Prepare yourselves because Caroline of Brunswick is one of the most interesting, bonkers, amazing and coolest women who ever lived. Her story has literally everything I love to read about: secret marriages! Scheming mistresses! A Mediterranean cruise! Riding a donkey amid an entourage of camels! A guest appearance by Jane Austen! With a woman this interesting, you’d think there would be a hundred biographies and at least a dozen biopics and/or miniseries about her. But guess what: THERE ARE NOT. There’s one movie, two books (one of which is written by an author who is clearly disgusted by her) and the world is more than due for the reclamation of her legendary story. So get ready because this saga has both TWISTS and TURNS.
Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick (great name) was born on May 17th, 1768. Her mother was Princess Augusta of Great Britain, the older sister of King George III. Now, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were filled with far more King Georges than I can keep track of but don’t worry, you know this one. George III is known for: his showstopping song in Hamilton, being in charge of England at the time that the American Revolution happened, and for being so incapacitated by illness that he would up being King in name only with his son, also called George, taking over during a period you might know called THE REGENCY ERA. Of all the Georges, he’s maybe one of the best-known these days. But he’s not Caroline’s father, he’s her Uncle. Caroline’s father was the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, so basically, she grew up in Germany as a sort of minor royal.
Her childhood was EMOTIONALLY FRAUGHT because Augusta and the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (henceforth called DBW, because that’s a long name) did not get along particularly well. DBW had a mistress named Louise Herteford, and it was at the relationship level where he didn’t try to hide it and Louise got to be his date to official parties, et cetera. Caroline, like children of divorced parents throughout the years, became a bargaining chip/messenger pigeon between her estranged parents, which was a pretty shitty situation to find herself in. She spoke German as her first language and was also taught English because she — like all the other younger female royals — was being groomed as a possible bride to King George III’s oldest son, Prince George aka Prinny (that was his real nickname), who would one day become King. Yes, Caroline was first cousins with Prinny, but that wasn’t a concern at this time in a Targaryen sort of way.
Caroline’s parents were too busy openly hating one another to pay her much attention, and even if they had noticed her they didn’t care much about education. So, Caroline did not get an especially thorough education. Know what else she didn’t get? Much of any socialization with boys or men. She was raised in a sort of Rapunzel scenario, kept hidden in her room when guests were over (and forbidden from looking out the windows!!), and always overseen by female servants and governesses. She was, from the beginning, a very fun-loving and high spirited girl who wanted to do things like attend balls and have a good time. Her parents usually forbade her from doing anything of the sort, and on the rare occasion she attended balls, she was made to sit and play cards with the older women and was forbidden to dance. It was an 18th-century Footloose/ Dirty Dancing/ Cinderella scenario and if it sounds like she’s ripe for some dance rebellion, guess what: she totally was. Nobody puts Caroline in the corner!
So, what’s an extroverted, not-particularly-well-educated but resourceful and strong-willed princess to do? Upon being forbidden from attending yet another ball, and without a fairy godmother or sewing mice to help her out, Caroline pretended to be having a health crisis. She was screaming and writhing around, and servants rushed to get her parents to come and see to her. When they showed up, Caroline was like, “I’M LITERALLY IN LABOUR! I AM HAVING A BABY FOR REAL!!!” and forced her parents to Call The Midwife. Augusta and DBW were like, “How the dickens has our virginal daughter, who we keep literally trapped in her room all day and who has basically never met a man, gotten pregnant without us knowing??” But when the midwife arrived, Caroline stopped her act and was like, “Congratulations, you played yourselves. Next time you want to forbid me from going to a ball, I hope you THINK TWICE!!”
Pause for a slow clap for Teen Caroline’s ingenuity, drama queen strategizing, and for totally becoming my hero.
Augusta, being the sister of the British King, was keen to find an English relative for Caroline to marry. Due to Caroline’s family connections, and her own lovely appearance (she was round-faced, with curly blond hair, and of course her fun personality just made her seem all the more appealing), she was soon fending off numerous proposals from basically every eligible young man around. While they were doing this, do you think Caroline was sitting around waiting to find out who her husband would be? OF COURSE NOT. Caroline apparently had fallen in love with a non-royal young man, whose name we don’t know. What we do know is that DBW forbid her from marrying this guy due to his “low status” which, to a family as wealthy and powerful as theirs, could mean either he was a shoe-shine boy or a slightly poorer aristocrat than they were. Rumour has it, this guy was an army officer from Ireland, who happened to live in Brunswick at the time. Rumour ALSO had it that Caroline secretly gave birth to a baby when she was fifteen years old, which could be partly due to her whole fake-going-into-labour gambit, or potentially is true. WE WILL NEVER KNOW FOR SURE.
