Love, hate, money, power, subterfuge...all the ingredients of a royal nightmare and a fantastic piece of history.
Welcome to the Royal Soap Opera
Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-1751) loved Britain, unlike his Hanover worshipping father King George II and late grandfather George I. Because of this and his habit of playing music through an open window to the crowds Frederick could do no wrong in the Georgian peoples' eyes. George II was thought of as dull and lacking intelligence whilst his astute and well-educated wife Caroline of Ansbach was said to rule the country with Robert Walpole, considered as the first Prime Minister of Britain.
On 27th April 1736 the twenty-nine-year-old Frederick married the seventeen-year-old Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (1719-1772) in the Chapel Royal, St. James' Palace in a ceremony carried out by Edmund Gibson, the Bishop of London. The bride converted from the Lutheran church to the Church of England after Queen Caroline threatened to send her back to her parents in disgrace and unmarried if she refused.
The Royal Bride Learns How to Survive
Augusta’s parents had never had her taught English because they believed that with the House of Hanover as rulers the English would have adopted the German language by the 1730’s so Caroline translated for her and Augusta clutched a doll throughout the wedding.
Augusta was a welcome contrast from Frederick’s parents who openly resented him. She was placid, patient, uncomplicated, committed to learning English and she soon realised that by not contradicting or criticising him she could secure Frederick’s affections. She was right. Augusta understood the value of prizing British products and culture above foreign imports and she became a fashion trendsetter.
Arguments About Money Cause Further Friction
Debt-ridden Frederick applied to parliament for an increase in his allowance as he was now a married man and he asked for an amount that equates to £3 million per annum today. George II offered a much lower sum; George believed Frederick would use the money to set up a rival court to damage his reputation. Frederick refused his parsimonious and paranoid father’s offer. Parliament voted against Frederick’s sum and it was only when Robert Walpole intervened that George begrudgingly raised his son’s allowance.
Mother-in-Law From Hell Behaviour
Augusta fell pregnant but the queen did not celebrate, she became obsessed with trying to prove that Frederick was not the child’s father. She claimed to others at court that he was impotent and she interviewed his friends in the hope that they would prove her correct. She believed that the Wales’ firstborn would be a wechselbag, a changeling, as George II had often suggested about Frederick.
Caroline frequently questioned Augusta about the more delicate details of her state but the princess frustrated her by offering vague or brief answers. In June 1737 Frederick banned his parents from the birth of his first child and he told them that the due date was in October 1737 but Augusta was actually due to give birth in late July into early August.
On 31st July the couple was staying at Hampton Court Palace with the king and queen. As soon as Princess Augusta went into labour, luckily when she was away from her in-laws, Frederick set his dangerous plan in action. He endangered his wife and their unborn child’s lives to ensure that his heir was not born under his parents’ roof.
Subterfuge and Danger
As the Wales’ shuffled their way down the servant stairs Augusta was in pain and her waters had broken. They mopped the flow of liquid so that there were no signs of her labour. She was bundled into a carriage and taken along rough roads and tracks at speed to St. James’ Palace. Frederick hurt his back holding down an agonised Augusta.
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The St. James’ Palace staff were not prepared for visitors or the situation they faced and so Augusta gave birth between two sheets at around eleven that night and the newborn was wrapped in a napkin. Miraculously both mother and daughter were unharmed by the dramatic journey.
A further insult was levelled at the queen. Following family tradition would have meant that their newborn daughter received the name Caroline but she was named after her maternal grandmother Augusta instead with Caroline as her middle name. Princess Augusta Caroline would go on to be the mother of the notorious Caroline of Brunswick, wife of George IV.
Royal Outrage and a Fleeting Constitutional Crisis
Frederick was well aware that by stealing away to St. James’ he was inviting a constitutional crisis. His child was second in line to the throne and since the days of King James II and the bedpan plot of 1688 in which one baby was allegedly switched for another it had been imperative that royal births were witnessed so that the succession was never in question.
Queen Caroline was alerted to the Wales’ departure and sped to St. James' Palace. She was apparently rather pleased that Augusta had borne “a poor, ugly little she-mouse.”
The fragility of the “she mouse” compelled Caroline to concede that the child could not possibly have been substituted for another. The baby was christened exactly fifty days after her birth at St. James' by the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Potter. George and Caroline were Augusta’s godparents but they refused to attend the ceremony.
Thrown Out of the Palace (Repeat Storyline)
The king banished Frederick and Augusta from St. James’ Palace, a step that George I had once taken against him, but presumably remembering the pain that estrangement from his children had caused him he did not take custody of baby Augusta. The Wales’ left the palace to cheers from the crowd. Frederick and Augusta were heroes, George II was cast as a villain.
On the 20th November 1737, Caroline passed away from disastrous hernia treatments. She had banned Frederick from visiting her on her deathbed.
Frederick was a devoted and beloved father to Augusta, George, later King George III, who was born in 1738, followed by Edward in 1739, Elizabeth in 1741, William Henry in 1743, Henry in 1745, Louisa in 1749, Frederick in 1750. Caroline Matilda arrived in 1751 after his death from an abscess on his lung.
When George II learned that his heir had passed away he was outwardly unmoved. Did he feel anything for Frederick? Reports were that he continued to play his game of cards and claimed that he was glad that Frederick was gone.
Sources and Further Reading
- Frederick, Prince of Wales | Unofficial Royalty
- Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, Princess of Wales | Unofficial Royalty
- Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales – Prince of Wales | Britannica
- A Royal Experiment: Love and Duty, Madness and Betrayal by Janice Hadlow
In this magnificent biography of a marriage—between Great Britain's King George III and Queen Charlotte—Janice Hadlow exposes with astonishing emotional force King George's attempt to achieve a happy family life.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Joanne Hayle