The Most Impressive Of England’s Queens:
The Powerhouse Caroline Of Ansbach
Adding to our series of strong women:
here is a tale of the woman who was quite possibly Britain’s smartest and most powerful queen, Caroline of Ansbach, wife of King George II.
Theirs was a political marriage of course, but George Augustus and Caroline seem to have hit it off almost at once, and he continued to love her throughout their marriage, though he also had a series of mistresses, perhaps partly because he believed it was one of his royal duties! Orphaned at a young age, Caroline enjoyed the great good fortune of spending part of her youth at the court of Frederick, Elector of Brandenburg, and his wife Sophia Charlotte, who had been a great friend of her mother. Sophia was very bright and created a court that was a liberal refuge for brilliant scholars. They helped to form Caroline’s own scholarly interests and view of the world.
The Most Agreeable Princess in Germany
Caroline was much in demand as “the most agreeable princess in Germany,” pretty and clever. George Augustus of Hanover, son of George Louis who would later become the first German king of Britain, visited the Ansbach court incognito and fell in love with her. “I desire nothing so much as to throw myself at my Princess’ feet and promise her eternal devotion,” George wrote. In 1705, they married. Caroline eventually bore eight children, of whom seven survived.
Caroline never took a lover herself nor did she rant and rave about her husband’s mistresses. In fact, she preferred to keep them close to her as her ladies-in-waiting so she could keep an eye on them. The longest serving mistress perhaps was Henrietta Howard who became the queen’s Mistress of the Robes. Poor Henrietta had left an abusive husband and then suffered insults at the hand of her royal lover, but ultimately found happiness in a second marriage.
The great early crisis of the George/Caroline marriage resulted because each of the Georgian kings in turn somehow developed immense distaste for his son and heir. Once George’s father became king of Britain as George I, George Augustus and Caroline, now Prince and Princess of Wales, kept a separate court from the king and were much more popular than he as they tried much harder than he did to adjust to their new country.
In 1717, the growing estrangement between father and son exploded in a grotesque fight over the christening of one of their children. George Augustus probably never had much regard for his father anyway since, from the age of 11 on, he had not been allowed to see his mother, whom his father had divorced and banished to a kind of permanent house arrest. The result of the colossal row over who would be honored at the christening was that George Augustus and Caroline were not only thrown out of St. James’s Palace but also separated from their children, who were kept at St. James’s in the care of governesses. The little baby boy whose christening had occasioned the fight died when he was only three months old.
Eventually the Georges reconciled but Caroline and George Augustus still didn’t get their children back, though Caroline was allowed to visit them as much as she liked. During all this time, however, Princess Caroline was making friends with the most important men of the age, both politicians and cultural luminaries, including Prime Minister Robert Walpole and the famous author Jonathan Swift. She also read a great deal and set an example for the country by having her children inoculated against smallpox. Voltaire said of her, “…despite all her titles and crowns, this princess was born to encourage the arts and the well-being of mankind…she has never lost an opportunity to learn or to manifest her generosity.”
When George Augustus finally came to the throne in 1727, Caroline continued to support Walpole as a source of stability in England, established an extensive library at St. James’s and also fought for mercy for the Jacobites who had rebelled against the crown in 1715, and for freedom of speech and of the press.
Perhaps Caroline’s greatest flaw was that she shared her husband’s extreme distaste for their eldest son Frederick, the heir to the throne. Frederick had been left behind in Hanover to represent the family when his grandfather became king of Britain in 1714 and his parents and siblings all went off to England. Since George I came home to visit Hanover more than the future George II, Frederick became close to his grandfather, which was resented by his parents. Frederick was finally brought to London at the age of 21 when George I died and George Augustus became King George II. The animosity between the two was so intense that when George II and Frederick were in the same room, they ignored each other.
When George II was away, Caroline was appointed regent rather than Frederick the Prince of Wales. Caroline once said of her son, whom others described in positive terms, “That wretch!—that villain!—I wish the ground would open up this moment and sink the monster to the lowest hole in hell!” It is hard to imagine what the poor man could have done to attract such hatred. He went on to be a good husband and father to his own children and played the violincello so beautifully that the servants would gather en masse to listen to him.
Caroline grew very stout in her later years with an immense bosom that, it was said, seemed to enter a room before she did. She died abruptly of a burst bowel in 1737 at the age of 54 and was mourned by all sides of the political spectrum. Protestants admired her as a strong adherent to their faith, and even the Jacobites admired her for her compassion. It was said that she had played a major role in solidifying the position of the Georgian monarchy in Britain. But a satirical verse of the day directed at George made fun of him based on the general belief that in truth Caroline had governed the kingdom through her inferior husband:
…If you would have us fall down and adore you.
Lock up your fat spouse, as your dad did before you.
As for poor maligned Frederick, in 1751 he died of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 44 and never had the opportunity to rule. However, it was Frederick’s son who became King George III, with great global consequences ensuing.
Purchase Bernstein’s A Noble Cunning