In the autumn of 1714 Princess Caroline of Great Britain traveled from Herrenhausen in Hanover to her new home at St. James’s Palace in London. A few months before, her grandfather had been installed as King George I and her parents, now the Prince and Princess of Wales, were eager to begin their new British life. She joined her two older sisters, Anne and Amelia, in the nursery there, making appearances around London as people came out to cheer the three little girls. The only person missing was their older brother, Frederick, who was left behind as the family’s representative in Hanover.
Only about a year old when she arrived in England, Caroline would never remember her birthplace, and while her German heritage would remain an important facet of her family, her life and identity would develop as wholly British. When she was four years old her father and her grandfather had a falling out – tension built for years, but reached a crescendo when the Prince of Wales appeared to threaten the Duke of Newcastle, hand selected by the King as a godfather, at his new son’s christening. The King responded by removing his son and daughter-in-law to Leicester House and taking custody of their four children, including the infant George William.
The Prince and Princess could only see their children with the King’s permission, which was granted about once a week. Restrictions were relaxed in January 1718 when George William grew ill, but within days of the Princess being allowed to visit his nursery, he died. The Princess, pregnant again, swiftly miscarried and the entire debacle damaged the entire Royal Family’s reputation, laying bare the dysfunction that mired their personal dynamics.
While the King relaxed visitation, he remained estranged from the Prince and Princess until a public reconciliation was reached in the spring of 1720. But though the news was announced throughout Europe, it didn’t grant the parents custody of their children. Instead, the three girls remained under the nominal control of their grandfather, though he was a remote figure. Beyond occasional walks with him in the gardens, their supervision primarily came by way of governesses, nannies and staff. Interestingly, while they maintained complete adoration and respect for their mother, the children picked up on the contempt their grandfather had for their father, adopting it in how they spoke of him.
The entire situation bonded the three sisters tightly together and created a familial break between them, their older brother in Hanover and the three children their parents went on to have – William, Mary and Louisa.
In 1720, Anne fell ill with a serious bout of smallpox – an occurrence that helped bring about her family’s reconciliation. But though she survived she remained badly scarred from the disease. The Princess of Wales made the bold choice to inoculate Amelia and Caroline two years later, a move which garnered the family considerable attention and the Princess praise. One observer, the Duchess of Orleans, wrote at the time:
“I worry a good deal about the dear Princess of Wales and the two little princesses – I am not so brave and could not possibly steel myself to make my children ill when they were quite well. My doctor doesn’t think it’s safe.”
Instead, the two girls flourished and never contracted the disease.
As the younger Caroline grew up she quickly became the beauty of the family, but her lifestyle was marred by her poor constitution. She was constantly ill and though she became her mother’s favorite daughter, she was often criticized for laziness, particularly in comparison to Anne, who was known as the most intelligent of her sisters.
As the princesses grew up, they began to participate in more court occasions, allowing the public to get to know them. In 1725, when Caroline was 12, she attended her grandfather’s birthday party alongside her sisters, drawing remarks from onlookers that the young women were beautifully dressed, charming and well-behaved.
Two years later, on June 11, 1727, George I passed away at Schloss Osnabrück in Germany and his body was interred in Hanover, a more fitting resting place for a man ambivalent about his British fate. Whatever mixed emotions the death may have raised for his family personally, it was the public moment that the Prince of Wales had been waiting for.
The new George II and his wife, Caroline, were crowned in Westminster Abbey that October and finally reunited with their then-adolescent elder daughters. Toward the end of George I’s reign, a marriage between Anne and Prince Frederick of Prussia was in negotiation, but the new King quickly vetoed it. Instead, the entire family had the freedom to finally live as they pleased under one roof, save the missing Prince Frederick.
The relationship between George II and Queen Caroline with their eldest son is one of the strangest in royal history – in short, they loathed him, but not for any discernible reason. Whatever normal parental feelings should have made allowances for his shortcomings never materialized and, frankly, his shortcomings weren’t any more dramatic than anyone else’s. A full rundown of what was going on here will have to be saved for another time, but the discord did have an impact on his younger sister, Caroline, who was 15 when he finally joined the family in London.
Caroline soon took the on the mantle of family peacemaker, the quiet soul who tried very hard to please everyone around her and soothe larger egos than her own. It was a necessary skill given the drama that would unfold thanks to Frederick and her parents’ clear favoritism of her younger brother, William. She also became known for being the most rational and honest of her siblings – Queen Caroline was known to say, “Send for Caroline and then we’ll know the truth.” A less charitable view would be that she was also known as a bit of a tattle-tale.
