Princess Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, or Karoline von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel in German, was born on May 17th, 1768. Her father, Karl William, was the Duke of Brunswick, and a nephew of Frederick the Great of Prussia. He later decided to become Prince of Brunswick in 1780, when Caroline was twelve years old. Caroline’s mother was an English princess, Augusta of Hanover. She was King George III’s eldest sister, and the daughter of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his wife, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. You might have heard of royals being broke — Caroline and her family were the opposite. They were the richest.
But Caroline never got to be rich and happy.
Her parents, Augusta and Karl, didn’t get along. Karl took a mistress and even made her his official mistress, which understandably made Augusta pretty angry. They weren’t even the type of parents who hid their troubles from their kids. Instead, their kids had to get involved. During their arguments, if their children sided with their mother, their father would be angry, but if they sided with their father, their mother would be angry. Their kids, Augusta, Karl Georg, Caroline, George Wilhelm, August, and Fredrich Wilhelm, grew up quite unhappily because of this. When they weren’t fighting, they certainly weren’t being good parents.
Caroline was very close to her siblings and was a lively and smart child, which her parents didn’t care much about. Caroline loved learning but was not well-educated. Her mother, a British princess, insisted that Caroline learn English. Most German princesses had been doing that since the Hanoverians took the British throne and started marrying almost exclusively German princesses. Caroline loved to dance, but her parents didn’t let her. They didn’t let her come to most balls, but when they had to bring her, she had to sit and play cards with the old women. They took overprotection to a whole new level. Caroline was never afraid to voice her opinions publicly, earning the criticism of many others. Her contemporaries also said that she had poor personal hygiene, and didn’t wash her clothes as much as she should have. Caroline’s future husband, George, the Prince of Wales, later agreed with them all.
Caroline was very beautiful, and her parents weren’t happy that her looks would get her a good royal husband… they were paranoid that she’d have an affair. If the family ever had guests, Caroline had to stay in her room and wasn’t allowed to look out the windows. How did they make sure that Caroline did as they said? Well, her governesses and the family’s servants followed her around and reported back to her parents about what she did all day. As Caroline grew older and prettier, these “security measures” were only made much harsher.
Caroline didn’t feel like putting up with all of this and decided that she was going to pull the ultimate prank. Her family once again hadn’t allowed her to attend a ball, so she did something that nobody except Caroline would’ve thought of. She pretended to be in labor, screaming and all, and her parents rushed back home. When they arrived, they were told that Caroline was pregnant and currently giving birth. I wonder what they must have felt like to learn that the daughter they had protected so much was literally in labor. She must have been a very good actor because her parents brought a midwife. When the midwife came, Caroline suddenly stopped “giving birth”. Imagine how confused her parents must have been!
The pretty young Caroline received many marriage proposals, but her mother didn’t think the men were good enough. Caroline would later claim to have been in love with a man called “The Handsome Irishman” during this time. There were even whispers that Caroline was pregnant during this time. I don’t have any information on what people thought happened to the baby.
Now, I mentioned earlier that Caroline’s mom was a British princess, and wanted her daughter to have the best husband she could get… as long as he was British. This last condition kept Caroline unmarried until she was twenty-seven. That might not sound like a lot, but by 18th century standards, spinsterhood was about to be Caroline’s likely fate. That’s why there were whispers about Caroline possibly being pregnant—a woman who had gotten pregnant out of wedlock would’ve been considered unmarriageable. Their argument? Well, why would two parents not marry their daughter off, not until she was, like, old? Until the marriage proposal came from Britain. Finally, Augusta and Karl William thought.
Everybody involved was quite happy about this, except, well, Caroline’s lucky prince.
The man who had wanted to marry Caroline was George, the Prince of Wales. Guess what George did. He sort of fell in love with Maria Fitzherbert, a twice-widowed Catholic commoner who was six years his senior. She was the epitome of what George couldn’t marry. Guess what George did next.
