Caroline of Ansbach Before Britain


The last time we touched on Caroline of Ansbach we were covering her and her husband’s horrific relationship with their eldest son, Prince Frederick of Wales. It’s a period of time in which Caroline is hardly shown in a positive light, but what makes this particular queen so difficult is that when you set that relationship aside, she was an incredibly compelling woman with any number of admirable qualities. Today, we’re going to cover her life leading up 1714, when her father-in-law, George I, ascended the British throne.

Caroline was born on March 1, 1683 in Ansbach, the eldest child of Johan Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach and his second wife, Eleonore Erdmuthe of Saxe-Eisenach. Via his first wife, Johan had three surviving children, including two sons fit succeed him already. Caroline was followed in the nursery by a short-lived brother in January 1685, and another brother, William Frederick, in January 1686.

Caroline’s mother, Eleanore

What could have been a happy and boisterous upbringing ended up going quite the other way. Eleanore never got along with her three stepchildren, despite their youth when she entered the picture. When Johan passed away just two months after his youngest son’s birth, the government of Brandenburg-Ansbach passed to his eldest son, Christian Albert. Despite the boy being only 11, his dislike of his stepmother and the presence of a regency council dictated Eleanore was best-served by moving on. She and her two young children left Ansbach for Crailsheim – penniless and weighing her options, Eleanore finally decided what was best for all was for her to return home, while she handed over custody of her children via a wardship.

As such, Caroline and William Frederick were duly shipped off to Berlin where they were placed in the household of the Elector and Electress of Brandenberg. The Electress, born Sophie Charlotte of Hanover, was the daughter of the Elector of Hanover and his wife, Sophia of the Palatinate, herself a granddaughter of King James I of England (and VI of Scotland). It was a soft spot on which to land, particularly given the presence of Sophie Charlotte, an intelligent, maternal and active young mother, who warmly welcomed both children into the household nursery.

There they remained until 1691 when Elenore joined them to negotiate her second marriage, this time to Johan George IV, Elector of Saxony. The match was encouraged by Frederick and Sophie Charlotte, who deemed it a respectable option for the impoverished young woman, one which would help provide for her children. Eleanore finally agreed and the marriage went forth in April 1792. Unfortunately, the match had been prompted by Johan George’s mother, who was desperate to end her son’s infatuation with his mistress, Magdalena Sibylla of Neidschutz.

In fact, the man loved Magdalena to madness – quite literally. The two were in fact half-siblings, though it’s unclear whether either party knew this. Johan George’s parents, however, certainly did, for Magdalena was his father’s illegitimate daughter. When Eleanore turned up in Dresden with her children she soon found out just how much the marriage was against her husband’s will. He was verbally and physically abusive and seemed to take pleasure in humiliating her before their court by showing marked favoritism of his mistress. Indeed, he left Eleanore alone in their official residence, choosing to instead live elsewhere with Magdalena. Within five months of the wedding, Magdalena was pregnant.

Caroline’s stepfather, Johan George IV of Saxony

Eleanore suffered two miscarriages over the course of her second marriage, once in August 1692 and again in February 1693. The second one very nearly cost her her life, for with Magdalena’s pregnancy advancing, Johan George became more and more desperate to rid himself of his unwanted wife and marry her. He tried to murder Eleanore by stabbing her with a sword and was stopped only by the intercession of his younger brother, Frederick August, who would live the rest of his life handicapped from having blocked the weapon with his hand.

Eleanore declared herself pregnant again in December 1693, though she turned out to be incorrect – one can’t help but wonder if she considered it a safety precaution, for surely the Elector wouldn’t have jeopardized the health of a legitimate offspring.

Magdalena gave birth to a daughter, Wilhelmina Maria, in June 1793, but mercifully for Eleanore – and perhaps for the infant – both parents died of smallpox in April 1794.

Prior to that, fearing for her life and those of her children, Eleanore had fled Dresden for Pretzsch. After Frederick August succeeded his brother, he allowed his sister-in-law to remain there, which she did, until her own death on September 9, 1696. Caroline and William Frederick, just 13 and 10, respectively, were officially orphans.

Frederick and Sophia Charlotte hadn’t forgotten the children – in fact, the latter had promised to take care of them should anything happen to their mother. After a brief stint at their half-brother’s court in Ansbach, Caroline and William Frederick returned to Berlin to continue their education. The reigning couple had only one son of their own and it was noted by the Berlin court that Caroline became something of a daughter to the Electress, and that the girl began to pick up a number of her mannerisms in adolescence.

