Caroline of Brunswick
Queen consort of King George IV of the United Kingdom
Caroline of Brunswick
Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was the Queen consort of King George IV of the United Kingdom from 29 January 1820 until her death. Between 1795 and 1820, she was Princess of Wales. Her father was the ruler of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel in modern-day Germany, and her mother, Princess Augusta, was the sister of George III.
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  • 1821
    Despite the King's best attempts, Caroline retained a strong popularity amongst the masses, and pressed ahead with plans to attend the coronation service on 19 July 1821 as queen.
    More Details Hide Details Lord Liverpool told Caroline that she should not go to the service, but she turned up anyway. George had Caroline turned away from the coronation at the doors of Westminster Abbey. Refused entry at both the doors to the East Cloister and the doors to the West Cloister, Caroline attempted to enter via Westminster Hall, where many guests were gathered before the service began. A witness described how the Queen stood at the door fuming as bayonets were held under her chin until the Deputy Lord Chamberlain had the doors slammed in her face. Caroline then proceeded back to an entrance near Poets' Corner, where she was met by Sir Robert Inglis, who held the office of "Gold Staff". Inglis persuaded the Queen to return to her carriage, and she left. Caroline lost support through her exhibition at the coronation; the crowds jeered her as she rode away, and even Brougham recorded his distaste at her undignified behaviour.
    In July 1821, Caroline was barred from the coronation on the orders of her husband.
    More Details Hide Details She fell ill in London and died three weeks later; her funeral procession passed through London on its way to her native Brunswick, where she was buried.
  • 1820
    The peers considered the contents scandalous, and a week later, after their report to the House, the government introduced a bill in Parliament, the Pains and Penalties Bill 1820, to strip Caroline of the title of queen consort and dissolve her marriage.
    More Details Hide Details It was claimed that Caroline had committed adultery with a low-born man: Bartolomeo Pergami. Various witnesses, such as Theodore Majocchi, were called during the reading of the bill, which was effectively a public trial of the Queen. The trial caused a sensation, as details of Caroline's familiarity with Pergami were revealed. Witnesses said the couple had slept in the same room, kissed, and been seen together in a state of undress. The bill passed the House of Lords, but was not submitted to the House of Commons as there was little prospect that the Commons would pass it. To her friends, Caroline joked that she had indeed committed adultery once—with the husband of Mrs. Fitzherbert, the King. Even during the trial, the Queen remained immensely popular, as witnessed by over 800 petitions and nearly a million signatures that favoured her cause. As a figurehead of the opposition movement demanding reform, many revolutionary pronouncements were made in Caroline's name. The government again extended the offer of £50,000 a year, this time without preconditions, and Caroline accepted.
  • 1819
    As the negotiations continued at the end of 1819, Caroline travelled to France, which gave rise to speculation that she was on her way back to England.
    More Details Hide Details In January 1820, however, she made plans to return to Italy, but then on 29 January 1820 King George III died. Caroline's husband became king and, at least nominally, she was queen of the United Kingdom. Instead of being treated like a queen, Caroline found that her estranged husband's accession paradoxically made her position worse. On visiting Rome, the pope refused her an audience, and the pope's minister Cardinal Consalvi insisted that she be greeted only as a duchess of Brunswick, and not as a queen. In an attempt to assert her rights, she made plans to return to Britain. The King demanded that his ministers get rid of her. He successfully persuaded them to remove her name from the liturgy of the Church of England, but they would not agree to a divorce because they feared the effect of a public trial. The government was weak and unpopular, and a trial detailing salacious details of both Caroline's and George's separate love lives was certain to destabilise it further. Rather than run the risk, the government entered into negotiations with Caroline, and offered her an increased annuity of £50,000 if she stayed abroad. By the beginning of June, Caroline had travelled north from Italy, and was at St Omer near Calais. Acting on the advice of Alderman Matthew Wood and her lady-in-waiting Lady Anne Hamilton, she rejected the government's offer.
