The disastrous marriage of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick

Royal marriages were arranged affairs, aligning families and dynasties for political and economic purposes. They were rarely happy, but few were so disastrous as that of Prinny, Prince of Wales and future King George IV, and his German bride Caroline of Brunswick. Unwilling to put up an united and serene front for the benefit of the country and its people, George and Caroline engaged in a scandalous public battle to win the sympathies of the public.

Caroline won. After all, she had left her own country and moved to England only to be rejected at first sight by her royal cousin and husband-to-be. Although Prinny wasn’t the dashing boy he used to be in his youth anymore, he still had refined tastes and, most importantly, was fastidious about personal hygiene. Caroline, with her coarse language, vulgar manners, and aversion for baths, disgusted him. When he met her for the first time, he asked for a glass of brandy.

If Prinny went ahead with the marriage is only because he desperately needed the money to pay his ever-mounting debts. Parliament had, in fact, agreed to raise his allowance, and his father to offer him economic assistance, only on condition that he finally married. King George III hoped that a wife would curb his son’s exuberant and lavish bachelor lifestyle. Not to mention that the country needed a heir. King George had many sons, but only one was married, and without children.

So on 8 April 1795, the couple tied the knot at the Chapel Royal of St James’ Palace. Prinny kept drinking throughout the day, becoming drunker and drunker, while his disgusted wife retaliated by talking louder and louder and behaving in an increasingly vulgar manner. Caroline said that, that night, her husband passed out on the floor of their bedchamber, but not before having done his duty. The couple had sex only three times, according to Prinny, on the first and second nights of their marriage. Luckily, it was enough for Caroline to become pregnant.

By the time their only daughter, Princess Charlotte, was born on 7 January 1796, George and Caroline lived separate lives. However, Caroline was still forced to tolerate his mistress, Lady Jersey, in her house. The royal mistress had, in fact, been made Lady of the Bedchamber. On top of that, her husband, who desperately wanted a divorce, never showed her any affection, not even in public. He just kept on enjoying his luxurious and lascivious lifestyle, indulging in every excess.

Caroline retaliated by appearing in public as often as possible and charming, with her affable manners and sense of humour, the hearts of the people. She became the darling of the press, which portrayed her as the wronged wife. The people quickly sided with her. The public supported her when, in 1806, Prinny tried to divorce her by accusing her of having given birth to an illegitimate child. But the “Delicate Investigation”, as the affair become known, proved Caroline to be innocent of the charge.

Nor even when he became king did George manage to get a divorce. He put his wife on trial on charges of adultery but, once again, Caroline had the people on her side, and the divorce proceedings had to be abandoned. George, however, succeeded in banning his wife from his coronation. Caroline was Queen Consort only in name, and would never be treated as such, neither in Britain nor abroad. Only her death on 7 August 1821 ended their disastrous marriage.

Further reading:
George IV: The Rebel Who Would Be KingGeorge IV: The Rebel Who Would Be King by Christopher Hibbert
The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline by Flora Fraser

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