Sophie Charlotte, Queen of Prussia

In January 1701, Frederick and Sophia Charlotte were made the King and Queen of Prussia, further enhancing the prestige of their court. Frederick, in love with his beautiful and intelligent wife, gifted her Lutzenburg Palace, which was to be her German version of Versailles. There, she created her own refuge for thinkers, writers and philosophers, herself preferring to be surrounded by scholars than the strict etiquette her role as queen dictated. This formed Caroline’s education, ensuring that the raw intellectual capability with which she was born was developed into a capable and curious mind.

By 1703, 20 years of age, the Queen of Prussia’s favorite, attractive and polished, Caroline was a sought-after bride. Archduke Charles of Austria, who later became the Holy Roman Emperor, vied for her hand and was rejected on the grounds of his Catholicism. The matter was the last on which Sophia Charlotte advised her, for the Queen passed away in February 1705 in Hanover at the age of just 36. Caroline wrote at the time:

“The calamity has overwhelmed me with grief and sickness, and it is only the hope that I may soon follow her that consoles me.”

Sophia Charlotte’s legacy, however, was to have still dictated Caroline’s fate, for she had naturally spoken highly of the young woman to her own family. She was particularly close to her mother, the Dowager Electress Sophia, who just so happened to have a grandson in need of a wife. The young man in question, George Augustus, was a few months younger than Caroline and stood not only able to someday make her Electress of Hanover, but possibly Queen of Great Britain. Already Sophia had been recognized as the House of Stuart’s heir when Queen Anne died, and so while it was by no means certain, Sophia and her heirs had long been planning for the eventuality that they would decamp to London.

It was a foreign, heady possibility and one which Caroline, with her education and cosmopolitan (if uneven) upbringing was particularly well-situated to embrace. When George Augustus went to visit Caroline in Ansbach, where she had moved after the Queen’s death, he took an immediate liking to her. He made the trek in disguise, however Caroline immediately recognized him, understood the meaning behind his presence and then played along. It set a pattern for the course of their marriage.

The couple were engaged in July 1705 and married on September 2, the same day Caroline arrived in Hanover. The match was immediately successful, for George Augustus was infatuated with his wife and preferred to spend all of his time with her. It’s unclear if Caroline matched his ardor at this point, but it was still a markedly happy marriage, which can only have come as a relief to the rest of George Augustus’s family after the disaster that was his parents.

Caroline’s husband, George Augustus, in 1716

The following year Sophia Charlotte’s son, Crown Prince Frederick William, arrived for a visit in Hanover and duly became engaged to George Augustus’s younger sister, Sophia Dorothea. The two were married on November 28, 1706, however the match would prove a polar opposite to that of George Augustus and Caroline.

As for Caroline’s younger brother, William Frederick, he succeeded their father’s title of Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach after both of their half-brothers died without legitimate issue. It was, in many ways, a poetic ending to the harrowing childhoods both siblings had led.  He married Christiane Charlotte of Württemberg-Winnental, a cousin, and was succeeded by his eldest son after his death in 1723.

Caroline became pregnant in May 1706, just eight months after her wedding, and on February 1, 1707 she gave birth to a son, christened Frederick. He was followed by three daughters – Anne, born in 1709, Amelia (known as “Emily” in the family), born in 1711 and Caroline, born in 1713. Caroline was an attentive mother, however the children were the particular pets of their great-grandmother, the Dowager Electress Sophia. She traveled frequently between Herrenhausen (where the electoral family lived in Hanover) and Berlin to see Sophia Dorothea as her own nursery grew.

She and Caroline grew close, the two women sharing a number of interests and spending significant time together in the libraries of Herrenhausen and bonding over their shared love and heartbreak for Sophia Charlotte.

As the 1710s dawned, more and more notable British noblemen were making their way to Hanover in the hopes of working their way into the favor of their future Royal Family. Often times, wives and eligible daughters were brought along, primarily in the hopes of later securing a place in one of the ladies’ households once they were in England. One such woman was Henrietta Howard, an unhappy wife who was tempted by the lower cost of living abroad. At some point she became George Augustus’s mistress, a situation which in no way indicated that he loved Caroline any less, nor one that Caroline seemed to think odd.

Henrietta Howard, George Augustus’s mistress

Remarkably, she exhibited no signs of jealousy, instead seeing it as natural behavior for her husband – and which gave her more freedom to dedicate to her own hobbies of reading and music. She was perfectly friendly with Henrietta, finding her English manners to be less grating than those of many of her German ladies-in-waiting, while the Dowager Electress noted that she would likely help George Augustus with his English language skills.

The day of reckoning came on August 1, 1714 when Queen Anne died in Kensington Palace. The event followed less than two months after that of the Dowager Electress, who had come so close to realizing her long-time goal of being proclaimed sovereign of Great Britain. Instead, the honor fell to her son, George Ludwig, now King George I, while George Augustus and Caroline were named Prince and Princess of Wales in short order.

We’ve covered George I’s accession in more detail here, while we’ll return to Caroline’s British career at a later date.

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