When the Prince of Wales, the future George IV of England, saw Princess Caroline of Brunswick for the first time he fainted. He was horrified by the fat, red-faced German he was destined to marry. On top of that, he would have to abandon his attractive mistress, Mrs. Fitzherbert, who he had in fact secretly married. It wasn’t the prospect of becoming a polygamist which troubled him, but rather the impossibility of honoring this marriage and producing an heir.
He was forced to consume an entire bottle of cognac before the marriage and was rather drunk during the ceremony. But in the night that followed, he managed to consummate and honor the union. It was the only night he would spend with her, which proved sufficient, as nine months later the heir to the throne Princess Charlotte was born. His duties accomplished, George would no longer speak of Caroline.
He continued with his daily life. George took a number of mistresses, bet on horses, and played cards. He built enchanting residences and spent enormous sums, amassing extraordinary collections, some of which came directly from Versailles, sold by the revolutionaries for mere pennies in their senseless hurry to rid the country of the relics of a hated royalty. It is for this reason that Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are decorated with the most beautiful furniture of French royalty.
King George wasn’t only stuck with his wife, but also with France. For ten years England and Napoleon’s France were engaged in a fight to the death. Napoleon’s continental blockade was asphyxiating the English economy. Through intrigues aimed at forming a secret line against Napoleon, England responded by landing in Spain, at the time occupied by the French. The English fared well, yet were more or less alone on a continent dominated by Napoleon.
Then King George III, who had been mad for years, finally died and George IV assumed the throne. His coronation was planned for weeks. George IV had only one demand: Caroline would not be crowed. That day, after entering the Westminster Abbey, wearing his ermine coat, he had the doors of the cathedral locked. The precaution was not unnecessary. Caroline became Queen automatically the moment her husband for better but above all for worse, became king. Yet when she arrived with her cortege they found the doors locked. In the meantime, Caroline lived scandalously. She traveled throughout Europe, accompanied by her impossible lover, with increasing extravagance. Her misconduct was the laugh of all the Courts.
Eventually George IV decided to divorce her. The divorce process, which took place in the Parliament, was one of the greatest scandals of the century. The lawyers for either side brought to light all the infidelities, scandals, and misbehaviors of both sides. Although Caroline was perfectly guilty, public opinion was in her favor, the Queen against George IV. There were protest and demonstrations throughout London, as well as shameless discussions in Parliament. In the end, George IV made his case and the divorce was pronounced.
Queen Caroline was undeterred and continued to occupy the press and her husband with her scandals and behavior. One morning in May, 1821, George IV was in his office in Windsor Castle when his aide-de-camp entered and announced in a solemn voice, “I have the honor to inform your Majesty that your worst enemy is dead.” The king rose quickly and grabbed his hands, his eyes staring upwards in ecstasy.
“No, your Majesty. Emperor Napoleon.”