Enlightened Princesses Antiques & Auction News October 13, 2017 The electorate of Hanover was a regional German power during the 17th and 18th centuries.  Three of the wives who married into its ruling family are the subject of an exhibition on view at Kensington Palace in London until November 12, 2017. Enlightened Princesses examines the lives of Caroline of Ansbach (1683-1737), Augusta of Saxe-Gotha (1719-1772), and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818). All were from minor German nobility and transcended their provincial origins to exercise power and influence.  Their sphere was not Hanover but England, where the House of Hanover was invited to assume the throne in 1714. The Yale Center for British Art in New Haven and Historic Royal Palaces in the United Kingdom organized the exhibition, which analyzes the Germanization of England’s royal family and the Anglicization of its individual members. The story gets going with Caroline’s arrival in England. Royal consorts traditionally came from foreign lands.  This case was different because so had the husband George Augustus, the future George II.  He had landed in England only a few weeks before with his father, the elector of Hanover and now King George I. The elector of Hanover was called to London under the following circumstances: James I was the first Stuart to rule over England, Scotland, and Ireland.  His great-granddaughter Anne was the last.  She died without heir. This scenario was anticipated in 1701 with the Act of Settlement, which passed the crown to the House of Hanover, who were also descended from James I. George I’s mother was the twelfth child of the third child of James I.  The Hanovers were chosen because they were reliably Protestant.  Genealogically, their claim was weak. The Act of Settlement passed over 52 Catholic claimants, including Anne’s half-brother James, who was known as the Old Pretender, and enjoyed strong support. The Jacobites (those committed to a Stuart restoration), were an enduring threat to the Hanover dynasty with the first of many uprisings in 1715. At the same time, there was a lack of enthusiasm for George I, whose insular life revolved around his rapacious elderly mistresses and a couple Turks captured in battle years before. Caroline’s job was to make it stick. She had been preparing all her married life. The question of national identity looms over Enlightened Princesses.  Caroline was a princess in England, but she was not English.  She was German, though the country of Germany did not exist at that time, and grew up speaking French. She was born in Ansbach, a Bavarian statelet. She lived in Saxony for four years. By the age of 14, both her parents were dead, and she was established in Berlin. She was related to the King of Prussia who, in turn, was married to Sophia Charlotte of Hanover. Sophia Charlotte and Caroline became close, with the younger woman engaged by the queen’s circle of philosophers, writers, and composers. In 1703, she turned down a marriage proposal from the future Holy Roman Emperor because she did not want to convert to Catholicism. This proof of religious steadfastness was an important qualification for her marriage two years later to Sophia Charlotte’s nephew, George Augustus, who was heir to the electorate of Hanover and acknowledged to be in line to the throne of England.  In Hanover, Caroline continued her education in the intellectual milieu fostered by her husband’s grandmother, the dowager Electress Sophia, who was the vital Stuart offshoot. Caroline studied English and took an interest in politics. She was sociable and met the many Englishmen who just happened to be traveling through Northern Germany. Once in England, George Augustus and Caroline, now Prince and Princess of Wales, set up their own court, which attracted the calculatingly ambitious (George I was in his fifties) as well as wits, beauties, and gallants. It was the place to be. Caroline was unsentimental.  Unlike her husband and father-in-law who liked to go home (that is, return to Hanover), she was settled in England. She had left behind forever that three-palace principality, and pursued English interests. For example, she championed the scientist Isaac Newton, and invited him to her drawing room to demonstrate his theories. This support was at the expense of Gottfried Leibniz, a philosopher and mathematician, whom Caroline knew in Prussia and Hanover.  He was a tie to those lively and stimulating days. But Leibniz was German and Newton English. She chose Newton. Her detachment served her well in managing her husband’s mistresses. The English mistress she had under daily watch as a woman of the bedchamber.  There were others. On one occasion—this was after they ascended the throne and were living in St James Palace—her husband lingered on in Hanover to be with his German mistress.  Caroline suggested that she be brought to England and installed in the palace. To this end she magnanimously gave up her book rooms. Here was Caroline’s chance to get a new library: a Palladian pavilion designed by William Kent.  The interior reflected Caroline’s antiquarian interests with busts of English kings and queens. There are nearly 300 objects in the exhibition. The library is represented by a terracotta bust by Michael Rysbrack of the Black Prince, a romanticized medieval figure, as well as a bound manuscript catalog of the books. Also on view are two of the Holbein drawings that Caroline found stashed in a desk at Kensington Palace.  Hans Holbein was the 16th-century German artist who was known for his portraits of Henry VIII’s courtiers. Caroline had them hung and mounted.  