King George II and Queen Carolineby John Van der Kiste
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This biography of the last king to lead British troups into baffle and his able wife provides intriquing insight into 18th century war and politics. Often derided as the buffoon who "hated all boets and bainters", George II was fortunate to be served by Prime Ministers Sir Robert Walpole and William Pitt, and was wise enough to leave the business of government to them. His wife, generally regarded as the ablest of British queens between Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria, used her influence in politics and patronage so that she and Walpole effectively ruled the kingdom between them. Her death in 1737 was seen as a national calamity. Illustrated throughout, this new biography provides a much-needed reevaluation of these monarchs and the times in which they ruled.
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King George II and Queen Caroline
By John Van der Kiste
The History PressCopyright © 2013 John Van der Kiste
All rights reserved.
Prince George Augustus
Hanover, one of the most northerly German states, took its name from its capital, a town set on the banks of the River Leine. In the late seventeenth century it flourished under the rule of a benevolent despot. Absolute power lay with the Duke of Brunswick–Lüneburg, who was granted the title of Elector in 1692, though the full electoral dignity was not conferred on him until the state was admitted as the ninth electorate of the Holy Roman Empire in 1699. He appointed and dismissed all ministers; any decisions concerning home or foreign affairs had to be referred to him; he was required to approve any significant expenditure, and to initiate the proceedings of any major criminal prosecution. As Commander-in-Chief of the Hanoverian army, his approval was required before his troops could be sent to fight with or under other European rulers. The state was reasonably prosperous, with a fair share of rich farming land, a flourishing woollen and linen trade, and plentiful mineral resources, including silver mines in the Hartz mountains. Poverty, political dissent, and parliamentary government were almost unknown.
There were three palaces in the town, namely the small Alte Palais; the barrack-like Leine Schloss; and the home of the Court, the far grander Herrenhausen, its foundations and gardens modelled on those of Versailles. A deep-rooted dislike of the French as a people and a nation did not prevent the Germans from copying their architecture and sense of style. The gardens had been planned and laid out by the younger Martin Charbonnier, whose father had been a pupil of one of King Louis XIV's landscape gardeners, and by the end of the seventeenth century Herrenhausen was one of the most splendid of all German courts, boasting acres of parkland and intricate formal gardens containing carefully arranged walks lined with lime trees or neatly trimmed low hedges, dotted with artificial waterfalls, and well-stocked pike ponds. Adding the classical touch were busts of Roman emperors, imported from Paris. The stables, with room for over six hundred horses, were surrounded by coach houses accommodating an extensive collection of carriages and chaises. An open-air theatre with court players, again brought from Paris, performed for the entertainment of the electoral family. Most impressive of all, especially to foreign visitors, was the Herrenhausen orangery, one of the largest of its kind in Europe. It had its own heating system to help the fruit grow and ripen in the cold northerly Hanoverian climate. According to the much-travelled English church minister and classical scholar John Toland, the Hanoverian Court was 'accounted the best both for Civility and Decorum' in Germany.
All this was a world apart from England, soon to become the kingdom of the Elector of Hanover. To the electoral family, the island territory across the North Sea was merely a nation of 'King-killers and republicans'. After the overthrow and execution of King Charles I in January 1649, an eleven-year republican interlude under Oliver Cromwell and his less capable son Richard as Lord Protectors had come to an end with the restoration of the Stuart monarchy under King Charles II in May 1660. That same year – in fact, almost that same week – Prince George Lewis of Hanover was born.
In 1680 he visited England, the country over which he would reign some three decades hence. The plan was to create an alliance between Hanover and England by marrying Princess Anne, second daughter of the heir apparent James, Duke of York, and third in line of succession to the throne herself. How seriously the match was considered is open to doubt. Apparently George Lewis took a dislike to Anne and she thereafter bore a grudge against the house of Hanover; but the feeling was probably mutual, as it was said that she refused to consider marrying the 'stuffy little German'. Yet such personal differences counted for little in the world of seventeenth-century matrimonial alliances, where political reasons required princes and princesses from different nations to set personal feelings on one side and walk up the aisle together. Another theory suggested that George was snubbed or slighted at court during his visit, and never forgave the British. Yet another, and probably the most plausible, was that a matrimonial alliance was only tentative. At any rate, if the elder generation were contemplating the scheme, he had not been taken fully into his parents' confidence before leaving for England.
A betrothal between the Electoral Prince and his cousin, Princess Sophie Dorothea of Celle, had already been considered. This would be just as advantageous as the Anglo–Hanoverian match, if not more so, for both parties. In the summer of 1682 her parents the Duke and Duchess of Celle visited the court at Herrenhausen to settle the terms of a marriage agreement. A dowry was handed to Prince George Lewis in person, so that his young wife would be completely dependent on him; and on the death of her parents, all their revenues and possessions would become his property.
