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Caroline of Brunswick – The Uncrowned Queen

Our stories

Thu 25 Aug 22

Image © The Trustees of the British Museum

“Are all Englishman missing an arm or a leg?”

So said Her Serene Highness, Caroline of Brunswick in 1795 when she first set foot on English soil at the Royal Hospital for Seamen, Greenwich (now the Old Royal Naval College), on her way from Hanover to marry Prince George Augustus Frederick, the eldest son of George III. She was first invited to the Governor’s House and was met on this somewhat confusing occasion by a host of battle-scarred pensioners, many of whom were amputees. Alongside them was the Governor of the Hospital, Sir Hugh Palliser, and rather insultingly, Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, the mistress of her future husband.

This was to be only the start of her troubles! One wonders how much she knew about her future husband, who had already lived in illicit matrimony for eleven years with Maria Fitzherbert, a Roman Catholic. The Prince had managed to carefully conceal his illegal marriage from his family, as the Royal Marriage Act stipulated that any Prince or Princess under 25 was not allowed to marry without the King or Queen’s consent and certainly not to a Roman Catholic.

Prince George had also amassed a huge debt of over £600,000 partly due to the construction of Carlton House, but mostly because of his excessively luxurious lifestyle, and his love of women and wine. The King and Parliament only agreed to clear up his debts on the condition that he married. Caroline was the wealthy daughter of Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, and Princess Augusta of Great Britain, George III’s sister. She was a suitable match. George did not have a choice. He agreed.

Thus, Caroline arrived in London and went from Greenwich directly to St James’s Palace for dinner with the royal family. Unfortunately, her reception and banquet were disastrous: the Prince found her vulgar and coarse while she, in turn, perceived him as ‘very fat and not handsome’.

Nor did their wedding go according to plan. During the ceremony, George was drunk and cried openly in front of his family. Later, Caroline wrote about their first night together and how her husband had fallen into the fireplace, and she left him there.

Nonetheless, after nine months, Princess Charlotte was born. And soon after, the Prince wrote a letter to Caroline stating the terms of their separation and allowing her to live wherever she wanted. She chose Montagu House in Blackheath, next to what is now Ranger’s House and close to Greenwich Park. Her daughter, Princess Charlotte, was allowed to visit. Caroline’s mother, the Duchess of Brunswick, later moved into Ranger’s House (then named Brunswick House) next door to be close to her daughter.

Caroline established a rival ‘court’ at Blackheath and was conveniently close at hand to attend the lying in state of Horatio Nelson in the Painted Hall at the Royal Hospital for Seamen in January 1806. She was able to view the coffin of the fallen hero privately before the general public was allowed in the following morning.

In 1814 Caroline left Britain and travelled abroad for a while. When her husband became King George IV she returned to England to claim her position as queen. George banned her from attending his coronation in July 1821. Humiliated and unwanted, she died within three weeks, never having actually been crowned.