Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Ten Things You Probably Didn’t Know about the Prince Regent’s Infamous Wife, Caroline, Princess of Wales

The Prince of Wales’s hatred for his wife is legendary. The young Caroline, Princess of Wales, was a lively, good humored, impulsive, playful, stubborn, and not always wise woman. In later life, after she left England, she grew increasingly fat, eccentric, and outrageous. But those later years can combine with the Regent’s well-recorded antipathy to create a false impression of the woman who had the misfortune to marry this sulky, spoiled, self-indulgent, narcissistic, vain, and breathtakingly selfish prince. So here are ten things most people don’t know about Caroline, Princess of Wales:

1. Caroline was a gifted linguist. She is mocked because her English always retained a heavy German accent, but she was fluent. In addition to her native German, she was also fluent in Italian and French, and frequently preferred to converse in French.

2. Caroline was a gifted and unusually proficient pianist. She continued lessons with masters well into her twenties, working with M. Fleischer eighteen hours a week up until the time she left Germany. In England she also studied the harp and took instruction from singing masters.

3. Caroline was artistic. Most young women of her class and age were taught watercolor. But Caroline continued to enjoy painting her entire life, and while in London she also took instruction in clay sculpture.

4. Like many young women of her age, Caroline received little formal education. But she developed a serious, enduring love affair with books, and spent her life reading classics, histories, and memoires in English, French, and German. She was particularly fond of Shakespeare. The diaries and letters of people who met the Princess frequently mention that they spoke with her of books. In her later life she began a novel, which has been lost.

5. Prinny didn’t like Caroline’s looks, but in her youth she was actually considered attractive, with lovely skin and curly golden hair. The Prince preferred his women delicate (and older, interestingly), whereas Caroline was broad shouldered and plump. But the Prince’s contemporaries described her in their diaries and in letters to their spouses as pretty, with fine eyes, a lovely mouth, and good teeth. While it is less commonly noted, Caroline didn’t think much of the Prince’s looks, either. When they met and the Prince famously, loudly, and rudely said, “Harris, I am not well; pray get me a glass of brandy,” Caroline said to the same gentleman (later, and quietly), “Mon Dieu! Est-ce que le Prince est toujours comme cela? Je le trouve très gros, et nullement aussi beau que son portrait.”

6. When the Prince’s envoy, Lord Malmesbury, first met Caroline in Brunswick, he described her as not as clean as she could be. But as they journeyed through Germany toward London, he took great pains to impress upon her the importance of cleanliness, and she did pay attention to him. No one ever remarked on her lack of cleanliness again. However, Caroline continued to have a tendency to scramble into her clothes, and she never did care too much about her appearance. In later life while living estranged from the Prince in Italy, her clothing choices were definitely eccentric (as was her behavior).

7. The Prince of Wales forced his bride to accept his well-known mistress, Lady Jersey, as one of her ladies in waiting, and actually sent Lady Jersey to meet Caroline when her ship docked in England. Not only did Lady Jersey deliberately arrive hours late with the carriages, she also attended the wedding and even dined with them on their wedding night. At one point the Prince gave Caroline a pearl bracelet, only to take it back a few days later and give it to Lady Jersey, who then delighted in wearing it around the Princess.

8. Prinny passed out drunk on their wedding night and did not, ahem, perform well. He always blamed Caroline.

9. Caroline did not have an illegitimate child in England. A charitable woman who loved children, the Princess did pay to foster some 8-10 poor children with farm families, and once took in a ten-month-old baby girl found abandoned on the heath. In the infamous “Delicate Investigation,” in which the Prince tried to accuse Caroline of adultery and treason so that he could divorce her, he paid an unscrupulous, heavily-indebted couple named Douglas to testify that the Princess had actually given birth to one of the children she took in, a boy named Willy Austin. In truth, Willy was adopted from an impoverished couple when his father lost his job; the child’s birth took place in a hospital and was recorded, and his mother had continued to visit him. Not only was the mother able to testify before the investigation, but many other of Lady Douglas’s statements were also proven to be false. Unfortunately, those who write about Caroline continue to give far too much credence to the patently ridiculous testimony given by Lady Douglas at that inquiry. (For her pains, the Prince paid Lady Douglas 200 pounds a year for life.)

10. Caroline loved to travel and in later life was able to visit many of the sites she had read so much about. After she escaped the Prince and England, she traveled throughout Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, as well as Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, and Palestine. Her behavior on those journeys might have been precisely calculated to embarrass the Prince Regent—and perhaps it was. He earned it.


paz said...

This woman is ripe for historical reconsideration. Every time I read about her, I can only imagine how horrid her impossibly privileged life must have been. I also find ridiculously ironic that the king considered "mad" was George the father, when the son was clearly in need of deep therapy (or something). Without the excesses of the French Republicans and Napoleon, one has to wonder if this buffoon could have stayed in power.

But I digress. What I really want to know is... will be hearing more about Caroline in future books?!!!

Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds like an interesting character.

cs harris said...

Paz, Caroline will make a brief appearance in #13, although it's mainly focused on her daughter, Charlotte. I agree she's a fascinating character. There's such a difference between the way she behaved up until 1814 vs. her wild exploits after she left England that I wonder what happened to her mentally. Something went wrong. As for the Regent, yeah, he was even more bonkers than I realized--very paranoid and delusional.

Charles, she was indeed.

Ali said...

And if these pictures are at all accurate - she was very attractive. At least to me and in comparison to some of the women I've seen portraits of. Its Prinny who should have stayed out of a looking glass and away from the table. After being even remotely involved with him any woman could have gone screaming into the night. It's Charlotte I really feel sorry for. Cant wait to hear more about her in #13! Best, Ali

Friv4 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
cs harris said...

Ali, I do think Caroline was attractive when she was young. I don't think I'd realized just how loathsome Prinny was until I starting looking into how he treated his wife and daughter.

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