Her Story in Jewels: Caroline of Brunswick
Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821), born Caroline Amalie Elisabeth von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, is best known as the uncrowned Queen Consort of King George IV of the United Kingdom. It was not a happy marriage - not just loveless but positively hostile - with neither party liking or wanting to marry the other in the first place. In short, it was a recipe for disaster, and was surrounded by public scandal.
While Caroline of Brunswick was far from being an elegant royal fashion-icon or social trendsetter like some of the other figures in this series, her jewelry is still of great importance. It did not necessarily start revolutionary evolutions of style, however, the jewelry she did wear - and the jewelry that was worn in her memory - does tell a very compelling story: one of secrets, betrayal, love, and loss.
A Match Made in Hell
Caroline was a German princess and the daughter of the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and Princess Augusta of Great Britain, who was the sister of George III - making Caroline the first cousin of her husband-to-be, George IV. She was a bold and capricious child, criticized for having an unbecomingly coarse forthrightness and raunchiness, which only grew with adulthood. Caroline was also accused of not washing herself or her clothes as often as someone of her station should, giving her a reputation of 'poor hygiene', or at least of a toilette that was too short to be respectable. These less than ideal traits in a woman of royal blood meant that she struggled to secure a marriage proposal for some time - that is, until George, Prince of Wales, came asking. She had never met the man, and although his reputation as a womanizer who was liberal with money preceded him, she agreed to the marriage, seeing the power it would grant her as wife to the heir of Great Britain.
George had likewise never met Caroline, and hearing reports they portrayed her as an untactful, unrefined woman seemingly unfit for courtly society, he made no secret of his reluctance to marry her. In fact, their marriage really was doomed from the start, as George had already supposedly given his heart, and hand (though illegally) to another. His wife of choice was a woman named Maria Fitzherbert, a non-royal Roman Catholic twice-widowed, who he had secretly married without the legally required permission of his father (the King), and the Privy Council.
The Maria Fitzherbert Jewel. A diamond-glazed locket containing a portrait of George, Prince of Wales, gifted to Maria Fitzherbert. It is said that George was buried wearing a matching locket enclosing a miniature portrait of Maria Fitzherbert, who he maintained was 'the wife of my heart and soul'.
From Katharine Cooke via Christie's
The Georgian era's craze for lover's eyes jewelry is often said to have started with a piece that George IV gave to Maria Fitzherbert. He had a miniature of his own right eye commissioned with the message, 'I send you at the same time an Eye, if you have not totally forgotten the whole countenance', which he sent to her alongside his marriage proposal.
Maria Anne Fitzherbert (née Smythe), stipple engraving
Yet, in 1794, George was engaged to Caroline of Brunswick, and a year later they were married. George's father, King George III, refused to accept or acknowledge Prince George's marriage to Maria Fitzherbert and a message was sent to her ending the relationship. She moved away, refusing George's offer to be his mistress but parting amicably, seemingly understanding his predicament. At this time, George was deeply and seriously in debt, his spending habits having gotten quite out of hand, and his father agreed to clear his debts if he married someone 'suitable'.
By this time, the Prince had already taken up a new mistress - Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey (often known simply as Lady Jersey) - and it is thought that Caroline of Brunswick was Lady Jersey's suggestion for a wife. Knowing that Prince George would hate her - being as she was the opposite of the refined and elegant older women he preferred the company of - it's suggested that she made the recommendation to secure her continued place as George's mistress.
Fashion According to Caroline
Although many accounts suggest that Caroline of Brunswick lacked elegance and dress sense, finding her simultaneously overdressed (in the loudness of her dresses) and underdressed (in their revealing cuts), she certainly had a style of her own. Caroline was rarely painted without jewelry on, particularly pearls or long chains, and she became known for her elaborate headdresses and hair accessories. This usually comprised of tufts of aigrettes, either made from real egret feathers or imitations made from gems, worn in the hair and often tucked into a tiara or piece of hair jewelry.
Left: Portrait of Caroline by Mariano Bovi, after Cosway, 1795 - @The Trustees of the British Museum Right: Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick, Mezzotint, 1795 - © National Portrait Gallery, London
Portraits of Caroline of Brunswick in pearl jewelry with various hair ornaments from left to right: stipple by James Hopwood Jr, c.1820; mezzotint by William Say, after Arthur William Devis, c.1820; and by James Lonsdale c.1820 - © National Portrait Gallery, London
Carolin Queen of England 1821, Stipple with engraving and etching, attributed to Meyer
You could say that when George, Prince of Wales, and Caroline of Brunswick first met, it was disgust at first sight. She thought he was fat and not half as handsome as his portrait had suggested, and he took one look at her, pronounced he wasn't well, and asked for a glass of brandy. Alcohol, it seemed, was also how he got through the ceremony. Despite a few hitches on the part of the drunk groom, they made it through the ordeal and were soon married.
