The married life and death of Queen Caroline (1768-1821 were equally frenzied. Though she was never officially crowned, Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfbuttel was the wife of King George IV and thus, Princess of Wales and after the 1820 death of George III, the Queen of England. She died on August 7, 1821, just a month after her husband’s lavish coronation ceremony which she was physically restrained from attending.
For an account of her death, we turn to excerpts from a letter from Viscount Hood to Henry Brougham, M.P., who had represented the Queen at her recent trial and had gone to York to attend Assizes.
Brandenburgh House, 8th Aug., 1821.
“. . . The melancholy event took place at 25 minutes past 10 o’clock last night, when our dear Queen breathed her last. Her Majesty has quitted a scene of uninterrupted persecution, and for herself I think her death is not to be regretted. . . . She died in peace with all her enemies. Je ne mourrai sans douleur, mais je mourrai sans regret (I shall not die without pain, but I die without regret) was frequently expressed by her Majesty. I never beheld a firmer mind, or any one with less feelings at the thought of dying, which she spoke of without the least agitation, and at different periods of her illness, even to very few hours of her dissolution, arranged her worldly concerns. . .”
King George IV learned the news of the death of his estranged — and much despised — wife while on board a ship bound for his visit to Ireland. Apparently illness had accomplished what he had tried to do so often in life — rid himself of Caroline. Though there were rumors of poison and other nefarious plots, her death was officially ruled to be from natural causes. George IV greatly resented the popular acclaim that Caroline enjoyed; she was a favorite of the people; they probably loved her mainly because they detested the Prince Regent/King and his profligate ways.
Even in death, Caroline left controversy in her wake, as expressed by our old friend, the Diarist Thomas Creevey:
Mr. Creevey to Miss Ord.
“Cantley, Aug. 11.
. . . The death of this poor woman under all its circumstances is a most striking event and gave me an infernal lump in my throat most part of Thursday. . . . (There) is one subject which gives me some uneasiness in the making of her will, the Queen wished to leave some diamonds to Victorine, the child of Pergami, of whom she was so fond. This was not liked by Brougham and her other lawyers, so the bequest does not appear in the will ; but the jewels are nevertheless to be conveyed to Victorine. This, you know, is most delicate matter to be employed on her deathbed in sending her jewels from Lady Anne Hamilton and Lady Hood to Pergami’s child appears to me truly alarming. I mean, should it be known, and one is sure it will be so, for Taylor had a letter from Denison last night mentioning such a report, and being quite horrified at it. On the other hand, when I expressed the same sentiment to Brougham, he thought nothing of it. His creed is that she was a child-fancier: that Pergami’s elevation was all owing to her attachment to Victorine, and he says his conviction is strengthened every day of her entire innnocence as to Bergami. This, from Brougham, is a great deal, because I think it is not going too far to say that he absolutely hated her; nor do I think her love for her Attorney General (Brougham) was very great.”
Creevey is referring to Victorine, the daughter of Caroline’s companion and perhaps lover, Pergami. She was one of several children Caroline doted upon during her lifetime, Whether any of them were her illegitimate offspring was widely discussed but never proved. Several were left legacies in her will.
George IV was desperate to rid himself of his wife. They had been estranged since shortly after their arranged marriage in 1795, even before the birth of their only child, Princess Charlotte of Wales (1796-1817). Even after Charlotte’s lamented death in childbirth, Caroline had remained abroad, living in Italy until her husband became king. But when she returned to England, she faced an unpleasant situation.
When King George tried to divorce his wife in a trial before the House of Lords in 1820, Henry Peter Brougham (1778–1868), later 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux, defended her. The fact that the case was later dropped gave him great prestige. He became Lord Chancellor of Great Britain under King William IV.
Letter from Henry Brougham, M.P., to Mr. Creevey.
“Aug. 14, 1821.
I have seen Lushington and Wilde repeatedly. They are at this moment in negociation with the Govt. ; or rather throwing up all concern with the funeral on account of this indecent hurry. Their ground is a clear one : they won’t take charge of it from Stade the port in Hanover to Brunswick without knowing that arrangements are ready to receive them. . . . The Govt., only wishing the speedy embarkation, as they avow, for the sake of not delaying the dinner at Dublin, insist on getting it on board as quick as possible, and don’t mind what happens afterwards. … I shall, I think, be satisfied with going to Harwich with it, and not go, as I had intended, to Brunswick.”
Poor Caroline. Though the people mourned her, only those required to accompany her body apparently wanted to do so. She had requested burial in her native Brunswick.
Mr. Creevey to Miss Ord.
” Cantley, Aug. 18th.
“. . . Here is Brougham again. He has been at Harwich, where he saw the body of the Queen embarked about 3 o’clock on Thursday; and then immediately came across the country, and, after travelling all night, got here to dinner yesterday, and proceeds to Durham to-night to join the circuit there. I wish very much I had been at Harwich : according to Brougham’s account it must have been the most touching spectacle that can be imagined the day magnificently beautiful the sea as smooth as glass
our officers by land and sea all full dressed soldiers and sailors all behaving themselves with the most touching solemnity the yards of the four ships of war all manned the Royal Standard drooping over the coffin and the Queen’s attendants in the centre boat every officer with his hat off the whole time minute guns firing from the ships and shore, and thousands of people on the beach sobbing put aloud. … It was as it should be and the only thing that was so during the six and twenty years’ connection of this unhappy woman with this country. . . And now what do you think Brougham said to me not an hour ago? that if he had gone with the Queen’s body to Brunswick, it would have been going too far it would have been over-acting his part ; ‘ it being very well known that through the whole of this business he had never been very much for the Queen ! ‘ Now upon my soul, this is quite true, and, being so, did you ever know anything at all to equal it ?”
Apparently Mr. Creevey did not approve of Mr. Brougham’s dismissal of any affection for the lady he had served as adviser since 1812.