Monday, May 21, 2012

The Delicate Investigation

by Regina Jeffers

The Fox-Greenville government presented the Prince the opportunity to take a bit of revenge on several levels, especially when it came to his estranged wife, Princess Caroline. By 1799, the Princess spent most of her time living at Montague House in Blackheath. Caroline also spent most of her time "flirting" with several of George III's ministers, specifically Henry Dundas (Treasurer of the Navy), Charles Long (an Undersecretary to the Treasury), William Windham (Secretary of War), George Canning (a member of the Board of Control and future Prime Minister) and William Pitt. These senior Tories cultivated Caroline to serve as her daughter's Regent if George IV met with an untimely death.

Caroline's exploits were common knowledge among those who followed palace gossip. Thomas Lawrence, the portrait painter, reportedly had a brief affair with the Princess in 1800. Rear-Admiral Sir Sidney Smith, who had thwarted Napoleon's plans for Syria, occupied much of the Princess's time during 1801. Smith lived with Sir John Douglas (a knighted Royal Marine officer) in Blackheath during 1801-02. As neighbors of the Princess, the Douglases and Smith were often visitors at Montague House.

In the Fall of 1802, a three-month-old boy's arrival at Montague House added coal to the fire. Reportedly, Caroline had asked her staff to assist in locating a child for her to raise. A woman named Sophia Austin came to the Princess's home to ask for assistance in finding employment for her husband, Samuel, who had been dismissed from the Deptford Dockyard. Mrs. Austin was persuaded by the Princess's staff to place her newborn son in the Princess's care in exchange for Caroline's assistance.

At Christmastide 1802, Caroline took up an alliance with Captain Thomas Manby. The Douglases were away at Plymouth at the time, and by their return, Manby had replaced Sir Sidney in the Princess's regard. Yet, by the spring of 1803, Manby's frigate, H.M.S. Africaine, had been refitted, and he set sail. Reportedly, Caroline had paid for his cabin's remodeling and had given the captain £300. When his frigate was stationed at Dover Roads, Caroline took a house in Ramsgate and visited the ship often. 


Having second thoughts about the Douglases' knowledge of her affairs, Caroline began a "smear campaign" against her former friends and Sir Sidney. Apparently the Princess was trying to discredit the threesome before they had the opportunity to do the same to her. When George III gave Caroline the Rangership of Greenwich Park, in an effort to reduce her debts, the Princess leased a house in Greenwich to the newly founded Royal Naval School. She followed that with the earmarking of various other houses in the Park for her Household and officials of the school. Among the tenants given notice to quit their house were Sir John and Lady Douglas. 


The Douglases retaliated by given George IV evidence of his wife's affairs. Lady Douglas provided the Prince Regent with a charge that Willy Austin, the child Caroline had taken in, was Princess Caroline's child, and that the Princess planned to pass the boy off as the Prince's because Caroline had slept two nights at Carlton House during the dates of the boy's conception. If Lady Douglas's claims proved true, in addition to committing adultery (a crime punishable by death), the Princess planned to supersede the succession of her own daughter, Princess Charlotte. 


The Prince turned the information over to Samuel Romilly, the Whig lawyer. The Douglases made a written statement, which was shown to several more of the "political brotherhood." Following the death of Pitt and the formation of the Ministry of All the Talents in early 1806, Prinny "took no steps whatever to make it [Caroline's possible crimes] the subject of public investigation; but manifested on the contrary the greatest desire to avoid it if possible." However, as Romilly had been appointed Solicitor-General, the prosecution of the Princess appeared imminent. If the Prince could prove the charges, he could pursue the dissolution of his marriage to a woman he despised. 


In May 1806, the Dukes of York, Kent, and Sussex encouraged their brother to consent to laying the charges against the Princess before the Council. Despite the fact that some of the evidence against the Princess had been contradicted by her two physicians, George IV agreed to the request. The so-called "Delicate Investigation" began on June 1. Lady Douglas's testimony became the basis of the charges, but others gave statements. Among those who were questioned were William Cole and Robert Bidigood, the Princess's former pages and most of her Household staff. 


Despite Prinny's hopes that the Commission would find against the Princess, on July 14, the Commission released its report. It concluded that the child was not of Caroline's issue. However, the Commission declared the Princess guilty of adultery until proved innocent. Having received a copy of the Secret Commission's report, the King was in a difficult position. While there was no actual proof of adultery, the circumstantial evidence was compelling. Therefore, George III severed "all future social intercourse" with Caroline except "outward marks of civility." 

10 comments:

  1. Very delicatedly put.

    Spencer Perceval was the lawyer assigned by George III to conduct the investigation and to question Caroline. He subsequently produced a report on the subject and despite his report having been suppressed and it not saying exactly what George III wanted it to say, the king subsequently appointed him to be Prime Minister in 1809, calling him, "the most straightforward man I have ever known."

    Caroline's exploits and intimate adventures continued to, ah, boggle the minds of a gobsmacked public. And probably Talleyrand (the French Foreign Minister) after meeting her in Strasbourg, put it best: "Her manner of behaving in Strasbourg explains perfectly why the Prince Regent prefers to see her in Italy rather than in England."

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is such a fascinating subject, but I had to find a way to end it. I could have written an entire book on the intrigues of the court. LOL!!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This was very interesting... For a moment there I thought I was watching a soap opera. hahahaha Things haven't changed that much have they? lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Marie, the maneuvering of the Royal Court should not surprise any of us. (How many husbands did Erica Kane have? LOL!)

      Delete
  4. crazy!
    and sounding like what i've just been reading about queen victoria as i was researching for my post on queenie's b'day party duly celebrated this past lonnnng weekend !
    i didn't post on that - just stuck to the birthdate and victorian teacups for TeaCup Tuesday :) enJoY a cuppa at FHC ~ !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am surprised that Victoria and Albert were so "staunch" in their dealings with one another. Victoria certainly had few role models.

      Delete
  5. I really enjoyed the post and found it most interesting! Now I want to dig further into their lives. I'm just throwing this out there because it's something I've always wondered. I wonder if one of the reasons for so many transgressions in the courts throughout time were because they had a lot of time on their hands? They were busy with their day to day goings on, but they didn't labor like the common folk. So many married for reasons other than love also. And then some, I guess, just loved.....love? LOL!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Leah, I suspect it had more to do with "power" than idle time, but we will never know for certain. It was a way of life then and now.

      Delete
  6. One of my favorite Caroline anecdotes relates to her visit to (and rumored affair with) the Dey of Tunis. Reportedly Lord Norbury, the Chief Justice, remarked, "She was as happy as the Dey is long."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alyssa, I have not heard that particular saying, but history is polluted with many more that characterize Caroline's escapades.

      Delete