Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (Caroline Amalie Elisabeth; May 17, 1768 – August 7, 1821) was Queen consort of the United Kingdom as the wife of King George IV from January 29, 1820 until her death in 1821. She was the Princess of Wales from 1795 to 1820.
Caroline was born a Princess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel with the courtesy title of Duchess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, at Brunswick in the Holy Roman Empire. She was the daughter of Charles Wilhelm Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and his wife Princess Augusta of Great Britain, eldest sister of George III of Great Britain.
Caroline was brought up in a difficult family situation. Her mother resented her father’s open adultery with Louise Hertefeld, whom he had installed as his official mistress in 1777, and Caroline was later to confide to Lady Charlotte Campbell that she was often tired of becoming a “shuttlecock” between her parents, as whenever she was civil to one of them, she was scolded by the other.
Caroline could understand English and French, but her father admitted that she was lacking in education. According to Caroline’s British mother, all German princesses learned English in the hope that they would be chosen to marry George, Prince of Wales, George III’s eldest son and heir apparent and Caroline’s first cousin.
John Stanley, later Lord Stanley of Alderley, saw her in 1781, and noted that she was an attractive girl with curly, fair hair. In 1784, she was described as a beauty, and two years later, Mirabeau described her as “most amiable, lively, playful, witty and handsome.” Caroline was brought up with an extreme degree of seclusion from contact with the opposite sex even for her own time.
Caroline was given a number of proposals from 1782 onward. Marriage with the Prince Willem VI of Orange, (future king of the Netherlands) Prince Georg of Hesse-Darmstadt, Charles, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and the second son of the Margrave of Baden were all suggested, while her mother and father supported an English and a Prussian Prince respectively, but none came to fruition.
Caroline was engaged to her first cousin, George, in 1794 despite the two of them never having met. He was already illegally married to Maria Fitzherbert. George had agreed to marry her because he was heavily in debt, and if he contracted a marriage with an eligible princess, Parliament would increase his allowance. Caroline seemed eminently suitable: she was a Protestant of royal birth, and the marriage would ally Brunswick and Britain. Although Brunswick was only a small country, Britain was at war with revolutionary France and so was eager to obtain allies on the European mainland.
George IV, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, King of Hanover.
On meeting his future wife for the first time, George called for a glass of brandy. He was evidently disappointed. Similarly, Caroline told Malmesbury, “[the Prince is] very fat and he’s nothing like as handsome as his portrait.”
Caroline and George were married on April 8, 1795 at the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace, in London. At the ceremony, George was drunk. He regarded Caroline as unattractive and unhygienic, and told Malmesbury that he suspected that she was not a virgin when they married. He, of course, was not. He had himself already secretly married Maria Fitzherbert; however, his marriage to Fitzherbert violated the Royal Marriages Act 1772 and thus was not legally valid.
In a letter to a friend, the prince claimed that the couple only had sexual intercourse three times: twice the first night of the marriage, and once the second night. He wrote, “it required no small [effort] to conquer my aversion and overcome the disgust of her person.” Caroline claimed George was so drunk that he “passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate, where he fell, and where I left him”.
Nine months after the wedding, Caroline gave birth to Princess Charlotte, George’s only legitimate child, at Carlton House on January 7, 1796. Charlotte was second in the line of succession to the British throne after her father.
Gossip about Caroline and George’s troubled marriage began quickly circulating. The press vilified George for his extravagance and luxury at a time of war and portrayed Caroline as a wronged wife. She was cheered in public and gained plaudits for her “winning familiarity” and easy, open nature. George was dismayed at her popularity and his own unpopularity, and felt trapped in a loveless marriage with a woman he loathed. He wanted a separation.
By 1806, rumours that Caroline had taken lovers and had an illegitimate child led to an investigation into her private life. The dignitaries who led the investigation concluded that there was “no foundation” to the rumours, but Caroline’s access to her daughter was nonetheless restricted. In 1814, Caroline moved to Italy, where she employed Bartolomeo Pergami as a servant.
Pergami soon became Caroline’s closest companion, and it was widely assumed that they were lovers. In 1817, Caroline was devastated when Charlotte died in childbirth. She heard the news from a passing courier as George had refused to write and tell her. He was determined to divorce Caroline, and set up a second investigation to collect evidence of her adultery.
In 1820, George became King of the United Kingdom and Hanover. He hated his wife, vowed she would never be the queen, and insisted on a divorce, which she refused. A legal divorce was possible but difficult to obtain. Caroline returned to Britain to assert her position as queen. She was wildly popular with the British populace, who sympathised with her and despised the new king for his immoral behaviour.
On the basis of the loose evidence collected against her, George attempted to divorce her by introducing the Pains and Penalties Bill to Parliament, but he and the bill were so unpopular, and Caroline so popular with the masses, that it was withdrawn by the Liverpool government. In July 1821, Caroline was barred from the coronation on the orders of her husband. She fell ill in London and died three weeks later. Her funeral procession passed through London on its way to her native Brunswick, where she was buried.