I often find myself quizzing people on their favourite king or queen. Usually it’s Henry VIII or George III, Victoria or Elizabeth. For me, though, there’s only one satisfactory answer, the almost-forgotten Queen Caroline (1683–1737), the fat, funny, German immigrant who would become the unlikeliest but the cleverest queen ever crowned in this country.
She had a warm, friendly, un-princessy personality: teasing her servants, laughing, crying, complaining about bores, hobnobbing with intellectuals whenever she could escape from drawing room duties. She had to mediate in the epic row between her two pet philosophers, Isaac Newton and Gottfried Liebniz about which of them had discovered calculus. Imagine Queen Victoria bothering about such things.
Behind the scenes Caroline stitched up much political business.Lucy Worsley
English was Caroline’s third language after German and French. She was born in Anspach, a tiny German state. Blonde, sweet smile, pretty hands, if rather plump: she caught the eye of George Augustus, then just son of the Elector of Hanover. He met her in romantic disguise as a private gentleman – incognito – before suffering a coup de foudre and passionately declaring his hand.
In due course, Caroline’s husband became King George II of Great Britain, and she and he moved into Kensington Palace. With his limited brainpower, George II was under Caroline’s much smarter thumb. One particularly rude political cartoon shows her injecting a powerful sedative potion up his backside in order to control him. Behind the scenes Caroline stitched up much political business.
Caroline was a great supporter of science and medicine, and was one of the first Westerners to have her children innoculated against smallpox. Perversely, despite her pioneering role in public health, eighteenth-century medical science was eventually to kill her. Caroline suffered from an umbilical hernia, or a hole in her belly, and couldn’t bear to wear anything tight around her middle. This meant that she eschewed the fashionable corset-like stays, which explains why people commented so much on her perceived fatness.
Caroline’s condition eventually came to a crisis when a loop of her bowels popped out through the hole. Her doctors should have pushed it back inside, but instead they made a terrible error. They cut it off. In doing so they destroyed Caroline’s digestive system, and she took ten days to die. It was horribly ironic that this queen of medicine was killed by her doctors.