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After the Affair: Caroline and the Radical Movement in 1821

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This blog post is the seventh 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 what happened in 1821, after the formal end of the trial.

The trial of Queen Caroline technically ended on 6 November 1820, when the ‘judgment’ was passed and the Lords’ passed the Bill of Pains and Penalties with a majority of 28. This majority shrunk to 9 on the third vote, and the Bill was essentially abandoned. However, this was not the end of the drama and controversy that followed Caroline everywhere she went.

Exterior view of the old House of Lords. Queen Caroline is in carriage being pulled by horses and a crowd of people are waving her off
The Queen Returning from the House of Lords,                                               Print by Matthew Dubourg,  1821                                                                       ©  Parliamentary Art Collection, WOA 5453.

Some historians have suggested that Caroline’s support from the public declined towards the end of the trial. Thea Holme, for instance, has stated that ‘Sympathy with the Queen’s cause began to solely and almost imperceptibly to wane’ as the trial dragged on.[1] Jane Robins has suggested that Caroline ‘had became weary of the radical cause.’[2] Whilst the trial pulled together the people in defence of the queen, it did not spark a revolution. After the trial, she faded as a symbol of the oppressed.[3] She has said to have realised that she had been used by Whig radicals, who cared little for the actual fate of the Queen, once she was no longer of use in furthering their political aims. She reportedly wrote, ‘No one in fact, care [sic] for me . . . and this business had been more cared for as a political affair, dan as de cause of a poor forlorn woman’. [4]

However, there is plenty of evidence that Caroline remained immensely popular with the general public following the end of the trial, and generalisations that ‘the public became more and more indifferent to her’ should be treated with caution.[5] Following the abandonment of the Bill, celebrations erupted across the country. One contemporary described it as ‘all the unmitigated extravagances of a popular triumph; public meetings, addresses, illuminations, squibs, bon-fires, and breaking of windows, together with such other ebullitions of gaiety, as his majesty the mob, when tickled, delighteth to indulge in’.[6]  As I discussed in an earlier blog post, there was also a post-trial petitioning campaign in her support.  Radical MPs formed the Queen’s Cavalcade Committee to organise the presentation of congratulatory addresses. The same committee organised the attendance of Caroline at a morning service at St Paul’s Cathedral, intended as a ‘thanksgiving’ to her adoring public. As she rode in her carriage to the cathedral, she was accompanied by 500 horsemen and a crowd of 50,000 people.[7]

Parliament had prorogued following the trial and reopened on 23 January 1821. Caroline’s attention turned to the restoration of the rights that she was owed as Queen Consort. These were 1) a royal residence and household, 2) an annuity, and 3) re-inclusion in the liturgy. On 26 January, Lord Archibald Hamilton unsuccessfully raised a motion to prepare an address to the King for the re-insertion of the Queen’s name in the Liturgy. Five days later Henry Brougham, radical MP and the Queen’s political ally, presented communications from Caroline to the House of Commons. Caroline refused to agree an annuity. According to the letter, ‘she feels it due to the House, and to herself, respectfully to declare, that she perseveres in the resolution of declining any arrangement while her name continues to be excluded from the Liturgy’.[8] This proved problematic for the government and the King. Until an annuity was provided for the Queen, she could not return to the Continent, as it was hoped she would. Just over a month later, the Queen made a drastic U-turn, and accepted the Prime Minister’s offer of a £50,000 pension. As her name had not been restored to the liturgy, this seemed to be giving in to despotic government. Brougham was furious. As Robins has outlined, by giving in and accepting money, ‘she had destroyed her image as the victim of oppression, at one with the people’.[9]

Interior of gran building showing a large circular window and ornate arches. There is a crowd of people surrounding the king.
Ceremony of the Homage during Coronation of George IV 1821                                Colour aquatint by W. I. Bennett, 1824,  after James Stephanoff and Augustus Charles Pugin,   © Parliamentary Art Collection, WOA 1698.