What we do know, though, is that Caroline made the most of the opportunities she had to leave her prison-bedroom. For instance, she enjoyed going out for horseback rides. As a little girl, she was allowed to ride into town and play with the children there. Potentially, as a teen, she continued on with these visits and wound up pregnant? The rumours of a secret baby may have been part of why she didn’t get married in her teen years, the age of which most young women of her status wound up in marriages of convenience. She became formally engaged in 1794, aged twenty-six. And who was her fiance? Oh, just her first cousin, the heir to the British throne, Prinny! And why did he pick Caroline to be his wife? Well, buckle up, because here’s where it all starts to go off the rails.
So, at the time of their engagement, Caroline and Prinny had never met. Also bear in mind that in 1794, the British royal family was incredibly unpopular and Prinny was one of the least popular members of the family. Everyone was mad at having lost the American Revolution, and also at the fact that their country was massively in debt but the royal family kept spending money like nothing was wrong. Prinny was especially known for being a shopaholic hoarder whose spending was so out of control that Parliament had basically cut off his line of credit. But, in a twist like at the beginning of a Regency-era romance novel, Prinny knew he would get an increase in his allowance if he got married to a princess. So he basically sat down with his mistress, Frances Villiers the Countess of Jersey, to figure out who would be the best possible wife.
Now, Prinny is both useless and awful and fuck him, who cares. But FRANCES VILLIERS is a next level schemer, and if she weren’t in opposition to my beloved Caroline, I’d be cheering for her too. Basically, Prinny was like, “I have to choose a wife, apparently, Frances can you just pick someone?” and Frances smiled an evil Cersei Lannister smile and was like, “Of course darling.” She was genius at gossip, because all the best courtiers always are, and found out that word on the street was that Caroline was a) uneducated, b) sort of goofy, and c) sounded like she’d be easy to control. Frances didn’t want her power as royal mistress threatened by a wife who would pose a challenge to her, so she really advocated for Prinny to pick Caroline. He was like, “OK, whatever,” and agreed. Because Caroline’s family’s tiny country of Brunswick made for a good ally with Great Britain, Parliament was all for this match, and so the engagement went ahead. George III sent a man named Lord Malmesbury to Brunswick to pick up Caroline and escort her back to England. Everything’s great, right? WRONG.
So, Malmesbury arrived on the scene to find Caroline — twenty-six years old, kept trapped in a room her whole life — was not at all prepared to marry the heir to the throne of Great Britain. Remember how her parents had sort of ignored her? She was a grown-up 18th-century latchkey kid, prone to saying inappropriate things, acting selfishly, and basically not behaving in the genteel manner expected of a princess. And so, in a plotline that again sounds like the beginning of a very good Regency-era romance novel, Malmesbury decided to stay in Brunswick in order to give Caroline princess lessons.
So, imagine My Fair Lady if Eliza Doolittle just like… didn’t feel like learning how to be a lady. Malmesbury did his best to teach Caroline the polite ways to act, what to do with all the tiny forks at a fancy dinner party, the importance of changing her clothes and bathing regularly, and a lot of things that other people already knew but which Caroline had never been taught. She was a handful as a student, but Malmesbury came to really enjoy her company. She was truly just such a fun person, eventually, he was like, “Know what? She’s obviously never going to change, but she’s already engaged to Prinny, so let’s get this show on the road.” And off they went, to England!
