When it comes to kickass women from history we all have our favourites, but there’s one woman we almost always forget. She’s a super intelligent German immigrant Queen of England, who bought art, culture and medical revolution to her country. She loved dancing, drinking and hanging out with her best mate Isaac Newton.
She is Queen Caroline and here are 5 reasons she should be your next history crush:
No1: She bought the enlightenment
A woman happiest when surrounded by piles of books and great minds, Caroline wanted to be a different kind of British Queen. She was determined to channel her love of arts and knowledge to her subjects; ensuring that she left the country in a better state than she found it.
One area that Caroline soon took up was medicine. Smallpox had taken over the cities and with a survival rate of under 40%, Caroline was not playing the lottery with her family’s life.
So she set out to find a way to prevent the disease and came across the idea of inoculation. This was a radical new theory; an import from Constantinople that England’s science community was just starting to examine.
But Caroline wasn’t one to wait around, so she decided she’d look into these new theory herself
So she extensivley read up on the procedure, carried out a ton of experiments (using prisoners as test subjects; not that morally great!) and interviewed doctors and patients alike.
Eventually she concluded that inoculation was the best route of ensuring her loved ones safety and so she had the entire royal family inoculated….and people were pissed!
What the actual fuck was Caroline doing injecting Royals with literal fucking disease? Was she trying to kill off the royal family?!?
But Caroline remained firm and soon the results of the inoculation were clear; The royal family were both alive and smallpox free! This led to more and more people taking up inoculation (after all, if it was good enough for the Royals…) the death rate dropped and research into expanding inoculations surged
No2. She got the court clean!
Caroline wasn’t just smashing people’s outdated medical views, she was also blowing their minds when it came to personal hygiene!
You see bathing on the regular just wasn’t the done thing. Heating up a tub load of water was really expensive and then lugging it into a bath was a huge ball ache (even with servants!) so people bathed the bare minimum. In 1653 courtier John Evelyn, wrote that he planned to only bathe once a year.
50 years later, things hadn’t changed that much. The courtiers of Caroline’s reign used towels to clean themselves in between their sporadic baths and doused themselves in perfume to cover up any extra stank.
Caroline was not here for this.
See Caroline had read some new fangled medical reviews that said regular bathing was the best way to rid the body of sweat and was essential to health. And just like that, knowledge lover Caroline was fully on board with this whole hygiene thing!
She had regular sponge baths and semi regular baths, taking the unusual step of using washing with actual soap! Not only that but Caroline even insisted on bathing her own children (a move that flummoxed her court)
Caroline’s cleanliness was so fastidious that if you go to her private bathing rooms in Hampton Court, you can still smell her perfume from where it’s seeped until the wooden panels. I repeat, 300 years on, her perfume is still there (it’s like a woody musk rose for this wondering)
No.3 She had the best friends
Thanks to both her amazing mind and (probably) the fact she didn’t reek as much as everyone else, Caroline had the coolest set of mates going.
From Issac Newton to Robert Walpole and leading philosopher Samuel Clarke, Caroline’s squad was the it club of Georgian society. She hosted salons for her friends, which were essentially a mix of lectures on the latest scientific theories, chats about books, art and philosophy and also a ton of gossiping (because that’s what all the best friends do!)
Caroline served as the mum of the group, holding her salons, bringing new people in and crucially building bridges between the great minds of the day.
She notoriously tried to patched up a decade long argument between Gottfried Leibniz and Isaac Newton over who had created calculus (truly the nerdiest argument in history).
But even though Carolines friends were the bomb…
No. 4 Her husband was kind of the worst
(and she dealt with it like a pro!)
Now by no means was George II the worst husband we’ve ever come across (after all his Dad, George l, locked his wife in a tower, and his own son forced his heavily pregnant teenage wife to flee across London in a rickety carriage whilst in labor) but George was by no means a dream boat.
He was a cross red faced little man and when he was really angry he’d tear off his wig and kick it across the room. Does that sound hilarious? Yes. But it also sounds like the you’d very quickly have an alternate suggest for where he could stick that wig.
George’s other favourite tantrum trick was violently kicking his feet against the palace walls; which. This is dickish behavior when coming from a 5 year old, but is way worse when you’re 45 and regal interior design costs a shit ton to replace.
When George became King he started to neglect his witty talented wife, taking on mistresses from her own ladies and giving very little regard to Caroline’s feelings; flaunting them in front of her.
Caroline met this with a fair degree of eye rolling, but the older she got, the harder it became to shrug off her husband showing off newer younger models.
By this time Caroline had to use a wheelchair (this by the way, was a former theatrical ‘sea goddess chariot’ prop that she decided to repurpose). She would roll through court, abandoned by her husband, but far from out.
Instead of wallowing, Caroline found better companionship, through her incredible friends and the countless heroes and heroines that occupied her 3000 strong book collection.
No5. The way she died
Look I know this sounds morbid, but it’s history and everyone dies!
Since giving birth to her last child, Caroline had suffered from an umbilical hernia (a weakening of the abdominal wall, which causes tissue to bulge out) Because Caroline lived in the 18th century, this went untreated for years (not good!) until one day when part of her bowel popped out from the hole (really not good!)
Doctors should have pushed the bowel back in, but because this is the 18th century, they did the most logical thing at the time….they cut off the protruding bit of bowel, destroying Caroline’s digestive system and sentencing her to a drawn out excoriating death.
But Caroline met the pain, the promise of death, all of it, head on. She stayed level headed and remained the most intelligent, witty person in any room. Before all her daily surgeries (yes, daily surgeries!) she would crack countless jokes, telling her surgeon to imagine he was cutting into his ex wife, so he did a better job.
At one point, surgery actually had to be stopped because Caroline could not stop laughing when one of our doctors wigs got to close to a candle and caught fire.
Caroline also maintained her role as court matriarch, ensuring she said goodbye to all of her friends and that her affairs were in order, no string left untied.
George came back to his wife, devastated to see her in such pain. Caroline urged him to re-marry, but he refused, saying he would only have mistress from now on. At this she reacted in true Caroline style; rolling her eyes she said:
‘My God, that doesn’t prevent it’
She died surrounded by family on the 20th November 1737. As news of her death spread, an outpouring of love surged, with mass mourning as well as art, poetry and music being created in her memory. Her longtime friend composer, Handel, wrote perhaps one of his best works, The ways of Zion do mourn / Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline, a 40 minute tribute to her incredible life and legacy.
This was interesting where can I find out more? A great book is Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte, and the Shaping of the Modern World, it’s pretty pricey though (but I had a copy in my local library, so worth checking out there!)
Another must read that features Caroline as well as the many interesting courtiers that surrounded her, is Lucy Worsley’s, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court, she also did a BBC series on The Georgians, which is well worth watching if you can find it *cough* YouTube *cough *.