The Wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline

 
 

The Wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline at St. James Palace on 8 April 1795, by Graham

The 32-year-old George, the Prince of Wales, was joined in holy matrimony to his first cousin, the 26-year-old Princess Caroline of Brunswick, in the Chapel Royal at St. James Palace on the evening of April 8, 1795. It must be understood that a match between cousins was not illegal at this time because the dangers of inbreeding were not yet understood. Such a match was, in fact, considered a good idea because it kept money in the family. Princess Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, born May 17th 1768, was the second daughter of Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and his wife, Augusta Charlotte. The bride's mother was the sister of George III of England and the Aunt of the Prince of Wales.

Princess Caroline's wedding clothes were so extremely rich and heavy that she had trouble walking and even found it difficult to stand through the wedding ceremony. Her clothing included a dress of silver tissue and lace and a lengthy robe of ermine-lined velvet.

The bride was attended entirely by English bride's maids who were the unmarried daughters of peers of the realm: Lady Mary Osborne (the 18-year-old daughter of the fifth Duke of Leeds), Lady Charlotte Spencer (the 26-year-old daughter of the fourth Duke of Marlborough), Lady Charlotte Legge (the 15-year-old daughter of the second Earl of Dartmouth), and Lady Caroline Villiers (the 21-year-old daughter of the fourth Earl of Jersey).

The Prince of Wales was attended by three unmarried groomsmen including: the 30-year-old friend the 5th Duke of Bedford and the 3rd Duke of Roxburghe, a 54-year-old favorite of George III. The Prince was also attended by, his friend, the 17-year-old Coronet George Brummell. The ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Moore. Guests included the parents, King George III and Queen Charlotte, and sisters of the Prince of Wales. The brothers of the Prince of Wales Princes Ernest, Adolphus, and William were not in attendance since the King thought it best for them to remain with their military regiments.

The Prince of Wales arrived for the wedding very drunk. He was obviously reluctant to proceed with the ceremony. His father actually urged him to finish the ceremony at one point. The Prince looked not at all at his bride but frequently at his mistress, the 42-year-old Lady Jersey, the wife of the 60-year-old fourth Earl of Jersey, George Bussy Villiers.

After the ceremony, the King and Queen held a drawing-room for the couple in the Queen's apartment in St. James Palace. Caroline seemed pleased and chatty. The Prince was silent and morose until near the end of the evening when he recovered his composure enough to become "very civil and gracious".

The couple honeymooned at the Marine Pavilion in Brighton. The Prince of Wales became so drunk that he spent his wedding night passed out on the floor in front of the bedroom fireplace. He finally awakened early in the morning and performed his conjugal duties, which resulted in a daughter nine months later.

On May 19, 1795, a fete was thrown in honor of the recently married Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline in the Queen's gardens and house at Frogmore in Windsor Great Park. Architect James Wyatt had just completed an extensive remodel of Frogmore House. Reverend Christopher Alderson had recently transformed the plain unimaginative and rather flat gardens surrounding Frogmore to a landscape filled with glades, walks, man-made lakes, and wooded mounds. For the fete, the lawn was decorated with sumptuous tents of various shapes and colors formerly belonging to the Indian potentate Tippoo Saib. In other parts of the grounds, theatricals were staged, vocalists sang, equestrians performed, tumblers entertained, and actors assumed the character of various historical figures. A Dutch fair with booths of toys and trinkets was added to the other amusements.

Fete at Frogmore in honor of the marriage of the Prince & Princess of Wales artist unknown

The marriage, which had such a rocky start, was soon a disaster. The Prince went so far as to take back a pair of pearl bracelets which had formed part of Caroline's wedding jewels. He gave the bracelets to Lady Jersey who delighted to wear them in Princess Caroline's presence. The marriage probably never had any chance of succeeding due to the utter unsuitability of Caroline and George for each other and the malicious interference of Frances, Lady Jersey.

Lady Jersey had urged the choice of the short, gauche,and slovenly Princess Caroline simply because she felt this woman, of those considered for the Prince's wife, would be least likely to interfere with her hold over the Prince of Wales. Princess Caroline acted out badly under the indifference of her husband toward her and the various indignities of his treatment of her, including having the mistress of the Prince forced on her as a Lady of the Bedchamber. Princess Caroline's ill advised and openly scandalous behavior only served to further alienate the Prince and ruined her own reputation.

The Prince of Wales had agreed to marry a woman his father would approve, "a Protestant and a Princess", in exchange for the payment in full of his 630,000 pounds in debts. The financial reasons behind the loveless match were widely known and were lampooned in cartoons offered in the London print shops. The Prince became bitter when Parliament increased his income to 125,000 pounds on his marriage, but set aside 65,000 pounds plus the 13,000 pound income from the Duchy of Cornwall as payments on his debts leaving him with an annual income of only 60,000 pounds when his annual income as a bachelor had been 78,000 pounds.

Why his advisers did not press for one of the other proposed matches can only be a matter for speculation. Were the advisers of Prince of Wales that afraid to disagree with Lady Jersey? Why Prince George put the choice of his wife, which so directly concerned him, totally in the hands of others can only be wondered at. The Prince of Wales relationship with Lady Jersey ended in 1798 when the Prince returned to Maria Fitzherbert. Though George IV wished to divorce his wife before his Coronation, he was not rid of her until her death at 53 on August 7, 1821 of an unknown gastric disorder. Speculation included everything from poison, to a tumor, to the mysterious illness of her uncle George III.

The only child of the Prince and Princess of Wales, Princess Charlotte Augusta, was born on January 7, 1796, nine months after their wedding. The couple formally separated soon after. Princess Charlotte probably inherited porphyria, the disease which plagued George III, from her closely related parents. She preceded her parents in death during a difficult childbirth in 1817.


Maria Fitzherbert
Prince of Wales by Robert Dighton
Prince of Wales
Frances, Countess of Jersey an engraving after D. Gardiner
Frances, Lady Jersey
Princess Caroline in 1804 detail of painting by Lawrence
Princess Caroline

Read more about the life of The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline by Flora Fraser

Read more about the Prince of Wales as George IV: Inspiration of the Regency by Steven Parissien

Read more about The King's Wife : George IV and Mrs Fitzherbert by Valerie Irvine

Read more about the lives of the Princesses : The Six Daughters of George III by Flora Fraser

Read about George III's Children by John Van Der Kiste



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