You’re wrong unless you said that George married Maria in secret, without royal permission. So you’ve got an illegally married Prince of Wales, and his wife is a Catholic commoner who had already been married. When George’s father, King George III, found out about this, he was pretty mad. The marriage was illegal, so the king told Prince George that if he left Maria and married a princess, his gambling debts would be paid, and he would get a higher allowance. I wonder why he did that since apparently, it was said that George’s will, written in 1796 (after he and Caroline were married), said that he wanted to be buried with a miniature of Maria, whom he called “my wife, the wife of my heart and soul.” I guess he had quite a lot of debt. Anyways, the king had been successfully bribed. By the end of his marriage to Maria, he had taken a mistress named Frances Villiers, the Countess of Jersey. Together, they chose our heroine, Caroline of Brunswick, as George’s new royal bride.
Caroline was sent portraits of him. She found him very handsome but had heard of his heavy drinking and womanizing, so her feelings were mixed. He was less impressed with her. Remember how people said that Caroline had bad personal hygiene? Well, word of that reached Prince George. He made it clear that he didn’t want to marry a smelly princess. He went around and told everyone, “I’ve racked up some gambling debts, and now I’ve got to get married to pay them off.”
Lord Malmesbury, the man sent to bring Caroline to England, was appalled by her. To put it simply, he saw Caroline as a haughty and unladylike old woman with terrible manners and habits. That’s how the Hanoverian court would see her, too. Malmesbury attempted to teach Caroline how to behave like a proper future consort, but his efforts were fruitless. But he did somehow become friends with Caroline.
The two had never met until Caroline was already in England, and it was too late to turn back. As you might imagine, nothing turned out well. Their first meeting was quite the spectacle. Another thing you might as well be aware of is that Caroline’s mother and George’s father were siblings, so Caroline was Prince George’s first cousin.
When she arrived, people quickly started gossiping about their likely future Queen. They don’t like her; they think she’s too chatty, straightforward, and unprincesslike. and that’s sort of true. Caroline has a loose tongue, of course, and her manners aren’t the best that the Hanoverian court has seen.
I’m not saying that George was particularly popular either. People hated him for the exact reasons Caroline had mixed feelings about him. One source says that George kissed her on the cheek upon meeting her, which sounds like a good start to a good relationship, right?
Then, most disrespectfully, George just suddenly calls out, “Harris, I am not well; pray get me a glass of brandy.” Later that evening, Caroline commented, “Mon Dieu! Is the Prince always like that? I find him very fat and nothing like as handsome as his picture.” Oh, and she said that out loud, at dinner, and her voice was loud enough for pretty much everyone there to hear.
So, to recap, Caroline’s just arrived in England to marry a man she hadn’t met until a day or so before the wedding. The court doesn’t really like her, but they don’t like George either — the Hanoverian court is very picky. But to be fair, George isn’t that likable in the first place. Maria Fitzherbert, whom I mentioned that George was previously married to, didn’t want to marry him in the first place, and George is famous for being a heavy drinker, which can’t be something people love him for.
George and Caroline have just gotten their relationship off to a rocky start. Even though he technically picked Caroline, it was more like he put the names of a bunch of German relatives into a hat and picked Caroline.
At the disastrous dinner before their wedding, Caroline realizes that Frances Villiers is George’s mistress, and it destroys any small hope she might have had of perhaps falling in love with George. It was, you could say, hate at first sight. Caroline insults George’s mistress a few times, and they fall more and more in hate.
George drank a ton at dinner, and the next morning, when it was time for the wedding, George showed up drunk. That threw any dreams of a happy marriage out the window. Three days after they first met, on April 8th, 1795, Caroline of Brunswick married George, the Prince of Wales. The wedding ceremony was quite a spectacle since the groom was drunk and could barely stand straight. Caroline must have just been sitting there, like, “Ugh, are we done yet?”
George wrote to a friend that he had only had what he called “intimate relations” with Caroline three times, and Caroline that he, “passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate, where he fell, and where I left him.”
Frances Villiers, George’s mistress, became Caroline’s Lady of the Bedchamber, which meant that her husband’s mistress was her right-hand-lady. And Frances and George used that to spy on Caroline. Being near Caroline almost every moment meant that Frances could easily get access to Caroline’s letters and things like that. That’s quite an awkward arrangement if you ask me.
