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The Kings’ Letters: Evidence in Caroline’s Defence

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 This blog post is the fifth in a series on the Queen Caroline Affair to mark its bicentenary. For an outline of the full story of the Affair, see this introductory blog post and this video. In this blog post, Dr Katie Carpenter examines two letters written to Caroline, as Princess of Wales, by King George III, and her husband, who would become George IV.

In a previous blog, I described how whilst searching for documents related to the Queen Caroline Affair, I came across a small envelope with four letters inside. This envelope was tucked away in a box of documents with the king’s message to the House of Lords, seeking an inquiry into Caroline’s conduct abroad. Two were written by Louisa Demont, a former maid to the Queen, but the other two, were of much less humble origins. They were written to Caroline by George III and the future George IV, and were used by the Queen’s defence team during the trial.

Image of envelope with 3 lines of writing and annotations
Envelope from the Queen Caroline Papers- no. 218,    1820, Parliamentary Archives,             HL/PO/JO/10/8/512

On 4th October 1820, in a passionate speech in Caroline’s defence, Henry Brougham presented both letters to the Lords. The first was a letter written from King George III, dated 15th November 1804. Examination of the handwriting and signature of this letter, suggests the possibility that the letter held by the Parliamentary Archives is the original written by George and sent to Caroline. Brougham introduced the letter as follows:

‘It is a melancholy proof- melancholy, because he who furnished it is no longer among us- how that illustrious Sovereign felt towards her; he who knew her better than all others, he who loved her more than all the rest of her family, even those upon whose affections she had a stronger claim.’[1]

handwritten letter
Letter from George III to Caroline- no. 218,          15 Nov 1804, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/8/512

The letter, addressed to ‘My dearest daughter-in-law and niece’, described George III’s efforts to negotiate a continued amiable separation between his son and Caroline, in such a way that allowed Caroline access to her daughter. As he wrote, ‘you may depend upon their [plans] not being decided upon without your thorough and cordial concurrence; for your authority as mother it is my object to support’. He ended the letter ‘Believe me at all times, My dearest daughter-in-law and uncle’.[2] The letter had been written at a volatile time in the relationship between the King and the Prince of Wales. They had barely spoken for some time, having fallen out after the King’s refusal to promote the Prince above Colonel. In response, the Prince had published some of his father’s personal letters, and the King refused to see him.[3]As one biographer has noted, George III ‘was as affectionate to his daughter-in-law as he was unforgiving to his son’.[4] Caroline’s defence team drew on the memory of George III who was better respected than his loathed son, to rehabilitate the Queen’s reputation. As Brougham continued, ‘Such is the opinion which out late Sovereign, a man not ignorant of human nature, and capable of forming a just estimate of human conduct and motives, always entertained of his dear and cherished daughter’.[5]

cartoon image of George IV in a bed chamber
Richard Coeur de Diable, Coloured etching                      By John Fairburn                                                                       © Parliamentary Art Collection, WOA 488

The second of the letters, from George, then Prince of Wales, has its roots at the very beginning of the ill-fated marriage. George and Caroline had reluctantly married 8th April 1795. They reportedly only spent two night together before separating but conceived a child. Princess Charlotte was born almost exactly nine months after their wedding. During the pregnancy and after the birth of Charlotte, George sought to isolate Caroline and control her access to social circles. She was also forced to live under the watchful eye of Lady Jersey, her husband’s mistress, whom Queen Charlotte openly patronised. Writing to a friend whilst late in her pregnancy, Caroline expressed ‘I do not know how I shall bear the loneliness’.[6] Contemporary observers were in concurrence that Caroline’s situation was miserable: ‘The Princess of Wales dines always alone; and sees no company but old people put on her list by the Queen, Lady Jersey, etc. She goes nowhere but airings in Hyde Park. The Prince uses her unpardonly [sic].’[7]

handwritten letter
Letter from Prince George to Caroline- no. 218,                                    30 April 1796,                        Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/8/512.

The letter, dated 30th April 1796- just over a year from the date of their wedding- outlined the terms of separation at Caroline’s request. It has been described as ‘a frigid masterpiece’.[8]

George stated that ‘Our inclinations are not in our power; nor should either of us be held answerable for the other, because nature has not made us suitable to each other’. Caroline expressly wished for reassurance that she would not have to sleep with him again to conceive another heir to the throne, if something should happen to their daughter (who tragically reached an untimely death in 1817). [9] This request was met by George who wrote: ‘even in the event of any accident happening to my daughter, which I trust Providence in its mercy will avert, I shall not infringe the terms of the restriction, by proposing a connexion of a more particular nature’. George concluded his letter: ‘I will now finally close this disagreeable correspondence, trusting, that as we have completely explained ourselves to each other, the rest of our lives will be passed in uninterrupted tranquillity’.[10] This, of course, was not to be.

The letter was used in the trial as evidence that George had effectively given his consent for Caroline to live her life as she wished. This was important as in an ordinary divorce proceeding, the ecclesiastical courts would not grant a degree of separation if the couple were formally separated at the time the alleged adultery took place. This letter made it clear that the separation was desired by George. As Brougham argued, ‘It suggests, indeed, that their happiness would be best consulted and pursued by living asunder; but it states distinctly that her conduct should never be subjected to that watchful, rigorous scrutiny which has been since employed in the production of the present Bill of Pains and Penalties’.[11]

As these letters were read in the chambers, their contents are well known. Indeed, the Prince of Wales suggestion that ‘nature has not made us suitable to each other’ is often-quoted in biographies of George and Caroline. But until recently, it was not known, that the letters- very likely the originals- were folded up in a small envelope in the bottom of a box in the records of the House of Lords.

[1] The Trial of Her Majesty Queen Caroline, Consort of George IV For an Alledged Adulterous Intercourse with Bartolomo Bergami (London: T. Kaygill, 1820), 497.

[2] Parliamentary Archives, no. 218, HL/PO/JO/10/8/512.

[3] Flora Fraser, The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline (London: Macmillan, 1997), 140–41.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The Trial of Her Majesty Queen Caroline, Consort of George IV For an Alledged Adulterous Intercourse with Bartolomo Bergami, 498.

[6] Fraser, The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline, 70.

[7] Charles, Lord Colchester, ed., The Diary and Correspondence of Charles Abbot, Lord Colchester, vol. I (London: John Murray, 1861), 52.

[8] Joanna Richardson, The Disastrous Marriage: A Study of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick (London: Jonathan Cape, 1960), 37.

[9] Jane Robins, Rebel Queen: How the Trial of Caroline Brought England to the Brink of Revolution (London: Pocket Books, 2007), 22.

[10] Parliamentary Archives, no. 218, HL/PO/JO/10/8/512.

[11] The Trial of Her Majesty Queen Caroline, Consort of George IV For an Alledged Adulterous Intercourse with Bartolomo Bergami, 498.

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