On the anniversary of the marriage of George, Prince of Wales to Caroline of Brunswick, 1795, an excerpt from THE WOLF AND THE LAMB, First Book in the Berkeley Series. Lord Berkeley ruminates upon the broken vow to remain a bachelor made by his royal boon companion.
The Princess Caroline of Brunswick was a regular hoyden, but the Ambassador gave no inkling of what to expect. His instructions were to bring her back safely, skirting war-torn France. This took the best part of four months and allowed rumour to precede the entourage. When it filtered through to the Prince of Wales, he subsided into despair. She was as coarse-minded as a farmhand and swore like a Thames bargee. She spent no time in ablution and dressed with little forethought, her overblown bosom straining at the seams of her gown like grapefruits tumbling from a Covent Garden pannier. Her figure was dumpy and her countenance fresh and rubicund, as though she were bursting in upon one of Queen Charlotte’s sedate tea parties from a high-speed gallop across mountain and moor.
“No wonder Frederick sings the praises of the Brunswick Court,” said the Prince. “To dilate upon my cousin’s assets would be perjury!”
He was in a lather about his forthcoming ordeal. Instead of greeting his bride at Greenwich where she landed, inauspiciously, on All Fools’ Day, he sent a detachment of the Light Dragoons to usher her to St James’s Palace and confronted her in the Red Saloon with Lord Malmesbury at her elbow. It was the most desultory greeting the envoy had ever witnessed. His Royal Highness was visibly nauseated and took no steps to meet the Princess halfway. “Harris, I am not well. Pray get me a glass of brandy,” he ordered and fled the room.
The Ambassador fielded the repulse with professional aplomb, sure that conciliation would follow. The Princess had attempted to kneel in accordance with English etiquette, but the Prince swiftly raised her up in a manner that suggested she had put a foot wrong. Peeved by her reception, she complained to Malmesbury: “Je le trouve très gros, et nullement aussi beau que son portrait.” The criticism sounded less devastating in the diplomatic tongue.
Just seven days later, their wedding took place in the Chapel Royal with heralds trumpeting and all the ritual of sacred ceremony. A contagion of church bells broke out across England to inform all her subjects, from Count to commoner, that the Heir Apparent had a wife.
How the bridegroom managed to consummate the union on his wedding night when, as the Duke of Norfolk observed, he had ‘shot the cat’ was anybody’s guess. Caroline told one of her ladies-in-waiting that he had fallen into a drunken stupor and spent the chief of the night in the hearth. That none should be in doubt he had done his duty, there was soon compelling evidence of his prowess. Exactly nine months later, a daughter was born. They called her Charlotte after the Queen.
The bells of St. Dunstan, Cranford, swung into motion and cascaded into a sonorous peal while the fragrance of bluebells and violets clung to the damp of evening.
“Hark!” said Mary to the children. “That is to tell us the Prince of Wales is married.”
Freddy listened, starry-eyed. “Did you have bells, Mama, when you were married?”
“Goodness me, no,” replied his mother. “It was a very quiet affair. You see, I was not a Princess. I was poor as a church mouse and along came your Papa upon his white charger and carried me off.”
“The poor sap’s gone to his doom,” said Berkeley in elegiac tones.
“You would not marry to save your bacon,” Mary chuckled wryly. “Children, it is dusk. Time for bed. Price is waiting to take you up.”
By the time the Princess of Wales was delivered of an heir in January, 1796, Berkeley had an unwelcome feeling that he was lagging behind.