On the day of her wedding, the media described Caroline as wearing a highly decorated dress and train 'of silver tissue, tied up with rich cord and tassels' and trimmed in 'rows of the finest point lace'. She was also said to have worn a 'crimson velvet mantling, trimmed with ermine' and 'a superb coronet of diamonds', paired with 'brilliants, resembling a knight’s collar, fastened upon the right shoulder by a brilliant bow, and long brilliant tassels; and on the left shoulder by a rich epaulet of brilliants; and in the center, in the place of a stomacher, was the Prince’s picture richly set in brilliants'.
Portrait of Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821) by Gainsborough Dupont (1754-97), Oil on canvas, c.1795-6 Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021
Lady Jersey, who was the Prince George’s mistress throughout the early months of George and Caroline's marriage, was cruel enough to wear a pair of pearl bracelets in front of Caroline that the Prince had given her as a wedding gift (you may notice them in the image above, worn on her wedding day). Clearly, he took them back almost immediately after the event and gave them instead to his mistress. It is said that Lady Jersey enjoyed tormenting Caroline, and was a constant presence in their marriage.
Despite Caroline and Prince George's very apparent disgust for one another, and despite the Prince being drunk on their wedding day, the marriage was consummated. The Prince claimed never to have touched his wife after that night, and days after their marriage he deserted his wife's company in favor of his mistresses, who over the years included Lady Jersey, another brief period with Maria Fitzherbert when he tired of Lady Jersey, Mrs. Perdita Robinson (Mary Robinson), Countess von Hardenburg, Anna Maria Crouch, Lady Melbourne, and in later years the Marchioness of Hertford and the Marchioness Conyngham, both of whom were married.
Though their period of intimacy was incredibly brief, nine months after George and Caroline's wedding Caroline gave birth to their only child - Princess Charlotte - in 1796. Shortly after their daughter was born, George refused to continue living with Caroline any longer, and they separated. Caroline moved away from court and was forced to leave her daughter behind, with Prince George permitting her to see her daughter only once a week. From this point on, George would govern their relationship completely, imposing restrictions and preventing Caroline from seeing her daughter as he saw fit.
Oval gold brooch with a diamond frame containing a miniature watercolor of Princess Charlotte of Wales as an infant, c.1796. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021
On receiving Prince George's letter notifying her of the separation, Caroline informed King George III, accepted, and responded, 'I retain every sentiment of gratitude for the situation in which I find myself, as Princess of Wales, enabled by your means to indulge in the free exercise of a virtue dear to my heart – I mean charity.' It was this charity work of Caroline's that saw the beginning of her popularity with the working-class people of England.
Suspicion, Infidelity, Betrayals, Loss
As part of the charity work Caroline engaged in, (and also probably as a result of missing her daughter) she took in a number of poor children to look after. One of these children was a little boy called William Austin. There were suspicions that the child was Caroline's by another man, and King George III ordered a secret commission called 'The Delicate Investigation' to assess the evidence. When it became clear that William was not Caroline’s child they dropped the investigation, but the damage to Caroline's reputation had already been done. She was now completely ostracised by the royal family.
Finding herself increasingly socially isolated, Caroline eventually headed for Europe in 1814. She traveled to Germany and Switzerland, later settling in Italy. She reportedly made a spectacle of herself wherever she went: dying her hair, wearing short and daringly cut dresses well into her forties, and dancing and partying until the early hours of the morning. While in Italy, rumors about a possible relationship between Caroline and her servant, Bartolomeo Pergami, later her head of her household, began to surface and spread back to England.
In 1817, Caroline's daughter - Princess Charlotte - died in childbirth, at the tragic age of 21. It was a national cause for grief, as Princess Charlotte was greatly loved. George, Prince of Wales, decided not to send Caroline the news, and it was only by chance that she found out from a passing courier.
A memorial pendant commemorating the death of Princess Charlotte. Three locks of her hair have been curled into the shape of 'Prince of Wales’ feathers. These are mounted in the vase that hangs below the miniature. The enameled coat of arms on the reverse could indicate that the jewel was made for her father, George, but it could also have been made for another in her close circle, c.1817.
Enamel mourning ring, for Princess Charlotte of Wales, with a band of white enamel between black enamel raised borders and a bezel of a coiled serpent design. The bezel shows the crown of George IV in polychrome enamel, the hoop inscribed 'H.R.H, Princess Charlotte Augusta', the inside of the hoop inscribed 'Born 7th Jan 1796 Died 6 Nov. 1817'
From Charlotte Soehngen via Christie's
Hearing the rumors about Caroline and Pergami, Prince George, who was then acting as regent for his ill father, sought to divorce Caroline. This could only be done if she was found guilty of adultery (or if George admitted to any of his multiple counts of adultery, which as regent he would not).
