Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Match Made in Hell-King George the IV and Queen Caroline

Royal marriages of times gone by weren't the fairy tale royal romances of modern years. Up until the past few years, royal marriages were political and economic transactions, and little more. While most couples weren't in love, they were expected to remain civil, and many became friends. Some royal couples, however, were royal disasters. But no couple was quite so disastrous as the marriage between the dissolute George IV and his German cousin, Caroline of Brunswick-L√ľneburg.

Image result for caroline of brunswick
Caroline of Brunswick
By age 17, George IV was a known troublemaker. He was fond of women, wine, gambling, and all sorts of immoral flim-flammery. His parents, King George III and Queen Charlotte had quite given up on him, and he was running wild around the country. He was a notorious womanizer with a preference for older women, and liked to build elaborate and ornate palaces (Like the Brighton Pavilion  which was constructed in 1787). In 1785 George contracted an illegal marriage with the twice widowed Maria Fitzherbert, and within the decade was 630,000 pounds in debt.

George was desperate for funds, and the only way he could get parliament to pay his debts was to marry and provide an heir. His marriage with Maria had ended in about 1793, and so on the urging of Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, George agreed to a marriage with his cousin Caroline, whom he had never met.

Caroline was a vivacious and bubbly young woman with some unfortunate hygiene habits. According to contemporary sources Caroline liked to talk and gossip, and enjoyed a good joke. She was very friendly, but was prone to talking about things outside of what was considered appropriate. This alone, wouldn't be a big problem, but she had a bad habit of not changing her underwear, and once sent the English ambassador a tooth she had had pulled. Despite these shortcomings, Caroline was both a protestant and a princess, and was therefor a suitable bride for George.

Their first meeting was on the same level of disaster as the first meeting between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves. Upon being introduced to his cousin, three days before their wedding, George turned to his friend, Lord Malmesbury, and asked for a glass of brandy. He then left the room, calling for his mother, the Queen. Caroline was equally unimpressed, informing Lord Malmesbury in French that George was not nearly as handsome as his portrait.

The couple's rocky start can be attributed not only to a mutual lack of physical attraction, but to the fact that both parties were in love with, or at least involved with, other people. It was an open secret that George had married Maria Fitzherbert, and though he had left her eight years after he was attached to Lady Jersey, and he wasn't going to get rid of her. Caroline, though the identity of her suitor is unknown, definitely had a different man she wished to marry. Upon being asked her opinion on her marriage, she replied:
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George IV
“I am indifferent to my marriage, but not averse to it; I think I shall be happy, but I fear my joy will not be enthusiastic. The man of my choice I am debarred from possessing, and I resign myself to my destiny.” 
Note the "The man of my choice I am debarred from possessing" part.

Despite their lack of attraction and the fact that they were both romantically interested in other people, the couple might have had a decent go of things. Unfortunately, George was an immature dick who was determined to make his new wife miserable right from the very beginning. He installed his mistress, Lady Jersey, as Caroline's Lady of the Bedchamber, and showed up drunk to their wedding. He later demanded the return of several of Caroline's wedding jewels, and gave them to Lady Jersey, who flaunted them in Caroline's presence. On their wedding night, George was so drunk that he passed out on the floor before performing his marital duties.

Despite George's obvious distaste, the couple evidently had sex at least once, because in January of 1796, almost exactly 9 months after the wedding, George and Caroline's only child--Charlotte--was born. Shortly afterwards George sent Caroline a note informing her that though they were required to remain married they would no longer be living together. This was reportedly quite fine with Caroline. However access to her daughter was heavily restricted, and she was only able to see Charlotte in the presence of others. She wasn't quite as fine with this. In 1811 her access to Charlotte was cut off entirely. There wasn't much for Caroline in England, so she left to tour the continent in 1814.

While abroad Caroline lived the way she wanted. She took an Italian lover, adopted multiple children, and was fond of dancing half naked. She was very happy, but in 1820 when George III died and George IV became king she returned to England to claim her rights as Queen.

This was, as it turns out, a terrible idea. Princess Charlotte had died in 1817, and George was scheming to divorce Caroline and remarry so he could have an heir. He used scurrilous tales of Caroline's time abroad and false accusations of her having an illegitimate child to persuade parliament to open up an investigation into her. The House of Lords introduced the 'Bill of Pains and Penalties', which, if made law, would have dissolved their marriage.

Unfortunately for George, Caroline had the popular support of the people. While the Bill of Pains and Penalties passed in the House of Lords by nine votes, the House of Lords knew that the bill would never pass in the Commons, so they dropped the affair, leaving George furious.

File:How to get Un-married, - Ay, there's the Rub! by J.L. Marks.jpg
Political cartoon put out in 1820
George, however, was the king, and he had a few cards he could still play. On July 19, 1821 Caroline was barred from his coronation. When she tried to enter Westminster Abbey the men at the door would not let her in, and slammed the door in her face. She died a little over two weeks later.

The real legacy of George and Caroline's disastrous union was the introduction of tabloid coverage of royal life. During the investigations into Caroline's behavior, two penny broadsheets advertised every detail. Rivalries sprung up between newspapers that supported the queen and newspapers that supported the king. For the first time in English history, the public was immersed in every detail of a royal scandal, a tradition that continues to the modern day.

Sources
The Wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline
The Queen Caroline Affair, 1820
George IV
Caroline of Brunswick-Luneburg
George IV and Queen Caroline: A Disastrous Royal Marriage
The Trial of Queen Caroline in 1820 and the Birth of British Tabloid Coverage of Royalty
George IV: the Royal Joke?
Caroline of Brunswick, Wife of King George IV of the United Kingdom

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