    The Milan commission was assembling more and more evidence, and by 1819 Caroline was worried.
    More Details Hide Details She informed James Brougham that she would agree to a divorce in exchange for money. However, at this time in England divorce by mutual consent was illegal; it was only possible to divorce if one of the partners admitted or was found guilty of adultery. Caroline said it was "impossible" for her to admit that, so the Broughams advised that only formal separation was possible. Both keen to avoid publicity, the Broughams and the Government discussed a deal where Caroline would be called by a lesser title, such as "Duchess of Cornwall" rather than "Princess of Wales".
  • 1817
    By August 1817, Caroline's debts were growing, so she sold Villa d'Este and moved to the smaller Villa Caprile near Pesaro.
    More Details Hide Details Pergami's mother, brother and daughter, but not his wife, joined Caroline's household. The previous year, Caroline's daughter, Princess Charlotte, had married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and the future of the British monarchy looked bright. Then tragedy struck: in November 1817, Charlotte died after giving birth to her only child, a stillborn son. For the most part, Charlotte had been immensely popular with the public, and her death was a blow to the country. George refused to write to Caroline to inform her, leaving it for their son-in-law Leopold to do, but Leopold was deep in grief and delayed writing. George did, however, write to the pope of the tragedy, and by chance the courier carrying the letter passed by Pesaro, and so it was that Caroline heard the devastating news. Caroline had lost her daughter, but she had also lost any chance of regaining position through the succession of her daughter to the throne.
    In 1817, Caroline was devastated when her daughter Charlotte died in childbirth; she heard the news from a passing courier as George had refused to write and tell her.
    More Details Hide Details He was determined to divorce Caroline, and set up a second investigation to collect evidence of her adultery. In 1820, George became king of the United Kingdom and Hanover. George hated her, vowed she would never be the queen, and insisted on a divorce, which she refused. A legal divorce was possible but difficult to obtain. Caroline returned to Britain to assert her position as queen. She was wildly popular with the British populace, who sympathized with her and who despised the new king for his immoral behaviour. On the basis of the loose evidence collected against her, George attempted to divorce her by introducing the Pains and Penalties Bill to Parliament, but George and the bill were so unpopular, and Caroline so popular with the masses, that it was withdrawn by the Tory government.
  • 1816
    From early 1816, she and Pergami went on a cruise around the Mediterranean, visiting Napoleon's former palace on Elba, and Sicily, where Pergami obtained the Order of Malta and a barony.
    More Details Hide Details By this time, Caroline and Pergami were eating their meals together openly, and it was widely rumoured that they were lovers. They visited Tunis, Malta, Milos, Athens, Corinth, Constantinople, and Nazareth. Caroline entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey in a convoy of camels. Pergami was made a Knight of the Order of Jerusalem. Caroline instituted the Order of St Caroline, nominating Pergami its Grand Master. In August, they returned to Italy, stopping at Rome to visit the Pope. By this time, gossip about Caroline was everywhere. Lord Byron wrote to his publisher that Caroline and Pergami were lovers, and Baron Friedrich Ompteda, a Hanoverian spy, bribed one of Caroline's servants so that he could search her bedroom for proof of adultery. He found none.
  • 1815
    In mid-1815, Caroline bought a house, Villa d'Este, on the shores of Lake Como, even though her finances were stretched.
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  • 1814
    On 8 August 1814, Caroline left Britain.
    More Details Hide Details After a two-week visit to Brunswick, Caroline headed for Italy through Switzerland. Along the way, possibly in Milan, she hired Bartolomeo Pergami as a servant. Pergami soon rose to the head of Caroline's household, and managed to get his sister, Angelica, Countess of Oldi, appointed as Caroline's lady-in-waiting.
    In 1814, after Napoleon's defeat, nobility from throughout Europe attended celebrations in London, but Caroline was excluded.
