Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach (Wilhelmina Charlotte Caroline) 1 March 1683 – 20 November 1737, she was Queen of Great Britain as the wife of King George II. Her father, Margrave John Frederick of Brandenburg-Ansbach, belonged to a branch of the House of Hohenzollern and was the ruler of a small German state, the Principality of Ansbach. Caroline moved permanently to Britain in 1714 when her husband became Prince of Wales. As Princess of Wales, she joined her husband in rallying political opposition to his father King George I. In 1717, her husband was expelled from court after a family row. Caroline came to be associated with Robert Walpole, an opposition politician who was a former government minister. Walpole rejoined the government in 1720, and Caroline’s husband and King George I reconciled publicly. Caroline became queen and electress consort upon her husband’s accession in 1727. Her eldest son, Frederick, became Prince of Wales.
Caroline of Ansbach
Princess of Brandenburg-Ansbach
The Electoral Princess of Hanover
Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales
Her Majesty The Queen of Great Britain
1 March 1683 – 20 November 1737
1 March 1683
Holy Roman Empire
Coat of arms of Ansbach
20 November 1737 (aged 54)
St. James’s Palace,
17 December 1737
George II of Great Britain
1 Frederick, Prince of Wales
1 February 1707-31 March 1751
2 Anne, Princess Royal
2 November 1709-12 January 1759
3 Princess Amelia
10 June 1711-31 October 1786
4 Princess Caroline
10 June 1713-28 December 1757
5 Stillborn son
20 November 1716
6 Prince George William
13 November 1717-17 February 1718
7 Prince William
26 April 1721-31 October 1765
8 Princess Mary
5 March 1723-14 January 1772
9 Princess Louisa
18 December 1724-19 December 1751
Wilhelmina Charlotte Caroline
German- Wilhelmine Charlotte Karoline
Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach
Princess of Saxe-Eisenach
Queen Caroline’s coat of arms
Her father was the ruler of one of the smallest German states, he died of smallpox at the age of 32 when Caroline was three years old. Caroline and her only full sibling, her younger brother Margrave William Frederick, left Ansbach with their mother, who returned to her native Eisenach.
In 1692, Caroline’s widowed mother was pushed into an unhappy marriage with the Elector of Saxony, and she and her two children moved to the Saxon court at Dresden. Eleonore Erdmuthe was widowed again two years later, after her unfaithful husband contracted smallpox from his mistress. Eleonore remained in Saxony for another two years, until her death in 1696.
Caroline soon moved to Lützenburg outside Berlin, where she entered into the care of her new guardians, Frederick, Elector of Brandenburg, and his wife, Sophia Charlotte, who had been a friend of Eleonore Erdmuthe. Frederick and Sophia Charlotte became king and queen of Prussia in 1701.
Caroline was exposed to a lively intellectual environment quite different from anything she had experienced. Before she began her education under Sophia Charlotte’s care, Caroline had received little formal education; her handwriting remained poorthroughout her life. With her lively mind, Caroline developed into a scholar of considerable ability. She and Sophia Charlotte developed a strong relationship in which Caroline was treated as a surrogate daughter. An intelligent and attractive woman, Caroline was much sought-after as a bride. She was considered for the hand of Archduke Charles of Austria, who was a candidate for the throne of Spain and later became Holy Roman Emperor. Charles made official overtures to her in 1703, and the match was encouraged by Frederick of Prussia. After some consideration, Caroline refused in 1704, as she would not convert to Catholicism.
Early in the following year, Queen Sophia Charlotte died on a visit to her native Hanover. Caroline was devastated, writing “The calamity has overwhelmed me with grief and sickness, and it is only the hope that I may soon follow her that consoles me.”
In June 1705, Queen Sophia Charlotte’s nephew, Prince George Augustus of Hanover, visited the Ansbach court, supposedly incognito, to inspect Caroline, as his father did not want his son to enter into a loveless arranged marriage as he himself had. The nephew of three childless uncles, George was under pressure to marry and father an heir to prevent endangering the Hanoverian succession. He heard reports of Caroline’s “incomparable beauty and mental attributes”. He immediately took a liking to her “good character” and the British envoy reported that George Augustus “would not think of anybody else after her”. For her part, Caroline was not fooled by the prince’s disguise, and found her suitor attractive. He was the heir apparent of his father’s Electorate of Hanover and third in line to the British throne. On 22 August 1705, Caroline arrived in Hanover for her wedding to George Augustus; they were married that evening in the palace chapel at Herrenhausen. By May of the following year, Caroline was pregnant, and her first child Prince Frederick was born on 20 January 1707. A few months after the birth, in July, Caroline fell seriously ill with smallpox followed by pneumonia. Her baby was kept away from her, but George Augustus remained at her side devotedly, and caught and survived the infection himself. Over the next seven years, Caroline had three more children, Anne, Amelia, and Caroline, all of whom were born in Hanover.