In 1820, King George III died, making George and Caroline King and Queen, and Caroline returned to England to assert her rights. George intensified his efforts to gain a divorce, and thus began the infamous, highly-publicized trial accusing Caroline of adultery - seeking to strip her of all rights and titles.
The Trial of Queen Caroline 1820, by Sir George Hayter, oil on canvas, 1820-23.
One thing that the Prince regent did not bargain for in the trial was public opinion. During the trial, Caroline moved to Brandenburgh House at Hammersmith, where she became very popular with the locals - continuing her charity work and aiding local tradesmen. To many people, she was seen as the wronged party, done ill by her husband who was known to be a womanizer and an incompetent drunk. Petitions went around (with nearly a million signatures in total) supporting Caroline's cause, and the Bill set against her in the trial was defeated in the House of Lords. It's said that following this victory 'the Hammersmith tradesmen who served her illuminated their houses, and the populace shouted and made bonfires in front of Brandenburgh House'.
Queen Caroline of Brunswick, sitting in a chair in profile at her trial in the House of Lords. She wears a headdress with large 'Prince of Wales' feathers tucked into a tiara, a style she was known for. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Death - Here lies Caroline, the Injured Queen of England
Deeply angry at the trial's results, George - now King George IV - hosted an expensive and ostentatious coronation. Caroline, dressed for the occasion and expecting to be crowned beside George, attempted to enter Westminster Abbey only to have the door humiliatingly slammed in her face.
The Diamond Diadem was made for George IV's famously extravagant coronation in 1821. It is set with 1,333 diamonds, including a four-carat yellow brilliant in the center of the front cross, and is edged with pearls. The four crosses-pattées and four sprays represent the national emblems of the United Kingdom. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021
Falling ill only shortly after George IV's coronation, Caroline lived for only three more weeks, meaning she was never rightfully crowned in an official ceremony. She died on 7th August 1821, with William Austin (the child she took in) said to be sitting weeping by her bedroom door.
Caroline’s funeral was problematic for George IV, to say the least. In her will, she asked to be buried in her native Brunswick (in Germany), requiring a procession of her coffin through London to Harwich port, and she wanted a plate affixed to her coffin reading: 'Here lies Caroline, the Injured Queen of England'. On the first count, George IV feared that her public popularity would draw large and unruly crowds, so planned to divert the route around London. On the second count, he refused the plate she requested.
Memorial ring for a supporter of Caroline of Brunswick bearing the dates of her birth and death, and the message 'In Memory of Caroline of Brunswick, The Injured Queen of England', as well as a lock of her hair on the reverse of the swiveling bezel. Via Burchard Galleries
Things did not go to plan for George IV. On the day of Caroline's funeral procession, crowds in enormous numbers gathered, blocking routes out of the city and forcing the procession through the center of London. When the procession paused for a rest at Colchester, some of Caroline’s supporters succeeded in fastening the 'Injured Queen' plate Caroline had requested to her coffin. Chaos ensued. Amongst the scuffle, troops fired on the crowds, and two men - Richard Honey and George Francis - were killed. Their headstone bears an account of the 'disgraceful transactions of that disastrous day', lamenting their deaths, calling for vengeance, and placing blame on the 'cruel rage' of those in 'pow'r or party'.
Ornately chased 18K gold memorial ring dedicated to Queen Caroline of Brunswick. When she died memorial rings were made for the court with the inscription: 'In Memory of Caroline of Brunswick the injured Queen of England Born 17 May 1768, Died 7 Aug 1821'. This is one of those rings. The top flips open and reveals a lock of her hair, 1821. Via 1stdibs
Mourning-ring for Queen Caroline of Brunswick; gold. It has a revolving rectangular bezel, on one side of which is royal crown and inscription in gold on black enamel, and on the other side of which is plaited hair beneath glass with foliate ornament. The hoop is plain at the back, the shoulders chased with floral scrolls. Inscribed: 'CAROLINA REGINA OB:7 AUG 1821 AE.53'. © The Trustees of the British Museum
This ring, for a supporter of the 'Injured Queen', has a rayed enameled center inscribed CR for Caroline Regina under a Royal Crown. It is surrounded by stones spelling her name in the acrostic manner - Citrine, Amethyst, Ruby, Opal, Lapis, Jacinth (commonly spelled Iacinth), Novas minas (a rock crystal), and Emerald. Via Collectors Weekly
Many pieces of memorial or mourning jewelry were made upon Caroline of Brunswick's death, showing continued support for her, and forever memorializing her as the 'Injured Queen of England'.