Caroline quickly became pregnant, likely on her wedding night, and she and George were happy… not that they were going to have a child. They were delighted that their duty was done, and they didn’t have to look at each other’s faces again. One source says that Caroline thought George wasn’t able to get her pregnant, and that she stared in disbelief when told she was to have a child.
Caroline gave birth to a daughter, Charlotte, on January 7th, 1796. I wonder what Caroline’s mother thought when she found out that her daughter was pregnant. Maybe she thought Caroline was faking it again…
Three days after Charlotte’s birth, George changed his will leaving everything to his previous wife, Maria Fitzherbert, who had recently become his mistress, and it was in that document that he called her “my wife, the wife of my heart and soul.” He didn’t leave everything to her, though. He left one shilling for Caroline. How kind of him. What a generous man. King George III, Caroline’s father-in-law, thought Charlotte would bring his son closer to Caroline and save their marriage, but we can already see that’s not working.
Nobody liked George, as I mentioned, and people began seeing his wronged wife as an opposition to him. So, Caroline starts to get more and more friends, and she’ll be friends with anyone who hates George.
George didn’t let her go anywhere without his permission. “No problem,” said Caroline, “I’ll just make friends with everyone who hates you.” And, even though Caroline was seen by some as smelly and unladylike, she was still much more popular than her husband. She was also much easier to speak to and get along with.
George, obviously, didn’t like this and was (or, rather, still was) very cruel to his wife. He didn’t allow Caroline to see their daughter very much. When she was allowed to see Charlotte, Caroline would take the young girl out on carriage rides to bolster support for herself and her daughter. Charlotte loved her mother dearly.
Meanwhile, George was continuing to make his wife’s life terrible with Frances Villiers (remember her?). Caroline decided enough was enough and left George. Well, sort of. They were still legally married, but they were now living separately.
Now free, Caroline began “being herself”. She threw etiquette out the window and lived life her way. She flirted with tons of men, which would come back to haunt her, as we’ll see in a bit. Only problem? She was lonely AF. She had literally nobody — no close friends, no family. She couldn’t see her daughter, who, by the way, was growing to be exactly like her mother, and it was nearly impossible for her to see her dear siblings.
Lonely Caroline adopted nine poor orphans for company. Among them was a three-month-old boy, William Austin, whom Caroline treated like her own child — and he may have been. At least that’s what her husband and neighbor said.
Caroline had had a fight with her neighbor, Lady Douglas, who then claimed that Caroline was guilty of adultery, and that little William Austin was her own son. She also claimed that Caroline was sending her threatening letters. It was the perfect opening for Prince George, who had wanted to get rid of Caroline for a while now.
He sent government officials to look into the matter. It was called “The Delicate Investigation”, and the newspapers ate it up. Her servants said she hadn’t done anything. Lady Douglas insisted that Caroline was William Austin’s biological mother.
Caroline was so close to being found guilty of adultery, when Sophia Austin, William’s probably real mother, showed up, and literally saved Caroline. Jane Austen, that author we’ve all heard of, wrote this of Caroline and George’s relationship: “Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can because she is a Woman and I hate her Husband.” You’ve got to love how bluntly she put it.
Caroline and her new friend, Henry Brougham, try to tarnish Prince George’s image. Why? Because (a), he deserves it, and (b), he doesn’t let Caroline see Charlotte as much as she wanted. In retaliation, George told everyone what Lady Douglas had said about Caroline’s little William Austin. Caroline then told everyone what Sophia Austin and her servants had said. It was endless.
There was one good thing though: Charlotte was extremely loyal to her mother and took her mother’s side in this feud.
But things can just never be good for Caroline. Just when she thought her crappy youth with her parents was over, they came back. The French had taken over Caroline’s native Brunswick, and her father had died in battle. Her mother, Augusta, and her brother, the new Duke of Brunswick, came to England because Augusta was a British princess.