When they arrived in England, the first person to greet them was Caroline’s new chief lady-in-waiting… EVIL FRANCES!! I’m sure she smiled her Cersei smile and linked arms like, “I’m sure we’re going to be great friends” while secretly making plans to short-sheet Caroline’s bed, or whatever. Caroline headed off to meet her fiance Prinny, who — remember, he’d only agreed to marry her so he’d get an increase in his allowance — she found to be pretty gross and useless, saying he was quote “nothing like as handsome as his portrait.” BURN, Caroline. Prinny also didn’t care for Caroline, he just wanted money to buy new gold-lined codpieces etc., and she was a means to an end. And he especially didn’t like her unconventional table manners or the way she spoke her mind all the time or especially at the way Caroline made fun of Frances in front of everyone. But like, of course, she did. Caroline very quickly had realized that Frances was Prinny’s mistress, and having seen how a mistress ruined her own parents’ marriage, was quite unimpressed with the whole scenario.
But, although the bride and groom hated each other, their engagement had already been announced so they weren’t allowed to call it off. And so, Caroline and Prinny were married three days after meeting, on April 8th, 1795. Prinny was drunk throughout the ceremony which — PLOT TWIST — was not his first marriage ceremony. That’s right, he was ALREADY MARRIED. Before he took up with Evil Frances, Prinny had secretly and illegally married a woman named Maria Fitzherbert, with whom he lived as man and wife for EIGHT YEARS and with whom he had some technically illegitimate children. BUT because he hadn’t gotten his father’s permission and because Maria was Catholic, that first marriage was invalid. Just keep that in your back pocket for a minute, it obviously becomes important later. This whole thing is just a bouquet of every scandalous thing possible. Oh, and know what happens when the groom is drunk at his own wedding and keeps on drinking? He was drunk for the wedding night too. As per Caroline, he was so drunk that he, quote, “passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate, where he fell, and where I left him.” BURN, Caroline.
So, Prinny and Caroline hated each other but they knew the whole point of this marriage was to have a baby who would be the next heir to the throne. Caroline gave birth (for real this time!) nine months after their wedding, to a baby girl they named Charlotte. Did this bring the two of them closer together? Obviously not. In fact, after Charlotte’s birth, Prinny amended his will to leave everything to Maria Fitzherbert (who he called his wife) and left just one shilling to Caroline. Like, that’s just great. Literally three days after giving birth to your CHILD, to disinherit your WIFE is just like: every man in every one of these stories just keeps lowering the bar for how shitty you can possibly be.
But guess what: remember how everyone in England hated the royal family, especially Prinny? They still did. And they saw how terribly Caroline was being treated, and so the public rallied behind her. Prinny’s parents were like, “We’re the King and Queen so if we say she sucks, that’s like the law basically,” but the people of England were like, “No YOU SUCK! Caroline is GREAT!” And she would take baby Charlotte out in a carriage, and people cheered for her because they all took her side in this situation, which they should, because she was being treated horribly. Basically, everyone hated the royals so much that it didn’t take much for Caroline to become a sympathetic heroine. And guess who helped exacerbate the divide between Caroline and her in-laws? Oh, just a little thing that had just been invented called TABLOID JOURNALISM!
So, just like today, courtiers were keen to anonymously tell behind-the-scenes royal secrets to the newspapers. Stories came out about Caroline and George’s terrible marriage, all of which made her look like the victim (WHICH SHE WAS) and him like a gross useless bully (WHICH HE WAS). And know who else became a character in this real-life ongoing soap opera? Evil Frances! Her name popped up in the news stories, too, with rumours that she intercepted all of Caroline’s mail and read it, which frankly she probably did. Prinny, now married, was busy spending all of his new allowance money in the stupidest of ways — like, buying luxury stockings and curtains and jewels never mind the fact that the country was literally in the midst of war. And the Royals just kept being terrible to Caroline! Which made everyone love her all the more! Because it was a new era of fighting PR battles in the news media, and Caroline was amazing at this and the Royals were terrible at it.
Prinny and Frances had chosen Caroline to be his wife because they thought she was naive and they could control her. But underestimating her seemed to be bringing about their downfall, so they decided they had to get rid of her. Not MURDER her (I mean, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised) but to try and just send her out of the way. So, Prinny and Caroline legally separated. Frances resigned as Caroline’s lady-in-waiting, because this whole time she’d been literally at Caroline’s side all the time, and the schism seemed complete. Caroline headed off to live in her own residence outside of London. And guess what: finally, all her dreams were coming true. There was nobody keeping her trapped in her room, nobody controlling her every movement or action. Caroline was free to do whatever she wanted!! Which is just what she did.
