEEN OF ENGLAND’.
Stay at Warwick Castle
Exclusive offer for Historic UK readers. Enjoy a midweek break at Warwick Castle from just £99 per couple, including castle entry, overnight stay and breakfast. More information at the link below.More Details