Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Ghastly Get-Together of the Courting Cousins

              You may call me far too fussy if you wish, but I don’t think the most propitious way to kick-start your marriage is to send your mistress off to the docks to meet your bride-to-be as she steps off the ship. Not when you haven’t even met her before. And she’s your first cousin. And especially not when you’re already one half of an invalid marriage. 

But then again, I’m not heir apparent to the British throne, so maybe that’s the difference. George, Prince of Wales, obviously thought that it was the way to go, and packed Frances Villiers off to Greenwich to welcome Caroline of Brunswick to England. 

Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey

Villiers, Countess of Jersey, was the mother of ten children, a grandmother, and forty years old, (not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things, but they’re hardly the attributes you’d expect in a royal courtesan). George, as I’ve mentioned, was already married, to Maria Fitzherbert who, by her mid-twenties, had already been widowed twice. 

Maria Fitzherbert

George had become infatuated with her, pursued her relentlessly, and stumped up £500 to get a debt-ridden parson out of clink to marry him to his merry widow. Except, as heir to the British throne, he needed the King’s (and the Privy Council’s) permission to marry anyone, and you can be damn sure that that permission wouldn’t have been forthcoming when it was discovered that the prospective bride was a commoner (and a Roman Catholic to boot). 
George, Prince of Wales
 So, for those reasons at the very least, their union was declared invalid, leaving George free to wed his father’s sister’s daughter, something that George only agreed to do when Parliament offered him copious amounts of cash in return for his compliance. 

Queen Charlotte

His mother, Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Strelitz, would have preferred him to have married a different cousin, one of her brother’s daughters, Princess Louise (who went on to become Queen of Prussia), who was younger and more beautiful than George’s father’s preference, his sister’s daughter, Caroline of Brunswick. Frances Villiers, the mistress, pressed George to go along with the King’s choice, probably because it would be a tad easier for her to keep her hooks in the Prince if he married the less attractive Caroline. 

Charlotte of Brunswick

At twenty-six, Caroline was getting a little long in her rapidly diminishing teeth, and her spinsterhood was, the nastier rumours said, the result of a relaxed attitude to chastity in her teenaged years, something that was somewhat unbecoming in a future bride of the greater houses of European royalty. Her first reaction, when she was told she might eventually become the Queen of England, was understandable delight. It also meant that she would have a good reason to get out of Brunswick, a nice enough place, I am perfectly sure, but hardly London, Paris or Madrid. 

James Harris, 1st Earl of Malmesbury

So, when the Earl of Malmesbury arrived in Brunswick, with orders to whisk her off to an English (well, German really, but you get the drift) marriage, she was perfectly prepared to shake the dust of her little principality off her dancing pumps, up sticks, and head for the west. Indeed, she was so satisfied with the situation that when one of her teeth fell out, she gave it to Malmesbury as a grateful memento (and they say that the Germans lack a sense of humour). 

Caroline Lands at Greenwich (The Official Version)

So, in April 1795, the Augusta sailed up the Thames to Greenwich, with Caroline, Malmesbury and their party on board, and where Villiers was supposed to be there to greet them. Except, she wasn’t. She was deliberately late, leaving Caroline to sit around for an hour until she arrived - the royal mistress letting her know, right from the outset, just where she stood (or sat). 

Caroline Lands at Greenwich (What Really Happened).

And to rub a little more salt into the wound, George, with his mother’s contrivance, had made his mistress the Lady of the Bedchamber too. When Villiers finally turned up, she passed a snide criticism of Caroline’s couture (we don’t know what it was, but Malmesbury’s diary says she 
…expressed herself in a way which induced me to speak rather sharply to her.”). 

Caroline of Brunswick

Round Four then got underway, as Villiers announced that she could not possibly sit in the carriage with her back to the horses, and that she would have to sit alongside the Princess. Malmesbury stepped in again (the more you read about Malmesbury, the more you have to like him) – if she didn’t like sitting with her back to the horses, why ever did she accept the position of Lady of the Bedchamber, who never ought to sit forward, he asked. Villiers upped the odds, she would be quite sick if she sat backwards, she threatened, but the admirable Malmesbury was more than ready for this sort of chicanery. 

In that case, he said, Mrs Aston would sit with the Princess in one carriage, and Mrs Villiers could take her vacated seat in his carriage, where he and Lord Claremont would enjoy the pleasure of her company, and where she could sit with her back to the horses to her heart’s content. Villiers, knowing when she was bested, opted for discretion and sat beside Mrs Harcourt, their backs to the horses and both facing the Princess, and arrived, sans vomir, at St James’s, in the Duke of Cumberland’s apartments, Cleveland Row, at half past two in the afternoon. 

Love at First Sight

George immediately came over from Carlton House to meet the ill-starred Princess, who graciously advanced and attempted to kneel before him, but the gallant George bent and helped her to her feet. Suddenly spinning on his heel, all gallantry gone, he headed for the opposite corner of the room at a considerable rate of knots and whispered gravely in Malmesbury’s ear, 
Harris, I am not very well; pray get me a glass of brandy.” 
Maybe, thought Malmesbury half-aloud, the Prince has had enough brandy for one day; 
Sir, had you not better have a glass of water?” 
No,” said the Prince, with an very crude oath, “I will go directly to the Queen,” and off he trotted to his mumsie. Was it the sight of her, or was it maybe the smell of her? Let’s guess...  

Still, Caroline wasn’t all that impressed with her new beau either, as she confided in Malmesbury. 
Mon Dieu! Est ce que le Prince est toujours comme cela? Je le trouve très gros, et nullement aussi beau que son portrait.” 
[My God! Is the Prince is always like that? I find him very fat, and not nearly as handsome as his portrait.] 
A slim and handsome Prince of Wales?

Well, off to a spiffing start, then. And do you think things improved or did they get even worse?  Think about it until tomorrow, when I’ll continue with how things turned out.

No comments:

Post a Comment