Sex, sex and more sex. Caroline knew exactly what she wanted and she certainly went for it. Bedding her lover in sumptuous apartments around the world, as well as enjoying modest ‘bunks’ on a boat and a naughty night or two in a tent in the Syrian desert. And of course, bath-time was always a riot.
However, the issue that had to be faced was that Caroline was married and her lover was married. “So what!” you might say, “lots of people have affairs.”
True, but Caroline’s husband was King George III’s son, the Prince of Wales and, of course, heir to the throne, and her lover was an Italian servant, married with children, and she was cavorting around the continent – all expenses paid – with a royal entourage of titled chaperons and household staff to satisfy her every whim.
When Caroline visited Naples in 1814, her only whim became that of bedding Bartolomeo Pergami who worked for the household as a servant. However that desire needed a little subtle planning given her on-going ‘motherly’ duties towards a young lad named William Austin.
William Austin, a lad of six or seven years of age, regularly travelled with Caroline and shared the royal bedchamber (his own bed of course, it’s not that kind of story). He was the son she never had, and she looked after him as if he were. Rumours did abound that it really was her son and various fathers were the subject of speculation, but it was never proved and Caroline claimed she had adopted him from a Sophie and Samuel Austin who wanted their son to have a better life given their impoverished situation. Caroline did have a daughter already – Princess Charlotte (1796-1817) and even she believed ‘Willy’ was her mother’s illegitimate son. Tragically she was to die three years later in childbirth.
At the sight of Bartolomeo, Caroline soon got to work, organizing her lusty Italian to move from the domestic quarters to an adjoining room and young Mr. Austin – suddenly too grown-up to continue sharing the royal bedchamber – immediately inherited his own room within the domestic household. It seems Caroline had experienced love at first sight while her maid-servant discovered a perfectly made royal bed at first sight the next morning compared to Bartolomeo Pergami’s excessively rumpled, double-indented mattress.
A Pas de Deux or Love at first Sight
“How I ‘d love you all the day , Every Night, we’d Kiss and Play. If with me you’d fondly stray, Over the Hills and far away.”
Fast-forward six years, to the death of George III on January 29th, 1820, Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, was now constitutionally, “Queen of the United Kingdom” being the wife of the new King George IV. Caroline arrived back in England on June 5th 1820 eager to attend her husband’s coronation and thereby receiving ceremonial confirmation of her new royal status as Queen Consort. However, her husband had other ideas and, having failed with a bribe of £50,000* for her to stay out of England and out of his life, he decided to introduce a bill into Parliament known as ‘The Pains and Privileges Bill.’ *(£1 then = approx. £42 today)
This was shorthand for a bill that proclaimed its purpose “to deprive Her Majesty Queen Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of the Title, Prerogatives, Rights, Privileges, and Exemptions of Queen Consort of this Realm; and to dissolve the Marriage between His Majesty and the said Caroline Amelia Elizabeth.”
Its passage through parliament would reveal to all, via the rapacious media, the claimed long-term adulterous behaviour of his wife and – with witnesses called by its protagonists – aim to prove her sexual depravities and therefore George’s entitlement to a divorce. It was, in effect, to be a public trial of Queen Caroline.
The hypocrisy behind this is staggering in as much as Caroline had certainly enjoyed a extra-marital sex-life with Bartolomeo Pergami, but George, as Prince of Wales and then Prince Regent, was more sexually rampant across those same years with many mistresses such as Lady Jersey and Lady Hertford. Indeed a large number of mature woman were in his sights and his bed.
Having already been in an ‘illegal’ marriage at the age of twenty-three with the older, divorced Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert, he made it clear from the outset of his arranged marriage to Caroline in 1796, that he will abandon any ‘unnecessary’ sexual contact with her, claiming she smelt, was disgustingly unhygienic and also repulsive to look at and he could only have conjugal relations with her when hopelessly drunk.
Thus began a media soap-opera of incredible popularity.
The Attorney-General’s next task was to address The House of Peers, and, on behalf of the new king, manipulate the law and religious morality to ensure that this marriage was ended. Consequently, on Saturday, August 19th 1820 he informed them that:
“The highest individual, as a subject, in the country is charged with one of the most serious offences both against the laws of God and man – it is that of an adulterous intercourse carried on under circumstances of the greatest aggravation.” (Source: The Attorney-General’s charges against the late queen: brought forward in the House of Peers, on Saturday, August 19th, 1820, p.2)
It was reported that as he spoke these words, a loud peal of thunder burst in rapid succession over the buildings in a freak August storm. It certainly set the atmosphere! And so it was, the full scandalous tale of Caroline’s sexual adventures since she left England to travel the world in 1814 was read out to a stunned House of Peers, who as a body, gasped in horror at tales of kissing, shared bath-times, public nudity and sexual encounters in a tent to name but a few ‘indiscretions.’
“Soon after, her majesty proceeded to Aum, a place in Syria,” explained the Attorney-General, “where again Pergami was treated with the same extraordinary familiarity. A tent was erected for her royal highness, and, a bed fitted up for her within it. While she was in bed in this tent, Pergami was seen sitting in his shirt sleeves and almost undressed on the side of the bed. From this tent he was afterwards seen coming in a state of undress.” (Source: The Attorney-General’s charges against the late queen: brought forward in the House of Peers, on Saturday, August 19th, 1820, p.12)
So a long and tedious process was put into gear to create what was called ‘laying a foundation‘ in anticipation that the King would gather enough evidence to legally divorce Caroline by proving an adulterous relationship with Bartolomeo Pergami, “a foreigner of low station.”