Caroline flirted with every man she met. She was rumoured to have had flings with various men who she entertained at home. She was throwing parties and living her best life, and having an amazing time. Of course, she missed her daughter Charlotte, who was being raised by governesses back with her awful father. Caroline visited her as often as she could but clearly had other maternal needs not being met by this shared custody arrangement. Which is when things take a sudden and unexpected turn, and Caroline begins collecting other peoples’ babies. Or having her own babies. It all gets, even for this story, even stranger from here on out.
So, Caroline being Caroline, she still said whatever she thought all of the time and didn’t care what people thought about her. In 1802, she confided in her new country friend Lady Douglas that she was secretly pregnant, and her friend looked her up and down like, “Girl, what?” but anything’s possible. Caroline adopted a three-month-old boy named William Austin, who she sort of pretended was her son but who she also said she’d adopted, and also who were his parents and what was going on? Nobody knew. She took in other children as well, eventually opening her home to nine orphan children.
By 1805, Caroline and Lady Douglas had had a falling out. Lady Douglas claimed that Caroline had been sending her threatening letters, and also alleged that Caroline had committed infidelity on her husband and that William Austin was Caroline’s biological son. How did Caroline fight back against this slander? By writing a LETTER TO THE EDITOR of their local newspaper, of course. The whole scandal was extremely public, and the royal family was like, “Didn’t we get rid of her already? WTF is going on? Why do the tabloids keep talking about her? How can we end this situation??” And then they did the exact opposite thing if they wanted people to stop talking about her: they launched an official investigation into whether or not Caroline was William Austin’s mother.
So, this whole thing was known as “The Delicate Investigation” and it was supposed to be secret. But Evil Frances and all the other courtiers obviously kept leaking secrets to the press so everyone knew it was going on. Because it’s England in the 19th century, the commission was made up entirely of old white men including the literal Prime Minister, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Home Secretary. Like, these men with their wigs and pantaloons were just out there investigating the sex life of a thirtysomething woman just minding her own business. Isn’t it interesting how DIFFERENT things were TWO HUNDRED YEARS AGO, I’m so glad not to live in an era when old white men obsess constantly about the sex lives of women just doing their own thing. </SARCASM>
The Delicate Investigators called upon Caroline’s ex-BFF and frenemy Lady Douglas, who bear in mind: hated Caroline, and had been leaking stories to the press about Caroline slutting it up and so was single-handedly responsible for this whole thing. And wouldn’t you know, Lady Douglas was like, “Caroline is basically a nymphomaniac! She sleeps with every man she sees! She even tried to seduce me!” Caroline’s servants were also called upon to testify, and they were all like, “Shrug, IDK if she was lovers with anyone, who knows, we mind our own business and also we know who signs our paychecks.” And THEN, a woman named Sophia Austin was summoned and she was like, “William Austin is totally my son, Caroline is not his mother, case closed, what a waste of time this all was.”
And so, the Delicate Investigators were like, “that’s that Caroline didn’t cheat on her husband who abandoned her, and that baby is not hers.” So that’s GOOD NEWS. But then BAD NEWS: she had been forbidden to see her daughter Charlotte during the investigation, and even after being found innocent, she was only permitted to visit Charlotte once a week on supervised visits. Who supervised the visits? Caroline’s mother, Augusta! And what was Augusta doing back in England? Well, in more BAD NEWS, Brunswick had been invaded by the French and Caroline’s father DBW had been killed in battle. So, Augusta headed back to England for safety (remember, she’s George III’s sister) but, just as she’d been a pretty shitty parent to Caroline as a child, she continued to be awful in this new scenario and took her brother’s side over her own daughter’s. So Caroline stuck it out in yet another shitty situation, but if it makes you feel better, please do note that Charlotte was growing up to be EXACTLY LIKE HER MOTHER, full of spunk and sass and totally independent and driving everyone up the wall. So even with Caroline out of the picture, the Royals had a tweenage miniature version to contend with.
The next major PLOT TWIST occurs in 1811 when King George III was declared permanently insane. This meant that Prinny became the official Regent and England descended into that popular romance novel time period: The Regency Era! So Prinny was not exactly King, but he had more powers than ever before. And what does a narcissistic jerk do when given more power? He enforces more terrible rules on the wife he hates! Caroline was denied further access to Charlotte, and she began to lose her friends as they chose to attend Prinny’s balls and parties instead of hers (even though you know hers would have been way more fun).
