Thursday, August 07, 2008
In Memory of Queen Caroline of Brunswick
Queen Caroline of Brunswick, wife of George IV, “the unruly Queen,” died suddenly on August 7th 1821. Less than a month previously she had been denied entry to Westminster Abbey for her husband’s coronation, having the church door slammed in her face. Some contemporary commentators said she had “died of vexation.” The squabbles of the King and Queen had, like the rest of their lives, been lived out in public. Both had been brought up under the strictest discipline as children and both had rebelled. George’s tutor had once said of him: “He will either be the most polished gentleman or the most accomplished blackguard in Europe. Possibly both.” By the age of twenty, Caroline had something of a reputation as a flirt and also a reputation for lack of personal hygiene. It was said that neither she nor her clothes were ever washed.
The marriage of this less-than-fairytale couple got off to a bad start when George called for brandy to revive him after their first meeting, then got so drunk on his wedding night that he passed out on the floor and Caroline left him there. It was said that they did manage to sleep together three times during the marriage and the result of one of these encounters was Princess Charlotte, who died in childbirth in 1817. Caroline separated from her husband two years after the marriage, establishing her own court at Montague House, Blackheath. She eventually departed to live on the continent in 1814. George paid her an additional allowance of £15 000 to leave the country and later offered her a bribe of £50 000 not to return, but she came back in 1820 to take up her rightful place as Queen, as she saw it. George tried to divorce her; she triumphed in the subsequent parliamentary case.
Even after her death she continued to squabble with her husband, for she had wanted her coffin to bear a plaque that read: “Here lies Caroline of Brunswick, the injured Queen of England.” One of her executors secretly smuggled the plaque into St Peter’s Church Colchester, where the cortege was resting overnight on its way to Harwich en route to burial in Brunswick. The plaque apparently fell out from beneath the man’s cloak and a cabinet-maker attached it to the coffin, only for the King’s representatives to remove it again!
Perhaps the explanation why Caroline felt unable to submit to the whims of her capricious husband and to the rules that governed female conduct at the time lies in her heritage and family motto: “A Brunswicker has the heart of a lion.”
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Caroline must have been quite a character, Nicola. However, if her contemporaries were critical of her personal hygiene it must have been bad - they weren't renowned for cleanliness in those days!
In the romances I read, Caroline is almost always reviled. I feel a little sorry for her. She didn't do anything her husband didn't and probably a whole lot less.
Absolutely, Linda. She is almost always portrayed badly in the books I've read too. Though I think there were quite a lot of people at the time who were quite sympathetic towards her because they disliked George so much.
The hygeine thing doesn't really bear thinking about, does it!
Well, as far as her hygiene goes, she was a woman of her times, although perhaps more so. People were only starting to return to soap and water by the Regency.
People were most likely looking for things to criticise in Caroline, but for her contemporaries to comment on her lack of cleanliness it must have been pretty bad - as you say Linda they were only just beginning to take is seriously.
If you're ever in Blackheath in London, check out the Pagoda that she lived in - it's a really strange (and very old) building, and well worth a look.
There is the rhyme -
Queen, Queen Caroline
Washed her hair in turpentine...
I suppose that is a comment on her toilette?!
Wasn't washing your hair in turpentine a method of getting rid of lice?
If it was for getting rid of lice that would be an even bigger insult. Lice was thought to be only a parasite of the dirty and unwashed.
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