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Who was Caroline of Brunswick?

Caroline was born on 17 May 1768; her father was Charles, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and her mother, Princess Augusta. She was the sister of George III and had married the Duke about four years earlier. Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel lies south-east of Hanover and is probably more well-known know for Luneburg Heath.

In 1794, when she was twenty-six, she married her first cousin, George, Prince of Wales. This despite the couple never having met, and the Prince allegedly being married to Maria Fitzherbert. The marriage took place in the Chapel Royal of St James’s Palace, but there sadly was not an attraction between the pair, and the Prince of Wales was allegedly drunk during the marriage service. Caroline did fall pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, Princess Charlotte born some nine months after the wedding.

Perhaps the writing was on the wall for Caroline, as the Lady of the Bedchamber appointed to her, Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, was also the King’s mistress. However, in what may seem something more akin to present day times when rumours circulated about the couple living apart the press sided with Caroline and not the Prince. It had already been noted that she had been unfazed passing near battlefields as she ventured to England for her marriage, and now the way she held herself together appealed to the national press and the masses.

This may well have been thanks to her troubled upbringing as her parents too went through an unhappy marriage, and she said to friends she felt like a shuttlecock being sent between her parents. If she happened to make a positive comment about one, the other was mortally offended. Despite George’s pleas, Caroline refused to consent to a divorce, and in those days such a thing was very difficult even for a Prince to obtain. Princess Caroline had always entertained people, and Prince George tried to commission a delicate inquiry to discover evidence of infidelity – but no such evidence was forthcoming. Even worse for the Prince, because of the popularity of the Princess, the Government of the time was loathed to pass a law to achieve his desire.

Caroline left England in 1814, with an agreement to an annual allowance of £35,000. It is possible that her decision was moved by the defeat of Napoleon, as she had longed to return to Brunswick where her family had been overrun by his troops some years previous and she had feared to travel. Following a visit to Brunswick, she toured the Mediterranean along with Bartolomeo Pergami, whom she took on as a servant. He soon rose to be head of her household and had a close relationship with her, however, as she said – she had only been unfaithful once – with the husband of Maria Fitzherbert!

Her daughter Charlotte had been married to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saarfeld, however, sadly in 1817 she died in childbirth together with her unborn child. This removed the main chance of Caroline coming back to England and George was continuing to try and build a case against her citing her close ties with Pergami. She indicated that she would be willing to agree to a divorce, but sadly in those days a mutual agreement was not an acceptable ground, and she steadfastly refused to admit to adultery.

In 1820, King George III died, and King George IV came to the throne, he now got his wish to have a bill passed, and in spite of Caroline’s popularity it was passed, and she accepted an offer of £50,000.  Caroline returned to England, but she was banned from the coronation and lost popularity in trying to enter the celebrations at Westminster Abbey. She fell ill that night and passed away three days later, though the true cause of her death is subject to conjecture. Crowds thronged to her funeral procession as it wended its way from London to Harwich, from there her body was taken to Brunswick Cathedral where she is buried.

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