George Augustus and Caroline had a successful and loving marriage, though he continued to keep mistresses. Caroline was well aware of his infidelities, as they were well known and he told her about them. His two best known mistresses were Henrietta Howard, and from 1735, Amalie von Wallmoden, Countess of Yarmouth. She preferred her husband’s mistresses to be ladies in- waiting, as that way she believed she could keep a closer eye on them
In June 1714 her father-in-law the Elector of Hanover was proclaimed as her successor, becoming George I of Great Britain. On the accession of George I in 1714, Caroline’s husband automatically became Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay. Shortly afterwards, he was invested as Prince of Wales, whereupon she became Princess of Wales. Caroline was the first woman to receive the title at the same time as her husband received his
George Augustus and Caroline made a concerted effort to “anglicise” by acquiring knowledge of England’s language, people, politics and customs. Two courtsdeveloped with strong contrasts the old king’s had German courtiers and government ministers, while the Wales’s court attracted English nobles out of favour with the King, and was considerably more popular with the British people. English was Caroline’s third language after German and French. She had a warm, friendly, un-princessy personality, endlessly teasing her servants, laughing, crying, complaining about bores, chatting with intellectuals whenever she could escape from her boring drawing room duties. Two years after their arrival in England, Caroline suffered a stillbirth, which her friend Countess of Bückeburg blamed on the incompetence of English doctors, but the following year she had another son, Prince George William. At the baptism in November 1717, her husband fell out with his father over the choice of godparents, leading to the couple’s placement under house arrest at St. James’s Palace prior to their banishment from court.
Caroline was originally allowed to stay with their children, but refused as she believed her place was with her husband. She and her husband moved into Leicester House, while their children remained in the care of the King. Caroline fell sick with worry, and fainted during a secret visit to her children made without the King’s approval. By January, the King had relented and allowed Caroline unrestricted access.
Caroline struck up a friendship with politician Sir Robert Walpole, a former minister in the Whig government who led a disgruntled faction of the party. In April 1720, Walpole’s wing of the Whig party reconciled with the governing wing, and Walpole and Caroline helped to effect a reconciliation between the Queen and her husband for the sake of public unity.
Caroline’s intellect far outstripped her husband’s, and she read avidly. She established an extensive library at St. James’s Palace. As a young woman, she corresponded with Gottfried Leibniz, the intellectual colossus who was courtier and factotum to the House of Hanover. She later facilitated the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence, arguably the most important philosophy of physics discussion of the 18th century. She helped to popularise the practice of variolation (an early type of immunisation). At the direction of Caroline, six condemned prisoners were offered the chance to undergo variolation instead of execution: they all survived, as did six orphan children given the same treatment as a further test. Convinced of its medical value, Caroline had her children Amelia, Caroline and Frederick inoculated against smallpox in the same manner.
In praising her support for smallpox
inoculation, Voltaire wrote…
Caroline became queen consort on the death of her father-in-law in 1727, and she was crowned alongside her husband at Westminster Abbey on 11 October that year. She was the first queen consort to be crowned since Anne of Denmark in 1603. For the next ten years, she had immense influence. She persuaded the King to adopt policies at the behest of Walpole, and persuaded Walpole against taking inflammatory actions. Caroline had absorbed her liberal opinions and supported clemency for the Jacobites (supporters of the rival Stuart claim to the throne), freedom of the press, and freedom of speech in Parliament.
Over the next few years, she and her husband fought a constant battle against their eldest son, Frederick, Prince of Wales, who had been left behind in Germany when they came to England. He joined the family in 1728, by which time he was an adult, had mistresses and debts and was fond of gambling and practical jokes. He opposed his father’s political beliefs, and complained of his lack of influence. The Regency Act 1728 made Caroline rather than Frederick regent when her husband was in Hanover for five months from May 1729. From May 1732, she was regent for four months while George was again in Hanover. An investigation into the penal system uncovered widespread abuses, including cruel treatment and conspiracy in the escape of wealthy convicts. Caroline pressed Walpole for reform, largely unsuccessfully.
