[1820] - Start of the trial of Queen Caroline

Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821) was the wife of King George IV. Their marriage, however, was an unhappy one. The ceremony took place at St James’s Palace on 8 April 1795, despite the fact that George was drunk, and had already been married illegally to his mistress, Maria Fitzherbert. Nine months later Caroline gave birth to a daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales, but shortly afterward she and her husband separated. In 1814 Caroline moved to Italy where it was rumoured that she became the lover of her servant, Bartolomeo Pergami. George was determined to divorce his wife and set up an inquiry led by the Vice-Chancellor John Leach to investigate rumours of her adultery (the inquiry came to be known as the Milan Commission). In 1820, however, George ascended to the throne on the death of his father. One of his first actions was to exclude his estranged wife from the prayers for the royal family in the Anglican liturgy. Incensed by such behaviour, Caroline returned to England to assert her right to become queen, refusing her husband’s offer of an annuity of £50,000 for life on condition that she did not cross the English Channel. She arrived in London on 6 June and was prosecuted for adultery in a trial that lasted throughout the summer and autumn of 1820. Consequently, Caroline gained the sympathy of much of the nation, and was championed by the popular reform movement which had been strongly opposed to the prince throughout the Regency years. The queen’s status as a victim of her husband’s attempts to tarnish her reputation was further enhanced following the introduction of the Pains and Penalties Bill to parliament. It sought to dissolve the marriage and deprive Caroline of the title of Queen of England, but such was the opposition to it that it was later withdrawn. Although Caroline had gained the sympathies of the public, the government refused her demand for a royal palace. In addition, when she tried to force her way in to Westminster Abbey at the coronation of her husband, she was refused entry and humiliated. Eventually, she accepted the £50,000 annuity to live abroad. Less than a fortnight after the coronation, however, she became ill and died on 7 August 1821.

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