And because of the investigation, Caroline could only see her daughter, Charlotte, once a week, and only in the presence of her mother (who was still very cruel to her). And in the meanwhile, George is spending time with his new mistress, ex-wife, and the woman whom he claims is the “love of his life”. You guessed it: Mrs. Fitzherbert is back.
But who cares? Everyone loves Caroline, nobody likes Maria Fitzherbert. Until George III is declared insane and there’s no hope of recovery. Why is that important? Because it means that Caroline’s husband is now regent. And remember how everyone saw Caroline as opposition to George? Not anymore. They kick her to the curb and cozy up to George instead. Lonely Caroline was lonely again.
Caroline’s father-in-law, King George III, had loved his granddaughter, Charlotte, very much, and tried to make her happy. That meant Caroline and Charlotte could visit each other more often than Caroline’s husband, Prince George, would’ve wanted. Now that King George was out of the way, Prince George could make sure Caroline saw Charlotte only when it was absolutely necessary… which was close to never.
Charlotte was pretty miserable as well. Let’s look at her situation for a moment. Charlotte was a lonely girl, which led her to be a very rebellious child. She loved Jane Austen’s work, just like her father, but that didn’t seem to bring them together. Her father didn’t give her the money to dress like a princess, and poor Charlotte was unable to keep up with court fashions. She grew to be just as “unladylike” as her mother.
She had a crush on her first cousin, George FitzClarence, the illegitimate son of her uncle, the Duke of Clarence, with Dorothea Bland, and a possible affair with a British army officer, Charles Hesse. Caroline liked Hesse and organized meetings between him and Charlotte.
Her father wanted her to marry William, the Prince of Orange. Charlotte didn’t like him, since he was completely drunk the first time they met. But Prince George, a proud drunk himself, clearly liked him. Charlotte wasn’t pleased but gave an unclear response on whether she liked him or not. So, Charlotte nearly got married, but it didn’t happen.
In 1814, her crappy excuse for a father told her that she would have to stay in Cranbourne Lodge, where she would have new household staff, and wouldn’t be allowed to see anybody but her grandmother, Queen Charlotte, whom Princess Charlotte happened to be named after. Even if you’re her namesake, it’s not fun to stay in a house and never leave, not be able to see anybody but your grandmother, and have a new household staff that does your father’s bidding. So, Charlotte hightailed it to Caroline’s place.
Caroline eventually convinced her daughter to go back to her father, which must have been very hard for motherly Caroline to do. Lonely Caroline was lonely yet again. There was nothing left for her in Britain. She couldn’t see her daughter, she had no friends, and now that the husband who hated her was the regent, she didn’t even have anybody to talk to.
So, Lonely Caroline left England after being promised a couple thousand pounds a year. She visited her native Brunswick and went through Switzerland on her way to Italy. She hired a servant named Bartolomeo Pergami, and his sister became her lady-in-waiting. Caroline also bought a villa on Lake Como in Italy. Bartolomeo, of course, became her lover, and they traveled around the Mediterranean together, even visiting Napoleon’s old palace on the island of Elba. Their affair was sort of an open secret. Everyone knew something was happening, since they were always together, and also because Caroline was hiring his whole family — except his wife. Even Lord Byron wrote about Bartolomeo and Caroline and took George’s side.
In 1816, her daughter, Charlotte, married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, a minor German prince and a younger son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (he was also the little brother of Juliane of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld) Let’s leave Charlotte for a moment and check in on Caroline. Caroline wasn’t exactly as rich as she had been before. She had to sell her big villa and buy a small villa. Now that we know that Caroline’s poor, let’s get back to Charlotte.
Charlotte was very happy in her new marriage, and Leopold seemed to calm her down. She got pregnant quickly, spent most of her pregnancy sitting for a stunning portrait, and then gave birth to a stillborn son. She died soon after in 1817, at the age of 21. Pretty much the entire kingdom went into mourning, and everyone hated Prince George even more.