Caroline’s entire life in Britain was spent in the South-East of England in or aroundLondon. As queen, she continued to surround herself with artists, writers and intellectuals. She collected jewellery, especially cameos and intaglios, acquired important portraits and miniatures, and enjoyed the visual arts.
She commissioned works such as terracotta busts of the kings and queens of England from Michael Rysbrack, and supervised a more naturalistic design of the royal gardens by William Kent and Charles Bridgeman. In 1728, she rediscovered sets of sketches by Leonardo da Vinci and Hans Holbein that had been hidden in a drawer since the reign of William III.
Caroline’s eldest daughter Anne married William IV of Orange in 1734, and moved with her husband to the Netherlands. Caroline wrote to her daughter of her “indescribable” sadness at the parting. Anne soon felt homesick, and travelled back to England when her husband went on campaign. Eventually, her husband and father commanded her to return to Holland.
The King and Queen arranged Frederick’s marriage, in 1736, to Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. Shortly after the wedding, George went to Hanover, and Caroline resumed her role as “Protector of the Realm”. The King’s absences abroad were leading to unpopularity, and in late 1736 he made plans to return, but his ship was caught in poor weather, and it was rumoured that he had been lost at sea. Caroline was devastated, and disgusted by the insensitivity of her son, who hosted a grand dinner while the gale was blowing.
In June 1737, Frederick informed his parents that Augusta was pregnant, and due to give birth in October. In fact, Augusta’s due date was earlier and a peculiar episode followed in July in which the prince, on discovering that his wife had gone into labour, sneaked her out of Hampton Court Palace in the middle of the night, to ensure that the King and Queen could not be present at the birth.
George and Caroline were horrified. Traditionally, royal births were witnessed by members of the family and senior courtiers to guard against supposititious children, and Augusta had been forced by her husband to ride in a rattling carriage for an hour and a half while in labour. With a party including two of her daughters and Lord Hervey, the Queen raced over to St. James’s Palace, where Frederick had taken Augusta. Caroline was relieved to discover that Augusta had given birth to a “poor, ugly little she-mouse” rather than a “large, fat, healthy boy. The circumstances of the birth deepened the estrangement between mother and son. She once remarked after seeing Frederick, “Look, there he goes that wretch! that villain! I wish the ground would open this moment and sink the monster to the lowest hole in hell!” In the final years of her life, Caroline was troubled by gout in her feet, but more seriously she had suffered an umbilical hernia at the birth of her final child in 1724. On 9 November 1737, she felt an intense pain and, after struggling through a formal reception, took to her bed. Part of her small intestine had poked through the hernia opening. Over the next few days she was bled, purged, and operated on, with no anaesthetic, but there was no improvement in her condition. The King refused Frederick permission to see his mother, a decision with which she complied she sent her son a message of forgiveness through Walpole. Her doctors should have pushed that loop of bowel back inside and hoped that the hole would heal, but instead they made a terrible error. They cut it off. Now Caroline’s digestive system was destroyed, and she took ten days to die.
During these last days, Caroline more than ever proved her steadiness of spirit. Although she was in agony, unable to swallow morphine, she kept up her courage. During daily operations she teased her surgeon telling him to imagine instead that he was cutting up his cross old wife whom he hated, and once, when an assistant’s wig caught fire from a candle burning in darkened bedchamber, the operation had to stop while the queen laughed. She asked her husband to remarry after her death, which he rejected saying he would take only mistresses she replied “Ah, mon Dieu, celan’empêche pas” (“My God, that doesn’t prevent it”). After years of neglect, and infidelities, the king realised he still loved his queen. On 17 November her strangulated bowel burst. She died on 20 November 1737 at St. James’s Palace.
She was buried in Westminster Abbey on 17 December. Frederick was not invited to the funeral. George Frideric Handel composed an anthem for the occasion, The Ways of Zion Do Mourn / Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline. The King arranged for a pair of matching coffins with removable sides, so that when he followed her to the grave (23 years later), they could lie together again.
Memorial to Caroline on the bank of the Serpentine, a picturesque lake in London created at her request.
Caroline was widely mourned. The Protestants lauded her moral example, and even the Jacobites acknowledged her compassion, and her intervention on the side of mercy for their compatriots. During her lifetime her refusal to convert when offered the hand of Archduke Charles was used to portray her as a strong adherent to Protestantism.
John Gay wrote of Caroline in ‘A Letter to A Lady’ (1714)..
She was widely seen by both the public and the court as having great influence over her husband. A satirical verse of the period went..
Caroline of Ansbach 1 March 1683 – 20 November 1737