On 21 November 1682 the Prince and Princess were married. He was aged twenty-two; she was sixteen. The wedding took place in the Princess's apartments with a minimum of ceremony. Ten days later the young couple entered Hanover to the sound of trumpet fanfares attended by a glittering parade of cavalry. Their carriage was at the centre of a triumphant procession consisting of a hundred state coaches, each drawn by eight horses decorated with red velvet trappings and red twisted silk reins, accompanied by footmen dressed in red and blue uniforms with silver buttons.
The marriage was very much a political arrangement in which the private views of bride and groom about each other counted for nothing. The Prince's father Ernest Augustus, Duke of Brunswick–Lüneburg, ruling Duke of Hanover from 1679, intended to strengthen the position of Hanover by assimilating the duchy of Kalenberg, the domain of his brother, the Duke of Celle, on the latter's death. Prince George Lewis was seemingly indifferent towards his young bride, who was still a child. As cousins they had known each other for several years and their mutual dislike was deep-rooted. It was said that when she was told what was in store for her just before the betrothal, Princess Sophie Dorothea swore that she would have to be dragged to the altar, and when presented with a diamond-studded miniature of Prince George, she threw it angrily against the wall. She was half-French; her father George William, Duke of Celle, had morganatically married a Frenchwoman, Eleanor d'Olbreuse. Their daughter had blossomed into an attractive, high-spirited girl, who was more French than German in temperament and sympathies.
Her husband was German through and through. His interests were restricted largely to military matters, hunting and fine horses, good food, and cards for low stakes. While he spoke and wrote French easily, he shared the prevalent Teutonic dislike and distrust of France as a nation. In spite of his naturally cold, somewhat shy manner, he was probably prepared to make a success of the marriage – but on his own terms, not those of his wife. Political considerations had raised her to her position, and her duty was to provide him with an heir. A wedding ring would certainly not keep him from his mistresses.
At sixteen, however, Princess Sophie Dorothea was still too immature and too undisciplined at heart. Any dormant dislike which her husband may have had for his childish young cousin from earlier days soon reasserted itself. He did his princely duty, and by the time he left her for military service under the banner of Emperor Leopold, fighting against the Turks, she was expecting a child. On 30 October (OS)/9 November (NS) 1683 she gave birth to a boy, christened George Augustus. Five years later came a daughter, named after her mother.
By then husband and wife, never close, had grown apart. Perhaps the most to blame was the Elector's conniving mistress, Countess Platen. Anxious to ensure her future security should the Elector suddenly die, she had encouraged the young, unmarried Prince George Lewis to take mistresses. There is no evidence for the oft-made but unsubstantiated remark that he had enjoyed an incestuous relationship with her daughter by the Elector, the future Baroness von Kielmansegge. Yet the appearance of Princess Sophie Dorothea came as something of a threat to the Countess, who was jealous of the younger, charming and much prettier girl. Sophie Dorothea had always been liked by her father-in-law, but her mother-in-law despised her French blood and parents' morganatic marriage. The more affection the Duke showed the young woman, the more his wife resented her.
Prince George Lewis was away on military service much of the time, and his wife soon became bored. A visit to Venice and Rome with her father-in-law in 1685 provided her with a brief respite, for the social life of both cities provided her with the amusement she never found in Hanover. On her return home she chafed more than ever. Adding to her misery was the discovery that Prince George Lewis, back from the war, had installed a new mistress in another apartment at the palace. Melusine von Schulenburg, seven years younger than him, had entered royal service as a Hoffraulein to the Electress of Hanover, and in January 1692 she bore Prince George Lewis the first of three daughters.
Most princesses would have accepted such a situation resignedly. But Sophie Dorothea's boredom soon progressed to tantrums and scenes with her husband. Not particularly maternal by nature, she put up no resistance to the unwritten law that her children's upbringing should be left to governesses. That they always remained loyal to her memory suggests that she must have shown them some tenderness, unless it can be put down simply to detestation of their father. Yet by the time baby Sophie Dorothea was born, her mother was desperate to leave Hanover and return to her parents.
Recklessly she followed her husband's example in looking elsewhere to satisfy the passions which married life could not fulfil. What started out as a casual friendship with Count Philip Christopher von Königsmarck, a Swedish nobleman and Colonel of the Hanoverian army, led to the exchange of secret letters and flirtation, and by 1692 they were lovers. In July 1694 the Count was ambushed while on his way to her apartments and probably murdered. Though it might have been merely the intention to arrest him, some courtiers evidently had execution on their mind, and he was never seen alive again. The Princess's apartments were searched and incriminating letters were found. The Elector of Hanover and the Duke of Celle agreed that the only solution was to arrange a divorce which suppressed the name of Königsmarck altogether, citing the Princess's refusal to cohabit with her husband as the reason. Initially unaware of Königsmarck's fate, she was more than willing to divorce her uncongenial husband, and refused all attempts by Hanoverian and Celle jurists to arrange a reconciliation. On 28 December 1694 the marriage was dissolved.
