The Life of Queen Caroline
By Flora Fraser
Review by Cheryl Bolen
The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline
By Flora Fraser
Alfred A. Knopf, 1996
All of us who are acquainted with the Regency have heard of how
ó to settle his enormous debts ó the prince regent agreed to marry
his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, a woman he had never met. We
have all read of the regentís shocked quip at being presented to the
less-than-clean woman who would become his wife: "Harris, I am not
well; pray get me a glass of brandy." We have been told that the
regent had to get himself thoroughly foxed in order to bed this
German-born woman on their wedding night. Others have even suggested
that the "act" may have been performed only once (not
accurate), with the happy result that Princess Caroline immediately
became pregnant with Princess Charlotte. We are also well acquainted
with Carolineís trial for adultery in the House of Lords in 1820 (a
proceeding which failed to censure her).
I must confess that before reading Flora Frasierís biography, I
was sympathetic to the aesthete known as the prince regent. I even took
a kind of perverse pleasure in his shunning of the stinking, buxom
German woman. A womanizing sot he may have been, but his sensory
sensitivity was something with which I could identify.
After reading Frasierís work on Caroline, I believe the regent
most cruel to his innocent bride. This change in my mindset was not
brought about because Frazier glossed over Carolineís faults. She did
While Caroline never expected to fall in love with the man she
married, she did work hard to please him in the first two to three years
of their marriage. To no avail. There was nothing she could have done to
have curried his favor. From the moment he set eyes on her, he was
thoroughly revolted. His dislike of her bordered on the obsessive. He
would not sit down to table with her. He disliked her living under the
same roof. He would not even directly communicate with her. In point of
fact, he fancied himself in love with Mrs. Fitzherbert, a woman he
illegally married a decade earlier, and from whom he had separated the
previous year because of one of his affairs.
Going back to original diaries and viewing many portraits of the
wronged Caroline, Frazier said that as a young woman, Caroline was not
unattractive. Her grooming, however, was another matter, but even that,
Frazier thinks, improved once she got to England and had the opportunity
to observe upper-born English women. Frazier may have been a little
biased after the eight years she spent researching this biography.
Pointed references to Carolineís uncleanliness (and one in which the
regent spoke of his wifeís uncleanliness in a most intimate area) are absent
from this work. There is no record, Frazier said, of any other man who
had been intimate with princess ever remarking on the offensiveness of
her personal hygiene.
The royal newlyweds had sex for no more than a couple of weeks,
when their sexual relations ceased altogether. Nine months after the
wedding, Caroline gave birth to Charlotte and was close to her daughter.
Until the regent demanded they separate. He had no desire for such an
uncouth woman to influence the future queen.
Another wrong for Caroline, who adored children.
King George III was not happy with his sonís treatment of
Caroline, who was his sisterís daughter, nor was he happy when the two
began living separately.
Because having sex with the regentís wife would have constituted
high treason (a hanging offense), no men ever committed to writing their
affairs with Caroline. But there were many. Living for many years in
Blackheath, adjacent to Greenwich, Caroline had the opportunity to
entertain officers in the Royal Navy, at least two of whom became her
lovers. But she also had affairs with well-connected men who thought
well of her.
Ever desirous of divorcing her, the regent launched a
"delicate investigation" against her twelve years after their
1895 marriage, but no concrete evidence of her adulteries was
Because she was so fond of children and because she was denied the
opportunity to raise her own child, Caroline adopted a low-born infant
boy named Willy Austin whose mother and unemployed father already had
too many mouths to feed. She also employed the senior Austin as a mangle
operator. The adoption and the boyís low origins drew criticism and
contributed to the Delicate Investigation. Upon Carolineís death four
years after her natural daughterís, Willy was her residuary legatee.
After her annual income increased when her husband became regent
in 1811, she went abroad, living most of the time in Italy, where she
elevated a low-born Italian (Pergami) to a baron after he became her
lover. She did not return to England until her husband became king in
1820, but she was banned from being crowned queen, the timber doors of
Westminster Abby slamming in her face when she attempted to participate
in the coronation.
Weeks after her trial in 1821, she died. She requested to be
buried in Brunswick with this on her tomb: Caroline of Brunswick, the
injured Queen of England.
Frasier, the daughter of the distinguished biographer Antonia
Frasier and an English MP, has done a sterling job of research in this
excellent work, which contains 50 pages of biographical notes.
This article was first published in The Quizzing Glass in December