There is one line of thought that George, Prince of Wales, was behind the whole thing. When he realised that Parliament had no intention of clearing his debts at a stroke, even though he had gone through with the marriage to his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, and when he realised that they were an entirely unsuited couple, who could never make their marriage work, you can understand, if not condone, it that he resolved to be rid of her.
|George, Prince of Wales|
She was tactless, headstrong, garrulous and, let’s be honest, not the brightest diamond in the tiara. If the rumours coming out of Blackheath were to be believed, the Princess was running wild, with far too many gentleman callers. So, let’s just say that her new neighbours, the Douglases, were ‘encouraged’ to move into the district and gain her confidence, and to relate their findings back to the Prince.
How convenient would it be if they conveyed lurid stories of the Princess’s liaisons with a steady stream of suitors, and what if the story of the illegitimate child was true? Messy, certainly, sordid, absolutely; grounds for divorce, definitely.
|Caroline, Princess of Wales|
But, let’s just imagine that Caroline realised what was going on, and deliberately played up to the spies, giving them just what they wanted, and more, knowing that in the cold light of reason, how ridiculous the claims would seem. So, she let Lady Douglas believe that William Austin was her own child, dropping tasty hints at opportune moments, making the odd salty comment about the gentleman who just happened to be staying at Blackheath at the moment.
|Charlotte, Lady Douglas|
Lady Douglas must have thought she had struck scandalous gold, and she mined it for all it was worth, eagerly scooping up the precious nuggets as they were revealed. And when it all went wrong, and the Delicate Investigation exonerated the Princess entirely, finding the charges brought against her to be without foundation, and revealed the true mother of William Austin to be a poor woman from Deptford, and that the Princess had charitably adopted the child, it must have seemed to the Prince of Wales that his best laid plans had come to naught.
|King George III|
The King favoured his niece, brought her to court, gave her apartments at Kensington Palace and the public agreed that she deserved sympathy for the terrible persecution brought against her by the Prince and his faction. She became the most popular of all the royals (not a difficult feat, given the nature of the competition), cheered in the streets whenever she went out in public, and feted by fashionable society, with her salon being the place to be seen.
|Charles, Duke of Brunswick|
It may have seemed to Caroline that it had all been worthwhile, after all, although her option of a retreat back to Brunswick were dashed when her father was fatally wounded during the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, the French victors consequently took control of the principality, and her mother sought asylum in England. The Duchess’s brother, King George III, provided lodgings for her at Blackheath, and for the next few years there were, in effect, two parallel courts; the Prince’s at Carlton House and the Princess’s at Kensington.
|Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick|
And then, in 1811, fate tossed another twist into the mix, as King George III’s madness returned, and the Prince of Wales was made Regent, ruling in his father’s stead. Using his new powers, he began to realign the pieces on the chessboard, and many of the faithful former visitors to Kensington, sensing the shift, strategically moved their allegiances to Carlton House instead.
|Caroline, Princess of Wales|
So, it will come as no surprise to learn that, before long, it all began to unravel. George obviously nurtured his grudge, biding his time, looking for evidence, waiting for the slip, the crack, the chance. With characteristic petulance, he withdrew Caroline’s access to their daughter, Princess Charlotte, forbidding any contact between mother and daughter, and even going so far as to issue orders to the coachmen not to stop for or even approach Caroline’s carriage if they happened to encounter it whilst out driving the Princess (in fact, a chance meeting in Hyde Park outraged the public, when they learned that this was the extent of the contact between the two). Caroline wrote to George, begging him to reconsider his action and asking for access to Charlotte, and George, entirely in character, returned the unopened letter.
Caroline now found a new ally (following the assassination of Spencer Perceval), in a rapidly rising politician called Henry Brougham, who may well have drafted the letter for her, and who leaked it to the press, who happily printed the full text in the papers. George responded by leaking Lady Douglas’s deposition to the Delicate Investigation, in a bid to weaken the public perception of his wife, and Brougham retaliated by further leaking the letters to the Investigation that had refuted Douglas’s allegations.
|The Assassination of Spencer Perceval|
Caroline’s social isolation was further ensured when George let it be known that anyone who was in contact with her would be unwelcome at the Royal court, and in 1814, following Napoleon’s defeat in Europe, this was made abundantly plain when she was excluded from the victory celebrations of the European nobility held in London (when George had been told of the Duke of Wellington’s victories in the west, he had responded with the outburst,
“Damn the west! And damn the east! And damn Wellington! The question is, how am I to get rid of this damned Princess of Wales?”
Tomorrow - How, indeed?