Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Unruly Queen: the Life of Queen Caroline

I was never particularly interested in the media circus surrounding Charles and Diana.  She struck me as an initially naive girl who'd been roped into marriage and who eventually developed into a media-savvy woman.  He struck me as an immature jerk, but one who'd been created by his bizarre upbringing.  Strange as it may seem, I feel sorry for members of the Royal Family, or at least the ones close to succession and constantly in the public eye.  It may be nice to have the money and social cachet to be a second cousin once removed to the Queen, but you can marry when and whom you want and have your own career and interests.  The Queen's children and grandchildren are public property, their romantic lives must be seen through a dynastic lens.  Their job is to make public appearances and lend a famous face to charities, but they are rarely allowed to take an active role.

This, however, was not the most acrimonious marriage entered into by an heir to the British throne.  That dubious honor belongs to the Prince Regent and Caroline of Brunswick.   Flora Fraser wrote The Unruly Queen in 1995, at the height of the Charles and Diana conflict but managed to avoid highlighting the parallels between Charles and his great-great-great-granduncle.  

George, the Prince Regent may not have been quite as dim as portrayed by Hugh Laurie in Blackadder the Third but he was as spoiled, extravagant, and concerned with his own amusement.  George married for money - he'd been secretly married before to Maria Fitzherbert, a Catholic widow, and kept a succession of mistresses after he'd been persuaded (temporarily, at least) to end his relationship with her.  He married his first cousin Caroline solely to increase his allowance and ended all pretense of marriage as soon as she'd delivered a healthy heir.  Caroline is no more appealing of a character, although slightly more sympathetic.  She'd been raised in almost total isolation, not only kept apart from children her age (as many royals of the era were) but even after the age at which she would have made her debut was not allowed to attend formal dinners or musical performances.  It should be no surprise, then, that she was crude, childish, and willing to test the boundaries of her new-found freedom.  

Fraser paints a compelling picture of a lonely woman surrounded by people who depended on her husband for their livelihoods.  Once she'd given birth to Princess Charlotte, she was disposable and essentially excluded from royal life.  Like her husband, she had multiple affairs, but one can understand why a woman whose marriage had essentially ended on her wedding night would do so.  Unlike her husband, these affairs were crimes against the state and culminated in her trial in the House of Lords for treason and eventually her being barred from what should have been her coronation as Queen Consort.  She died soon afterwards from an intestinal obstruction and if not forgotten, left as more of a footnote to history than an important person, unlike her 20th Century successor whose media savvy will preserve her place in the collective memory.

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