    More Details Hide Details George's relationship with his daughter was also deteriorating, as Charlotte sought greater freedom from her father's strictures. On 12 July, he informed Charlotte that she would henceforth be confined at Cranbourne Lodge, Windsor, that her household would be replaced, and that she could have no visitors except her grandmother, Queen Charlotte, once a week. Horrified, Charlotte ran away to her mother's house in Bayswater. After an anxious night, Charlotte was eventually persuaded to return to her father by Brougham, since legally she could be placed in her father's care and there was a danger of public disorder against George, which might prejudice Charlotte's position if she continued to disobey him. Caroline, unhappy at her situation and treatment in Britain, negotiated a deal with the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh. She agreed to leave the country in exchange for an annual allowance of £35,000. Both Brougham and Charlotte were dismayed by Caroline's decision, as they both realised that Caroline's absence would strengthen George's power and weaken theirs.
  • 1802
    Lady Douglas testified that Caroline herself had admitted to her in 1802 that she was pregnant, and that Austin was her son.
    More Details Hide Details She further alleged that Caroline had been rude about the royal family, touched her in an inappropriately sexual way, and had admitted that any woman friendly with a man was sure to become his lover. In addition to Smith, Manby and Canning, artist Thomas Lawrence and Henry Hood (the son of Lord Hood) were also mentioned as potential paramours. Caroline's servants could or would not confirm that these gentlemen were her lovers, nor that she had been pregnant, and said that the child had been brought to Caroline's house by his true mother, Sophia Austin. Sophia was summoned before the commissioners, and testified that the child was hers. The commissioners decided that there was "no foundation" for the allegations, but despite being a supposedly secret investigation, it proved impossible to prevent gossip from spreading, and news of the investigation leaked to the press. Caroline's conduct with her gentlemen friends was considered improper, but there was no direct proof that she had been guilty of anything more than flirtation. Perhaps Caroline had told Lady Douglas that she was pregnant out of frustrated maternal desire, or as part of a foolish prank that, unfortunately for her, backfired. Later in the year, Caroline received further bad news as Brunswick was overrun by the French, and her father was killed in the battle of Jena-Auerstadt. Her mother and brother, Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, fled to England.
    In 1802, she adopted a three-month-old boy, William Austin, and took him into her home.
    More Details Hide Details By 1805, Caroline had fallen out with her near neighbours, Sir John and Lady Douglas, who claimed that Caroline had sent them obscene and harassing letters. Lady Douglas accused Caroline of infidelity, and alleged that William Austin was Caroline's illegitimate son. In 1806, a secret commission was set up, known as the "Delicate Investigation", to examine Lady Douglas's claims. The commission comprised four of the most eminent men in the country: Prime Minister Lord Grenville, the Lord Chancellor Lord Erskine, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Ellenborough and the Home Secretary Lord Spencer.
  • 1797
    George and Caroline were already living separately, and in August 1797 Caroline moved to a private residence: The Vicarage or Old Rectory in Charlton, London.
    More Details Hide Details Later, she moved to Montagu House in Blackheath. No longer constrained by her husband, or, according to rumour, her marital vows, she entertained whomever she pleased. She flirted with Admiral Sir Sidney Smith and Captain Thomas Manby, and may have had a fling with the politician George Canning. Her daughter Charlotte was placed in the care of a governess, in a mansion near Montagu House in the summers, and Caroline visited her often. It seems that a single daughter was not sufficient to sate Caroline's maternal instincts, and she adopted eight or nine poor children who were fostered out to people in the district.
  • 1796
    In April 1796, George wrote to Caroline, "We have unfortunately been oblig'd to acknowledge to each other that we cannot find happiness in our union....
    More Details Hide Details Let me therefore beg you to make the best of a situation unfortunate for us both." In June, Lady Jersey resigned as Caroline's Lady of the Bedchamber.
    Nine months after the wedding, Caroline gave birth to Princess Charlotte Augusta, George's only legitimate child, at Carlton House on 7 January 1796.
