https://archives.blog.parliament.uk/2020/08/11/the-queens-maid-louisa-demont-and-the-queen-caroline-affair/

The Queen’s Maid: Louisa Demont and the Queen Caroline Affair

This blog post is the fourth 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 by Caroline’s maid.

Most of the documents related to the Queen Caroline Affair that are held by the Parliamentary Archives are, naturally, made by Parliament (such as Bills or memos), or sent to Parliament (such as messages from the King, or public petitions). However, whilst rifling through the records of the House of Lords, I found a small envelope, inside of which were four letters- two of them were written by Queen Caroline’s former maid, Louisa Demont (sometimes spelt Dumont).[1]  You can read about the other two letters in the envelope here. At first glance, the content of these letters seemed unrelated to the case; in this blog, I outline their relevance to the trial and why they came to be in the Parliamentary Archives.

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

Louisa Demont was a Swiss maid who had joined Caroline’s household in 1814 at Geneva. Demont has been described as somewhat of a social climber. According to Flora Fraser, she ‘worked her way up through a combination of allure, sly wit and, above all, an ability to please while pleasing herself’ and Caroline treated her more as a friend than a maid.[2] However, Demont’s relationship with Caroline soured, and in late 1817 she was dismissed along with a courier, Sacchini. Sacchini was dismissed for allegedly stealing from the Princess; Demont was thought to be an accomplice. She was also accused of falsely spreading a rumour that Caroline was in love with Sacchini.[3]

After her dismissal from Caroline’s service, Demont was tracked down by the Milan Commission. The Milan Commission was a deputation of investigators who were sent to Milan by Lord Liverpool, to seek out potential witnesses who would be willing to testify against Caroline. Its intention was to dig enough dirt on Caroline so that George- at this point Prince Regent- could get the divorce he desperately wanted. The evidence that Demont gave to the Milan Commission would ultimately lead to her becoming the ‘most important and most notorious of the witnesses’ for the prosecution, at the trial in the summer of 1820.[4]

Demont’s testimony began on 30th August 1820 and lasted for a day and a half. A witness described her entry into the chamber:

She is the smartest dressed of femmes de chambre, but neither the youngest nor the prettiest. She seems to be about thirty-six years of age: in complexion she is a brunette; her cheeks sunk and shrivelled, and her eye more remarkable for an expression of cunning than of intellect. She advanced to the bar with a degree of confidence which even the most penetrating glance of Mr Brougham, who eyed her most perseveringly from top to toe, did not at all affect.’[5]

At the bar of the house, Demont proceeded to give detailed descriptions of the inappropriately close relationship between Caroline and Bartolomeo Pergami, the man at the centre of the adultery accusations. She described their relationship as ‘very familiar, one towards the other’, and Pergami entering the Princess’s bedroom without knocking. Demont described seeing Pergami in the Princess’s dressing room, whilst she was in a state of undress. Following the employment of Pergami, Caroline allegedly requested that her adopted son, William Austin was now ‘too big a boy to sleep in her own room, and he must have a chamber to himself’. Most damningly, Demont described seeing the Princess’s bed with ‘the appearance of more than one person having slept in it’.[6] Having known Caroline intimately, and as one of the last prosecution witnesses to have seen her in person, Demont’s testimony was the cornerstone of the case against Caroline.

However, things began to quickly unravel on 1st September, when Demont’s cross-examination began. Her answers to questions were tremendously vague, and multiple times she used the phrases ‘I do not recollect’ and ‘I will not swear but I do not recollect’. It was also revealed that Demont was herself in sexual relationships with a number of men during her employment with Caroline.

Handwritten letter with creases
Original Letter from Demont to Mariette (French version), no. 218,       8 Feb 1818, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/8/512

On the 2nd September, Demont’s credibility was further ripped to shreds on the presentation of the two letters. The first letter was written by Demont to her sister Mariette, dated 8th February 1818, who was still employed by Caroline. Both the original French and an English translation were in the envelope with the King’s message. The letter was especially damaging to the prosecution’s case, as in the letter, Demont alluded to being offered a bribe to speak against Caroline.

