Saturday, November 20, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend

I'm back! It was a lovely holiday, but now I'm home again with revisions to work on, laundry to do, and Thanksgiving to plan. I'm also much too excited about the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and looking forward to a royal wedding! (I still remember when Princess Diana got married, I was a pre-schooler and got to get up extra early to sit on the couch with my mom and watch the wedding. I spent weeks wearing my dance recital tiara and a bedsheet tied around my waist for a long train. I don't think I will do that this time, but you never know...)

Speaking of royals, this week's Heroine is a queen, Caroline of Ansbach, wife of George II of England. She died on November 20, 1737, and by coincidence I recently read Lucy Worsley's new book The Courtiers, about the court of Georges I and II. It's a fascinating time period I didn't know a lot about, so I went out and read some more. Caroline was fascinating woman.

She was born in Ansbach in Germany (one of the very confusing and innumerable German kingdoms that seem to have produced so very many queen consorts in history! And prince consorts too...) on March 1, 1683, the daughter of the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach. She was orphaned as a child and grew up with relatives, well-educated and admired (she was considered one of the wittiest and most intelligent princesses in Europe, as well as one of the prettiest with her blond hair, blue eyes, and zaftig figure). She had the chance to marry Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, but ended up refusing because she didn't want to leave her Protestant faith. She ended up marrying at age 22 to George August, son of the Elector of Hanover. It would prove to be an unusual but happy marriage, with nine children (seven of which survived). George wrote her long love letters throughout their marriage, declaring things like "In my heart, nothing is hidden from you."

When her husband's father became George I of England in 1714, her life changed dramatically and she moved to England to become Princess of Wales. She was the first lady of the kingdom, the royal hostess, since the king had divorced and abandoned his unfortunate wife (and Caroline's mother-in-law). She was the first Princess of Wales in England since Katherine of Aragon 200 years before! But things were not well within the family, the two Georges were always quarreling, until at last a major rupture occurred in 1717. Caroline and her husband were banished from St. James's Palace and their children were seized by the king--it was a very long time before they regained their custody, and the rift was never quite healed between parents and children. In 1720, Caroline was able to use her tact (and her friendship with Prime Minister Walpole) to bring about something of a reconciliation, at least in public. Her friendship with Walpole would stand her in good stead for a long time to come.

In 1727, George I died (not much mourned) and Caroline became queen. She came into her own then, indulging her love of intellectual pursuits and the arts (she brought Handel to England). She loved garden design, and her work at places such as Kensington Palace can still be seen. She was a leader of fashion Her intelligence far outstripped her husband's--he didn't always understand her passions, but allowed her to indulge them however she chose. He kept mistresses, as it was the custom of the day. The best known was Henrietta Howard, Caroline's own lady-in-waiting and friend. She and her husband also carried on the unhappy family precedent of feuding with the son and heir, they had a very antagonistic relationship with their son Frederick. George II would make his wife regent whenever he left the country, bypassing his son. And Frederick snuck his young wife out of Hampton Court when she went into labor to deprive Caroline the chance to be present at the birth!

She died in 1737 after an operation that was considered barbaric and incompetent even by the standards of time, to repair an old umbilical rupture from the birth of her last child. The surgery killed her, and her husband went into deep mourning. When she was buried at Westminster Abbey, Handel composed Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline for the occasion. When George died 23 years later, he was buried beside her. She was much missed by the whole nation.

You may strut, dapper George, but twill all be in vain,
We all know tis Queen Caroline, not you, that reign

A few sources (besides the Worsley book, which I highly recommend!):
Ruby Lillian Arkell, Caroline of Ansbach, George the Second's Queen (1939)
Tracy Borman, Henrietta Howard, King's Mistress, Queen's Servant (2007)
John Van Der Kiste, King George II and Queen Caroline (1997)
Peter Quennell, Caroline of England, An Augustan Portrait (1940)


Abigail-Madison Chase said...

I have always been intrigued by the royal. I was in jr high and remember getting up and watching the wedding awesome. Love your blog and the pics are wonderful. I always wished I could have a portriat of myself just like the royals

Amanda McCabe/Amanda Carmack/Laurel McKee said...

Thanks so much, Abigail! I would also love a regal portrait, if I had the clothes for it :)