Caroline, who we know by now will NEVER give up especially when facing down her awful husband, schemed to find a powerful ally who would help her out. The entire tabloid press wasn’t enough anymore, she needed a person with political ties to help advocate for her. She found this helper in a guy named Henry Brougham, who was a politician who hated the royal family. Together, they began a campaign of anti-royal-family propaganda, making Caroline look good and Prinny look terrible. In retaliation, George shared Lady Douglas’s anti-Caroline testimony from the Delicate Investigation to the press. So then Brougham leaked the servants’ and Sophie Austin’s pro-Caroline testimony to the press. So by now, everyone in England knew all the secrets from this “top secret” investigation. And do you know who was around England at this time? Just a certain JANE AUSTEN, who was firmly on #TeamCaroline in this whole scenario. About the embittered princess, Jane wrote, quote, “Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman and because I hate her Husband.” JANE AUSTEN MIC DROP.
(If you’re wondering how other notable literary celebrities of the era fell down in this gossip battle, the famously lascivious poet Lord Byron later wrote a letter to his publisher accusing Caroline of being an adulterer. Literally everyone had an opinion on the matter.)
By 1814, Caroline’s daughter Charlotte was now eighteen years old and guess what: she grew up AMAZING. Despite having been separated from her mother, those Brunswick genes were strong, proving something about nature-vs-nurture. Charlotte was now driving her father Prinny totally out of his mind because just like her mother, she was tired of being cooped up and wanted freedom and to enjoy being a Regency-era princess was that so much to ask?? Apparently, this was too much for Prinny, as he responded to his daughter’s request by putting her basically on house arrest, keeping her confined at home, replacing all of her old servants with new ones because he thought the old ones were bad influences on her, and forbidding her from having any visitors other than her grandmother, Queen Charlotte (who was Prinny’s mother, and the wife of Mad King George III). And what did Princess Charlotte, daughter of the indefatigable Caroline of Brunswick, do? She ran away to her mother’s house! PRINCESS CHARLOTTE MIC DROP. Princess Charlotte was later convinced to return back to her father’s house, but I included this information just for continued evidence of how amazing and cool she was, too.
Caroline, meanwhile, had officially had enough of this English fuckery, and negotiated a deal with the Foreign Secretary that would allow her to move to Italy and get a generous allowance to live off of. She purchased a villa on Lake Como, which is where Amal and George Clooney live today, that’s how glamorous she was, and hired new servants including a man named Bartolomeo Pergami. They became very close, and everyone basically assumed they were lovers even though they were both technically married to other people, and I hope they were because Caroline deserves something wonderful and sexy in her life after all of this tumult. Whether she and Bartolomeo were sleeping together or not (they totally were), they had fabulous adventures together including going on a Mediterranean cruise and visiting Tunis, Malta, Constantinople, and Nazareth, among other places. For the princess who had grown up trapped in a room and not allowed to socialize with anyone, this must have been a dream come true.
When Caroline and Bartolomeo visited Jerusalem, she entered the city riding on a donkey among a convoy of camels, which makes me imagine her at this point like a Regency-era Phryne Fisher sort of glamorous international globetrotter. Like, okay, whatever Caroline’s relationship was with Bartolomeo (they were clearly lovers), she was having an incredible time of no-fucks-given life, and she deserved this after what Prinny and his family had put her through. Stories of her adventures got back to England, of course, where they were covered by the tabloids because she was their Kim Kardashian: everyone wanted to know everything she was doing, so they could be either appalled or enthralled or both at the same time. Of course, word of her adventures got their way back to Prinny, who I imagine like a cartoon with steam coming out of his ears because guess what: everyone still loved Caroline and hated him.
All this travelling was costing Caroline a lot of money so she moved to a smaller villa but kept Bartolomeo on as her servant/possible lover (totally her lover). She also hired on his mother, brother, and daughter — but not his wife, funny that isn’t it — to work for her as servants.
