Ian Haywood, University of Roehampton
On this day (5 June) exactly two hundred years ago, one of the most high-profile political and sexual scandals in British history burst onto the cultural scene. The focus of this unprecedented media storm was Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of the new king George IV, previously the Prince of Wales and Prince Regent.
The pair had married in 1795 when George agreed a deal with parliament to pay off enormous gambling debts – amounting to millions of pounds today – in return for reforming his rakish ways. The marriage was a disaster: George was drunk during the wedding ceremony, and there were rumours that Caroline’s standards of hygiene were not of the highest (though typically, this criticism did not apply to the Prince). Moreover, George was already illicitly married to Maria Fitzherbert, and his mistress Lady Jersey was appointed as Caroline’s bedchamber lady. Though Caroline conceived her daughter Charlotte, George insisted on a separation, a decision that would come back to haunt him.
From 1796 until 1820, the royal couple led independent lives, but George launched several undercover investigations to try to expose Caroline’s allegedly promiscuous lifestyle, and he restricted her access to Princess Charlotte. In 1814 Caroline want into exile and only discovered the news of Charlotte’s death in 1817 by accident. When George III died in January 1820, Caroline asserted her claim to be the lawful Queen of Britain and announced her intention to return to England. The king was horrified and determined to stop her. But how to manage this dilemma? The country was in a state of political unrest, and the Queen was already regarded by many people as an injured wife and mother. Her cause was an ideal opportunity to rally anti-government protest in the wake of the Peterloo massacre, the draconian Six Acts against freedom of speech, and the executions of the Cato Street conspirators. Undeterred, and against the advice of his ministers, George had Caroline’s name struck off the Church of England liturgy and demanded a solution.
Just as their relationship had begun with a royal bribe, George assumed Caroline could be bought off and sent a delegation to intercept her journey through northern France. During the weekend of 3-4 June 1820, Lord Hutchinson and the rising Whig star Henry Brougham met with Caroline in the town of St Omer. They offered her an allowance of £50,000 per annum (an increase of £15,000 on her existing stipend) in return for the renunciation of her claim and permanent exile. If she refused, she was threatened with prosecution for adultery. Caroline rejected the offer, resumed her journey to Calais, and arrived at Dover on 5 June 1820. Huge crowds of ecstatic fans welcomed her return and she was mobbed all the way to London.
For the remainder of the year, her story dominated the press and Romantic print culture. The media explosion was unprecedented: millions of words appeared in newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets, trial reports, Addresses, prayers, poems, broadsides and placards. Caroline’s persecution seemed to capture the imagination of the whole country. The Times summed up the public mood in its report of her homecoming: ‘The Queen of England is at present every thing with every body’ (7 July 1820). Caroline represented a new force in British politics: public opinion. Though the vast majority of the population had no vote, they were able to express their views through the ‘fourth estate’ of the press and traditional ‘out-door’ methods of agitation such as petitioning, Addresses, rallies, processions, charivari, threat-letters, window-smashing and effigy-burning. The flagrant hypocrisy and double standards of the accusations against Caroline’s sexual morality revived feminist arguments which had been dormant since the ‘Jacobin’ 1790s, and the dubious legality of the trial was seized on by liberals and radicals as a prime example of political corruption. Lacking any independent access to the corridors of power, Caroline knew that her only chance of success was to appeal directly to the power of the people and the vox populi.
The mobilization of a popular front of oppositional Romantic politics and print was remarkable in its scale and intensity, and central to its success was the contribution that visual culture played in Caroline’s rise to political celebrity. In addition to the wide circulation of engraved portraits, medallions and other visual memorabilia, her story was a field-day for the caricaturists. Hundreds of satirical prints and illustrated pamphlets appeared in her favour, and after the collapse of her trial in late 1820 her opponents also turned to caricature to enhance their counter-offensive.
There were numerous reasons for the popularity and efficacy of Georgian caricature. It was a unique art form which combined political reportage with unbridled and entertaining fantasy; it was able to respond quickly and memorably to political events and it operated outside of conventional aesthetic and ethical norms. This imaginative freedom created a parallel visual universe in which public figures re-enacted and reconfigured newsworthy incidents according to a satirical logic of inversion, irony. allusion and parody. The result was a compelling debunking of official ideology and the stripping away of polite codes of reverence and respect that frequently shielded and mystified social and political power. This anarchic tendency was often balanced by an apparent championing of an identifiable cause or faction, though on closer inspection this advocacy could prove to be unstable, and the consumer of caricatures had to be on their guard for surprises and traps.