It was part of her visual program, which emphasized not the shaky Stuart connection but the previous dynasty, the colorful olden-days Tudors.  The early years of the House of Hanover in England were characterized by vicious and ferocious fights.  George I hated his son and daughter-in-law.  He called Caroline a “she-devil.” He said it in French because his English was never very good. The hate was perpetuated in the next generation. Frederick, who was in line to succeed his father George II, was born in Hanover and remained there until 1728.  Once again the heir to the throne encountered England as a foreign country. His parents mistrusted him. Frederick was, according to his father, “a monster and the greatest villain that ever was born.” He was denounced by his mother on her deathbed: “At least I shall have one comfort in having my eyes eternally closed.  I shall never see that monster again.” Frederick’s income was less than half what his father received as Prince of Wales. He was handicapped also in the choice of wife.  Frederick was married in 1736 to Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, the thirteenth child of an obscure duke. She was seventeen.  Her education was parochial. She spoke no English and her mother tongue was German. But that isn’t the whole picture. She learned English. She was a companionable helpmate, intelligent but not provocative.  Unlike Caroline, she was not burned in effigy by the London mob. Augusta shared her husband’s interests, which included gardening, a modish pastime that was shaped by the couple’s situation: They were rich (despite the restricted income) and in exile from the court. Their country house, which was known as White House after Kent’s remodeling, was located in Kew, to the west of London. Frederick and Augusta planted the grounds, which were embellished with fantasy structures including a Turkish mosque, Alhambra, and Chinese pagoda (the garden architect William Chambers had lived in China). In addition to these picturesque follies, there was a pursuit of botanical research.  The adjacent estate in Richmond belonged to George Augustus and Caroline.  They settled there in the early years and engaged in their own decorating and landscaping projects while waiting for George I to die.  The Richmond and Kew estates were later joined and became the Royal Botanic Gardens, a rare instance of a scientific institution founded on family dysfunction. Frederick was never king.  He died in 1751. His and Augusta’s eldest son George III came to the throne in 1760.  The new king belonged to the Hanover dynasty’s fourth generation and was its first English-born heir. He was young (only 22) and a bachelor, so there was the customary survey of German courts in search of a bride. The choice was Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.  The couple married the day they were introduced, and the coronation took place a few weeks later.  It was straight to queenship, a big change for Charlotte who, back home, had been a secular canoness in an abbey. They were devoted. She gave birth to 15 children without the usual strife.  Childbirth brought out the worst in the family. But the clash of generations was in abeyance until George and Charlotte’s own children came of age. All three wives fulfilled the crucial duty of bearing children. Their large broods restored the fertility of the English royal family to medieval levels. They were—to borrow a modern concept—the anchor that allowed the Hanovers to stay in England.  Good works, which have come to embody princess duty, were shaped by their German Protestantism. Instead of pensions and occasional alms, they directed their money to institutions and causes. Childbirth was one. It was a universal experience, a bond between a queen and her female subjects. Charlotte supported the research of William Hunter, an anatomist and obstetrician. Very meaningful advances in that science must have been in those pre-epidural days. But not all medical issues were publicly embraced. George III’s bouts of madness were irrational irruptions—a private tragedy to be managed with as much discretion as possibly. A final point: These are the success stories. The productive and fruitful unions of Caroline, Augusta, and Charlotte are bracketed by spectacular marital failures.  George I had a wife—rather, a repudiated wife.  She was Sophia Dorothea of Celle, the love child of a German duke and his French mistress.  Charming, spontaneous, and high strung, she could never really concentrate during her mother-in-law’s lectures on English history.  She drifted into adultery and was punished with imprisonment in a remote castle.  She did not make it to England. In fact, she never made it further than the six mile limit that was eventually permitted for her carriage rides. She died in 1726, a few weeks before her estranged husband. Just as troubled was the marriage of George IV.  To settle his debts and produce an heir, he agreed to marry his first cousin Caroline of Brunswick, a blowsy girl with erratic hygiene habits.  (Ensuring that she was “well washed all over” was the responsibility of the diplomat who escorted her to England.) It was disgust at first sight. “I am not well. Pray get me a glass of brandy,” said her husband when they were introduced. But these Hanover wives merit only glancing references in the exhibition.  They don’t qualify as enlightened princesses. The ones who do were serious, disciplined, and industrious.  These stern qualities can overshadow the fairy-tale dimension of their lives which transformed obscure German noblewomen into English royalty.
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