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This article was written by John Ashton and was published in 1886
Caroline Amelia Elizabeth, of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, queen of George IV, second daughter of Duke Charles William Ferdinand of Brunswick and the Princess Augusta of England, sister of George III, was born 17 May 1768.
The few anecdotes told of her childhood show that she was kind, good-hearted, and charitable. The court of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was one of the gayest in Germany, and it had very little of the stiff etiquette which was characteristic of the other North German courts. She was extremely fond of children, and would stop in her walks to notice them. The Duke of York had, during the campaign, seen much of his uncle, the Duke of Brunswick, and he was so charmed with the Princess Caroline, that he mentioned her to his brother the king and the Prince of Wales as a suitable bride for the latter. There was no prospect of the Duke and Duchess of York having any family, and the king was naturally most anxious that the succession to the throne should be indubitably settled by heritage in the direct line. Hard pressed on all sides, the prince consented, on condition of the liquidation of his debts, and a large addition to his income, to marry his cousin, then twenty-six years old. He stipulated that his income was to be raised from £60,000 to £125,000 per annum, of which £25,000 per annum was to be set aside to pay his debts, which at that time amounted to £630,000. Besides this he was to receive £27,000 for preparations for the marriage, £28,000 for jewels and plate, £26,000 for the completion of Carlton House, and £50,000 per annum as a jointure to her royal highness, of which, however, she would only accept £35,000.
She left Brunswick on 30 December 1794, but on her way was met by a messenger from Lord St. Helen's, telling her that the squadron sent to escort her had been obliged to return to England. For a few weeks she stayed at Hanover until her embarkation, which took place at Cuxhaven on 28 March 1795. She arrived at Greenwich about noon on 5 April, where she dressed, and then drove to St. James's, accompanied by Lady Jersey, who had been sent to meet her. Lady Jersey naturally became her most implacable enemy, and probably did more than any one else to estrange the prince from his consort. The marriage took place at 8 p.m. on 8 April in the Chapel Royal, St. James's. The prince's relations with Mrs. Fitzherbert and Lady Jersey — especially the latter — soon led to quarrels, and an appeal was made to the king to act as arbiter between them. Their matrimonial relations continued in this state until the birth of the Princess Charlotte Augusta, on 7 January 1796, when the prince deliberately forsook his wife. A formal separation between them was agreed on three months later, and it was only through the kind offices of the king that the princess was to have free access to her child during the first eight years of its life.
She left Carlton House and went to reside in strict privacy at an unpretentious residence, Shrewsbury House, near Shooter's Hill. In 1801 she removed to Montague House, Blackheath, where she entertained her friends, among whom were Sir John and Lady Douglas, Sir Sidney Smith, Captain Manby, &c. Hitherto there had been nothing against her moral character. But becoming very intimate with Lady Douglas, she foolishly talked some nonsense as to her being about to give birth to a child, which she intended to account for by saying she had adopted it. She already had several young protégés, and one named William Austin was singled out as being her own son. This rumour was spread by Lady Douglas, and in 1806 the king granted a commission, consisting of Lords Erskine, Grenville, Spencer, and Ellenborough, to investigate the matter. This was called ‘the delicate investigation,’ and at the conclusion of their labours they unhesitatingly repudiated the charge made against the princess, although they censured her levity of manners on several occasions. For this also the king gently rebuked her, but he allotted her apartments in Kensington Palace, and often passed a whole day at Blackheath with her and his grandchild, the Princess Charlotte, a proceeding which certainly tended to widen the breach between him and the Prince of Wales. Still, although on friendly relations with the king, she never recovered her former footing at court, and when, after the death of the Princess Amelia in 1810, the king's health gave way, the intercourse between her and her daughter was much restricted. Her position suffered still more when, in 1811, the Prince of Wales was proclaimed regent, an accession of rank which brought to her no corresponding dignity.
Princess Caroline felt deeply the separation from her child. On 4 October 1812 she went to Windsor with the intention of paying her daughter a visit, but was not permitted to see her, whereon she demanded an audience of the queen, which was immediately granted, but no satisfaction could be obtained. Her indignation knew no bounds, and she wrote a long and most impassioned letter of remonstrance to the regent on 12 January 1813. This letter was laid before the privy council, and in their report they ‘were of opinion that, under all the circumstances of the case, it is highly fit and proper, with a view to the welfare of her royal highness the Princess Charlotte, in which are equally involved the happiness of your royal highness in your parental and royal character, and the most important interests of the state, that the intercourse between her royal highness the Princess of Wales and her royal highness the Princess Charlotte should continue to be subject to regulation and restraint.’ The princess then addressed a letter to the speaker of the House of Commons on the subject, which was read to the house, and a debate was raised, but the sense of the house was that the regent was the sole judge of the conduct to be observed in the education of his daughter.
On 8 March the princess received an intimation that her restricted visits to her daughter were to be discontinued, but by accident the mother and child met when out driving, and had some ten minutes' conversation; and on the death of the Duchess of Brunswick (who was living in England) on 23 March 1813, the regent permitted his daughter to visit her mother, and they passed two hours together. When, on 12 July, the Prince of Wales visited his daughter, and informed her that he was going to dismiss all her household, and that she must take up her residence at Carlton House, she fled at once to her mother at Connaught House, only to find that the princess had gone to Blackheath. A messenger was despatched after her, and she immediately returned to comfort her daughter, but the counsels and advice of Brougham prevailed, and the princess obeyed her father's will.