This is where the spies come in. Compelled to give evidence in this process was Theodore Majocchi, and Louisa Demont, household servants to them both in their sleeping chambers and daily ablutions. You can see them depicted in the very first caricature at the beginning of this blog (Installation of a Knight Companion of the Bath) peeping around the bathroom door. Majocchi is also seen handing Pergami a candle through the tent flap in the Aum ‘Tent -ation’ depiction.
The whole procedure became a muddle with both these witnesses (and some others) claiming that had overhead love-making between the couple and also glimpsed occasions of inappropriate nudity – but then obfuscating under questioning, to claims of, “Non mi recordo,” translated as, “I can’t remember.”
Claims of fake news were given by witnesses who undoubtedly knew it was not so, but they flapped and floundered under examination within these austere parliamentary walls. Caroline was gaining many fans among the general public as this circus of disenfranchisement of her rights by a womanizing, alcohol-fulled Prince Regent turned King, dragged on and on until November 9th, by which time the prime minister realized it was a lost cause to pass The Pains and Privileges Bill through the House – so it was abandoned and the King was speechless with anger and excessive brandy! Plus it is interesting to note Lucy Worsley’s claim that he also had an addiction to laudanum – a tincture of opium – of which she claims, “He’d take 100 drops in preparation for a public appearance, enough to knock most people senseless.” (Worsley, L.,
The Naughty Prince Regent, (2015) See http://www.lucyworsley.com
As for Caroline;
“She thereupon became the unlikely beneficiary of a wave of indignant public sympathy, being perceived as a ‘wronged woman’ who was bravely struggling to uphold her rights against a callous political establishment.” (Source: Jenkins, T., The Queen Caroline Affair: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org)
Now Caroline set her sights on attending her husband’s coronation scheduled for July 19th 1821, and so a ‘soap-sequel’ soon got underway for the further entertainment of the public, as she continued her long battle to attend and put forward her plans to settle down to her perceived queen consort duties.
In answer to her request to be involved in his coronation she received the following reply from the Attorney-General, that..”his Majesty having determined, that the Queen should form no part of the ceremonial of his Coronation, it was his royal pleasure that the Queen should not be allowed to attend the said ceremony.” (Nightingale, J., Memoirs of Her Late Majesty : Consort of King George the Fourth, Vol.3. London 1822. p.9)
The day of the Coronation almost seemed to have been designed to throw a military cordon around the new King, lest Caroline dared to show up. “The dawn of day saw the metropolis of England in military occupation; and had a stranger not possessed of any previous knowledge of the events which had been passing, approached at that moment, he might have mistaken London for a conquered city, in which the governing powers were at war with the people.” (Nightingale, J., ibid, p.124)
But show up she did;
‘Her Majesty was followed by a crowd to the platform, some of whom were approving and some disapproving her conduct. On entering her carriage, there was considerable disapprobation, intermingled with cries of “shame, shame,” “off, off;” but other parts of the populace repeated the cries of “the Queen, the Queen,” with great enthusiasm. Her Majesty was elegantly dressed in a muslin slip, on a petticoat of silver brocade. She wore a small purple scarf, and had a splendid diamond bandeau on her head, with feathers. Lady Hamilton and Lady Hood were likewise elegantly dressed, and seemed to participate in all the feelings of her Majesty.’ (Nightingale, J., ibid, p.129)
There follows the most bizarre episode imaginable as Queen Caroline attempts to enter Westminster Abbey as a spectator to her husband’s coronation: I make no apology for providing the full text of this extraordinary encounter written by Joseph Nightingale (1775 – 1824) who followed the whole debacle:
‘ On arriving at the place where tickets were received, Lord Hood demanded admission for the Queen. The door-keeper said, that his instructions were to admit no person without a Peer’s ticket. Lord Hood — “Did you ever hear of a Queen being asked for a ticket before? This is your Queen.” The door-keeper said that his orders were general, and without any exceptions. He had never been in a similar situation before, and could say nothing as to the propriety or impropriety of refusing her Majesty admission. Lord Hood. — “I present to you your Queen, do you refuse her admission ?” Her Majesty added, that she was his Queen, and desired to be permitted to pass. The door-keeper repeated that his orders were peremptory — and said, however reluctant he might be, he could not suffer her Majesty to pass without a ticket. Lord Hood. — “I have a ticket.” Door-keeper. — “Upon producing it I will permit you to pass.” Lord Hood then took from his pocket one ticket for the Abbey, for a Mr. Wellington, which he tendered to the door-keeper. The door-keeper said that it would admit but one individual. Lord Hood then asked her Majesty if she would enter alone ? Her Majesty hesitated — upon which Lord Hood asked, whether there had not been some preparations made for her Majesty’s reception. The door-keeper answered in the negative. Lord Hood. — “Then I am to understand you refuse your Queen admittance to Westminster Abbey ?” The door-keeper said he was ready to admit her Majesty with a ticket, but not without. After a short consultation with her Majesty, as to whether she would go into the Abbey alone, or not — her Majesty declined — and it was resolved, having been refused admission to the Cathedral church of Westminster, that she should return to her carriage’ (Nightingale, J., ibid, p.127/8:
A rather cruel caricature followed this episode:
Indeed, it was very cruel.
Just over two weeks after Caroline’s futile attempt to attend her husband’s coronation and make her brave stand – she died. The prognosis was a bowel problem, but public emotion preferred to think it was a broken heart.*
“On earth denied the imperial crown,
Though form’d to share her husband’s throne.
Heaven pitying viewed her, and, in love,
Gave the celestial Crown above !”
*Lucy Worsley has written a wonderfully informative blog about the little known daily battle Caroline had endured with a mangled bowel operation way back in 1737. The stench of a daily operation that interfered with her digestive system was truly horrific and Caroline endured it all with humour – so in truth, she ‘died of the doctor’. (Worsley, L. Poor Queen Caroline and her horrible death, 9th May 2014, www.lucyworsley.com)