The Trial of Queen Caroline: The Scandalous Affair that Nearly Ended a Monarchy


Before Charles and Diana, before the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and long before the slogan "the personal is political," an astonishing British royal sex scandal threatened to trigger a revolution. Its lessons for leadership, popularity, and the impact of the absurd on history are fascinating.

In The Trial of Queen Caroline, Jane Robins tells the story of one of history's least happy marriages. The future George IV could not be bothered to meet Caroline, Princess of Brunswick, ...

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Before Charles and Diana, before the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and long before the slogan "the personal is political," an astonishing British royal sex scandal threatened to trigger a revolution. Its lessons for leadership, popularity, and the impact of the absurd on history are fascinating.

In The Trial of Queen Caroline, Jane Robins tells the story of one of history's least happy marriages. The future George IV could not be bothered to meet Caroline, Princess of Brunswick, a woman "with indelicate manners...and not very inviting appearance," before she arrived for the wedding. He was immediately disgusted by her. He far preferred one of his mistresses, whom he had secretly married in a Catholic ceremony, knowing that the British state would not recognize the marriage if it ever came to light.

In 1797, just three years after George and Caroline wed, the couple separated. George wrote to her that "our inclinations are not in our power, nor should either of us be held answerable to the other. "As Robins relates, Caroline took him at his word and proceeded to live exactly as she pleased, departing for Europe and a life of scandalous associations and debauched parties. Rumors of Caroline's lifestyle soon reached George, still Prince of Wales, who determined that she would never become Queen. To the shock of the nation, he demanded that the popular Caroline face a trial for adultery. The potential consequences included a death sentence at worst, and certain divorce and disgrace. The voice of the popular press, raised in anger for the first time in Britain, roared in disapproval. Riots spread in the countryside. The mother of a single, deceased child, Caroline became the public's favorite martyr.

Jane Robins combines prodigious archival research with a sharp eye for telling detail. She shows how the rise of the partisan press helped magnify the story, until, at its peak, Caroline's trial became the story of a bad marriage that brought England to the very brink of revolution.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The prize for the worst-behaved British royal couple goes not to Charles and Di but to George IV and Caroline, whose escapades heated up the early 19th-century scandal sheets and incited riots not long after the French monarchs were beheaded. When he married his first cousin Caroline, George was already vilified in the press for his unlawful marriage to a Catholic, his womanizing, financial extravagance, obesity and egotism. Caroline-poorly educated, magnanimous and reckless-became the darling of the people and the press, an advantage she exploited when her hubby cut her out of his will days after their daughter Charlotte's birth. The couple separated in 1797, barely two years after their wedding, but the escalating discord turned political after George restricted Caroline's access to Charlotte and she retaliated by championing the opposition Whigs. In 1820, George had Caroline tried for adultery to strip her of her title and gain a divorce. As this well-researched, competently written but uninspired account by a London journalist relates, the brouhaha spurred political reforms, and the queen triumphed at court but was still barred from George's coronation a few months later and died shortly thereafter. Illus. (Aug. 7) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Robins (media editor, Independent on Sunday) provides a new look at the so-called divorce crisis between George IV of England and his wife (and cousin), Caroline of Brunswick. Their marriage in 1795 was shaky from the start. Marital troubles between a prince and princess of Wales naturally generate prurient interest. The two lived apart, but when George ascended to the throne in 1820, he began divorce proceedings with her trial for adultery. The trial was publicly conducted in the House of Lords, and Caroline's cause was taken up with gusto by opposition politicians and radical agitators. Robins takes seriously (more so than this reviewer) the possibility of revolution as a result of the potent mixture of popular dissatisfaction, press sensationalism, and Caroline's own manipulation of public sentiment. Not surprisingly, the book relies heavily on evidence from the popular press of the time as well as the writings of prominent radicals, balanced by mainly aristocratic sources in support of the king and government. Robins's tone is rather colloquial, but the prose is generally intriguing and highly readable. Chapters are charmingly and usefully prefaced with reproductions of political cartoons of the period. Recommended for larger public libraries and for academic libraries that may wish to provide this alternative view of a past royal scandal.-Matthew Todd, Northern Virginia Community Coll., Annandale Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An examination of the 1820 prosecution of unpopular George IV's popular queen, arguing that it instigated and/or solidified a variety of cultural changes in England and perhaps prevented a civil war. Although numerous biographies of both parties (e.g., Steven Parissien's George IV, 2002; Flora Fraser's The Unruly Queen, 1996) retell the story of Caroline's trial on charges of sexual infidelity, it prompts perennial fascination thanks to its seamy and steamy aspects. (In the courtroom, some of the queen's former servants testified about nasty stains on bedding and Her Highness' hand resting on the groin of a man who was not her husband. American readers will recall the Clinton impeachment.) British journalist Robins begins with the engagement in 1794 of young Caroline, Princess of Brunswick, to George, Prince of Wales. The soon-to-be-newlyweds had never met, and when they finally did, some five months later, George was aghast. He found Caroline physically repulsive, unclean and smelly, and judged her behavior far too frisky for the staid English court. (Secretly married to Maria Fitzherbert-"the only woman I shall ever love," he told his brother on his wedding morning-the prince was hardly unbiased.) George and Caroline managed to conceive a daughter, Princess Charlotte, but by 1797, the royal couple were separated and the Queen was living on the continent. There she traveled, spent tens of thousands of pounds and, according to her enemies, frolicked inappropriately with Italian solider Bartolomeo Pergami. When George III died, Caroline headed home to recommence life with George IV, who almost immediately sought a divorce. It proved to be an unwise move: the common folk preferred Carolineto her husband, as did most of the press, the opposition Whig party and political radicals. There were massive demonstrations in her favor, and her acquittal, argues Robins, empowered the people and strengthened the opposition press. A lucid account of one of the messiest, sleaziest and most dangerous times in British history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743255905
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2006
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 1.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Robins is a writer and broadcaster living in London. She has written for the Economist, the Independent, the Spectator and the New Statesman, among others. She has been a reporter for the BBC's On the Record and editor of Radio 4's The Week in Westminster.

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