|Caroline of Brunswick (1804)|
by Sir Thomas Lawrence
The essayist William Hazlitt described the Queen Caroline affair as
‘the only question I have ever known that excited a thorough popular feeling. It struck its roots into the heart of the nation; it took possession of every house and cottage in the Kingdom.’
Caroline Amelia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was born on 17 May 1768, the second daughter of Duke Charles William Ferdinand of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, a small vassal state of Prussia in north Germany, and his wife, Princess Augusta, daughter of Frederick Prince of Wales and elder sister of George III. The marriage was unhappy. Caroline’s father said,
‘Only private persons can live happily married because they choose their mates. Royalty must make marriages of convenience, which seldom result in happiness.’Caroline had a restricted education, her only skill being playing the harpsichord. At the age of fifteen, she was unable to spell or punctuate. By her twenties she had a reputation as a flirt and was notorious for her unbridled, often indecent conversation. Yet her mother was desperate for her to make a good marriage into her brother’s family.
In the summer of 1794 arrangements were made for Caroline to marry her cousin, George, Prince of Wales. There were many reasons for the marriage:
- There was the need for an heir – the Duke of York’s marriage was childless.
- Caroline was a close relative and thought to be safe. She was also the requisite Protestant princess.
- The prince needed to settle his debts, which were over £½ million. Parliament decreed that if he married, his income was to be raised from £60,000 to £125,000, plus £26,000 for the completion of Carlton House.
On the other hand, the Prince had a skeleton in his cupboard, his secret marriage to Maria Fitzherbert, which had taken place in December 1785. Though valid in canon law, the marriage was illegal on two counts. In marrying without his father’s permission, the Prince had violated the Royal Marriages Act of 1772; and in marrying a Roman Catholic he had given up his right to the throne. For this reason, though an open secret, the marriage was never made public.