As the guilty party Princess Sophie Dorothea was forbidden to remarry, but not her ex-husband. According to one of their granddaughters, Melusine von Schulenburg later became the morganatic wife of Prince George Lewis. Nonetheless Ragnhild Hatton, his most recent biographer, maintains that the then English church law, which precluded marriage while the divorced spouse was alive, deterred King George I, both before and after his accession as King in 1714, from making their union a formal one. The Princess spent her remaining years as a virtual prisoner at Ahlden, in Celle territory. Forbidden access to her children, she was ostracized by her father, who felt that she had let the good name of the family down.
Her imprisonment was not so harsh as has been commonly supposed. She was allowed to live in comfort, and her husband promised her father in writing that the terms of her confinement and financial support would not be made stricter on his death. She had access to financial advisers and was permitted to keep all income from land held by her father after his death in 1705; and her widowed mother was given financial assistance to move from her house in Lüneburg to the castle of Celle to make it easier for her to visit. After a time her husband relaxed the censoring of her corres-pondence, and made it easier for her to receive visitors. All the same, in her enforced isolation she paid a heavy price for her dalliance.
Prince George Augustus, only son of this disastrous marriage, was eleven years old at the time of his parents' divorce. He probably never saw his mother again. An unsubstantiated story tells of his hunting in the woods nearby as a boy, stealing away from the rest of the party to ride at full speed in the direction of Ahlden, before he was caught by his suite in a wood about four miles from the castle. Another version suggests that he reached Ahlden and waved to his mother at the window, and when the governor of the castle refused him admission he tried to swim across the moat before he was recaptured.
His father took no interest in his children's upbringing. Any mention of their mother, or the mere word 'divorce', would always remain a forbidden subject between them. The dominant figure of their formative years was that of their paternal grandmother, the Electress Sophie. She and the Elector became their legal guardians after their mother's disgrace. Born in Holland in 1630, daughter of the former Princess Elizabeth of England, the 'Winter Queen' of Bohemia, and thus a granddaughter of King James I of England, the Electress Sophie was much more English than German in her tastes and habits. Proud of her Stuart blood, she kept a portrait of Prince James Edward, the Pretender, son of King James II, in her room, though she was careful to remove it whenever an English envoy called. She spoke English perfectly, and although she never set foot on British soil, throughout her life she took the keenest interest in events in 'her country', as she always called it. 'I care not when I die,' she would say, 'if on my tomb it be written that I was Queen of England.' She liked her friends to call her the Princess of Wales, though she had no official right to the title. Tall, formidable to those who scarcely knew her, her vitality was remarkable. Striding through Herrenhausen gardens she kept the gardeners working hard, examined every plant devotedly, fed her canaries, talking all the time and leaving ladies-in-waiting half her age virtually exhausted. Even at eighty she could still do fine embroidery without needing spectacles.
In January 1698 Elector Ernest Augustus died. From Ahlden Sophie Dorothea wrote to her former husband to condole with him, at the same time begging forgiveness: 'The sincerity of my repentance should move Your Highness to pardon me, and if, to crown your kindness, you would allow me to see you and embrace our dear children, my gratitude for such highly-desired favours would know no bounds.' Her words fell on deaf ears.
From time to time the young Prince and Princess visited their other grandparents at Celle. More than her husband, who accepted that the flighty young girl had brought disgrace on herself and the family, the Duchess of Celle strongly resented her daughter's treatment, and did not hesitate to make her feelings clear to her grandchildren. Therein probably lay the seeds of the antagonism which Prince George Augustus always bore towards his father.
Within the family, the Electress Sophie had readily taken the part of her son against the daughter-in-law whom she had never liked. Nevertheless she was careful not to make it too obvious to young Prince George Augustus, of whom she was always fond. The distance between father and son, a family relationship which would persist throughout the house of Hanover, seems to have had its roots in Prince George Augustus's devotion to the mother whom he was destined never to see again. The Elector was capable of cruelty and would show no mercy towards those whom he thought had crossed him, and perhaps the subsequent insecurity his son felt played its part in widening the breach.
Another cause of the estrangement between King George I and his son was 'the tendency of the Electress Sophie to treat her son with jealous reserve and bestow all her favour and encouragement upon the grandson.' Another biographer suggests that Prince George Augustus's 'small, slender figure, the delicate cut of his features, the lack of self-control demonstrated by blushes and tears' reminded his father of the prisoner at Ahlden whom he wished to forget. Differences of character also played their part, notably the boy's exuberance, garrulity and a habit of putting his father in the wrong.
Excerpted from King George II and Queen Caroline by John Van der Kiste. Copyright © 2013 John Van der Kiste. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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