Indignant at being excluded from court, and debarred from the society of her daughter, the Princess of Wales resolved to travel abroad, and she sailed for the continent, with the regent's sanction, in the Jason frigate on 9 August. She started with a suite mainly composed of English men and women, but from one cause or another they all shortly left her, and she did not fill their places worthily. After visiting her brother, Duke Frederick William of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, she turned her steps to Italy, and at Milan she engaged one Bartolomeo Bergami as her courier. Some infatuation led her to lavish upon this man every kind of favour it was in her power to bestow. He had served in some capacity on the état major of the force commanded by General Count Pino in the campaign of 1812-1814, and was offered the brevet rank of captain by Joachim, king of Naples, but refused it in order to remain in the service of the princess. His looks were in his favour, for his portraits show him as a handsome man. She raised him to be her equerry, her chamberlain, her constant companion, even at dinner; procured for him a barony in Sicily and the knighthood of Malta, besides several other orders, among which was one which she instituted, that of St. Caroline. She took his relatives into her service. Louis Bergami directed her household, Vallotti Bergami kept her purse, the Countess Oldi, Bergami's sister, was her lady of honour, and Bergami's child Victorine also travelled in her suite.
After living some time at Como, she visited many places, among others Tunis, Malta, Athens, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Jerusalem. Here she made her entry in somewhat theatrical style, and behaved with such levity that secret commissioners were sent from England to investigate her conduct. She was surrounded by spies, and, after her return to Italy, an attempt was made to seize her papers by surreptitious means.
On 6 November 1817 the Princess Charlotte died, and the following year the Princess of Wales much desired to return to England, but she remained abroad for the next year and a half, and wintered at Marseilles in 1819. On hearing of the death of George III on 29 January 1820, she proceeded to Rome, where, although queen consort, she was refused a guard of honour. She was never officially informed of the old king's death, and her name was omitted in the prayers of the church of England. On her way to England early in 1820 she received at St. Omer a letter on behalf of the king, in which it was proposed to allow her £50,000 per annum, subject to such conditions as the king might impose, which were that she was not to take the title of queen of England, or any title attached to the royal family of England, and that she was to reside abroad, and never even to visit England. It was not likely that these terms could be accepted, and she at once set out for Calais, and embarked the same night for England. She set sail next morning, 5 June 1820, and landed at Dover the same day at 1 p.m., being received with a royal salute, no instructions to the contrary having been given.
She was welcomed most enthusiastically, and her journey to London was an ovation. On her arrival she went to live at the house of her friend Alderman Wood, in South Audley Street. Her unexpected arrival filled the king and his party with consternation, and next day he sent a message to the House of Lords, accompanied by the evidence collected by the Milan commission, requesting their lordships to give the matter their serious consideration. A committee was appointed, which reported, with regard to the charges made against the queen, that ‘it is indispensable that they should become the subject of a solemn inquiry,’ and on 5 July the Earl of Liverpool proposed the introduction of ‘a bill entitled an Act to deprive her Majesty, Caroline Amelia Elizabeth, of the Title, Prerogatives, Rights, Privileges, and Exemptions of Queen Consort of this Realm, and to dissolve the Marriage between his Majesty and the said Caroline Amelia Elizabeth.’ It was read a first time, and appointed to be read a second on 19 August 1820, but this was only a preliminary sitting, the examination of the witnesses not taking place until 21 August. Brougham defended the queen.
On 6 November the House of Lords divided on the second reading of the bill — contents 123, non-contents 95; majority in favour of second reading, 28. On 8 November the divorce clause was carried in committee by 67. On 10 Nov., the date of the third reading, the Earl of Liverpool suddenly announced that he was prepared to move that it be read that day six months. If the witnesses were not all perjured, the queen's relations with Bergami admitted only of the conclusion that she was guilty, and even her own friends and apologists were fain to admit that her conduct was open to the charge of grave indiscretion. Her friends claimed it as a triumphant acquittal, and Brougham's defence of the queen raised him to the summit of his profession. There can be but little doubt that had the queen been found guilty, and divorced, George IV's position as king would have been imperilled. As it was, the popular feeling in her favour found a safety-valve in the presentation of addresses of sympathy, which poured in from all parts of the kingdom.
Her majesty was then living at Brandenburgh House, near Hammersmith, but on the abandonment of the bill she demanded a palace and establishment suited to her rank; the reply to which was that it was ‘not possible for his majesty, under all the circumstances, to assign any of the royal palaces for the queen's residence,’ and that until parliament met ‘the allowance which has hitherto been enjoyed by the queen will be continued to her.’ When parliament met, they voted her £50,000 per annum.
On Wednesday, 30 November 1820, she went in state, although unaccompanied by soldiers, to St. Paul's to return public thanks for her acquittal. ‘The Queen's Guards are the People’ was inscribed on one banner. According to the procedure prescribed for royal visits to the city, the gates of Temple Bar were closed, and opened on her arrival by the civic authorities, who accompanied the queen in procession to the cathedral. Addresses continued to pour in on her, but two attempts in parliament to restore her name in the liturgy failed.
The king was to be crowned with great pomp and ceremony at Westminster Abbey on 19 July 1821. The queen declared her intention to be present, and demanded that a suitable place should be provided for her, which was peremptorily refused. She persisted in presenting herself for admission, but was most firmly repulsed, and, not wishing to force an entrance, which would most assuredly have led to a riot, she returned home. This was her death-blow. She was taken ill at Drury Lane Theatre on the evening of 30 July, and died on the night of 7 August.
Yet not even with her death came peace. She desired in her will that she should be buried beside her father at Brunswick. The king ordered soldiers to escort the body. The city desired to show their respect to the royal corpse. The king decided that it should not go through the city; but through the city the people determined it should go, and through the city it ultimately went, not before a bloody encounter with the Life Guards at Hyde Park Corner, where they fired on the mob with fatal effect. The coffin duly arrived at Harwich, and Queen Caroline was laid to rest in the royal vault at Brunswick on 26 August 1821.
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