Monday, July 31, 2017

The Queen Without a Crown

by Catherine Curzon

Caroline of Brunswick lived a life of drama, scandal and excitement. From her sheltered early days in Brunswick to a disastrous marriage to George IV (at the time merely the Prince of Wales) and a fling with an Italian chamberlain, she did nothing by halves. She had already survived George’s attempts to blacken her name, strip her of her titles and even divorce her, and through it all, the doughty lady emerged unscathed. Darling of the people, favourite of the radicals and rallying point for those who loathed her husband, she simply refused to bend, let alone break.

Yet even the strongest bough must eventually fall.

Caroline of Brunswick by Samuel Lane
Having survived a trial in the House of Lords that threatened to end her marriage and leave her in disgrace, without rank, title or privilege, in 1821 Caroline felt unstoppable. So unstoppable, in fact, that she decided to join the estranged husband who hated her at his Westminster Abbey coronation. Here the queen would be crowned, the crowd would cheer and Caroline would once and for all trounce George IV on his biggest of big days.

The whole of Great Britain knew that George was due to be crowned at Westminster Abbey on 19th July 1821, and it was going to be the biggest party the country had ever seen. He was determined that Caroline would not be there; she was determined that she would. Whether he liked it or not, she was set on having her moment in the spotlight.

Caroline, or rather her advisors, had always been masters of judging the public mood. Yet this time, the queen misread the atmosphere in the streets catastrophically. Though the public had always supported her in her battles with George, her victory in the Lords was old news by now. Instead, as the people of Britain weathered the long, cold winter and waited keenly for the summer to come, they were looking forward to the Coronation party, which promised to be the knees up to end all knees ups. As far as they were concerned, she had a home in Italy and with her husband’s efforts to divorce her exhausted, they began to wonder why she simply didn’t just go home and enjoy the £50,000 annuity Parliament had granted her. Could it be, the people wondered, that Caroline liked the limelight a little too much?

As the king’s Carlton House team went on the PR offensive, Caroline’s own advisors began to distance themselves from what was becoming a toxic situation. Lord Brougham, her chief advisor, told Caroline that she must not go to Westminster Abbey at any cost. He warned her that the public didn’t want it, and that, if she wanted to stay in their favour, the best approach was one of humility.

Caroline was having none of it.

Instead, she wrote to George IV to tell him that she would be there for her crowning. She requested that he let her know what he would like her to wear and asked for a retinue of ladies to assist her in preparing for the big day.

“The Queen from circumstances being obliged to remain in England, she requests the King will be pleased to command those Ladies of the first Rank his Majesty may think most proper in this Realms, to attend the Queen on the day of the Coronation, of which her Majesty is informed is now fixed, and also to name such Ladies which will be required to bear her Majesty's Train on that day. 

The Queen being particularly anxious to submit to the good Taste of his Majesty most earnestly entreats the King to inform the Queen in what Dress the King wishes the Queen to appear in, on that day, at the Coronation. Caroline R.”1

Needless to say, George didn’t reply. Instead, he passed the letter to Lord Liverpool, the prime minster who was no fan of Caroline. He informed the hopeful lady that she wasn't welcome and should keep her distance. With Liverpool’s warning echoing his own, Brougham redoubled his efforts to keep her from the Coronation. Even the press joined in the chorus of disapproval and begged Caroline to heed the words of the politician who had, so far, not failed her. Brougham’s sound guidance in the Lords had saved her from divorce and disgrace, could he now save her from national embarrassment?

Alas, no.

Henry Brougham by Thomas Lawrence
Brougham knew from the start that Caroline wouldn’t be dissuaded from her planned path, it meant so much to her to score a victory over George. Still, Brougham did all he could to dissuade her, yet she refused to accept that “the public feeling would not go along with her”2. Still, he wrote with an almost audible sigh, “having an order, she could not be stopt when she insisted upon it”3. So on 19th July 1821, Caroline sallied forth at six o’clock in the morning, determined to get into the Coronation.

Accompanied by the gallant and well-meaning Lord Hood, Caroline strode from door to door at Westminster Abbey attempting to gain admission. At each door she was turned away until, finally, one of the doors was literally slammed shut in her face. It was a humiliation like she had never known before, and as the crowd that had once cheered her now booed and jeered, one can only imagine what must have been going through Caroline’s head. 

Still she persisted until one of the exasperated doorkeepers told her that admission was by ticket only, regardless of who she was, queen or no queen. Trying to make the best of a bad situation Lord Hood offered Caroline his own ticket so that she might at least see the procession, but she declined, unable to bear such a humiliation. When he made the kind offer Lord Hood heard, “some persons within the porch of the Abbey laughed, and uttered some expressions of disrespect.”4. He was mortified and Caroline, plunged into despair, had no choice but to flee.

“She flinched,” wrote Brougham, “for the first time in her life”5, and it was the beginning of a swift end for Caroline of Brunswick.

From her rooms in Brandenburgh House the crownless queen Caroline continued to stir up trouble, but to no avail. A letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury requesting “to be crowned some days after the King, and before the arrangements were done away with, so that there might be no additional expense”6 was met with a polite but firm rebuttal and one by one, her remaining allies deserted her.

George IV by Thomas Lawrence
Caroline fell ill with stomach pains in late July and her doctors diagnosed an obstruction of the bowel. Her attempts to self-medicate with opiates made matters worse and as the days passed, her condition grew ever weaker. She became convinced that her death was drawing near and requested one final meeting with Brougham, at which she told him,“I shall not recover; and I am much better dead, for I be tired of this life”7.

