The Queen Caroline Affair

      The Queen Caroline Affair was an attempt by King George IV to get rid of his estranged wife, Queen Caroline. In his desperation to be free of her, when money alone could not persuade her to stay away, he conceived a plan whereby a bill enacted in parliament would legalise a final solution. An accusation of adultery levelled at the queen, supported by conclusive evidence from her servants, was intended to prove her guilt. The queen's advocate, Henry Brougham, was able to destroy the falsity of the king's case with a brilliant, though very simple, cross-examination.

      George IV, while still Prince of Wales, had secretly married a Catholic, Mrs FitzHerbert. When this came to light, his father, King George III, ordered that the marriage be annulled as a marriage between the heir to the throne and a Roman Catholic was beyond the pale. The king had a useful lever to make the Prince of Wales agree. The debts that the profligate prince had run up, amounting to about a million pounds, would be paid by Parliament if he married a suitable Protestant. The prince had little choice but to comply. He looked about for a suitable spouse and after discussion with his erstwhile mistress, Lady Jersey, he found a suitable qualifier, his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick.

      His forced marriage in 1795 was a disaster before it began. Apart from the Prince of Wales having a wife whom he was obliged to abandon under the terms of the agreement, he was determined to maintain his affair with the beautiful Lady Jersey. Caroline had been informed that Lady Jersey was George's mistress, so things got off to a bad start when Caroline was greeted into England by none other than Lady Jersey. Lady Jersey made things even worse for she had deliberately created delays and discomfort for Caroline's journey to London.

      Neither the prince nor his bride-to-be liked each other. The pair could not have been more sadly mismatched, truly 'star-crossed non-lovers'. He was a dandy, exceedingly cultivated, exceedingly well-dressed, and not yet inordinately obese as he was to become in later years. His interests were in art and ornate architecture, such as the 'Arabian-nights' style of his Brighton pavilion. He was known as 'the first gentleman of Europe' because of his sophistication and support of the arts. His admiration of beauty extended beyond works of art to those of his female companions with whom he carried on a succession of love affairs. By contrast, this new woman in his life, now forced upon him, was plain to the point of ugliness, being short and fat, with a big head and a short neck. Her features alone were enough to repel the Prince of Wales but she was also uncouth of manner and washed so rarely as to be foul-smelling. Lord Malmesbury, whose task it had been to escort Caroline to England for the marriage, described her as without morals or any conception of their values. He went on to relate that after he had introduced Caroline to the Prince of Wales the prince had left for his private apartments and, after asking Malmesbury to attend him, had proceeded to get drunk on brandy. Caroline, for her part, was not in the least impressed by George. She described him as fat and nothing like so handsome as his portrait suggested.

      A few days later the marriage took place. George started his honeymoon paralytic drunk but improved when attended by his mistress. Within a few weeks, with Caroline pregnant, the newly-weds separated. George can truly be said to have serviced his debt in more ways than one. He presented Caroline with a formal separation note that in effect said, 'We are as different as chalk and cheese. You go your way, I'll go mine. No arguments.' The princess, though, was not to be fobbed off so easily. Although the princess lacked elegance in dress and manners and imprudently flaunted any physical charms she possessed she was witty and vivacious and not without spirit. In the settlement the prince gave her a separate place to live and substantial support, such that she was better off than she had anticipated, effectively having a private court. Her daughter, Charlotte, was born nine months after the marriage. The separation of George and Caroline had its repercussions. George's political enemies were able to capitalise on his apparent neglect of his wife. Naturally, this placed Caroline in such a favourable light that her own indiscretions were glossed over. This sympathy by ordinary people for Caroline may have, in embryo, been a source of the people's support of her cause years later in 1820.

      This state of affairs, broken by a non-proven case that she had produced an illegitimate son in 1805, carried on until 1814 when Caroline, having had her annual income increased from 22 000 to 50 000 pounds, took to travel on the Continent. Despite the death of her daughter, Charlotte, with whom she had an ambivalent relationship, Caroline remained abroad.

      When George III died in 1820 the Prince of Wales, who had been Regent during the king's illness, became King George IV. The new king was faced with a problem about Caroline. He wanted the prayer-books to exclude the new queen, that is, Caroline, from the Liturgy. Despite the Archbishop of Canterbury being opposed the government agreed and, also, determined that Caroline not be crowned Queen. However, they would not agree to a divorce but suggested that Caroline be paid a sufficient allowance to encourage her to stay on the Continent.

      Henry Brougham, a Whig, had, more for political ends rather than any liking for Caroline, been one of her main supporters. Wishing to enhance his own position, he saw how he might now use her to further embarrass the Tory government, particularly as discontent still existed across the country because of the recent Peterloo massacre. Although he thought Caroline would not return to England she had told him before George III's death that she might.

