Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach (Wilhelmina Charlotte Caroline; March 1, 1683 – November 20, 1737) was Queen of Great Britain and Ireland as the wife of King George II.
Caroline was born on March 1, 1683 at Ansbach, the daughter of Johann Friedrich, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, and his second wife, Princess Eleonore Erdmuthe of Saxe-Eisenach. Her father was the ruler of one of the smallest German states; he died of smallpox at the age of 32, when Caroline was three years old.
Caroline and her only full sibling, her younger brother Margrave Wilhelm Friedrich, left Ansbach with their mother, who returned to her native Eisenach. In 1692, Caroline’s widowed mother was pushed into an unhappy marriage with Johann Georg IV, Elector of Saxony, and she and her two children moved to the Saxon court at Dresden.
Eleonore Erdmuthe was widowed again two years later, after her unfaithful husband contracted smallpox from his mistress. Eleonore remained in Saxony for another two years, until her death in 1696. The orphaned Caroline and Wilhelm Friedrich returned to Ansbach to stay with their elder half-brother, Margrave Georg Friedrich II.
Georg Friedrich II was a youth with little interest in parenting a girl, and so Caroline soon moved to Lützenburg outside Berlin, where she entered into the care of her new guardians, Friedrich III, Elector of Brandenburg, (later Friedrich I, King in Prussia) and his wife, Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, the only daughter of Elector Ernst August of Hanover and his wife Sophia of the Palatinate. Her eldest brother, Georg Ludwig, succeeded to the British throne in 1714 as King George I.
An intelligent and attractive woman, Caroline was much sought-after as a bride. Dowager Electress Sophia called her “the most agreeable Princess in Germany”. She was considered for the hand of Archduke Charles of Austria, who was a candidate for the throne of Spain and later became Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. Archduke Charles made official overtures to her in 1703, and the match was encouraged by King Friedrich I of Prussia.
After some consideration, Caroline refused in 1704, as she would not convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism. Early in the following year, Queen Sophia Charlotte died on a visit to her native Hanover. Caroline was devastated, writing to Leibniz, “The calamity has overwhelmed me with grief and sickness, and it is only the hope that I may soon follow her that consoles me.”
In June 1705, Queen Sophia Charlotte’s nephew, Prince Georg August of Hanover, (George Agustus) who, as a result of the Act of Settlement 1701, had recently become third in line to the English throne (and subsequently the British throne) visited the Ansbach court, supposedly incognito, to inspect Caroline, as his father the Elector Georg Ludwig did not want his son to enter into a loveless arranged marriage as he himself had.
The nephew of three childless uncles, George Augustus was under pressure to marry and father an heir to prevent endangering the Hanoverian succession. He had heard reports of Caroline’s “incomparable beauty and mental attributes”. He immediately took a liking to her “good character” and the British envoy reported that George Augustus “would not think of anybody else after her”.
For her part, Caroline was not fooled by the prince’s disguise, and found her suitor attractive. He was the heir apparent of his father’s Electorate of Hanover and third-in-line to the English throne of his distant cousin Queen Anne, after his grandmother Dowager Electress Sophia and his father the Elector.
On August 22, 1705, Caroline arrived in Hanover for her wedding to George Augustus; they were married that evening in the palace chapel at Herrenhausen.
George Augustus and Caroline had a successful and loving marriage, though he continued to keep mistresses, as was customary for the time. Caroline was well aware of his infidelities, as they were well known and he told her about them.
His two best-known mistresses were Henrietta Howard, later Countess of Suffolk, and, from 1735, Amalie von Wallmoden, Countess of Yarmouth. Howard was one of Caroline’s Women of the Bedchamber and became Mistress of the Robes when her husband inherited a peerage in 1731; she retired in 1734. In contrast with her mother-in-law and husband, Caroline was known for her marital fidelity; she never made any embarrassing scenes nor did she take lovers.
She preferred her husband’s mistresses to be ladies-in-waiting, as that way she believed she could keep a closer eye on them.
By May of the following year, Caroline was pregnant, and her first child Prince Frederick Louis was born on 20 January 1707.
A few months after the birth, in July, Caroline fell seriously ill with smallpox followed by pneumonia. Her baby was kept away from her, but George Augustus remained at her side devotedly, and caught and survived the infection himself. Over the next seven years, Caroline had three more children, Anne, Amelia, and Caroline, all of whom were born in Hanover.
Caroline moved permanently to Britain in 1714 when her husband became Prince of Wales. As Princess of Wales she joined her husband in rallying political opposition to his father King George I. In 1717 her husband was expelled from court after a family row. Caroline came to be associated with Robert Walpole, an opposition politician who was a former government minister. Walpole rejoined the government in 1720 and Caroline’s husband and King George I reconciled publicly on Walpole’s advice. Over the next few years Walpole rose to become the leading minister.
Caroline became Queen and Electress consort upon her husband’s accession in 1727. Her eldest son, Frederick Ludwig, was created Prince of Wales. He was a focus for the opposition, like his father before him, and Caroline’s relationship with him was strained.
As princess and as queen, Caroline was known for her political influence, which she exercised through and for Walpole. Her tenure included four regencies during her husband’s stays in Hanover and she is credited with strengthening the House of Hanover’s place in Britain during a period of political instability. Caroline was widely mourned by her political allies following her death in 1737 as well as by the King, who refused to remarry.