Caroline of Brunswick, the uncrowned queen, died just after ten o’clock on the evening of 7th August 1821.

“Yesterday evening, at twenty-five minutes after ten o’clock, the QUEEN departed this life after a short but painful illness, at Brandenburgh House, at Hammersmith.”8

Her last wish was to be taken back to her homeland of Brunswick and buried alongside her family. She envisaged a coffin bearing a plate that stated this was the last resting place of the injured queen of England. George IV ordered the minimum period of mourning possible for his late wife, and though he was happy to see her body leave England for Brunswick, her coffin was notably free of the plate she had requested. Enormous crowds turned out to watch her final journey to the coast, mourning the death of the woman who had always provided them with entertainment, if nothing else.

In fact, when the party paused for a rest at Colchester Caroline’s supporters succeeded in fastening the controversial plate to her coffin. The triumph was short lived, and when the procession began again, the official plate was in place once more.

Lord Brougham wrote that the crowds who gathered to watch the procession pass moved him deeply. Though her final weeks had been unhappy, Caroline had not been deserted by her public after all. Mourned, celebrated and notorious, Caroline of Brunswick might be dead, but she would never, ever be forgotten.

1. Melville, Lewis (1912), An Injured Queen, Caroline of Brunswick: Vol I. London: Hutchinson & Co, p.542.
2. Brougham, Henry (1871), The Life and Times of Henry, Lord Brougham, Vol II. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, p.422.
3. Ibid.
4. Urban, Sylvanus (1821). The Gentleman's Magazine: 1821, Volume 91, Part 2. London: John Nichols and Son, p.74.
5. Brougham, Henry (1871), The Life and Times of Henry, Lord Brougham, Vol II. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, p.422.
6. Nightingale, Joseph (1822). Memoirs of the Last Days of Her Late Most Gracious Majesty Caroline, Queen of Great Britain. London: J Robins & Co, p.516.
7. Brougham, Henry (1871), The Life and Times of Henry, Lord Brougham, Vol II. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, p.423.
8. The Morning Post (London, England), Thursday, August 09, 1821; Issue 15725, p.3.
All images courtesy Wikipedia

Further reading
Anonymous. A Brief Account of the Coronation of His Majesty, George IV. London: D Walther, 1821. 
Brougham, Henry. The Critical and Miscellaneous Writings of Henry Lord Brougham. London: Lea & Blanchard, 1841.
Brougham, Henry. The Life and Times of Henry, Lord Brougham, Vol II. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1871.
Chapman, Frederic (trans.). A Queen of Indiscretions, The Tragedy of Caroline of Brunswick, Queen of England. London: John Lane, 1897.
Chapman, Hester W. Caroline Matilda, Queen of Denmark, 1751-75. London: Cape, 1971.
David, Saul. Prince of Pleasure. New York: Grove Press, 2000.
Fraser, Flora. The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline. Edinburgh: A&C Black, 2012.
Gossip, Giles. Coronation Anecdotes. London: Robert Jennings, 1828.
Hibbert, Christopher. George IV. London: Penguin, 1998.
Huish, Robert. Memoirs of George the Fourth: Vol I. London: Thomas Kelly, 1830.
Huish, Robert. Memoirs of Her Late Majesty Caroline, Queen of Great Britain. London: T Kelly, 1821.
Melville, Lewis, An Injured Queen, Caroline of Brunswick: Vol I. London: Hutchinson & Co, 1912.
Nightingale, Joseph, Memoirs of Her Late Majesty Queen Caroline. London: J Robins and Company, 1821.
Nightingale, Joseph. Memoirs of the Last Days of Her Late Most Gracious Majesty Caroline, Queen of Great Britain, and Consort of King George the Fourth. London: J Robins and Company, 1822.
Nightingale, Joseph. Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of Her Most Gracious Majesty Caroline, Queen of Great Britain. London: J Robins & Co, 1820.
Richardson, Joanne. The Disastrous Marriage. London: Jonathan Cape, 1960.
Robins, Jane. The Trial of Queen Caroline: The Scandalous Affair that Nearly Ended a Monarchy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006.
Smith, EA. George IV. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.
Wilkins, William Henry. The Love of an Uncrowned Queen. London: Hutchinson & Co, 1900.

Catherine Curzon is a royal historian. She is the author of Life in the Georgian Court, Kings of Georgian Britain, and Queens of Georgian Britain (October 2017). 

Her work has been featured online by BBC History Magazine and in Explore History, All About History, History of Royals and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She has provided research for An Evening with Jane Austen at the V&A and spoken at venues including the Royal Pavilion, Lichfield Guildhall, Greenwich National Maritime Museum and Dr Johnson’s House. This year she will speak at the Stamford Georgian Festival, the Jane Austen Festival, Kenwood House and Godmersham Park. 

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.


  1. Nice post Catherine! Was it Catherine herself when returning to England that was not allowed to travel through London's main streets, or was it her coffin that was detoured to prevent an outpouring of support? I'm thinking it was her coffin. One of the colorful slights (slams?) that make for fascinating history.

    1. Her coffin did indeed have a few adventures of its own - even in death, she was still capable of causing a royal rumpus!

  2. I have always felt sad for Caroline. She was definitely an original. She and George were so mismatched. That final humiliation must have been like a knife to the heart.

    1. The more time I spend with Caroline, I have to say that the more my sympathy evaporates. As my granddad would have said, "they'd spoil another couple!".

    2. True. She was her own worst enemy. She probably would have been a mess anyway (as was he in his way), but being with George just exacerbated things for both of them. Neither came out well.


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