Although she passed four months in Sicily, and a similar amount of time touring Greece and the Holy Land, for six years (between 1814 to 1820), Caroline lived in Italy, taking a variety of villas. Pergami and his family were her principal attendants, and the rumours that she lived with the Italian as man and wife were believed by all. In April 1817, she resolved to sell the Villa d’Este, which was proving too expensive to maintain and moved, in August, to Pesaro.
|The Marriage of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Sallfeld|
Here she received a letter from her daughter, Princess Charlotte, with an engraving of her and her husband, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Sallfeld. Charlotte had married in May 1816, and was declared pregnant in the spring of 1817 (Caroline was not consulted regarding the marriage, and there was no representative of her present at the wedding ceremony). England was jubilant, the Princess was loved by all, and hopes of a male heir raised the price of stock by six per cent.
And then tragedy struck, and at only twenty-one years of age, Princess Charlotte died, after delivering a stillborn son. The country plunged into deep mourning, the Prince Regent was so profoundly shocked that he was unable to attend his daughter’s funeral and could not bring himself to write to Caroline with the news. He passed the responsibility to Prince Leopold, who was too grief-stricken to write, and news of her daughter’s death only reached Caroline by accident. A messenger, on his way to deliver the news to the Pope, passed through Pesaro and so Caroline only discovered the truth at second hand. She fainted immediately, and never really recovered from the shock.
|The Sorrows of Britain - A Sermon on the Occasion of the Great National Calamity - 1817|
The Prince Regent, left without legitimate children or grandchildren, then formally appointed a royal commission to examine the reports of Caroline’s infidelity that were received from Ompteda and his spies. Mr Leach and Mr Cooke, both barristers, Mr Powell, a gentleman with connections at court, Colonel Brown and Lord Stewart departed for Italy, where they met with a Milanese agent, Vimercati, and established a bureau for the collection of evidence against the Princess.
|Caroline, Princess of Wales|
The so-called Milan Commission was just as disgraceful, corrupt and ham-fisted as you’d expect any government-funded muck-raking mission to Italy to be. They had £30,000 to spend on expenses, which they did, and if they had spent twice as much, they would have undoubtedly bought twice as much evidence, and all of it would have been worth exactly the same, which was nothing. Retired servants offered salacious tales in return for money. Sacked former employees were interviewed and, unsurprisingly, were only too happy to revenge themselves by telling whatever tales the Commission wanted to hear. Sacchi, a groom sacked by Pergami (against whom he vowed reprisals), perhaps summed it up best,
“What would you have me do? I am desperate; I have no work; I will say what they told me to say.”
It was such a botched job, so obviously riddled with lies and inconsistencies, that when the Commission delivered its report, on July 10th 1819, no further action was taken. Nevertheless, Caroline wasn’t to know that at the time and resolved to move somewhere nearer to England, just in case she needed easier, speedier access to her lawyers.
|King George III|
Uncertain of how she would be received by the French, she started out for Rome, but was intercepted at Leghorn with news that, on January 29th 1820, King George III had died. As a consequence, she was now the Queen of England.
No attempt was made by the Royal court to inform her of her change of circumstance, indeed, it was intimated to the courts of Europe that it was the desire of the new King that his consort should not be recognised as Queen. As far as the courts of Europe were concerned, this was fine by them. George III had been mad for so long, and his son had acted as Regent for so long that, politically, nothing had really changed. So when Caroline reached Rome, travelling incognito under the name of the Countess Oldi, she was received as a private citizen and was told, in no uncertain terms, that until Rome received an official statement from the King of England and Hanover informing it of her change of status, Rome would not recognise her as the Queen of England and Hanover.
|King George IV|
In a letter to Lord Montagu, Sir Walter Scott (the author), made a grave predication that whichever of the King or the Queen struck the first blow, that one would inevitably lose the battle. Her guilt was assumed in England, and it was also assumed that she would not dare to return. The King was now determined to divorce his wife, albeit that the evidence was circumstantial and rested, for the most part, on the word of foreign menials, foreign hotel-keepers, former foreign servants dismissed from the Princess’s household, and, without putting too fine a point on it, foreigners. And we all know what they are like. It had also to be said, quietly and with due reverence, that his Majesty had hardly conducted himself like a monk, before, during or after the Princess’s residence in the country.
|Contemporary Caricature of Caroline|
Something of a compromise was reached when the Queen’s name was removed from the Liturgy, and the government undertook to pass a Bill of Pains and Penalties, to take effect if her Majesty returned to England, while the King consented that no such requirement would be forced upon them whilst she remained abroad. Thus, the battle lines were drawn in a war that had already waged for years.
Tomorrow – bad behaviour galore.