by Flora Fraser
Review by Cathleen Myers
Yes, Flora is Lady Antonia Fraser’s daughter. Like her more famous mother and grandmother (Elizabeth, Countess of Longford), Ms. Fraser has a talent for writing well-documented scholarly biographies that are as much fun to read as a novel.
Followers of the Charles and Diana scandals will love this book because it gives all the salacious details of an even worse Royal Scandal which nearly toppled both the Monarchy and the Government - the collapse of the marriage of Prince Regent (future George IV, aka Prinny) and Princess Caroline of Brunswick.
The parallels are fascinating, though Ms. Fraser never belabors the point. She simply unfolds the story, often letting the characters tell their story in their own words. As these Regency Royals were as indiscreet with letters as the current Royals are on the telephone, George and Caroline’s marriage was doomed from the start. Like a certain other Prince of Wales, Prince George was in love with his mistress (the Catholic Mrs. Fitzherbert, whom he could never legally marry) when he married his well-born virgin bride (He was also having an affair with the married Lady Jersey and a fling with an actress! Nihil Novum!). His tastes, like Prince Charles’, ran to sophisticated women. Caroline, unfortunately, was immature for her 25 years and in spite of her attractiveness - in her youth she actually resembled Diana Spencer - she had absolutely no sense of style and was often slovenly in her dress - something the meticulous and stylish Prinny could not forgive.
George and Caroline soon found they had almost nothing in common and soon came to detest each other and began leading separate lives almost as soon as their only child, Princess Charlotte, was born.
What really seemed to have harmed the marriage was Caroline’s great popularity with the people. Every where she went, she was loudly cheered - in contrast to the Prince of Wales, whose expensive habits did not exactly endear him to the oppressed British people, who were expected to foot his bills during the harsh war-time economy! Caroline became a rallying symbol for liberals and radicals and her reactionary husband (who had been a liberal as a young man) could not forgive this, either.
Caroline and George unofficially separated shortly after the birth of their only child, the ill-fated Princess Charlotte. While journalists were as scandal-mongering back then as they are now, the Regency Royals weren’t as troubled by mass media (the criminal libel laws were very strict and even well-born radicals like Thomas Burdett could still be sent to the Tower!) and were able to hide their indiscretions a bit better than Charles and Di. But, of course, the Press eventually got hold of the story - especially after a former lady-in-waiting published a "tell-all" account of Caroline’s alleged love affairs and alleged illegitimate son. While Caroline was eventually cleared of all charges, the damage had been done and the couple separated openly. When, during the final madness of King George, Prinny became Prince Regent, Caroline went abroad and the Royal Couple led openly separate lives. Caroline hadn’t a clue about the need for discretion in her love affairs - which eventually led Prinny to try to pressure a Divorce bill through Parliament. The so-called "Trial of Queen Caroline" (who had NO intention of being divorced and giving up her titles!) fascinated the public for weeks.
It was a golden day for Journalists and political cartoonists all over the country!
The Royal Scandal of 1820 certainly entertained the public but also made a lot of people question why it was why they really needed a Monarchy in the first place. Not to mention a useless and corrupt Parliament.
If the present Royal Family had learned one lesson from history, it should have been not to wash their dirty linen in public.
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