I came across an old Jean Plaidy novel – I haven’t read one for years but, unusually, being short of a book I started reading and am hooked – I may even start to take a more lively interest in the Hanoverians so long as I don’t get mired in Whigs and Tories.
Caroline was George II’s wife. The thing that’s impossible to escape in the fictional account is that Caroline spends a lot of time pretending to be rather dim whilst actually manipulating her husband, George II, in terms of political decision making.
Inevitably I’ve gone off to the history books to find out more. George I and George, then Prince of Wales, had an almighty row and as a consequence George and Caroline were sent away from court. Even worse Caroline was separated from her daughters. She’d already had to leave her son Frederick in Hanover when the family came to England in 1714.
George I died in 1727 at which point George II became king. Caroline formed an alliance with Walpole who held a substantial majority in Parliament. Initially they formed an alliance about the amount that the civil list would pay. During the rest of her life they persuaded the king to do what Walpole wanted. This meant that Caroline had some sort of say in what happened in England. Lord Hervey, Walpole’s political opponent cultivated the king’s mistress and discovered that it didn’t get him very far at all.
Caroline arrived in England as Princess of Wales when George, Elector of Hanover became king of England in 1714. She immediately became the most important woman at court because George I was short of a queen. George I had locked his wife, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, (who was also George’s first cousin) in Ahlden Castle. She’d been there since 1694 on account of her affair with Count von Königsmarck. The count was rather more unfortunate – his body was apparently disposed of in a river. Sophia Dorothea died in 1726. George did bring his half sister and his mistress with him but they hardly counted in terms of the court scene, even though they did gain the names of the Elephant and the Maypole based on their looks.
Initially her court was almost separate from that of her husband – this wasn’t unusually what was different was that she filled it with intellectuals. This must have come as a bit of a surprise after Queens Mary and Anne who weren’t known for their brains. She deliberately sought out Sir Issac Newton and was friends with Jonathan Swift. She also set about trying to improve the lives of the people of England. In 1722 she had all of her children inoculated against small pox – using a cow pox vaccine making the whole thing wildly fashionable. I’m less sure how warmly I feel about the fact that she had all the foundlings in London’s Foundling hospital inoculated before her own children.
Lucy Worsley says that she was the cleverest queen consort to sit on the throne. Walpole commented that he’d taken the “right sow by the ear” when he chose to work with her. Certainly when George went back to Hanover he trusted her sufficiently for her to rule as regent, during which time she wanted a closer look at the penal code of the time. She was liberal in thought and behaviour and demonstrated compassion not only to the country’s imprisoned masses but also tried to plead leniency for the Jacobites in 1715.
Most important of all was that she was able to soothe George’s ruffled feathers, make him believe her words were his ideas and withstand his rudeness to her in public. Whilst she had her husband fooled the public weren’t so easily hoodwinked:
You may strut, dapper George but ’twill all be in vain:
We know ’tis Queen Carline, not you, that reign.
The truth was that everyone apart from her husband knew that she was an intelligent and able consort.
Was she a successful queen? The terms by which queen consorts are judged are not by their capacity to manipulate their spouses but by the children they produce. Caroline was pregnant on at least ten occasions and had eight children. She’d already had a son and three daughters by the time she became Princess of Wales. Her favourite son was William whom history calls Butcher Cumberland. Together with her husband she didn’t much like her eldest son Frederick and was horrible to both him and his wife continuing a Hanoverian traction that would be maintained throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Caroline who had become rather overweight in later years died in November 1737 from a strangulated bowel that was in part the product of poor treatment after the birth of her youngest child. She underwent several rather unpleasant operations without any painkillers, although she did apparently find the fact that her surgeon managed to set his wig on fire with a candle rather amusing. She finally died whilst holding her husband’s hand.
George II announced that no other woman he knew was fit to buckle her shoe – though that hadn’t stopped him from having many mistresses during their marriage or telling Caroline that she should love one mistress because the mistress loved him.
Dennison, Mathew. The First Iron Lady