It was around this time that she also became acquainted with Lord John Hervey, an eccentric and biting writer and courtier who spent a decade after George II ascended the throne writing a memoir of all of the RF’s drama. Bisexual, he went on to have affairs with both men and women in London society – there’s even a rumor that he and Frederick were lovers before they had a falling out earlier in the 1720s, though that’s highly debatable. Hervey had little patience for George II, Frederick and most other members of the RF, but he did have considerable respect for Caroline and her mother, the Queen.
This was a relief for Caroline given that she quickly became deeply infatuated with him, a fact widely known to not only him but the rest of her father’s court. And whatever affection Hervey had for her, it wasn’t romantic and it didn’t stop him from writing honestly about her when commenting on her family. Early in George II’s reign, he wrote:
“[The King] snubbed the Queen who was drinking chocolate for being always stuffing, the Princess Amelia for not hearing him, the Princess Caroline for having grown fat, the Duke for standing awkwardly […] and then carried the Queen to walk and be re-snubbed in the garden.”
For the six years following 1728, the entire Royal Family lived together in London, which might have been a blessing for a family that got along, but was in fact remarkable given various feuds that were nearly always going on and the fact that the three eldest sisters were well past marriageable age. It wasn’t until 1734 that the eldest, Anne, finally married. She wed Prince William IV of Orange in the spring of that year during a ceremony held at St. James’s Palace that the entire family attended. It was a far cry from the Prussian match her grandfather had put forth and the one-time consideration of King Louis XV of France, but it was equally important that she marry a Protestant and keeping Britain’s alliance with the Netherlands was significant.
By the time of Anne’s departure, relations between the King and Frederick had almost entirely broken down. Ironically, their dynamic was incredibly similar to that of George I and George II, though it’s unclear whether anyone in the family actually realized that rather poignant fact. As the years went by, George II grew incredibly like his father, even beginning to wax nostalgia for Hanover and how simple and orderly life there was, taking opportunities to visit when he could.
In May 1736 Frederick married Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, a shy and childish adolescent who had little understanding of the grandeur and chaos of the family into which she was marrying. The following June, Frederick told his parents that his wife was pregnant and the Queen bizarrely responded that she intended to witness the birth as she was unconvinced her son had the ability to father a child. In reality, Augusta was much further along in her pregnancy than Frederick let on and when she went into labor on July 31, 1737, Frederick forced her to leave Hampton Court Palace, where the rest of the family was staying, for St. James’s Palace.
When the family woke up the next morning and realized what happened, the Queen hastily gathered her daughters and traveled to London where they could inspect the child. While she softened at the sight of her granddaughter, she remained cold to her son, and indeed, the entire debacle caused a scandal. Hervey wrote that the new baby was “a little rat of a girl about the bigness of a large toothpick case,” and George wrote to his son:
“This extravagent and undutiful behavior in so essential a point as the birth of an heir to my Crown is such an evidence of your premeditated defiance of me and such contempt for my authority and of the natural right belonging to your parents […] that I will not suffer […] the division which you have made in my family.”
Like his father before him, George banished his son and daughter-in-law to Leicester House, though he did not go so far as to take custody of his granddaughter.
Less than four months later, Queen Caroline was on her deathbed. Amelia, Caroline, Mary and Louisa all took turns attending at her bedside, while George and William were distraught. She finally passed away on November 20th at St. James’s Palace, famously making her husband swear to remarry. In fact, he wouldn’t; George’s love and admiration for his wife were legendary, despite the consistent presence of mistresses, which his family took in stride.
At the time of her mother’s death Caroline was 24, far past the age at which she might expect to marry. In fact she never did, though it’s unclear why. Likely her devotion to Hervey played a role and she was clear with her parents that she had little desire to do so. The presence of four other sisters didn’t make her marriage diplomatically necessary and it was clear that she preferred to remain at home. The other piece of it was her health, which was never strong, though a considerable factor in that was likely depression. Whether she had an undiagnosed clinical issue or whether she was simply heartbroken is unknown, but as the years went on the great beauty of the family grew increasingly overweight and miserable.
Lord Hervey’s death on August 5, 1743 devastated Caroline and she sunk into an even lower depression, rarely circulating outside of her immediate family. With the exception of a few excursions to the theatre – she preferred Shakespeare – she spent most of her time ill, convalescing or waiting to be ill. Shortly before her death on December 28, 1757, she reportedly answered her doctors when they told her it was all over, “I feared I would not have died of this.”
She was interred that January in Westminster Abbey. Of her death, Walpole wrote:
“Though her state of health had been so dangerous for years, and her absolute confinement for many of them, her disorder was, in a manner, new and sudden, and her death unexpected by herself, though earnestly her wish. Her goodness was constant and uniform, her generosity immense, her charities most extensive; in short, I, no royalist, could be lavish in her praise.”