      After hesitating for a few days Caroline suddenly made her way toward England, sending forward rather imperiously worded notes, signed Caroline, Queen of England, along with requests and demands. At Dover, she was greeted with a 50-gun salute and on her slow progress to London was cheered everywhere by vast crowds of ordinary citizens. Those thought not to be supportive of her were abused, had their property damaged and lived in fear of revolution when the Army was thought to be sympathetic to Caroline. Londoners, particularly women, shouted 'No Queen, no King.' and accused the King of cowardice for keeping out of sight.

      The king, before departing for Windsor, suggested to the Parliament that documents in a certain green bag ought to be examined. A secret committee was appointed to study the documents and, finding them to be allegations of licentious conduct by the queen, invoked an enquiry. Because the allegations posed the queen as having an adulterous relationship with the Italian, Bergami, and allegedly outside England, a trial for high treason could not be brought against the queen. A private bill acting for an unnamed source, that everyone knew was the king, was read in the House of Lords. Its three main points were to firstly accuse the queen of adultery, secondly, to preclude her from everything pertaining to a Queen Consort, and thirdly, to annul the royal marriage.

      Rather than the scandal that an enquiry would reveal, members of both Houses endeavoured to arrange a private settlement. One such deputation, lead by William Wilberforce, asked Caroline to consider the effect such an enquiry might have on the country. She considered it but rejected it, which caused Wilberforce to be publicly abused for suggesting such a course. During these dealings and with the enquiry looming the queen was championed by the people and by the soldiers who toasted her health to the worry of her detractors. And there were detractors, or those who had little doubt she was guilty, but they reasoned that the king was worse. Some Brighton ladies expressed a popular view that if they had husbands like George they would be entitled to do as Caroline had done. Such public reaction lead to satirists praising the queen and ridiculing the king. Cartoons, caricatures and pamphlets were hawked around the streets without check for months.

      Eventually the public enquiry began in the Lords. The Green Bag arrived, followed shortly after by the queen and the cases for and against were put. The queen, though happy with her increasing popular support worried that her advocate, Brougham, whom she did not trust and tried to replace, lacked conviction for her case. The queen's ranks of supporters grew and expanded beyond the ordinary folk. Men of letters, Macaulay, Coleridge and Byron, became Queenites.

      When the prosecution's star witness, Caroline's Italian servant Teodoro Majocchi, was called there was a sensation. The queen stood up and shouted 'Teodoro! Oh, no! no!' or perhaps it was 'Traditore!', meaning 'Traitor!' Nobody was sure, but whatever it was, it created a bad impression, and that evening the queen was so ill she had to be bled.

      Majocchi's evidence was very precise and unified and consistent with the allegations brought against the queen. The case against the queen strengthened as he recalled exactly where she slept and where her alleged lover, Bergami, slept. But Caroline need not have worried for her counsel was not asleep! Brougham in a brilliant cross‑examination, ridiculed Majocchi's evidence by asking a series of questions that were irrelevant to the charge against the queen, but would have been things an honest man would have known. Brougham merely asked where the queen's other companions and servants slept. To each of these questions Majocchi answered, 'Non mi ricordo.' meaning 'I don't remember.'

      Eventually, the circumstantial evidence against the queen made the proceedings thoroughly obnoxious. Nevertheless the bill passed through its reading stages, though the majority in its favour dropped with each new vote. The Bill was eventually withdrawn before being sent to the Commons, where the lower House would have rejected it, anyway.

      The queen's popularity reached its zenith at this time but it rapidly declined as the date of the Coronation drew nearer. It seems that lampooning the king had also reached its zenith and began to decline, to be replaced by the lampooning of the queen and her associates, Brougham, for example. The queen's falling popularity was partly due to the revelation that she was receiving 50 000 pounds per annum.

      On the day of the Coronation, July 19th, no provision was made for the queen. She attempted to find her way into the Abbey but was forbidden admittance and had the doors shut in her face. She responded by sending George a note demanding she be crowned.

      Ten days later whilst at a Drury Lane theatre, where she had happily acknowledged the warmth of the audience's greeting, she suddenly became ill with violent stomach pains. Over the following days she declined dramatically. She realised she was about to die and even wrote the words that were to be inscribed on her coffin: 'Deposited, Caroline of Brunswick, the Injured Queen of England.' Little more than a week later, August 7th, she was dead! Instantly her body was whisked secretly out of England to be buried in Germany.

      Whatever the cause of her death the various published reasons, among them drugs and porphyria, seem doubtful. The rapidity of her decline from obvious good health to death from a mysterious sickness is most strange. The Coronation had brought about a sudden improvement in the king's popularity with his subjects. Caroline, though, had threatened future irritation of the king. The timing of Caroline's death was, therefore, for some, including the king, most convenient.

      Was she murdered? That possibility cannot be ignored given the circumstantial evidence. How simply might an assassin have rid the nation of Caroline by putting poison into her meal at the theatre. One day, perhaps, Caroline's remains will be exhumed and examined and we may learn the true cause of her untimely demise.

Previous | Top | Home | Next