‘The 24th of last month I was taking some refreshment at my aunt Clara's, when I was informed an unknown person desired to deliver me a letter, and that he would trust it to no one else. I went down stairs, and desired him to come up into my room. Judge of my astonishment when I broke the seal; a proposal was made to me to set off for London, under the false pretence of being a governess. I was promised a high protection, and a most brilliant fortune in a short time.’

Handwritten document on light blue paper
Letter from Demont to Mariette (English translation version), no. 218, c1820, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/8/512

The next passage makes it clear that the mysterious man was offering Demont a bribe for speaking against Caroline:

‘You see, my dear, with what promptitude the enemies of our generous benefactress always act. There must always be spies about her, for no sooner had I left Pesaro then it was known, with all its circumstances, in the capital of Europe. They thought to find in me a person revengeful and very ambitious; but, thank God, I am exempt from both those failings; and money acquired at the expense of repose and duty, will never tempt me, though I should be at the last extremity. The Almighty abandons no one, much less those who do that which is agreeable to him. A good reputation is better than a golden girdle.’[7]

Handwritten letter
Original letter from Demont to Caroline (French Version) no. 218,        16 November 1817,                Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/8/512

The second letter was written by Demont to Caroline, dated 16th November 1817. According to Demont’s testimony, it was written the day after she left the Princess’s household, and was written under the advice of Pergami. The letter is best described as a grovelling apology from Demont:

‘May her royal highness deign to take pity on me; may she deign to restore to me her precious favour, which I have just unhappily lost by the most melancholy imprudence. May I receive that sweet assurance before I die of grief: it alone can restore me to life.’[8]

handwritten document
Letter from Demont to Caroline (English translation), no. 218, c1820, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/8/512

These letters painted a poor picture of Demont’s character. They suggested that she was indeed a liar who was dismissed from Caroline’s service in disgrace, and seemed to prove that she had been approached to testify in exchange for money. Her response to the letters on cross-examination was unconvincing; she claimed much of what she wrote was a ‘double entrendre for my sister’. In other words, she believed the letters were being intercepted and wished to write only positive things about Caroline, for fear of jeopardising her sister’s employment. The reference to spies, she claimed, was only so that the Princess would be ‘convinced that I would not speak against her even if I came into England’.[9] Demont left the witness stand largely discredited and was mocked in the popular press.

Henry Brougham suggested that whilst Demont knew she had written these letters, she was unaware they were in possession of Caroline’s defence team. In his words, ‘Had she been aware of their [the letters] preservation, and had her patrons been aware of their contents, your lordships would never have seen her face here.’[10] Of course, ultimately the Bill was dropped after passing by only a small majority at its third reading. Caroline died less than a year after the end of the trial. A witness on her deathbed claimed ‘Her Majesty, in her agony, frequently exclaimed, “I know I am dying,- they have killed me at last! but I forgive all my enemies, even Demont”’.[11]

Exactly why these letters have ended up in this particular box is not clear. Although the envelope was labelled no. 218 with the King’s message, they were certainly not presented to the Lords on the same day. It seems likely that at some point after the trial ended in 1820, a parliamentary clerk tucked them away in box HL/PO/JO/10/8/512 with another document related to the trial, where they have remained hidden ever since.

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

[2] Flora Fraser, The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline (London: Macmillan, 1997), 315.

[3] Ibid., 300.

[4] Roger Fulford, The Trial of Queen Caroline (London: Stein and Day, 1967), 100.

[5] Cited in Joanna Richardson, The Disastrous Marriage: A Study of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick (London: Jonathan Cape, 1960), 166.

[6] HL Hansard, 30-31 August 1820.

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

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

[9] HL Hansard, 2 September 1820.

[10] HL Hansard, 3 October 1820.

[11] Lady Anne Hamilton, cited in E. A. Smith, A Queen on Trial: The Affair of Queen Caroline (Phoenix Mill: Alan Sutton, 1993), 189.

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