Although she originally planned to return to Europe, by the 12 June she had changed her mind. She wrote to her confidant William Gell ‘Italie is lost for me at least for a long Period’. Part of her plans to stay in England included making a triumphant appearance at her husband’s coronation. She denoted her plans to research precedents on the Queen Consort’s role in the ceremony, noting to Gell, ‘I shall have a Consultation to assure what Right Pergatife [sic]and Privileges I have on that occasion’.[10] Although she had been warned that she would not be allowed in, it was not in Caroline’s nature to take no for an answer. On the day of the coronation, Caroline drove to Westminster Abbey, where she attempted to enter. The King, in preparation, had ordered an extra contingent of guards.[11] The guards refused her entry. She tried multiple doors, but was blocked by guards at every attempt.[12] She next tried her luck at Westminster Hall, where some guests were gathered. Here, she again had the door shut in her face. She finally gave up entering the coronation, but her hopes to be coronated were still not crushed. The same day, she wrote to her husband:

the Queen must trust that after the Public insult her Majesty has received this morning, the King will grant her just Right to be crowned next Monday, and that his Majesty will command the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury to fulfil the Queen’s Particular desire to confer upon her that sacred and August ceremony.[13]

Any further struggle over Caroline’s rights would no doubt have occupied the rest of the King’s reign. Alas, Caroline suddenly fell ill and died only weeks later, on 7th August, of a suspected bowel obstruction. On her deathbed, she forgave her enemies, and spoke mostly of the children who had touched her life, including William Austin (whose disputed parentage was at the centre of the 1806 Delicate Investigation), and Victorine Pergami, the daughter of her alleged lover.[14]

It seems fitting that Caroline’s funeral was marked with the same controversy and chaos that marked so much of her life. In her will, Caroline requested that her coffin be inscribed with the words ‘Here lies Caroline of Brunswick, the injured Queen of England’.[15] Lord Liverpool wrote to Lord Sidmouth that this inscription could not be placed on her coffin ‘by an authority or consent of the government, nor be permitted whilst the coffin is in possession of the officers of government. What her Majesty’s executors may do afterwards, it is not our business to inquire…’[16] A silver coffin plate with Caroline’s desired inscription was made but attempts to attach it to the coffin were blocked by government officials.

Lord Liverpool arranged for the funeral procession to avoid places where support for Caroline had been most intense, including the City. To Liverpool, and no doubt much of the government, the death of Caroline marked the final end of years of controversy and, in his words, ‘the only consideration should be how we can close the business most quietly and without offence’.[17] This was not to be. Crowds of supporters flocked to the streets and blocked the planned procession route, and in the chaos two men were killed. The cortege was forced to go through the City unplanned. It was Caroline’s final victory against the forces which sought to control the course of her life. She reached her native Brunswick on 20 August 1821, where she was finally laid to rest in the vaults of Brunswick Cathedral, with her father and brother.

The Queen Caroline Affair was more than just a trial. It was the result of years of social, economic and political tension in early nineteenth-century Britain, which manifested itself in the form of support for the slighted Queen. Caroline never truly enjoyed the rights and privileges of a British Queen, but she will be remembered as having a remarkable courage and tenacity to fight for them.


[1] Thea Holme, Caroline: A Biography of Caroline of Brunswick (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1979), 217.

[2] Jane Robins, Rebel Queen: How the Trial of Caroline Brought England to the Brink of Revolution (London: Pocket Books, 2007), 299.

[3] Ibid., 300.

[4] Louis J. Jennings, ed., The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the Late Right Honourable JOhn Wilson Croker, LL.D. F.R.S., Secretary to the Admiralty From 1809-1830, vol. I (London: John Murray, 1884), 184.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Rev. R. H. Dalton Barham, ed., The Life and Remains of Theodore Edward Hook, vol. I (London: Richard Bentley, 1849), 199.

[7] Flora Fraser, The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline (London: Macmillan, 1997), 449.

[8] HC Hansard, 31 January 1821.

[9] Robins, Rebel Queen, 306.

[10] Jason Thompson, Queen Caroline and Sir William Gell (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 255.

[11] Holme, Caroline, 224.

[12] Ibid., 225.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Robins, Rebel Queen, 313.

[15] J. H. Adolphous, The Last Days, Death, Funeral Obsequies, &c., of Her Late Majesty Caroline Queen Consort of Great Britain, 1822, 63.

[16] E. A. Smith, A Queen on Trial: The Affair of Queen Caroline (Phoenix Mill: Alan Sutton, 1993), 197.

[17] Ibid.

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