Everyone around Prince George told him to write to Caroline, possibly reconcile with her over their shared tragedy. “You do it,” George told Leopold, Charlotte’s widower. But because Leopold loved Charlotte, unlike George, he was sad AF. And someone mourning their beloved spouse isn’t normally eager to write to their mother-in-law about it because their father-in-law won’t, so Leopold can’t.
So how did Caroline find out? Or did she find out at all? She did end up finding out that Charlotte had died but in the worst way possible. George somehow was able to write to the Pope about Charlotte’s death, and not his wife. Conveniently, Caroline and Bartolomeo were in Rome to visit the Pope. The courier taking the letter to the Pope ran into Caroline and offered his condolences. Caroline was confused AF. Some random dude telling her that her daughter was dead? Was it real? Well, yes. Everyone was talking about the death of the princess they so loved. It was even worse for Caroline, because her daughter died, and so had any hope of ever being able to return to court. You’d never have Queen Charlotte, so you’d never have the beloved Queen Mother Caroline.
So now that Charlotte’s dead, George is more desperate to leave Caroline than ever. He wants another heir, and he can’t be a bigamist, so he tries to divorce Caroline. He started another investigation, just like “The Delicate Investigation.” Except for this time, Caroline probably was having an affair with Bartolomeo, and the investigation was pretty public, but still, why can’t he just leave her alone?
Even though they probably were having an affair, George couldn’t find enough evidence against her. But plot twist: King George III dies. This means that Caroline, formerly Princess of Wales, was now Queen of England. “Yeah, right,” said George.
All George wanted to do was make sure Caroline was not treated like a Queen. That was his life’s goal. News reached Caroline that she was now the Queen. When something as big as a king’s death happens, everyone in Europe’s going to be talking about it. She would have found out before anybody bothered to inform her.
She started planning a trip to England, but Caroline was very popular while George and the government were very unpopular, so they were desperate to keep Caroline out of the country, so people would be forced to like George. They offered Caroline an increase in the allowance they were already paying her so that she’d never come back to England, but she refused.
In June of 1820, Caroline came to England, and everyone was super enthusiastic. Some even saw Queen Caroline as a liberal opposition to the increasingly conservative King George IV. George took “two green bags” of evidence of Caroline’s adultery to Parliament. I don’t know how evidence of adultery fits into two green bags, but the House of Lords decided to dissolve Caroline’s marriage and strip her of her queenship. But the House of Commons loved Queen Caroline, so they voted against it.
She said that she had only committed adultery with Mrs. Fitzherbert’s husband. Yeah, George, she said that. George’s coronation was an extremely extravagant one that his wife wasn’t allowed to come to. Still, Caroline made her way to Westminster Abbey and demanded to be allowed in. George had the doors shut in her face. She found another door but was unable to come in through there as well.
Because of this weird spectacle, nobody liked Caroline anymore, but that’s not saying that they liked George. The people hated everyone in the royal family. Except for Charlotte, they still loved Charlotte.
Lonely and sad Caroline went home, exhausted and feeling a tiny bit sick. She took some laudanum, hoping it would ease her pain a little bit. It didn’t. Caroline’s health continued getting worse. Once she realized that the end was near, Caroline began getting her papers in order and writing her will. As Caroline fell ill just after George’s coronation, pretty much everyone thought that he had poisoned her.
She burned most of her letters, just so George couldn’t find any incriminating evidence after her death, and asked for “Here Lies Caroline, The Injured Queen of England” to be written on her grave, which Parliament wasn’t too happy about. She also asked to be buried in her native Brunswick. Even though she hadn’t spent her happiest years there, it was better than England. She died at around 10:30 P.M. on August 7th, 1821. She was only fifty-three, and it had only been three weeks since her attempts to get into her husband’s coronation at Westminster Abbey.
George just said that her body should go back to Brunswick, but Queens normally have grand funeral processions. Looks like George didn’t want Caroline to have one. The people rioted, and George was forced to let Caroline’s body be paraded through the streets of London. Her body ended up being sent to Brunswick.
Caroline was finally dead, but it’s not like anybody forgot her. Throughout his reign, George was a very unpopular monarch, and Caroline’s existence didn’t make him any more popular.