    More Details Hide Details Charlotte was second in the line of succession to the British throne after her father. Just three days after Charlotte's birth, George made out a new will. He left all his property to "Maria Fitzherbert, my wife", while to Caroline he left one shilling. Gossip about Caroline and George's troubled marriage was already circulating. The newspapers claimed that Lady Jersey opened, read and distributed the contents of Caroline's private letters. She despised Lady Jersey and could not visit or travel anywhere without George's permission. The press vilified George for his extravagance and luxury at a time of war and portrayed Caroline as a wronged wife. She was cheered in public and gained plaudits for her "winning familiarity" and easy, open nature. George was dismayed at her popularity and his own unpopularity, and felt trapped in a loveless marriage with a woman he loathed. He wanted a separation.
  • 1795
    Caroline and George were married on 8 April 1795 at the Chapel Royal, St. James's Palace, in London. At the ceremony, George was drunk. He regarded Caroline as unattractive and unhygienic, and told Malmesbury that he suspected that she was not a virgin when they married. He, of course, was not. He had himself already secretly married Maria Fitzherbert; however, his marriage to Fitzherbert violated the Royal Marriages Act 1772 and thus was not legally valid.
    More Details Hide Details In a letter to a friend, the prince claimed that the couple only had sexual intercourse three times: twice the first night of the marriage, and once the second night. He wrote, "it required no small effort to conquer my aversion and overcome the disgust of her person." Caroline claimed George was so drunk that he "passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate, where he fell, and where I left him".
    On 28 March 1795, Caroline and Malmesbury left Cuxhaven in the Jupiter.
    More Details Hide Details Delayed by poor weather, they landed a week later, on Easter Sunday, 5 April, at Greenwich. There, she met Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, George's mistress, who had been appointed Caroline's Lady of the Bedchamber. Smith concludes that: On meeting his future wife for the first time, George called for a glass of brandy. He was evidently disappointed. Similarly, Caroline told Malmesbury, "Prince is very fat and he's nothing like as handsome as his portrait." At dinner that evening, the Prince was appalled by Caroline's garrulous nature and her jibes at the expense of Lady Jersey. She was upset and disappointed by George's obvious partiality for Lady Jersey over her.
  • 1794
    On 20 November 1794, Lord Malmesbury arrived at Brunswick to escort Caroline to her new life in Britain.
    More Details Hide Details In his diary, Malmesbury recorded his reservations about Caroline's suitability as a bride for the prince: she lacked judgement, decorum and tact, spoke her mind too readily, acted indiscreetly, and often neglected to wash, or change her dirty clothes. He went on to say that she had "some natural but no acquired morality, and no strong innate notions of its value and necessity." However, Malmesbury was impressed by her bravery; on the journey to England, the party heard cannon fire, as they were not far from the French lines. While Caroline's mother, who was accompanying them to the coast as chaperone, was concerned for their safety, Caroline was unfazed.
    In 1794, Caroline and the Prince of Wales were engaged.
    More Details Hide Details They had never met—George had agreed to marry her because he was heavily in debt, and if he contracted a marriage with an eligible princess, Parliament would increase his allowance. Caroline seemed eminently suitable: she was a Protestant of royal birth, and the marriage would ally Brunswick and Britain. Although Brunswick was only a small country, Britain was at war with revolutionary France so eager to obtain allies on the European mainland. Brunswick was ruled by Caroline's father, the esteemed soldier Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, who himself had married Princess Augusta, the sister of George III.
    Her father was the ruler of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel in Germany, and her mother, Princess Augusta, was the sister of George III. In 1794, she was engaged to her first-cousin and George III's eldest son and heir George, Prince of Wales, despite the two of them never having met and George already being illegally married to Maria Fitzherbert.