MEANWHILE BACK IN ENGLAND: Princess Charlotte was married to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in 1816. The following year, she died giving birth to a stillborn son. Charlotte, like her mother, had been super popular and so this was taken as a national tragedy. Prinny, who can’t ever stop proving himself to be even worse than we’d already thought, didn’t notify Caroline of this news. He was like, “Leopold, why don’t you tell her,” but Leopold was a Not Awful Person and was so grief-stricken he didn’t get around to it. And so, through a series of weird coincidences, Caroline wound up finding out because she and Bartolomeo happened to be in Rome to visit the Pope. George had written to the Pope, and the courier taking George’s letter to the Pope happened to run into Bartolomeo and gave him the update. RIP, Princess Charlotte. It sounds like you were extremely cool and a credit to your mother. Charlotte was extremely beloved to everyone, and her death was mourned all across the country. The poet Percy Shelley published a pamphlet called An Address to the People on The Death of the Princess Charlotte, which was part tribute to the late Princess as well as a call to action to the British people to fight back against the government/monarchy, who everyone still hated. Charlotte and Caroline may have been personally adored, but the rest of the rituals were still wildly hated.
Because in case you thought things were calming down, spoiler: THINGS NEVER CALM DOWN. Prinny, now without an heir, became even more desperate to divorce Caroline so he could marry someone else and have a new baby who would inherit the throne from him. But when he tried to sneak some new policy into a meeting at Parliament, his ministers were like “No way, she’s a) way too popular to get rid of like that and also b) think of what a scandal that would cause to our already unpopular government!” And Caroline, strengthened from years of Mediterranean tourism and lots of pasta, decided to head back to England to sort things out with Prinny once and for all.
Representatives from England intercepted her and offered to increase her monthly allowance if she’d just stay in Italy forever. Caroline was like, “I think NOT!” and, after bidding farewell to Bartolomeo, hopped on a boat to England. When she arrived, riots broke out because everyone was so excited to see their heroine again. Now, obviously Caroline was incredible and wonderful and I don’t blame the people of England for celebrating her return, but it was not just because she was their favourite tabloid cover star. Everyone hated the royal family and the government somehow EVEN MORE now, and all the rebels saw Caroline — who clearly also hated the royal family — as sort of their patron saint. In fact, a bunch of members of the Royal Guard MUTINIED because they loved Caroline and hated Prinny so much.
But, with the single-minded focus of a misogynist who’s been consistently bested by a woman he pretends to think is stupid, George persisted with his divorce case. After examining the evidence, the government introduced a bill that would dissolve Caroline and Prinny’s marriage and revoke her title of Queen. This was based on allegations that Caroline had committed adultery with Bartolomeo. Unlike the Delicate Investigation, this was no closed-doors “secret” trial; this case was tried in public, and at stake was Caroline’s entire reputation.
Witnesses from all around Europe who had seen Caroline and Bartolomeo’s various trips testified of the behaviour they’d seen, including that the pair had slept in the same room, kissed, and had been seen together semi-clothed. Prinny just kept trying the same thing, hoping that by sharing this information about Caroline, the public would turn against her and towards him. But just like every other time, everyone loved Caroline all the more for what they learned about her. Her fans weren’t just silently supporting her: more than 800 petitions were circulated, garnering over one million signatures from people who wanted the case against her to be dismissed. True to her spirited and amazing personality, Caroline even is said to have joked to her friends while the trial was going on that she had committed adultery — she’d slept with the husband of Maria Fitzherbert. Remember, from the first part of the story? The woman who Prinny had illegally married?? OH SNAP, CAROLINE!!
But Prinny would NOT STOP TRYING TO DIVORCE HER. Was he idolizing his predecessor, Henry VIII, who had seemingly easily ended so many marriages? But the thing is, Henry VIII was basically a totalitarian ruler with the absolute support of all of his government officials. Prinny was still not the actual King, he was still a Regent who basically everyone hated, ruling in the place of his father, who was mentally unstable due to some sort of health reason, and who everyone also hated. Since the witnesses who’d already testified hadn’t been convincing enough, Prinny sent men to Milan to try and find more witnesses, different witnesses, anyone who would potentially provide the explosive evidence he needed. In fact, even pro-Caroline agents sent to Milan to snoop around learned that basically everyone there openly admitted she had been living with Bartolomeo as man and wife.
