This post originally appeared on the Austen Authors’ blog on October 5, 2019. Enjoy.
In my “Sense and Sensibility” sequel “The Daughters of Delaford,” Marianne and the Colonel’s daughter Allegra, and Elinor and Edward’s daughter Grace, become important players in the historic events surrounding Princess Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales, and estranged wife of the Prince Regent. After George III died in 1820, and the Prince Regent was ascending to the crown, Princess Caroline, who had been living in exile in Italy, returned to claim her throne as Queen of England. Grace and Allegra support and befriend the very popular princess, who was hated by her husband and loved by the British people, who sympathized with her and disliked the new king for his immoral behavior.
Who was this woman, who was loved by the public, but hated by the Prince Regent? Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was the daughter of Charles William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel of Germany, and her mother, Princess Augusta, who was the sister of George III. In 1794, Caroline became engaged to her first-cousin and George III’s eldest son and heir George, Prince of Wales, although they had never met and George was already married to Maria Fitzherbert. Since his marriage to Maria violated the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, which said no member of the royal family could marry without the permission of the reigning monarch, the marriage was considered null and void. Not to mention that the Prince Regent was a gambler and a careless spender, and his father refused to pay his debts unless he wed Caroline. The Prince, who despised his wife, saying she smelled bad and that he was repulsed by her, claimed they only had relations three times, but it was enough to bring their daughter, Princess Charlotte, into the world on January 7, 1796.
George and Caroline’s marriage difficulties were played out in the British press on a daily basis. George was hated for his bad habits while Caroline was lauded as a wronged wife. In 1797, the couple separated and Caroline moved to Montagu House in Blackheath. No longer constrained by her marital vows, the Princess had flirtations and relationships with several men.
After that, her life was filled with scandals, including one concerning the legitimacy of a boy she adopted, who many said was actually her illegitimate child. When a commission was formed to look into this, it was found that while her conduct with gentlemen friends was improper, there was no foundation for the charges against her. Her husband continued to discredit her and forbid her from seeing her daughter. George’s attempts to keep Charlotte away from her mother failed, and the girl ran way to her mother’s home, and had to be persuaded to return to her father.
Caroline left England in 1814. During her time in Europe, Caroline had a notorious affair with one Bartolomeo Pergami, one of her servants. This became the talk of Europe. Meanwhile, the Prince Regent continued to make attempts to divorce Caroline on the grounds of adultery, which was unsuccessful.
When she returned to England in 1820 after the death of George III, riots broke out in her support, and she became the symbol of a movement that opposed the unpopular king. Parliament then introduced a bill called the Pains and Penalties bill, who sought to strip Caroline of her title as queen and dissolve her marriage, due to her affair with a “lowborn” man. The House of Lords passed the bill, but it did not pass in the House of Commons; many saying that indeed Caroline had committed adultery at least once; that being with the husband of Mrs. Fitzherbert – the king.
Everyone seemed to have an opinion about Caroline, including Jane Austen. Here’s her letter to Martha Lloyd written on February 16, 1813:
“I suppose all the world is sitting in judgement upon the Princess of Wale’s letter. Poor woman; I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a woman and because I hate her husband. But I can hardly forgive her for calling herself “attached and affectionate” to a man whom she must detest, and the intimacy said to subsist between her and Lady Oxford is bad. I do not know what to do about it, but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first.”
This letter that Jane is probably referring to was published in the Morning Chronicle on February 8, 1813. The letter from Caroline to George was written on January 14, 1813. It came to be known as “The Regent’s Valentine,” and it is easy to see why this letter pulled on Austen’s heartstrings, as Caroline begs the Prince Regent to end the forced separation between herself and her daughter: “The separation which every succeeding month making wider between mother and daughter,” she writes, “Gives a great deal to the deep wounds which so cruel an arrangement inflicts upon my feelings, cutting me off from one of the very few domestic enjoyments left to me…the society of my child.” She begs George to release Charlotte from her imprisonment at Windsor, since “she enjoys none of those advantages of society.”
Caroline continues in the letter to discuss the attacks on her reputation:
“There is a point beyond which guiltless woman cannot with safety carry her forbearance. If her honour is invaded, the defence of her reputation is no long a matter of choice, and it signifies not whether the attack be made openly, manfully, and directly, or by secret insinuation, and by holding such conduct towards her as countenances all the suspicions the malice can suggest.”
The letter, dubbed “The Regency Valentine,” by the press, made sympathy for Caroline ever greater than before with the English public. It is clear Jane Austen agreed with those sympathies, and despite Caroline’s questionable morals, that like many, Austen blamed the prince for, saying they were caused by the prince’s cruelty, neglect and his lack of a moral compass. As for Austen’s mention of Jane Hartley, Lady Oxford, she was part of Caroline’s court. She was a woman who had many lovers with whom she had several children. One of those lovers was the famous Romantic poet Lord George Byron. One could assume Austen objected to such a woman being part of the royal court. Concerning the part about Austen objecting to Caroline’s comment in the letter about her being “attached and affectionate” to the Prince, it is clear the Princess was begging not only for herself, but for her daughter as well. It might have been hard for Austen to understand, not being a mother herself, what lengths a mother will go through to protect her child, which is clearly the main theme of the correspondence.
In the end, Caroline took an offer of £50,000 a year; a contract that had no preconditions. Despite this, she still tried to attend the coronation of the king, and was refused entrance. Soon after, she passed away from what the doctor thought was an intestinal obstruction.
As for Grace and Allegra in “The Daughters of Delaford,” to find out what happened to them, you’ll have to read the book. Now you know the story of Princess Caroline, I hope you will be intrigued!