I dare say that you barely noticed what, to us, seems like an inconsequential detail. It was that wee thing about having her name removed from the Liturgy that tipped the balance for Caroline. In the bidding prayers included in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, said before the reading of the Collect, specific mention was (and still is) made of the members of the Royal family, for whose health and well-being prayers were offered. By removing Caroline’s name from the Liturgy, her position as the Queen of England was publicly denied, both before God and Man. She had been tried, found guilty, and sentenced; justice had been served without hearing her case. A tiny thing mayhap, yet a straw that broke the camel’s back. Caroline resolved to return to England.
Letters were written, to the leader of the House of Commons, Lord Castlereagh, to the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, demanding to know why her name had been omitted from the Liturgy, detailing insults to Her Majesty’s dignity suffered in foreign courts, and announcing her intention to come to England forthwith. Replies were sent, pointing out that if she set foot on English soil, proceedings against her would be inevitable. Liverpool offered terms, a satisfactory financial accommodation (£50,000 per year!) could be made if only she remained abroad and did not assume the title or style of Queen Consort. Acceptance of which, of course, would be an admission of guilt.
Caroline was met by Brougham, who was acting as her representative, and Lord Hutchinson, representative of the government, at St Omer, and the options were laid before her. Another slight, in her eyes. She left for Calais in the very highest dudgeon, very much against the advice of Brougham, and not finding the expected Royal Navy yacht waiting for her, she boarded the insignificant Prince Leopold and, on June 5th 1820, she landed at Dover.
The populace turned out to greet her, cannon thundered a royal salute, banners were unfurled, cries and cheers sounded out, church bells rang continuously in every town and village. As she progressed to London, labourers stopped work in the fields and cheered ‘God Save the Queen’ as she passed. One chap, obvious overcome by the emotion of the moment and not altogether au fait with the ins and outs of Her Majesty’s private life, even called for cheers for ‘Mr Austin, Her Majesty’s son.’
When Caroline arrived in London, she took lodgings with Alderman Wood, in South Audley Street, and waited for the King to make a move. She did not have to wait for long; on the next afternoon, an announcement was read simultaneously before the Lords and the Commons.
“The King, in consequence of the Queen's arrival, feels it necessary to communicate to this House certain documents relating to Her Majesty's conduct after her departure from this country. These documents he entrusts to the serious and immediate consideration of the House.”
These ‘certain documents’ were contained in two green bags, and were identical copies of the evidence collected by the preposterous Milan Commission. The House of Lords immediately appointed a secret committee of fifteen members to examine the evidence. The Commons, on the other hand, allowed their green bag to sit, unopened, on the table for two weeks.
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A Bill of Pains and Penalties was then brought before the ministers; these bills were a legal hangover, even in 1820. They were intended to punish offenders who had committed crimes against the State not covered under ordinary law, and were legally dubious, to say the very least, as a person could be tried for an act that was not illegal when that act was committed, and punishment could be enacted in excess of what was applicable under law. Furthermore, these bills were brought against a specific individual by name, rather than a class of offenders, all of which runs against the very heart of English jurisprudence.
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The preamble to the 1820 Bill stated that Caroline, then Princess of Wales, had left Great Britain and travelled abroad, where she engaged in licentious intimacy with Bartolomeo Pergami, and by reason of this disgraceful behaviour it was necessary to dissolve her marriage to the King of England (the enacting part of the bill simply dissolved the marriage). After two days of legal niceties, the trial proper of the Queen began on August 19th 1820, with Henry Brougham (a member of the Commons) given the unusual dispensation to speak before the Lords.
He, cleverly, offered speculations rather than recriminations; why had the King not filed for common divorce, well, because no petition would be heard from a husband who had driven his wife from the marital home, and had frequently violated the matrimonial vows. He pointed out that George, in marrying Mrs Fitzherbert, a Roman Catholic, had forfeited his right of accession to the Crown. Why was a Bill of Pains and Penalties being enforced when, surely, there was a case of treason to be heard? Knowing that support and sympathy in the country lay virtually unanimously with Caroline, he also called for the evidence to be made public, a move that would almost certainly have led to the fall of the Tory administration.
In the end, Brougham’s objections were overruled and the very soiled linen of Caroline began to be scrutinised by the members of both Houses.
Tomorrow - A Queen on Trial