By 1819, things weren’t looking good for Caroline. She tried to broker a deal with Prinny in which he would pay her off in order for to assent to a divorce, but that wouldn’t work because English law at the time said that divorces could only be granted if one or the other partner admits to adultery. Caroline was like, “Well I’ll never do that, so…” and the stalemate continued. But then the ULTIMATE PLOT TWIST: on January 19th, 1820, King George III died, making Prinny into King George IV, which meant that Caroline was now Queen of the United Kingdom… at least, nominally. She wouldn’t be officially recognized as Queen until she had a crown put on her head at Prinny’s coronation. And he was determined that would never happen.
So, Prinny’s coronation was planned for July 19th, 1821. Caroline had not been invited, but GUESS WHAT, that didn’t stop her. She tried one set of doors but was stopped, and so she ran around the building and tried the second set of doors. Again, no luck. So, she ran around again and tried to enter through the main door, just sliding on in amid the crowd. The door was slammed in her face. But Caroline would not be deterred! She ran around again and luckily Westminster Abbey has lots of doors, one of which was around the back and was open. She finally got inside, only to be faced by one of Prinny’s staff, who somehow persuaded her to go back outside, which she did. After all this time, Caroline’s pathetic behaviour running around the building and making a spectacle of herself seemed to be what finally turned public affection against her. The people of England had loved her for a long time, but once they saw her act undignified, they’d had enough. The crowds jeered and booed her as she headed away in her carriage, the assholes.
That very same night, Caroline fell ill. Her condition worsened over the next three weeks. When it became apparent she was not going to get better, Caroline made preparations for her death, which included burning all of her papers, letters, and memoirs (for privacy reasons), writing a new will, and organizing her own funeral arrangements. She requested to be buried back in Brunswick, with the words “Here lies Caroline, the Injured Queen of England” on her tomb, which is maximum petty and I love her for that. She passed away on August 7th, 1821, aged fifty-three. Her doctors at the time thought she had intestinal obstruction, though it may have also been cancer and — obviously — rumours were flying at the time that perhaps she had been POISONED BY THE KING (I choose to believe this third option for obvious reasons).
As Caroline had been technically the Queen, it was seen to be proper for her to have a funeral procession through the streets of London. But of course, in death, her popularity had returned to its previous state, and the organizers were concerned that this sort of parade could spark a riot. They decided to process around the city, rather than through it. But like all the other plans anyone had ever made about Caroline, this all went awry and the city paid tribute to their fallen heroine in the best way they knew how: a massive riot. People threw stones and bricks at the soldiers, who retaliated by shooting into the crowd and, when that didn’t work, waving sabers around while riding on their horses. Ultimately, two people died in the chaos: a carpenter named Richard Honey, and a bricklayer named George Francis. Following this tragedy, the everyday people raised money in a kind of Regency-era Kickstarter in order to erect a tomb in memory of the two men, both of whom died leaving children behind, showing a spirit of unity and working-class solidarity among Caroline’s supporters.
Following this riot, the funeral route was changed to go through the city as per the usual tradition. The route ended with her body being placed on a ship to be sent to Brunswick, where she was buried in Brunswick Cathedral. English cabinet ministers had rejected her request for her coffin to be inscribed with the phrase Here lies Caroline, the Injured Queen of England, and instead had one commissioned with the usual Latin verse placed on the tombs of past Queens. When the English delegation arrived in Brunswick, they were shocked to find that a plaque with Here lies Caroline, the Injured Queen of England had already been affixed to the coffin. A huge fight broke out between the Brunswick and English representatives until finally it was decided that Caroline’s plaque would be removed, and the Latin one put in its place. You have to hand it to her: even in death, Caroline continued bringing up passionate debate between her supporters and her enemies.
Because she died young, leaving behind an awful husband who hated her and who was the king, Caroline’s legacy has long been based on the ugly rumours he spread about her. Not unlike Queen Anne, it’s taken centuries for historians to consider her seriously. We’re more than due for a reclamation of Caroline’s bananas life, her resilient and cheery spirit, and how cruelly she was treated by the royal family. She was adored by the non-royals to the extent she was instigating riots EVEN ONCE SHE WAS ALREADY DEAD. Caroline of Brunswick was a stone cold legend, period.
Ann Foster is a writer and historian with a research interest in the intersection of women, history, and pop culture, especially the lives and stories of figures both well-known and half-forgotten. patreon.com/annfosterwriter