The power of Carolinite caricature can be illustrated by looking at the response to her arrival in Britain. Within days of her spectacular ‘remigration’, Robert Cruikshank’s The Secret Insult; or Bribery and Corruption rejected!!! was published by the radical activist William Benbow. This collaboration reflected the significant role that radical publishers played in defining Caroline’s satirical identity. The field was led by the formidable partnership of William Hone and Robert’s more famous brother George Cruikshank, closely followed by the now-forgotten John Fairburn, Thomas Dolby, Benbow and John Cahuac. The Secret Insult is a striking, proto-feminist idealization of Caroline’s authority, presence and prowess. In order to make her homecoming more mythic and symbolic, Cruikshank transplants the St Omer incident to a reimagined arrival on the shores of Britain. Instead of the cheering crowds of Dover, the scene fantasizes a stand-off between the forces of good and evil which is more reminiscent of an invasion tableau, except that the usual roles are reversed and it is the defenders who are in the wrong. The confrontation is semiotically and sartorially polarized into two trios: on the right side we see the proud, stern, virtuous, magisterial and upright figures of a modestly-attired Caroline, her advisor Alderman Wood in Roman armour and (not to be ignored) a patriotic frigate; on the left side, the compromised, obsequious, cringing, untrustworthy, cowardly and evasive figures of a cowed Hutchinson and a Brougham who has his back to the viewer and is confessing his discomfort to the devil.
The textual components of the print indicate its political sympathies and typically bring into play a range of allegorical, cultural and topical allusions: Wood’s ‘Shield for the Innocent’ and fiery sword of justice are stock emblems which glorify (even to the point of being tongue-in-cheek) Caroline’s elevated and iconic status; ‘The Wooden Walls of England’ inscribed on the frigate refers to a popular patriotic naval song and reflects Caroline’s alarming popularity with the rank-and-file of the armed forces; the scroll of ‘Lawful Claims’ in her left hand countermands the forthcoming ‘Bill of Pains and Penalties’ against her; and the speech bubbles reduce the fastidious press reports of St Omer and Dover into populist soundbites. In response to Hutchinson’s fawning offer to ‘change your name & livery & retire to some distant part of the earth w[h]ere you may never be seen or heard any more; & if 50,000£ pr annum will not satisfy you, what will?’ – the latter an example of the ‘excessive profligacy of the age we live in’ according to the Times – Caroline simply replies ‘Nothing but a Crown!’ The retort gains added, if ironic force, from the echo of Proverbs 12.4: ‘A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband;/ But she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones’. This sums up the opposing sides of her case and highlights how she is forced to defy patriarchal norms in order to conform to them and achieve her rightful place as the king’s consort.
Compared to the emissary’s flaccid money bags, she has the same columnal, phallic solidity as her (ludicrously classicized) protector Alderman Wood. Brougham’s embarrassed and unchivalrous back-turning suggests a radical mistrust of ‘secret’ Whig motives and backroom deals. In this respect the title of the print is actually something of a self-referring or self-cancelling misnomer as the whole ‘secret’ escapade was widely reported in the press, including the publication of supposedly confidential documents. Indeed, Caroline demanded to see the offer in writing and thereby initiated a recirculating paper trail that rebutted the notorious obscurity of the government’s Committee of Secrecy and its much-lampooned Green Bags of evidence. As the only uncaricatured figure in the scene, Caroline embodies the open, masculine qualities of civic republicanism: even though her motives are self-aggrandising and ambitious, it is clearly her duty to re-enter Britain and restore its moral and political fibre, sweeping away Old Corruption and its disreputable practices. She is the new broom (Brougham) of British politics. In the words of John Fairburn’s broadside On the Return of Queen Caroline to England,
Not fifty thousand pounds, nor fifty more,
Nor all the wealth that Britain has in store,
Could tempt the mind, in conscious virtue bold,
To barter innocence for sordid gold.
