Friday, 19 April 2013

The Malapropos Matching of the Mephitic Madam

               The courts of Europe, particularly those of the pettier principalities and smaller states, were once little more than stud farms, producing breeding stock for the larger dynastic houses. Herds of lesser princelings and princesses were intended to beef-up the shallower reaches of the aristocratic gene pools, as the dwindling numbers of suitably Grade-A prospective royal matches resulted in levels of in-breeding among the ruling classes that would have even caused judgmental whispers in some of the remoter areas of rural Norfolk. 

The Hapsburgs, in particular, tended towards in-breeding

The ruling dynasties needed heirs (and preferably spares), if they were to sustain their reigns, and although matches were made between babes-in-arms, mewling infants or even, in some cases, the as-yet unborn, there were occasions when the best laid plans came to naught, and the royal matchmakers were forced to have a re-think about matters. 

George IV

Take the case of the future George IV (then the Prince of Wales), whose father, King George III, suffered from what might have been porphyria (modern historians favour this as the cause of that famous cinematic Madness, although recent research may necessitate a bit of a rewrite on that), and who managed to run up massive debts during his father’s illness. 

George III

When George III wasn’t being Mad, he was really quite sane and delivered an ultimatum to his son – put a brake on all the rakish nonsense and settle down, marry your first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, or else Parliament cuts off your allowance. Young George (who was 32 years old by then) may have been a profligate philanderer, but he was bright enough to realise on which side his bread was buttered, and so James Harris, 1st Earl of Malmesbury was sent off to Brunswick to marry Caroline by proxy and then bring her back to England with him. 
(A younger) 1st Earl of Malmesbury
Malmesbury, who was fifty years old, was a trusted and experienced diplomat, and rather a fine diarist, but for some strange reason his normally dependable head failed him on this occasion. He really ought to have reported more of his intelligence back to his masters back at court in England but he kept most of it for his diary. In his entry for November 28th 1794, he records his first impressions of Caroline, 
The Princess Caroline much embarrassed on my first being presented to her – pretty face – not expressive of softness – her figure not graceful – fine eyes – good hand – tolerable teeth, but going - fair hair and light eye-brows, good bust - short, with what the French call ‘des epaules impertinentes,’ (i.e. ‘impertinent shoulders’) Vastly happy with her future expectations.” 

Caroline of Brunswick

He spoke with her mother, Princess Augusta (sister of King George III), who told him that all the German princesses had been taught English, in the hope that one of them would be matched with the future George IV. On December 3rd, Malmesbury received a messenger bearing a portrait of the Prince of Wales and a letter urging him 
“… vehemently to set out with the Princess Caroline immediately,” 
and the following day, Malmesbury had the marriage treaty drawn up, in English and Latin, (he objected to French). 

Charles, Duke of Brunswick

Two days later, the Duke of Brunswick spoke to him about his daughter; she was not a beast, he told him, but she had, through necessity, been brought up strictly, as she lacked ‘judgement’. The Duke also told Malmesbury that he was well aware of the character of the Prince of Wales, and the consequences of him liking Caroline too much – or too little. 

Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick

Other courtiers dropped little hints about Caroline’s lack of tact, her lack of education and her lack of attentiveness and Malmesbury, at dinner, counselled the Princess to keep perfect silence ‘on all matters’ for six months following her arrival in England. Another conversation with her father revealed that he had concerns about how she would perform her official duties, and he urged Malmesbury to be her advisor, a ‘second father’, adding that she had told him what she had been already advised, and they both thanked him for that. 

Caroline of Brunswick

After a visit to the opera and dinner with Caroline, on December 8th, Malmesbury wrote in his diary that  
“…she improves very much on closer acquaintance,” 
but he continued to drill it into her to never, ever, express any of her own opinions about anything, and especially nothing about politics. For all the Prince of Wales’s vehement exhortations, the party did not depart for England, via Holland, until the end of January 1795, and the terrible winter weather made the going painfully slow. 

1st Earl of Malmesbury

On March 6th, while still on the road, Malmesbury raised two delicate subjects with Caroline – there was the way she spoke about others, especially her mother, that was … maybe, just a little, shall we say, tactless. She should, perhaps, reflect for a little moment before she spoke, as that way, she just might not offend anyone. 

Now, I'm not insinuating anything, but ...

And then there was the matter of her toilette. Malmesbury admitted that he found it remarkable that her mother, as an Englishwoman, had not been a little more attentive in the education of her daughter on all matters feminine. He knew she wore coarse petticoats, coarse shifts and thread stockings but these weren’t ever washed quite well enough, or changed quite as often as they could have been. Malmesbury had the other ladies in the party mention it to her, in passing more than anything, but perhaps, just maybe, she might wash herself, and her clothes, just a little more often and a little more thoroughly. A long toilette was just the thing, don’t you know, and there was no credit at all in boasting about getting by with a short one every now and again. Now, if people in Georgian times started to point out that you might, you know, whiff a tiny bit, then it’s a safe bet that you would be attracting flies from any number of adjacent parishes. 

Caroline lands at Greenwich

And then, on Sunday April 5th 1795, they arrived at Greenwich, and that’s when things other than Caroline started to stink.

Tomorrow - A marriage made in Hell

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