Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Preposterous Pairing of the Antithetical Aristocrats

                            Let’s face it. Of course it wasn’t going to get any better. Later in the same day that George and Caroline had their first disastrous encounter, there was a dinner given in honour of the Princess. 

Malmesbury must have sat at the table praying for the ground to open and swallow someone, for a fire to break out somewhere in the palace or, at the very least, for Caroline to choke on a fishbone, as she began, at the outset, an attempt to charm with flippancy and wit, switching to raillery and sarcasm when that fell flat, and settling finally on coarse vulgarity aimed, for the most part, at Frances Villiers, Lady of the Bedchamber (and George’s mistress), who sat in stony silence, soaking up the insults. 

George eventually walked out in disgust, but Caroline failed to take the hint and stayed at the table, continuing with the derision and scorn; George’s initial disgust hardened into outright hatred. War, it seemed, had been declared and Caroline was determined to give as good as she got. 

Marriage a la mode

The marriage took place at eight o’clock in the evening of April 8th 1795, in the Chapel Royal of St James’s Palace, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by the Bishop of London, officiating. An eyewitness account, by Lady Maria Stewart, says, 
The Prince looked like Death and full of confusion, as if he wished to hide himself from the looks of the whole world. I think he is much to be pitied.” 
What she didn’t know was that the Prince had drunk so much brandy that he needed the help of two unmarried dukes during the ceremony, who struggled to keep him from falling down drunk at the altar. They withdrew to the Queen’s chambers in Buckingham House, for a supper, and then the newly-weds went on to Carlton House. Let’s leave the final word on their wedding night to Caroline herself, 
Judge what it was to have a drunken husband on one's [sic] wedding-day, and one who passed the greatest part of his bridal-night in the grate, where he fell, and where I left him!” 

The Happy Couple

It’s hard to take sides when both parties are at fault. 

If only Caroline had heeded Malmesbury’s counsel, taken a bath or two, invested in a toothbrush, changed her smalls more often and bitten her tongue, then maybe George would have treated her, if not with affection, then at least with common courtesy. 

If only George hadn’t acted like a spoiled brat, appointed some neutral serving-women to Caroline’s household, and taken a drop more water with his bracers, then maybe Caroline wouldn’t have dug in her heels and stopped trying to get her retaliation in first. 

Carlton House

As to regrets, they both had a few; George upbraided Malmesbury, asking why he hadn’t written to him from Brunswick and warned him of what to expect. Malmesbury reminded his Prince that he had been sent, not on a reconnaissance mission, but with unequivocal orders to bring the Princess back to England for marriage to his Highness. He had warned that she was wilful, tactless and under-educated, but he had also related that her own father had made it plain that she needed to be treated firmly and not given her head. 

Caroline herself said that if only she had been brought to England earlier, with her father, as Mr Pitt the Younger had once recommended, then it was possible that the results would have been so much different. It was not her fault that Parliament had only agreed to settle the Prince’s debts if he married, nor that she had been an eligible Protestant Princess. 

Caroline and George

They lived together for two or three weeks, only made love three times (twice on the first day and once on the second), and then, although dwelling under the same roof, they ceased to live as man and wife. But, with a bitter twist of fate, the Prince’s seed fell on fertile ground and one day short of nine months after the marriage, the Princess of Wales was delivered of a baby daughter, Charlotte Augusta. Against all possible odds, there would be a direct, legitimate heir to the British throne. 

I'll just leave this here.

This was good news for the great British public, who took the Princess of Wales to their hearts, and tut-tuted most gravely at the Prince of Wales and his publicly flaunted mistress. Separated from his wife, the profligate Prince resumed his libertinistic, libidinous ways, drinking and gambling and consorting with assorted blackguards, ne’er-do-wells and roués

Caroline, Princess of Wales

They played practical jokes on her – all the furniture was stripped from her dining room, bar two shabby chairs. A pearl bracelet given as a wedding gift was taken back and given instead to the royal mistress, who openly wore it in public. The Queen conspired in the persecution of her niece, keeping Frances Villiers in her court circle, and Villiers repaid the honour by spying on the Princess, repeating conversations and, on at least one occasion, intercepting and reading her private correspondence. 

Mother and Child

And then there was the matter of the Prince’s debts, the payment of which was the reason that he had agreed to marry in the first place. Parliament discussed his Highness’s debts, reviewed his incomes, debated his expenses, thought about it, made a few suggestions and then decided that if the Prince tightened his belt, cut his coat according to his cloth, drew in his horns, and so on and so forth, then it might be possible to clear the debts in a mere twenty-seven years. 

It was, as our friends across the channel say, a fait accompli; the Prince had undoubtedly expected a line drawn under the debts if he complied with the marriage plans, but instead he was saddled with this unwanted Brunswicker bride and faced what was probably going to be the rest of his life in straitened financial circumstances. His hands, it seemed, were tied. 

And that was that. Or was it?

Tomorrow, what George and Caroline did - and didn't do - next.

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