The tension between the legal and moral definitions of ‘innocence’ would eventually prove to be Caroline’s undoing. Her controversy raised but could not resolve the protracted issues of women’s rights and freedoms in a patriarchal society. But for all its limitations and blind spots, the gender politics of the campaign was one of its enduring legacies. As the Examiner opined, ‘adultery is either a crime in every body, or it is not’ and the paper even hinted that a guilty verdict would expose the double standard: ‘men, generally speaking, indulge themselves as they please, and yet demand all the while fidelity from the women’ (11 June 1820). The controversy politicised many women and gave a voice to their concerns. This is the reason why the St Omer episode is so important, as it set the stage for female defiance, resistance and self-assertion.
William Hone hoped that ‘the answer of her Majesty were put into the hands of every man and woman in England – never was a finer compliment paid to the English nation’. This was a vision of a democratic public sphere which Hone himself went some way to achieving through his own cheap publications, including his phenomenally successful illustrated satirical pamphlets. Though the popularity and social reach of caricature is still hotly disputed by scholars, visual satire made a unique contribution to the formation of public opinion in the Caroline affair. The sheer volume of prints that appeared, and their remarkable resourcefulness in creating new iterations of the key episodes in the controversy, is a fitting ‘compliment’ to the Golden Age of British caricature.
For more information, see the History Hub’s video on the Queen Caroline affair, presented by Dr Katie Carpenter in the Parliamentary Archives:
 A good recent biography is Jane Robins, Rebel Queen: How the Trial of Caroline Brought England to the Brink of Revolution (London: Simon and Schuster, 2006).
 According to Thomas Lacquer, the Caroline controversy was ‘popular as no previous political movement had been…the sheer volume of propaganda was staggering…[and it] saturated the whole country’ (‘The Queen Caroline Affair: Politics as Art in the Reign of George IV’, Journal of Modern History (September 1982): 417-466, 429-30. Malcolm Chase agrees: ‘Queenite literature arguably constituted the greatest publishing phenomenon of the early nineteenth century’ (1820: Disorder and Stability in the United Kingdom (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 179.
 For Dror Wahrmann, public opinion in the Caroline controversy was regarded as ‘the ultimate key to the political process – an omnipotent, infallible, supreme arbiter’ (‘Public opinion, violence, and the limits of constitutional politics’, in James Vernon, ed. Re-Reading the Constitution: New Narratives in the Political History of England’s long Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 83-122, 90).
 Anna Clarke, Scandal: The Sexual Politics of the British Constitution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), Chapter 8; Kristin Flieger Samuelian, Royal Romances: Sex, Scandal and Monarchy in Print, 1780-1821 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), Chapter 4.
 Ian Haywood, Romanticism and Caricature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); David Francis Taylor, The Politics of Parody: A Literary History of Caricature, 1760-1830 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2018).
 In subsequent posts I will look at prints and publications by all these figures.
 A version by Henry Green was printed in 1773: see http://spenserians.cath.vt.edu/TextRecord.php?&action=GET&textsid=34845 Accessed 3/6/20. The irony of course is that the vaunted British navy’s function was to keep invaders out. On 15 June, just four days after The Secret Insult was published, the Third Regiment of Guards mutinied in Caroline’s favour. The Duke of Wellington declared: ‘Thus, in one of the most critical moments that ever occurred in this country, we and the public have reason to doubt in the fidelity of the troops, the only security we have, not only against revolution but for the property and life of every individual in the country who has anything to lose’ (cited in Robins, Rebel Queen, 128).
 According to the Times (6 June), Caroline replied, ‘My determination is soon formed: I shall set out instantly for England — it is in London, and London alone, that I shall consent to consider any proposals.’ William Hone added an even more defiant flourish: ‘Go – inform your Master – that in London, and in London alone, I will consent to consider of any proposal of the King of England’ (The King’s Treatment of the Queen Shortly Stated to the People of the England (London: William Hone, 1820), 20).
 The Bible: Authorized Version (London: British and Foreign Bible Society,1963) 520.
 A copy is pasted into a collection of Carolinite broadsides in the British Library.
 Hone, the King’s Treatment of the Queen, 20.
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