    More Details Hide Details George and Caroline married the following year, and nine months later Caroline had a child, Princess Charlotte of Wales. Shortly after Charlotte's birth, George and Caroline separated. By 1806, rumours that Caroline had taken lovers and had an illegitimate child led to an investigation into her private life. The dignitaries who led the investigation concluded that there was "no foundation" to the rumours, but Caroline's access to her daughter was restricted. In 1814, Caroline moved to Italy, where she employed Bartolomeo Pergami as a servant. Pergami soon became Caroline's closest companion, and it was widely assumed that they were lovers.
  • 1782
    Caroline was given a number of proposals from 1782 onward.
    More Details Hide Details Marriage with the Prince of Orange, Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt, Charles, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and the second son of the Margrave of Baden were all suggested, while her mother and father supported an English and a Prussian Prince respectively, but none came to fruition. Caroline was later to state that her father had forbidden her to marry a man she had fallen in love with because of his low status. The identity of this man is not clear, but contemporaries point out an officer who was referred to at the time as the "Handsome Irishman" who lived in Brunswick, and with whom Caroline was said to have been in love. There was also a rumor, that Caroline had given birth at the age of fifteen. Though she was not allowed to socialize with men, she was allowed to ride, and during riding, she visited the cottages of the peasantry. She had done this already as a child, during which she had met children to play with, and as an adult, one of these visits allegedly led to a pregnancy. There is no confirmation of this rumor, but it was well-known during her life, and referred to as a reason for why she married at an older age than was usual, despite being regarded as good-looking and having been given so many proposals.
  • 1781
    Her mother early favored a match between one of her children and a member of her English family, and when her nephew Prince Frederick visited Brunswick in June 1781, she lamented the fact that Caroline, because of her age, could not be present very often.
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    John Stanley, later Lord Stanley of Alderley, saw her in 1781, and noted that she was an attractive girl with curly, fair hair.
    More Details Hide Details In 1784, she was described as a beauty, and two years later, Mirabeau described her as "most amiable, lively, playful, witty and handsome." Caroline was brought up with an extreme degree of seclusion from contact with the opposite sex even for her own time. She was reportedly constantly supervised by her governess and elder ladies, restricted to her room when the family was entertaining guests and ordered to keep away from the windows. She was normally refused permission to attend balls and court functions, and when allowed, she was forbidden to dance. Abbé Baron commented during the winter of 1789–90: "She is supervised with the greatest severity, as they claim she is already aware of what she is missing. I doubt if the torches of hymen will illuminate for her. Although always attired with style and elegance, she is never allowed to dance", and that as soon as the first dance begun, she was forced to sit down at the whist table with three old ladies. A rare occasion was the wedding of her elder brother Charles, when she was finally allowed to dance, though only with her brother, the groom, and her new brother-in-law, the Prince of Orange – she was, however, still forbidden to dine alone with her brother. Her secluded isolation tormented her, which was demonstrated when she was again banned from attending a ball. She simulated an illness so severe that her parents left the ball to see her.
  • 1777
    Caroline was brought up in a difficult family situation. Her mother resented her father's open adultery with Louise Hertefeld, whom he had installed as his official mistress in 1777, and Caroline was later to confide to Lady Charlotte Campbell, that she was often tired of becoming "shuttlecock" between her parents, as whenever she was civil to one of them, she was scolded by the other.
    More Details Hide Details She was educated by governesses, but the only subject in which she was given a high education was music. From 1783 until 1791 Countess Eleonore von Münster was her governess, and won her affection, but never managed to teach her to spell correctly, as Caroline preferred to dictate to a secretary. Caroline could understand English and French, but her father admitted that she was lacking in education. According to Caroline's mother, who was British, all German princesses learned English in the hope that they would be chosen to marry George, Prince of Wales, George III's eldest son and heir apparent and Caroline's first cousin.
  • 1768
    Caroline was born as Princess of Brunswick, with the courtesy title of Duchess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel on 17 May 1768 at Braunschweig (known in English as Brunswick) in Germany.
    More Details Hide Details She was the daughter of Charles William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and his wife Princess Augusta of Great Britain, eldest sister of George III.
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