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The Scandalous Affair That Nearly Ended a Monarchy

by Jane Robins

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2006
ISBN: 0-7432-5590-9
Publisher: Free Press

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 Caroline to 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.